Message # 57 | 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 | October 1, 2017

Introduction

Given the miraculous circumstances of Christ’s resurrections, it is not hard to understand why there have always been skeptics who have rejected the resurrection – or any resurrection at all. Some of the most prominent religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected the idea of a resurrection. Mark unfolds for us a story (12:18-27) in which the Sadducees offered Jesus a hypothetical scenario of a woman who ended up marrying seven brothers. They then asked, “In the resurrection, whey they rise again, whose wife will she be?” They were mocking the idea of a resurrection and intending to embarrass and shame Jesus for his teachings.

This is no new phenomenon. From Jesus day to the present, there have been people who have looked at the absolutely bizarre events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus and have concluded that it must be a myth. There must be no historic reliability to a fairytale that purports to events such as an earthquake breaking open tombs and dead people walking around. A curtain being rent in half. Darkness overwhelming the land in the middle of the day. An angelic being overwhelming soldiers at Jesus’ tomb. Those some soldiers not immediately prostrating themselves to God but instead running and making up a story with the religious leaders . . . and on and on the weird events unfold. There must not be any historic reliability to these events. And that is what Paul is as well dealing with in the Corinthian church.

These questions are a display of cynicism not genuine curiosity. Gnosticism rejected the idea of a physical resurrection because the physical being was evil. The flesh would have been something they wanted to rid themselves of. Therefore, for the Gnostics, a physical resurrection would not have been desirable. On the other hand Jewish rabbis of the day were teaching an extreme opposite to that of the Gnostics.  They likely had misinterpreted Job’s statement, “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26 ESV). This view is reflected in the pseudepigraphal writings of 2 Baruch.

For the earth shall then assuredly restore the dead . . . It shall make no change in their form, But as it has received, so shall it restore them, And as I delivered them unto it, so also shall it raise them. (2 Baruch 50:2)[1]

If this view was present in Corinth, all the more, we can understand the sarcasm and condescension of those affected by the Gnostics. They likely criticized the Christian belief of any kind of resurrection. This is likely the background to the questions in 1 Corinthians 15:35, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Cor 15:35 ESV).  We may have asked these same questions at some point in our lives, but the fact that Paul refers to those asking as “fools” seems to imply that something is going on here more than a sincere and honest inquiry.

You fool. Apparently the American colloquialism, “there are no stupid questions,” was lost on Paul. Paul considers these questions foolish. At least he considered those who asked them to be fools. This is the same demeanor Paul had with Agrippa in Acts 26, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8 ESV).  For Paul, the concept of a resurrection was very plausible. In fact, he would argue that we regularly see the same type of transformation occur each time we see a new plant come forth. And it is with the analogy of a plant we begin our walk through Paul’s description and characteristics of the resurrection body.

Characteristics of Resurrection

Your resurrected body requires death. Paul writes, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Cor 15:36). Paul helps us understand, what he appears to consider, a fairly simple concept. Our resurrected bodies will flow from the death of our earthly bodies – in the same way that a seed dies within the ground and grows into a tree.

And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. (1 Corinthians 15:37–38 ESV).

There is no way for our minds to grab a hold of this radical transformation from the earthly body to a heavenly resurrected body without the aid of figurative language. The vast majority of things that are buried (or could be buried) in the ground don’t produce some new form of life – but a seed does – and apparently so do our earthly bodies.

Christ uses same analogy. Christ used a similar analogy when speaking to his disciples about his impending death. “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 12:24 ESV). While it may be natural to fear the process of death, death itself ought not be feared, for as Erich Sauer writes, “Thus do the graveyards of man become the seed-plots of resurrection and the cemeteries of the people of God become through the heavenly dew the resurrection fields of the [promised] perfecting.”[2] Sauer draws this poetic statement from the writings of Isaiah. “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isaiah 26:19 ESV).

A challenge within the analogy. There is a challenge in this analogy, and its one that Paul will acknowledge a few verses later. What about those who don’t die? What about those who are still alive when Christ returns? Do they have to die? Will they receive a new body?

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor 15:51–52 ESV).

So while death is a requirement for this transformation to occur, those who have not died will still receive this transformation. Likely, this transformation, although accomplished in a moment, will involve the destruction of the earthly body (which could be considered death to the earthly body) and transformation to a heavenly form.

The product of transformation is different than original. There is an inherent implication within this seed and plant analogy, and it is one that Paul takes quite a bit of time to discuss. When a seed dies, it is not another seed that emerges from the ground. What emerges is a dramatically different form, which leads us to the second characteristic of our resurrected bodies.

Your resurrected body will be different than your present body. This reality is spread throughout these 24 verses (15:35-58). “What you sow is not the body that is to be” (1 Cor 15:37). It is different. God gives it a body that he has chosen. In the same way that humans, animals, birds, and fish all have a unique body for their particular environments, the heavenly form or body will as well be different than its earthly counterpart. In the same way that the sun, moon, and stars all possess their own unique glory, so will this new resurrected body. This new body must be different for Paul tells us that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50 ESV). “Verse 50 reminds us that our current sinful and mortal bodies are incapable and unworthy of coexisting with an infinite, holy God.”[3] Therefore a change must occur.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 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. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44 ESV).

Imperishable in contrast to perishable. Our resurrected bodies will know no sickness, decay, or death. On the other hand, our natural bodies are perishable. Solomon writes of this reality in Ecclesiastes. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecc 3:20 ESV). As well the Psalmists writes, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Ps 103:14–16 ESV). These perishable, earthly bodies need a dynamic overhaul. They would never last the glories of our new heavenly home. We need our earthly, perishable bodies to be transformed into heavenly, imperishable bodies.

Glory in contrast to dishonor. We were created to consistently reflect God’s character. Adam, for a brief moment was able to do this, but His sin was dishonoring to God. As well, his sin removed our ability to consistently and accurately reflect God’s character. This is the essence of sin. We sin by falling short of His glory (Rom 3:23). We consistently dishonor God by failing to consistently and accurately reflect His character in our lives. But the day will come when, in our resurrected bodies, we will be characterized by glory instead of dishonor.  We need our earthly, dishonorable bodies to be transformed into heavenly, glorious bodies.

Power in contrast to weakness. In our present forms, we are characterized by weakness. Through comparison with others, some consider themselves strong whether that is in the context of physical endurance, health, or mental capacity. Yet, in reality all of us possess weak physical bodies. Overtime, our bodies stoop and grown from years of life. Our eyes become foggy and begin to fail. Our hands tremble in our old age. Our backs and major muscle groups weaken. Our teeth become few. Our eyes lose their sparkle. Our ears become deaf, and yet we awaken at the softest sound. Our hair turns white or leaves us all together. Our minds become foggy and unreliable. Our immune systems falter and fail. Everyone’s body finally gives way to weakness and dies. This kind of weakness will never characterize the resurrected bodies. These weak and frail physical bodies will give way to powerful and robust bodies. We need our earthly, weak frames to be transformed into heavenly, powerful bodies.

Spiritual in contrast to natural. The final transformation Paul shares with the reader is in some sense a summary of the previous three. Some of these Corinthians were struggling conceiving of the resurrection because they knew that the human forms we presently possess are characterized by corruption, dishonor, and weakness. Why then would those defiled bodies be resurrected? Paul addresses this by telling them that these resurrected bodies will be spiritual instead of natural. They are not going to be a “spruced-up version of the physical body. The two bodies are totally different.”[4] Instead of possessing a body that is energized (or animated) by the human soul, we will possess a body that is energized by the Spirit of God. The spiritual body is one that has been completely transformed into the likeness of Christ. We need our earthly, soul-animated bodies to be transformed into heavenly, spiritual bodies.

Your resurrected body will be tailored to its new environment. Consider a wetsuit or spacesuit. Why does a diver wear a wetsuit as they search the bottom of some lake or ocean floor? Why do astronauts where a spacesuit as they float outside the safety of their shuttle or space station? Because, in their natural form, they couldn’t survive those drastically different environments. That wetsuit which holds water next to the skin keeping it warm and that spacesuit which allows for the astronaut to breathe and not have his blood boil were each crafted with a different environment in mind.

In similar fashion, as Paul mentions in these verses, God created people, animals, birds, and fish all uniquely equipped for their environments. “For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. (1 Corinthians 15:39 ESV). Humans have a specific fleshly design that allows them to thrive in its appropriate context. Birds are made different and in being formed differently are able to thrive in completely different context than humans. Fish were formed to inhabit the water in a way that no bird, animal, or human could survive. In each context, God formed a physical body to fit the environment in which it would dwell.

So what then is Paul’s point? “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50 ESV). This ought to be concerning to each of us because we are all “flesh and blood.” We are all “perishable,” and as a result cannot inherit the kingdom of God if we remain in this state. Therefore, “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53 ESV).

Therefore, God has designed an imperishable, powerful, glorious, spiritual body that is tailor made for his heavenly kingdom. It is this new body that we will each possess. We ought not struggle grasping God’s potential to do this because he has already, numerous times displayed his amazing creative ability in tailor fitting different bodies for specific environments. How much more is he capable of gifting his people with a body that will last throughout eternity.

Your resurrected body will still be you. It’s possible for someone to question whether or not all of these new glorious bodies will all be the same. After all, is their variety within perfection? Will we appear to be the same age? Will we all look the same? If we all possess a spiritual heavenly body, will we all think and act the same? Will we have distinct personalities? Will we have different abilities? Will we all be equally talented? Does every game end in a tie? No one made any mistakes after all!

Paul writes, “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” (1 Cor 15:41 ESV). Although each is glorious, it is distinct and uniquely glorious. Following Christ resurrection, his disciples recognized him.  He still had unique features. He likely had unique mannerisms and similar communication patterns. In essence, although transformed, he was still Jesus. And so it will be with each of us.

Conclusion

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58 ESV). Our assurance in the resurrection ought to concrete us in our certainty in God’s will. There ought to be nothing that shakes us.  Within this certainty, we are to be always pursuing even more service to the Lord. Because we know that the resurrection is a future reality, we ought to be motivated to draw others to Christ so that they as well can be resurrected in like manner. Our passion to serve ought to be a reflection of the same immense grace and passion that God pursued us.

This is a bit foreign to the entertainment culture in which we live. We as believers are called to suffer hardship and sacrifice as we unwaveringly serve the Lord. So many people need our help. So many believers need to hear the gospel. So many believers need our encouragement, exhortation, grace filled lives. So many of our church family need us to bear their burdens with them. And far too often we allow our desire for comfort and ease to keep us from such important work. So then, stand firm. Work hard. We aren’t working for something that is vain and pointless. Eternity is at stake.

Additional Quotes

Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, (Joel 2:1 ESV).

Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. (Zechariah 9:14 ESV).

And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31 ESV).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV).

There is a preacher of the old school but he speaks as boldly as ever. He is not popular, though the world is his parish and he travels every part of the globe and speaks in every language. He visits the poor, calls upon the rich, preaches to people of every religion and no religion, and the subject of his sermon is always the same. He is an eloquent preacher, often stirring feelings which no other preacher could, and bringing tears to eyes that never weep. His arguments none are able to refute, nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of this appeals. He shatters life with his message. Most people hate him; everyone fears him. His name? Death. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon.[5]

 

[1] 2 Baruch. Accessed September 27, 2017. http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/2Baruch.html

[2] Sauer, Erich. The Triumph of the Crucified: A Survey of the History of Salvation in the New Testament (Kindle Locations 2849-2854). Book Ministry. Kindle Edition.

[3] Blomberg, Craig L.. 1 Corinthians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 7) (p. 287). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[4] David Garland, 1 Corinthians, 733.

[5] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 441–442.

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