by R.C. Sproul on Youversion
The Final State of Man
Christians sometimes imagine themselves spending eternity in an ethereal, spiritual place where they will exist as disembodied souls. Heaven may indeed be like this, but we will not be spending eternity there. Rather, we will live in a place that resembles the earth in bodies that will have significant identification with those we possess now.
The Bible makes clear that a separation occurs at death. The body dies, is placed in the grave, and decays. However, the spirit of the person continues to exist. The spirit of a believer goes immediately to the presence of God in heaven: to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). However, the spirit of an unbeliever is immediately cast into hell (Luke 16:22–23). But this is not the final state; instead, it is what theologians call “the intermediate state.” For a believer, being present in spirit in heaven is simply an advancement in the new life he or she began to live at the time of regeneration (John 5:24). In a very real sense, a Christian begins to live the life of heaven even before dying (Eph. 2:5–6). When death does come, his soul is made perfect in holiness, fitting him for the presence of God. Later in time, however, when Christ returns to earth, He will cause the bodies of all those who have died to be raised and reunited with their souls. Then will come the final judgment, when the unrighteous will be cast, soul and body, back into hell (John 5:28–29; Acts 24:15), while the righteous will be placed in the new earth, their souls reunited to their now-perfected bodies (Phil. 3:21).
It is the resurrection of the righteous that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15. To explain it, he uses the analogy of a seed. In order to produce a plant, we place a seed in the ground and apply water to make it rot. In effect, we kill the seed that a new life might come forth. So it is with our bodies, which go into the ground and decay. When they are renewed by God, they will become like the plant that sprouts from the seed. They will be the same bodies we once inhabited, similar in many ways. But they will be incorruptible. They will be like the body of Christ following His resurrection; perfected and glorified, fitting us for existence in the new earth.
What will that existence be like? We will examine that question in our next two studies.
CORAM DEO Living before the face of God
Is the idea that you will spend eternity in a physical world in a physical body strange to you? If this seems undesirable, remember that it will differ from your present existence in one monumental way—your spirit and body will be perfect and sin will be gone. As you finish this study, ask God to give you understanding of these things.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.1 Corinthians 15:35-49