What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like?

042215St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:19).

I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul. “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body, do you? If this body has to rise I’m hoping for an improved model!”

Yes! I think most of us can relate to the desire that our lowly bodies be improved. And they will surely be. Notice how the passage above says that these lowly, sometimes weak, diseased, and often overweight bodies will be changed and will reflect the glory of the resurrected body of Jesus. Yes, this old general issue clunker that I’m currently experiencing is going to be upgraded to a luxury model. We’re headed for first class!

In this time of Easter and resurrection, we ought to consider for a moment what Scripture and Tradition have to say about what our resurrected bodies will be like.

An important starting point in discussing this matter is a little humility. The fact is, a lot of what we are going to say here is speculation. But, it is not wild speculation. It is rooted in Scripture to be sure. However, Scripture is describing things that are somewhat mysterious and difficult to reduce to words. Further, Scripture does not always elaborate; where we might wish for more details, often none are given. Sometimes, too, we infer qualities of the resurrected body based on scriptural texts whose main purpose is not to describe the resurrected body. Rather, their purpose is to set forth the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. For example, Jesus appears and disappears at will in a room though the doors are locked. The point of the text is to tell us that He appeared, not necessarily to say that the resurrected body has something we have come to call “agility” (see below). Hence the text does not elaborate on this point and we are left to infer things about Jesus’ resurrected body and then apply them to our own. This is not wrong, for Paul says that our resurrected bodies will have qualities that conform to Jesus’ resurrected body. But the point is that the biblical texts do not elaborate on this or other qualities in a detailed manner. So we are left to speculate and make inferences.

St. John the Apostle expresses some of the humility we should bring to this discussion:

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be like. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

I do not interpret John to mean that we know nothing, for if he did he would be negating other Scriptures. Rather, I think he is saying that we do not fully grasp the meaning of what we are discussing, and that much of it is mysterious. Although something is known and revealed, much more is unknown and far beyond what we have yet experienced.

With the need for humility in mind, let’s consider some of what we might be able to say of the qualities of a resurrected body. Perhaps it is well that we start with the most thorough passage in the New Testament on this subject and then list the traditional seven qualities of a resurrected body.

St. Paul writes of the resurrected body in First Corinthians 15,

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. … The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. … The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. … 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. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”(1 Cor 15:35-55 selectae).

Using this and other passages, we can distinguish seven traditional qualities of a resurrected body. Here we will allow our source to be the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. You can click on each quality (underlined) to read more online at New Advent.

1. Identity – Essentially, this means that the very same body that falls in death will rise to be glorified. We cannot claim that we will get a different body, but rather that our current body will rise and be glorified. St. Thomas says, For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body (Summa Suppl. 79.1).

This does not mean that the body will necessarily be identical in every way. As St. Paul says above, our current body is like a seed. A seed does not have all the qualities of a mature plant, but it does have all these qualities in seed form. So, too, our current body is linked to our resurrected body causally and essentially, though not all of the qualities of the resurrected body are currently operative. Again, the Summa states, A comparison does not apply to every particular, but to some. For in the sowing of grain, the grain sown and the grain that is born thereof are neither identical, nor of the same condition, since it was first sown without a husk, yet is born with one: and the body will rise again identically the same, but of a different condition, since it was mortal and will rise in immortality (Summa Suppl. 79.1).

Scripture attests that the same body that dies will also rise. Job said, And after my flesh has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another (Job 19:26-27). And to the Apostles, shocked at His resurrection, Jesus said, Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have (Luke 24:39).

There is continuity because the same body rises. But there is also development and the shining forth of a new glory and new capabilities that our bodies do not currently enjoy.

2. Integrity – We will retain all of the parts of our current bodies. This means every physical part of our body, even the less noble parts like intestines. In the gospel, Jesus ate even after His resurrection. He ate fish before them (Luke 24:43). He ate with the disciples in Emmaus (Luke 24:30). He ate breakfast with them at the lakeshore (Jn 21:12). Hence it follows that even the less noble parts of our body will rise, because eating and digestion are still functions of a resurrected body. St. Thomas argues (rightly, I think) that food will not be necessary to the resurrected body (Summa Suppl. 81.4). But it is clearly possible to eat, for Christ demonstrates it.

St. Thomas reasons that every aspect of our bodies will rise, since the soul is the form of the body. That is, the body has the faculties it has due to some aspect of the soul. The soul has something to say and hence the body has the capacity to talk, write, and engage in other forms of communication. The soul has the capacity to do detailed work and hence the body has complex faculties such as nimble fingers, arms, and so forth to carry out this work. The body is apt for the capacities of the soul, imperfectly at present, but then even more perfectly (cf Summa Suppl. 80.1).

At some level, it seems we must suspend our speculation and keep it within limits. The Summa goes into matters that I think are highly speculative. You can click on the blue word “integrity” above to read these speculations. Personally, I think we should refrain from asking such questions as whether hair and nails will grow, what bodily fluids will still be necessary, or whether latrines will be needed in Heaven. We just have to stop at a certain point and say that we have no reason to know these things and it is purely speculative to discuss them. The bottom line is that the body shall rise, whole and complete. Its functions will be perfected and perfectly apt for the soul in a way beyond what they are now. But as to the intimate details, we ought to realize that humilty is the best posture.

3. QualityWhat about age? Our bodies will be youthful and will retain our original sex. Note that “youthful” does not necessarily mean between 18 and 22! In the Philippians text that began this post, Paul says that our glorified bodies will be conformed to Christ’s glorified body. When Jesus’ body rose, He was approximately 33 years old. Elsewhere, St. Paul exhorts Christians to persevere: Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Hence it would seem that Christ’s resurrected body is the “perfect” age.

St Augustine also speculates that Christ rose again of a youthful age … about thirty years. Therefore, others also will rise again of a youthful age (cf De Civ. Dei xxii).

St. Thomas further notes, Man will rise again without any defect of human nature, because as God founded human nature without a defect, even so will He restore it without defect. Now human nature has a twofold defect. First, because it has not yet attained to its ultimate perfection. Secondly, because it has already gone back from its ultimate perfection. The first defect is found in children, the second in the aged: and consequently in each of these human nature will be brought by the resurrection to the state of its ultimate perfection which is in the youthful age, at which the movement of growth terminates, and from which the movement of decrease begins (Summa Suppl. 81.1).

Further, since sex is part of human perfection, each of us will rise according to the sex he or she is now. It would seem that other qualities such as height and hair color will also be retained, since this diversity is part of man’s perfection.

Here, too, we have to realize that merely picturing Jesus as a 33-year-old man is not sufficient. All the resurrection appearances make it clear that His appearance was somehow changed, though recognizable, and this is a mystery. Further, the heavenly description of Jesus is far from simple to decode in matters of age and appearance:

… and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Rev 1:12-18).

Hence we must avoid oversimplification when it comes to speaking of how our resurrected bodies will appear. We cannot simply project current human realities into Heaven and think we understand what a resurrected body will look like in terms of age, stature, and other physical qualities. The physical qualities are there, but they are transposed to a higher level.

4. Impassability – We will be immune from death and pain. Scripture states this clearly: The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Cor 15:52-53). And again, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4). St. Thomas goes on at some length and you can click on the word “impassibility” to read more.

5. SubtletyOur bodies will be free from the things that restrain them now. Subtlety refers to the capacity of the resurrected body to be completely conformed to the capacities of the soul. St. Thomas says of this quality, The term “subtlety” has been transferred to those bodies which are most perfectly subject to their form, and are most fully perfected thereby. … For just as a subtle thing is said to be penetrative, for the reason that it reaches to the inmost part of a thing, so is an intellect said to be subtle because it reaches to the insight of the intrinsic principles and the hidden natural properties of a thing. In like manner a person is said to have subtle sight, because he is able to perceive by sight things of the smallest size: and the same applies to the other senses. Accordingly people have differed by ascribing subtlety to the glorified bodies in different ways (Summa Suppl. 83.1).

In other words, the body is perfected because the soul is. And the body is now fully conformed to the soul. Currently, in my lowly body, I may wish to be able to go to Vienna in a few moments to hear an opera, but my body cannot pull that off. My body is not able to instantly be somewhere else on the planet. I have to take time and exert effort in order to get there. Jesus, however, could appear and disappear in a room despite closed doors. Before His resurrection, He had to take long physical journeys; now He can simply be where He wants immediately (cf John 19:20, 26). This quality is very closely related to agility, which we consider next.

6. AgilityWe will have complete freedom of movement. Our souls will direct our bodies without hindrance. St. Thomas says, The glorified body will be altogether subject to the glorified soul, so that not only will there be nothing in it to resist the will of the spirit. … from the glorified soul there will flow into the body a certain perfection, whereby it will become adapted to that subjection: … Now the soul is united to body not only as its form, but also as its mover; and in both ways the glorified body must be most perfectly subject to the glorified soul. We have already referred to Jesus’ ability, in His glorified body, to be anywhere immediately, without regard to locked doors or other hindrances. Consider, too, these description of the agility of the resurrected body:

  1. As they [on the road to Emmaus] talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them (Luke 24:15).
  2. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, and he disappeared from their sight (Luke 24:31).
  3. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

7. ClarityThe glory of our souls will be visible in our bodies. We will be beautiful and radiant. It is written in the Scriptures, The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43). And again, The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds (Wisdom 3:7). And again, The body in sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory (1 Cor 15:43).

So, rejoice! The Lord is going to take these lowly bodies of ours and change them to conform with His own body. You’re going to upgrade to an improved model to be sure. And in your glorified body you won’t have to take all this time to read a post like this; you’ll just know it. This is a long post, so I’m also posting it in PDF form here: What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like.

26 Replies to “What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like?”

  1. What about miscarried children? How could I possibly recognize my predeceased little ones, who never lived outside my body?

    1. I think God will arrange these sorts of things. I hope you will understand what I am about to say and not take it personally but people do not exist so we can recognize them. They exist to become what God made them to be and I am sure will accept this.

      1. Thank you, Msgr. Pope. Makes perfect sense, and I do understand now!
        Thank you for your time & efforts on this blog.

  2. In regards to resurrecting with the same gender as we are born with: What about transgender people? Will they resurrect with mutilated genitals? Or would their original ones be restored?

    1. No, they will rise with the sex that God gave them. By analogy let us say that an alcoholic who rotted their liver by drinking to excess rises. If he is saved, he will not rise with a rotted liver. Rather with the perfect and perfected liver God gave him. So too the transgendered who sinfully mutilate themselves due to some sort of disordered passion (as in the case of alcoholism), they will rise with the perfected male or female body God actually gave them.

      Bye Bye to tattoos as well along with all the hideous piercings, cuttings and stuff of this age 😉

      1. If piercings are no longer part of a resurrected body why is it that Christ’s resurrected Body retained the wounds of His Crucifixion?

  3. I think heaven is unimaginable, because God will give us perfect love there, without any limits.

  4. I loved reading this. I believe that my grandparents and my sister each visited me once since their deaths. It was just as St. Augustine and St. Thomas taught – of course I recognized them but they were young, 30 or so. Each one smiled with so much joy in their faces and they looked wonderful. I was so happy to see them, I was crying in my sleep and my husband and son told me they heard me crying. First my sister visited me – about 5 months after her death. My grandfather, about 2 months after his death, and my grandmother, about 15 years after her death. I have always prayed for their souls – I think that’s why they appeared to me in dreams. They didn’t say one word to me. Only smiled. I have felt such a reassurance from these dreams that they are alright – they are with God in Heaven.

    1. My mother came to me in a dream as well, a few months after she died from cancer and congestive heart failure at age 72. She never said a word in the dream, but appeared to be in perfect, middle-aged health and was smiling broadly. She approached me in a gorgeous meadow of flowers and hugged me. What was intriguing was the fact that she was barefooted. My mother had lovely, petite feet and took very good care of them… she never walked barefoot in this world (unless she was getting into the bathtub). I took it to be a sign that she must now dwell in the hallowed realm of Paradise. Seeing her again was an incredible comfort.

      1. I have lived apart from my parents for many a year and after my mother died, life moved on pretty normally. Then after 6 months I had a ‘dream’ like no other, where I was shown by an angel that Mum had just got into heaven. It was matter of fact but happily re-assuring. I had prayed for her soul even though I thought if anyone didn’t need that, it would be her. Sixth months later my father died and so I started to think about how long in purgatory it would be for him .. and the rest of us.

        Years later, without having any more heaven sent ‘messages’, I found out that he’d made a perfect confession just before death and wore the scapula and the miraculous medal … I’m not expecting any more ‘dreams’!

  5. Thank you, Msgr. Pope. I don’t believe St. Thomas Aquinas talks about the wounds of Christ in heaven. Will these visible wounds which he showed his incredulous apostles here on earth disappear at the end of time, or will they remain for all eternity as a reminder of what Christ suffered in order to save us?

  6. Dear Father,

    Thank you for this post. I have two questions:

    1. When will this (i.e., transformation of our bodies) take place ? Will that be after our earthly life, or at the time of final resurrection ? If it’s the latter, does that mean we will exist as pure spirits from the moment we depart from our earthly life, until the final resurrection ?

    2. A friend of mine once told me, “there are no solid bodies in heaven except Jesus and Mary, and Elijah is alive in Body in other places (in heaven)”. I used to think even Elijah, Enoch, and Moses’ bodies too were transformed into glorified ones after Jesus’ resurrection, and that it’s impossible to know in heaven whether a body reached there by assumption or not (based on my own interpretation of the phrase from 2 Corinthians 12, “was his spirit in his body” means bodily entering into heaven, and St Paul’s acknowledgment that only God knows the answer to that) . Is that correct ?

    1. 1. At the Last trumpet. We will exist in some form in heaven “until” then, (I don’t like the term “pure spirit” since I may say more than we should). What we do know is that for now our souls go to God where we are judged and then either save, purified and saved or lost to hell. Afterward, at the last trumpet our bodies will rise transformed and glorious and be joined to our souls. I put the word “until” in quotes since the unfolding of time in heaven may not be what we experience here so it may not be accurate to say the souls of the faithful departed are “waiting” for their bodies to rise like we wait here. Perhaps their experience is (will be) that the time of “waiting” is very quick or almost instantly since, in eternity what we call the future here may already be present to them in some way. So the mystery of time is not to be neglected in pondering the “delay” of soul and body being reunited.

      2. Having never been to heaven I (like you) would not like to be so absolute about “solid bodies” etc in heaven. If by “body” is meant human bodies I think we can only know about Jesus and Mary as having glorified bodies in heaven. As for Moses, Elijah and Enoch, that they have their bodies is a safe assumption (pardon the pun) but that their bodies are glorified bodies seems less safe an assumption. So I can only reply, “nescio” (I know not) along with you.

  7. At the age of 36 I was physically healed of ovarian cancer (medical records to prove). The evening before my surgery, Jesus and Mary appeared by my bedside. I’m not concerned what my body will look like when I go to heaven. It’s the incredibly immense sense of love that I experienced while in their presence. Heaven to me is pure love unknown to those of us here on earth. A love so strong that you will fall on your knees to the Father and sing praise eternally.

  8. Modern physics tells us that “solidity”is only an illusion. Living or dead. our bodies consist of “atoms” which, however, are not specks but concentrations of “energy” with or without measurable mass. Hence “this, too, too solid flesh doth melt away”, losing the shape familiar to us, and supposedly reverting to whatever it was before it came together. How would this fit into Thomas’s scheme as the soul as form of the body?

  9. The image of Christ The Church, Mary, and the Rosary is salient at this time. Thank you

  10. For those with a strong interest in this topic, I have found Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s writings to be of considerable value.

    In Eschatology B XVI provides an in-depth and scholarly analysis. For others, the last chapter of Introduction to Christianity is very helpful.

  11. I have read somewhere that in excess of one hundred billion people have walked this earth.
    The rooms must be inexhaustible…?

  12. I was recently astonished to learn that the majority of our own bodies isn’t even us! Our cells are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the microorganisms living in us, and that we would die without them being there. Just check out “Human microbiota” on Wikipedia for more information on this.

    Got me to wondering whether all these microorganisms will be resurrected along with us.

  13. Let the exodus of believers to being ‘nones’ happen if it is really happening. Let the numbers show and let them be revealed that the faithful will come to realize how we need to pray and intercede for the unbelievers. Do we ever think that The HOLY SPIRIT will allow these things to come to pass without a fight? Time and again the Church was on the brink of being annihilated by all worldly and funny ideas but the Church continued to flourish and brought forth more saints. Of course, that great crisis of a few priests’ sexual pedophilic escapades being continually magnified by the media affected the faithful but I believe it only showed that the greater number of priests who had sacrificed their lives and who are true to their vocation of bringing souls to GOD are now coming out into spotlight and uncovered by the many witnesses of believers. GOD will prevail because the enemy has now been revealed and its pangs have been rendered useless. YHWH NISSI!

  14. If someone had some sort of physical disfigurement, such as missing a leg for example, would their resurrected body be missing a leg as well?

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