The Lord Jesus Christ...will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)
Christ’s resurrected body, before his ascension, was quite normal in appearance. But what is Christ’s “glorious body” like? We are given a picture on the Mount of Transfiguration: “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). The Transfiguration appears to have given us a preview of Christ’s glorified body.
John describes the glorified Christ he saw in the present Heaven:
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. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:12-18)
Now, in comparison to both Matthew 17 and Revelation 1, it appears that the risen Christ, before his ascension, was not yet fully glorified. If he would have been glorified, surely his identity would have been immediately apparent to Mary Magdalene (John 20:14), the disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:15-16), and Peter and the apostles when they saw him on the shore (John 21:4).
Consider one of the apostle Paul’s reports of encountering the glorified Christ on the road to Damascus: “A great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me....I could not see because of the brightness of that light” (Acts 22:6-11, ESV).
It appears that Paul’s unredeemed eyes were not yet ready to behold the glorified Christ. This is in contrast to Stephen, who saw the glorified Christ at God’s right hand, but apparently was not blinded: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ “ (Acts 7:55-56).
Certainly, the glorified Christ will be by far the most glorious being in Heaven. Yet, as we will see, Scripture indicates that we too, in a secondary and derivative way, will reflect God’s glory in physical brightness.
Scripture speaks of the likeness of Adam and the likeness of Christ, making some distinction between them: “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49). Christ will remain a man, but his deity that was once veiled in his humanity will shine through it. Because of the Fall and the Curse, we have never been or seen human beings who are fully functional as God’s image-bearers, conveying the brightness and majesty of his being. But that day is coming. Christ, the God-man, the new head of our human race, will be the ultimate image-bearer, fully conveying the brightness and majesty of the Almighty.
Note, however, that the difference between Adam and Christ, which Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, is not that one was a physical being and the other wasn’t. It was that Adam was under sin and the Curse, and Christ was untouched by sin and the Curse. Jesus was and is a human being, “in every respect like us” (Hebrews 2:17, NLT), except with respect to sin. So although we should recognize that our resurrection bodies will be glorious in ways that our current bodies are not, we should also realize that those bodies will continue to be—in both the same and in greater ways—the functional physical bodies that God designed for us from the beginning.
After reading the first printing of this book [Heaven], one Bible teacher expressed his disagreement with my belief that there will be a fundamental continuity between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies. His understanding is that our resurrection bodies will not be earthly, as our present bodies are. He believes they will not contain DNA or any genetic or physical ties to our current bodies.
In support of his position, he cited 1 Corinthians 15:47-48, which says, “The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.”
Paul’s point here, I believe, is not that Christ’s body wasn’t “of dust” but that Adam’s was. Indeed, if Christ’s body wasn’t “of dust,” if he had no genetic relationship with Adam, then he would not be fully human, and he would not be Messiah, the Son of Man. He is—not merely was, but is—a descendant of Adam. He is the last Adam, not a non-Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).
When viewed in context, “dust of the earth” seems to refer to more than the first man’s origin, and at points appears to be associated with mortality and corruption. The man of dust, who was human only, succumbed to temptation; the man from Heaven, who is both human and divine, could not and did not.
Can one be “of dust” yet not under sin and death? Yes. Adam was, until the Fall. But he was subject to temptation, with the potential to succumb, whereas one day, when fully redeemed, human beings will not be.
Christ, as the last Adam, is certainly more than Adam, and far greater than Adam, for he came from Heaven. But he did in fact become a man, and was therefore of the earth. God originally made man from the earth. That is intrinsic to humanity, and Christ is fully human.
Christ’s resurrection and glorification did not negate his genetic tie to his ancestors. They do not mean he is no longer a Jew, no longer of Abraham’s seed, or no longer fully human. He who is tied to the earth in terms of his humanity will rule the earth for eternity.
Christ is and will forever remain both God (from Heaven) and man (of earth).
I will grant that if 1 Corinthians 15:47 were the only verse we had, then it could be legitimately interpreted as saying our resurrection bodies won’t be physical or organically related to our current bodies. But it is not the only passage we have, and the other passages simply do not allow us to conclude that Christ’s resurrection body did not have actual physical continuity to the old, and was in that sense “not of dust.” Surely the risen and glorified Christ remains a descendant of Adam, Abraham, and David. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how he could hold to his claim to Messiahship if this were not the case.
The nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet are the strongest possible affirmation that the same earthly body that was crucified is now the same heavenly body that was raised. “It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).
“Heavenly” transcends “earthly” but does not negate it. The earthly becomes heavenly, not losing its original properties but gaining much more. (It loses the properties that came with the Curse, of course, but those were not its original properties.)
In 1 Corinthians 15, the Resurrection is repeatedly depicted as overcoming the Curse. Our bodies in their present condition are referred to as perishable, corrupted, dishonorable, and weak in relationship to the death which results in burial. The passage culminates in verses 51-57, which speak of the sounding of the last trumpet, at which time the perishable will put on the imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. Then death will be swallowed up in victory. Its sting will be forever removed. Why? Because sin will be removed (“the sting of death is sin”).
This great passage about bodily resurrection does not simply focus on a new state and a new life, but also on the reversal of the Curse, and the conquest of sin and death. With all its allusions to what is new, it is nonetheless a passage of restoration of the old. It introduces glorious newness—but before anything else, it conquers all that sin and death and the Curse bring to humanity, human relationships and activities (including culture), and the earth itself. God will restore us and the earth to what he made us to be. Then, in resurrection and glorification, he will take what was and make it far greater yet.
When Paul speaks of our resurrection bodies, he says, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 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” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
The following chart summarizes the contrasts in this passage:
Sown a perishable body
Sown in dishonor
Sown in weakness
Sown a natural body
Raised an imperishable body
Raised in glory
Raised in power
Raised a spiritual body
When Paul uses the term “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44), he is not talking about a body made of spirit, or an incorporeal body—there is no such thing. Body means corporeal: flesh and bones. The word spiritual here is an adjective describing body, not negating its meaning. A spiritual body is first and foremost a real body or it would not qualify to be called a body. Paul could have simply said, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spirit,” if that were the case. Judging from Christ’s resurrection body, a spiritual body appears most of the time to look and act like a regular physical body, with the exception that it may have (and in Christ’s case it does have) some powers of a metaphysical nature; that is, beyond normal physical abilities.
Paul goes on to say, “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable....We will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ “ (1 Corinthians 15:49-50, 52-55).
When Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he’s referring to our flesh and blood as they are now: cursed and under sin. Our present bodies are fallen and destructible, but our future bodies—though still bodies in the fullest sense—will be untouched by sin and indestructible. They will be like Christ’s resurrection body—both physical and indestructible.
One Bible student told me that he couldn’t believe that the risen Christ might have DNA. But why not? Who created DNA in the first place? Christ explicitly said that his body was of flesh and bones. Flesh and bones have DNA. There is no reason to believe that his new body doesn’t. Is Christ a former descendant of Abraham and David, or is the glorified Christ in Heaven still their descendant? I believe his claim to rulership in the Millennium and on the New Earth depends in part on the fact that he remains, and will always remain, an actual, physical descendant of Abraham and David.
A body need not be destructible in order to be real. Our destructibility is an aberration of God’s created norm. Death, disease, and the deterioration of age are products of sin. Because there was no death before the Fall, presumably Adam and Eve’s original bodies were either indestructible or self-repairing (perhaps healed by the tree of life, as suggested in Revelation 22:2). Yet they were truly flesh and blood.
Scripture portrays resurrection as involving both fundamental continuity and significant dissimilarity. We dare not minimize the dissimilarities—for our glorification will certainly involve a dramatic and marvelous transformation. But, in my experience, the great majority of Christians have underemphasized continuity. They end up thinking of our transformed selves as no longer being ourselves, and the transformed Earth as no longer being the earth. In some cases, they view the glorified Christ as no longer being the same Jesus who walked the earth—a belief that early Christians recognized as heresy.
Many of us look forward to Heaven more now than we did when our bodies functioned well. Joni Eareckson Tada says it well: “Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I shall become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs against splendorous resurrected legs. I’m convinced that if there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably ‘Joni,’ although a much better, brighter Joni.”1
Inside your body, even if it is failing, is the blueprint for your resurrection body. You may not be satisfied with your current body or mind—but you’ll be thrilled with your resurrection upgrades. With them you’ll be better able to serve and glorify God and enjoy an eternity of wonders he has prepared for you.
1 Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 39.