Recovering a Biblical View of the Bodily Resurrection
The bodily resurrection of the believer, while the idea seems to have largely vanished from the minds of Christian culture, is too important to Christian theology to let it slip away. The struggle to change the hearts and minds of Christians about the issue will not be easy. The idea of disembodied souls going to heaven for eternity has become so ingrained in the minds of Christians and secular culture that a complete paradigm shift is necessary to return the theology to its proper standing. There are three main things that Christians should focus on as they begin to shift their thinking back towards a theology of bodily resurrection and away from a more Platonic view.
First, Christians need to understand that the resurrection of Christ was multi-faceted in its importance. Christ’s victory over death was not just vital for our salvation; it was vital in that it was a template of the ultimate hope believers have. When Christ died, he did not simply live on in some disembodied state. The physical body that had been nailed to the cross returned from death. The new body was still a physical body. This is readily illustrated in the Gospels when numerous people saw Jesus and interacted with him. Thomas, one of the disciples of the Lord doubted the physicality of his resurrected body. Jesus proved Thomas’ doubts wrong when the questioning man was able to touch the nail scars in Jesus’ hands and feel the hole in Jesus’ side where the spear pierced his body. Jesus resurrection body was also different than his pre-death body. The new body was perfected, incorruptible, and would never face death again. The risen savior rose not just to show that he had victory over death, but that ultimately those who believe in him will have the same victory over death. Satan, sin, and death ultimately lose the battle because the one thing they have influence over, the physical world, is taken away from them in the resurrection of Jesus and those who believe in him. Satan is unable to claim any victory in death because ultimately that which has died will rise again.
Second, one of the appeals of the idea of a disembodied soul going to heaven is that it means the struggles, pains, and limitations of the earthly body no longer exist. It brings great peace to think that a person who has just died from a painful disease no longer has to deal with their imperfect and broken body. Paul, however, tells Christians that the future body they have to look forward to will not have the same weaknesses as their fallen body. I Corinthians 15:42 states: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body.” Paul, with his education, travels, and proficiency in Greek would have been well versed in the dominant pagan views of life after death. Yet, he tells the church at Corinth that the hope of a Christian is far different from the hope of a Roman who believed in the afterlife of Plato or Homer. The ultimate hope of the Christian comes in a bodily resurrection like that of Christ. The Christian who was born with a perishable and imperfect body will be raised with a perfect and imperishable body after the model of Christ.
Finally, it is important that Christians recover the resurrection because without the resurrection, where is the victory over death? Without the resurrection of the body, how can the Christian truly join Paul in stating as he did in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55:
54But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “)DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.
55“)O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”
Had Jesus body remained in the grave, where would the victory over death be? If our souls simply continue to live on in a disembodied state, where is the victory over physical death? Death is Satan’s greatest and final threat to believers, but through Christ Christians have victory over even the most powerful of Satan’s weapons. When Christians lose sight of the bodily resurrection, they are effectively lessening the magnificence of Christ’s victory over death and are not allowing themselves to see that the victory Christ won also applies to them.
Applying these will not necessarily be easy. Christian leaders will have to educate believers about the true hope of the believer even though it is different than what popular culture purports. Despite these challenges, it is vital that Christians begin to take steps to recover an emphasis and teaching on the bodily resurrection. A failure to do so will only lead Christianity further down the path of false belief and false hope.
Pearly gates? Puffy clouds? Harps and angel wings? Is that where the ultimate hope of the Christian lies? While popular Christian and secular culture would inform us that our hope is as a soul in some otherworldly heaven, the Bible says something else entirely. The final hope of the Christian was first demonstrated in the bodily resurrection of Christ and defined throughout the works of the New Testament and church fathers. The hope of the Christian is in a resurrection of the body after death.
Without the bodily resurrection, death and Satan win. Christ proved his ultimate power over sin and death when his physical body returned from the dead. That is why we can joyfully join with the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:5 where he states: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”