This is a question I encountered frequently after the death of my father. Family members and friends wanted to know whether my dad had become a disembodied soul or whether he received his resurrection body the moment he died.
First, Scripture clearly refers to the moment of death as disembodiment, not re–embodiment. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes it crystal clear that to be “at home with the Lord” is to be “away from the body” and to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (5:6, 8).
Furthermore, Scripture teaches that believers are not resurrected until the second coming of Christ. Paul explicitly says that when the Lord comes down from heaven, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Jesus himself taught that at his bodily return to earth “all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28–29). If believers received their resurrected bodies at the moment of death, they obviously could not receive them at Christ’s second coming.
Finally, our eternal bodies are numerically identical to the bodies we now possess. As Christ rose in the same physical body in which he died, so too we will be raised in the same physical body in which we die. In other words, our resurrection body is not a second temporary body; rather it is our present body transformed (1 Corinthians 15:42–43). While orthodoxy does not dictate that every cell of our present body will be restored in the resurrection, it does require continuity between the body that is and the body that will be.
One day, the very body of my father that I watched being lowered into the ground will rise from its grave. It was sown a perishable body, it will be raised imperishable; it was sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; it was sown in weakness, it will be raised in power; it was sown a natural body, it will be raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). On that day, my dad’s body will no longer be dominated by natural proclivities; instead he will have a supernatural, spiritual body dominated by the Holy Spirit and set free from slavery to sin.
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, Resurrection (Nashville:Word Publishing, 2000): 109–113.
“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.”
1 Corinthians 15:51–52