Never to Die, Ever to Live

February 14, 2018

by Chad Van Dixhoorn

WCF 32.2 At the last day, such as are found alive, shall not die, but be changed: and, all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls forever.

WCF 32.3 The bodies of the unjust, shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just by his Spirit, unto honor; and, be made conformable to his own glorious body.

Never to Die

World history has an end point. As there was a first day, so there will be a last day. The ‘day’ of the Lord’s return need not be conceived of as a literal twenty-four hour period. The term refers to an event more than a unit of time. Indeed, the events surrounding our Lord’s return are in Scripture also referred to as an ‘hour’, as well as a ‘day’ (e.g., John 5:25).

On that last day there will be people, perhaps very many people, who will be left alive. It is surprisingly hard to know whether unbelievers still living when Christ returns will remain alive, or will be crushed before him, only to be quickly raised to face him at the judgement. While there is some question about the sequence of events for living unbelievers, there can be no doubt, however, about what will happen to living believers on that great day. The apostle Paul knew that first-century Christians in Thessalonica were wondering what would happen if Christ should return in their lifetime, and so the apostle gave them this teaching: ‘we who are alive’ (the ‘we’ referring to believers), ‘who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord’ (I Thess. 4:17). In other words, believers found alive by Christ will never experience death. They will begin an eternity of communion with Christ at that moment.

At the resurrection of the dead we shall be raised imperishable, with bodies characterized by glory and power.

Nonetheless, as Paul told the Corinthians, although ‘we shall not all sleep’, it is still the case that ‘we shall all be changed’. The change shall be instantaneous. It will come ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet’. When the trumpet sounds, and as the dead are ‘raised imperishable’, those who are alive, like those who were dead, ‘shall be changed’ (Cor. 15:52).

Ever to Live

As Paul implied in the passage from I Corinthians just quoted, and in the verse prior to the citation from I Thessolonians, the last day will also be a redefining, and reconstituting, moment for those who have died. ‘The dead shall be raised upon, with the selfsame bodies’ that they had while alive. It is challenging to comprehend how this can be the case for bodies that have been ravaged and destroyed, first in this life, and then completely in the grave.

It is because we baulk at this possibility that God gave us the book of Job. There we see Job’s incredible confidence, uttered even as his heart fainted within him. For what could be a clearer expression of confidence in a future resurrection and reconstitution of the body, than his assurance to his friends, that even ‘after my skin has been . . . destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God’. The deliberate phrasing of his confession emphasizes his expectation of seeing God in his own body. And lest anyone should miss this point, the patriarch went on to say that he would see God ‘for myself’. Yes ‘my eyes shall behold, and not another’ (Job 19:26, 27).

For those Christians who have died, and will die, before the return of their Lord, they will on that day be raised with their own bodies, although the promise of ‘change’ in the Scriptures indicate that their bodies will have ‘different qualities’. The Scriptures assure us that at the resurrection of the dead we shall be raised ‘imperishable’, with bodies characterized by ‘glory’ and ‘power’. These will be real physical bodies even though they are ‘spiritual bodies’—that is, bodies characterized by the glory and power of the spiritual realm (I Cor. 15:42–44).

And lest we forget, the confession reminds us that this reunion of soul and body is permanent. it is a union that will last ‘forever’. All people will in some sense live forever, although for those who are isolated from God in their eternal existence will be experienced as an eternal death.

This piece is adapted from Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 431–432. Used with permission of the publisher. 

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