The Heavenly Body

First, the body of flesh which stems from the temporal earth relapses naturally into the earth even apart from sin (Ps. 49:12,20; Eccl. 3:19f., cf. Gen. 3:19). Dust to dust is the way of all the earth (Jos. 23:14; 1 K. 2:2; Job 10:9). The heavenly body will not therefore be material/physical, that is, composed of dust, an earthen vessel or clay pot (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45-50; 2 Cor. 4:7).

Next, it will not be the present body regenerated. Since we all, like creation itself, are subject to corruption, even fleshly rebirth (cf. re-incarnation) cannot help. In any case, both Jesus and Nicodemus implicitly deny its possibility (cf. John 3:4-6).

Third, it will not be the present body eternalised. This is impossible for the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50). The flesh, which is at war with the spirit and/or Spirit (Rom. 7:23; Gal. 5:17; Jas. 4:1; 1 Pet. 2:11), is cast out (Gal. 4:29f.). Only the spiritual son remains in the house forever (John 8:35). As Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:37 the body (of flesh) that is sown is not the body that is raised (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23). Even Jesus, like the creation from which he derived through his mother (cf. Heb. 1:10-12, etc.), was subject to ageing (Luke 2:41ff.; John 8:57). So even he who had the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16) must have attained to perfection by undergoing transformation at his ascension and return to his heavenly glory (cf. John 17:5,24; 1 Cor. 15:51ff.). When Jesus came to earth he was transformed into flesh (incarnated). When he ascended he was retransformed in such a way as to recover the glory he shared with his Father before the world began (John 17:5,24, cf. 6:62; 13:3; 16:28; Phil. 2:6-11, etc.). In other words, though still human, he recovered the generic nature of God (cf. Phil. 2:6). As Irenaeus once put it: “Christ became what we are, in order that we might become what he is” (Adv. Haer. 5, preface).

So, fourth, we shall have a glorious spiritual body, or body of glory, like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2; Heb. 1:3, cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; 15:42ff.), who is the image of God and in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9, cf. Tit. 2:13). According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 Christ is a life-giving spirit.

Fifth, we shall shine like the sun (Mt. 13:43, cf. 1 Tim. 6:14-16).

Sixth, while the present body stems from the corruptible earth and is dust like that of the first Adam (Gen. 2:7, etc.), the heavenly body will derive from the eternal heaven like that of Christ (Phil. 3:21, cf. 1 John 3:2). This harmonises with the original difference between the two Adams: the one came from the temporal earth, the other came from eternal heaven (John 1:18; 3:31; 8:23;1 Cor. 15:47-49). Paul says that the Jerusalem that is above is our mother (Gal. 4:26, cf. Heb. 12:22-24), so it follows naturally that we are born from above (John 3:3) and have God as our Father (John 1:13). As his spiritual sons and daughters, we shall be fully conformed to his image in Christ (Rom. 8:29, cf. 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). Since we shall share his glory and his generic nature as his children we shall live in the spirit like God (1 Pet. 4:6).

Again, the present destructible body fashioned from clay (Gen. 2:7; Job 10:8f.; 2 Cor. 4:7) is “made by hand” (Job 10:3,8; Ps. 119:73, etc.) and is in direct contrast with the indestructible body which is “not made by hand” (2 Cor. 5:1). Like the earthly imitation temple (Heb. 8:5) which gives way to the true tent (Mark 14:58; Heb. 8:2; 9:11,24) and the earthly city which is replaced by the eternal city whose designer and builder is God (ESV, Heb. 11:10,16; 12:22; 13:14), the earthly body of flesh yields to a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1).

Since we as mortals have received a heavenly call (Phil. 3:14; 1 Thes. 2:12; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 5:10) while on earth in the flesh (cf. Rom. 2:7), we draw the unavoidable inference that a change of body is indispensable. After all, a body geared to living on the material earth is hardly fitted for life in the spiritual heaven. This view of the matter is further supported by the fact that the body of flesh is part of a creation which, being “made by hand” and naturally in bondage to corruption (Isa. 45:12; 48:13; Heb. 1:10-12; Rom. 8:18-25), is itself ultimately destined for destruction (Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12).

Whatever the nature of our body (cf. 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:9) it will be heavenly, spiritual and “not made by hand” (2 Cor. 5:1). It will fit us for living in the presence of our heavenly Father (John 14:6, cf. 1 Pet. 4:6) in the new Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22, cf. Isa. 65:17f.). If we are true believers our citizenship is already in heaven (Phil 3:20, cf. Eph. 2:6) and the flesh, like the world over which we were intended to exercise dominion from the start, is to be put to death (Col. 3:1-5, cf. 1 John 2:15-17, etc.). In the event, our present bodies will pass away like the present creation (2 Pet. 1:14; Heb. 12:27; Rev. 20:11; 21:1-4). As the author of Hebrews says, when the first is abolished, the second is established (10:9, cf. 1 Cor. 15:35ff.; 2 Cor. 5:1). Or again, in the words of Paul, when the perfect comes the imperfect will pass away (1 Cor. 13:10). This indicates that transformation in the sense of replacement is of the essence of Scripture (cf. Rom. 1:23). Who needs a fleshly body when we have a spiritual one (1 Cor. 15:45-52)? Who needs creation when the Creator is present (Ezek. 48:35)? Who needs a temple when we live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28; Rev. 21:22)? Who needs the sun when the Son himself shines (Rev. 21:22-22:5)? No wonder Paul wrote that from him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:36). As the Westminster Shorter Catechism has it, it is our destiny to glorify him and enjoy him forever.