1CORINTHIANS 15:35-58: THE RESURRECTION BODY

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

The question Paul addresses in this lengthy section is ‘What kind of body will we have at the resurrection?’ His answer begins by drawing analogies from nature.

A. ANAOLOGIES FROM NATURE

A.1 Analogy from agriculture [15:36-38]
From agriculture three facts are obvious: [1] the seed ‘dies’ before it comes to life again [verse 36]; [2] the seed that is planted has a different ‘body’ from the plant that grows from it [verse 37]; [3] each kind of seed has its own kind of body [verse 38].

Paul’s primary point is that, in agriculture, death precedes life, and that the life that comes out of death is in a different form than the life that died. But notice how Paul understands the sovereign will of God even in this simple ‘natural’ process: all the different ‘bodies’ that grow from all the varieties of seeds are ‘as he determined’. God gives to each ‘its own body’.

A.2 The diversity of nature [15:39-41]
Expanding the concept that all the different plants have their own specific ‘body’ by God’s sovereign determination, Paul broadens this and speaks of the diverse range of ‘bodies’ in the universe.

Read verses 39-41. List the various ‘bodies’ mentioned by Paul.

 

 

 

 

Firstly Paul mentions ‘all flesh’ and the different kinds of ‘flesh’ that distinguish one living creature from another.  Secondly, he contrasts ‘earthly’ and ‘heavenly’ bodies. Thirdly, he differentiates between the heavenly bodies.

All of these diverse bodies exist by God’s will. He is the creator of them all. Such diversity, such unique designs, all come from his hand. The creation of a ‘new’ and ‘different’ body is not at all a problem for God. The evidence of creation, across the whole universe, makes it abundantly clear that the renewal and recreation of our physical bodies is not an issue. God is well able to bring life out of death. God is well able to give us new bodies.

B. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN OUR ORIGINAL BODY AND OUR NEW BODY – 15:42-49

Just as a plant has a different body from the seed from which it grew so also will our resurrection body be different from our present body.  [It is not Paul’s purpose to point out the real essential continuance between the seed and the plant (both have the same essence – a wheat seed is just as much ‘wheat’ as the wheat plant); there is a similar real essential continuance between a person’s present being and their resurrection being – both are the same person.]

Read 15:42-44. List the contrasts between our present body and our resurrection body.

 

 

 

 


B.1 The first contrast – verse 42
Paul’s first contrast is between ‘perishable’ and ‘imperishable’. This is repeated in verses 52-54, where the parallel contrast between ‘mortal’ and ‘immortal’ is also made. The key concept here is that our present body can and does die. It is subject to death. The resurrection body cannot die.

B.2 The second contrast – verse 43a
The second contrast is between ‘dishonour’ and ‘glory’.  Paul makes a similar point in Philippians 3:21 – that Christ will transform our ‘lowly’ [the KJV has ‘vile’] bodies ‘so that they will be like his glorious body’. We might be tempted here to focus on the sins that defile us, but Paul’s focus is on the ‘body’. This body that we have now is subject to disease, decay, disintegration. Accident, aggression, age – all of these rob our bodies of their ‘glory’. All of our perceived physical beauty or attractiveness fades, becomes corrupted, dies. There is no physical ‘glory’ in a weakened, wrinkled, shrunken, body. There is no physical glory in a corpse in the process of decay.

The resurrection body is beyond the reach of all those things that rob us of the physical glory of our youthful body. It is not subject to corruption. It is not subject to deterioration. It remains eternally glorious, like the resurrection body of Christ.

B.3 The third contrast – verse 43b
The third contrast is between ‘weakness’ and ‘power’.  Our present vulnerability to disease and death is ample evidence of the weakness of our physical bodies. Even the most physically powerful can be brought to utter weakness in a moment. The desires and aspirations of our souls, hearts and minds are also clear testimony to the weakness of our physical bodies – in our thoughts we soar, but what we achieve is limited by the powerlessness of our bodies. And death, the ultimate weakness, brings even what we can achieve to an end. Not so the resurrection body – ‘it is raised in power’.

B.4 The fourth contrast – verse 44
The fourth contrast is between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’. This seems at first thought to be something of a conundrum. How can a physical body be ‘spiritual’? We must not here fall into the trap of concluding that the resurrection ‘body’ is not a physical body. Paul has been emphasising the fact of the physical resurrection. He does not here contradict his previous teaching. Paul explains what he means by adding a further contrast, within this contrast: the contrast between Adam and Christ.

Paul has already used the Adam/Christ contrast earlier in this chapter.

Death came through Adam: the resurrection of the dead comes through Christ [verse 21].
In Adam all die: in Christ all will be made alive [verse 22].

Now he adds further Adam/Christ contrasts:

The first Adam ‘became a living being’: Christ [‘the last Adam’] was ‘a quickening spirit’ [verse 45].
Adam is ‘the natural’, which came first: Christ is ‘the spiritual’, which came after [verse 46].
Adam was ‘of the dust of the earth’: Christ is ‘the man from heaven’ [verse 47].

Paul’s point is that our present bodies are like Adam, our resurrection bodies are like Christ [verse 48,49]. Even in the original pristine creation, unmarred and uncorrupted by sin and its impacts, God created Adam ‘from the dust of the ground’ [Genesis 2:7]. Added to that are the events of Genesis 3, which ‘in Adam’ impacted us all … so that we all sin and we all die. Our resurrection body has no ‘Adam’ connection. It is not generated from Adam’s body, as our physical bodies all are. It inherits nothing from Adam – neither his physical nor his spiritual weakness and corruption. It is a new body, created by God, and it bears the likeness of Christ, not the likeness of Adam – verse 49 [see also 1John 3:1,2]. Just as the body of the resurrected Christ will never be subject to corruption and death, so also the resurrection body of those who believe in him.

It is, perhaps, this reality that was in Paul’s mind when he wrote in Ephesians 1:14 that the Holy Spirit indwelling those who believe in Christ ‘is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession’.

Similarly, in 2Corinthians 1:22: God ‘put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’ and in 5:5 God ‘has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come’.

This concept is also found in Romans 8:25, where Paul writes ‘… we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’.

The bodies we have in the present are not our resurrection bodies. But, even now, those who believe in Christ have God’s guarantee of their resurrection bodies: the indwelling Spirit is ‘a deposit’ – an advance, a foretaste, of the eternal reality, in which these present bodies, will be made new by God – that event that Paul in the above quote from Romans terms ‘the redemption of our bodies’ – the liberation, the deliverance, of our physical bodies from all the negatives in the contrasts listed in 1Corinthians 15:42-49.

Paul finishes this section with a very strong affirmation: that that resurrection body [a body without all the negatives of this present body] is a certainty for those who believe in Jesus Christ. He says ‘just as’ we have borne the likeness of Adam, even so we will bear the likeness of Christ [verse 59]. The latter is no less fact than the former. It will happen.


C. HOW AND WHEN DO WE GET OUR RESURRECTION BODY – 15:50-54

Paul states first the absolute necessity of a new body. He has already set up many contrasts between our present body and our resurrection body. Now he states very clearly and very simply that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ [verse 50]. Some take this to mean that we will not have physical bodies, but such a conclusion overlooks all that Paul has been teaching. The term ‘flesh and blood’ is a way of referring to humans as they are.

Jesus used the term in Matthew 16:17, where the NIV translates the Greek ‘flesh and blood’ by ‘man’ - ‘this was not revealed to you by man’.

Paul used the term in Galatians 1:16, where the NIV translates ‘flesh and blood’ by ‘any man’ – ‘I did not consult any man’.

Paul used it in Ephesians 6:12 – ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood …’

Humans as they are, in their mortal and corruptible bodies, cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

Our present bodies are ‘perishable’ – but there is nothing ‘perishable’ in the kingdom.
Our present bodies are ‘mortal’ [subject of death] – but there is no death in the kingdom.

This present body simply does not fit in the ‘kingdom’ – in the eternal and ultimate reality that will be established by Christ when he returns to take us to be with him, and to bring all that is opposed to the kingdom of God to its appointed end.

This truth that ‘flesh and blood’ cannot inherit the kingdom of God runs parallel to the fact mentioned above that those who believe in Christ have the ‘deposit’ of the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing their future inheritance. What is now impossible is guaranteed by the Spirit.

Read 15:50-54. Answer these questions:
[1] What does verse 51 state will happen to us ‘all’?


[2] The ‘all’ includes two distinct groups. Who are in these two groups?


[3] Why is this necessary? [see verse 50].


[4] When does this happen?

[5] How quickly does it happen?

[6] What contrasting words are used to describe the change that occurs?

 

D. THE END OF DEATH 15:54-58

Jesus Christ brings death to an end. This termination of death by Jesus Christ occurs at three distinct levels:

[1] ‘Death’ understood as the penalty for sin has already been borne by Jesus Christ.

Study these Scriptures:
Romans 6:23
Romans 8:1

This vicarious act of Christ, in which he bore the full penalty for sin, is applied to those who believe in him at the initial moment of their belief. For those who believe in him, death, as the penalty for sin, no longer applies.

[2] Related to, and dependent on, the above, the spiritual death of separation from God has also already been brought to an end for those who believe in Jesus Christ.

Read these Scriptures. What do they teach about the end of spiritual death for those united to Christ by faith?

John 5:24
Romans 5:17
1John 5:11,12

Further, the following scriptures speak of the restoration of the life-giving relationship between God and man, through the saving work of Christ:

Romans 5:9,10
2Corinthians 5:14-21
Ephesians 2:18
Colossians 1:19-22
Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22

[3] Physical death entered the universe as a result of the events of Genesis 3. The removal of physical death occurs at the end of the age, on ‘the last day’, when Jesus Christ returns in glory and in judgment. This removal of physical death is taught in Revelation 20:14 and 21:4.

It is this removal of death in its physical expression that Paul has been teaching in 1Corinthians 15. At the last day, when Christ returns, this last remaining result and evidence of the Genesis 3 fall will be reversed.

This removal of physical death [along with all that leads to or causes physical death] was anticipated in the Scriptures:

What do these texts teach about the removal of physical death and its causes?
Isaiah 11:6-9
Isaiah 25:7,8
Isaiah 65:25
Hosea 13:14

As stated in Revelation 21:4, the impact of Christ’s return in judgment and glory is that ‘the old order of things has passed away’.  There is ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ [Revelation 21:1]. God makes all things new [Revelation 21:5]. This ‘all things new’ includes for those who believe in Christ the imperishable, immortal body of which 1Corinthians 15 has been speaking.

Hence Paul’s exultant final verses, in which he quotes from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

Death, the temporary invader, the alien intruder, ceases to exist. This is the ultimate reality brought in by the return of Christ. This is the eternal state.

D.1 The disempowerment of death
But we are not yet in that ultimate and eternal state where there is no such thing as death at any level or of any description. We are still here where physical death, and all that results in physical death, is present.

Paul reflects on this in verse 56 and 57. For those who believe in Christ, although physical death still claims them, the ‘sting of death’ has already been disempowered and removed. Both ‘sin’ and ‘law’, which were the poison and the power at the back of death, have been conquered by Jesus Christ. He took our sin and bore its full legal penalty. He embraced death in order to disempower death. He has already overcome Genesis 3. He has already reversed the legal and relational impacts of Genesis 3.  Because of this the end of physical death is utterly certain. It is as certain as if it has already occurred.  Because of this certainty we already have ‘the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ [15:7].

D.2 The encouragement to stand firm
On the basis of this victory of Christ already possessed by the believer, and on the basis of the certain final end of physical death and the certainty of physical resurrection, Paul encourages his readers to ‘stand firm’ [15:58]. His ‘let nothing move you’ most certainly includes reference to those people who were teaching that there is no such thing as physical resurrection.

Because of this grand certainty and grand assurance Paul further encourages them to ‘always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord’. Because there is an end to death, because there is physical resurrection, guaranteed by the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, they know that their ‘labour in the Lord is not in vain’. Christian service, the proclamation of the Gospel, faithfulness to the testimony of Jesus, patient endurance under the pressures of the evil one, even martyrdom for Christ, is not pointless. It is not wishful thinking. It is not chasing the wind. It is not a fool’s game. It is grounded in the real physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, of which more than five hundred men were witnesses. It is grounded in Christ’s promise and Christ’s faithfulness.

With this confidence, knowing this certainty, those who believe in Christ can live fully for Christ.