Christians often have questions about their future. Will Jesus always be a human with us? Is his body in heaven? Will we have a body forever? In answering these questions for some young people recently, I wrote the paragraphs, with biblical proofs, below. If you have any of these questions, take a look also.
Our Lord Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. It was the physical and truly human body of Jesus that was raised from the dead to live forever more. His dead body was in the tomb, but then was not there because his spirit reinhabited it. He showed the wounds of his death on the cross to his disciples and said he was not just a spirit but flesh and blood, and ate with them several times after being resurrected (Luk.24:41-42, Act.1:3, 10:41). As a resurrected human Jesus had the very same body, but with new capabilities: he passed through locked doors and disappeared before two disciples (Luk.24:36, 31). The resurrected Jesus looked like himself and only failed to be recognized when either his disciples weren’t expecting him to be alive or the Bible says “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Jhn.20:15, Luk.24:16). He says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.” Jesus says after ascending into heaven, “I died, and behold I am alive forever more” (Rev.1:18): this refers to his human nature’s dying and then returning to a life never to be discarded, because in his divine nature he did not die and return to life.
• Luke 24:36-43 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
Our Lord Jesus bodily ascended into heaven as a human. Jesus ascended visibly and bodily into heaven before the startled eyes of his disciples in his resurrected human body, with his nail-pierced human hands raised in blessing over his people. Angels appeared to the disciples at that very moment and promised he would return in the very same way: in human body, to bring the final blessedness to us. We conclude this by putting together what two passages say below. Jesus ascended to the throne of God to advance our human nature into highest privilege (Rev.12:5). Jesus is and remains forever the only mediator between God and man; his retaining his human nature is necessary for our salvation now and through eternity.
• Acts 1:9-11 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
• Luke 24:50-51 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
• 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…
• Revelation 12:5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne…
Jesus is a glorified human in heaven now; the rest of us await resurrection and glorification at his return. Jesus is the only person in heaven who already has a body (Heb.12:23, 1Ths.4:14:16, Act.26:23). He has already undergone resurrection and glorification. We call where he is “heaven,” but it is only the place from which he is currently reigning. At his return, he will bring his undisputed reign in heaven and all the heavenly inhabitants, angels and believers, back to earth. What happens then is the resurrection of the just and the unjust (Act.24:15, Jhn.5:28-29), the final judgment, the renewal of the world, and the sending away of Satan, his demons, and all unbelievers into hell, which is described as both the outer darkness and the lake of fire. On that “last day,” Jesus will resurrect our bodies (or, if we are alive, change them— 1Cor.15:51, 2Cor.5:4) to be like his glorious body. Even when he was resurrected and appeared on the earth for forty days he did not yet have the full and final “glorification” that his Father in heaven had promised him until he ascended to the throne in heaven. His final full glory was seen ahead of time by his disciples when he was transfigured before them on the mountain (Mat.17:2, 2Pet.1:16-18) and his face shone like the sun. Later, this heavenly glory was seen by the apostle Paul, in his calling on the road to Damascus (Act.9:3-5, 1Cor.9:1), and by the apostle John in Rev.1:12-16. However, before he ascended he was not yet glorified. This resurrection and glorification is what will be done to all of us humans who believe in Jesus. This is the future of humanity—perfected in body and soul. Our bodies will be the same, ours, but with new powers and appearances. Think of your body and abilities and knowledge as a newborn. That was YOU and YOUR body, but with far less power, in an earlier stage of life under God’s plan. Then project a change of that magnitude or greater into the future and you can see what it will mean to be glorified with Jesus. The fullest description we have of the resurrection tells us that our same bodies that are buried (“sown” like seeds) in mortal weakness will be our bodies raised in power (1Cor.15:42ff.). Our looking upon and sharing in the glorified humanity of Jesus is the completion of our salvation (Jhn.17:24, 2Cor.3:18, 1Jhn.3:2).
• Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
• Romans 6:5,8-10 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his… Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
• Romans 8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
• Romans 8:19-22 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
• 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Jesus must be human forever for us to enjoy his love. It is as a Lamb that Jesus reigns over and with us in eternity. “The throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev.22:1) is a description of his unending presence when Jesus “comes down” to be with us (Rev.21:2, 10). “Lamb” refers to his human nature, both sacrificed on the cross and glorified in heaven. Furthermore, Jesus’s second coming is described as the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7, Mat.22:2). The church is his bride (Eph.5:22-33, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 21:9, 22:17). The wedding, the feast, the “consummation” of the wedding and wedded love between Christ and his people only then is fully realized. That is why this final marriage will supersede all other human marriage and there will be no other marriage in heaven (Mat.22:30). This can only happen if he is as fully human as we are, and all that he gives to us corresponds to our human needs and hopes even more fully than man corresponds to woman. This is not a wedding that will fail to be consummated; he will not abandon his wife or change his promises then, leaving his bride jilted at the altar. He remains a man to have deepest fellowship with his bride forever. Human marriage was given only as a temporary foretaste of the intimate one-flesh (and even “one-Spirit,” 1Cor.6:14-17)) existence we will have with the God-man Jesus Christ forever (Eph.5:25, 29, 32). Again, he is head to the body (as the collective church is called). This is a description of human connectedness that describes redeemed humanity forever in its union with Jesus. The church will never be decapitated by Jesus giving up his humanity.
What the Bible means when it says a “spiritual body.” Two Bible passages have sometimes been confusing on this topic: 1Cor.15:44 and 1Pet.3:18, where Paul calls our resurrection body a “spiritual body” and Peter says Christ was “made alive in the spirit.” Do these passages deny a physical resurrection in favor of an exclusively “spiritual” future existence? Not at all. In 1Cor.15:44 (pasted below), Paul says the Christian’s body is sown (dead and buried) a “natural body” and raised “a spiritual body.” Notice that he is talking specifically about the human “body” (“soma” in Greek), a physical arrangement of tissues and organs that harbors a soul, undergoing death and then the great resurrection change. “Spiritual” does not somehow mean nonsensically a “non-body body,” or a non-corporeal or non-physical body. The physical resurrection of Christ and believers is already abundantly demonstrated by the passages above. Jesus, after his resurrection, literally said he was not a spirit; “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luk.24:39). So, when Paul says we live and die in a “natural body,” he uses that term of his to mean our fallen, mortal bodies operating under the laws of this cursed age of the world with its bondage to decay (Rom.8:21). Our bodies are overwhelmed by sin and death (Rom.6:6, 7:24). They must be changed to correspond to the eternal glories of the age to come (1Cor. 15:50-57, Rom.8:21-23, 2Cor.4:7, 5:1-5). When Paul says we will be raised with a “spiritual body,” he points to the Holy Spirit’s completed work in setting us free, body and soul, from the law of sin and death (Rom.8:2). Our physically resurrected bodies will be as visibly, manifestly filled with the Holy Spirit as our souls are now. Christians already live in a different realm of fellowship with God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are in Christ and his Spirit is in us. Already we have the Holy Spirit’s powerful regenerating effect in our souls; then we will have it in our bodies. This is also what Peter means in 1Pet.3:18, when he says Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” He died in the weakness of mortal flesh under the laws and powers of this age (Rom. 6:9, 8:3, 2Cor.13:4), but was raised by the Holy Spirit into a new powerful domain of existence (Rom.1:4, 6:10, 8:9-11, 1Tim.3:16). It is the Holy Spirit who brings bodily resurrection and glorification. In 1Cor.15:44 and 1Pet.3:18, we could safely capitalize “Spiritual” because it means under the influence of the life-giving, divine “Holy Spirit.” Rom.8:11, below, forms the best biblical commentary on these verses.
• 1 Corinthians 15:37-53 l, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
• 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…
• Romans 8:9-11 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
• 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.