The resurrection of the body is perhaps the most difficult article of the creed for many to believe – for though many believe that we live eternally, far fewer believe that we live forever in the body. Our experience in the fallen world shows our bodies as weak and decaying; however, such weakness and decay is a consequence of sin and not God’s original design. What is the nature of the resurrected body? How does God make it possible?
Very early in this series we considered how the meaning and purpose of our lives is to live in eternal life with God in heaven. As human beings (whose very nature or “being” is a unity of a material body and an immortal soul), our eternal life with God is meant to be lived in the fullness of our being – once again, in the fullness of our human nature as a unity of body and soul. Therefore, we believe that our life in heaven is not lived as spirits or angels – but as human beings, in the fullness of our being as a unity of body and soul.
The belief in the resurrection of the body has its source in Jesus’ own resurrection in the body. Throughout His life on earth, Jesus alluded in word to his own resurrection when speaking of his impending death – that he would be handed over, put to death, and raised up on the third day. Likewise, he also spoke of His own raising up of other persons – such as those who “ate his flesh and drank his blood” in the Eucharist (see John 6:54). Jesus himself was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday so as to never die again – raised in a glorified body that was no longer subject to death nor decay. It is in His resurrection that we place our faith and hope: that He who died and was raised so as to never die again will raise us up to new life, forever free from death.
In The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 14 says that “By ‘the resurrection of the body’ is meant that at the end of the world the bodies of all men will rise from the earth and be united again to their souls, nevermore to be separated.” Just as Jesus was raised up in the body to never die again, in the end we too will rise from the dead in the body to live forever (minding too the words of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, that any who are still alive on earth when the Lord returns in glory will be caught up to meet the Lord). It is noteworthy that all will rise in the body – with the unfaithful consigned to eternal punishment in hell and the faithful received into to eternal life in heaven. This eternal life in the body is as God willed from the beginning and restored through Jesus.
In the last installment, reference to 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 was made to point toward connecting the forgiveness of sins with the resurrection of the body. Here, St. Paul challenges the Corinthians that if Christ is not raised, their faith is in vain and they remain in their sins (verse 17). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, power over sin and death is manifested – as Jesus has forever defeated the powers of sin and death by being raised from the dead. Thus, Jesus is able to forgive sin in those who believe and seek His forgiveness (through baptism), reconciling them to God. Were there no resurrection, (that is, if Jesus were still dead), no such power over sin and death would be available, leaving us in sin – and thus subject to the punishment of death. Therefore, the resurrection in the body into heaven is founded upon the forgiveness of our sins.
In the next installment, we will consider the reality of everlasting life more specifically, especially under the categories of the “four last things:” death, judgment, heaven, and hell – bringing to right conclusion the articles of the creed.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 988-1019 speak of Jesus’ revealing of the resurrection of the dead and the nature of our resurrection of the body in relation to death itself and the power of Christ over death.