Is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Referring to Our Resurrection Bodies?

Question from reader:

In Heaven, you make a case that we will have some type of body in the intermediate Heaven. So what body do we receive in 1 Thessalonians 4:17? It says, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

Yes, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is definitely referring to the resurrection body. The resurrection body is the clear reality; the intermediate body is not clearly taught. It is an attempt to explain the passages that portray pre-resurrected people as standing, sitting, calling out, wearing robes, carrying palm branches, throwing crowns at the feet of Jesus, etc.

In the intermediate Heaven, we don’t know for sure there will be an intermediate body, but if there is it decidedly will not be our earthly body which of course remains in the ground until the resurrection. If there is a temporary body, it is just that, not a resurrected body. The resurrection is a completely different thing, and it is what Scripture explicitly teaches.

In my book, In Light of Eternity, I talk more about this:

Between the time of our entrance to heaven and our resurrection, we may be given temporary pre-resurrection bodies (Luke 16:19-26; Revelation 6:11). This fits the doctrine that, unlike God and the angels — who are in essence spirits, though capable of inhabiting bodies (John 4:24; Hebrews 1:14) — human beings are in essence both spiritual and physical (Genesis 2:7). A temporary body would allow us to retain the qualities of full humanity between death and resurrection.

If we will indeed have an intermediate physical form immediately after we die, it’s critical we realize this would in no way make our eventual resurrection unnecessary or redundant. The Bible could not be more emphatic about the centrality and significance of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).

The resurrection is a future event (Revelation 20:5-6). It does not happen “one at a time” as people die. It happens at a future point of cosmic proportions, involving not just individuals but humanity, when our bodies and spirits will be rejoined and we stand before God in judgment (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:11-15). Believers who have died have not yet been resurrected (2 Timothy 2:18). Hence, even if we are clothed with a temporary or transitional body when we die and go to be with Christ, we will long for the joining of our spirits to our resurrection bodies (Romans 8:23).

Photo by Tan Danh

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries