This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.
I’ve been studying the characteristics of Heaven for the last couple of weeks, and one of the things the author of my study suggests is that Heaven will exist in 3 states throughout time – a past Heaven that existed from when God created it until His incarnation, death, and resurrection in Christ; a present Heaven where Christ currently resides, and where we will go when we die (unless Christ comes back first); and a future Heaven, which is the newly created Earth where we will live for eternity in our resurrected physical bodies. Today’s study discussed whether we will have physical bodies if we end up dying and going to the present Heaven before Christ comes back to earth. Alcorn tends to think that we will.
The first thing to point out is that there is very little direct Scriptural support for the idea that we will have physical bodies in the present Heaven. But Alcorn says
“Given the consistent physical descriptions of the present Heaven and those who dwell there, it seems possible – though certainly debatable – that between our earthly life and our bodily resurrection, God may grant us some physical form while in that unnatural state ‘between bodies,’ awaiting our resurrection”
There are many stories and teachings in the Bible that give indirect evidence as to the fact that people may have physical bodies in the present Heaven. I have outlined some of this evidence below.
- The apostle John was given the opportunity to see Heaven and was given a vision of what things will be like at the end of time, which we know, of course, he wrote about in our Biblical book of Revelation. In Revelation 10:9-10, John says “So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, ‘Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.‘ I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.” Many people take everything John says in Revelation to be only figurative, but Alcorn says that this is a restriction placed on the text based on our christoplatonic beliefs (see a description of what this is in yesterday’s post). In this passage, John is able to grasp and hold the scroll, taste and eat things, to sense things like sweet tastes and sour stomachs, and he very much appears to have a physical body. If this is anything more than figurative writing, it is strong evidence that we may have physical bodies in the present Heaven.
- After Jesus’ resurrection, “he showed himself to [his disciples] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3). Then, “…he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ (v. 9-11). This passage clearly explains that Jesus, after he was proven to be alive – physically resurrected from the dead – ascended to Heaven in His physical form. This means that there is at least one physical body in Heaven, and there may be more. Genesis 5:24 tells about Enoch and how he “was no more, because God took him away.” Many believe this to say that he was taken to Heaven without physically dying first. And in 2 Kings 2:11 it tells of how Elijah was taken to Heaven without dying first – “As [Elijah and Elisha] were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” Enoch and Elijah are 2 more examples of physical bodies allowed into heaven. This serves as at least indirect evidence that physical bodies are allowed in Heaven.
- In the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (told in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9), Moses and Elijah appear physically before Jesus among witnesses, which Alcorn says “seems to demonstrate beyond question that God at least sometimes creates intermediate bodies for people to inhabit prior to the resurrection of the dead.”
- In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I have copied it below for you to read
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
Many people argue that this is only a parable of Jesus, not to be taken as an actual event. Others take it to be a historical account that actually occurred, and they have some pretty good evidence to back up their side of things (see GotQuestions.org). For one, Jesus doesn’t say that it’s a parable, like He does in other stories. Another thing is that Jesus uses an actual name – Lazarus – which He doesn’t do in any other parable He tells. It seems odd that He would use the name of a well-known friend of His to illustrate a point, especially when his friend was alive (Jesus had raised him from the dead – see John 11), and he was not a poor man like the Lazarus in the story. Alcorn thinks that Jesus wouldn’t have used that name unless it referred to a real person whose name was Lazarus. Another argument that this story actually occurred is that it doesn’t fit the definition of a parable – a parable uses an earthly illustration to teach a spiritual truth. This story has no earthly metaphor – its setting is completely in the afterlife. So if this story actually happened, we can see that in the afterlife, whether in Heaven or hell, people have physical forms with tongues, fingers, and pain and thirst (for those in hell). At the very least, Alcorn says, we can see that “Jesus intended for us to picture people in the afterlife as real humans with thoughts and capacities (and perhaps even forms) and with the same identity, memories, and awareness from their lives and relationships on earth.”
So, these few pieces of indirect evidence seem to show that we will most likely have some kind of physical form while in the present Heaven. Obviously it won’t be our physical bodies – they will not have been resurrected yet. But perhaps God provides some kind of intermediate body for us to occupy while we wait. This will be one of those things we’ll just have to wait until we get there to know for sure.
Click HERE to see the next post in this series.