What Is the Bible’s View?
Will God Raise What Undertakers Bury?
THE death of a loved one often comes as a real shock, as you may know from sad experience. But you may also know that on the heels of that shock can come questions or decisions. For example:
Do you want the undertaker to embalm the body? Should the body be cremated or buried? If buried, would you like a normal casket used, or one specially designed to preserve the body longer?
Whether you have yet faced such questions or not, and we all could at any time, there is a common concern that may affect your decisions.
That is: Does what is done with the corpse have any bearing on whether the deceased can or will be resurrected? Many persons believe that it may. So they have the body of a dead loved one handled in some special way even if doing so is more costly.
Why They Believe
Does your religion teach that on Judgment Day the Creator will resurrect the fleshly bodies of all persons who have died?
“Yes,” you say if you are a Catholic. You may even have recited the Apostles’ Creed that says, in part: “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body.” Regarding this statement, a Catholic catechism declares: “At the end of the world the bodies of all men will rise from the earth and be united again to their souls.” If you are a Protestant, this may sound familiar, for many Protestant churches also hold this same view.
Similarly, the Encyclopædia Judaica (1971) points out that “the belief that ultimately the dead will be revived in their bodies” is “a major tenet” of Judaism. Rabbinic literature discussed problems such as “how the bodies will travel to the Land of Israel . . . , [and] whether they will be clothed or naked.” The encyclopedia adds: “This idea has been taken so seriously and literally that pious Jews are often concerned about the clothes they are buried in, the complete interment of all organs, and being buried in Israel.”
As you can see, the belief is widespread that persons will be resurrected with the same fleshly bodies they had at death. And it does influence decisions persons make about funerals and burial.
What specifically, though, does the Bible say on the matter? It would be good to know, for it may influence your decisions.
Evidence of What God Can Do
Reading the Bible through provides ample evidence that God has the capacity to resurrect a person with the same body he had at death.
There are quite a number of cases in which a person died and then Jehovah, through one of his servants, brought life back to the dead body. It happened to a lad in Zarephath, a boy in Shunem, the daughter of Jairus, a young man in Nain and Dorcas of Joppa. (1 Ki. 17: 21-23; 2 Ki. 4:8, 32-37; Mark 5:22-24, 35-42; Luke 7:11-15; Acts 9:36-42) In these cases the individuals evidently were brought back to life on the very day that they died, while the bodies were still there and undecayed.
The resurrection of Lazarus was somewhat different. He had been dead for four days and his corpse had begun to decompose and smell. Yet the God who was able to form a body for Adam out of the earthly elements certainly could again provide a complete, sound body for Lazarus. And he did. Jesus prayed to his Father and then said: “Lazarus, come on out!” It happened. He came out alive with a whole human body.—John 11:39-44.
So God undeniably can bring persons back to life with bodies of flesh, blood, bones, hair and all the other materials making up human life. But does this mean that God must have reasonably complete corpses in order to resurrect individuals? Does it suggest that if a loved one dies you must try to preserve the body?
The Lesson of Jesus
We are helped to get the right view of this matter by considering what occurred with Jesus. You will recall that prior to his coming to earth God’s Son had lived as a spirit in heaven along with his Father and the angels. (John 1:1, 14) After Jesus was put to death, he was to go back to heaven, he himself asking to be ‘glorified alongside his Father with the glory he had before the world was.’—John 17:5.
That being so, would God need to resurrect Jesus’ human body of flesh, bones and blood? No, for Jesus was to go to heaven. Is it not understandable, then, that the apostle Peter said that Jesus was ‘put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit’?—1 Pet. 3:18.
But some persons might wonder: If Jesus was resurrected as a spirit, like the angels, how could he appear in the flesh after his resurrection? To get the Bible’s answer, think back to the occasions when angels had appeared to men, such as to Abraham, Lot, Gideon and Samson’s parents. (Gen. 18:1, 2; 19:1; Judg. 6:11, 12; 13:13-21) In heaven those angels were spirits and had invisible spirit bodies. But so as to be seen by humans they materialized human bodies.
Jesus did the same after he was resurrected, being no longer a man of flesh such as Adam was but now a “life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45) God evidently did away with Jesus’ body so that it could not be worshiped. (Compare Deuteronomy 34:6; Jude 9.) But Jesus did not need that body. As a spirit he materialized various human bodies to appear to his disciples. Sometimes the materialized body was such that his followers did not recognize him. (John 20:14-16; 21:4-7) Yet once, in order to convince “doubting” Thomas, Jesus materialized a fleshly body that had wounds on it such as were on Christ’s body when he died. A careful reading of this account, though, confirms that it was an instance of a spirit creature’s materializing a body. How do we know? Jesus appeared to Thomas in a locked room, miraculously materializing right in the midst of the apostles.—John 20:24-29.
Was That a Pattern?
While what occurred in Jesus’ case is of interest, you may well be wondering, ‘Will God, nevertheless, resurrect the fleshly bodies of others?’
The Scriptures plainly teach that some of Christ’s followers have been called to be joint heirs with him in heaven. (Rom. 8:16, 17; 2 Tim. 4:18) Now, if Jesus was “made alive in the spirit,” is it not reasonable that his chosen followers destined for heavenly life would also be resurrected as spirits, with spirit bodies suitable for their new environment? (1 Pet. 3:18) If that be true, then their fleshly corpses would not be resurrected, would they?
This is exactly what the apostle Paul explained in discussing their resurrection, answering the question: “How are the dead to be raised up? Yes, with what sort of body are they coming?” (1 Cor. 15:35) Obviously, if their selfsame fleshly bodies were going to be resurrected, there would be no point to that question. What did Paul say in reply? Paul explained, ‘God gives a body just as it pleases him.’ Does that principle apply to the resurrection of the dead? Yes. Whereas a person lived and died with a “physical body,” what is raised is a “spiritual body.” So those resurrected to heavenly life will not have their fleshly bodies raised any more than did Jesus, who was resurrected “a lifegiving spirit.” In heaven they will have a spirit body, bearing “the image of the heavenly one.”—1 Cor. 15:36-49.
Paul clinches the point with his next statement: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, neither does corruption inherit incorruption.” (1 Cor. 15:50) Regarding this clear statement, cleric J. A. T. Robinson admitted: “This is fundamental, and neither Paul nor any other N[ew] T[estament] writer speaks or could speak of the ‘resurrection of the flesh.’”
So the Biblical evidence shows that the early Christians understood that their resurrection was not dependent on their body’s being preserved. Rather, it was the enemies of Christianity who erroneously believed that. Regarding second-century opposers who executed Christians, ancient historian Eusebius wrote: “The bodies of the martyrs . . . were at length burned and reduced to ashes by the wretches, and finally cast into the Rhone [River] . . . These things they did as if they were able to overcome God, and destroy their resurrection.” These enemies said: “Now we shall see whether they will rise again.”
The early Christians evidently would have preferred to give their brothers a decent burial. However, they knew that if they could not do so, it still would not affect the resurrection.
To Life on Earth
God’s actions in connection with Jesus and his joint heirs clearly show that Jehovah is not dependent on a preserved human body in order to resurrect a person. So, in regard to the future earthly resurrection in the New Order, Jehovah will be able to ‘give to each a body just as it pleases Him.’—1 Cor. 15:38.
Accordingly, God will be able to resurrect David’s faithful friend Jonathan even though his corpse was burned and only his bones were buried. (1 Sam. 31:2, 12, 13) It will be no harder for God to raise Jonathan than for Him to resurrect all those who have been buried in earthen graves and whose bodies returned to the dust.—Rev. 20:12, 13.
Jehovah will not have to use the same atoms and molecules that were in Jonathan’s body at death, and the same is true of others. Even with each of us now, the atoms in our body today are different from those we had a decade ago, but we are still the same person. Just as God provided a sound body for Adam out of the elements, He can provide a complete human body for each person raised to life on earth. (Acts 24: 15) Perhaps the resurrected person’s body will have the general appearance he or she had previous to dying. But more importantly, God will restore such a resurrected one with the traits, personality and memory the individual possessed up until death. So he will be the same person, just as much as Lazarus was the same when God, by Jesus, resurrected him and made his body sound again.
Consequently, there is no need for anyone to go to extensive means to try to preserve the body of a loved one who has died. In whatever way the body returns to dust, whether quickly or slowly, Jehovah God can and will resurrect all who are covered by his provision through Christ.—John 5:28, 29; 11:23, 24.