“So I’ve heard I get a new body when I go to heaven. What about that?” Actually, that’s an excellent question… and one that has been wrestled with since the first letters of the New Testament.
The earliest churches lived fully expecting Jesus to come back at any moment. Literally. So when His return was delayed some of the first Christians who had hoped in Christ, died. They had no idea how to think about that because the idea that death would come before Christ returned had not occurred to them!
And so, they asked Paul. “What’s going to happen to my mother or father; wife or husband; son or friend since we are now preparing them for burial? Will they miss the return of Christ because they have died?”
Since that day, Christians have sought to understand what happens to the believer at death. Do they simply go to “sleep” when they die until Jesus awakens them? That’s the opinion of the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Does the soul go to Heaven or to purgatory… to paradise or punishment?
Let me begin to answer these with this blog. First, the Bible never teaches that death brings an unconscious existence to the believer. Quite the opposite. The pictures we have show Christians more than alive and worshiping. (see Revelation 4, 5 and 7 for the PRESENT state of believers who have died). Paul’s reference to sleeping is simply a gentle way to refer to what has happened; it looks as though the body has fallen asleep. We follow that practice today in funerals.
And when the thief on the cross repented and responded to Jesus before he died, Jesus did not say to him, “Now get ready for a long nap.” He said, “TODAY we will enter paradise together!” That doesn’t sound like sleeping! That is what the Bible says, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord.”
It’s important that we understand the priority of this process. Upon death, we are immediately transported into the presence of Jesus. However, we do not in that moment receive our final, glorified body. We will receive that when Christ returns with all who have gone before in death. Together we will receive our resurrected body that is made like, but exponentially greater than our earthly one.
Again, think of the resurrection morning: Jesus coming from the tomb; Mary and two disciples on the road to Emmaus walking with Jesus… but not immediately recognizing Him. But then… they did. So there are similarities and dissimilarities. Paul calls it a heavenly body in 1 Corinthians 15. It is not limited to earthly realities and limitations such as time, space and aging. Illness cannot cling to it. Cancer cannot kill it. Walls cannot stop it. Pain cannot hinder it. And yet, Jesus proved to them on the shores of the sea of Galilee that He was not a ghost… His body was real… He could eat… be touched… talk… embraced. Real… forever… alive…
Glorified. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
FOR MEMORIZATION: “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:17
FOR REFLECTION: How does our knowledge of what will happen to our bodies eternally impact how we think about our bodies today?