Resurrection bodies for unbelievers


  • Question 149, from George P

    What kind of bodies will unbelievers get at their resurrection?

    There are two verses in the New Testament that seem to support the idea that unbelievers experience a physical resurrection. These are:
    John chapter 5, verse 29, when Jesus is reported as saying “those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
    Acts chapter 24 verse 15 when Paul refers to “a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked”.

    It would appear from these Bible passages that there was an expectation among some of the Biblical writers that unbelievers would be raised from the dead and judged on judgement day. As attitudes towards eschatology have changed, particularly with some theological viewpoints dispensing with the notion of eternal punishment for the unbeliever, this idea has gradually been sidelined. For example, an ‘annihilationist’ viewpoint that states that unbelievers cease to exist after death (or after judgement day) would probably not include a reference to bodily resurrection of unbelievers.

    But in theological traditions that maintain a doctrine of judgement and ‘perdition’ (e.g. that unbelievers are destined to be punished in hell for their sins), the physical nature of descriptions of hell presupposes that the human beings who are sent there possess a physical body.

    The unbeliever’s resurrection physical body would presumably be similar to the believer’s resurrection body in that it would be recognisable with a continuous physical resemblance to the former body of the person who died. It will not, however, be remade in the same way as a believer’s resurrection body as it will not have been perfected and glorified in the way a believer’s resurrection body is described, because that process of glorification is achieved because of the believer’s faith in Christ. (1 Corinthians chapter 15)

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  • 10 comments

    1. Tom Lipp Jun 22

      This is a very important teaching. It needs to be developed more since it has huge implications about the need for repentance. In all the accounts about hell that I read in the scriptures, the body of the unbeliever is NOT vapourized but instead suffers in everlasting agony.

      The rich man wanted to have a droplet of water on his tongue. This account was not labeled as a parable and is (I believe) the only story that Jesus tells with a specific name given to a character, that is, Lazarus.

    2. Chris Date Feb 1

      Hi Jon,

      I’d like to offer a correction to something you said about annihilationism:

      “For example, an ‘annihilationist’ viewpoint that states that unbelievers cease to exist after death (or after judgment day) would probably not include a reference to bodily resurrection of unbelievers.”

      While this may be true of the cults (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses), it’s not true of Christian annihilationists. Mainstream, evangelical Christian annihilationists like Edward Fudge, author of “The Fire That Consumes,” affirm the bodily resurrection of unbelievers to face final judgment and be destroyed, body and soul. In our “Welcome” page at Rethinking Hell (http://www.rethinkinghell.com/welcome), we write, “We believe that the unsaved do not have eternal “life” in Hell, but will be resurrected in order to face judgment, and receive the penalty of death…” Even the SDAs, fringe as some consider them to be, believe in the bodily resurrection of unbelievers to face judgment.

      Thanks,
      Chris

    3. Jon the freelance theologian Feb 2

      Thanks Chris. I appreciate the clarification.
      Jon

    4. Keith Jones Feb 2

      Hey Jon,
      The Rich man and Lazarus parable (story), if literal, concerns the intermediate state not the final judgement in the lake of fire. I consider it not literal because no one receives their body till the resurrection. In the parable no physical resurrection has taken place. In fact Jesus closes it with the statement that if they will not listen to Moses neither will they believe if one was raised from the dead. So neither Lazarus or the Rich man were resurrected yet. So the duration of suffering in the parable can’t be forever . There still needs to be a resurrection of the unjust followed by being cast into the lake of fire. That is where I believe he perishes being consumed by the fire.

    5. Keith Jones Feb 2

      My previous post, I am sure, is a little confusing. In the story there is mention of a finger and a tongue which normally would indicate physical bodies. But they could not have had physical bodies because they had simply died with no mention of a resurrection. This is why I think the story is not about the final judgement. Since they were not in their resurrected bodies I do not think that we can take the finger and the tongue to be physical in nature. Hades in the NT is the equivalent of Sheol in the OT. This is the place of the dead both just and unjust. This is not the final place for either. The just will finally be in the new heaven and the new earth and the unjust will be cast into the lake of fire. So the story cannot be used as evidence for eternal torment. In Revelations 20 we find that death and hades were cast into the lake of fire to be consumed.

    6. Jon the freelance theologian Feb 5

      Thanks Keith. I would agree that the story probably shouldn’t be taken literally. I could be interpreted as making a point in the here and now that riches could separate you from God.
      Jon

    7. Grady Apr 2

      In reference to whether or not the torment of the unbeliever is eternal I respectfully ask that you look at Revelation 14:10-11 for ever and ever); 19:20 (beast and false prophet cast alive); 20:10 (tormented day and night for ever and ever) and 20:14 (death and hell cast into the lake of fire). It would seem that all things unholy are cast into the lake of fire for eternal torment (as seen as the final destination of the rich ruler.

      I believe that just as the believer is raised with an eternal body for worship so to is the unbeliever raised an eternal body fit for the reward of following the devil; i.e. judgment of the nations(KJV Matthew 25:46, “… and these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

    8. Jon the freelance theologian Apr 4

      Those are references worth considering, although Revelation needs to be used carefully. There are several allegorical and metaphorical elements in the book (the characters of the Beast and false Prophet, for example), so distinguishing between what should be taken literally and what is metaphor could be open to discussion.
      The idea of ‘everlasting’ torment also depends on how ‘everlasting’ is interpreted. Is the punishment experienced eternally, or is the punishment ‘everlasting’ in the sense of irreversible and can’t be undone. Either way, it underlines the importance of mission this side of eternity.

    9. Rick Jul 1

      Jon,
      “The idea of ‘everlasting’ torment also depends on how ‘everlasting’ is interpreted.”

      I for one sincerely hope that eternity is forever since it is the same word (αiώνιον) used for “eternal” life in the Matt 24:46 passage.

      Another reference for eternal punishment is Is. 34. The chapter is a word picture of hell and judgement in the end times. It concludes with…”they shall posses it forever; from generation to generation they shall dwell in it (hell).”

    10. Jon the freelance theologian Jul 8

      The interpretation of Isaiah 34 as apocalyptic or of hell is a later ‘Christianising’ of a text with an easily recognisable contemporary meaning. Isaiah’s oracle is directed against the nation of Edom, which was acting aggressively against Israel.

      The ‘it’ which is dwelt in (verse 17) is the ‘portion’ of land given by God to the wild animals who will dwell in Edom once the nation has been destroyed.

      The Greek word aionion is also used in Romans chapter 16, verse 25 to mean ‘age’ as in ‘long length of time’, which is finite. In the New Testament, context determines meaning for words. It makes no sense to translate aionion as eternal in that passage of Romans. This example leaves open the possibility that the word is used differently in Revelation and Matthew.

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