Mere moments after all dead Christians have been gloriously resurrected, all living Christians will be transformed and will "be caught up together with them" – without ever experiencing physical death (1 Thess. 4:17, NKJV). What a blessed hope!
But what kind of a body will we have when we are ushered into the presence of our Lord "in the clouds," even being with Him "in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17)? This is a question that cannot be fully answered this side of heaven. But God has given us a few hints which He intends to be sufficient for now.
First, the absolute certainty of bodily resurrection is a basic teaching of the Bible. From the book of Job more than 4,000 years ago (cf. Job 19:25-27) to the book of Daniel more than 2,500 years ago (cf. Dan. 12:2), the people of God were instructed in this doctrine. (See also Ps. 16:9, 10 and Isa. 26:19).
Tragically, some Jews denied this truth. They were the Sadducees, a small but powerful group of leaders in Israel who dominated the high priesthood and were subservient to the Roman emperor. One day they confronted the Savior and ridiculed the concept of resurrection (Matt. 22:23-33).
Amazingly, He showed them in the Pentateuch – the only portion of the Old Testament they claimed to believe – that this precious truth is clearly implied by what God said to Moses at the burning bush: "I am [not, "I was"] the God of your father-the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6).
But what did this statement imply? Our Savior explained: "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:32). To us, this may not be clear at first glance. But "when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together" (Matt. 22:33, 34).
In God's perspective, therefore, dead believers cannot be dead permanently. Without a body, which is essential to full humanity, they cannot experience God's best. Thus Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and all saints who have died – must be resurrected. Yes, God expects us to understand the valid implications of statements in the Bible, not just the "clear" statements. This can only happen if we carefully compare Scripture with Scripture, taking all the words in proper context (cf. 1 Cor. 2:13). The Bible is its own best interpreter.
The Resurrection Body
But now we must ask, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" (1 Cor. 15:35) – because resurrected believers and raptured believers will possess the same kind of body. However, it is very important how and why we ask those questions. If our attitude is one of unbelief and skepticism, God's answer will be shocking: "Foolish one" (1 Cor. 15:36). The church at Corinth was notoriously heretical in both doctrine and practice and had to be confronted harshly at times. This is similar to our Lord's rebuke to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when they expressed doubt concerning His resurrection – even after they learned that His tomb was empty.
"We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). In other words, as far as they were concerned, His death destroyed His claim to be the Messiah. To this our Lord replied harshly but, as always, in loving concern: "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:25, 26).
May we beware of ignoring, neglecting, misinterpreting or denying His Word on this vital subject. The apostle Paul challenged the unbelieving Jewish king Agrippa: "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?" (Acts 26:8).
To Be Continued…
By John C. Whitcomb, Th.D.