Ever since Greek philosophy began its influence on Christianity (which is pretty much from the time of the first Greek converts), believers have questioned the resurrection of the body. Today, many Christians still believe they will not have bodies in the resurrection, but will be pure spirit. Paul talked about this subject in his letters to the Corinthians, and he covered it very specifically in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Click on the link to read the passage, or look it up in your own bible. You’ll need the text, as I’m not including it with my commentary.
In order to get the full meaning of these verses, however, one has to read and understand at least the full chapter. In addition, it’s helpful to read commentary on the culture to which this letter was written. For an admittedly incomplete and unscholarly treatment, you are welcome to look over my earlier posts on chapter 15. I hope that they might be helpful to you, though they are mostly only my own thoughts.
We always want to know these little details, don’t we? This was as true of the Corinthian Christians as it is of us today. Some Christians feel that we will have no bodies at all, but this is unscriptural, not only because of the verses here, but also because of many other passages in the New Testament.
Others see us as insubstantial ghosts, perhaps like the comical ghost presences we have seen depicted on television and in the movies–able to walk through walls and flit about on the ceiling, but not able to pick up objects (or at least, not without a lot of hard, frustrating practice).
I think that if we were raised from death as pure spirit (the kind of spirit most of us have in mind when we say that word) that we would, having no boundaries to contain us, diffuse into the general background of everything. In other words, merge with the cosmos as some eastern religions teach. This is not the picture Jesus’ resurrection paints for us, however.
Paul thinks this a foolish question. The Corinthians can not see a dead, rotting corpse magically coming back to life. This is a hard picture for them to accept, especially since their culture had a general distaste for the concept of physical matter. Matter for them did not matter–it was intrinsically evil and could not be redeemed. Only the spirit was real, pure and true, and the spirit could not be influenced or soiled by the physical (hence, the rampant sexual wantonness of their religions and culture).
Paul points out that they are looking at the resurrection in the wrong way–the original body of a person is not the body that is to be, but is more to be compared to a seed. It always amazes me to look at a seed–often so tiny as to appear a mere speck, and yet containing information and life sufficient to produce usually quite a large and beautiful plant. This is the body that is sown in burial.
I like spruce trees–they’re among my favorites, and their seeds are almost a nothing. Their tiny cones have little seeds, each with a bit of a wing, between the petals. The cones are pretty things, but the seeds are mere black specks. That is our body, sown. But look what a great tree comes from that tiny, inconsequential speck. Amazing. Incredible. Magnificent–yet true.
So much for reincarnation. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, reincarnation is not in the picture. Everything produces after its own kind. If you sow a human, you do not get a rat or a lizard or a fish or a bird (or an angel, for that matter). If you sow a Jonathan, you do not get Kelsey or Colton–you get Jonathan.
Paul is talking, on the surface, of heavenly bodies such as planets and stars and earthly bodies as of animals and people. Beneath the surface, it seems likely he refers to our future bodies as “heavenly bodies” in contrast to our mortal earthly bodies.
As the celestial bodies can be distinguished from one another and each has its own glory, so we will retain our distinct identities in resurrection. The word glory has many meanings, but the original Greek definition has more to do with presenting a thing or a person with a true picture of his/her characteristics than with shiny, glowy, showy stuff. For obvious reasons, this true presentation always comes out in a positive light when applied to God. And because of Christ in us, it comes out in a positive light when applied to God’s people, as well.
So is the body that is raised the same body that died? Well, yes and no. The body that is raised is different, but it is produced from the body that is sown. Some of us have quite lovely bodies already and some of us would like to trade up, but however splendorous our present bodies may (or may not) be, they cannot compare to the body that is to come, even as the spruce seed cannot possibly convey the glory of the tree that it is destined to become.
God gave me what I call a mind picture when I was meditating on this verse one day. I know I won’t be able to show it to you adequately, but it was like this . . . I saw a shriveled up little seed planted and the new sprout coming out of it. It grew into a human body so beautiful and colorful and powerful that it took my breath away. In my mind, this was a beautifully gowned woman with long, flowing hair and such a serene and lovely face. She was so much greater and gladder and more full of love and life than anything I could ever imagine. My heart was filled with joy to realize this was a picture of what God has for us when His kingdom extends to fill the earth and drive away death and put to an end the reign of the prince of the power of the air.
This is the spiritual body–not an absense of form or a “freedom” from the body, but a glorious body like that God has always intended that we should have as His own dear children, as the bride of Christ, as befitting the members of His family–not because we are worthy, but because He is Love.
God had more for Adam than being purely a physical being. He was given the opportunity to choose community with God–to choose the way of the cross–to choose to sacrifice himself for others, in living solely to serve those he loved, as God had already chosen with respect to the community of the Trinity, and with respect to His new human children, but Adam chose self-determination, independence, and to live for himself.
It is not God’s goal to bring us back to the garden. God has always planned that we should be like Him–that we should embrace the way of the cross and thus rise to the full stature He intended for us. His plan is not complete in bringing us out of bondage to sin. The goal of our Lord has always been full sonship, full community with Him and with one another, complete immersion in His joy.
The physical must come first, and then the spiritual. Adam could have taken this path and arrived in straight progression at the goal God had set for him, but instead, he involved himself and all his offspring in a long and painful detour. Nevertheless, the goal has not changed, and that goal is not realized merely in getting us back onto the original path. Jesus gave us the power to become the sons of God. We do that by dying to ourselves and living to Him. God does that in us as He forms in us the image of His Son, as we grow into His likeness.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable. What does this mean? Does it mean our new bodies will be made of something other than flesh and blood? Could be. Does it matter? The point here is that they will be bodies–not some undefined whisp of a breeze–and that they will be produced from our physical bodies and yet be wholly other than them just as a spruce tree is wholly other than the seed it came from.
What’s more, our new, “other” spiritual bodies will be imperishable, incorruptible, immortal and perfectly suited for life in God’s Kingdom as His children.
Those of us who are alive and remain will not die, but we, too, must have new bodies suitable to our new life. I believe that this will happen to some of us alive today, but then, Paul probably thought that at the time he wrote this, too. Never mind. I’m the one that’s right. 😉
The point of this statement of Paul’s, though, is to tie up the loose ends the Corinthians are sure to ask about. Yes, those who have not died and been buried will still need to be changed, and will be changed, in order to have a body suitable to that new life over whose threshold we will then be crossing.
No more death. Swallowed up in victory! Likewise no more pain or hunger, heartache or rejection, wars or bloodshed. Death is swallowed up in victory and we are the victors thanks to the grace of our loving, powerful, and all-wise God.
Because we know the ultimate consumation of the ages, how can death any longer hold any power of fear over us? Any suffering the enemy may bring to us cannot be compared to the glories to come. It is temporary; they are eternal–never ending–continuing on for ever and ever and ever.
The only reason death ever had a sting was that we stood condemned because of our sin and because we were born to Adam’s race and were therefore sinners by nature, incapable of righteousness.
Jesus Christ, as the “last Adam,” brought Adam’s race to a close for those people who would willingly follow Him to the cross. As the “second man,” Jesus began a new race–a race not enslaved to sin but alive to God–a race destined for full sonship to God Almighty–a race destined to live forever in complete and unending joyful fellowship with God and with one another.
This is the victory. Our entrance into that divine fellowship of joy and creativity and mutual love that goes on through the unending ages and never, ever comes to a close.
Is this good enough? You betcha. Is there any price too great to attain such a joy, a prize, a reward? And God wants us to have this reward, just as you want, more than anything, to give good and important and lasting gifts to your own children and see them accept and treasure those gifts, and enjoy them in fellowship with you. So press on toward the finish-line. Make it your only goal to attain the high calling of God in our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace to you,