While we’ve been taught that the goal of life is to leave our bodies behind and join God in spiritual form in the spirit world, resurrection (a core belief that Christianity stands and falls on according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19) is actually about being given new physical bodies to live in.
Throughout 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains that our current bodies are perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural. But like seeds planted in the ground giving way to something much better, when our bodies are buried in death, they give way to the resurrected body which is imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual—and when we say spiritual we mean that this spiritual body is “a mode and pattern of intersubjective life directed by the Holy Spirit” (Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 2000, p. 1277). In other words, it is the possession and guidance of the Holy Spirit that makes this body spiritual.
Though perhaps it’s also considered spiritual because of some of the supernatural qualities it carries; for not only are these new bodies imperishable, but Jesus seems to show us that resurrected bodies are capable of some rather odd things.
While on earth, Jesus emptied himself of certain Godly qualities that prohibited Him from being truly human, and then performed supernatural works by walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the miraculous prophets of old did. However, the things Jesus did after being resurrected into His new body were very strange and different. For example, it was like He could somehow phase in and out of existence (Lk 24:31, 36; Jn 20:19). At one point He just appeared in a locked room with the disciples and they all responded exactly how anyone would given the situation—they thought Jesus was a ghost (Lk 24:37). What else would they think? To prove to them that He wasn’t a spirit but a physical being, He said, “Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Lk 24:39). And then to further prove the case, He ate some fish right in front of them (Lk 24:42-43). Ghosts don’t eat fish.
On top of this oddity, His own disciples often didn’t recognize Him (Lk 24:16; Jn 20:14, 21:4). Some looked right at him and still doubted (Mt 28:17). Sometimes they realized it was Him quickly and other times they realized it was Him after an extended time in His presence. But even when they did figure it out, it seemed like they were still confused. For example, John mentions that, “none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord” (Jn 21:12).
These stories feel a bit above and beyond. It seems the Bible wants us to notice that when Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He returned with a new body capable of new things. It was so Holy Spirit led that it defied earth and science wherever it went.
We miss this because we often think of resurrection as nothing more than the raising of the dead. But the raising of the dead is different from resurrection. Lazarus was raised from the dead into the same body, but Jesus was given a new resurrected body. And just as Jesus has received that new body, one day all Christians will do the same. We will be given new resurrected bodies that can live on in the new creation. Plan A to make the earth look like Heaven will be fulfilled.
Now all of this being said, it’s hard to note how exactly new creation will come to be. Some have argued that God will take what is already here and create it anew while others would advocate that God wipes everything out completely and starts over. Personally, I gather that just as He makes a new creation out of these old perishable bodies of ours, so will He make a new earth with what He’s already made. But regardless of which way you want to argue, it is clear to me that the ultimate endgame of the Biblical story is not to fly away to Heaven, but instead, to bring Heaven to earth. The two are to be married into one creation. The physical and spiritual will one day meet and something both familiar and unfamiliar will be present. As C.S. Lewis says,
“We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.”C.S. Lewis (Lewis, C.S. “Miracles.” The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York, HarperOne, 2002, p. 359.)
We must trust in resurrection. Jesus didn’t only show us it existed before He left, but He preached on it in a time where different denominations of Jews were fighting over the idea. Jesus had no doubt it was real. He insulted the Sadducees for not seeing the idea of resurrection more clearly in their Scriptures. Are we willing to see it?
Should we die before Jesus comes back, we will go and join Him in spiritual Heaven while we wait for God to usher in the end-times when we’ll return to earth. Spiritual Heaven is an intermediate phase along the way to ultimate Heaven, which is what we’ll get when Heaven comes to the new earth and we return to live on it with new resurrected bodies.
This is to where we are ultimately headed: The fulfillment of Plan A. We shall make the whole earth look like Heaven, just as God always intended. And we are to start doing so right now.