“If the soul should go to heaven and not the body, then a believer would be only half saved.”
I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life. I’ve a heard a lot of funeral sermons. And I’ve sometimes seen the pastor point at the casket and say something like, “This isn’t Bob. Bob isn’t here anymore.”
I’d like to suggest that that statement is both gloriously comforting and potentially misleading.
First, that statement is gloriously comforting (assuming Bob died in Christ). Because of course, what the pastor means is “There’s more to Bob than what’s in that box. Bob’s soul is absent from his body but present with his Lord, which is far better!” (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:23)
So the statement, “This isn’t Bob” is gloriously comforting. But…
It’s also potentially misleading. At the very least, if it isn’t Bob, then it is Bob’s (i.e. Bob’s body). But of course, the same language could be used of his soul. In fact, just a moment ago I referred to Bob’s soul being in heaven. Bob’s soul, Bob’s body. They’re both his (in a sense).
So there’s nothing wrong with referring to the body as Bob’s. But we need to be recognize what we mean by that. Because in addition to speaking of Bob’s body, we could also speak of
• Bob’s car
• Bob’s house
• Bob’s dog
• Bob’s clothes
• Bob’s wife
All those things are Bob’s, but they’re clearly not all Bob’s in the same way. Your body isn’t yours in the way your house is yours. You don’t own it. Your wife isn’t yours in the same way your body is yours. She’s a distinct person from you; that’s why if she dies, you don’t automatically die, too.
But if your body dies, you die. Which means that your body is yours in a way that your car and your house and your wife aren’t. In fact, in a very real sense, your body isn’t simply yours, your body is you. It may not be all of you, but it is part of you in a way that nothing besides your soul is. The real you, the full you, is not simply your soul, but your body and soul. The Bible doesn’t just say that Lazarus’s body died; it says that Lazarus died (John 11:14)
And in that sense I would say that what’s in that casket is Bob. To say otherwise is potentially misleading if it’s taken to mean that what’s in that casket isn’t important. It is important.
This doesn’t mean that the body is necessary for a person to consciously exist. If it were, then Bob’s spirit couldn’t rejoice with Jesus while his body was in the ground. But it does mean that the body and soul were meant to be together, not separate. The body is the soul’s natural habitat. So just as James could say that “The body apart from the spirit is dead” (James 2:26), Paul could basically say that “The spirit apart from the body is naked.”
To see where I’m getting that language, let’s look at 2 Corinthians 5:1-8.
Far Better but Not Best
 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,  if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,  for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1–8 ESV)
In verses 6-8 Paul pictures two scenarios: 1) being at home in the body and away from the Lord (v.6), and 2) being away from the body and at home with the Lord (v.8)
Of those two, the second is far better—“Yes…we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8; see also Phil. 1:23). That’s the intermediate state—when our bodies rot on earth while our souls rejoice in heaven.
In this same passage, however, Paul notes that being absent from the body also has a downside—namely, it leaves you “unclothed” or “naked” (v. 3-4). Your body is pictured here as your clothing, and death as being stripped of it. In other words, Paul doesn’t view this as a purely positive thing. Being absent from the body and present with the Lord may be far better, but it’s not best. Because for Paul, the ultimate goal is not to be unclothed, but to be “further clothed” (v. 4). And that is the blessed hope we will experience when Jesus returns bodily:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–53 ESV)
“The Lord himself will descend from heaven…and the dead in Christ will rise first,” and he will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (1 Thess. 4:16; Phil. 3:21). True, we get to be with Christ when we die. But not as fully as we will be when he puts us back together. Only then will our redemption be complete (Rom. 8:23). And only then will we fully reflect the image of the One whose tomb is already empty and whose body sits at the right hand of God on the throne of the universe.
Someday our graves will be as empty as Jesus’s is.
Until then, we wait.
So why is the resurrection of the body so important? Answer: because in the words of theologian Richard Gaffin,
For the creature made bodily in God’s image…to be deprived of bodily existence is a deep and disturbing abnormality,
-Richard B. Gaffin, By Faith, Not By Sight
That’s why what’s in Bob’s casket matters. Because until what’s in that casket is redeemed, Bob isn’t fully redeemed, and the wound of sin is not fully healed. What’s in Bob’s casket matters so much that God plans to bring it back to life someday, even if it’s been dust for 5,000 years.
The bad news is that sin separates. It not only separates us from God, it literally separates us from ourselves. But the good news is that God himself entered this world in a body and soul like ours so that he could reunite what sin has separated.
So next time you’re at a funeral, remember that as Christians, we do not simply confess “I believe in the immortality of the soul.” We confess with Scripture and the Apostles Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Even so. Come, Lord Jesus.