The Bible is clear that the resurrection of the dead is a reality. This life is far from all that there is to experience. While death is the end of physical life, it is not the end of human existence. That's really good news!
However, people have a difficult time imagining what heaven will be like. Some think of heaven as a place where people sit on clouds like angels and fly from one family reunion to the next. Others have the idea that heaven will be a like a super-cool concert where people singing for all eternity. The very notion of enduring eternal choir performances may lack the WOW factor that you're hoping for.
Here's a verse in Scripture that should pique your interest in what this heavenly home will be like.
1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (NIV)
Here, the key phrase is “we shall be like him.” One of the most significant things about heaven is what we will be like. What the writers of the New Testament tried to emphasize the most about heaven was the personal change that will happen to each of us. From a theological perspective, this change carries more significance than the physical description or the location of heaven itself. The word that Jesus used to describe this amazing, personal change is “resurrection.” The Bible assures us that every believer will be resurrected bodily one day, and will enjoy an eternal, resurrection-quality life in heaven... forever!
Resurrection or Resuscitation?
To understand this word, we must realize that there has only been one resurrection throughout human history. This was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tomb He was laid in remains empty. For this reason, the Bible says that Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” 1 Cor. 15:20.
Many people get confused over the meaning of the words, “resuscitation” and “resurrection.” Resuscitation is something that happens when your physical body is brought back to a physical life. Lazarus and Eutychus were both resuscitated, or brought back to life according to the New Testament. Their hearts stopped for a time, then began pumping again. Years later, however, they both died again.
A resurrection is what takes place when your physical body is transformed into an eternal body that will last forever. A resurrected body will never experience death again. This will take place for every believer at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. When Jesus finally comes back, riding on a white horse, with a trumpet blast and a shout, the great resurrection of the dead will begin.
Some may be wondering, “If I’m not going to be resurrected before the Second Coming, what will happen to my life if I die days or even centuries before Jesus returns?” Or to put it another way, “What has happened to all those people who have already died? Are they just resting and sleeping in the grave?”
There are some people who believe in a doctrine called “soul sleep.” They state, and we believe erroneously, that your lights go out when you die, and you don’t wake up again until Jesus returns. Personally, we find this interpretation of Scripture tragic and very unsettling. We only need about eight hours of sleep, and then we're ready to go again. Eight years or eight centuries of sleeping, or however long we would have to wait for Jesus to return, would offer few comforting thoughts about our inevitable death. So be glad that the Bible doesn’t teach this doctrine.
It is true that the Bible uses the word “sleep” as a synonym for death on many occasions. But it only describes the state of the physical body, not your consciousness and personality. In fact, Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in Paradise after he died, “today!” The believing thief’s body was laid to rest, but not his spirit or mind. His consciousness and personality continued to live on forever, into eternity itself. Your body is merely a home or dwelling for the essence of who you are. You are more than the sum total of the physical body you inhabit.
If you die prior to the resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, you will have a spiritual existence in heaven, not a physical one. We wish I could explain more about this, but God has obviously withheld from us the scientific knowledge of this new type of existence. Don’t worry, the Bible says that “God is spirit,” John 4:24. God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit exist without a fleshly body.
Be convinced that you will be able to get along without your body just fine. As we age, we begin to realize the limitations of our physical bodies. Pain, suffering and disease eventually win the battle against our flesh. Dispensing of our old, tired, wrinkled, fading bodies will not be a tragic loss whenever we enter heaven. It will be a true freedom.
A Gloious Body!
Philippians 3:21 "Jesus Christ… will transform our lowly bodies
so that they will be like his glorious body.”
What do we know about Jesus’ resurrected body? First, on a few occasions those who knew Jesus very well before the resurrection did not immediately recognize Him afterwards. At first Mary could not identify Him outside the tomb. She thought the risen Jesus was a gardener. It wasn’t until He spoke that she knew it was Jesus. Either Jesus exercised the power to disguise His appearance or He looked different after the resurrection. On another occasion mentioned in Luke 24, He appeared to some travelers on the road to Emmaus. Miraculously, they were prevented from knowing it was Jesus who conversed with them on their journey. Jesus had the ability to camouflage Himself by changing their perceptions of His physical appearance and voice.
Second, Jesus had the ability to appear suddenly and mysteriously vanish (Luke 24:31). This happened, the Bible tells us, in rooms with locked doors, (John 20:19). He also had the ability to travel great distances in a short period of time. He even ascended into heaven as His followers looked on with amazement.
We can conclude from these first two points that Jesus had the ability to transcend time, space, and His own physical appearance after the resurrection. The normal restrictions that we live by, governed by the laws of God’s physical universe, no long applied to Him. He was free from the laws of nature.
The third and most astonishing description of His resurrection body appears in the book of Revelation. John gives us a vivid and colorful picture of what it was like to see Jesus in the glory of heaven. He said,
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. Rev. 1:12-17 (NIV)
John’s description of Jesus in heaven stretched his vocabulary and his courage. Remember that John lived with Jesus for three years before the crucifixion and resurrection. But this glimpse of Jesus in heaven took his breath away. Hair like snow, eyes like fire, feet like glowing bronze, and a voice like thunder exceeded the limits of his wildest dreams and imagination. Normal people don’t even come close to looking like this.
And we will be like Him.
That Day Will Arrive!
I’ve tried to imagine what it will be like on that day whenever my spirit is joined to a resurrection body. When the trumpet blast sounds across the seven seas and throughout the four corners, the dead in Christ will rise. Those living in Christ on the earth will follow. Each will be given a new body. It will be a superlative gift. It will never grow old. It will never fail, have cancer, disease, suffer in agony, or decay from the damaging consequences of sin.
As you are joined to this new body, or transformed into it, you will feel a sense of awe. No thrill you have ever experienced in your life will compare to this. I know people who have had heart, lung, and kidney transplants. They express a profound sense of gratitude for the chance to live a longer and fuller life. But those organs do not last forever. As great a change as they’ve experienced, it doesn’t even compare to being given a whole new body that will never suffer demise.
Your resurrection is the last work Jesus will do in the long process of your salvation. It is what theologians call your glorification. When you first believed in Jesus, you were regenerated spiritually. This was the first stage of salvation. As you walk with Jesus throughout your life, you are sanctified internally. This is the second and most lengthy phase. But when you are resurrected with Jesus on the last day, you will be glorified eternally. This is the final step in the completion of God’s plan for you that was laid from the foundation of the earth. At that precise moment, you might proclaim in worship what Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished!”
So take heart dear friends,
“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:6 (NIV)