A 2017 study revealed that 25 percent of British people who identify as Christians do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.[i] And yet, as pastor and theologian Stephen Um explains, even atheist scholars find weighty evidence for the resurrection. Um quotes atheist philosopher Anthony Flew: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion.”[ii] The resurrection is central to the gospel: if the resurrection didn’t happen, Paul tells the doubting Corinthians, our hope in Christ is pitiable (1 Cor. 15:19).

On the first Good Friday long ago, Jesus spent his last breath. To confirm his death, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear. Joseph of Arimathea, with the permission of Pilate, took Christ’s body from the cross, wrapped it in a linen shroud, and buried it in his tomb (Mark 15:42–46). Christ’s followers were downcast and depressed the next day—the One they had thought would save them had died. How could it be? The disciples had never fully understood what Christ meant when he said, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matt. 17:22–23).

And then he appeared in a new body, a resurrected body. Many saw him:

  • The women who went to the tomb to finish preparing the body for burial (Mark 16:1);
  • Mary Magdalene, who mistook Jesus for the gardener (John 20:15);
  • Thomas, who at Jesus’s command, touched Jesus’s nail-scarred hands (John 20:24–27);
  • The disciples, who trembled together in a locked room when Jesus suddenly stood among them, greeting them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

And many more saw him, because Jesus walked the earth in his resurrected body for forty days before ascending to heaven.

The Hope of Glory

The apostle Paul insists that the resurrection of Christ is at the heart of the gospel. If it’s not true, he says, “then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:18). If it is true, then the effects of the curse of Adam’s sin have been reversed: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Because of Christ’s resurrection, we have hope for our loved ones who died in Christ. Those who trust in Christ are united to Christ by faith. Where we were once dead in our sins, we are now spiritually alive in Christ. When we die, we will be with Christ (2 Cor. 5:6–8). It is because of the resurrection that we have the hope of glory.

Hope for the Body

But Christ’s resurrection also has significance for our bodies. As the apostle Paul tells us, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22–23). When Christ returns in glory, those who have already died as well as those who are still alive will be given new immortal bodies in which we will live forever.

We, like the Corinthians, often struggle to grasp how a dead, decomposed body becomes a living, breathing, resurrected body. The apostle Paul uses the analogy of a seed to explain the mysterious transformation. Just as a seed buried in the ground eventually emerges as a stalk of wheat, so our mortal bodies die but will be transformed by God when he raises us to new life (1 Cor. 15:36– 37).  Our resurrection bodies will be essentially the same body as our perishable bodies, but in eternity, they will be “imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:42).

To understand what our resurrection bodies will be like, we have only to remember Christ, the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23). His resurrected body was physical: his voice was recognizable, his hands wore the scars of the cross, his appetite for fish remained. As theologian Paul Williamson explains, “If Christ’s resurrection body is the archetype, then the resurrection body appears to be a suitably remodeled and enhanced version of the one we now occupy.”[iii]

Unlike Christ, we do not receive our resurrection bodies immediately after our death. Our physical bodies will die and decay; our spirit will go immediately to heaven to be with Jesus. We will for a season in heaven enjoy the presence of God and other saints who died before us. But we await the final day of full resurrection.

On that day, “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52). On that day, Jesus will return, and the “dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16–17) and “this mortal body [will] put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53). Believers who are still alive when Jesus returns will join in this great cloud of glory, and we will all dwell together with God in the new heavens and the new earth (1 Thess. 4:16–17; Rev. 21:1–5). In that day, we will serve God forever in our resurrection bodies—with our hands, our feet, and our voices.

Dear friend, even as we consider our certain mortality, we have a great hope that awaits, the hope of living with God and fellow saints forever in our resurrected bodies. Let’s live with resurrection joy in light of that day, the day when we will truly dance as the bride of Christ.

This essay adapted from Preparing for Glory: Biblical Answers to 40 Questions about Living and Dying in Hope of Heaven, with permission from P&R Publishers.

[i] “Resurrection Did Not Happen Say Quarter of Christians,” BBC.Com, April 9, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-39153121.

[ii] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 373.

[iii] Paul R. Williamson, Death and the Afterlife: Biblical Perspectives on Ultimate Questions, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: Apollos, IVP Academic, 2018), 135.

Photo by Ch P on Unsplash

Elizabeth Turnage

Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage is a gospel life and legacy coach, author, and speaker. She helps people live, prepare, and share their legacy to bring hope to future generations. Elizabeth co-founded the Numbering Your Days Network to share gospel encouragement for aging, caregiving, legacy, grief, and end-of-life and authored Preparing for Glory: Biblical Answers to 40 Questions about Living and Dying in the Hope of Heaven, coming from P&R in early 2024. Elizabeth and her husband, Kip Turnage, enjoy feasting and sharing good stories with their large family of four adult children, three children-in-law, and three young grandchildren.