I mentioned last week that 1 Corinthians 15 can be divided into four main parts. Firstly, in verses 1 to 11 Paul reminded his readers of the gospel message which he preached to them and which they received from him. Secondly, in verses 12 to 19 he explained what the consequences are if we deny the resurrection of the dead. Thirdly, in verses 20 to 34 he proclaimed the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of Christ’s people. And fourthly, in verses 35 to 58 he wrote about the nature of the resurrection body and about the kind of body we will possess whenever Christ the King comes again to renew all things.
Last week, we spent our time on verses 1 to 28. So, we studied the first part on the gospel message which Paul preached and which they received. And we studied the second part and the consequences of denying the resurrection of the dead. But we didn’t quite finish the third part where Paul proclaimed both Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. So, we’ve got verses 29 to 34 to deal with from the third part before we can move on to the fourth and final part of this chapter.
And it’s a marvellous chapter, isn’t it? I said last week that it’s a favourite chapter of mine, because Paul summarises the gospel message of how the Lord Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and he was buried; and on the third day he was raised according to the Scriptures; and people saw him afterwards and were able to testify as eye-witnesses of the resurrection that they had seen him alive.
But if there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead; if the dead don’t rise — as some in Corinth were saying — then Christ can’t have risen. And if Christ did not rise from the dead, then the apostles are liars for saying he was; and there’s no point preaching about Christ or believing in Christ and trusting in Christ, because a dead Saviour cannot help us; and we’ve got nothing to hope for, because there’s no one to save us from our sins and in the end, the Lord God will condemn us for our sins and will punish us for what we have done wrong.
But the good news is that Christ has been raised. More than that, he was raised as the firstfruits: he was the first to rise from the dead and there will be more to follow; and when he comes again, in all his glory and power on the last day, he will raise his people from their graves and we will live with him for ever. Death came into the world through Adam; but through Christ, the resurrection has come. In Adam we all die; but united with Christ through faith, we will live. Whereas some in Corinth were denying the resurrection, the apostle Paul proclaimed the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of his people. And the day is coming when all of Christ’s enemies will be subdued under him, and he will hand over his kingdom to his Father, as if to say to him: There you are. I’ve done everything you asked of me. And here are all the people I have redeemed and who will now live with us for ever and for ever in glory.
Verses 35 to 41
That’s as far as we got last week. Now in verse 29 Paul refers to an obscure practice: he refers to those who were baptised for the dead. What will they do if there’s no resurrection of the dead? Well, it’s an obscure practice; so obscure in fact that no one really knows what Paul is referring to. We don’t even know if he approves of the practice, whatever it is. The commentators list lots of different suggestions as to the meaning of these words, but no one really knows.
So, I want to move on from that verse; and I want to leave verses 30 to 34 to the end and move on immediately to verse 35 where Paul begins to address the question:
How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?
We can imagine some sceptics and doubters in Corinth asking those questions. And people ask the same kind of question today. Believers might ask it because they don’t know and they wonder about it. But unbelievers will ask it because they don’t believe it’s possible. So, how are the dead raised? Someone dies and their remains are placed in the ground where they decompose and break down and mix with the soil. How can that person’s body ever be reconstituted? Or a person’s remains are cremated and the ashes are scattered in the wind. How can that person’s body ever be reconstituted? How can it happen and how does it work?
Well, that’s what the following verses are about; and in verses 36 to 41 Paul turns to the natural world to help his readers understand. And first of all, he turns our attention to a seed which is sown in the ground and which does not come to life unless it first dies. In other words, before the seed can grow and become a living plant, it must first be buried in the ground as if it were dead. And, in fact, in a sense the seed ceases to exist; it ceases to exist because it’s transformed into a plant or a flower or into a stalk of wheat. The seed was planted in the ground and emerged from the ground as something else.
And that leads to Paul’s second point which we find in verse 37 where he says that what you sow in the ground is very different from the plant which grows. A seed is very different from the wheat which grows from the seed. The seed is small and round and the wheat is large and tall. Or think of brightly coloured flowers: daffodils or roses or tulips, or whatever; the flowers with their stems and petals and leaves are very different from the dull seed which was first sown. What is sown is very different from the plant which grows.
So, where does the seed get this new body from? Paul tells us in verse 38:
God gives it a body as he has determined; and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
The Lord God is the one who determines the way the stalk of wheat will look; he’s the one who decides what the daffodil will look like and he determines the appearance of the rose and tulip. He has determined these things; and to each kind of seed he gives it own body.
Well, why is Paul talking about seeds and plants? Why is he talking about these things when he’s meant to be talking about the resurrection body? Well, it’s because he’s using the image of a seed which ceases to exist, but which is transformed into something else to help us to understand what happens at the resurrection, because the body we possess in this world will be transformed at the time of the resurrection so that — in a sense — this old body will cease to exist, because like the seed which is transformed into something else, this old body will be transformed by God into a new kind of body, one which is suitable for the life to come. There will still be some continuity and similarity with our old body; after all, when the Lord was raised, his disciples were able to recognise him; and his resurrection body still bore the marks of his crucifixion. There’s some continuity and similarity. Nevertheless, our old body will also be transformed into something new, just as a seed is transformed into something new when it grows.
In verses 39 to 41 Paul makes the point that in the natural world there are lots of different kinds of body. So, all flesh is not the same: men and women have one kind of flesh, or body; animals have another kind of flesh, or body; birds have another kind; and fish have another kind. Humans stand upright and walk about on two legs; animals walk about on four legs; birds have beaks and wings; and fish have fins and tails and gills to breathe underwater. We’re not the same, but we’re all different and there’s an almost endless variety of creatures on the earth.
Furthermore, Paul says in verse 40 that there are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies. When he refers to heavenly bodies, he’s probably referring to the sun and moon and to the stars and planets. So, there are heavenly bodies, bodies which are in the sky; and they’re different from the things which exist on the earth. And in verse 41 he refers to their splendour or their glory: the glory of the sun of one thing; the glory of the moon is another; the glory of the stars is another. And, of course, earthly things have their own glory and splendour. So, mountains are glorious and rivers are glorious and the sea is glorious and fields of flowers are glorious. And, you see, part of the glory and splendour of each of these things is the fact that everything has a body which is just right for the environment in which they live. The human body is just right for living on the earth; the fish’s body is just right for living in the water; the sun and the moon and the planets have a body which is just right for where they are. God has determined what we will be and he has designed all things perfectly so that we possess a body which is just right for the environment where we exist. He’s designed everything in a most fitting and suitable way.
Once again, why is Paul talking about animals and birds and fish and the sun and moon and stars? Why is he talking about these things when he’s meant to be talking about the resurrection body? Well, it’s because he wants us to understand that just as God has given us a body which is perfectly suited to life in this world, so he’s able to give us a body which is perfect suited to life in the world to come. The scoffers in Corinth scoffed at the idea of the resurrection because they couldn’t imagine how it would work and what kind of body we would have. And Paul is making clear that the God who has given each of his creatures a suitable body for this life is able to give us a suitable body for the life to come.
So, Paul has made two points so far. Firstly, just as the plant which grows is very different from the seed which is sown, so the resurrection body we will possess in the future will be very different from the body we possess now. Secondly, just as God has given all his creatures a body perfectly suited for life in this world, so he will give us a resurrection body which is perfectly suited for life in the world to come.
Verses 42 to 49
In verses 42 to 49 Paul describes how the body we possess now will be different from the body we will possess at the resurrection.
The body we possess now is characterised by perishability and dishonour and weakness. And since it is characterised by perishability and dishonour and weakness then it’s subject to decay. And we all know that, don’t we? We all know that, because as the years go on, each one of us is aware of how our bodies are getting old and weak and they’re wearing out and they’re breaking down. And the body we possess now, says Paul in verse 44, is a natural body. He means it is a merely human or an ordinary body.
But then the body we will possess at the resurrection will be characterised by imperishability and glory and power. And since it’s characterised by those things, then it will not be subject to decay. It will not wear out, but will remain imperishable and glorious and full of power and vigour for ever. And this body — which we will possess at the resurrection — will be a spiritual body. That what Paul says in verse 44. That doesn’t mean we’ll be ghosts or spirits only. Think of the Lord Jesus after his resurrection, who was able to eat food; and his disciples were able to touch him, because he possessed a real, physical body. In the same way, when we’re raised from the dead, we’ll still possess a physical body. But Paul calls it a spiritual body, because it will be a body which is renewed — and therefore made imperishable and glorious and powerful — by the Holy Spirit.
‘How are the dead raised?’ ‘With what kind of body will they come?’ Those are the questions the scoffers asked. And the answer is wonderful, because the Lord revealed to us through Paul that when the Lord Jesus comes again to raise the dead, this old, weak, perishable body which we now possess will be transformed by the Holy Spirit so that the body that emerges from the grave will be imperishable and glorious and perfectly suited to life in the world to come.
The body we possess now is one we possess because we’re like Adam. And so, in verses 45 to 49 Paul describes Adam’s existence. He was of the dust of the earth, says Paul in verse 47. He’s thinking of Genesis 2:7 where we read that the Lord God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth and then breathed into him, so that he became a living being. Since he was formed from the dust, he’s therefore an earthly man, as Paul puts it in verse 48. And we too are of the earth which means our present bodies belong to the earth; they’re fitted only for life on this earth. And so, right now, we bear the likeness of the earthly man, Adam. We’re just like him.
But what about the body we will possess in the future? Well, we’ll possess a new body because of Christ, who is here called the Last Adam. Whereas the first Adam was from the dust and belonged to the earth, the Last Adam is from heaven, which means he belongs in heaven with God. And whereas the first Adam became a living being, the Last Adam became something far better, because when he was raised from the dead, he became ‘a life-giving spirit’. That’s a puzzling expression, because it might seem to imply that the Lord Jesus after his resurrection was just a spirit or a ghost. But that’s not right, because when he was raised he possessed a physical body. And so, Paul probably means that after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus received the Holy Spirit from his Father in heaven; and by the Spirit he will give life to our dead bodies so that when he comes again, he will raise us from the grave by his Spirit so that we will live with him for ever. Following his own resurrection and his ascension to heaven, the Saviour received the Spirit from his Father in heaven; and by the Spirit he will raise his people from the dead. And so, just as we now bear the likeness of the earthly man, Adam, so one day we shall bear the likeness of the heavenly man, because when he comes again, he will raise our dead bodies from the grave and transform them by his Spirit.
Verses 50 to 58
So far Paul has been writing about the resurrection of the dead. But in the following verses he wants to reveal to his readers a mystery. And remember: in the Bible a mystery is not something which is hard to figure out; it’s something which is impossible to figure out; a mystery is something we would never work out by ourselves; a mystery is something which God must reveal. And here he is, revealing a mystery to us through the Apostle Paul. And what is the mystery? Well, it’s there in verse 51 and it’s this: whereas we will not all sleep or die before the coming of the Lord, nevertheless we will all be changed. So, when Christ comes, the dead will be raised and changed. That’s what Paul has been writing about; they’ll be raised with renewed bodies, bodies which are perfectly suited for life in the world to come. But what no one knew until Paul wrote these words is that even those who are alive at the coming of the Lord will be changed. Their bodies will also be transformed in order to make them perfectly suited for life in the world to come.
And the transformation will take place in an instant. Most things in life take time. For instance, people who want to get fit know that it takes time and it takes effort: weeks and weeks of dieting and exercising. Or take gardening: it takes weeks for seed to grow into flowers; it takes years for a tree to grow. But the transformation we will experience when Christ comes again will take place in an instant: in a flash; in the twinkling of an eye; at the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound — signalling the coming of the Lord and his victory over his enemies — and the dead will be raised imperishable. And we will all — those who died and those who are still alive — we will all be changed, so that the perishable becomes imperishable and the mortal becomes immortal. What was once subject to decay will no longer be subject to decay; and the body we receive at the resurrection will not be able to perish or die. And that will be the end of death, because no one will ever die again; and instead the Lord’s people will live with the Lord for ever.
Well, in verses 55 and 56 Paul refers to the law and to sin. You see, the law says that the penalty for sin is death; and that everyone who sins must die. But since Christ paid the penalty in our place, death’s right to hold us in its grip is destroyed. And so, in verse 55 Paul taunts death and mocks it: it’s lost its power over us; it’s lost its power to sting us and to hurt us and to harm us. It has been conquered. And even though we will still die, and our bodies will be laid in the ground, we know that one day we will be raised to live forever and forever with our Saviour who has conquered death for us.
This is the future the Lord has in store for us and for all who believe in his Son. Whether we’re alive or dead at his coming, we will be transformed in an instant and will receive a body which is perfectly suited for life in the world to come, a body which will not perish and we will be with the Lord for ever.
And knowing this, believing this, will transform our lives in this present world. We learn that from those verses which we skipped over earlier; and we learn it from the final verse of this chapter. Back in verses 30 to 34, Paul outlines two kinds of life. One kind of life is the life of the unbeliever who does not believe in the resurrection of the dead or eternal life in the presence of the Lord. And since that person has nothing to look forward to in the future, since that person has nothing better to look forward to, he has to make the most of this world. If this life is all we have, then we should make sure we get the most out of it, because this is the best it will ever be. And that’s the attitude of so many people today, who do not believe in God, and who do not believe in the life to come, and who therefore believe that this life is all they have. Since this is all we have, then let’s eat and drink and enjoy today, because tomorrow we may die; and that will be the end of it.
But then there was Paul’s life; and his life was a life of suffering and danger. So, every hour of every day, his life was in danger. He writes in verse 31 about dying every day and in verse 32 of facing wild beasts; he’s probably referring there, not to literal wild beasts, but to his enemies who were as fierce and as dangerous and as bloodthirsty as wild beasts and who attacked him mercilessly, day after day, whenever he got up to preach the good news of the gospel. Paul’s life was a life of suffering and danger.
Why was he prepared to endure a life of suffering and danger? Why was he prepared to suffer in this way? Well, it’s because he believed in the resurrection of the dead and in eternal life in the presence of God. He believed that beyond this life there was a better life, a far, far, far better life which Christ his Saviour had won for him and which he would give to him at the resurrection. And since he was looking forward to better things in the future, he was prepared to endure all things now. He was prepared to endure a life of suffering and danger now, because he knew there was something better in store for him in the future; and he knew that in a little while, in a little while, his suffering would be over and it would be replaced with joy in the presence of the Lord and eternal pleasures at God’s right hand.
Think of the student who must sit inside, even when the sun is shining outside. She must sit inside and study her books and do all her revision. And she’s prepared to persevere at it and to endure it, because she knows it will only be for a little while; and soon it will be over. She’s prepared to endure now, because she’s looking forward to better things in the future. And so, Paul was prepared to suffer now, because he was looking forward to better things in the future when Christ his Saviour returns to transform his people and give them everlasting life.
And in verse 58 Paul urges his readers — including us — to think of our present life in the same way. So, he instructs you to stand firm and let nothing move you. Let nothing move you from the hope you have of the resurrection and of everlasting life in the world to come. And in the meantime, while you wait for the Saviour to come again, give yourself fully to the work of the Lord. Don’t hold back, but obey him with all of your heart, seeking to do his will every day no matter what the cost, because no matter what the cost to you, no matter what suffering and hardships you have to endure, no matter what troubles and trials you might have to face, know for sure that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. If you believe and continue to believe, you will be saved from condemnation on the day when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead; and you will be brought in to enjoy that everlasting joy and pleasures forevermore which he has promised to all his faithful people.
So, given the great hope that he has placed before us of everlasting life in the world to come, stand firm in the faith; let nothing move you from it; give yourself fully to serving him in your daily lives; and know and believe that your work will not be wasted, because in the end you will be raised and transformed and will enjoy eternal rest in the world to come.