“I believe in the resurrection of the body,” with these words countless faithful Christians regularly affirm their hope in the general resurrection of all believers at the return of Christ. But for many the notion of resurrection is fuzzy and foreign. What does it mean to be resurrected? What does a resurrected body look like? Will I have my 60 year old body or my 25 year old body? Will I have to deal with bodily matters that I deal with now? Do I really want a resurrected body? Where will all these new bodies live?
These questions and more have abounded for centuries; indeed, such questions are anticipated by the scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 15:35, Paul addresses those who ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” He resists any temptation to involve himself in speculating about particulars preferring instead to acknowledge different species of bodies and declaring that God gives bodies as he chooses (38). The apostle does not leave us altogether without help, though. Later in the chapter come at least two concepts that inform our understanding of our future resurrection, even if we don’t hear all the particulars.
First is immortality. The resurrection body will no longer be subject to mortality. It will be unable to die. Paul says straightforwardly in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 that our current mortal bodies will put on immortality. The same idea shows up in Romans 6:9 speaking of Christ, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” And those who have died with Christ will likewise share his resurrection life (Romans 6:8). So, whatever the specifics of the resurrection body, this much is certain: it will not be able to die. This is difficult for us to take on board if only because none of us have ever encountered a body that is actually immortal. But this is where our Holy Spirit enlivened imaginations might be of some help. What would it be like to enjoy life without the fear of death? No need to worry about decrepit bodies or damageable goods. To experience the resurrection is to be free from mortality, free to enjoy the fullness of eternal life with the God who gives it.
Second is incorruptibility. This idea shows up in 1 Corinthians 15:53 also: “this corruptible body must put on incorruptibility.” A number of translations render this with perishable/imperishability, but the Greek word carries the sense of corruptibility also, which I prefer in part because it gives us a translation with more nuance. (There is too much overlap between the English words mortal and perishable.) Once again, use your imagination. Try to envision a body that is perfectly free from corruption, a body that no longer feels so firmly the damaging effects of sin and transgression. No surprise that this idea is also in Romans 6 where Paul tells his readers that they are no longer slaves to sin if they have union with the resurrected Christ (5-14), and this present freedom is an anticipation of the freedom that will come at the resurrection. What an incredible hope! Bodily life free from the devastating effects of corruption that is the common experience of all. This is what resurrection will be like.
So, as we endeavor to wrap our minds around the glorious mystery of resurrection and eternal life, I think the scriptures give us room for some guided imagining. We don’t know the particulars and we are not free to imagine whatever we want, but we are given these twin concepts of immortality and incorruptibility. And within that framework we have some freedom to imagine the life to come. One task before us then is to use the imaginations that God has given us as we live in anticipation of the glory of the coming resurrection.