I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my barber some years back. He heard I was training to be a Bible teacher and he asked what the Bible said about the afterlife. I told him. Then I asked what he thought about the afterlife. Excitedly, he began to weave this incredibly imaginative and creative postulation of a hybrid-heaven—half biblical and have fairytale. I remember thinking, “Does this guy really think he can imagine his heaven into existence?”
More and more the idea of heaven is turning into an amalgam of novel thoughts with one, central point missing—a glorified body. Guys like Deepak Chopra say that we are supposed to evaporate into the universe (that’s supposed to be encouraging just in case you missed it). Others say we are absorbed into God. Still others find a version of reincarnation to be their color of choice. Having a body in the afterlife is not seen as important anymore.
Let me give you some quick, biblical truths which establish the necessity of a bodily resurrection. Wishful thinking is not reality. Theories and myths are no better. But the propositional revelation of a BOOK written over a 2,500 year span with over 40 different authors who agree with a harmony that only the Holy Spirit could accomplish, is a source worth trusting. It was Lee Strobel who said that he never met an atheist who did not admit that if God created us, it is only logical that He would communicate with us. And the most obvious source of communication is the timeless Scripture. So what does God say about bodies in heaven? I’ll just make two points.
First, God created Adam and Eve as a sinless duplex—body and soul (Gen. 2:7; Matt. 10:28; I Thess. 5:25). That means that the ideal state of man was to glorify God in body and soul (Col. 1:16; Eph. 1:12). C. S. Lewis says, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” First, as spiritual creatures we exist to glorify God. But our lives of worship were never made to be separated from the body. With the heart and mind we know God, but with the voice and hands we express that heart-filled praise to Him. Body and soul cooperate in our worship. That’s how God intended it.
So to say that the afterlife is some kind of realm of floating spirits or an absorption into God (as Bishop Spong says) is to forever distort God’s ideal creation of man. Other passages that describe a glorified body in heaven are, Job 19:26 and I Cor. 15:42-44. Rev. 19:14, describes the saints of God returning with Him clothed in white garments. This would be impossible if we did not have some kind of heavenly body.
My second point is more serious. In fact it motivates the Apostle Paul to actually say, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (I Cor. 15:13-14). For you who believe that Christ, not your good deeds, is the Savior of your sins, then your faith is pointless if Christ did not rise physically/bodily. Why? The answer is simple. Because this would mean Satan and sin have permanently gained victory over the body. And if Satan is partially victorious then God is partially defeated. If God is partially defeated He is not entirely sovereign and down comes the kingdom of God in all its splendor.
This is exactly what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:54. “But when this perishable [body] will have put on the imperishable [body], and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.” Notice it is only when God replaces this pain-ridden, degenerating body with His gloriously prepared body that one will be able to say, “Death has been swallowed up by victory.” To state it negatively, if this perishable body does not put on an imperishable body, death will always have the upper hand.
If space permitted we could further discuss Christ’s title as the “firstborn of the dead”, indicating that He was the trailblazer for the believer’s bodily resurrection (Col. 1:18). If there is no bodily resurrection, then Jesus failed as our trailblazer through death. For someone to say they are okay with Jesus while simultaneously buying into a New Age notion of the afterlife, is to offensively assert that Christ failed in His endeavor. It’s hard to be for Him and consider Him a failure at the same time.
In closing, if we must trust God’s written Word to define the afterlife, then we must also trust Him when He tells us how to get there. God clearly states that forgiveness from sins and our removal from the inevitable court room of God’s judgment is only found through a repenting faith in Him. Ephesians 2:8-9 proclaims, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Galatians 2:21 tells us that if the righteousness we need to gain heaven is found through laws/works then Christ died needlessly. Who needs Christ if you can get there by being good? No, salvation is granted precisely because we agree with God that we cannot earn salvation (Rom. 3:23; Is. 64:6). We can only abandon ourselves to Him in faith and thereby experience His grace, a grace that will one day trade in these dying bodies for something far better.