Is the Resurrection Body an Earthly or a Heavenly Body? Proponents of the Idea that the Resurrection Body is a Perfected Earthly Body often erroneously cite Romans 8:11 and Ezekiel 37.
Many Christians believe that the resurrection is an earthly phenomenon in which the dead are raised as eternal, perfected earthly bodies. One verse used to support this idea is Romans 8:11: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Romans 8:11 is often interpreted in light of Ezekiel 37:1-14 to suggest that the resurrected saints are to receive glorified, eternal earthly bodies at the resurrection. In Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel is given a vision of a valley of dry bones. God then issues the following command to the prophet in vs. 4-6:
Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.’
Ezekiel does as he is told and the bones receive flesh and come to life. After reading these verses, one might be easily tempted to believe that at the resurrection the departed saints are to receive glorified, eternal earthly bodies. The way in which Romans 8:11 is worded suggests two possible interpretations:
1) This verse may suggest that the Spirit of God will raise the dead such that the departed will come out of their graves by taking on their old flesh again.
2) This verse may suggest that the dead will be raised to receive entirely new resurrection bodies to replace the old mortal ones.
The first interpretation that the dead are revived to take on their old flesh again must be dismissed immediately. When people die, their bodies disintegrate and molecules from their corpse later go on to comprise the bodies of other living people. Similarly these later generations then die and those exact same molecules subsequently assimilate into the bodies of still other people. Thus the resurrection cannot be just a simple resuscitation or revival of the old mortal body since the tiny components of that body have later become part of other people who have also died with those same molecules. Furthermore, if people receive bodies composed of the same corruptible materials that they had in their previous mortal existence one would imagine that they would also soon die yet again.
This leaves the second interpretation: Perhaps the departed are raised with entirely new resurrection bodies? These resurrection bodies would then be incorruptible, unlike the former earthly bodies. The question must now be asked are these new, incorruptible bodies physical, earthly bodies or are they incorruptible heavenly bodies? Notice that Romans 8:11 and Ezekiel 37 do not state or suggest in any way whether the resurrection body is an earthly or heavenly body. Isaiah 65:20, 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 and Ephesians 2:5-6 answer this question.
The Resurrection is a Heavenly, Not Earthly, Event: The Resurrection cannot be a Resurrection of Perfected, Eternal Earthly Bodies in Light of Isaiah 65:20.
In Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah looks ahead to the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and Revelation 22 with the words: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” The new Jerusalem of Revelation 21 and 22 opens with a nearly identical expression in Revelation 21:1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” Interestingly, in Isaiah’s description of the new Jerusalem, he explicitly indicates that there will still be physical death. Isaiah 65:20 reads, “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” Here Isaiah clearly states that in the new Jerusalem–which is after the resurrection of the dead–people still die. Therefore, the resurrection of the dead cannot be a resurrection of perfected, incorruptible and eternal earthly bodies.
The Resurrection is a Heavenly, Not Earthly, Event: The Resurrection is Not an Earthly Phenomenon according to 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 and Ephesians 2:5-6.
If the resurrection is not a resurrection of incorruptible earthly bodies, then perhaps it is a resurrection of glorified, incorruptible and eternal heavenly bodies? This idea is made clear in 1 Corinthians 15:35-50:
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
In the above vs, Paul clarifies the fact that during the resurrection, the saints were to ascend into heaven to receive glorified heavenly bodies, not remain on earth with incorruptible corporal bodies as is often mistakenly supposed. This message echoed in Ephesians 2:5-6: “[E]ven when we were dead in our transgressions, [Jesus] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus[.]” Notice that Ephesians 2:6 uses the phrase “raised us up with Him[.]” This phrase denotes the resurrection. Ephesians 2:6 then goes on to say that after the resurrection the saints are to be seated with Christ in heaven. (For an explanation of 1 Corinthians 15:50 see Why 1 Corinthians 15 Implies that the Collective Body View Cannot Exist Without a Real-Life Resurrection.)
1 Enoch 104:2-3 confirms 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 and Ephesians 2:6: “[A]nd your names [the saints] are written before the glory of the Great One. Be hopeful; for aforetime ye were put to shame through ill and affliction; but now ye shall shine as the lights of heaven, ye shall shine and ye shall be seen, and the portals of heaven shall be opened to you.” Notice that 1 Enoch 104:2-3 says that the saints are said to “shine as the lights of heaven” as they enter “the portals of heaven.” This glorious transformation of the likeness of the saints as they enter heaven in 1 Enoch 104:3 is implied to occur at the time of the resurrection at the end of the age.
The Resurrection is a Heavenly, Not Earthly, Event: If the Resurrection was to be an Earthly, Corporal event then Christ would Not have been the First to Resurrect from the Dead contradicting Colossians 1:18.
Another compelling Biblical argument against the resurrection of eternal, earthly bodies is raised by preterist author Marion Morris. Morris argues that if the resurrection was an earthly corporal event then Lazarus, not Christ, would have been the first to resurrect from the dead contradicting Colossians 1:18: “He [Christ] is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”1 Though in truth others resurrected from the dead even before Lazarus (2 Kings 4:8-37; 13:21). For an explanation of how Jesus conquered death by way of the resurrection of righteous to heaven and the implications of this teaching on the age of the earth see Why Isaiah 65:20 and Related Verses Imply that Physical Death Preceded the Fall of Man.
Answering the Objections: The Flesh that Clothes the Resurrected Saints in Ezekiel 37:4-6 is the Heavenly Flesh mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:39-40.
Let us turn our attention again to Ezekiel 37:1-14. Ezekiel 37:1-14 must be understood in context. Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 37:1-14 is a metaphor for the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon, a prophecy that soon came to pass in the sixth century B.C. In Ezekiel 37:11-14 God divulges the meaning of the vision of the valley of dry bones:
Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’
This vision of an apparent resurrection in Ezekiel 37:4-6 is a metaphor for the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. Though this vision is an obvious metaphor, it does appear to be a simultaneous description of the resurrection. However, Ezekiel’s vision of the resurrection must be understood in light the rest of Scripture. As shown above, 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 explicitly indicates that at the resurrection, the saints are to receive glorified heavenly bodies, not perfected earthly ones. Therefore, the flesh that clothes the resurrected saints in Ezekiel 37:4-6 must be the heavenly flesh mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:39-40: “Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.”
The Resurrection is a Heavenly, Not Earthly, Event: Still Not Convinced that Romans 8:11 Does Not Teach a Resurrection of Eternal, Earthly Bodies?
Having shown how the resurrection is not an earthly phenomenon but rather is a resurrection of eternal, heavenly bodies to heaven, let us now take another look at Romans 8:11: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”2 When isolated from its context this verse seems to indicate that the mortal bodies of the departed will be raised to live on earth eternally. However, let’s look at this verse in its immediate context: “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:10-11).”3 Notice that v. 10 says, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” When Romans says that “the body is dead because of sin” is this necessarily physical death? No. The author of Romans did not write to corpses. He wrote to living, breathing people. Because sin causes separation from God, the death referred to in v. 10 is spiritual death which is separation from God, not physical death. Conversely, the fact that v. 10 says that “the spirit is alive because of righteousness[,]” this life is, of course, also spiritual. In other words, the life in v. 10 is spiritual life which is union with God. When a person is said to have spiritual life (union with God) or spiritual death (separation from God) in the Bible this spiritual life or death technically begins even while this person is still alive on earth. The one who is said to be spiritually dead is, of course, someone who is destined to hell after physical death while the one who is spiritually alive is destined for heaven. Thus this notion of eternal spiritual life that the saints have while on earth might also aptly be labeled “covenantal life” since it is a promise from God to the faithful of eternal life in heaven in the future. In other words, this spiritual or covenantal life is an unbreakable covenant that is 100 percent assured to those presently living on the earth. This is why the saints are sometimes said to be eternally alive or dead even while still clothed in mortal bodies. This spiritual/covenantal eternal life or death is a label given to the living of their future fate in the afterlife at that moment in their life.
Luke 15:32, Romans 7:9, Matthew 8:22 and John 11:25-26 are four clear examples of this concept of spiritual or covenantal life and death found in Romans 8:10. In Luke 15 Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son who left his father’s presence and squandered his inheritance on wayward living. Then when the prodigal son returned in repentance to his father, the father says the following to his other son, “[T]his brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Of course, the son did not physically die when he left his father. Here one can see that the father in this parable uses death to signify a sinful separation that hints at future punishment in hell after death in the absence of repentance. Thus the death mentioned in Luke 15:32 is spiritual or covenantal death, not physical death.
Romans 7:9 is an explicit example of spiritual or covenantal life. In Romans 7:9 Paul writes, “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” Of course Paul did not physically die upon hearing the Law. The death that Paul refers to is spiritual death. In Matthew 8:22, Jesus says, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Of course, physically dead bodies cannot bury other dead bodies. Spiritual or covenantal life is well illustrated in John 11:25-26. Here Jesus tells Martha the sister of Lazarus, “[E]veryone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Obviously Martha eventually died physically as have all believers in Christ up until the present. The fact that those who believe in Christ never die is a prime example of spiritual or covenantal life. Thus Romans 8:10 is not the only example in the Bible of spiritual life and death.
Another example that clearly illustrates this concept of spiritual or covenantal life and death that is very similar to Romans 8:10-11 is Ephesians 2:5-6. Let us compare Ephesians 2:5-6 and Romans 8:10-11 side-by-side to more clearly show how both of these verses convey an identical notion of spiritual or covenantal life and death:
“[E]ven when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . ., and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5-6)[.]”
“If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:10-11).”
In Ephesians 2:5-6 Paul says that the living saints were dead in their transgressions. The fact that these saints “were dead in their transgressions” (past tense) is a clear reference to spiritual death. How could living people be physically dead in the past? Romans 8:10 employs similar language. In this verse Paul says that the body of the saint “is dead” (present tense) while still alive which is also a clear reference to spiritual death. How could a living person be physically dead at the present time?
Similarly Ephesians 2:5-6 uses the past tense “made us alive” when referring to the future resurrection of the saints to heaven at the last trumpet, an event which had not yet occurred at the time in which these verses were written. How could someone presently living on earth be literally seated with Christ in heaven in the past (especially since the resurrection had not yet occurred)? Ephesians 2:5-6 perfectly illustrates this notion of covenantal life when it labels the living eternally alive based on the fate of the soul in the afterlife. Romans also employees this notion of spiritual or covenantal life when the spirit is said to be alive in v. 10. As will be explained in more detail below, this concept of covenantal life is also carried over into the following verse when eternal life is bestowed on the mortal bodies of the living in Romans 8:11.
This notion of covenantal life in which the saints are said to have eternal life even while still being clothed with mortal bodies because they are destined for heaven immediately after biological death is derived from an interesting literary effect sometimes found in Scripture. The fact that the future of the living in the afterlife is projected on those who are still alive on earth in the present or past tense is one example among others in which the Bible foretells the future in the past or present tense. Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8 are two clear examples of this interesting use of language:
“Look, your house is left to you desolate (Matthew 23:38).” (The Temple was actually destroyed in A.D. 70 about forty years after Jesus spoke these words.)
“A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great (Revelation 14:8)[.]’” (Though the fall of Babylon is mentioned in the past tense in this v., the angel making this statement is actually issuing a warning.)
The reason that the future is sometimes foretold in the present or past tense in the Bible is to convey the notion that when God predicts the future it is as assured as the past or present. Similar to Matthew 23:38 and Revelation 14:8, Ephesians 2:5-6 and Romans 8:10 also convey their future promises in the past or present tense because God’s promise to His people of eternal life after biological death is as certain as though it had already occurred or were a present realty. Therefore, God’s people are said to have everlasting life in Ephesians 2:5-6 and Romans 8:10-11 while still alive on earth even before the resurrection at the last trumpet because their resurrection or ascension to heaven is guaranteed. The fact that their resurrection to heaven is guaranteed in Ephesians 2:5-6 and Romans 8:10-11 means that these saints have covenantal or spiritual life. Those who were dead in their transgressions in Ephesians 2:5-6 are spiritually dead while those who are made alive and seated with Christ in heaven have spiritual or covenantal life because they are destined for heaven.
Thus when Romans 8:11 says that the Spirit will “give life to your mortal bodies” this life is no different from when the living saints on earth are said to have been made alive and seated in heaven in Ephesians 2:5-6 or when the mortal saints are said to never die through their faith in Christ in John 11:25-26. Given the similar way in which Ephesians 2:5-6, John 11:25-26, and Romans 8:10-11 are worded it appears highly unlikely to this commenter that the eternal life mentioned in Romans 8:11 is anything other than spiritual life.
Furthermore, the idea that covenantal life is expressed in Romans 8:11 is also implied in the immediate context. When Romans 8:11 speaks of spiritual or covenantal life it perfectly follows v. 10 which as explained above also mentions spiritual life and death. Romans 8:11 does not speak of eternal life in earthly bodies. Not only would this interpretation blatantly contradict the heavenly resurrection bodies mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 cited above, the idea that Romans 8:11 mentions eternal earthly bodies while Romans 8:10 clearly mentions covenantal life and death brings a kind of disunity or lack of harmony between these neighboring verses. It seems unlikely to me that the author of Romans would switch from talking about spiritual life and death in v. 10 to speaking about physically and literally animating earthly, mortal bodies in v. 11. Thus if Romans 8:11 speaks about covenantal life then it harmonizes nicely with the verse in its immediate context.
Finally the fact that Romans 8:11 speaks about spiritual or covenantal life, not eternal life in earthly bodies, is also implied by the fact that the life given to mortal bodies in this v. is enacted through the reception of the Holy Spirit: “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Recall that to be spiritually dead is to be separated from God. Similarly to have spiritual life is to be in the presence of God. One is restored into the presence of God while still on earth by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Thus spiritual life is marked by and begins on earth with the reception of the Holy Spirit. By receiving the Holy Spirit the saints are no longer separated from God because they have been brought into the presence of God through the indwelling of His Spirit. 2 Corinthians 1:22 reads, “[God] who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge [down payment].” Ephesians 1:13 says, “[H]aving also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit . . .” Upon receiving the Holy Spirit–the Spirit of God—the saints are, of course, no longer separated from God. This restoration into the presence of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit is a seal, pledge or down payment guaranteeing a more literal and physical fellowship with God in heaven after physical death (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13). Thus spiritual death ends and spiritual life begins upon receiving the Holy Spirit while on earth and this eternal spiritual or covenantal life comes to its ultimate fruition and fulfillment when the saints are ushered into the literal presence of God in heaven. Thus when Romans 8:11 says that the life given to “your mortal bodies [is] through His Spirit who dwells in you” this does not mean that the resurrection is a resurrection of eternal, earthly bodies. Rather, Romans 8:11 is saying that upon the reception of the Holy Spirit, the saints have received a pledge, down payment or guarantee by God that they will be ushered into God’s presence in heaven after physical death. In other words it is by receiving the Holy Spirit while living on earth that the saints are given spiritual or covenantal life. This spiritual or covenantal life is the direct result of having received the Holy Spirit as a down payment or guarantee of future life in heaven. In other words when the Bible says that someone has eternal life while still mortal, this is another way of saying that this person has received the Holy Spirit. Thus by being joined to God through the indwelling of His Spirit while on earth, the saints shall also be literally ushered into God’s presence in heaven after biological death. In light of this idea and all the other evidence presented above one can see that the life given to mortal bodies in Romans 8:11 is actually spiritual or covenantal life as a result of having received the Holy Spirit. This verse does not teach a resurrection of eternal, earthly bodies.
Answering the Objections: How Jesus’ Resurrection Body is a Perfect Model of the Resurrection Bodies of the Saints
Those who are convinced of an earthly resurrection might then argue that Jesus’ resurrection was a model of the resurrection of the saints at the end of the age. And because immediately after Jesus’ resurrection his resurrection body closely resembled His earthly body, this must, therefore, mean that the saints are to also receive glorified earthly bodies. This is false.
According to Acts 9:3-6 and Revelation 1:13-16 Jesus’ resurrection body was further glorified after His ascension into heaven such that it took on a form like that of the other beings of heaven—beaming with intense radiance. The resurrection bodies of the saints are expected to experience a similar transformation according to Daniel 12:2-3 and Matthew 13:43. Thus Jesus’ resurrection which culminated in His receiving a luminous, glorified heavenly body after His ascension into heaven in Acts 1:9-11 was truly a perfect model of the resurrection bodies of the saints after they also enter heaven at the end of the age. See How the Resurrection Bodies of the Saints Perfectly Mirror Jesus’ Resurrection Body after His Ascension Into Heaven Fulfilling Philippians 3:20-21 and ALL Other Bible Verses on the Resurrection!!!.
What about Revelation 21:2-3? For a compelling though controversial interpretation of these vs. with evidence from the Bible and complimentary testimony from near-death experiences see Daren Wisman’s article The Biblical Solution to Christianity’s Predestination Paradox. See How the Resurrection Bodies of the Saints Perfectly Mirror Jesus’ Resurrection Body after His Ascension Into Heaven Fulfilling Philippians 3:20-21 and ALL Other Bible Verses on the Resurrection!!! and Why 1 Corinthians 15 Implies that the Collective Body View Cannot Exist Without a Real-Life Resurrection. Also for a detailed explanation of how the fall of man was a mirror opposite of the resurrection at the end of the age see Understanding the Garden of Eden and the Fall from an Old Earth Perspective.
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Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirrors Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.