People of God, we are persevering through this dynamic and theologically astute response of the Apostle Paul to the skeptical Corinthians. This is Pau’s third and final response to their inquiries. He treats them with a profound conviction that they are in error, but also with a fatherly desire to see that they abandon these false interpretations of the Resurrection. For Paul, thinking and doing go hand in hand. If they think incorrectly about the resurrection they are going to act unethically.
This is why this study is so crucial for all of us. In fact, when we conclude these 58 verses you will most likely have a better understanding of the resurrection than the majority of evangelicals in the world. This is no exaggeration. I interacted with a dear man who is 86 years old, rapidly dying of cancer, and has been a believer for at least 40 years. In the context of our conversation he expressed how much he looked forward to receiving wings as angels, and flying without a body for all eternity. I attempted to offer him a new way of looking at eternity, but in his mind his body was already so scarred by cancer that he could not grasp the idea of God giving him a new body. Another example of a faulty understanding of a future resurrection is often heard at funerals, when people—well-intentioned—talk about how the dead are now in their glorified bodies in heaven. But as Paul says, we will only receive a new body at the end of human history when God completes his work on earth. He will re-unite our bodies and souls, and make us into living bodies filled with life for all eternity.
How you understand the resurrection directly applies to various ways of looking at life and death. A biblical outlook of the resurrection provides a better perspective for those terminally ill. The Resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non, that essential ingredient without which our hopes would be destroyed. When you think about it, any idea of eternity that limits it to flying, harp playing, and silence is utterly disrespectful to the glory of our resurrected bodies.
With that in mind, let’s dive into our passage. Paul offers four comparisons between the body now and the body at the Resurrection.
Here are the first three:So it is with the resurrection of the dead. 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.
We have here a distinction between a body which is corruptible, i.e. which can and will decay, die, and ultimately disintegrate altogether, and a body of which none of this is true. What some of the Corinthians do not grasp is how God can transform our current transient and temporary bodies to something permanent and established.
The first distinction makes the point clear: Our current bodies are perishable, they will die, but our future resurrected bodies will never die. The second distinction says that our present bodies are sown in dishonor. Paul is not saying that our present bodies are to be disregarded, rather he is talking about the condition of the body now in comparison with the condition of the body in the Resurrection. We can actually translate this as “lowly or weak” in comparison to the glory of the resurrection body. Even though God has given us amazing bodies with tremendous capacity, he promises a glorious body with infinite capacity. This is not pejorative language from the apostle, but a way of comparing our bodies now to our resurrected bodies. The third distinction is similar: it is sown in weakness—weakness because the body is subject to decay—but raised in power, because it will possess the ability to do things like eating and drinking, and also to do the uncommon, which will include endless energy and strength.
But it is the fourth distinction that is subject to misinterpretation. Paul says: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
Understood correctly this is a helpful way of looking at this transition between a natural body and a resurrected body. But the problem is that when people think of a “spiritual body” they can easily be misled into embracing a view of eternity, which is more Platonic or Stoic than Christian. If I were to ask you as Westerners, “what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word “Spiritual?” It is likely that you may think of the idea of “immaterial,” “non-physical,” or “a soul” or a “ghost.” But when Paul speaks of “spiritual” he is not talking about something you can’t touch, he is talking about something “supernatural.” To be more precise, when Paul uses “spiritual” he is referring to a body indwelt, guided by the Holy Spirit. When Paul says that we are to sing Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, these spiritual songs are not songs that are introspective, or that make you feel good, rather Paul means to sing psalms, and hymns, and songs of the Spirit. This should help many churches think through their music. Back to Paul’s point in the text, Paul is distinguishing between a natural body—what we possess now—to a spiritual, meaning “supernatural body” indwelt and guided and empowered by the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
The Corinthians would have re-acted with an intense distaste for this idea. “But the body is just a prison house,” they would say. “Our goal is to escape this body and join the stars, and fly around disembodied.” Paul is challenging their worldview at its very root.
After these four distinctions, Paul now is going to make another distinction. This time he is going to focus on the two representative men: Adam and Christ. He is making the same point as before, but emphasizing that our goal and future is to be Christ-like in every way. We are now Christ-like, but not in its fullest sense.
Thus it is written, “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 first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 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.
Paul is now talking about the source of this resurrected body. Where does it come from? We know that our present bodies come from the earth, as Adam’s body. But what about our new bodies? Paul is very clear that our new bodies at the end of history will be like the One who is from heaven, Jesus Christ. Our bodies resemble that of Adam now, but in the New Heavens and Earth our bodies will resemble the heavenly body of Jesus. And this is fundamental to grasping this reality. Where is Jesus now? Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in heaven. And what kind of body does Jesus have? He has the same body he had after the resurrection. It is a glorified body. So, too, Paul says, we will bear the image of the man of heaven. The word “bear” is the word used in Ephesians and Colossians when referring to “putting on the new set of clothes that belong to a new humanity.”
The Apostle is saying that right now you are clothed with a weak flesh, but in the Resurrection, you will be clothed with a glorified body, the same body of our Lord. This point is so important that Paul fleshes it out through various angles. He knows the repercussion of missing this reality.
How Now Shall We Then Live?
I came across this epitaph recently that reflects much of how evangelicals think of life after death.
Here lies a poor woman who always was tired,
She lived in a house where no help was hired.
The last words she said were ‘Dear friends, I am going,
Where washing ain’t wanted, nor mending, nor sewing;
Where all things is done just exact to my wishes,
For where folks don’t eat there’s no washing of dishes.
In heaven loud anthems for ever are ringing,
But having no voice, I’ll keep clear of the singing.
Don’t mourn for me now, don’t mourn for me never;
I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever.
But this kind of rest, that kind of inactivity is only found while the body is in the grave, in the sleep of death while the body awaits its resurrection. Because when this woman’s body is joined to her soul, she will be awake, utterly refreshed, ready to live and work and sing forever in the presence of Christ and all the saints.
The Westminster Catechism says that our bodies, still being united to Christ, rest in their graves until the resurrection. This is our hope.
What will our bodies look like? What are the details involved in this process of glorification? Will we be 33 years old, the age of Jesus’ resurrection? We can joyfully speculate about these questions, but at the end of the day, do not forget that we are here now, and that we are called to a life of service in a body given to us by the Triune God. The point, “is not escape from earth and find oneself at last in heaven, but to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthly reality.”
In what sense is our heavenly life changing the present earthly reality?
How are we as a people forsaking those things, which make our bodies unprepared to be clothed with our Resurrection body? The way to be prepared for our Resurrection bodies is by purifying the bodies we have now. If we are going to put on a new body of righteousness forever, then we must put off those unrighteous deeds in our present body. We must put off sin by abandoning, quitting, and forsaking it in every area of life. This includes a willingness to deny or say no to selfish desires, either sinful in themselves or sinful as taking priority above Christ and his kingdom. To quote C.S. Lewis, we can make idols of the pressures of the “ordinary.” Are your priorities consistent with biblical priorities?
But also we are called to an “actual breaking with past sinful practices, situations, or persons involved in the sin.” If we surround ourselves with the scornful we will struggle to overcome sin in our body, because the scornful will never exhort you to purity.
More practically, are we setting up a structure that will make it difficult to fall into the same sin again? Are we alone for too long? Do we place ourselves in situations that may increase the level of temptation in our lives? Jay Adams writes: “ God will not step aside and allow someone to prosper toward his goals until he lets go of the sin to which he is clinging.”
What does our future resurrection body have to do with our present body? Everything. Our present body is to become more and more holy as it awaits to be clothed in eternity with an imperishable and glorious body.
In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.