What to think about the body in the coffin

  • Hannah Ploegstra
  • 1 April 2016

Flowers in a cemetery

“That’s not Ruth anymore. Ruth is in heaven with Jesus.”

“Ruth is in her glorified body now.”

“Ruth’s body is gone but her spirit will live forever in all of us.”

“We will never see Ruth again.”

These are just a few of the only half-true or flat-out wrong things people say at funerals and visitations. But none of the statements above are good news. Why are we willing to settle for clichés, empty hopes, and downright depressing resignations when the gospel has so much more to offer?

The gospel says, “Yes, that really still is Ruth. And God’s not done with her.” The body in the coffin is the person you love—the person who used to hug you with those arms and speak to you with that mouth. God formed that body and attended to its every need for an entire lifetime (Ps 139). It’s true that the spirit of the person is in heaven with Jesus even now. And it’s true that that is one aspect of the good news (2 Cor 5:6-8). But it’s not all. Because seriously, is an eternity of severance between body and spirit really good news?

No. God can do much better than that. He who formed us from the earth and in our mother’s womb is perfectly capable of restoring us to the delights of physical life—without sin. He can raise the dead. He has, and he will. Now that’s good news.

Ruth’s body isn’t gone—I really heard someone say this, as they looked squarely at a body in a coffin. And we will see her again. Her spirit lives on, yes, but not “in all of us.” Her spirit is waiting with the great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) whose faith has finally become sight (which is why they are called witnesses).

You may not know what to think when you see the cold, stone-grey body in the coffin. But Ruth does, because she sees Christ.

The body of the believer in the coffin is lying there poised in determined hope. Finally all the distractions of physical life are gone and there is only one thing left to do: trust Christ. The resurrection is the heart and soul of the gospel. Without it, we have no good news (1 Cor 15:14, 17-19). Why then, when we are standing in the presence of death, our greatest enemy, at the side of a loved-one’s coffin, do we so willingly reach for the mealy, vague pop-hope of the world?

Believer, now is the time to fortify your faith with the gospel of the resurrection! Don’t testify against your life’s greatest enemy with greeting card quips and quotes from bestselling paperbacks. Build that testimony with the solid, material truth of the gospel as revealed Scripture and, when death comes, believe it with all your heart.

Here’s what to think about the body in the coffin:

Jesus loves it and died for it (Ps 16:9-11; John 11:25-26, 33-36)

That body really is Ruth—it’s part of what made her Ruth, and without a body, she isn’t really complete, is she? Jesus loves Ruth—all of her—and he died and was raised for all of her.

Jesus owns it (Rom 7:4-6; 1 Cor 6:19-20; Titus 2:13-14)

Because he paid in blood, Jesus owns Ruth—body and spirit. If you think he is going to sit idly by and watch his precious blood-bought possession rot in the ground eternally, think again. It’s his. He wants it. And he’ll do what it takes to get it back. He overpowered death once; he’ll do it again.

Jesus is coming back for what is his (Job 19:25-27; 1 Cor 15:21-26)

Dust is where Ruth came from; that’s God’s good creation work. But it’s not where she belongs; that’s the futile curse. We long for Christ’s return because it will be the greatest day of salvation God’s people have ever known: an exodus from the grave.

Jesus is going to make it new again (1 Cor 15:42-49; 2 Cor 4:11-5:5)

God’s first creation was brought out of nothing; his new creation—the ultimate display of his wisdom—is brought forth from death. Christ’s body could not be found in the grave because that very same body had been raised to newness of life. Ditto for Ruth. Her resurrection body will be the body in the coffin, made gloriously new and imperishable by the gospel.

It’s waiting for Jesus (Rom 8:23-25; Phil 3:20-21)

Ruth is now a witness to the physical body of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:39-43; John 20:27). She is in the presence of his imperishable eternal body, the body that rose out of the grave and the body that ascended on a cloud to heaven in the sight of his disciples. That sight locks in Ruth’s greatest hope: the body she left behind—the one you’re staring at in disbelief, not knowing what to think or say—that body is waiting to be Ruth again. Whole Ruth. Living Ruth. Forever Ruth. The Ruth whom God foreknew and predestined and called and justified and will one day glorify. ‘Glorify’ is New Testament code for physical resurrection. Ruth gets that now.

Everything she once believed she now knows beyond a shadow of doubt. Ruth knows exactly what to think about the body in the coffin.