Return to Index Page


Resurrection Bodies

By Richard Gunther


Whenever we look into the Bible for glimpses of the future, we always come up against metaphors, poetry and visions. For example, there is no clear or specific description of the world to come, except for some tantalizingly brief sketches and a number of negatives – there will be no more death, no more crying, no more liars and so on. The actual state of the planet, geographically speaking, is left to our imagination. We assume that the animals and plants will be different, but we have no idea in what way. Some qualities are given, in a general sort of way, but almost all of the quantities are missing.


   So it is with great caution that this article is written, because it is an attempt to understand something which God has not clearly described, yet within the few glimpses which we do have there is quite a lot which we can understand. What I present from here on is left entirely to the reader to decide whether there is any truth in it or not. Ultimately, when God decides to transform us at the return of Christ, then we will know for sure.


   We will start with a statement from Paul which shows that our bodies will indeed be changed: “(God) shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” Philippians 3:21 Here we have two different kinds of body, one “vile” and the other “glorious”.

   The Greek for “change” means “transform, or change the fashion of”.

   The Greek for “vile body” means “body of humiliation”. It is related to what we might call shabby or old clothing. Because we live at present in a fallen world, we share the state of fallen creation, which is constantly perishing, wearing out and dying. This is a kind of humiliation because it is not the way God wants His creation to be.

   The Greek for “glorious body” means “the body of His glory”.


   Some questions about resurrection bodies are dealt with by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:35-54.  We will work our way through them. In these 19 verses Paul covers a lot of ground. To begin with he uses illustrations from the garden to explain some of the mysteries of the resurrection.


1.                      A seed must be sown, and die, before it can change into a new plant.

2.                      The plant which comes from the seed doesn’t look like the seed it came from.

3.                      And the seed always relates to the plant it produces.


1.                      The seed must die before it can become anything. Just as Jesus died and was buried, a seed must lie dormant in the ground before it can spring into life. In a similar way, all people must die before they can inherit resurrection life. Even  Christians who are living when Jesus comes will go through a sudden death as God transforms them and makes them fit for His Kingdom. One reason for this is because in pour present state we are unable to stand in God’s presence without being destroyed. As God said to Moses: “You cannot see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live”. Ex.33:20.

2.                      Once a seed has germinated, a thousand changes take place and the new plant springs up. There is almost nothing left of the seed when the plant is grown. A tree doesn’t look like its own seed, neither does a daisy look like a daisy seed. In the resurrection there will a profound difference between what we are now and what we will be then.

3.                      Yet in some strange way there is still something of the seed left in the plant. The two are related, even though the product is so different from the original seed. In the case of Jesus, he was still recognizable, yet he was also very different. This is an illustration for us to consider as we head towards the same event. We too will be the same in some ways, but also very different in others.


   Looking at this point a little further, we know that, in humans, there is nothing left of the original seed which began our lives in the womb. Those first few cells are long gone, and the whole body we had in the womb has been replaced many times by new cells, yet the same identity has continued through the whole process, from conception to birth and right up to the present day. This continuity of identity is important because it helps us to see that we will retain our identities through death and into the resurrection, even though our body will change even more than it has done since conception.


   If we think of the resurrection as another ‘birth’ experience, then we have no problem with the identity question. God has kept us unique from conception through our first birth – He can surely keep us that way through the great experience.


   A question is sometimes raised at this point: “How can our body be raised if it has been reduced to soil and then been absorbed and used by thousands of other organisms? And what if we died in a ball of fire in the atmosphere?” The natural mind usually works in the natural realm. Miracles are not part of the physical world, and they never follow known physical laws. The answer to the obvious, and very logical question for the natural way of thinking, is that God is a God of miracles. He called the whole universe into existence by speaking a word, thus producing material substance out of nothing material (“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear”. Hebrews 11:3) and all through the Bible we have much the same pattern. Animals and plants appeared all over the newly created planet without needing prior substance, the manna which fed the Israelites for 40 years simple appeared on the ground, the fiery pillar burned without needing fuel, the new arms, legs, eyes and ears which Jesus gave to the crippled were created by His power, and the resurrection of Lazarus demonstrated the supernatural process whereby God can make ‘death work backwards’ as C.S.Lewis put it.  It is no harder or easier for God to call the dead back to life, than it is for Him to create a universe, in fact there is nothing ‘hard’ for God. We are the ones who tend to decide that sort of thing for Him!


   Another aspect of the resurrection body, which relates to the natural planting of a seed, is the fact that whatever is planted will produce a predictable outcome. If we plant cabbage seeds, we witness cabbage plants. If we plant a male human, we will see a male human resurrected, and not something totally different. The offspring always relates to the seed, which means that God has already told us a great deal about our future bodies by illustrating this principle in plants.


   Now that we have come this far, we can ask another question: “What kind of body will the resurrected have?” The answer is given in 1Cor.15:37,38 “And that which you sow, you sow not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God gives it a body as it has pleased him, and to every seed his own body”.


   What Paul is saying here is that there are many different kinds of seeds, and some of them look much the same, like the grain family, but locked within each seed is a mechanism which produces a plant which is unique to that seed. Two identical seeds may produce two totally different plants, such as a daisy and a thistle. When a body is lowered into a grave, it goes away from us like a seed, but God already has the final shape of the resurrected person in His Mind. It is the law of sowing and reaping. If we sow in our lives by living in a certain way, we will rise with a certain kind of body. This law is unbreakable. The day of resurrection will reveal to all what kind of sowing we did in our present lives, because our resurrection body will display it.


   All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another”. 1 Corinthians 15:39,40

   There is something terrible and awesome in these words. Paul is still talking about the resurrection body, but he wants us to notice how many different kinds of ‘body’ there are. Some bodies are shaped for fish, some for earthly beasts, and there are also celestial bodies, such as stars, and comets, and galaxies. Paul refers to the sun and the moon, two very different objects, one glorious with light, the other dull and reflective. He says “For one star differs from another star in glory” – and all this is a very well-worked build up to illustrate something about the resurrection. Paul spends five whole verses trying to make it clear that there are a wide range of different ‘bodies’ in the universe, and he labours this line of thought because he has an incredibly important point to make.


   “So also is the resurrection of the dead.”


   The implication is that as we live out our lives here and now, we are actually sending something to God on which He will base our future body.


    There is a humorous story told about a woman who went to heaven and met St. Peter, who took her to a road where there was a line of stately mansions. The woman walked along, admiring each grand building as it passed, and all the time expecting Peter to stop and show her her mansion, but Peter kept going, until he eventually stopped outside a weed-infested block of land with a few planks and things.

   “Surely this is not mine!” gasped the woman.

   “I’m afraid so” said Peter, “This is all you sent us!”


   In the resurrection all the saints will look different, and they will also have different bodies. Some bodies will be very glorious, while others will be not so glorious. Some will blaze, in quality, like the sun, while others will have the quality of a small star, or even a moon. The one consolation will be that all the saints will be there, but for some it will be a disappointing affair, and probably not a bit as they expected.


   Moving on, Paul now makes a distinction between our present bodies and our future bodies. The body we have now is called “natural”, but the resurrection body will be “spiritual”. As the seed is related to the plant, so the new body will be related to the old. There is nothing intrinsically evil about being in the “natural” body, since that too was created by God, but God has a plan of progress, in which the natural body must be raised up into a new level of life. (And having raised us to that level there is no reason why God may not raise us to other levels after that, but we are not told whether this will happen or not.)


   Our resurrection bodies are depicted and suggested at in other ways, like glimpses of light  through cracks in a wall. For example:


1.                    Moses and Elijah (Mat.17:1-9). In this “vision”, (and Jesus called it just that), two prophets appeared with Jesus in glory.  We are told that the face of Jesus was “transfigured”. The word for “transfigured” is ‘metamorphoom’ and can also mean “transformed”. In the matching passage in Mark 9:2 the word used is ‘metamorphoo’ which means “to change into another form.

   The disciples recognized Moses and Elijah, even though they had never seen them before. This implies that when we are resurrected we will know who we are, and who other saints are, and no introductions will be needed. All the saints will be one familiar family, with no-one left out as a stranger. Perhaps a taste of this occurs when we walk into a business and the receptionist smiles and greets us by name?

   *Moses and Elijah had a physical form or shape. They looked solid, material and real. They were not transparent or ethereal.

   *The two prophets were intelligently discussing something with Jesus.

   *Both prophets still had their own personal identity. They had not become, as some religions teach, one with the universe and as such obliterated as individuals. Nirvana is a deadly lie (Hindu) which robs people of one of the great gifts of God individualism. God wants us to grow and develop into totally different, unique individuals, not disappear and become clones, or non-entities, in fact, the longer we live, the more different from each other we should become.

   *Moses and Elijah had spiritual bodies, and were able to stand before the glorious Jesus without being knocked down, whereas the disciples fell on their faces in fear. This shows that in the resurrection God will give us bodies which are more suited to the new level of life.


2.                    The Risen Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:36, John 20:27)

*When Jesus rose from the dead, he rose physically.

*The resurrection body which Jesus had was recognizable. It had a face, hands, feet, and also the marks of the wounds.

*His body was so solid and real that it was able to be handled, touched, and felt. He was no phantom, or illusion. Jesus said: Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see that I have. Luke 24:39  (Notice the words flesh and bones some have said that this implies that He had no blood, but there are many other references in the Bible using the same words, so it is probably just an idiomatic expression)

*He ate food and promised that one day, when the Kingdom of God was fully established, he would join his friends for a feast (Luke 24:42 broiled fish and honeycomb, Matthew 26:29  But I say to you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Fathers kingdom.)


   However, having displayed his physical attributes, Jesus also showed us some of the spiritual or supernatural qualities of his resurrection body. For example, he was no long restricted by material barriers Luke 20:26 Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you., also 20:19.

   He could also change his appearance so people didnt recognize him Mark 16:12 After that he appeared in another form to two of them as they walked, and he could appear or disappear at will And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

   He had unrestricted passage between heaven and earth I ascend to my Father and your Father . . . John 20:17, 27.


   Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2


3.                    The imagination.

Having said all the above, there are other ways in which we may glimpse the future. Our imagination is often prompted to daydream or imagine wonderful states of being, very similar in some ways to the eternal life which the very young experience. For the healthy, happy child, life is a heavenly bliss, full of joy and wonder this is a glimpse of the Kingdom of God to come. Perhaps also those ideas we have read about, or seen in movies of being able to fly, to breath underwater, and to soar into space are part of our instinctive desire to be immortal?


4.                    Nature

 Other glimpses come from Nature. When we see something beautiful we are reminded that there are areas of glory hidden from us at present which we will one day be allowed to experience. From our senses we often experience something close to ecstasy, such as diving into a refreshing pool, or lying in the sun at the beach, or eating something delicious when we are hungry, or hearing good news and laughing with delight. All these are also hints of the future, when our joy will be full.


5.                    Human reasoning

   Simple, logical human reasoning also points us towards a future resurrection. As Merril Tenney wrote Death is a universal experience, yet men will not think about it until compelled to. They plead that death is incomprehensible, that there is no evidence for survival after death. They are offended by the thought of hell, and embarrassed by the thought of heaven. So many people agree with these words.


   Poets also whine and complain about the way death takes us all. Some people try to face death with chin up, others go to it kicking and struggling. Despite all the fair words and foul, death takes us all, but our human reasoning powers tell us that surely death is not a normal part of life? Immortality must be what we are designed for? So many people have come to this conclusion, from ancient Egypt, right through today. Why else would so many unbelievers make such a fuss over the bodies of dead and dearly departed if they did not think there was some sort of malicious twist to life? Death is usually seen, even by atheists, as an enemy, and a fiend, a robber of lifes sweetness, a vicious thug who ruins everything we try to build. If only he had not died people say, and If only she had lived to see that finished.


For many death makes all of life seem utterly futile. The recently departed Richard Burton said that his whole life was spent in cosmic boredom.


C.S.Lewis identified the deep longing which most people have as a search for joy. He noticed that usually there are times in our lives when we experience what we think is the ultimate pleasure, but then when we try to repeat it the same experience is faded. This search for the missing joy in life is also an indication that we were created form something other than this world.


6.                    Lost Perfection.

We gain another glimpse from the fact that, no matter how wonderful the work, humans always feel that there is a final perfection just outside their abilities. The greatest music ever written still suggests to us that there might be an even better symphony somewhere, still to be heard. The greatest books ever written still suggest that there is wisdom and art higher still. The greatest moral teachers always have faults. And in the realm of natural abilities humans know that physical perfection is impossible, but because it is impossible they often feel that there might be a perfect body somewhere in the future. Many people actually strive to attain physical perfection, but of course ageing always beats them.


7.                    The Kingdom of God.

Finally, we have intimations of the resurrection body hidden in promises relating to the coming Kingdom of God. For example: Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. Isaiah 9:7  If the increase of the Kingdom never stops, then the saints will need to have very durable bodies in order to keep to their responsibilities. Other references to the Kingdom being everlasting are: Psalm 145:13, Dan.4:3, 4:34, 7:14,27, 2Pet.1:11. Perhaps this is why the saints will be as the angels (Matthew 22:30  For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.)

   This article was written specifically about the resurrection body, but as always happens when one looks into Gods Word, many other subjects are attracted to whatever we look at. The sort of resurrection body we will receive is related to the sort of lives we live as Christians. That brings us to our relationship with Jesus. If we are walking with him today, we will walk with Him in the future. If we are using our bodies to further His Kingdom today, we will receive glorious bodies in the future. If we are not living for Jesus, our bodies will be less than glorious. The law of proportional reward operates here, just as the law of sowing and reaping also operates.


But be encouraged, we can sow for a great reward, starting today. As Jesus Himself said: My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. Revelation 22:12

Back to Index Page