What body do we occupy between the time our lifeless bodies decompose into worm-fodder and when they are resurrected in glory?
The short answer is that we don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. Biblically speaking, it’s a secret. But it’s no secret that the absence of knowledge can’t deter bloggers from opining for 800 words.
So, let’s start with what the Bible does say:
- Disembodied spirits seem to require a material, animated host, i.e. a person or animal (remember the pigs) in which to operate in the material world. In Scripture we see spirit beings such as angels and demons disengaged from the material dimension until they manifest in a bodily form.
- Matt 12:43 When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
- 2 Kings 6:17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
- Bodies are mortal but spirits are immortal. A human being’s spirit separates from his/her mortal body when that body stops functioning—dies—and translocates to where Jesus is, a realm called Paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:3).
- Our resurrected, immortal bodies will be united with our spirits on a particular day, the day of resurrection, when the Millennial Kingdom is established. To be more specific, believers are raised at the first resurrection and unbelievers at the second resurrection (Rev 20:5-6). The resurrected body is immortal, imperishable, and “heavenly” vis-à-vis the mortal, perishable body which is “earthly” (1 Cor 15:35-53).
- If a mortal body is still available for resuscitation, the spirit can be reunited. Lazarus, though his corpse was four days past its expiry date, is brought out of the tomb, still embalmed in preservatives. We also see this occur with Jairus’ deceased daughter, the Shunamite’s recently departed son, and of course the dozens of revenant saints who popped out of their sepulchres after being (presumably freshly) inhumed (Matt 27:52).
- There are times when invisible disembodied spirits manifest in other ways. Rev 6:9 …I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. … 20:4 … I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, …They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Another example of a spirit manifesting visibly is when the Holy Spirit descended (visible spatial movement) “like a dove” (Matt 3:16). Unlike the many depictions of the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of a feathery white animal, “like a dove” refers rather to the method of descent; as in He alighted the way a dove would, as opposed to the thud of a dropped anvil, or the pounce of a startled cat.
You also see Jesus referencing the dead rich man and Lazarus in their respective afterlives, both in recognizable bodies. (See Visitor’s Guide to Hell for more on that fascinating account.)
Now for a fun one… Moses and Elijah appear to three bemused disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration in an apparent bodily form (Matt 17:3). Are these earth-suits early renditions of glorified bodies, or merely old editions neatly preserved for this particular use? Consider this: Elijah’s body uniquely escaped mortality and its concomitant decomposition. He never died, and was assumed body and spirit into Paradise. So, we know why he could visit with Jesus on the Mount, but what about Moses? Although Moses went the ineluctable way of all mankind when he died at a ripe old age, the final destination of his lifeless body is far less certain. The biblical writer, Jude, recounts with irksome brevity that Moses’ corpse became a matter of supernatural significance:
Jude 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
Sometimes I wish biblical revelation came with footnotes (no, the MacArthur Study Bible notes don’t count!) Here Jude leaves us with a titillating glimpse into what must be the most noteworthy unsolved mystery in history: what on earth was it about this human cadaver that could bring the archangel and the devil to fisticuffs?
We are told in Deuteronomy 34:6 that God buried Moses in a spot no one knows. So we know his body was entombed on earth. But perhaps it was kept in a way that was meant to preserve it somehow so that Moses could make use of it again when he and Elijah entered the material world a second time, to minister to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Satan tried to interfere Michael was deployed to defend it.
Ok, I think we’ve burrowed deep enough in the rabbit hole. Let’s come up for air and remind ourselves of where we began. What type of body, if any, do saints occupy in the intermediate state? We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. It’s a secret.