For revision: how important is the resurrection?
The first half of Chapter 15 focused on the truth, reality, historicity and importance of the resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then we are the most to be pitied! Let’s just enjoy life and forget about mission, the gospel, church and God!
But the resurrection is real. Jesus has been raised! And because of this, we have the greatest hope!
From Verse 35 of this chapter, Paul describes what the resurrection might look like. How should we think about the future of our body? What do we mean when we talk about going to heaven? Will the resurrection be worth it?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-58
What did you see? (Observation)
- Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)
- The old versus the new (42-44a)
- The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)
- Therefore… (50-58)
Train yourself to expect something new (35-41)
“But someone will ask…” Paul was a preacher, evangelist and an apologist (this does not mean that he is sorry for what he says but that he defends what he says to his audience). Sometimes it is said that we need more apologetic discussions and debates around to show people why Christianity makes sense. It’s good to note that apologetics is a subset of preaching and evangelism. It ought not to stand alone from those things nor stand above them. Paul is already anticipating what someone might say to him. It seems wise that we all engage in apologetics with ourselves! That is, answer the question: why do you believe that?
“…How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” When we talk about the dead rising, I wonder how many people think about zombies or of the Sixth Sense? The logical next question after defending the reality of the resurrection is to ask: what does it look like?
“How foolish!…you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…” As The Message puts it (and I do not rely on The Message for deep thought but for alternate ways of phrasing something true), “You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed.”
“…each kind of seed he gives its own body.” Paul has three dimensions going on in this argument. The first is that the fruit looks nothing like the seed. The second is that each fruit (banana, tomato, apple) looks different! But the third dimension is that the seed becomes what it is destined to be. Each kind of seed gets its own body as God has determined for it to receive. We ought to expect that the resurrection body will be unlike what is sown and that it will be exactly as God has determined for it to be. More of this toward the end of the chapter. He explains for now that there are fish and animals and people and these are all distinct – of a different kind. The same is with the heavenly bodies. They will be something – but something different.
“…the splendor of the heavenly bodies…of the earthly bodies…the sun…the moon…the stars…” When you gaze at the moon, it looks amazing! But the sun is of a different kind of amazing! The stars, when we focus our attention on those, we are in awe, but they are different again from the moon and the sun. The human body is amazing! But there will be a whole level of different ‘wow’ when it comes to the heavenly body. We need to train ourselves to expect something different. Remember Jesus answering a question with the knowledge that there is no giving or receiving in marriage in heaven? It’s not that there will be a ban on marriage and we’ll all be lonely. But that we will enter something of a different splendor in heaven.
The old versus the new (42-44a)
“…sown…raised…” Paul compares the seed of our bodies that is sown compared to the new that is raised. Note that the sowing and raising are passive (done to us).
“…perishable…imperishable…” Humans are clothed in perishable garments. We have a use-by date. An expired date. We have only a lifetime guarantee. Our bodies are disposable. The bible states that we are from dust and to dust we shall return (Gen 2:7; 3:19; Ecc 3:20; Ps 90:3). Our mortality was secured after The Fall since before Genesis 3, humanity was given access to eat from the tree of life (Gen 2:9), when this tree was banned our bodies were destined to perish. That is, we are not immortal by nature but earthly. Our bodies are made for this earth. But God has something better destined for us. An imperishable body which will not suffer from asthma, migraines, fatigue or heart failure.
“…dishonor…glory…” These words help define one another when put in comparison together. The earthly body of dishonor is scared by sin, it is weak, it is enslaved to the things of this world. But the heavenly body is gloriously free for righteousness and honor. Of course we shall not go so far as to say that our bodies are ugly and unworthy of protection and care. But we will be ready to discard this body for the next in a heartbeat. A word search in the bible on ‘dishonor’ will reveal how it is used to describe dishonoring parents or marriages or the created order of things, or a bad word about somebody. This body does not declare what is truly meant to be. It leads us astray and holds us back from pursuing godliness.
…weakness…power…” Perhaps the weakness refers to our need for sleep and rest and our destiny which is death. While power may refer to the opposite of all these. It is easy to link what Paul is saying here with his battle between our flesh and the Spirit in Romans 6-8. While we live in this body, we are lured to the cravings of this body. See Romans 6:1-14. Paul also determined elsewhere to tell his body what it was going to do since mission means more than comfort (1 Cor 9:24-27).
“…natural body…spiritual body.” This statement leads into the next section. It is worth considering what we imagine when we think about heaven. We shall not be floating spirits but we shall have spiritual bodies. People often mention that Jesus still carried the scars of the cross after his resurrection and that he could also ‘walk through walls’ so to speak (John 20:26). It’s worth mentioning that Philip, though still in his earthly body, was transported from where the eunuch stood (Acts 8:39). So, what the spiritual body will look like, be able to do etc. is up to the imagination as we read between the lines of scripture. But let’s continue listening to Paul…
The logic from Adam to Jesus (44b-49)
“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” In Verses 44 to 49 Paul makes the observation that we are all stemming from mankind. We are descended from Adam who did not exist prior to God creating him. His kind is the natural kind. The flesh and blood kind. And we are all of that kind! But through Christ, we are destined to be raised up a different kind – not just better but mapped with the same kind as Christ. I’m not suggesting that we will be god. But Paul says that the first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. When we are raised a spiritual body we will be native to heaven as the ‘second man’ is. We shall be welcomed to the environment that we were recreated for. To dwell with God and He with us.
“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” In its context, we are told here that we ought to forget the concept of keeping our bodies in heaven. We would be like fish out of water. Enoch and Elijah were taken up without dying that also raises the question of what happens when Christ returns and there are those who have not died?
“We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed…” Paul describes this as a mystery. Meaning that we know some pieces but we don’t have the whole picture. We know that we will all be changed. How that happens is yet to be seen. Nobody, Enoch, Elijah, or all those still alive at the second coming, nobody can hold on to their perishable bodies. For the old order of things must pass away!
“For the trumpet will sound…” The trumpet is synonymous with a triumphant/loud announcement (Matt 6:2) and is linked closely with the second coming of Christ (Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). It is used in Numbers (10:7) to gather the assembly. It was blasted out on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9). The trumpets were also a feature in the book of Revelation (see Rev 11:15). In 1 Cor 15:52 Paul records that at the end, with the unavoidable sound from heaven, the dead will rise and then all who are in Christ will be changed. Those who die prior to the trumpet blast shall lie sleeping and waiting for that time (this is just one view).
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable…the saying…will come true…” When Christ returns, the reign of this world will be over and death will be completely defeated. The victory over death was done at the cross and resurrection of Christ but we currently wait for the complete victory of death to be matured. Then we can say that death has been swallowed up. Revelation 20:14 describes the end of death itself.
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Often, Paul can be understood when read backwards (don’t be too literal with that advice!). The law reveals sin within us. Without the law, sin would be powerless – meaningless – without strength, weight or consequence. Without sin, death would be harmless. It would either not exist! Or it would simply be a transition from one state to the next. But we die in our sin and we die in our sin because of the law.
“But thanks be to God!…through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Christ, we are cleared from all breaking of the law and therefore sin has no power over us and thus death has no sting. We shall still die. But our death shall mean a new spiritual body. And this is all only through Christ. Death does not bring us rest or peace if we die in our trespasses and sin. But we have already died with Christ at the cross and so death – our mortal end – does not have its sting. Like a toothless shark.
“Therefore…your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Paul concludes his piece on the resurrection. At the beginning of the Chapter he declared that if you throw out the resurrection you may as well throw out the cross of Christ also. He then declared, in this study, that the resurrection is the completion of Christ’s work in us. Death is not the end. And our efforts ought to be for the kingdom of God first and foremost and then for every other need second (Matthew 6:33). Paul commends us, not only to hold firm to the gospel, but to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. This is why we promote Growth Groups and long to see people pursue a daily bible reading plan AND to foster the work of making disciples. There are things that we pour effort into which last a little while and then have no meaning, but everything done for raising up disciples of Christ is eternal work worth every effort.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
Heaven will not be like earth. Descendants of Adam are all destined to return to the dust. But those who have been born again of the Spirit through the gospel will exchange their perishable bodies for imperishable. Heaven is only guaranteed for those who are in Christ Jesus, through Whom the sting of death has been removed.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: How to prepare for the afterlife. When much of the future remains a mystery (not fully known but we do know enough to have eternal hope), how can we prepare for it? Jesus said, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all [the needs of tomorrow] will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33) The first priority is to know Jesus and salvation through Him. This is all about truly understanding the grace of God and our desperate need for forgiveness. Then, our pursuit is to remain in Him, and to help others to see this same gospel truth. This can come across sounding like fundamentalist faith but the bible, like all wisdom, teaches us to get the most important things in life right first and then pursue what’s next without letting go of the first. Jesus said, this is eternal life: to know [God], AND Jesus Christ, whom [God] has sent (John 17:3). Knowing God through Christ is how we prepare ourselves and others for the afterlife.
Topic B: At home in your own skin? One lesson from this Chapter is that our bodies that we spend so much time in and get to know so well will be taken from us in place of something much more glorious. What does this say to time and money spent looking after our bodies? Or what about time and energy spent in preserving our planet? Of course there is a need for a balance in our answer. Anyone who lives long enough will have to grieve over the loss of a younger body. How can our lesson on the resurrection hope alter the way we perceive ourselves and live life this side of eternity? Consider in your discussion the challenge that living in this body brings when we are enslaved to sin.