By Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. Erwin Lutzer
Dr. John Ankerberg: One of the questions people often ask is,
"What about the saints who are in heaven today: What kind of a body do they
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: We know that the great emphasis in the New
Testament is on the Resurrection, 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 tells us, "We shall
be raised." Paul anticipates that and it is so important to our theology. Well,
if people in heaven today do not yet have a body, how do they communicate?
There are two different views that have been given about this. First of all, there are those who believe that we have an intermediate body; that is, that God creates a body that the saints in heaven can use until they get their permanent resurrected one. Now, that’s a plausible theory, but I have to wonder, "What happens to that body at the day of resurrection? Is it just thrown away, annihilated, discarded?"
Let me suggest that there might be a second explanation—and I want you to think about this. Quite possibly, after a person dies, his or her soul takes on the characteristics of a body. Now, that might seem implausible, but listen to this text from the Book of Revelation: "And when he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who have been slain… [Notice, "the souls of those who had been slain"] because of the Word of God and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" Now, that’s what the text says: The souls were beneath the altar and look at what they were doing. They were crying out loud. They were speaking. They were clothed with white garments. So I can’t understand that mystery, but maybe God enables the souls of those who go to heaven to have those characteristics which they need to communicate. There needs to be communication with words and what have you. There needs to be some visual sight of these individuals so that they recognize one another and are in the presence of Christ. And just possibly, it is that the soul is able to do that.
But here’s the bottom line. Let’s not miss that which is most important. When you die as a Christian, you are immediately in the presence of Christ. You are immediately conscious. There is no break of consciousness. And, as a result of that, you know that all of the faculties that you had here on earth, all of your abilities carry over to the other side. Of that we can be certain.
D. L. Moody, before he died, said, "Soon you shall read in the newspapers that D. L. Moody has died. Do not believe it, for in that moment I shall be more alive than I have ever been."
I like what Chet Bitterman said. You may have heard the story of how his son was martyred as a missionary. Chet said, "We have eight living children. Seven are on earth and one is in heaven." It is really true that the moment you die, you are more alive than you have ever been.
Now, John, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the resurrection body because that’s the body that we shall have permanently. And in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the Apostle Paul makes four contrasts between this body and the one that we shall have. And by the way, before I get into those contrasts, there are some people who think that God is going to create these bodies ex nihilo, that is to say, "Out of nothing." No! There is continuity between the body that you have today and the one that you will have. You see, when the disciples went to the tomb of Christ on Easter morning, when they went there, God didn’t just create a brand new body for the Lord Jesus Christ and leave His physical body in the tomb. No. There was continuity. That’s why they were able to recognize Him. He could even say to Thomas, "Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing."
Everything that we know about the resurrection body of Jesus really applies to us. You know, as I think about this, not a one of us would like to die, but it is exciting, isn’t it? Because the Scripture says that eventually "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." What a fantastic hope God gives to us in the Scriptures!
Well, very quickly, let’s look at what these contrasts are. First of all, 1 Corinthians 15 says, "We are sown a perishable body; we are raised imperishable." The experts tell us that the moment we are born, we begin to die. We have a perishable body.
Why don’t you come with me. Let’s do some hospital visitation. We go through the hallways and in this room there’s a young mother, 24 years old, two small children She’s dying of cancer. We go across the hall and we visit a man who has had a heart attack and the question is whether or not he is going to make it or whether or not he is going to die. We go down the hall and we discover that someone else is dying from a very rare disease and the doctors do not even know its cause.
All the way down, we see the deterioration of the body. And the Scripture says that just a kernel is put into the ground—and there is continuity between the kernel and the stalk, between the acorn and the tree—in the very same way a person is buried and then they are raised imperishable.
Paul also tells us that it is "sown in dishonor." I know that the funeral industry today is able to do some marvelous things with bodies, but the fact of the matter is that every person who dies, we all know that there is that sense of hopelessness, of helplessness, and death is not pretty. And the Scripture says here, "It is sown in dishonor, but it is raised in glory."
You take the most humble Christian you’ve ever met—maybe even someone you don’t like very much and they’re believers in Jesus Christ and they die. They are raised, they will receive a body that is a blaze, really, of glory—a body like that of Jesus Christ. What a wonderful thing we have to look forward to.
It is "sown in weakness." I don’t have to say anything about that because we all know that, don’t we? But it is "raised in power." It is "sown a natural body," the Scripture says "It is raised a spiritual body."
Now, I need to clarify something here, John, because there are those who think that when we are in heaven we’re going to be angels. No, that’s not true. The angels have their separate existence. Some people also think that we’re going to be spirits. No, you’re not going to be a spirit. You’re going to be a spiritual body but there’s as big difference. Remember, after the Resurrection Jesus said to the disciples, "Touch me. Handle me. And see that a spirit does not have flesh and bones." So you can see that we are going to have a body like that of Jesus Christ.
Now, mind you, it will be able to go through doors. It will not be subject to the limitations that we know in this life because our body is going to be like that of Jesus Christ. And the good news is, that when we believe on Him, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
You know, John, as a pastor I have conducted many funerals and when you conduct the funeral of a Christian, it’s a mixed experience, isn’t it? Because on the one hand, you cry and you grieve; on the other hand, you’re delighted because you know that they are with the Lord Jesus Christ. I think of the words of Tony Evans who said, "Have a good time at my funeral because I’m not going to be there!" And I need to remind us that when we weep, we weep for ourselves, not for them, because they are in the presence of Christ.
My brother’s 16-year-old son was killed in a tragic car accident. Would you believe that he was memorizing verses of Scripture in the backseat of the car? He was on his way to a Scripture Bible Quiz. And he and a young woman who was with him, also in the backseat memorizing that Scripture, were killed instantly. They hit some ice and a semi-truck came and smashed the car and that was the end of them. And my brother was weeping so much until my mother said to him, "Remember this, that your son Dallas would not come back even if he could, having seen the glories of heaven." And that gave my brother some comfort knowing that he was weeping for himself, and that’s fine. We do weep. But we also have the certainty that those who have believed in Jesus are on the other side safely in the arms of Christ.
I like to point out at funerals that when we say that this person is in heaven, we’re not saying that just to make people feel better. Sometimes we are preachers, you know, are expected to say some wonderful things about those who have died. No, my friend, we say it because if they have believed in Jesus Christ, it is true! It is true! Because Christ is the Savior of the world: "He who believes in Me has everlasting life." And that means you can go from this life to the next and Christ carries you all the way through to the very throne room of God.
HEAVENLY BODIES ( take 2 )
( courtesy www.gotquestions.org )
In the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, Paul talks about the
resurrection and the resurrected body. In verses 35 and following, he states
that our heavenly bodies will be different from our natural bodies, with some
stark contrasts. Whereas our earthly bodies are characterized by mortality
(being susceptible to death), our resurrected bodies will be characterized by
immortality (not susceptible to death). Likewise while our earthly bodies are
susceptible to decay (corruption), they will become incorruptible (1 Corinthians
15:53). Also, where our natural bodies are prone to weakness (ask anyone who has
reached 40 years of age or older), our resurrected bodies will be characterized
by strength (verse 43).
Another comparison that is made is that now we have a natural body, but then we will have a spiritual body. This probably doesn’t mean that we will be like ghosts possessing no body at all and floating around unable to interact with things around us. After all, verse 49 states that we will have a body like Jesus’ resurrected body (see also 1 John 3:2). And Jesus, after His resurrection, told them to touch Him and to watch Him eat, demonstrating that He was not merely a spirit (Luke 24:37-43). Rather, it’s more likely that just as a natural body is fitted for this present life in our physical universe, the spiritual body will be that which will best suits us for the eternal existence we are destined for in our eternal abode. Jesus’ resurrected body was capable of entering locked rooms at will (John 20:19). Our earthly body limits us in ways (and/or dimensions) that our spiritual body will not.
First Corinthians 15:43 also describes the transformation from “sown in dishonor” to “raised in glory.” Philippians 3:21 says that Jesus “...will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body...” Our decaying bodies are described with the word “dishonor” because they bear the mark of the results of sin. We can all picture the lungs of one who has ruined his health through smoking, or a brain that is no longer able to form complete thoughts because of drug abuse. In the same way, the decaying physical body is the direct result of man’s sinfulness. Had there been no sin, there would be no decay and death (1 Corinthians 15:56). But God, through Christ’s transforming power, is able to raise up His children in Christ with new glorious bodies, being completely free from the ravages of sin and possessing the glory of Christ instead.
To summarize, we are not told exactly what we will look like in the next life, what age we will appear to be, or if we will look thin or fat. But while many believe we will bear some resemblance to what we look like now, we do know that in whatever ways our appearance or health has been altered as a result of sin (whether because of overeating or not eating right, hereditary malformations, injuries, aging, etc.), these traits will not be carried over into our appearance in the next life. More importantly, the sin nature, inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12) will no longer be with us, for we will be made after the holiness of Christ (1 John 3:2).
HEAVENLY BODIES ( take 3 )
Heaven should be the goal, the focus of every child of God.
The hope and glory this holds for the human heart should never be
underestimated. This hope will carry the child of God through all the trials of
life which crosses his/her pathway. The greater the challenge the more focused
we must be upon the goal of Heaven if we are not to lose hope which results in
despair and discouragement. Dear child of God, Satan is out to destroy your hope
and to drown you in despair as the waves of life threaten to sink you to the
depths of self pity and turn your vision inward. The more
threatening the storms of life you are faced with or the higher the mountain you
are asked to climb the greater your focus must be on your final destination,
heaven and the presence of God our father.
There was a song we sang while I was growing up which reminded us, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through." Dear child of God we are not home yet; the journey is not over. God has not completed His molding of our lives; He is still shaping our lives in the image of His Dear Son.
Come with me and take a brief journey as we consider what God has prepared for us. Jesus on the eve of His death comforts His apostles with these words found in John 14:13, "Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." This is not just for leading at the graveside service in the cemetery only but for us the living that we may have hope. Just think what beauty God has created in this world in only six days. He has had over 2,000 years since this promise was given to create for those who love Him the mansions of glory.
Paul wrote with confidence in II Corinthians 5:9, "To be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." At death, "We have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (II Corinthians 5:1). Myself, I am looking for the upper take, not the undertaker of which Paul wrote to Titus in 2:13, "Looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ." This event, of course, is recorded in I Thessalonians 4:16-18, "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 who 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."
This will by no means be a complete study of Heaven, but I hope and pray enough will be written to lead you into a personal study resulting in hope and courage as we face the up's and down's of every day living.
Heaven in the general sense refers to the place where God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are. This will also be the home of the holy angels and those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The Bible identifies three distinct heavens. The atmospheric heavens about the earth in which the birds fly and the clouds ride about as chariots. The second Heaven is the stellar sphere of space as we know it, and the angels move about and make it their home. The third is the celestial realm where the glory of God reigns beyond our comprehension. It might be well to state at this point heaven finds as its source the Word of God. Since a belief in Heaven is almost universal in scope, it points out the influence the Bible has had throughout our world and its impact on the history of mankind.
There is a binding thread of principle which runs throughout the Bible that truth is established by the witness of two or three person. The Holy Spirit brings three witnesses forward as trustworthy people in regard to heaven: Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul, Apostle John. The Lord Jesus Christ, who resides in Heaven and being very God could not mislead us or be a source of error on this subject. Remember, "Unto us a Son is given" (Isaiah 53). Christ in His deity could never be born but was given. Christ said He was going to prepare a place, not a state of existence. To the Son of God, heaven is as real as a place could be. The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 12:1-9 relates an experience in which he was caught up into heaven and did not speak of what he saw for fourteen years. This probably refers to his stoning at Lystra where he died a martyr's death, went to heaven and then was returned to his body and the ministry God had called him to. This all had to be a miracle of healing for the account says in Acts 14:20, "He rose up and came into the city; and the next day He departed with Barnabas to Derbe." No wonder Paul could write, "I say and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:6-8). Also Paul states in Philippians 1:23, "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better." The Apostle John lends his testimony in the Revelation of Jesus Christ as God the Holy Spirit reveals all that is going to happen to the Church and goes into great detail concerning the judgments of God and the unfolding of the events leading up to eternity. One could hardly read the works of John and say God has left us without witness to the glories of heaven.
The wonders and beauties of Heaven go beyond our wildest dreams or expectations.
The Bible teaches us in Isaiah 64:4 and I
Corinthians 2:9, "But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither have entered into the hearts of man, the things which God hath prepared
for them that love Him." The Revelation of Jesus Christ records for us in
Chapter 21:1 through chapters 22:7 many of the glorious facts of Heaven, and
every child of God should take time to learn something about his/her heavenly
home. In our resurrection bodies from I Corinthians 15 we learn that we will put
on immortality and have a new heart that cannot know sin. Every child of God
will be perfect, and we will live in a perfect environment. There will be no
sorrow, no death, no separation from God or those we love forever,. no imperfect
bodies, no pain, no disease, and no mental anguish. All that is imperfect will
be done away with forever. Our heavenly abode will be lighted by the presence of
God Himself There will never be any darkness, for the light of eternity will be
our God. Our surroundings are likened to all manner of precious stones, and we
will walk on streets of gold. It is interesting that again and again it is
stated there will be no night in Heaven. God will not be running any sleep
clinics and fat farms for people who do not like how they look. There will be a
river and the tree of Life which will bear twelve kinds of fruit.
Yes, there will be food in Heaven, and the great news is
we can eat and not worry about the consequences. Remember in His glorified body
Christ ate with His disciples and we shall have a body like unto His glorious
body. I have had asthma over 68 years, and my main trigger is horses.
Just think, in Heaven I will be able to ride a white horse and for the first
time not have a breathing problem. Thank the Lord for Revelation 19:14. Some
times it is fun to just peak into the window of Heaven. Yes there will be horses
and you can play mental gymnastics as to what else will be there as well. For
those who are tired, there will be rest, for Revelation 14:13 states, "And I
heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, write, blessed are the dead which die in
the Lord from henceforth yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their
labors; and their works do follow them." We will stay busy serving the Lord,
Revelation 22:3 states, "And there will be no more curse; but the throne of God
and of the Lamb shall be in it and His servants shall serve Him." The great
thing is we will never get tired and will be able to finish and accomplish all
challenges He places before us. Worship will be one of our functions as recorded
in Revelation 19:1, "And after the things I heard a great voice of much people
in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto
the Lord our God." And this will all be done with perfect holiness based on
perfect knowledge. How beautiful will be the singing in heaven as we all will
sing on key a new song taught to us by our Redeemer. Revelation 5:9 declares,
"And they sang a new song, saying,
"Thou art worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." The family of God will be praising Him who is the object of our love and devotion throughout eternity. There will be perfect unity perfect harmony. As the family of God, with one accord we will forever enjoy the eternity that God has prepared for those who are objects of His love.
Just think, so wondrous is that which is ahead, we have not even caused a ripple on the sea of eternity as to what God has in store for us.