1 Corinthians 15:35-49
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 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. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
Well here I am again getting my holidays all mixed up. 1 Cor. 15 is certainly an Easter text, and I could give you all a noble-sounding reminder that as Christians we are free not to keep seasons, days, new moons, and the like, but really I’m just trying to finish my ongoing series on the book of First Corinthians. Still, it is not inappropriate to connect Christ’s birth with His resurrection, as each phase of ministry was connected to the other, and the resurrection does have a direct relationship to the incarnation. You see, Christ’s first birth was really a preliminary to his second, as He had come to triumph over death and secure regeneration for all believers, and this required resurrection
How can a morn be born again, Nicodemus once asked? “Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). No, he cannot do that, of course, but the second Adam could return to the dust from which He was taken and emerge once again from the womb of the earth. A new creation! And this is what happened at Christ’s resurrection. He was born again into an incorruptible body, thus giving new life to all believers. Our bodies will be raised just as Christ’s body was raised, and we enjoy this blessing already now, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is Paul’s topic in our text today.
The Objection (vs. 35)
Paul begins by adopting the use of an anthypophora. He poses the question for rhetorical purposes, adopting the voice of detractor in order to then give us the proper answer. How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” The fact that the doctrine of the resurrection is expected to receive an intellectual challenge of this sort teaches us something important. It shows us that the biblical doctrine of the resurrection teaches that a person’s literal body will be raised from the dead. This is not merely a “spiritual” or invisible resurrection, giving us only an internal benefit for the present. No, the New Testament teaches us that actual bodies, flesh and blood, will be raised out of the ground and restored to last forever. It appears foolish in the eyes of the wise. How will it ever work? What about those bodies which were burned, destroyed, or the ones that have decayed?
Well these questions give Paul an occasion to speak about a mystery. We can say only a little about the state of the resurrection. We must stick to what is written. But still, what is obvious is that the resurrection is wholly supernatural. It is the power of God which brings it about, and it is surely within His power to make it happen. How will those bodies be put back together? It is a great mystery, but they will. They will be changed. They will be made incorruptible, that is to say, they will be made whole again, forever. This is, incidentally, one reason why the Christian tradition has always sought to honor the body, even after death. Burial was preferred over cremation because the body was not to be destroyed, a symbol testifying to our faith. This is a conviction that I believe our generation needs to recover and hold fast to, in the face of contemporary trends based on economy and efficiency. We will live in our resurrected bodies for all of eternity, and so the body matters.
The Reply (vs. 36-45)
In his reply, Paul gives uses a number of examples from nature as analogies for the resurrection of the body. Following Jesus in John 12:24, Paul says that a seed must die before it can sprout new life. This is a rhetorical argument from observation, not strict botany, as seeds don’t “die” in the sense of modern science (though they actually were regarded as dying for much of history). The point is one of similitude: a kernel of wheat falls into the ground, is buried, loses its body, and produces a glorious new plant whose fruit is full of life. Having made this warning against an improperly wooden and unimaginative use of Scripture, let us not fall into the naturalistic fallacy of assuming that all of this just happens “on its own.” Neither the seed nor the plant has any real life “in itself,” and while the germination cycle is one of natural life, this nature only exists because of its Creator. It is only as God sees fit to grant it that seeds are capable of producing new life.
And so in like manner, Paul says that our human bodies must also die and be buried before they can sprout up into the mature plants they are to become. The resurrected body will look different from the initial body, as it will be bigger and fuller, just like the stalk of wheat is greater than the initial grain. But this new resurrected body is still related to the original body, just as the wheat is to the seed. It is the same body, grown up to maturity.
Paul also introduces the distinction between genus and species. You remember this from introductory logic, right? The genus is the general category, in this case “flesh,” and the species is the specific kind of flesh. “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds” (vs. 39). And so our resurrected body will still be a body, but it will be its own kind of body.
Further, Paul says that different kinds of bodies have different measures of glory:
There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. (40-41)
So too with our resurrected body. It will outshine our current body as the sun outshines the moon. It is, again, still a body though. It will have more glory because it will be incorruptible. And we best understand this by looking to Christ. Jesus’ resurrection is the model for ours. As His body is, ours shall be. Our natural bodies go into the grown in one way, but they are raised another. They are sown in corruption, dishonor, and weakness, but they are raised into incorruption, glory, and power.
The Theology (vs. 45-49)
This is all true because of what Jesus has done for us. The resurrection is grounded in a specific theology, in Christ as the second Man, the heavenly Adam who gives to all His race eternal life through the power of the Holy Spirit. “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (vs. 45)
“The first man Adam became a living being.” This is a quote from Genesis 2:7, and it refers to the time when God breathed life into Adam’s nostrils. Adam’s spirit animated his body. But Adam also brings death to us, and so we are in need of a new Adam if we are to have new life.
“The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Just as Adam’s spirit gave life to his body, Jesus’ spirit gives life to a body, a new body and to all new bodies to come. We need to give a word of explanation here. This quote does not mean that Jesus Christ’s spirit was simply the divine nature. That’s actually an ancient heresy called Apollinarianism. No, as man Jesus had a fully human spirit as well as a human body, and this combination of body and soul was itself united to the divine nature.
This quote also does not mean that Jesus was transformed from incarnate to wholly spiritual after the resurrection. The gospel narratives make that quite clear. “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39). The incarnation remains forever through the resurrection. Instead, Paul is making a literary parallel and a contrast. Jesus Christ brought new life, not just through his soul, but by giving the Holy Spirit to all mankind. The Holy Spirit was given as a response to Jesus’ resurrection, and this Holy Spirit brings everlasting life to all believers.
Paul concludes this section with this:
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also those who are made of dust; and as the heavenly Man, so also those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
The resurrection is not a work of Adam. It cannot be achieved through human works, and all who remain in Adam are doomed to return to the dust, only to be raised up again for judgment. To bear the image of the Lord from heaven, we must be united to Christ. And this means that we can only become heavenly men by faith in Christ. Believe in Him and be born again, be made new. And this new birth is not only a future reality. No, we receive our eternal life now spiritually, and we are to begin a new life now. The power of eternity resides within us, working its way out in our lives of gratitude and good works. You must live the future life now, walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Put your body, your passions, to death so that you can bear the fruit of the Spirit.
And you should also take comfort in the future. You will have a body that is fully healed, immortal and incorruptible. All of your pain and ailments will be gone. You will never be “worn out” again, as you can enjoy the body God gave you for eternity. We will receive this bodily resurrection through the power of the same Spirit on the Last Day, at the resurrection of the dead. Believe this, and look forward to the life to come.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, who through the resurrection of thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ, has granted us new birth unto life everlasting, grant in us a sense of thy Spirit and so stir up in us thy heavenly life, that we may go on to perform good works of gratitude in the name of thy blessed Son, our Lord, looking forward to the day when he shall raise us up again to live forever with Thee and the Holy Spirit. Amen.