|Study 4: God and Death
The Nature of Man | The Soul | The Spirit | Death Is Unconsciousness | The Resurrection | The Judgment | The Place of Reward: Heaven or Earth? | Responsibility To God | Hell | Digressions (Purgatory, Ghosts And Reincarnation, With What Nature Are We Raised?, The "Rapture") | Questions
4.5 The Resurrection
The Bible emphasizes that the reward of the righteous will be at the resurrection, at the coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:16). The resurrection of the responsible dead (see Study 4.8) will be the first thing Christ will do; this will be followed by the judgment. If the 'soul' went to heaven at death there would be no need for the resurrection. Paul said that if there is no resurrection, then all effort to be obedient to God is pointless (1 Cor. 15:32). Surely he would not have reasoned like this if he believed that he would also be rewarded with his 'soul' going to heaven at death? The implication is that he believed the resurrection of the body to be the only form of reward. Christ encouraged us with the expectation that the recompense for faithful living now would be at "the resurrection" (Luke 14:14).
Again the point must be driven home that the Bible does not teach any form of existence apart from in a bodily form - this applies to God, Christ, Angels and men. At his return, Christ "shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20,21). As he now has a literal bodily form, energized purely by Spirit rather than blood, so we will share a similar reward. At the judgment we will receive a recompense for how we have lived this life in a bodily form (2 Cor. 5:10). Those who have lived a fleshly life will be left with their present mortal body, which will then rot back to dust; whilst those who in their lives have tried to overcome the mind of the flesh with that of the Spirit "shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8) in the form of a Spirit-filled body.
There is ample further evidence that the reward of the righteous will be in a bodily form. Once this is accepted, the vital importance of the resurrection should be apparent. Our present body clearly ceases to exist at death; if we can only experience eternal life and immortality in a bodily form, it follows that death must be a state of unconsciousness, until such time as our body is re-created and then given God's nature.
The whole of 1 Corinthians 15 speaks in detail of the resurrection; it will always repay careful reading. 1 Cor. 15:35-44 explains how that as a seed is sown and then emerges from the ground to be given a body by God, so the dead will likewise rise, to be rewarded with a body. As Christ rose from the grave and had his mortal body changed to an immortalized body, so the true believer will share his reward (Phil. 3:21). Through baptism we associate ourselves with Christ's death and resurrection, showing our belief that we, too, will share the reward which he received through his resurrection (Rom.6:3-5). Through sharing in his sufferings now, we will also share his reward: "Bearing about (now) in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10). "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit" (Rom. 8:11). With this hope, we therefore wait for "the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23), through that body being immortalized.
This hope of a literal bodily reward has been understood by God's people from earliest times. Abraham was promised that he, personally, would inherit the land of Canaan for ever, as surely as he had walked up and down in it (Gen. 13:17; see Study 3.4). His faith in those promises would have necessitated his belief that his body would somehow, at a future date, be revived and made immortal, so that this would be possible.
Job clearly expressed his understanding of how, despite his body being eaten by worms in the grave, he would, in a bodily form, receive his reward: "My redeemer liveth, and...shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body ("after my skin is destroyed", R.A.V.), yet in my flesh (or bodily form) shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another: though my reins be consumed within me" (Job 19:25-27). Isaiah's hope was identical: "My dead body shall...arise" (Isa. 26:19).
Very similar words are found in the account of the death of Lazarus, a personal friend of Jesus. Instead of comforting the man's sisters by saying that his soul had gone to heaven, the Lord Jesus spoke of the day of resurrection: "Thy brother shall rise again". The immediate response of Lazarus' sister Martha shows how much this was appreciated by the early Christians: "Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:23,24). Like Job, she did not understand death to be the gateway to a life of bliss in heaven, but, instead, looked forward to a resurrection "at the last day" (cp. Job's "latter day"). The Lord promises: "Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father...I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44,45).