Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in question 86. Here is a brief review.
WLC 86 What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?
A. The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.
This catechism question addresses the communion in glory (or benefits) that believers enjoy immediately after they die; however, it also goes on to describe what happens to the wicked immediately after they die. So, there are technically four topics addressed in this question. Immediately after death, what happens to: (1) the souls of the members of the invisible church; (2) the bodies of the members of the invisible church; (3) the souls of the wicked; and (4) the bodies of the wicked. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. What becomes of the souls of the members of the invisible church upon their death?
There are at least three things that we may say regarding the state of the believer’s soul after death. First, the souls (or spirits, these terms are used interchangeably in Scripture) of believers are made perfect in holiness. Hebrews 12:23 tells us that, presently, those who have died in the Lord are in city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and they have been made perfect in holiness.
Second, the souls of believers are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory. The Apostle Paul describes the believer’s desire to depart this world and be present with the Lord; the believer’s preference is to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-8). When we see Jesus just as He is, we will be made like Him (1 John 3:2).
Third, the souls of believers await the full redemption of their bodies. The believers’ full adoption as sons of God is not finished or complete until the resurrection of our bodies. Certainly, there is a present reality to our adoption as sons of God; God’s Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:14-16). At the same time, we are also eagerly awaiting the fullness of our adoption as sons of God at the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).
2. What becomes of the bodies of the members of the invisible church upon their death?
Likewise, there are at least three which God’s Word teaches regarding the state of the believer’s body after death. First, the bodies of believers continue united to Christ. This is, perhaps, one of the most surprising biblical truths which is highlighted in this question. Many people, including many believers, have a misunderstanding about the nature of the body. Under the influence of Gnosticism, and now postmodernism, the body have come to be seen as superfluous and irrelevant; however, the Biblical view of the human body is quite different.
Consider just one passage of Scripture wherein the Apostle Paul describes some of the details surrounding Christ’s second coming and the resurrection. There were some Christians in Thessalonica who feared that those believers who had already died would miss out on the blessings of Christ’s return. So, Paul reassured them. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14). At Christ’s return, the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16). These two terms which are used to refer to believers who have died (“those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” and “the dead in Christ”) speak to how the believer is united to Christ in both body and soul.
Second, the bodies of believers remain in their graves, as in their prisons. The bodies of the righteous will “rest in their beds;” they shall rest in peace (Isaiah 57:2). Third, at the last day, the bodies of believers will again be united to their souls. This was the hope of Job (Job 19:26-27) and this is the hope of every Christian (1 Corinthians 15:35-48).
3. What becomes of the souls of the wicked upon their death?
The souls of the wicked are, after death, cast into hell to suffer torment in utter darkness. The Scriptures clearly speak of hell as a place into which the wicked immediately enter after they die (Luke 16:23-24), and a place of eternal torment and darkness (Matthew 25:30, 41).
4. What becomes of the bodies of the wicked upon their death?
The bodies of the wicked are kept in their graces, as in their prisons, until the resurrection and final judgment. Unlike the bodies of believers which are, even in their graves, still united the Christ, this is not true of the wicked. There will certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Acts 24:15); however, the righteous will raised to a resurrection of life and the wicked to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29).
Conclusion & Application
One of the things that we talked about in the Sunday school class for this question was the biblical teaching that the bodies of believers are still united to Christ in their graves affects our understanding of the body and how we ought to think about our funeral practices. According to the Statista Research Department, the percentage of Americans opting for cremation in the United States has steadily risen from 5.69% in 1975 to 59% in 2022. This growth in preference for cremation has ramifications for how believers ought to think about their bodies.
In our study of the Westminster Larger Catechism, we discussed the issue of burial versus cremation in the past. If you’d like to read more about that previous discussion, I encourage you to review our study of WLC 36-37 here: https://hillcountrypca.org/westminster-larger-catechism-q-36-37/. There are some linked resources available in that study, as well.
The Lord be with you!
Pastor Peter M. Dietsch