Do Believers Receive a Temporary Body at Death?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

This excellent question can be answered from Scripture and the biblical teaching concerning this topic can be a real comfort to saints. Both the Old and New Testament give reason to believe that in the interval between the believer’s death and resurrection, he will possess what is called an intermediate body. To be human is to have both material and immaterial facets (body, soul, spirit, hearth, conscience, etc.). There will never be a time when the believer will be a disembodied spirit. Humanity implies corporality (having a body).

Several Scripture passages are helpful in shedding light on this much-neglected area of prophetic truth. Space permits only a discussion of one passage in today’s column.

A well-known incident recorded in 1 Samuel 28 has great bearing on the subject. Saul, the first king of Israel, had forfeited his right to rule because of rebelliousness and disobedience. In disguise he visited the witch at Endor and he begged her to summon Samuel from the dead. Apparently, as a medium, she was in the habit of consulting spirits (demons). However, instead of a spirit contact, Samuel himself appeared from the place of the dead, causing the witch to shriek in horror (v. 12).

After somewhat recovering her composure, she describes Samuel as an old man, covered with a mantle (v. 14). By her description, Saul recognized him to be Samuel himself, dressed in his prophetic garb. The two conversed and, as further proof that it was Samuel who appeared rather than an apparition, the prophet’s prediction of Israel’s defeat by the Philistines and the death of Saul and his sons on the next day sadly came to pass.

Several inferences may be drawn from the incident. We know that Samuel, like the other Old Testament saints, will not receive his resurrection until the Second Advent of Christ (Dan. 12:1, 2).

Nevertheless, Samuel appears in physical form and is recognizable by certain similarities to his earthly condition. He appears as an old man, clothed in accordance with his prophetic office. Yet his body had some supernatural characteristics, for the witch said, “I see gods (elohim, i.e., mighty ones) ascending out of the earth” (v. 13), referring to Samuel.

According to 1 Samuel 28, then, the believer in the intermediate state, between his death and the glorious resurrection of his earthly body, possesses a visible, physical body, which makes possible physical, visual and vocal contact. The saints who have gone before do not float as spirits around heaven on some cloud (as pictured by cartoonists) but they receive upon their entrance into paradise a temporary body suited for their enjoyment of heaven and fellowship with others.

The Believer’s Intermediate Body

In our earlier discussion of the intermediate body for believers we focused on the surreptitious visit of King Saul to the witch at Endor in 1 Samuel 28. When the witch summoned Samuel from the place of the dead, he appeared physically, wearing a prophetic cloak and was recognized immediately by the woman and the king. Saul and Samuel had protracted physical and verbal contact.

The proofs for an intermediate body for believers, (indeed, for unbelievers as well) between their death and final resurrection are equally clear from the New Testament.

In Luke 16 the well-known story of the Rich Man (Latin, Dives) and Lazarus is recorded. That this is not a parable is seen by the fact that in no parable does Christ use a personal name such as Lazarus. Furthermore, Christ relates the conversation between Dives and a historical person, Abraham. Dives is seen in torment whereas Abraham and Lazarus are in the place of the blessed.

The request of Dives to Abraham is to “send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am in torment in this flame” (Luke 6:24). Obviously Lazarus has a finger, which presumably is attached to a hand, the hand to an arm and the arm to a body. Dives has a tongue, which presupposes a head, indeed, an entire body.

Interestingly, the rich man, as an unbeliever, will not receive his permanent resurrection body until the Great White Throne Judgment after the 1000-year reign of Christ on earth (Rev. 20:5a, 11-13). Lazarus, the believer, will receive his glorified body at the Second Advent of Christ, immediately after the tribulation (Dan. 12:1-2). Lazarus’ physical resurrection would be over 2000 years later, that of Dives over 3000 years later. Yet both in their respective places, like all believers and unbelievers, await their final resurrection in temporary physical bodies.

© Manfred E Kober

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