As Christians, we all profess belief in the resurrection of the body. Even though we all will meet death and will be laid in the grave, we all are confident that a day is coming when the trump of God shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall rise. We will rise from the grave.
But what exactly do we mean by the word “resurrection”? This is a question which should be carefully pondered by all Christians, because it is a question which points us to our future hope, our hope of wholeness and immortality in the blessed presence of Christ. Today, I hope to shed some light on the nature of our future resurrection. But to begin, I think it is very important for us to understand what the resurrection is not.
First of all, we need to understand that we will not be resurrected as mere spirits, as ghosts. When some people try to think about the resurrection, they get the picture of wispy, ethereal spirits rising from a graveyard, going to stand before the judgment seat of God. In this vision, people indeed recognize their loved ones. They see the distinct appearance of hair, arms, legs, facial expressions, shirts, shoes, and even eye-glasses. But the vision is without substance. If you could wave your arm through one of these disembodied spirits, your hand would be unhindered, as if passing through a fog. Like ghosts in the movies, these spirits would consist of virtually nothing except pure consciousness. Their visual appearances would merely be vestiges of their previous existence, little more than a visual-aid to jog the memories of those who look at them, in order to provide some thin strand of continuity with their previous existence in physical bodies.
In other words, the resurrection would consist of a grand and extravagant lie. Like holograms in some science-fiction movie, these disembodied spirits would give a convincing appearance of possessing flesh and bone. But upon even the slightest test, the game would be up, and the cruel joke would be discovered.
You see, people think they would be satisfied with an ethereal, disembodied, ghostly resurrection, precisely because they think very little about the resurrection. In the rare instances when they do imagine the resurrection, they only consider it for a few moments. And, indeed, for a few moments it would be satisfying merely to behold your loved ones once again.
If you have lost a mother, a father, a best friend, a grandparent, or a child, you can imagine what a joy it would be simply to see that person again with your own eyes, and to hear that precious voice once again. Truly, it would be wonderful! But now think about the resurrection a little more. If you consider that day even a moment longer, you will quickly realize that sight and sound is not nearly enough. Like a visitor in a prison, with a barrier of glass between you and your loved one, you can see the person and hear the voice, but you cannot physically touch one another. No handshake. No embrace. No kiss. You feel at once both so close, yet very separated. Your love and your emotions plead for the barrier to be broken. Indeed your very humanity demands that the glass be shattered. If this is not a place where you can feel the firm embrace of your loved ones, then this is not a pictu1re of Heaven.
Now, a person might think that he can imagine a picture of two ghosts hugging one another. But indeed, the only thing he can imagine is just a mere picture of it. We may imagine such an appearance, but we cannot imagine it as a reality. To us, the two ghosts appear to embrace. But the ghosts themselves feel nothing. They do not feel one another’s embrace because there is nothing there to feel. If my physical hand cannot embrace fog, then how can fog embrace fog? Of course someone might suggest that God enables the two ghosts to feel something when they appear to embrace one another, but at that point we are just playing games. To say that God causes us to see what isn’t there, and to feel what doesn’t really exist is to suggest that God will go to desperate measures to convince us that we really aren’t ghosts after all. It is like taking away someone’s citizenship, and then proceeding to grant them residency and voting privileges. It is giving with the right hand what you have removed with the left. A person may suggest that we will all be ghosts, but that we will not be able to tell that we are ghosts. But I might as well suggest that we will cease to be human, and that God will nevertheless trick us into thinking that we are still human after all.
Indeed, if God is going to go to such trouble to convince us that our resurrected bodies are physical, then we might as well just go along with it. If we cannot imagine Heaven being heaven without physical touch and embrace, then we need to stop trying to imagine the resurrection as being something that is non-physical. When Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples could see, hear, touch, and feel Him. Jesus even ate some broiled fish, and a bit of honeycomb. And Scripture tells us that our resurrected bodies will be like His. Therefore, in the resurrection, we will not be ghosts.
Second, we need to understand that the resurrection will not be a mere resuscitation of our old old bodies. And of course, to a certain extent we already realize this. We know that our resurrected bodies will not be subject to aches, pains, indigestion, cancer, arthritis, menopause, blindness, bad breath, or the common cold. All of our diseases, disabilities, ugliness, wrinkles, and fat will disappear. If a person dies as a baby, he will not be resurrected with the eternally helpless body of an infant. And if a person dies at the age of 100, he will not be resurrected with the helpless body of an invalid. So far, so good.
But if we, therefore, think that we will merely be resurrected as 25-year-olds with great bodies and perfect health, we fall far short of a clear understanding. When we rise from the dead, it will not be like Lazarus. Now, this may come as a surprise to many Christians. Many have mistakenly suggested that Christ’s resurrection, while miraculous, was nothing new. After all, didn’t Elijah raise the widow’s son from death? When the Shunnamite woman’s son passed away, didn’t Elisha revive him? Even after Elisha died, the dead body of a Moabite man was thrown into Elisha’s tomb, and the Moabite man was immediately brought back to life. During Christ’s ministry, he raised at least three people from the dead, including the daughter of Jarius, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus. Jesus commanded his disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead, and we must assume that some of them obediently did these very things. But with so many people rising from the dead in Scripture, why should we be so impressed with the resurrection of Jesus? Isn’t this just one more case of someone walking out of the grave?
Indeed, until we recognize the vast difference between the resurrection of Jesus, and the mere resuscitation of Lazarus, we do not have a clear understanding of our own future. You see, Lazarus was returned to his former life, in his former body. But Jesus progressed into a new life, in a body which had experienced a radical metamorphosis. Lazarus had to die again. Jesus will never die again. In Lazarus, death was merely reversed, but in Jesus, death was utterly conquered. And that makes all the difference in the world!
There is certainly continuity between Christ’s pre-Resurrection body, and his post-Resurrection body. After Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples still recognized Him, and He was still able to walk, talk, and eat. Yet like a caterpillar transforming into a monarch butterfly, the body of Jesus likewise underwent a radical transformation. After the Resurrection, He was able to alter His appearance at will. He was able to walk through walls, and He was able to ascend into Heaven itself. Indeed, this is not the same sort of body which Lazarus received when Jesus commanded him to walk out of the tomb! Yet Scripture promises that all saints (including Lazarus) will one day inherit a new resurrection body, just like the body of Jesus. It will be glorious, holy, and quite better than the body you currently have. Indeed, in the resurrection, our old bodies will not merely be resuscitated. Rather, they will be transformed.
In the resurrection, we will not be ghosts. Nor will our old bodies merely be resuscitated. We will be changed. However, we must be careful not to draw hasty conclusions upon this point. Some people fear this change because they have relatively healthy, happy lives already, and they worry that playing harps and floating in clouds just will not suit them. They love the idea that they will be in the presence of Jesus, but in the back of their minds, they worry that the rest of Heaven will honestly be a little boring. Jesus has already told us there will be no marriage in Heaven, so what else is there to look forward to? What will we do?
I admit [that] I am not able to give you a detailed description of the day-to-day activities in Heaven. However, I do believe there are some simple facts which should calm any such fears. First of all, it is important that we stop thinking about Heaven as being “somewhere else,” alien to planet Earth. As long as we think of Heaven in such terms, it will seem as foreign to us as Mars or Jupiter. And honestly, who wants to spend eternity on Jupiter? Earth is the only home we have ever known, and it understandably makes us just a little edgy to think about permanently leaving the planet. Of course, Heaven is currently in a different location than Earth. But the good news is that this state of affairs will eventually be changed. According to the book of Revelation, the Holy City, New Jerusalem, comes down from Heaven to Earth. In other words, Earth’s current location is permanent, and Heaven’s current location is temporary. Heaven will literally come to Earth.
Therefore, when we finally settle down into the paradise which God has prepared for us, it will not quite be like moving into a new home. Rather, it will be a sort of homecoming. Heaven will have all the familiarity of Earth, because it will be on Earth. The only thing missing will be the diseased and annoying aspects of this planet which currently plague us. Thus, not only do we receive glorified, transformed bodies in which to enjoy eternity, we could also say that the Earth itself receives a glorified, transformed body. Scripture itself teaches us that Jesus purchased far more on the cross than just the salvation of human beings. Indeed, through the cross, Jesus purchased redemption for the entire world, for the entire cosmos.
But the question still remains, “What will we do?” No doubt we will spend a considerable amount of time praising God face-to-face. What a fantastic thought! I’m not even in Heaven yet, and I must confess that Sundays are the highlight of my week. I love praising my God, even when I cannot feel the palpable touch of His hand, even when I cannot hear the audible sound of His voice. What a magnificent thought, to spend every day in the full presence of Jesus! I think we will all happily spend much time involved in pure worship.
I also imagine we will spend much time in fellowship with one another. Just imagine chatting face-to-face with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and all the Apostles! Imagine asking Hannah what is was like to be the mother of a prophet, and asking Mary what it is like to be the mother of God. Also consider all the discussions you will have with beloved family members whom you meet again in Heaven. Surely such conversations will never cease [or] grow old, throughout all of eternity. In Heaven, there are no shortages of front porches, rocking chairs, sweet-tea, and good conversations.
Scripture tells us that Heaven will involve a good amount of time feasting! That is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to have physical bodies in Heaven. After Jesus rose from the dead, he ate broiled fish and a bit of honey. At every Lord’s Supper we partake of the first course in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. But once we are fully in his presence, in our glorified resurrection bodies, Jesus will spread a feast for us like we have never seen before. It will be so delicious, so perfectly seasoned, so rich, and so satisfying, that the very best restaurants and even Mama’s home cooking will be put to shame. It will be a feast to remember. And since we will have all eternity to enjoy Heaven, it will also be a feast to be repeated.
In the Incarnation, the unthinkable happened. God became man. He did not just appear to be a man. He did not just pretend to be a man. He did not even come to dwell within a man. God actually became a man. The Word took on flesh. The Second Person of the Trinity became implanted in the womb of a virgin, and received His flesh as a gift from her. God became a baby who cried, peed, and had to have His diaper changed frequently. He nursed at the breast of Mary. According to Luke 2:52, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus lived his life as a man, perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. He was obedient unto death, even death upon a cross [cf. Philippians 2:8]. And three days later, he walked out of his own grave. Scripture says that God gave him a name above every name, that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [Phillipians 2:9-11]. God became man, and that man was exalted as God.
This is all very amazing! And it is even more mind-blowing to realize that Jesus uses his incarnation to draw us into his divine life. We are amazed to hear that God became man, but we are astonished to hear that God actually draws us up into His divinity! In 2 Peter 1:4, we find that God has made us to be partakers of the divine nature. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us that we are Christ’s body. In Ephesians 5, we learn that we are Christ’s bride. Hebrews 2 says that Christ is our older brother. And in Revelation 3:21, Jesus tells us that we will sit with him on his throne.
- If Jesus is God, and if we are the body of Christ, then we are the body of God.
- If Jesus is God, and if we are the bride of Christ, then we are the spouse of God.
- If Jesus is God, and if we are the brothers of Jesus, then we are the brothers of God.
- If Jesus is God, and we will sit with him in his throne, then we will sit in God’s throne.
Indeed, we will always be the creature, never the Creator. We will always be the redeemed, never the Redeemer. Scripture is clear that in Heaven, God will remain God, and we will remain his people. But we would be doing an injustice to Scripture to ignore all of the astonishing honors which God has promised to place upon his people. “As it is written, ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him'” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
This is what we have to look forward to. This is the resurrection and the glorification of the body. This is eternity in the blessed presence of God himself. This is our inheritance.
This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, August 23, 2009, at Christ the King Church, in Omaha, Illinois, by Joseph M. Gleason.
Edited by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full-service secretarial and publishing support for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.