The Reasoning of Unbelief – 1 Cor. 15:35-49

04 May

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 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. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Our present bodies have been wonderfully designed for life in this world, but they are perishable and prone to decay. In a sense, each person lives as a prototype of his or her final body version. Our resurrection bodies will be transformed versions of our present bodies. Those spiritual bodies will not be limited by the laws of nature. This does not necessarily mean we will be super people, but our bodies will be different from and more capable than our present, earthly bodies. Our spiritual bodies will not be weak, will never get sick, and will never die. The very possibilities inspire anticipation, excitement, and praise to the God who can do all things!

15:35-37 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put into the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a dry little seed of wheat or whatever it is you are planting.NLT Paul had already argued for the truth of the resurrection. Those who might still be skeptical may have further questions about this resurrection, so Paul asked two such questions himself in order to answer them: (1) How will the dead be raised? (2) What kind of bodies will they have? How could it be possible for a dead body to come back to life; and if it could do so, then what kind of body would it be?

To Paul, these were foolish questions. The answers should have been obvious from nature itself. Paul compared the resurrection of believers’ bodies with the growth in a garden. A seed placed into the ground doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. The plant that grows looks very different from the seed because God gives it a new “body.” Jesus had given the same metaphor for his own death in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (nrsv). Jesus was referring to what his death would accomplish, but his analogy was the same as Paul’s. Both show the necessity of death before new life. Just as a dry little seed, such as a seed of wheat, doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first, so new bodies will not be obtained until the earthly bodies have died. And those new bodies will be different from the present bodies.

Paul launched into a discussion about what believers’ resurrected bodies would be like. If you could select your own body, what kind would you choose—strong, athletic, beautiful? Paul explained that believers will be recognized in their resurrected bodies, yet they will be better than ever imagined, for they will be made to live forever. People will still have personalities and individualities, but these will be perfected through Christ’s work. The Bible does not reveal everything that resurrected bodies will be able to do, but they will be perfect, without sickness or disease (see Philippians 3:21). Every guess on our part must be tempered by the knowledge that God will do better than we can imagine!

15:38-39 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.NRSV There are different kinds of bodies—for people, animals, fish, birds. Paul was preparing the foundation for his point that bodies before the resurrection can be different from bodies after the resurrection.

15:40-41 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.NIV Furthermore, the heavenly bodies (the sun, moon, and stars) differ greatly from earthly bodies. Each kind of body has its own kind of substance created and controlled by God. Each is appropriate to its sphere of existence, and each has its own kind of splendor or radiance. God made many different types of bodies; certainly he can arrange and govern the existence of the resurrection body.

In verse 35, Paul asks two questions which the opponents of the resurrection of the dead apparently employed to justify their error.[1] These two questions appear to be two parts of a whole. They are not two independent questions then, but two intertwined questions. The second question merely repeats the first in different words, words which more clearly expose the doubts of the questioner. The first question, “How are the dead raised?” is followed up by the second, “With what kind of body do they come (back to life)?” The first expresses doubt about the resurrection of the dead; the second indicates why.

Suppose for a moment that our house burns to the ground, and all that is left is rubble and ashes. Suppose also that we have absolutely no insurance, no means, and no materials with which to rebuild our house, other than the remains that are left. If I attempted to assure my wife Jeannette by saying to her, “Honey, using what remains, I am going to build you an even better house than we had before,” she might very well say to me, “Bob, how are you going to rebuild this house? What do you think a new house will look like built out of this rubble?” She’s really asking the same question, isn’t she?

So it is, I believe, with the resurrection of the dead. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is the truth that God will take the decaying and disintegrating remains of those who have died and create from them a new body, one fit for the kingdom of God. The objector might well ask, “How can the dead be resurrected when the remains are in a constant process of deterioration? What kind of monstrosity do you think this ‘resurrected body’ would amount to?” I am reminded of Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the parts of various corpses are brought back to “life” in a grotesque and horrifying way. With these two questions, Paul expresses the unbelief of some Corinthians in any resurrection of dead bodies.

“You fool!”

No wonder we find Paul’s words in verse 36 harsh—they are! A number of translations attempt to soften Paul’s indictment in verse 36:

“How foolish!” (NIV)

“A senseless question!” (NEB)

“Now that is talking without using your minds!” (Phillips)

You will remember that our Lord had a strong word of warning for those who would call another a fool: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:22).

It should be pointed out that the word used by our Lord in Matthew 5:22 is not the same word that Paul employs in our text. The difference in meaning between these words is not that great. Our Lord Himself uses the same word Paul employs in our text to rebuke the Pharisees for their foolish fetish with ceremonial washings (Luke 11:40). He uses it again in Luke 12:20 to describe the “rich fool,” who presumed his life would continue on as usual and as he built bigger barns to warehouse his wealth. The word Paul uses is also found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).[2]

Other texts are very helpful in further defining the characteristics of a “fool,” and unfortunately they rather accurately depict some of the characteristics of the Corinthians.[3] Suffice it to say that the term “fool” is often employed to refer to the folly of an unbeliever. This is the case in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1. It is also the implication in Ephesians 5:17 and 1 Peter 2:15. I believe that when Paul uses this strong rebuke, it is because anyone who rejects the resurrection of the dead must also reject the resurrection of Christ. To do this, one must reject the gospel and thus place himself in the company of those who deny God. Do the Corinthians take this heresy casually, embracing those who hold it as they proudly embraced the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5? I think it is likely, especially in the light of these words from the pen of Paul in his second Epistle to the Corinthians:

1 I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).

Paul uses strong words (“you fool”) to shock the Corinthians because they are necessary and appropriate.

[1] The two questions raised in verse 35 may well be hypocritical, something like the question the Sadducees put to the Lord Jesus in Mark 12:18-23.  The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead; nevertheless, they asked a question concerning the marital status of a woman in the resurrection.  The error of the Sadducees, as exposed by Jesus, is virtually the same as the error which Paul now seeks to correct at Corinth.  First, the resurrection of the dead is rejected because men do not understand the power of God.  Second, people have problems with the way things will be in the resurrection because they do not understand the nature of the resurrection body.

A Lesson From Nature (15:36-41)

Paul responds to the questions which have been raised, turning first to nature, to God’s creation, to make several very powerful points.

(1) Death and physical decay are not an insurmountable barrier to resurrection life, but rather the means to it. Would we suppose that death and decay are some kind of insurmountable problem for God, rendering Him incapable of resurrecting our bodies from the natural processes of corruption and decay? We need only to look at the realm of nature to see the folly of such logic. If we reason that death and decay renders resurrection impossible, all we need do is trace the steps of the farmer, who every year sows seeds in the soil to undergo the process of “dying” so that a new plant can be produced through its “death.”

(2) There is a transformation process which occurs in nature so that the seed which dies comes to life in a different and vastly better form. This is a most important point. There is a direct connection between the seed that is “buried” and the plant which results from the “resurrection” of that seed. Wheat seeds produce wheat plants; rye seed produces rye plants, and so on. But in the process of dying and being “resurrected” as a plant, the once “naked” or “bare” (verse 37) seed becomes something much more beautiful. There is nothing particularly beautiful about a grain bin filled with wheat seed, but there is great beauty in a wheat field!

(3) God is the giver of bodies. The grain of wheat which “dies” in the ground and comes to life in a new resurrected “body” comes to life in a body which God Himself has given (verse 38). It is important to notice that in the question raised in verse 38, God is not mentioned: “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” I do not think the Corinthians dared to ask the question the way they should have: “How can God raise the dead? And what kind of body does God give those He raises?”

It is better for the skeptic to reject the resurrection of the dead as a natural phenomenon. And yet Paul uses “nature” as an example of just such resurrection. But when he does so, he specifies that the body which is given is the body God has given. Paul goes even further, indicating that the body God gives is just exactly the body He wishes to give. Would anyone dare to deny the resurrection? Then let them dare to deny that God raises the dead. Would anyone dare to question the quality of the body God gives those whose corpses He raises? Then let them hear that God gives them just the body He wants!

(4) God is the Creator, the giver of all life. God created not only the plant world, but the animal kingdom as well, and beyond this, the heavens above. Does the mention of plants, each containing their own seed, of mankind, of beasts, of birds, of fish, and of heavenly bodies not take us back to the first two chapters of Genesis? Surely Paul has the first creation in mind. The God who called creation into existence is surely the God who can cause a decaying corpse to come to life. To put it a little differently, God created man from the dust of the earth. Death turns man back to dust. And out of this “dust,” God can create anything He purposes and promises to fashion.

(5) God, the Creator, is the One who gives each form of life its own distinct and unique body, and each body is perfectly suited for its function and environment. Think back on the creation account in Genesis. God created the heavens and the earth. He created man. He created birds and fish and beasts. Each of God’s creatures has its own beauty and its own glory. Birds fly, and so a part of their “glory” is that they have a lightweight structure with hollow bones. Whales live deep beneath the sea. Their glory does not come from their light weight, but from their design which allows them to endure the pressures of the depths. Each member of the animal kingdom has a body whose glory is found in relationship to its domain and function. Seeing this glorious design in the bodies God made in the first creation, do we dare to doubt the glory of the bodies God will create in the new creation? We can be assured that our resurrection body will be the perfect body, the glorious body which ideally suits us for heaven.

The Application to Man’s Resurrection From the Dead (15:42-49)

15:42-44 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised 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.NIV God’s creation power will continue as dead bodies are resurrected and transformed into new bodies. Paul’s continued use of the term “is sown” shows that he still has the seed from 15:36-37 in mind. Like a seed that is sown and then grows into a glorious new plant, so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. Believers’ present physical bodies will be different from their resurrection bodies.

First, physical bodies are perishable, but raised bodies will be imperishable. Every human’s physical body is going to “perish” (die). Death eventually takes everyone. Those raised with Christ, however, will have bodies that will never die. These eternal bodies will live forever.

Physical bodies are sown in dishonor but raised in glory. A dead body, by its very nature, has nothing honorable about it. But the raised body will have a “glory” that far surpasses the beauty of a flower (as compared to its seed). It will not be a raised corpse like what one might see in horror movies; it will be a remade body, far more glorious than the physical body had ever been.

Physical bodies are sown in weakness but raised in power. While the Greeks might have honored those with perfectly trained, muscular bodies, when death strikes, every body is rendered completely weak and powerless. But the raised body will be raised by the power of God himself and will have power given to it by God.

Every physical body is sown a natural body but raised a spiritual body. The “natural” body (soma psuchikon) is suited to life in the present world; however, such a body is not fit for the world to come. That future world, where Christ will reign in his kingdom, will require a “spiritual” body (soma pneumatikon). Paul did not mean that this will be “spiritual” as opposed to physical or material, for that would contradict all that Paul has just written about resurrected bodies. Believers will not become “spirits.” Instead, “spiritual” refers to a body that suits a new, spiritual life, just as our present bodies (Greek psuchikon) suit our lives as “souls” (psuche). Each believer will no longer have a natural body, like Adam, designed to live on this earth; instead, each will have a spiritual body, like Christ had after his resurrection (15:48-49).

15:45 The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit.NLT Paul quoted the Scriptures to point out the difference between these two kinds of bodies. Genesis 2:7 speaks of the first man, Adam, becoming a living person. Adam was made from the dust of the ground and given the breath of life from God. Every human being since that time shares the same characteristics. However, the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. Just as Adam was the first of the human race, so Christ is the first of those who will be raised from the dead to eternal life. Because Christ rose from the dead, he is “a life-giving spirit” who entered into a new form of existence. He is the source of the spiritual life that will result in believers’ resurrection. Christ’s new glorified human body now suits his new, glorified, spiritual life—just as Adam’s human body was suitable to his natural life. When believers are resurrected, God will give them transformed, eternal bodies suited to eternal life.

15:46-47 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.NIV People have natural life first; that is, they are born into this earth and live here. Only from there do they then obtain spiritual life. Paul may have been contradicting a particular false teaching by this statement. He illustrated this point by continuing: Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven.NLT The natural man, Adam, came first on this earth and was made from the dust of the earth. While it is true that Christ has existed from eternity past, he is here called the second man because he came from heaven to earth many years after Adam. Christ came as a human baby with a body like all other humans, but he did not originate from the dust of the earth as had Adam. He “came from heaven.”

15:48-49 Every human being has an earthly body just like Adam’s, but our heavenly bodies will be just like Christ’s. Just as we are now like Adam, the man of the earth, so we will someday be like Christ, the man from heaven.NLT Because all humanity is bound up with Adam, so every human being has an earthly body just like Adam’s. Earthly bodies are fitted for life on this earth, yet they have the characteristics of being limited by death, disease, and weakness (15:42-44). Believers can know with certainty, however, that their heavenly bodies will be just like Christ’s—imperishable, eternal, glorious, and filled with power (15:42-44). At this time, all are like Adam; one day, all believers will be like Christ (Philippians 3:21). The apostle John wrote to the believers, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 niv).


All people have bodies—each looks different; each has different strengths and weaknesses. But as physical, earthly bodies, they are all alike. All believers are promised life after death and bodies like Christ’s (15:45-49)—resurrection bodies.

Physical Bodies Resurrection Bodies
Perishable Imperishable
Sown in dishonor Raised in glory
Sown in weakness Raised in power
Natural Spiritual

Paul applies the principles he has established from nature in verses 36-41 to the issue at hand, the resurrection of the dead, in verses 42-44. The resurrection of the dead is like the death of the seed and the new, resurrected life of the plant which springs forth from the earth due to the germination of that seed. Thus, Paul speaks of the “sowing” of our earthly bodies, linking verses 42-49 to verses 36-41. There is a direct link between the earthly body that dies and decays in the earth and the new, resurrected body. The resurrected body comes forth from the body that died. The resurrection body is superior to the old body in several important ways, which Paul indicates:

(1) The former body is “sown” in a perishable state; the resurrected body is raised as an imperishable body. Our physical bodies are “perishable,” which is why they are subject to aging, disease, and death. Our resurrected bodies are imperishable. They are not subject to corruption or death.

(2) The physical, earthly body is “sown” in dishonor; the resurrected body is raised in glory. There is nothing very noble about the process of dying or about death itself. With few exceptions, we put dead bodies away from us, out of sight. For the Old Testament Israelites, contact with a dead body made one unclean. Death was defiling. The resurrected body is characterized by glory, not dishonor.

(3) The physical body is “sown” in weakness; it is raised in power. The frailty of the human body may be concealed for a time, but as we age it becomes harder and harder to hide. Our body dies because it succumbs to deterioration and disease. It is weak. Our resurrection bodies are characterized by power. The resurrection of our bodies testifies to the greatness of that power. The more impossible resurrection appears to be, the greater the evidence of God’s power in raising us from the dead.

(4) The physical body is “sown” a natural body; the resurrection body is raised a spiritual body. The physical body is a natural body, while the resurrected body is spiritual. The physical body is an “earthy” body. As such, it is an earth-bound body. Our present bodies suit us well for living on this earth. Our earthly bodies do not suit us for heaven, as Paul will soon point out. Our resurrected body is a “spiritual” body. Neither the meaning nor the implications of this fact are immediately clear, but they are very important.

(5) The origin, nature, and destiny of both the natural body and the spiritual body can only be understood in terms of their relationship to the “first Adam” and the “last Adam,” Jesus Christ. Verses 42-44 contrast the nature of our earthly, physical bodies with that of our heavenly, spiritual bodies. Verses 45-49 link our earthly bodies with the “first Adam,” and our heavenly resurrection bodies with Jesus Christ, the “last Adam.” This connection which we have with Adam and with Christ is a crucial one.

Both the “first Adam” (the Adam of Genesis) and the “last Adam” were men (this is the meaning of the word Adam) who were prototypes. The actions of both men impact all men. How can the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ affect all men? The answer: The same way Adam’s sin and death affected all men. The “first Adam” became a living soul; the “last Adam” became a life-giving spirit. The “first Adam” was a natural man; the “last Adam” became a spiritual man. The “first Adam,” through his sin and death, brought sin into the world and caused all men to be under the sentence of death. Jesus Christ, the “last Adam,” through His righteousness, death, burial and resurrection, has brought about resurrection for all men.[1]

Salvation is all about our identity or our identification. By virtue of being human, we are identified with Adam in his fallen humanity, in his condemnation, and thus in his death. Jesus Christ came to the earth as the “last Adam” so that men might be saved by identifying with Him in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. By acknowledging our sin and the condemnation we rightly deserve, and by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our place, we enter into a new identity. The gospel is the good news that we can change our identity by faith in Jesus Christ. It is by identifying with Him by faith that we are saved from our sins and enter into eternal life.

In noting the contrast between the “first Adam” and the “last Adam,” we should not overlook the comparison. Both Adam and Christ are alike in that they are both “Adams.” In order for our Lord to reverse the effects of the fall, brought about by Adam, the Lord Jesus had to identify with Adam. The Son of God took on human flesh, a natural body. In His life and in His death, our Lord revealed His identification with man in his humanity. Did Adam have a natural, fleshly body? So did Jesus Christ. Did Adam have a perishable body? So did our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why He was able to die on the cross of Calvary. Is the natural body of Adam characterized by weakness? So was the earthly body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord knew hunger (Matthew 4:2; 21:18) and fatigue (John 4:6). He was so weakened by His torture that another had to carry His cross (Luke 23:26). Does the natural body die in dishonor? There is no more dishonorable way to die than crucifixion. Our Lord identified with our dishonor in death.

In reflecting on these characteristics of the natural body, it suddenly dawned on me that these same characteristics of the natural body with which our Lord identified are those which characterized Paul’s ministry as well:

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).

4 But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, 8 by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; 9 as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

When one stops to ponder this, these “weaknesses” of Paul are the very thing which cause the Corinthians to disdain him. They are so wise; he is foolish. They are so strong; he is so weak. They are already reigning; he is the dregs of humanity. What is wrong with the Corinthians?

If Christ identified with man in his natural, weak and dishonorable condition, and Paul is similarly characterized, what does this tell us about the Corinthians and their denial of the resurrection of the dead? I think it tells us a great deal. The Corinthians are trying to be “spiritual” in the present with what Paul and the apostles tell us is a future “spirituality.” True future spirituality means a new, “spiritual” body that is incorruptible and imperishable. That comes at the resurrection of the dead, which takes place when our Lord returns to the earth to establish His kingdom. At that time, we will be able to identify with the risen Christ by the possession of our new, resurrected bodies that are free from sin, corruption, sickness, and death.

True spirituality in the present is our identification with our Lord’s earthly body. We must identify with Him in His weakness, in His dishonor, in His death, and (partly) in His resurrection. This is why Paul speaks of his ministry in terms of dishonor and weakness. This is the calling of the Christian: to identify in body, soul, and spirit with the Lord in His earthly coming, in His rejection, weakness, shame and death. Spirituality cannot be separated from what we do in and with our bodies:

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

We are to identify with our Lord in His sufferings:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:9-11).

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25).

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).

Some of the Corinthians wanted to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead because they wanted to deceive themselves into thinking they could be spiritual by entering into our Lord’s future blessings by identifying with the glories of our Lord now, rather than His sufferings now. They did not want to identify with His weakness and dishonor but with His power and glory. To reject a future resurrection, with a spiritual and glorified body was (in the minds of some) to open the door to a spiritual existence now which permitted bodily indulgences and which assured them of peace and prosperity, health and wealth now, without having to endure the sufferings and shame of our Lord in this life. For those who wish to avoid pain and suffering and shame for Christ’s sake and to label self-indulgence as spirituality, the rejection of the resurrection of the dead was a great pretext. But Paul has shown it up for what it is, a denial of the gospel by which we are saved and by which we are to live (see Colossians 2:6).

Before we begin to try to interpret this section we would do well to remember one thing—all through it Paul is talking about things that no one really knows anything about. He is talking not about verifiable matters of fact, but about matters of faith. Trying to express the inexpressible and to describe the indescribable, he is doing the best he can with the human ideas and human words that are all that he has to work with. If we remember that, it will save us from a crudely literalistic interpretation and make us fasten our thoughts on the underlying principles in Paul’s mind. In this section he is dealing with people who say, “Granted that there is a resurrection of the body, with what kind of body do people rise again?” His answer has three basic principles in it.

(i) He takes the analogy of a seed. The seed is put in the ground and dies, but in due time it rises again; and does so with a very different kind of body from that with which it was sown. Paul is showing that, at one and the same time, there can be dissolution, difference and yet continuity. The seed is dissolved; when it rises again, there is a vast difference in its body; and yet, in spite of the dissolution and the difference, it is the same seed. So our earthly bodies will dissolve; they will rise again in very different form; but it is the same person who rises. Dissolved by death, changed by resurrection, it is still we who exist.

(ii) In the world, even as we know it, there is not one kind of body; each separate part of creation has its own. God gives to each created thing a body suitable for its part in creation. If that be so, it is only reasonable to expect that he will give us a body fitted for the resurrection life.

(iii) In life there is a development. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). But Jesus is far more than a man made from the dust of the earth. He is the incarnation of the very Spirit of God. Now, under the old way of life, we were one with Adam, sharing his sin, inheriting his death and having his body; but, under the new way of life, we are one with Christ and we shall therefore share his life and his being. It is true that we have a physical body to begin with, but it is also true that one day we shall have a spiritual body.

All through this section Paul has maintained a reverent and wise reticence as to what that body will be like; it will be spiritual, it will be such as God knows that we need and we will be like Christ. But in verses 42–44 he draws four contrasts which shed light on our future state.

(i) The present body is corruptible; the future body will be incorruptible. In this world everything is subject to change and decay. “Youth’s beauty fades, and manhood’s glory fades,” as Sophocles had it. But in the life to come there will be a permanence in which beauty will never lose its sheen.

(ii) The present body is in dishonour; the future body will be in glory. It may be that Paul means that in this life it is through our bodily feelings and passions that dishonour can so easily come; but in the life to come our bodies will no longer be the servants of passion and of impulse but the instruments of the pure service of God, than which there can be no greater honour.

(iii) The present body is in weakness; the future body will be in power. It is nowadays fashionable to talk of man’s power, but the really remarkable thing is his weakness. A draught of air or a drop of water can kill him. We are limited in this life so often simply because of the necessary limitations of the body. Time and time again our physical constitution says to our visions and our plans, “Thus far and no farther.” We are so often frustrated because we are what we are. But in the life to come the limitations will be gone. Here we are compassed about with weakness; there we will be clad with power.

“All we have hoped or willed or dreamed of good shall exist;

The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard.”

On earth we have the “broken arcs”; in the life to come “the perfect round.”

(iv) The present body is a natural body; the future body will be a spiritual body. By that, it may be, Paul meant that here we are but imperfect vessels and imperfect instruments for the Spirit; but in the life to come we will be such that the Spirit can truly fill us, as can never happen here, and the Spirit can truly use us, as is never possible now. Then we will be able to render the perfect worship, the perfect service, the perfect love that now can only be a vision and a dream. [2]

[1] I believe the atoning work of our Lord was both “limited” and “unlimited” in its scope.  While our Lord died as an atonement for our sins, only those who receive the gift of eternal life by faith will obtain this forgiveness.  In this sense, the benefit of His atoning work is limited to the elect.  But our Lord’s resurrection from the dead is also the basis for the resurrection of all men from the dead.  Some will be raised for eternal condemnation, while believers will be raised for eternal blessing.  Thus, the work of our Lord has both a limited effect (salvation and blessing for only the elect) and an unlimited effect (the resurrection of all men from the dead).

[2] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 157–159.

[2] To be technically accurate, in the Septuagint, it is Psalm 13:1 and 52:1.

[3] See, for example, Proverbs 14:16; 15:5; 18:2; 20:3; Isaiah 32:5-6; Hosea 9:7.

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Posted by on May 4, 2023 in Resurrection


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