What Body Is Brought Out of the Grave at the Rapture?

Question from a reader:

When we die our bodies remain in the grave, while our soul and spirit are moved to Heaven. We may have a form of an interim body there. Then, at the final resurrection on judgment day, our bodies are pulled from the grave to be made fully resurrected, like Jesus’ body. In the interim, we’ve not had the final resurrected body. In 1Thessalonians 4:16 in describing the rapture, it states that when Jesus comes for His church, the grave will give up the dead first, and then the living saints will be caught up with them. But I am confused about that. Are the graves giving up the dead as they die, for the interim body in the interim Heaven, because this rapture happens before the final resurrection and judgment? So what is the body that is being brought out of the grave at the rapture?

Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:

Thanks for your question. I hope this answer clarifies what is possible to know based on Scripture, and provokes some thoughts about what we don’t know for sure.

Your question rests on the assumption that the rapture is a biblical event, separate from the resurrection, and coming sometime between death and the end of this age in conjunction with a time of great upheaval. That scenario is perhaps a couple of centuries old and is now treated as fact in many circles and contested in others. (You can read some thoughts from Randy on the rapture here.) Your question highlights one of several conundrums the rapture concept poses.

Here's what Randy has written:

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.

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).

God bless you as you continue to seek His face and gain wisdom through the study of His Word.

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Doreen is part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and helps Randy with editing and answering reader questions. She is a certified biblical counselor.