This article is part of our weekly series, “Our Life’s Comfort: One Year of Being Shaped by the Scriptures.” Read more from the series here.
(57) Q. How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?
A. Not only will my soul be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but also my very flesh, raised by the power of Christ, will be reunited with my soul, and made like Christ’s glorious body.
(58) Q. How does the article concerning “life everlasting” comfort you?
A. Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God eternally.
Christian living straddles two realities: Christ is making all things new (Rev. 21:5), but no one has fully experienced that newness.
For the gospel to be good news—the best news—it must be doing something powerful now that will be perfected in the coming age. As John put it, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). Real hope in the present must materialize in the future.
The last two phrases of the Apostles’ Creed bolster our souls with biblical truths that will completely transform us, and are starting to already.
I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body
The beauty of the resurrection is divided into two phases—what happens to believers first at death, and second at the general resurrection.
Our Souls Will Be Raised
At death believers’ souls will immediately pass into glory and begin what theologians call the “intermediate state.” For the believer there is no “being dead” (Mark 12:26–27). When believers die, their bodies—still united to Christ—rest in the ground until the resurrection. But believers cannot stay dead. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6, 8). For Christians death is phase-one of the glorious transformation of lives wracked by the fall’s aftereffects. Now God has forgiven our sins. Then we will lose all familiarity with sin. Past sin will no longer burden us and future sin will be impossible. Death more fully unites believers with “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Our death is truly “only a dying to sins and an entering into eternal life” (Q&A 42).
But even that state will be incomplete (Rev. 6:10). Contrary to classic Greek philosophy, salvation isn’t the rescue of the soul from the body. I grew up singing, “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole.” But the song is only half right. I am made whole not by God saving my soul but by God remaking and re-joining my soul and body. That’s the second phase of his resurrection promise.
Our Bodies Will Be Reunited with Our Souls
As Christ “rose again from the dead” so will the bodies of all the faithful be raised to glory. In fact, everyone will arise from death. Jesus declared that one day “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out” to be judged and receive their eternal lot (John 5:28–29; cf. Acts 24:15). “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2; cf. 1 Thess. 4:14).
At the resurrection Christ will make believers’ bodies like his glorious body. Our heavenly bodies will be comparable with our present ones but incredibly improved. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:42–43). Our heavenly bodies will forever transcend the possibility of malfunction, decay, shame, or weakness.
But even the bodily resurrection is only a beginning of glory. The Creed’s last phrase explains what follows.
I Believe in Life Everlasting
Believers have the beginning of eternal joy now. God loves us, even if sin sometimes blindfolds us from sensing it. We have peace of conscience; our souls can be well—but aren’t always—even in ugly circumstances. We have pleasure in the Holy Spirit—we don’t always feel jolly, but we have joy because of God’s goodness. We progress in holiness—slowly and haltingly, perhaps. But we know something of the blessedness of godly living.
But our joy is incomplete. Psalms of lament give words to the trembling hearts of believers of all generations. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Ps. 34:19). We groan to put on immortality (2 Cor. 5:21). “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19).
After this life, unmixed joy will begin. The catechism doesn’t elaborate on the “blessedness” that believers will receive in heaven. But the main idea of both proof texts has to do with knowing God (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:9). Then we will know God more fully even as he has always been fully known us (1 Cor. 13:12). This means that we will better and more happily know the extent of our pardon. In the Day of Judgment “Christ will openly [acknowledge] and [acquit]” the saints.”[i] When God reveals every thought, word, and deed of every person who has ever lived, it will be abundantly clear: None of us have come close to meeting God’s standard of sinless perfection. None of us are nearly as holy as God is holy. Still, God will say to his children, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter into the joy of your master . . . Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:23, 34). Our works do follow us into eternity (Rev. 14:13). How we live now truly matters. But the reward for believers’ works will be “far above the merit of all their services and sufferings.”[ii]
We will also more fully enjoy God and praise him continually. Some people are turned off by the idea of praising God eternally—they imagine haloed saints pensively strumming harps. But C.S. Lewis flagged such reasoning as childish. Those who despise heaven because they “do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’” should be told that “if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.”[iii] The pleasure of heaven is joyful adoration of God as he fully satisfies our longings. “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11; cf. 1 Thess. 4:17). Imagine the best heaven you can and you will have massively undershot. And yet, such imagination, informed by Scripture, comforts us along the way now.
Throughout the trials of the Christian life, God graciously gives us small tokens of heaven. But some desires can only be fulfilled in the age to come—even our current unmet desires prove this. C.S. Lewis famously said that “[i]f I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[iv] You were made for another world. In Christ you are being transformed for another world. Soon believers will begin a joyful eternity in God’s presence. Let that truth comfort you (1 Thess. 4:18) and quicken you to other-worldly living now.
[i] Westminster Shorter Catechism 38.
[ii] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6 (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 1166b.
[iii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, Macmillan, 1960), 121.
[iv] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 120.