I recently heard a Christian man remark about another believer who had died. With hope in the gospel, he said the woman who had died was now with Jesus dancing in her new body. The woman had suffered cancer, and his comments, no doubt, were intended to communicate the gospel hope that when believers die, they go to be with Jesus, and their suffering ends. However, as well-intentioned as he was, his comments were mistaken. See, human beings are body and soul, and when believers die, their souls go to be with Jesus, but their bodies remain dead until the resurrection. There is great comfort for believers in the future resurrection. When a believer dies, they do not immediately receive their new and glorified bodies to dance in the presence of Jesus. Their souls go to be with Jesus, but their bodies await a glorious resurrection that is yet to come.
How many other Christians are confused about the resurrection of the body? I think it’s fairly common for Christians to think of deceased loved ones dancing or running or doing physical things in the presence of Jesus. They find comfort in the thought. But let’s make sure we think Biblically about death, our bodies, our souls, and the resurrection.
Do you remember what happens in Luke 23? Jesus is dying on the cross. Two thieves are dying beside him on crosses to his right and left. As they were dying, both criminals reviled him, but one had a change of heart. He eventually said to our Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). And then Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Oh, how the Lord’s words must have heartened the dying man. Through simple faith, the man was comforted by Jesus. There is no doubt that when believers die, they enter the presence of the crucified, risen, glorified, reigning, and ruling Lord Jesus Christ. But is their new and glorious resurrected body with him?
Listen carefully to Paul in Philippians 1:22–24:
If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
When Paul referred to continuing to live on earth in the flesh, I take him to mean at least living in his body. He contrasted remaining alive in the flesh with dying to go to be with Jesus, which to him was the better option. He implied that to die is to not remain in the flesh. To live is to remain in the flesh. To die is, well, to die. No more living flesh until the resurrection.
We can go to 1 Corinthians 15 to better understand the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Paul says “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51). He says, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). He was talking about our bodies which perished being raised imperishable to put on immortality. This glorious transformation happens when Christ returns and raises the dead. Paul says in Philippians 3:20–21:
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
We are citizens of heaven now. We are aliens on earth. We are waiting for our great Savior’s return. At his return, he will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. He transforms us by his infinite power. Martha understood that her dear brother Lazarus who had died would be raised from the dead on the last day (Jn. 11:24). We certainly will have glorious resurrection bodies, and I think we will dance, but not at the moment of our death, rather at the resurrection of the dead.
You might think to yourself, “Come on man, you’re just being nit-picky.” But, consider the implications of the man’s comments. If believers are in the presence of Jesus with their new bodies, it means the resurrection has already happened. Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:18 that two men had “swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened” and that “They [were] upsetting the faith of some.” I don’t think it’s wise to suggest in any way that the resurrection has already happened.
Jesus gave a tremendous and comforting promise. In John 5:28–29, Jesus said:
for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
He will raise us up. Though we die, yet shall we live by the voice of our Christ. We will be raised to life because the good we have done is evidence and fruit of the amazing grace God has granted us in Christ.
I believe the man who made the comments is saved and loves Jesus deeply. I think he was well-intentioned in his comments. However, I think his comments reveal a need in evangelical thinking and church practice. Many Christians have not been catechized and are therefore misguided in how they understand some of the basics of the Christian faith. This is a big reason why Small Town Theologian exists – to help spark a resurgence of the ecumenical creeds and a rise of prominence of Reformed confessions in the church. See, to say the Bible is my theology is actually to say very little. Heretics use the Bible. The ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions explain clearly what we believe about the Bible, how we understand and interpret it, and they clearly explain the basic doctrines of the Bible.
Heidelberg Catechism 57 asks, “What comfort does ‘the resurrection of the body’ offer you?” That’s a really important question. When we confess the Apostles’ Creed and say the line “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body,” it is meant to give us comfort in the gospel. Heidelberg 57 answers:
Not only shall my soul after this life immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head, but also this my flesh, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.
Short statements like that not only explain core doctrines of Scripture, they also help us draw comfort from the Scripture.
I encourage you to memorize the Apostles’ Creed. Meditate on the Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian Creeds. Pick up a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism and learn it. This will provide you with increasing Biblical fidelity as well as comfort for your soul.
Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism and creeds are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism: True Comfort for Life & Death (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021), 395.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.