Resurrection — Christ’s and ours — is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. Yet how many of us ponder what our resurrected selves will be like? You might think Scripture doesn’t say much. In fact, it tells us a lot, and gives us solid reasons to deduce much more.
For instance, Paul wrote, “[The body that] is sown is perishable; [it] is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. . . . It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). The term “spiritual body” doesn’t mean an incorporeal body made of spirit — there is no such thing. Body means corporeal: flesh and bones. A spiritual body will still be a body. But it will be spiritual, under the holy control of a redeemed and righteous spirit.
God made Adam from the earth to live on it, not float on the air. He joined spirit and body to make us completely human. He did not design us to be disembodied spirits as Plato taught, yet sadly, many Christians believe just that. To be with Christ in the present heaven is better by far than living on earth under the curse. But Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that we will not be eternally complete until our resurrection.
Was Jesus Only a Ghost?
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). Christ’s post-resurrection actions offer us a preview of what resurrected people will do — including preparing and eating meals, conversing, and traveling. If Jesus had been a ghost, we would become ghosts. More importantly, if Jesus had only been a ghost, redemption wouldn’t have been accomplished.
The risen Jesus told his disciples,
“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. . . . [Then] he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:39–43)
Jesus didn’t just say he wasn’t a ghost; he proved it. Likewise, he “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Whatever else a glorified body is, it is first and foremost a resurrected body.
In Acts 1:11, an angel explained, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way. . . .” The resurrected Jesus who lived among them forty days before ascending is the same Jesus in soul and body who will return to raise his people’s bodies from the grave. Why didn’t Jesus immediately ascend to heaven? Perhaps partly to show his design for resurrected people to live on a physical earth.
You Will Still Be You
Bible-believing Christians often ask me, “Will we become angels when we die?” Somewhere they have gotten the idea that whatever we may be after death, we won’t really be human. No wonder so few Christians look forward to heaven. Humans are not drawn to the idea of becoming inhuman.
Scripture portrays resurrection as a matter of continuity from our present into our future lives. The Westminster Confession says, “All the dead shall be raised up with the selfsame bodies, and none other . . . united again to their souls forever.” Selfsame and none other unequivocally mean we will still be us.
When I became a Christian in high school, my mother saw many changes, but she still recognized me. She said, “Good morning, Randy,” not “Who are you?” My dog never growled at me — he knew exactly who I was even though I was a new person in Jesus. Likewise, this same Randy will undergo another significant change at death, and yet another at the resurrection. But I will still be who I was and who I am — just a far better version.
In My Flesh, With My Eyes
It’s hard to imagine a clearer claim to our physical and mental continuity in the afterlife than Job’s:
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes — I, and not another. (Job 19:25–27, NIV)
Peter said, “Heaven must receive [the risen Christ] until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:21). What could be a stronger statement about continuity than God promising he will restore everything? Restoration is about bringing back the original good, which requires getting rid of the bad.
Adam and Eve were 100 percent human in body and spirit both before sin, and after. We will be humans after sin’s destruction — far better humans, but never non-humans. The fundamental difference between our present and future selves will be our deliverance from sin, death, disease, and the curse (Romans 8:21, 23).
What Will Glorification Be Like?
The apostle John described the glorified Jesus as shining with an overwhelming power and brightness (Revelation 1:12–16). But just as Moses and Elijah were glorified in a secondary sense in the transfiguration, so God’s people will experience derivative glorification from Jesus: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake . . . Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2–3).
Our glorification will involve a dramatic and marvelous transformation. What prepares us to participate in God’s glory in our resurrection bodies? Our current sufferings (1 Peter 1:6–7; 2 Corinthians 4:17). We are called “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
Joni Eareckson Tada says, “Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I shall become. . . . if there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably ‘Joni,’ although a much better, brighter Joni” (Heaven: Your Real Home, 55).
Jesus says of the new earth, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). This means he will restore creation to its former pre-curse glory, and likely give it greater beauty and wonder than the original. We, and the new world, will become far better and in that sense far different. But we will be the same people, without sin; and it will be the same world, without evil and suffering. All will be made glorious.
Imagining Life After Resurrection
Though our imaginations will naturally fall short of resurrection reality, I believe we should allow them to step through the doors Scripture opens. Since we know what bodies are and we know what the earth is, imagining new bodies and a new earth without sin, death, and suffering isn’t at all impossible. That’s why Peter says, “We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). If you don’t imagine it, you won’t long for it!
“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous” (Psalm 139:14, NLT). How much more will we praise God for the wonders of our resurrection bodies and minds — free from sin and disease and dementia? Our resurrected senses may function at levels we’ve never known. On the new earth, we’ll still be finite but no longer fallen, suggesting we’ll continually experience discovery. Will our eyes function as telescopes and microscopes and see new colors? Will our ears recognize voices from miles away?
We’re commanded, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). What will we do for eternity? Glorify God in our bodies. Scripture tells us, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Forever, we will eat, drink, and do all else to the glory of God. We will worship Jesus not only when we gaze upon him and sing, but as we work, rest, explore, study, learn, and celebrate.
Revelation 22 shows us God’s plan for eternal heaven is a redeemed earth free from the curse, inhabited by active, embodied people — wonderfully good news to all who imagine heaven to be dull, boring, and unearthly. On the new earth, “his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3). We will have things to do, places to go, people to see.
All We Were Meant to Be
In heaven, civilization and dominion will be sanctified and glorified: “The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (Daniel 7:18). I and all God’s people — together with my parents, dear friends, and my beloved wife Nanci, who went to Jesus almost exactly a year ago — will cultivate and develop the new earth, and marvel at its wonders.
We will surely write books, perform music, create art, play, laugh, meet new friends, discover, invent, and travel on the new earth. How do I know? We do these things now, not because we’re sinners, but because we’re human, made in God’s image. Sin will cease; image-bearing will not. Above all, we’ll be joined to Christ, in a perfect marriage that present marriages, in their finest moments, prefigure (see Ephesians 5:22–33).
Are you looking forward to resurrection day?
Our destiny is to rule under the King on the new earth, to his glory. You and I will become all our Father intends us to be. That process begins here and now and will bear full fruit in his eternal kingdom. Together we’ll creatively serve and worship him with purified hearts, minds, and bodies, forever enjoying his vast and beautiful creation and sharing in his boundless happiness. We will delight endlessly in our triune God, and incredibly, he will delight in us!