Action, Reaction… Overreaction?

Resurrection of the Body and Eternal LifeThis is our pastor’s newsletter article for May 2016 on the resurrection of the body.

We speak of this reality: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In Church history, however, this may be an understatement.  For what happens if you define yourself by what you are not, instead of who you are?  The response to another’s action, over time, can become an institutionalized overreaction.

Let’s consider the Roman-Catholic teaching on purgatory.  Here is what the Roman-Catholic Catechism teaches:

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death, they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  [section 1030]

So, for the Church of Rome, an intermediate state exists for those who are not yet “purified.”  Their Catechism references 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 1 Peter 1:7 for biblical support.  You should read those passages to find out if the “escape through fire” and your faith’s refining take place here or during purgatory.

So, for 500 years, we Lutherans grew up with a distaste of an intermediate state after death.  Purgatory is such an intermediate state after death, which we believe to be wrong.  So, what happens when you define yourself for 500 years by whom you are not—Roman Catholic.  You lack a counterbalance to keep you from going too far.  Over the generations, a misunderstanding of the Faith develops and becomes institutionalized, even if not so in our official teachings.

Let’s consider what happens after death comes to claim us.  Does an intermediate state of being exist after we die?  Yes; even though purgatory is not this state, but instead, our soul being with God in heaven.  For proof of this, we need only to read Scripture.

Do you not know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Through baptism, we were buried with him into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too can walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.  [Romans 6:3-5]

Like Jesus, we will die.  Like Jesus, our bodies will rise from death.  But what about before Jesus rose from death?  He was a soul without a body, who went straight to heaven, even before He descended into hell, where He “preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19).

All right, but how can we be sure Jesus’ soul had gone to heaven before His body rose from death?  Jesus told the thief on the cross, who believed in Him: “I assure you: Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Today, the repentant thief is still in heaven, awaiting his body’s resurrection.

Even now, the repentant thief is still living by faith, for “faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).  He is still living in hope, for “who hopes for what he has” (Romans 8:24).  “Now faith, hope, and love remain—but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  Love is the best of these, for when what we believe becomes reality, and our hope finds its fulfillment, love will remain.  “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The Apostle Paul compares this intermediate state to being a “seed,” awaiting its “body” (1 Corinthians 15:37-38); yet the souls in heaven are still “in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 15:18).  So, since the soul is with Christ in eternity, death isn’t something to be feared: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

So, an intermediate state does exist after death, which isn’t purgatory.  No, it’s our souls being in heaven with God—but the unity of body and soul in eternity is even better!  Read through the New Testament.  You’ll find almost all the passages speaking of the hope awaiting us, point to the resurrection, not being in heaven before the Last Day.  Scripture even describes our body’s reunion, then complete and perfect, with our soul as “victory” over death.

When what is decaying [our dead bodies in the ground] is clothed with what cannot decay, and the mortal with immortality, then the written word will come true: “Death is swallowed up in victory!” [1 Corinthians 15:54]

The intermediate state, which isn’t purgatory, will one day end.

Jesus also taught of the body’s resurrection (John 5:28-29, 6:39-40, 11:25; Luke 14:14).  He affirmed such truth against the Sadducees.  They, however, didn’t understand the power of God or believe what Jesus considered as Scripture (Matthew 22:23-29; the “Scripture” Jesus referred to was the Old Testament Apocrypha book of Tobit).

The Apostle Paul said our body’s resurrection from death is vital, for “if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).  Paul’s logic in this: If our bodies won’t rise from death, why even bother.  Paul makes no such statement about our soul being in heaven.  Going back to the source of our body’s resurrection, “If Christ has not risen, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

An entire Church season, Easter, celebrates the reality of the resurrection—Jesus’ and ours.  The body rising from death is a powerful hope.  Scripture tells us of those who endured torture, refusing to recant the Faith because of the resurrection.  “Others received tortured but refused to accept release to receive the resurrection to a better life” (Hebrews 11:35).  The book of Hebrews refers to an event in 2 Maccabees, where a family of brothers refused to recant the Faith because “the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life” (2 Maccabees 7:9).

Every week, we confess, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed), or “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” (Apostles’ Creed).  We don’t confess, “I look for our souls being in heaven with God for all eternity.”  Our souls being with Christ in eternity is true; yet, in such a state, we are still incomplete, for we are still what God did not create us to be: sinless beings with a body and soul.

Don’t let an inherited overreaction against Rome keep you from believing what God gives you to hold dear as a Christian.  The body’s resurrection and the life of the world to come are real events, which encourage us in our walk of faith.  Amen.

Next month, we’ll delve into why we reject purgatory.



  1. Thank you Pastor! This was very comforting. 🙂