A few years ago, there was a poll that asked people the question, “If you could change one thing about your life, what would you change?” And the interesting thing is that almost everyone who responded to that poll gave an answer that related to their physical body.
I wish I was younger. I wish I had a different body shape. I wish my hair was different. I wish I didn’t have wrinkles or whatever. It was almost always physical.
Back in 1922, there was an author by the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote a book called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In 2008, they turned that book into a movie, starring Brad Pitt, which some of you may have seen. And the premise of this story is that an elderly man was born in an old folks home. And, as the years went by, he became younger and younger. And it was an interesting idea – what if you started life as an old person, and then you worked your way down until birth?
So, along those lines, someone has written a piece called “My Next Life.” He said, “I want to live my next life backwards. I’ll start out dead and get that out of the way right off the bat. Then I’ll wake up in a nursing home feeling better every day. When I’m kicked out of the home for being too healthy, I’ll spend several years enjoying my retirement collecting benefit checks.
“When I start work, I’ll get a gold watch on my first day. I’ll work 40 years or so getting younger every day until pretty soon, I’ll be too young to work. So, then I’ll go to high school, play sports, and date.
As I get younger, I’ll become a kid again. I’ll go to elementary school, play, and have no responsibilities. In a few years, I’ll become a baby, and everyone will run themselves ragged keeping me happy. I’ll spend my last nine months floating peacefully in luxury spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap.”
It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? Instead of having a body that gets older and older with more wrinkles and more aches and pains every year, imagine having a body that gets younger and younger every year. Even better than that (because let’s be honest, who wants to go back and re-live middle school again), imagine having a body that just never wears out. A body that will never have a handicap, that never sags, never droops, never aches, one that never has any kind of a disease or problem of any sort.
It’s hard to imagine that, especially for those of us who are getting older. Some of us have to think back a long time to remember a day when we didn’t wake up with some sort of pain. But imagine having a body that’s going to be pain-free for all eternity.
But that’s exactly what the Bible promises. We’re told that those of us who are God’s children will have a resurrected body. Which is what I Corinthians chapter 15 is all about. Now, we looked at the first half of this chapter way back in April on Easter Sunday, but this morning we’re going to finish looking at it as Paul addresses what seems to be some confusion in the church at Corinth regarding the idea of a future resurrection of our bodies.
As we read through this chapter, keep in mind that Paul was dealing with several prevailing worldviews, almost all of which denied the idea of a resurrection.
Corinth was surrounded by a Greek culture. The Greeks thought the idea of a resurrection was ludicrous. When Paul went to Athens in Acts 17 and preached about the resurrection, they thought he was crazy. “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” (Acts 17:32). To the Greeks, the human body was a trap. The idea of death is to release the spirit from the confines of the body. The idea of a physical resurrection was absurd to the Greek mind.
Paul was also writing in a Roman world, and the Romans didn’t believe that a resurrection was possible either. Their belief system, their religious system had no concept of a resurrection. When Paul stood up in Caesarea in Acts 26 and preached to the Roman leaders Festus and King Agrippa, he talked about Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. And Festus said, “Paul, you’re out of your mind. Too much study has driven you mad. You’re talking about dead people rising again. That’s insanity.” (Acts 26:24)
So, you had these two worldviews that were around in the first century, neither of which believed in a resurrection. So, for Paul to speak not only about Jesus’ resurrection, but about the future resurrection of our bodies, that contradicted what everybody believed.
Then there was Judaism. And you might think, well, surely the Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead. Well, some of them did and some of them didn’t. The Pharisees did believe in a resurrection of the body, but the Sadducees did not.
That’s why during Jesus’ earthly ministry, his greatest enemies were the Pharisees. But after the resurrection, when the apostles kept preaching about the resurrection of Jesus and they put that at the center of every message they delivered, the number one religious enemy they faced were the Sadducees because they didn’t believe in the resurrection.
So, the idea of a resurrection wasn’t a popular idea in the world at that time, much like our world today. Most world religions today reject the idea of a resurrection, which isn’t surprising since our belief in a resurrection is founded on the resurrection of Jesus, which most of the world rejects.
But here’s what I found most surprising — even in the United States, where most people claim to be Christians, only 36% of people polled said they believe they will experience a resurrection of their bodies when they die.
So, it’s not surprising that the Christians in Corinth were struggling and they had lots of questions. What’s the resurrection going to be like? What’s our body going to be like? How’s God going to make all that happen? And so on.
So, Paul began this chapter, as we saw back in April, with Jesus’ resurrection. We know that Jesus was raised from the dead. There were hundreds of witnesses, and the truth of his resurrection is at the very center of our faith.
But then Paul goes on to talk about our resurrection in the future. We pick up in verse 20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (I Corinthians 15:20)
First fruits was a Jewish festival. The Israelites were commanded to honor God by bringing “the best of the first-fruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God” (Exodus 23:19). And that was not only a way to express their thanks to God, but it was also their way of saying, “God has given me this first part of the harvest, and because of that, I have faith that he’s going to give me the rest of the harvest.”
When Jesus was raised from the dead, that was God’s way of saying, “I have the power to resurrect Jesus from the dead, and so, you can have faith that I will resurrect all the rest of you as well.” Jesus’ resurrection was the first fruits. There are more resurrections to come, yours, mine, and lots of others.
So, Jesus’ resurrection is what guarantees our resurrection. That’s the principle. Jesus is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. Falling asleep is simply a metaphor for death. It’s called sleep because when you sleep, it’s only for a short while and then you get up again. And when you die, it’s only for a short while and then you’re going to get up again. You will be resurrected.
But there are so many questions. In verse 35, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” (I Corinthians 15:35).
There are two questions here. The first is this — How are the dead raised? How is that even possible that dead people come back to life again? In the history of mankind, every generation has lots of proof that dead people, as a general rule, stay dead. Personally, I’ve never seen a resurrection. I’ve seen plenty of funerals. But I’ve never once had a person sit up in the casket and say, “Hey, I’m back.”
And so, the first question is, how are the dead raised? How is that even possible? That’s what the Greeks wanted to know. It’s what the Romans wanted to know. It’s what the Sadducees wanted to know.
And let’s be honest, it’s what we want to know. What about that person who’s at war and his body gets blown to smithereens. How’s God going to raise him? Or what about that person who’s out in the ocean and he drowns, and a shark bites off an arm and swims off in that direction, and another shark bites off a leg and swims off in that direction. And now you’ve got parts of this guy all over the place inside the stomachs of these sharks. How is a resurrection even possible?
Or, they cremated my grandpa, and they put part of his ashes up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and part of him down at Wrightsville Beach. I mean, he’s all over the place. How’s God going to raise him?
And then there’s a second question, — With what kind of body do they come? What if a person has a stroke, and he’s incapacitated, and then he dies, is that how he’s going to come back in the resurrection? Or if a person has lost a limb or is blind or is deaf, will that person still be handicapped in his resurrected body?
If an infant dies, will that person always be an infant forever and ever? Or if an older person dies at 104 and is just decrepit, is that how they’re going to live in the resurrection? So, with what body do they come?
So, we’ve got two questions. First, how is it even possible that dead people are raised, and second, with what body do they come? And notice how gracious Paul is in answering those questions. He says in verse 36, “You foolish person! (you dummy) What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be…” (I Corinthians 15:36-37)
In other words, our future body is going to be different from this current body. Here’s how Paul put it in Philippians 3, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body…” (Philippians 3:20-21)
Our new body will still be our body, but it will be transformed or changed to be like the body of Jesus. So, what does that body look like? John tells us in I John 3 that we don’t know. “We are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” (I John 3:2, NLT)
Both Paul and John tell us that we don’t know exactly what our future body is going to look like, but Paul does gives us an illustration from the biological world, and I find this extremely helpful. Verse 37, “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.” (I Corinthians 15:37-38)
You look at a seed. It may appear to be dead, but it’s alive. It’s just dormant – sleeping, if you will. But when you place that seed in the ground, it begins to decompose. And Paul’s point is when you bury that seed, something comes out of the ground that is related to that seed, but it looks very different. An oak tree has the same genetic code, the same DNA, as that acorn that produced it, but it looks very, very different.
This summer, if you spit watermelon seeds over the fence — that little black seed has a genetic code within it. And maybe after it gets spit over the fence, it gets buried in the ground. It gets rained on and then something comes up out of the ground. And, eventually, a big, juicy watermelon may come from that seed. That watermelon doesn’t look anything like that seed, but they’re the same.
Paul said it’s the same way with our bodies. Your body is like a seed that’s planted in the ground. And what comes up on resurrection day is going to be you, but it will be you with a body that is vastly different and far more glorious. Because you can see with plants or flowers, that what goes into the ground is very lowly compared to the glory of what comes up out of the ground. The harvest is always more beautiful than the seed.
Then Paul says in verse 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. 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.” (I Corinthians 15:39-41).
One of the things that absolutely amazes me about God’s creation is its incredible variety. Everything in this world is beautiful, but animals have one kind of beauty and birds and fish have another kind of beauty. God has created so many different kinds of bodies. And even in the sky, if you look at the stars with a telescope, you can find the star Aldebaran and it will have a pink, rosy hue. If you look at another star, Rigel, it will have a bluish tint. If you look at another star, Betelgeuse, it’ll be yellowish in color. Different intensities, different temperatures. All of them beautiful, but all of them different.
And I think Paul’s point is this – if God can create so many different beautiful bodies here in this universe, just imagine what God has in mind for our resurrected bodies.
Verse 42, “So is it 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. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (I Corinthians 15:42-44)
We know that the words Paul used to describe this earthly body are all accurate. This body is perishable. When this body dies, it has no honor. There’s nothing majestic about a dead person.
This body is weak. It’s a natural or purely physical body.
But the body that will be resurrected, while we can’t even begin to imagine what it will look like, we know what it will be like – it will be imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual.
There’s a big difference between a natural body and a spiritual body. Verse 45, “The first man was named Adam, and the Scriptures tell us that he was a living person. But Jesus, who may be called the last Adam, is a life-giving spirit. We see that the one with a spiritual body did not come first. He came after the one who had a physical body.
The first man was made from the dust of the earth, but the second man came from heaven. Everyone on earth has a body like the body of the one who was made from the dust of the earth. And everyone in heaven has a body like the body of the one who came from heaven. Just as we are like the one who was made out of earth, we will be like the one who came from heaven.” (I Corinthians 15:45-49, CEV)
Adam and Christ are seen as two very different people. Back in verse 22, Paul said that Adam brought sin into the world. Jesus brought life into the world. Adam caused the great fall of humanity. Jesus brought redemption.
And they have very different bodies. Adam had a physical body, just like we do, while Jesus, before he came to this earth and after he returned, has a spiritual body. And I don’t know exactly what that body looks like, but it will be a body that is absolutely perfectly suited for the environment of heaven. It will be a glorified body so that we can enjoy being in a glorified place. Let’s put it this way – we’re all going to be getting an extreme makeover.
We have to. Because Paul says in verse 50, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (I Corinthians 15:50)
This body wasn’t made for the world to come. And so, when we’re resurrected, it will be with a new body. But that raises the question, what happens to the people who still living here on this earth when Jesus comes back? Do they not get a new body?
Verse 51, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (I Corinthians 15:51-53).
Someone has said that verse 51 ought to be posted in every church nursery – “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed!” And while that may sound like it’s referring to babies, Paul is talking about those of us who are Christians. Remember, sleep refers to death. Not all Christians are going to die before Jesus comes again. So, what happens to them? Paul says they will be transformed and our corrupt bodies will be changed into a glorious and eternal body.
At this point, Paul begins to bring his discussion to a close and as he does, he starts building to a big crescendo. Verse 54,“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:54-57)
When that day comes and we are raised from the dead, we will win the final battle against Satan and against death itself. Because there’s only one way that death can have any power over us, and that’s through sin. The wages of sin is death. When we sin, we deserve to die, not only physically but spiritually as well.
And God’s law doesn’t help a bit. All the law does is to tell us that we’ve sinned and tell us what punishment we deserve as a result.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, Jesus took the penalty that you and I deserve – he died, not only physically but spiritually as well. That’s why he was separated from the Father. But what that means for you and me is that, if Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, then we don’t have to be punished for those sins. So, what awaits us after death is not an eternal death, but a resurrection to a new and better life.
Jesus has given us victory over all the powers that drag us down, he will give us victory in the future, and he gives us victory right here and now. And the here and now is where Paul ends up. You might think that after a spectacular chapter like this one, that Paul would conclude by saying something like, “So, let’s rejoice at the wonderful hope we can look forward to!” But he doesn’t do that. Because the truth of the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of our bodies, is not just a truth about a future hope. It is a truth about the present significance of what we are and what we do.
Because if it is true that God is going to transform this present world and renew us, including our bodies, then what we do in the present time with our bodies, and with our world, matters. For too long, many Christians have been content to separate our future hope from our present responsibility, but that’s exactly what Paul refuses to do. So, he concludes with these words:
Verse 58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (I Corinthians 15:58)
Paul’s promise of the resurrection forces us to think about our present world, and our present life of obedience to God, knowing that if there is a continuity between who and what we are in the present and who and what we will be in the future, then we can’t regard this present life, this present body and this present world as irrelevant.
In fact, just the opposite. It is a matter of great encouragement to Christian workers, most of whom are far from the public eye, unsung heroes and heroines, faithfully and quietly fulfilling their God-given responsibilities. It’s encouraging for them to know that what they do “in the Lord” during this present time will last, it will matter, it will stand for all time.
And how God will take our prayers, our service, our love, our music, our honesty, our daily work, our teaching, and everything else we are – how God will take all of this and weave all those strands into the glorious tapestry of his new creation, we have no idea at the present. But the fact that he will do so is part of the truth of the resurrection, and perhaps one of the most comforting parts of all.
So, keep serving the Lord. Give it all you’ve got all the way to the finish line. Through all the pain and the discouragement that you experience in this body. Knowing that, if you remain faithful, one day God will transform your body into something glorious, something eternal, so that you can inherit the kingdom of God.