St. Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:
He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:19).
I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul. “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body, do you? If this body has to rise I’m hoping for an improved model!”
Yes! I think most of us can relate to the desire that our lowly bodies be improved. And they will surely be. Notice how the passage above says that these lowly, sometimes weak, diseased, and often overweight bodies will be changed and will reflect the glory of the resurrected body of Jesus. Yes, this old general issue clunker that I’m currently experiencing is going to be upgraded to a luxury model. We’re headed for first class!
In this time of Easter and resurrection, we ought to consider for a moment what Scripture and Tradition have to say about what our resurrected bodies will be like.
An important starting point in discussing this matter is a little humility. The fact is, a lot of what we are going to say here is speculation. But, it is not wild speculation. It is rooted in Scripture to be sure. However, Scripture is describing things that are somewhat mysterious and difficult to reduce to words. Further, Scripture does not always elaborate; where we might wish for more details, often none are given. Sometimes, too, we infer qualities of the resurrected body based on scriptural texts whose main purpose is not to describe the resurrected body. Rather, their purpose is to set forth the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. For example, Jesus appears and disappears at will in a room though the doors are locked. The point of the text is to tell us that He appeared, not necessarily to say that the resurrected body has something we have come to call “agility” (see below). Hence the text does not elaborate on this point and we are left to infer things about Jesus’ resurrected body and then apply them to our own. This is not wrong, for Paul says that our resurrected bodies will have qualities that conform to Jesus’ resurrected body. But the point is that the biblical texts do not elaborate on this or other qualities in a detailed manner. So we are left to speculate and make inferences.
St. John the Apostle expresses some of the humility we should bring to this discussion:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be like. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).
I do not interpret John to mean that we know nothing, for if he did he would be negating other Scriptures. Rather, I think he is saying that we do not fully grasp the meaning of what we are discussing, and that much of it is mysterious. Although something is known and revealed, much more is unknown and far beyond what we have yet experienced.
With the need for humility in mind, let’s consider some of what we might be able to say of the qualities of a resurrected body. Perhaps it is well that we start with the most thorough passage in the New Testament on this subject and then list the traditional seven qualities of a resurrected body.
St. Paul writes of the resurrected body in First Corinthians 15,
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. … The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. … 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 is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. … 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?”(1 Cor 15:35-55 selectae).