The end of the world! The Second Coming! What is your reaction to these words? Do they elicit fear or joy and hope?
The end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus also occupied the thoughts of the early Christians who lived in Thessalonica. St. Paul wrote two letters to them to aid them pastorally, by helping them to understand better these truths.
The Thessalonian Christians have a concern for their loved ones “who have fallen asleep [died]” before the coming of Christ. They have lost hope for those who have died.
St. Paul clarifies what will take place: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these word” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18).
He is consoling them with the fact that those who have died “in Christ” have the hope of the resurrection because of Christ’s Resurrection. Not only that, but when Christ does come “down from heaven,” those who have died “in Christ” will “rise first.” They will attain the resurrection of the body. Only then will those who are alive when Christ comes attain bodily glorification.
St. Paul allows us to better understand this because he also writes of this reality to the Corinthian church: “But someone may say, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?”(1 Corinthians 15:35).
He goes on to make comparisons between the old body and the new body. The old body is “sown corruptible [mortal]; it is raised incorruptible [immortal]. It is sown dishonorable, it is raised glorious. It is sown weak, it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42b-44).
This last aspect of the resurrection of the body needs to be unpacked.
“It is sown a natural body...”: The Greek word translated “natural” is “psychikos,” which is where we get the word “soul.” This indicates that the body that is sown is a soul-filled body, which is the body’s natural state when alive.
“… It is raised a spiritual body”: The Greek word translated “spiritual” is “pneumatikos,” which is where we get the word “spirit.” This indicates that the body that is raised is a spirit-filled body and, more specifically, a Holy Spirit-filled body.
In Romans St. Paul tells us, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (8:11). From this we can clearly understand that our participation in the bodily resurrection of Christ is a work of the Blessed Trinity.
Some might wonder why God would ever want to give us our bodies back. The answer lies in understanding that before the foundation of the world God had in mind to create human persons. When he did so, he created man body and soul.
Man’s body is fashioned by God out of the dust of the earth, and then he breathes into man’s nostrils the breath of life, the soul (cf. Genesis 2:7). This is how God created man; this is how he wants him to stay.
It is only as a result of sin that the separation of body and soul comes about, which is the very definition of death. So, it makes complete sense that he would want our bodies to be reunited with our souls. This is precisely what makes us human persons.
Of course, to understand the resurrection the body, it is necessary to understand Christ’s bodily resurrection and ascension. When he is raised from the dead, he has a glorified body, which we get a glimpse of during his transfiguration. He has a body radiant with the glory of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. This body he also brings into heavenly glory at the right hand of the Father in the ascension. He will possess his glorified body for all eternity.
When the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh in the Incarnation, he did so out of love for us. And, he loves us so much that he is going to stay that way, fully divine and fully human.
We also have an anticipation of the resurrection of the body through Mary’s being assumed body and soul into heaven. This is a result of her being free from all sin and having a Holy Spirit-filled body from the very moment of her Immaculate Conception.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also tells us that “our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies” (1000). This is because Christ gives himself to us in the Eucharist – his glorified, body, blood, soul and divinity. He comes into our bodies to make us one with his.
We end with the prayer of St. Paul for his children in the faith in Thessalonica: “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Printed with permission from the Diocese of Duluth.
Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).
Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.