A New Heaven, a New Earth, A New Body (Pt 1)

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 

An elderly couple who had lived well, ate right, exercised and took care of themselves finally passed away and went to heaven. Peter met them at the gates and offered to show them around. He took them to their new home and it was beautiful – magnificent furnishings, majestic views out every window. The man asked how much this was going to cost and Peter replied, “Nothing – it’s free!” Next he took them to the golf course that was amazing – plush fairways, immaculate greens and it changed everyday just to keep it interesting. The man asked “How much are the green fees?” Peter replied, “It’s free – play whenever you want, no tee times, no waiting.” Next Peter took them to the banquet hall, where there was delicious looking food stretched out on tables as far as the eye could see. The man said, “Great! All this food and all of it looks fattening and unhealthy – where is the salad and tofu bar?” Peter said, “Here in heaven you don’t have to worry about calories and cholesterol – eat whatever you want and you never gain a pound!” The old man started stomping around and throwing a fit and then pointed at his wife and said, “It’s all your fault! If you hadn’t made me eat all those bran muffins I would have been here ten years ago!”

Isn’t it funny how when someone starts describing heaven in terms of physical existence we assume it’s a joke? It’s probably because we have this picture of heaven that’s mostly filled with sitting on clouds and strumming harps. If that’s your picture, I think you’re in for a surprise, because the picture of heaven that the Bible paints is very different. The biblical heaven is a physical, tangible heaven. You will be able to taste it, smell it, touch it, experience it.

The modern picture of heaven is more dependent on Plato than the Bible. Plato popularized the philosophy that physical is evil, spirit is good and the goal of life is to escape the physical body because the body is debased. This philosophy dominated the world in which Christianity was born, and it immediately began to infiltrate the church. Early in the church’s history it had to fight battles over Gnosticism and Docetism. Gnosticism said that we are divine souls trapped in a material world by an evil God and we can only escape by rejecting the physical. Docetism said that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh, he just seemed to be a physical being, but he really wasn’t. He was a spirit that appeared in physical form but it was an illusion, as was the cross – because they couldn’t conceive of a pure, holy God having anything to do with physical flesh. You hear it combated in verses like 1 John 1:1 - That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. Or 1 John 4:2-3 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

The Bible affirms that the physical body and the physical world are good because God created them. In fact, the first time the word “good” is used is in Genesis 1, when God creates the heavens and the earth and ultimately man and says, “It is good.” Paul will say in 1 Cor. 6:19, …your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. The physical body is God’s creation and he created it good, and he created it to enjoy the physical things of this life.

Now understand, the Bible condemns materialism – a pre-occupation with physical things, an obsession with possessions and wealth. In Romans 1:25 Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.” He condemns letting the fleshly nature overrule the spiritual nature. But he never condemns or demeans the physical body.

But because this was the philosophical climate of the ancient world, Christians began melding biblical thought with Greek philosophy and came out with this picture of an evil world which we must escape to go to this non-material, non-physical heaven without bodies – existing only as disembodied spirits. And today, two-thirds of Americans think that when they die they won’t have bodies and that heaven is a non-material place.

What will my heavenly body be like?

In 1 Cor. 15, Paul tells us “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This physical body I inhabit right now isn’t meant for heaven – it’s wearing out and breaking down a little more every day, until the day will come when it is used up. God created it for a limited lifespan.

In 2 Cor. 5, Paul says, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 5:1-5)

When Paul talks about the earthly tent, he’s talking about our physical body – he says this physical mortal body will wear out and ultimately be destroyed, but when this physical body dies, we don’t become disembodied spirit – as Paul says, “naked,” – but we are “clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

And get this – the indwelling Holy Spirit is our guarantee that this is what is to come. If you have the Holy Spirit now, you will have a heavenly body later. Our hope is not to be delivered from the body, but into new bodies. Again, Paul in Romans 8:23 says – “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Listen to what he says in Philippians 3:20-21 – “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

“Like his glorious body.” What does that tell you? When Jesus was resurrected, it was not as a disembodied spirit, but with a glorious, resurrected body. When Jesus appeared to his disciples on the Galilean seashore after his resurrection, his disciples didn’t know what to think. Luke writes: They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

When Jesus stood before Thomas who doubted Jesus had really risen, He said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus was raised with a body, but a body unlike our mortal, physical bodies. That body will never wear out, never suffer disease or injury – that body is made to exist eternally. Paul described this in 1 Cor. 15:35 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” and then he goes on in vs 42: 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 from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

Spiritual does not mean non-physical. Spiritual means a body that exists in God’s realm of spirit. When we talk about being spiritual, we’re not talking about putting aside physical needs or concerns so that we can think other-worldly thoughts, and make our lives into that old threadbare dichotomy between physical and spiritual, one being superior to the other, and our goal is not to have any physical concerns, but to be a “spiritual person.” Spiritual is to experience life in that eternal realm (remember when Jesus said “we have passed over from death to life.”) Spiritual involves the whole of body, soul and spirit – it is the complete integration and maturing of all three together.

Our spiritual bodies will be perfect bodies – not just an improvement on the mortal body, not just an upgrade to version 2.0, but a completely different kind of body that is the integration of our whole self. We will become our perfect self – we will “bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

I know we’ve looked at a lot of scriptures and they all tend to muddle together, but I hope you have seen a common thread running through all of them – that what awaits us is a glorious existence in a new, glorious physical body that will be like Jesus’ resurrected body.

This physical body will not only be eternal, but will have the capacity to experience life to its fullest with all of our senses (Do you think God is limited to five? Do you think sunsets are beautiful now? Do you enjoy the taste of a Palisade peach?) We will experience joy and love and pleasure (Do you love your family now? Do you take joy in this life?) Can you imagine what life would be like with a body that doesn’t have physical weaknesses and limitations? I think God has incredible surprises awaiting us. I can only imagine how wonderful these new bodies will be, but I know that God in his limitless love and goodness and creativity has designed those new bodies for a life beyond our ability to imagine.

And so, as Paul brings his thoughts on the resurrection – our resurrection – to a conclusion, he says, Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think it’s interesting how he ends this discussion of the resurrection: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58) He wants us to know that whatever we’re going through now, whatever sacrifices we’re making, whatever loss and sorrow we’re experiencing, that it will all be worth it when Christ comes again to take us home.

And I want you to be thinking this week – if God has these new, glorious, eternal bodies awaiting us – what do you think heaven will be like for us to enjoy and make full use of these new bodies? And next week we’ll talk about the new heaven and the new earth that those bodies will get to inhabit.