Do the dead currently have bodies?
A reader asks, “What do people in heaven right now, have for bodies? Or are they just souls?” The questioner further ponders, “…doesn’t it say somewhere that we will recognize people we know, so how can we do that without bodies, although, I know we will meet our new resurrected bodies in the air at the rapture?”
This is a fascinating question for it seems the more you try to squash it, it only splatters into multiple more questions! That believers shall ultimately have bodies in their eternal state is made quite clear in scripture. In fact, pretty much the whole of 1 Corinthians 15 addresses this fact.
In Luke 16 Jesus relates the story of the rich man and Lazarus where, in torments, the rich man recognizes both Abraham and Lazarus: “…the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.” (Luke 16:22-23).
As well, in the synoptic gospels, we read how just six days after Christ reveals His impending death to the disciples, He takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop where they witness Christ’s transfiguration but also see and recognize the long departed Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (See Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36; 2 Pet. 1:16–18).
It is further curious to me that in these above cases Abraham, Moses and Elijah are all recognized by persons who had never before seen them! Upon what then was their recognition based?
But our questioner is not asking about our eternal state; their question is about right now, having died but yet awaiting their glorified forms. This is Indeed a puzzle. Paul writes of the departed as “those who sleep in death” (1 Thess. 4:13). This sounds like these souls rest in unconsciousness until the Lord’s return and “the trumpet call of God,” whereupon “the dead in Christ will rise first,” then the living: “…we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Yet, on the cross, Jesus promises the repentant thief beside Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). Is this thief’s soul now “with Jesus” yet sleeping?
But we also find what appears to be quite the opposite in John’s description of the opening of the fifth seal…
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.” (Rev. 6:9-11).
Well what’s going on here!? Certainly these souls seem conscious, seemingly un-bodied, awaiting… what? Bodies?
There are even more questions: Clearly, in 1 Cor. 15, we see that these eternal bodies are not like our present bodies. Their appearance must be in many ways also different. And consider this: at what age would they look like? If you knew someone only as a child then saw them as adult, would you recognize them? Would anyone really want to look as they do now for all eternity? There are so many questions… so many unknowns…
Always when we ask questions of “when” about eternity we are bound to come up short. “When” is a reality of this temporal [non-spiritual, time-related] world. To the thief on the cross Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43), yet scripture places Jesus in the tomb, descending as a testimony to hell, rising from the grave and saying to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:16) though shortly after He tells Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (John 20:27). His Ascension was not until several days later!
When we consider this same Jesus as acting in creation, even in forming “the first day” (Gen. 1:5) yet “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8), we must simply throw up our hands and say with the Apostle, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Rom. 11:33).
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