Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Happens Immediately After People Die – Intermediate Body

     This is the fourth post in my series and covers Instantaneous Resurrection.
     This series covers five leading thoughts about what happens to us after death, Annihilation, Catholic Options, Soul Sleep, Instantaneous Resurrection (intermediate body), and Disembodied Existence. None of these postings is an exhaustive discussion but I want to see what the Bible has to say about each.
·         Instantaneous Resurrection – this is the belief that upon death a believer receives a transformed heavenly body.[1]
     Millard Erickson calls the “recent” concept of instantaneous resurrection novel and creative,[2] but not in a complementary way. However, I believe that most Christians believe in an existence immediately after death that includes a recognizable body. This may not be the same as the instantaneous resurrection Erickson was describing, but I believe it is the way Christians think now. Since Erickson attributed his description based on two pages from a book written in 1970,[3] I would rather explore current popular thought best expressed by Paul Enns, “Although believers will not receive their resurrection bodies until the rapture, it is apparent that believers will have bodies in the intermediate state in heaven.”[4]
     Have you ever attended a funeral for a person who had spent years in some crippling life circumstances? Most often at a service like this you will hear the clergy or attendees make a comment like, “He or she is completely healed now and standing tall in heaven.” The clear implication of a statement like this is that the person has a body in heaven. It is now and not at a future resurrection. Are these just words of comfort or do they reveal a theology that most people have not fully thought out?
     The first argument for this is a bit odd. It is biblically based but not necessarily good exegesis. It is based on what Jesus experienced. After His resurrection, He had a body that could appear and disappear at will (John 20:19-29; Luke 24:30). In addition, Jesus had a physical body that the disciples could touch, He ate in their midst and let them know that He was not a spirit, but had flesh and bones (Luke 24:36-43). You may argue that this doesn’t apply to us because Jesus is the firstfruit of the resurrected (1 Cor 15:23). True, but there was something different about Jesus between the time of His resurrection and His ascension into heaven. He told Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him because he had not yet ascended (John 20:17).
     However, better explanations are available. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul speaks of leaving our earthly tent (body). “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:2-4[5]). The part that supports the concept of a body in heaven is that we will not be naked or unclothed or disembodied but we will be “further clothed.” The clear implication is that in heaven we will have a body that is more than the body we have here. It is so clear that the NLT translation uses the words heavenly bodies rather than dwelling. Finally it says, “We will not be spirits without bodies” (2 Cor 5:3 NLT).
     Another standard argument for an intermediate body is similar to my previous post disproving soul sleep. Enns took this direction also.[6] I made reference to Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), both of whom apparently had physical bodies, one in Hades and the other at Abraham’s side. Samuel also had a recognizable body (1 Sam 28:11-19), as did Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration (Matt 17:2-4). These verses are much harder to explain away than the previous arguments. Some would say that Lazarus was only a parable and not an actual event but they also use the same story to confirm torment in hell. They can’t have it both ways. Others will say that Samuel, Moses, and Elijah were only physical manifestations of their souls in the same way that angels (spirits Heb 1:14) appear in physical form or even Jesus appeared in a physical form before His incarnation (Josh 5:13-14). Regarding angels, Hebrews 1:14 is the only verse that describes angels as spirits. Everywhere else, when described they have bodies of one sort or another. So what makes us think that they don’t have heavenly bodies similar to Jesus’ resurrected body that can appear or disappear?
     The only question that needs to be answered is what happens at the resurrection. Erickson points to Philippians 3:20-21 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” He uses this verse and others to claim that there is no need for a second resurrection if we already have a body.[7]
     Next I’ll take up Erickson’s contention that a disembodied intermediate state after death and before the resurrection is more biblical.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, USA.: Baker Academic, 2013), 1083, Kindle.
[2] Ibid., 1083.
[3] W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology (London: SPCK, 1970), 317-18.
[4] Paul P Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, New ed. ( Moody Publishers, 2014), 8087-8, Kindle.
[5] Scripture in this post is from the English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001 unless otherwise noted.
[6] Enns, 8087-93, Kindle.
[7] Erickson, 1084, Kindle.

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