The Resurrection Body
“THE RESURRECTION BODY”
1 Corinthians 15:35-49
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
No doubt you have heard the expression, “Everyone wants to go the heaven, but no one wants to die.” That sentiment did not originate with the Apostle Paul. And while it may seem morbid to anticipate dying, he certainly did not shy away from its inevitability.
Paul knew where he was going and he knew the doorway through which he must enter if he were to reach his eternal home. The timing of the final journey he would take was beyond his control, but the certainty of his safe arrival and the means by which he would get there were crystal clear to him. Rather than death being a fearful prospect, like His Savior before Him, he was prepared to face it in God’s time and in God’s way.
Throughout this 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul has been repeatedly reminding his readers that a day of resurrection awaits those who are “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Without being vague or hesitant, he has made it clear that everyone who turns from sin and trusts Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for forgiveness can be assured that heaven awaits.
That is the promise of “the gospel” which the apostle has been expounding since the opening words of this chapter (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1). Indeed, there is no “gospel” apart from the resurrection. As Paul has argued, no one will reach his or her full reward of salvation without first being resurrected. And logic furthermore demands that no one will be raised without first dying.
I’m not sure how often you may pause to think about it, but the moment we are born we begin to die. It used to be said that “the only things certain in life are death and taxes.” The truth is, however, that there are some people who manage to avoid paying taxes. No one will escape death. As one cynic has quipped, “None of us will get out of here alive!”
Because death is not the end, Christians are able to face it with confidence and assurance that there awaits a glorious resurrection. For the follower of Jesus Christ, there are far more uncertainties associated with this life than with the next. Still, there are some questions related to the resurrection—two in particular—that Paul addresses in the verses we read a moment ago. We see them in verses 35: “How are the dead raised?” and “With what kind of body do they come?”
These two questions form the outline to this passage. Let’s consider them separately, beginning with...
“How are the dead raised?” (verses 35-41).
The writer begins by creating a “straw man” debate by assuming the arguments of someone who disputes or disbelieves the concept of bodily resurrection. By beginning his response with the exclamatory “You foolish person!” he is not attacking the Corinthian believers, but rather the ignorant position of a possible opponent.
It is likely true that anyone who has ever given serious thought to the resurrection has entertained a similar question: “How are the dead raised?” Paul isn’t disputing the logic of the question as much as the fact that it seems to be asked apart from faith. There are honest questions of doubt that are willing to listen to explanation, and then there are those questions for which no amount of evidence or explanation is satisfactory and able to persuade.
Verses 35 through 41 present us with a series of contrasts. And while it is not as clear in our English Bibles, they are stated in the strongest form of contrast the writer could have employed (“αλλα”). Ten such comparative distinctions are found here. They are divided into three analogical groupings, in which the manner in which the dead are raised is illustrated.
In verses 36 through 38, Paul employs a horticultural analogy. Notice the references to terms like “sow,” “kernel,” “wheat,” “grain,” and “seed” in these verses: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.”
It may be difficult for us to liken our bodies to “seeds”that are destined to be planted into the ground, but that is precisely the mental image that the apostle is attempting to create. Many of us have had the experience of planting a kernel of corn into the earth, watering it, and watching the first blade of a new plant push through the surface of the soil. Given the right care and sufficient time, that plant will grow to a height exceeding our own and bring forth several ears of corn. From that single seed, a great deal more is brought forth.
But had not that seed been “buried,” that new life would not have surfaced. Jesus employed the same analogy in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Granted, our Lord may have been speaking of “dying to ourselves” in that context, but the principle is the same. Contrary to the thinking of this world, death precedes life, and not vice versa.
That God is in sovereign control of this process is stated in verse 38: “But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” We must never forget that it is God alone who is able bring life from the dead (cf. Ephesians 2:5). What’s more, as we consider the “seed” and the eventual produce it brings forth, we should recognize that transformation includes both identity and continuity. In other words, under God’s providential control and orchestration, a kernel of corn will produce corn and not something else. What is inherent within the seed will manifest the same, and in greater abundance.
With that in mind, Paul transitions into his next illustration, this one from the field of zoology or animal life in verse 39. Switching analogies, he writes, “For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.” At the resurrection, we will not be transformed into another species. There are all kinds of bodies within the animal kingdom, and they are adapted to their various environments and existences. The manner in which this verse is constructed serves the purpose of clearly delineating these differences.
Some Bible scholars believe that Paul is actually forcing the reader to reflect back to the creation narrative found in Genesis 1. Clearly, in distinguishing the various forms of plant and animal life and by repeatedly employing the phrase, “according to its kind,” the Old Testament writer wanted us to understand the diverse creative pattern of God. While hybrids do exist, no species morphs into something that it is not. That same truth applies to the resurrection. Those who die in Christ will be given renewed bodies, but they will not cease to be who they are. Reincarnation is a myth of human imagination, but resurrection is the promise of the Lord for those whose faith is in Him.
The final illustration employed in this passage is drawn from astronomy. We see it in verses 40 and 41: “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
This past week our nation was caught up in the hype and hysteria of the first solar eclipse to traverse the continental United States in ninety-nine years. Every so often even those who give little-to-no thought of God are forced to recognize His control of the “heavenly bodies.” The vastness of the universe and the very small space occupied by our tiny planet is something that should humble us. It puts everything into perspective, and it should make us marvel with wonder at how God permits us a tiny glimpse of His marvelous creation
For a just a few minutes on Monday, the eyes of many were fixed upon the skies. Those who were determined to look directly at the sun were encouraged to wear special “eclipse glasses” to avoid the danger of permanent retina damage. In these two verses, Paul mentions “glory” six times. We must not forget that the “glory” of each of these heavenly bodies is but a faint reflection of the God who created them. One differs from another, but each is “declaring the glory of God” (cf. Psalm 19:1). Yes, they are filled with “glory” and splendor, but they are a far cry from the “glory” of the One who is their Source.
The analogies from plant life, animal life, and the heavenly bodies all serve as incomplete and inadequate illustrations in the apostle’s attempt to explain the unexplainable. Much about the resurrection of the dead will remain a mystery until we experience it. But the apostle has attempted to answer the objector’s first question in verses 35 through 41. “How are the dead raised?” He answers saying, “Consider how a plant springs to life from a single dead seed. Consider that the resurrection body will maintain continuity with what already exists. And consider that those who are raised will bear the imprint of its Creator’s ‘glory’.”
And brings us to the second question:
“With what kind of body do they come?” (verses 42-49).
The opening phrase of verse 42 transitions us into the answer. Interestingly, there is no verb in this statement. It reads, “So (also)...the resurrection of the dead.” Not only does this link it with the preceding paragraph, but it suggests the practical application and certainly the implications of the resurrection.
Like the first question, this also is one we have likely asked...that is, if we have ever given serious thought to our own being raised from the grave. Let me encourage you to not wait until you are on your death bed before your think about these things.
In verses 42 through 49, Paul lays out a series of comparative contrasts that might be best understood by noting the antithetical parallels between the body that is placed in the ground and the one that is raised from it.
The body is sown...
The body is raised...
While these characteristics are difficult to visualize, their contrasts are clear. Paul is not trying to cloud the issue, but clarify it when he writes in verses 42 through 44, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is 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.” There is no comparison in terms of quality. The difference is as stark as night and day. No longer subject to death, decay, disgrace, or disadvantage of any kind, the resurrection body will be raised to complete “newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
It should be pointed out here, lest we think otherwise, that when the text says that the body is raised “spiritual,” it is not meant to imply that it will be without form or substance. That is because the resurrection of every believer is patterned after the resurrection of Jesus. R.C. Sproul has perceptively addressed this when he writes,
The New Testament accounts of Christ’s resurrection reveal that in his resurrected body there is both continuity and discontinuity. Obviously his body underwent some sort of change. It became a glorified human body. To the extent that this glorification involved change in his physical composition we can speak of discontinuity. But the Bible lays great stress on the continuity of the body that was placed in the tomb with the body that was raised. It was not a body (that was raised). It was the same body.
He then illustrates by relating it to our present experience:
My human body has not been glorified. It undergoes certain biological changes every moment. It is constantly and relentlessly aging. But though my body is never totally the same from moment to moment, it is nevertheless substantially the same. The body I had yesterday is not annihilated and replaced with an utterly new body today. Despite the changes taking place in my body at the moment, there remains a real continuity with my former body. My present body contains teeth that I have had for decades and scars that have blemished my skin since childhood. When we assert of Jesus that the same body that died on the cross and was buried in the tomb was then resurrected, we acknowledge that his body underwent certain changes. But it is crucial that after the resurrection, the tomb was empty.
And the body—that same body—was raised to life.
Let us emphasize again that at the resurrection we will not be merely disembodied spirits. We will have bodies that can be seen and touched, just as Jesus’ body was seen and touched (cf. 1 John 1:1). We have the assurance of the Scriptures that “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Each of the four times that Paul speaks of the body being “raised” (“εγειρω”), he uses a term that means “to awaken,” “to arouse,” or “to bring into being.” And by means of the contrasts that he employs, we see a transformation taking place from “what was” to “what will be.” Even now, you and I are called to walk in light of that grand and glorious prospect. Although we are not able to yet experience the fullness of the life that will be, we are called to live in light of God’s glorious promise. That is because—as we noted last week—we know where we are going.
In order to illustrate this further, the apostle lays out for us another series of contrasts. This time the comparative analysis is between who he labels as “the first...Adam” and “the last Adam,” namely Jesus Himself.
In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” That is the passage to which Paul refers in verse 45. And from that reference the writer begins drawing the distinctions between our first parent, Adam, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In both cases, each stands out as the representative of humanity. What Adam lost for us at the fall in the Garden of Eden, Jesus fought for and won back for us at the cross. And “to all who receive Him, who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God” (cf. John 1:12). That is because “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The first Adam was...
The last Adam is...
a living being
a life-giving spirit
from the earth
image of the man of dust
image of the man from heaven
Therefore, notice what Paul tells us, beginning in verse 45: “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.” The terminology is similar to what we saw in chapters 2 and 3 of this epistle, where he contrasted “the natural person” with “spiritual people” in his plea for them to “grow up” and to “mature” in their faith. The most “unnatural” thing for one who is truly a Christian is to retain “natural” characteristics. As hard as it may be to realize, given our present “spiritual” progress, God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He will surely bring to their final destination all those who are His. And He will do so through the resurrection.
Paul continues in verse 47: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” The preposition “from” (“εκ”) literally means “out of,” thus denoting “the source of origin.” Adam was taken “out of” the ground as a created being, but Jesus came “out of” heaven as the divine and eternal Son of God. Praise God that our fate rests in His hands, and not in those of the fatally-flawed “first...Adam.”
The paragraph concludes with the exciting prospect found in verses 48 and 49: “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” A person made from dust will return to dust, and has life only through the Spirit of God who lives within.
But not everyone possesses the Spirit of God. This same Paul reminds his fellow Christians in Romans 8:8 and 9, “Those who are in the flesh (or, we could substitute, ‘living as people of dust’) cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” Apart from the application of the finished work of Christ in our lives, we remain what one translation calls “mere men” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:3, NASV).
We might put it this way: Just as we have been marked by the earthly form of existence through our relationship with Adam, thanks to Christ we will be marked by the heavenly form of existence through our resurrection from the dead. To draw from Paul’s earlier contrasts, to be like the former is to lack permanence, strength, glory, and true spirituality, while to be like the latter is to enjoy all those qualities in a resurrected body not unlike Christ’s own.
I want to leave with you a statement that I hope will tie all of this together and make it practical: Jesus Christ is the true resurrection, the One whose Spirit brings resurrection life to those whose trust is in Him.
In just a few weeks Protestants around the world will be commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. During the month of October we as a church will be devoting our Sunday morning worship services and our Wednesday evening Bible studies to recalling many of the great outcomes of that movement. One of the more subtle and yet significant was in how artists of that time changed their depictions of Jesus’ passion from crucifixion scenes to those of the resurrection. That shift was not to minimize the cross, but to emphasize the empty tomb. They had rediscovered the practical truth that “Jesus lives, and so shall we!”
The resurrection continues to have tremendous application for us in the “here and now.” It is, in fact, the ultimate outcome of that amazing “golden chain of redemption” found in Romans 8:28 and 29, where we read, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” And lest we think that “conformity” has nothing to do with our subject this morning, then hear further the words of this same writer, whose desire was “to know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that be any means possible (he) mazy attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
The process of conforming us to Christ’s image is one that occurs as believers grow in Christ and are transformed by His presence in their lives even now. That process begins in this life and comes to its final consummation at the moment of the resurrection when our bodies experience transformation. The ultimate manifestation of God’s “renewed humanity” in Christ will be fully realized only when God raises us from the dead, just as He raised Christ, and makes us like Him.
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man from heaven.”
For believers that process has already begun. Even now the saints of God “wait for the revealing of out Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7). Remember, “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
But perhaps you do not yet know this Jesus. If that is the case, then you do not have this “hope.” Where then is your assurance of what awaits you on the other side of death? As we close, hear again these words of Jesus, spoken to one whose loved one had just died: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then He asked the question that to this day He continues to ask of us all, “Do you believe this?”
other sermons in this series