By Mike Willis
From ancient times, man has believed in life after death. When God created man, he placed him in the Garden of Eden with access to the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). Because of sin, Adam and Eve lost access to the tree of life which enabled them to live forever (Gen. 3:22). Ever since that time, man has lived in hope of regaining the paradise which he lost through sin.
Evidences of the hope of eternal life are seen in many cultures. The American Indians believed in a “happy hunting ground.” The ancient Egyptian pharaohs displayed their belief in life after death in the building of their pyramids which housed things they might need in life beyond death. The publishing of “after death” experiences of those who have “come back from the dead” shows that our modern world longs for information about life beyond death.
These subjective experiences can never replace what revelation has spoken about life after death. Jesus, who was raised from the dead, speaks authoritatively about life after death. He points us to the resurrection.
What Happens to Man at Death?
The Scriptures reveal that at death the body goes back to the dust from which it came and the spirit goes back to God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7). Jesus revealed the nature of the habitation of the immortal spirits of the dead in his discussion of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). The dead go to a place called hades (translated “hell” in the AV in Lk. 16:23). Hades is separated into two compartments: (a) Torment, the place of the wicked dead, is a place of anguish and suffering (Lk. 16:23-24); (b) Abraham’s bosom, the place of the righteous dead, is a place of comfort (Lk. 16:25). The two places are separated by a great gulf which makes crossing from one place to another impossible. Hence, the righteous cannot “fall from grace” after death nor can the wicked be saved.
Paul expressed his yearning to go home to be with God at the hour of his death in passages such as Philippians 1:21-24 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10. He understood that death is the gateway to the presence of God. Properly viewed, death can be a blessing to man; it takes him from a world of suffering (Lk. 16:23-24); (b) Abraham’s bosom, the place of the righteous dead, is a place of comfort.
What Shall Be Raised From the dead?
The Scriptures direct our hope to the resurrection. What shall be raised from the dead? Not the spirit, for the spirit does not die. That which shall be raised from the dead is that which dies – the body.
Men asked, “How shall the dead be raised” (1 Cor. 15:35). Perhaps they were thinking of the various things which can happen to the body. A body may be eaten by animals, burned in a fire, blown to bits in an explosion (as in the Challenger disaster), drowned in a sea and eaten by fish, or decay in a tomb. Men asked, “How shall the dead be raised?” How shall the various parts of the body be reassembled when the body has gone back to dust and may have blown a thousands different directions?
Paul reminds the Corinthians that the resurrection from the dead is not without analogy in nature. Even a seed does not produce a living plant except that it first die (1 Cor. 15:34-37). And the plant which grows from the quickened seed does not resemble the seed which was planted. If God is able to produce this natural event, he also will be able to raise the dead body of man. He is the Almighty God.
What Kind of Body?
What kind of body will man have? The answer is this: one fitted for eternal habitation. God has prepared a body fitted to every kind of life: he has prepared a body fitted for those birds which fly in the heavens, a body fitted for the animals of the sea, a body fitted for the various animals which is adapted to their peculiar habitations (1 Cor. 15:38-42). The same Lord is able to prepare a body fitted for heavenly dwelling.
The simplest answer to “what kind of body will man have at resurrection?” is this: the same kind of body which the resurrected Jesus had. Paul said, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). However, in teaching the nature of the resurrected body, Paul wrote, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-43).
Just as surely as man has a natural body, he also will have a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).
Man’s physical body cannot inherit heaven (1 Cor. 15:50). Consequently, those who are alive at the moment that Jesus returns to this earth will experience a change in their body. Paul wrote, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:51-54).
Who Shall Be Raised?
The resurrection shall not be confined to the righteous. Instead, both the wicked and the righteous shall be raised from the dead (Jn. 5:29; Acts 24:15). The wicked shall be raised to face eternal damnation; the righteous shall be raised to eternal life.
Jesus Christ: The Guarantor of the Resurrection
What assurance do I have that man shall be raised from the dead? Jesus Christ is the guarantee. He is the “first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). Thayer explains the image of Jesus as the first fruits: “Here the phrase seems also to signify that by his case the future resurrection of Christians is guaranteed; because the first-fruits forerun and are, as it were, a pledge and promise of the rest of the harvest” (p. 55). Even as God has given assurance that he will judge the world in righteousness by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, so also the resurrection is our proof that we too shall be raised from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). When the dead are raised, Jesus will have destroyed his last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).
Consequences of the Resurrection
Belief in the resurrection should effect how we live. Rejection of the resurrection surely effects how the wicked live. The wicked push out of their minds the idea that God will raise them from the dead and call them to account for their wickedness; they say, “God hath forgotten: he hideth his face” (Psa. 10:4-11). If there is no resurrection of the dead, men may as well live the hedonistic lifestyle. Even Paul exclaimed, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us cat and drink for tomorrow we die'” (1 Cor. 15:32, RSV).
In contrast to the wicked, the righteous believe in the resurrection and judgment. This effects how they live. Paul exhorted, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Peter exhorted that, since we look for a new heavens and new earth, “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11-14). Belief in the resurrection motivates one to godly living.
Belief in the resurrection provides comfort in the hour of death. Christians do not mourn in the face of death like those who have no hope. Paul expressed this faith as follows:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:1318).
The sting of death is removed by the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:54-56).
Each person shall live forever in a resurrected body. That body will either be in an place of everlasting torment or everlasting bliss. Every individual has control of his own eternal destiny. Where shall you live eternally?
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 2, pp. 34, 42
January 17, 1991