The apostle Paul has strongly asserted that those who are in Christ, though they die, will be raised from the dead. Since Christ has risen from the dead, then with certainty we know that we also will be raised from the dead. But understanding how this resurrection could occur is difficult to grasp. It seems to be the reason why the resurrection of the dead was being rejected by some in Corinth.
Considerations about death were very important at that time, especially because they did not remotely live as long as we do today. In the Greco-Roman world approximately 50% of the children would die by age 10. About 30% of the children died by age 1. If you made it to age 5, then you were likely to live to about 48 years of age. If you made it to age 15, then you were likely to live to ripe old age of 52. So the concepts of what happened after death were very real to them because they were going to encounter it much faster than we do today.
It is important to consider that while there were many views of life after death in the Greco-Roman world, one of the prominent views at that time was that there was life after death, but it was a disembodied life. In fact, the soul leaving the body and not possessing a body was desired. The body was often described as a prison of the soul, and death frees the soul from that prison. So while the concept of life after death was popular, souls residing in Hades, the realm of departed spirits, the idea of possessing a body was completely rejected. So the idea that we will be raised from the dead as Paul is preaching was rejected by some Greek thinking: that just as Jesus rose from the dead bodily, not just spiritually, so as the firstfruits we will be raised in his likeness. This is why Paul addresses the problem he knows he is going to face and seems to take it as a hypothetical objection. “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” One can easily understand the question. The resurrection seems impossible. The body is decayed and ruined. How can this rotted corpse be raised to life and bring us into eternity? We even fall into these kinds of traps. Since I don’t understand how something works, then it must not be possible. But we are called to be people of faith and it is dangerous for us to suggest something is impossible just because we do not fully understand how it may be.
The scriptures are plain that there is a physical resurrection, not just our spirits going on. We have seen this from our study of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and Paul telling us that he is the firstfruits. Therefore what happened to Jesus will happen to us. But other scriptures confirm a bodily resurrection.
1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1–4 ESV)
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28–29 ESV)
The Principle of Change (15:36-38)
The apostle Paul will now explain to the Corinthian Christians how physical resurrection is possible. Paul begins by teaching them about the principle of change.
1. The seed is not made alive unless it dies (15:36). Listen to the words of Paul: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” The seed decomposes. It must cease to exist in its original form as a seed before it can come to life. Jesus used the same figure of his own resurrection in John 12:24.
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23–24 ESV)
2. The seed planted is not the body that will come up from the ground (15:37). The seed does not look like the grain that will be produced from that seed. It is not possible to look at the seed and know what the fruit or the grain will look like. In the same way the body that dies is not the same body when God raises it to life. A transformation must occur, which Paul will elaborate on more fully in just a moment.
3. The new body is a God-given body (15:38). We do not need to worry about this transformation because God is going to give each of us a body that is ready for the new life to live in the spiritual realms with God.
Different Types of Bodies For Different Types of Glories (15:39-41)
Seeing the vast differences in God’s creation, we should not question God’s ability to create for us new bodies that are different. Our resurrected bodies can be radically different than our earthly bodies. Paul uses a number of illustrations (the fish in the sea, the birds in the air) to show that God gives different bodies for different habitats. The flesh given to humans is not appropriate for birds or fish. In the same way, earthly bodies are built a particularly way by God for living here. God is going to give us heavenly bodies built in a different way by God for living eternally with him. The point is that being in an eternally disembodied state is not an option. A new body must be given to exist in the world to come.
The Radical Difference Between The Risen Body and Its Earthly Counterpart (15:42-44a)
Paul goes on to illustrate how radically different the two bodies will be. We are being transformed from a body that perishes to a body that is imperishable. These bodies we have are deteriorating. Our new bodies will not deteriorate. We currently have a dishonorable body, in that it is ruined and corrupted by sin. But God will change it into a glorious body that is undefiled. The bodies we have now are weak and breakable. These bodies are subject to the ravages of time. They are temporary and fragile. But we are going to given powerful bodies, bodies that are not weak. Our resurrected bodies will have nothing to weigh them down, slow them down, or exhaust them. The bodies we have now are natural, suited for this natural world. The resurrected bodies will be spiritual bodies, suited for the spiritual world where we will live eternally. Obviously the new body prepared for heaven can be nothing like the body we have now that is made for the earth.
Scriptural Proof For Two Bodies (15:44b-49)
The end of verse 44 begins the next argument for our new resurrected bodies. “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Paul quotes Genesis 2:7 to prove that there must be two different bodies. If there is a natural body represented by the first Adam in a sown body, then there must be a spiritual body represented by the last Adam, the risen Christ. The first body is appropriate for existence in this natural creation. The second body will be appropriate for existence in the world to come. To state Paul’s argument another way: Adam’s body was the model of our natural bodies; Christ’s resurrected body is the model of our spiritual bodies. Just as God gave life to live in this world, as seen through Adam, so also God gives life to live in the world to come, as seen through Jesus.
But the natural body comes first (15:46). Only then will the spiritual body be given. There is an order to these things. Just as the seed must be first, then the plant that comes from that seed, so also we must have the natural body first, then the spiritual body comes second. All must begin in the human body with human life before one can have the spirit body with spiritual life. We will not be eternal spirit vapors. We will be given a new glorious, imperishable, spiritual body. Verse 47 underlines the point in verse 45. The first man was a man of dust. So our bodies will return to the dust. But the second man, which is Christ, is from heaven. So our new bodies will be made for living in heaven.
Until the resurrection, we bear the image of the person of dust. Paul made the point in verse 23 that this resurrection to new bodies will not occur until Christ returns. Therefore, until the resurrection we bear the image of the physical body. The body associated with Adam is mortal and bound to the earth from which it came. The body associated with the risen Christ will be immortal and stamped by the image of the man of heaven (Christ). Paul made the same point to the Philippians.
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, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21 ESV)
This teaching causes to change a number of things about how we live today. But I want to conclude by considering two life changes.
1. We are not this body but are housed in this natural body. You are more than your body. You are temporarily living in this earthly body now. When Christ returns you are going to be given a new body. It will not be like the body you have now. It will be a glorious, incorruptible, imperishable body built to live with the Lord forever. Therefore, what happens to this body is irrelevant. It does not matter what happens to our bodies while we live. It does not matter what happens to our bodies when we die. God has the power to change our bodies from decayed and corrupted to imperishable and glorious. When we die, according Luke 16 and the words of Jesus to the criminal on the cross, we will go to Paradise, the comfort side of Hades. There we will live in comfort while we wait for Christ to return to give us our eternally changed bodies prepared for living in heaven with the Lord. So we live in hope that no matter how broken and destroyed our bodies may become now, our hope is resting on the new bodies to be given on the day Christ returns.
2. Our citizenship must belong to heaven and not the earth for us to participate in this glorious resurrection. If our citizenship is of the earth, then we are putting our hope in this life, in this body, in this country, and in the current state of affairs here in the creation. Our hope is greatly misplaced. Christ will return, burn up this earth (2 Peter 3:10-11), change our bodies, and raise us up to be with him forever. Everything here in this world is temporary and perishable. Citizenship in heaven means that we have our eyes on his glorious return and we wait for his eagerly by living lives in full submission to the commands our Lord. Citizenship in heaven means we live for the spiritual life now, awaiting the reality of his coming, not for the physical life now. Keep your eyes on God for we are leaving this earth and will raised to be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).