Our Bodies Upon Ascension/Final Resurrection
What does the Bible reveal will be our bodies upon ascension from the grave --"the resurrection from the dead on the last day" as Jesus called it - when our bodies rise from the grave? Are our bodies reconstituted as flesh and blood? Or do we have forever some kind of spiritual body without flesh -- a mere soul?
What did Job mean when he said in Job 19:25-26:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”
Did Job have it right that even after our skin is destroyed in this life, it will be reconstituted as flesh, and with that flesh we will see God one day on (a revamped) earth?
Jesus's Statements On the Resurrection of the Dead
Jesus repeatedly stated that "on the last day" is the "resurrection" (Jn 6:39-40,44,54). Earlier Christ had said of this future event: "Do not marvel at this: for the hour is coming in which all who are in the grave will hear his voice and come forth" (John 5:28). He clearly implies that the bodies of the dead are still in the grave until the time of their resurrection. Cf. Dan. 12:2 ("And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.")
The "soul" of the unresurrected, however, are like the soul of the thief on the cross who Christ told: "This day you shall be with me in Paradise." In Luke 20:38, Jesus said "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living," saying Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive right now. Paul seems to agree with this although it is expressed as a preference, not a principle: "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Cor. 5:8 NIV.)
As a result of Jesus' clear words, "[m]ost Protestants believe the soul is judged to go to heaven or hell immediately after death." ("Soul-Sleep," Wikipedia.) Cf. Rev. 20:4 ("I saw the souls" of all those beheaded for Christ.)
Soul-Sleep Based Upon Paul
The opposite view teaches what is called soul-sleep. Id. This is based upon Paul.
First, Paul said Christ is the "Lord of the dead and the living." (Romans 14:9.) Cfr. But Jesus says "God is not the God of the dead but the living." (Luke 20:38.)(Oops! Another contradiction by Paul of Jesus.)
Second, Paul talks about the appearance of Jesus in 1 Cor. 15:6 to some who have "fallen asleep." Paul writes: "After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep."
Third, Paul also taught: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep." (1 Th 4:15.)
Fourth, Paul said those alive at Christ's coming will not "fall asleep" (in contrast to prior generations who will): "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed....' (1 Cor. 15:51 NIV.)
Finally, Paul taught our flesh cannot inherit heaven, implying that God will leave our bodies to sleep forever in the grave: "I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (1 Cor. 15:50 NIV.) Instead, Paul says our bodies of flesh will be "changed," and this is why "flesh and blood" cannot and will not inherit the kingdom of God. See 1 Cor. 15:50-54.
Secondary Biblical "Writing" Section Sources
Where did Paul learn this? It derives from a book the Jews kept in the third-tier of the Bible called "Writings / Scripture" -- Ecclesiastes at 9:5 ("dead know not anything"), 9:6 and 9:10 ("no knowledge in the grave where thou goest.") Ecclesiastes as part of the third tier -- Writings/Scripture Section -- was not accepted as inspired fully by Jews other than Pharisees. (See "Writing Section in Original Bible of the Jews").
Yet, soul-sleep of the saved contradicts Jesus' message to the thief on the cross, and cannot be correct.
As a result of rejecting soul-sleep, Lutheranism teaches:
On the last day, all the dead will be resurrected. Their souls will then be reunited with the same bodies they had before dying.("The Last Judgment," Wikipedia.)
Based on Jesus's statements, Lutheranism appears correct on this score -- we will have the same bodies of flesh - obviously healed of illness and death -- as we had when we died.
Jesus's Resurrection and Ascension
Further confirmation comes from determining whether flesh and blood can inherit heaven. The Bible other than Paul says it can and did happen.
God "took [Enoch] away" in his human living body. (Gen. 5:24.) Elijah was taken up in the same way. Finally, there was Jesus. In Jesus' case, however, Jesus died first and was resurrected on earth first. So this can tell us something new and significant: is a resurrected body solely spiritual or is it made of flesh?
Jesus's post-resurrection body was clearly still the same flesh He had at death. This is proven in Jesus's post-resurrection encounter with Apostle Thomas. Jesus offered Thomas to put his fingers in the nail-holes in Jesus's hands. It was clearly the same flesh as Jesus had at death except healed of death but not the scars that inflicted death.
Neither Protestants nor Catholics have ever denied Jesus' resurrected with His original flesh even though it was then free of death. Gregory of Nyssa had this correct: "Further, as Gregory says (Moral. xiv), Christ's body was in no way changed after the Resurrection." (Aquinas, Summa Theologia Q 57 Art 1.)
But does this mean necessarily that Jesus had the same body after ascension to heaven as Jesus had after the resurrection? I believe so. The text of the Ascension event leads us to naturally conclude it is the same resurrected body as it ascended. As it says in Luke, "he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven" (Luke 24:51). And in Acts Luke writes, "As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9).
Both Protestant and Catholic commentaries have traditionally taught Jesus exists in the same human bodily form in heaven as He had on earth, albeit it is a glorified body, i.e., eternal in life-span. John Calvin, along with many other theologians, was clear on this point: after the Ascension, Christ was present in heaven in his bodily condition. Calvin said, "His body was raised up above to the heavens."(Institutes 2.16.14.)
Aquinas, a Catholic theologian, said Christ's presence in heaven reflects a continuing human nature alongside his Divine nature: "Christ is said to ascend to the Father, inasmuch as He ascends to sit on the right hand of the Father; and this is befitting Christ in a measure according to His Divine Nature, and in a measure according to His human nature, as will be said later (58, 3)." (Aquinas, Summa Theologia Q 57 Art 1.) Aquinas explains later: "Christ is said to sit at the Father's right hand inasmuch as He is on equality with the Father in respect of His Divine Nature, while in respect of His humanity, He excels all creatures in the possession of Divine gifts." Id., Q 58 4.
Such a traditional explanation can be found in this explanation at a Pentecostal website:
Jesus still possesses His human body in heaven, albeit in a glorified form. Jesus’ person did not change from His pre-glorified state to His post-glorified state. Jesus’ humanity is permanent. It did not dissolve somehow at the ascension. (Jason Dulle, "Heavenly or Earthly Bodies," (accessed 7/11/2010).)
Jesus Says We Become Like Angels
Let's confirm this view further that proves flesh and blood can enjoy eternal life in heaven -- but be aware Paul says this is NOT TRUE. We will do so by examining Jesus's statement that in heaven we are "like angels." When addressing whether in heaven there is marriage, Jesus said we are like the angels of heaven who neither give nor take in marriage. Mark 12:25. (Jesus did not say they cannot physically procreate.)
Some believe angels have merely spiritual bodies, and thus this means we too will only have spiritual bodies in heaven. (We'll see later why they say this in reliance upon Paul. See discussion of 1 Corinthians 15:44 below.)
However, what Jesus meant did not imply this. The angels are eternal, and among themselves have no purpose for perpetuating themselves via offspring.
Thus, to the extent we are like angels in heaven, this statement by Jesus would plausibly imply we have bodies just like angels -- a body of flesh. This is consistent with what we determined above about Jesus's remarks about resurrection and the fact Jesus had a body of flesh that resurrected and ascended.
Now let's examine whether angles in heaven are mere souls -- a willowy spirit with no fleshly substance -- a "spiritual body" -- or in fact have flesh and bones like you and me.
A. Angels Have Flesh and Bones and Sex Organs
Before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two angels appeared in human form and ate a meal prepared by Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 18:8.) The two angels later entered Sodom and ate another meal with Lot before warning him to flee the wicked city. (Genesis 19:3.) Tertullian ca. 207 AD used these examples against Marcion to prove that angels appeared in true human flesh, and they were not "mere phantoms of flesh." See this link.
Was this human form given to the angels at Sodom by a miraculous one time transformation of them by God?
The Bible tells us that angels have at least been male in gender to humans, and thus have been able to procreate with humans even implicitly to the displeasure of God. Hence, this must be the natural state of angels. We read in Genesis:
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. (Gen. 6:4.)
In non-canonical literature, it was explained this abnormal offspring was because angels were not supposed to mate with humans although it was physically possible. 1 Enoch 15:1-8.
Is there Biblical support? First, the language in Gen. 6:4 shows there is a disjunction between "sons of God" and "daughters of men" which produce abnormal offspring. God would not redesign them so they could procreate unless that was their nature to begin with. For this text implies clearly that it was not the intent of God that "sons of God" should mate with the "daughters of men." Hence, "sons of God" cannot represent humans because one would expect normal offspring if they were humans. The fathers of such offspring must represent a race other than humans, but also made possible due to unsatisfactory conduct of angels not keeping their proper place.
What further supports this reading is the term "sons of God" was used repeatedly in the OT as a reference to angels. See Job 1:6-12, 2:1, Ps 29:1, 89:7. In Job 38:7, it says the "sons of God" were the angels present with God before the creation of the world (see verse 4.) The NIV translates this as "angels," and then footnotes: "the sons of God."
Josephus, the Hebrew historian, similarly made a statement in his Antiquities of the Jews that angels had procreated with humans -- an allusion to Gen. 6:4. Justin Martyr in Apology 2:5 concurs. "It is apparently supported in the NT at 1 Peter 3:18-20, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 1:6-7." (Tyndale Publishers, Genesis 1-12 at 33.)
Hence, at least some angels were made with human-compatible sexual organs -- sorry to be so blunt, but there is no other explanation unless we make angels enjoy the power to create new physical capabilities - a power that solely belongs to the Creator. Cfr. Tertullian 207 A.D. (argued that angels have power to make human flesh out of nothing material, failing to realize this makes them creators. See this link).
Hence, the fact the angels of heaven do not marry is not because they lack the capacity of sexual union, but either (a) because God prohibits them from doing so or (b) because of the fact they are one gender which means they simply do not marry.
Angels are thus made with flesh like our own, and in fact have a physical appearance similar to our own. There is flesh in heaven already. And angels -- despite having flesh like us -- apparently have eternal life.
However, Paul Says Flesh Cannot Inherit Eternal Life
But Paul also says no flesh can inherit eternal life per 1 Cor. 15:50-54. This verse was a favorite of the Gnostics. Thus, if Paul were correct, then Jesus after ascension or in the process of ascending would have had his flesh replaced with a non-flesh body. A spiritual body. As Lyons who defends Paul's ideas understands Paul:
"Before entering heaven, these individuals will not have to die first. Rather, God simply will “change” their bodies into “incorruptible” bodies “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” (Eric Lyons, M.Min Did Jesus Begin His Ascension While in a Physical Body? (accessed 7/11/2010).)
Lyons argues that God has the power to "change the...physical into spiritual simply by willing it to happen." Id. Lyons says this is what Paul means when he says "we will 'be changed' (1 Corinthians 15:51)...." Id.
In other words, Paul would require us to receive a spiritual body upon resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Paul says likewise elsewhere: "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 15:44)
But Then Paul's View Constitutes The Foundation Stone of Gnosticism
Ironically, what Lyons deduced as true -- trying to provide a Protestant solution -- was unwittingly admitting Paul is the origin of the Gnostic thought that we rise in spiritual bodies which the early church found so heretical. Rev. Steven Marshall of the modern Gnostic church explains on his webpage:
The importance of the Ascension to the Gnostic rests on two principle points: the first that, according to the Gnostics, Jesus delivered the deepest and most profound mysteries following the Ascension [i.e., the period Paul encountered Jesus], and secondly that the Ascension of Christ conveys the promise of our own spiritual ascension and return to the Light, a theme central to all Gnostic teachings.
Mainstream tradition teaches that Jesus ascended bodily (in a physical body) into heaven. The Gnostics, along with other heterodox Jewish sects existing at the time of Christ, disagreed with this idea of a resurrection and ascension of the physical body. Based upon the mysteries to which they were heirs, the Gnostics proposed that the ascension took place in a spiritual body. ("A Meditation, A Homily for the Feast of Ascension," accessed 7/11/2010).
If Paul had these ideas that we no longer have human bodies but a spiritual body without flesh in heaven, where did Paul gain this idea? It was rooted in Platonic thought:
Our flesh is not some evil substance that we are trying to get rid of. This idea is rooted in Platonic dualism which sees the physical realm as inferior to the spiritual, incorporeal realm. (Jason Dulle, "Heavenly or Earthly Bodies," (accessed 7/11/2010).)
Gnostic and Platonic Support from Paul
Paul indeed believes that human flesh cannot inherit heaven -- that somehow we will "changed" and the "corruptitble" will put on the "incorruptible" -- "immortality."
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54, emp. added).
As James West in the Gospel and the Greek Philosophers exposed, Paul was a thorn in the early church's side, making it difficult to fend off Greek-Gnostic dualism: "But the words of Paul actually favored the philosophical dualism of the Gnostics which, like Plato, elevated the soul and rejected the body."
These passages from Paul made the ability to fight off the Gnostics impossible from Scripture alone. Tertullian conceded this dilemma:
Nor do I risk contradiction in saying that the very Scriptures were even arranged by the will of God so as to furnish materials for the heretics…” (On Prescription Against Heretics, 39)
Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. (Id., at 19)
On the present occasion indeed, our treatise has rather taken up a general position against heresies, showing that they must all be refuted on definite, equitable, and necessary rules without any comparison with the Scriptures.” (Id. at 44.)
Tertullian could not escape the meaning of Paul. Tertullian simply gave up trying to use just what Paul said to defend that Jesus resurrected in the flesh. Due to Paul, James West correctly notes: "Tertullian’s problems are the result of the fact that the New Testament writings collectively do not represent a single and uniform system of theology." (West, Gospel and the Greek Philosophers.)
Thus, Tertullian in On The Flesh of Christ tried to use reasoning from passages in the gospels to prove Jesus was a man with true human flesh both in life and resurrection. The heretics refused to admit Jesus ever had true human flesh at birth or in resurrection; it was supposedly exclusively divine. (CCEL, The Heretics.)
Tertullian could not resort solely to scripture because Paul supports the Gnostic view that "flesh and blood cannot inherit heaven" -- even though Jesus did so inherit heaven, if the gospels are true. (They are.) Hence, Paul must mean the change rids our bodies of flesh and gives us spiritual bodies. Paul thus directly supports Gnostic thought which the early church condemned, and contradicts the gospel-tradition that shows flesh ascending to heaven to inherit eternal life - Jesus's ascension.
Paul's Verses Cited To Suggest Jesus Exists In Human Flesh In Heaven
Some try to rescue Paul from being Gnostic in these passages as well as from his contradicting the gospel accounts. Some cite a couple of verses in Paul which they claim means Paul believed Jesus has a human body in heaven. (Jason Dulle, "Heavenly or Earthly Bodies," (accessed 7/11/2010).)
They cite the fact Paul said:
"And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:28.)
This shows Paul believed in an abiding role of Jesus as the Son inferior to God-the-Father in heaven. It does not prove that the Son has human flesh in heaven.
These same defenders of Paul cite also the fact Paul says Jesus was "the man" who is our mediator. Paul says there is "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (I Timothy 2:5.) This proves Paul believed Jesus is a "man" but it is unclear whether this was in Jesus's death or is ongoing.
Contrary to Paul's spin, flesh does inherit eternal life. We eat from the tree of life, and we become immortal. We do not lose our flesh and live in a spirit body in the resurrection of the Dead. Jesus resurrected with flesh and ascended with flesh. So did Enoch and Elijah. God can do this. Only Paul says flesh cannot inherit eternal life. Paul in this contradicts Scripture (i.e., Christ's resurrection, Jesus's and Daniel's mention of the Resurrection of the Dead on the last day while spirits transmit immediately to heaven or hell, etc.). Paul tragically vindicated Gnostic thought which scorned the flesh and said flesh could never be in heaven. Contrary to Paul's implication, there is nothing so inherently sinful about the flesh that it cannot be resurrected and later be present in heaven cured of illness and sin.