Back From the Dead: Our Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:35-58 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?” 36 You fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the body that will be, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same flesh; there is one flesh for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is different from that of the earthly ones. 41 There is a splendor of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars; in fact, one star differs from another star in splendor. 42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; 43 sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; 44 sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; 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 was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 Like the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; like the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the imageof the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed. 53 For this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality. 54 When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
55 Where, death, is your victory?
Where, death, is your sting?
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
The Apostle Paul highlighted with the significance of Jesus’s resurrection in the first half of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15. But, in the second half, he deals with the nature of the resurrection for us as Christians. For Paul, the logic follows that, since Christ was raised from the dead, then we too will be raised. And there’s a lot of questions we have.
What is it going to be like when we are resurrected?
Now, Paul was writing to a community that was highly influenced by Greek philosophy, especially the philosophy of Plato, a 3rd century BC philosopher, who had a very different view of the eternal soul than the Hebrew and the Christian. Plato taught that the soul is made up of three parts: the mind, the spirit, and the appetites. By mind, Plato meant your knowledge and your ability to reason. By spirit, Plato meant something like heated emotions: anger, lust, zeal. And by appetites, Plato meant your desires: comforts, pleasures, hungers. This has come to be know as the tripart soul. So, for Plato and much of the Greek world, there were two parts of the human: the body of flesh and the tri-part soul.
What’s interesting is that Plato’s philosophy still influences philosophy today, especially the field of philosophy that we call metaphysics. ‘Meta’ means alongside and so metaphysics is concerned with the parts of the person that exists alongside the physical person. It has to do with the things you can’t touch, which Plato would have called the soul.
EXERCISE: Point to your nose…foot, brain, kidney…spirit, emotions, knowledge, rational, etc.
That’s the divide that Plato recognized. A person has tangible parts that are easily identified and intangible parts that are not easily identified.
But, we’re talking about resurrection and the problem is this. Plato’s view created a divide between science and philosophy that doesn’t exist in the biblical worldview. Because in the Bible, soul means the entire ‘being’ or the entire person.
So, you’re walking alongside the road and you see a person on the side of the road who had been attacked by robbers and has died. Well, the Greek philosopher looks to the person and says, “Well, that’s just decaying flesh; the soul has left the body.” The Greek believes that the soul is an eternal thing that doesn’t require flesh to live and thus it can move on to etherial places where it doesn’t need a body.
But, then the Christian comes along and tells the Greek person, “Have you heard about Jesus Christ of Nazareth? He was sent by God to rescue the world from sins.” And the Greeks were well acquainted with sin and had many different ideas that dealt with the way that sin effects the immortal soul and all of that, much like Christians do. They wouldn’t have all agreed on every sinful act, but they were well aware that they were all immoral to some degree.
So, they liked the idea of Jesus and wanted to hear more. And so, the Christian says, “Yeah, you and I are under God’s wrath because we have sinned against Him.” And no one wants to be under the wrath of God, so the Greek wants to hear more. So, then you say, “God sent His son Jesus to die for our sins so that we don’t have to die for sins.” And the Greek thinks, “Well I don’t want to die,” and he wants to hear more.
And so you tell the Greek that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, God and that if we submit our lives to Him, we can come back from the dead when we die too.
And the Greek man loses it! He loses it, because in his mind he sees the bloody and decaying corpse on the side of the road being animated back to life and walking again. He pictures something more like a zombie than a resurrection of glory.
So, this is the problem. The Greek divides the soul from the body—the tangible from the intangible—and thus, either way he can look at the idea of ressurection, he fails. On one hand, he cannot grasp the idea of a physical resurrection because it’s too morose. On the other hand, he sees the soul as an immortal etherial being with no physical form.
And that’s not much different than our society. Most people believe that there is a strict separation between the spiritual and the physical. Many people who profess the be Christians believe that heaven is a purely spiritual place where you will have no physical form, but float around as a spirit.
What does the Bible teach?
I’ll tell you the short story and then we’ll unpack it from 1 Corinthians 15.
In short the Bible teaches that a whole person is both physical and spiritual and neither one without the other. But, humans are sinful and sin deadens the spiritual part of a person. Humanity has tried many things to try to liven their spirits. We have tried to follow rules and religious regimens. We have tried to find spirituality by worshipping the gods of the world, who Paul referenced in chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians. We have tried to search for spirituality deep within ourselves. But, none of that works to accomplish anything truly spiritual in any lasting way, because none of those efforts do anything to deal with the root problem that is the sin of humankind.
So then, Jesus came to deal with sin once and for all time. In his death we receive forgiveness of sins and in his resurrection we receive the promise of our own resurrection. And again, resurrection doesn’t mean that our old dead bodies are animated again to life. It means that we are made whole like humanity was designed to be, perfect in physical form and perfect spiritually.
And that might seem foreign to you that resurrection could mean something spiritual, because you probably are highly influenced by Plutonian metaphysics even though you may not really know that that means, because you probably believe that there is a difference between the spiritual and the physical just like the ancient Greeks.
C. S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, made a keen observation about spirituality from the biblical perspective. He compared spirituality to gamma radiation. Gamma radiation can’t be observed with the naked eye—or with the naked anything for that matter. You can’t see it, taste it, smell it, hear it. You can arguably feel it, but you would never know what it is, because it’s a natural energy that comes from nuclear fission in outer space and natural phenomena like lightning. But, gamma radiation is absolutely part of the natural order of the universe as God created it. Just because it’s difficult to observe doesn’t make it supernatural. And so C. S. Lewis suggested that maybe even spirituality has a natural ordering to it, even though we are unable as humans to put it under a microscope and analyze it.
Certainly the ancient Greeks attributed many things to the spirit world because they could not explain them.
And biblically, C. S. Lewis is right. Spirituality is part of the created order. It’s natural, not phenomenological. God created humankind as spiritual beings much like he created the angels as spiritual beings.
So, when the Apostle Paul talked to the Greeks about Jesus, they asked questions like this:
- 1 Corinthians 15:35 (CSB) — But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?”
You can see the skepticism and maybe the tone of ickyness in the question. Remember, the Greek mind is envisioning something like a zombie, a reanimated dead body getting up and walking.
How can that be? Its not the same kind of body right?
Paul is kind of sassy in his response.
- 1 Corinthians 15:36–37 (CSB) — You fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow—you are not sowing the body that will be, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain.
Paul imagines that the body we live in now is like a seed that, when you die, gets planted in the ground. But, then when Jesus returns and we are resurrected again to life, we are raised, not like the cracked and decaying kernel left behind by the seed, but we rise as a beautiful tree.
You see, for Paul, we aren’t raised in the form we died in. But, we die so that we might be raised as we ought to have been made in the first place.
Notice the language Paul uses further down in the passage.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 (CSB) — Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will 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 incorruptible, and we will be changed.
So, here Paul answers a sidebar question of, What about the people who are alive still when Jesus returns?
And the answer is, just like everyone who has died, they will also be changed.
Now, I like that Paul uses the word changed here instead of resurrection, because changed is a more accurate word for what occurs. Resurrection just means to have life again. But, it carries the connotation of bringing back the same old thing. Like you might say, “He came out of retirement to resurrect his career!’ And you would be saying that he’s going to bring back the old thing, the glory days of his youth.
But, our resurrection is to something far greater than our old selves. We are actually changed into something new, although not entirely unrelated.
- 1 Corinthians 15:42–45 (CSB) — So it is with the resurrection of the dead: Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
This body suffers from the corruption of sin, but our new bodies will not be able to be corrupted by sin. It will be a new flesh, a new creation.
We used these old bodies to dishonor God and, if we are honest, ourselves as well. But, our new bodies are raised in glory, to glorify God in every way—no more guilt, no more shame, as Jesus says in Revelation 21.
This body is weak, it dies. But the new body will be powerful, eternal.
This body is natural only, but it will be changed to be spiritual when it is raised. And this is where I want to dig into the story of the Bible a little bit to help you understand what happens to you as a Christian in the resurrection.
Notice Paul is not saying that you will cease to be natural because you are spiritual. That’s plutonian metaphysics, not the view of the scriptures. The natural and spiritual are not different things. Instead, Paul says that if there is a natural body, then there is a spiritual body as well. And he points to the story of creation where God created the man Adam.
In the story, God created Adam out of the dust of the earth. He is natural, created from natural things. But, then he breathed the Spirit of God into Adam to give him life. And he lives.
But, notice Moses’s commentary on this event.
- Genesis 1:27 (CSB) — So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.
Here we see that people—men and women—were created in the image of God.
And this theological concept of the image of God has probably gotten more attention throughout history than any other theological idea.
And there is a pretty clear pathway of understanding in the scriptures.
Fast forward in the story to Noah. After the flood, when God destroyed the land and all the animals on it, and Noah got out of the Ark with the animals, God established the rite of ritual animal sacrifice with Noah and he made this statement.
- Genesis 9:6 (CSB) — Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image.
After all the absolute chaos on the earth that brought about the flooding of the land, God told Noah that when you decimate the image of God, the result is that the image of God must be destroyed in you. In other words, looking back to Adam, when he sinned in the Garden, he decimated the image of God and that’s why God said,
- Genesis 2:17 (CSB) — You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.
To disobey God meant death because it did great damage to the image of God. Paul understood this in New Testament times when he wrote,
- Romans 6:23 (CSB) — For the wages of sin is death.
Disobeying God damages the image of God on humankind and thus death begets death. We deserve to die for our sins.
What’s interesting about Paul, though, is that, although there is a sanctity of all life that flows from the concept that humanity was created in God’s image, Paul does not believe that all people are currently imagers of God. At best Paul believes that people are potential imagers.
Notice Romans 8:29,
- Romans 8:29 (CSB) — For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
We see here that the plan of God from the beginning—which is why Paul used the word predestined—is to conform humans back to their original image, the image of Jesus, the Son, God in human flesh.
The implication is that we are no longer spiritual—an idea Paul posits elsewhere, calling humans ‘spiritually dead’ (Ephesians 2:1-10). Now, we need to become spiritual; we need to conform to the image of God.
And I think the language Paul uses here is interesting. In Colossians Paul refers to the invisible Father as a way of distinguishing between Jesus, God in human flesh, and God proper, the uncreated non-physical God. And I like the clarification Paul gives, that he says we are conformed, not to the image of the invisible Father, but to the Son. The plutonian view would have some grounding if the goal was to be a spirit for eternity like the Father. But, Paul is careful to say we will be physical and spiritual for eternity just like Jesus the Son of God.
The man Adam was created as a complete soul, both physical and spiritual. But, Adam sinned and humanity lost it’s spiritual nature. We now have to be conformed again to the image of God,
Jesus Christ, in order to be spiritual like humanity was intended to be in the beginning.
And so Paul says that just as the first man Adam was given life, but the second Adam is a life-giver. Paul wrote,
- 1 Corinthians 15:45 (CSB) — So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being [soul]; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
The word being is an interesting translation choice in this passage that most translators prefer because of readability. But, the word is very easy to translate. It means soul.
Being is appropriate, but I want you to know the difference, because of what we have been talking about. Your soul isn’t something that can be detached from your flesh as the Greeks believed and most people believe today. In the Hebrew mind, the soul is the entire self. Adam was a soul because he was physical and spiritual.
This harkens back to Genesis 2:7, where Moses wrote,
- Genesis 2:7 (CSB) —Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being [soul].
The translators do the same thing here, translating soul as being for readability.
But here its the Hebrew word soul. Adam was a soul because he was made physical and then God breathed His spirit into him and he became spiritual.
So, we’re talking about resurrection.
What exactly is resurrection?
Well, it’s not reanimation as the Greeks imagined—not a zombie apocalypse. Resurrection is when you are changed to no longer be a strictly physical human, but you are a perfected physical and spiritual human who in every way images the glory of Jesus Christ.
Imagine you buy a new mirror. There’s no fingerprints on it. No smudges. No scratches. And you look into it and you see a perfect image of yourself. Well, one day we will stand before God and those who have been resurrected will in every way be a perfect mirror-image of Jesus Christ.
Sin is like a sneeze.
You ever sneeze on a mirror?
I know, it’s gross, but so is your sin. Well every time you sin it’s like another sneeze and after a while, it’s not that the mirror isn’t a mirror. It’s just that it’s so marred by sin that you can’t see the image of God anymore. Jesus can’t see himself when he looks at you.
Resurrection is the cleaning of the mirror.
So, we shouldn’t look at the resurrection as a change to something entirely new. Rather, resurrection is a restoration to what we were designed to be in the beginning, but we have never been in our lives, a soul who perfectly images Jesus Christ in every way.
It is the purification of the spiritual so that the conjoined physical and spiritual soul perfectly reflects God. Paul wrote,
- Ephesians 1:7–10 (CSB) — In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he richly poured out on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he purposed in Christ as a plan for the right time—to bring everything together in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth in him.
Jesus brings together the physical things of the earth with the spiritual things of the heavens. And there’s implications in that for eternity.
Just as Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden, so we too will spend eternity in the physical presence of God. Resurrection fixes the corruption of sin.
As we close I want to answer some ‘So What?’ questions. This would be a good time to take out your …
…card and consider how you are going to live this week in light of what you have learned about resurrection and about the soul.
The first question I want to ask is, What is different about the spiritual body?
The two major distinctions between your body now and your future body is righteousness and immortality.
Righteousness is implied by the story. It was Adam’s choice to live unrighteously that resulted in the decimation of the image of God on humankind. Thus, when Paul writes…
- 1 Corinthians 15:48 (CSB) — Like the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; like the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.
…Paul is saying that we will no longer be like Adam, unrighteous sinners, but like Jesus Christ, in every way righteous.
People have often asked me, “Anthony, can we sin in heaven?” And my stock answer is, “Who cares? You won’t” You will be righteous in every way.
And we will also be immortal. Again, realize the implication of the story. Adam died because of sin. Jesus already did everything necessary to take away the sins of the world at the cross, so when we are resurrected to new life, then there will no longer be any death that we owe to God. That’s why Paul wrote,
- 1 Corinthians 15:54–55 (CSB) — When this corruptible body is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?
Jesus himself said that,
- Revelation 21:4 (CSB) — He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.
Eternity, heaven is not governed by death, but by the life-giving soul, Jesus Christ.
So, the next question everyone wants to know is, When will this happen?
Well, Paul says that this is a mystery. And we know there is a lot of mystery surrounding the rolling out of the end times. But, here and in other places, Paul is willing to tell us about the mystery.
So, let’s not focus here on speculative teachings you may have heard, but just on what Paul says.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 (CSB) — Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will 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 incorruptible, and we will be changed.
Pay attention carefully to what Paul said. Not everyone will die before the end, but everyone will be changed, everyone will be resurrected when Jesus returns.
Now notice, it is not the returning of Jesus that happens in the twinkling of an eye, in an instant. It is the changing that takes place in a moment.
There were people in Paul’s day and still today who taught that the resurrection had already occured for humanity, but that it would take time to bear fruit and it was our job to “work out the resurrection” in our lives by living righteously. And Paul is all about living righteously, but he doesn’t want to deny what is taught. Jesus has not yet returned and thus we are not yet perfected.
That happens in the future and it’s an instantaneous event.
Now, the trumpets are important here. Trumpets are battle instruments. They are used to command armies and to intimidate enemies. But, they are also used to announce victory and I believe that is the use here, because of the specific reference to the seventh trumpet. Seven is a number of finality. In Revelation 11 and 12, the seventh trumpet announced that the Kingdom of Heaven has been overcome by the Kingdom of Christ. This happened immediately before the birth of Jesus and ultimately the death and resurrection of Jesus, whereby the devil’s work in the world was destroyed and the foothold of the Kingdom of God secured on earth.
That story is in the past. But, here the seventh trumpet shows up again for the consummation of the promises of God, whereby the Kingdom of this world and everything demonic and deceitful is finally cast into the abyss and the gates of the abyss locked forever.
In a parallel passage Paul wrote,
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 (CSB) — For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
I want you to see that in these passages the trumpets are a pronouncement of the end.
I don’t think there will be literal trumpets, but there will be trumpets that should cause us pause, to remember that the end is coming and that we should be looking towards Christ and His eternal Kingdom.
These passages do not teach what we call a secret rapture as many Christians have come to believe in. You won’t be stolen away as a thief secretly robs a house in the middle of the night. The scriptures are clear that there will be signs reminding us that the end is coming. And when it comes, it will be evident, not secret. Shouting and trumpets do not announce things that are happening in secret. We will hear the trumpets announcing the victory of Christ and all will know that the Kingdom of God is here in it’s fullness.
So, the question was, When will this happen?
And I can’t answer that question exactly. But, let’s consider the trumpets a little more. Many people say that the trumpets can be heard in the voices of martyrs and persecuted Christians around the world. And I think that’s about right, because Christians who become martyrs are blaring trumpets in the face of evil. They are declaring war on the Kingdom of this world. And every time that you see the Kingdom of God declaring war on the Kingdom of the world, then you are hearing trumpets.
And as we near the end, you will hear the final trumpets as we see the Kingdom of God accomplishing victory over the Kingdom of this world. When the Kingdom of God is expanding to the ends of the earth and every Kingdom is coming into submission under Jesus Christ, that is the final trumpet. And the final trumpet will be blown and in the twinkling of an eye, we will be gathered to Jesus, and we will all be changed.
That’s the biblical timescale for the end.
A last question, So what do I do?
And that’s a good question, because we aren’t at the seventh trumpet yet.
I could say get out there and blow your trumpets, tell people about Jesus, and that would be a great and biblical application. But, Paul goes a different way with it.
So, we haven’t seen the entire world come into submission under Christ. We still have great persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Asia and other places in the world. And we even see the Kingdom of the World reigning in the Western World where people have proclaimed Christ for so long.
And in both 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives basically the same brand of advice. He wrote,
- 1 Corinthians 15:58 (CSB) — Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
…and he wrote,
- 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (CSB) — Therefore encourage one another with these words.
See, we’re in the war as Christians. And we’re called to be steadfast, persevering, immovable, not wishy washy, convicted, not doubting.
We are to excel in the Lord’s work, because right now it is the daytime and the work must be done. It is not the night. It is not time to rest. It’s the time for labor. And because we know that the Kingdom of God is conquering this world, we know that our labor is not in vain. Christ declared victory on the cross when he exclaimed, ‘It is finished!’ and death is being swallowed up in that victory.
We are still in the battle, but the victory is already ours. Therefore, encourage each other with these words. When you see a brother or sister doubt, assure them. When you see someone stumble, pick them up. When you see someone abandoning Christ, bring them back to the church. When you see someone in sin, remind them that victory is already theirs. In all things, in all trials, in all persecution, encourage each other with these words.
Real, lasting, and glorious resurrection is ours, because Jesus Christ is our victor.
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