41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised 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. 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, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O 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! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
–1 Corinthians 15.41-58 (NIV)
This week we have been looking at the longest biblical exposition of the resurrection of the dead. Paul has been thorough about it, reminding us about the truth of Jesus’ own resurrection and how in it we have a preview of coming attractions regarding God’s New Creation and our own resurrection. What is noticeable in all this is that there is no OT precedent for a two stage resurrection of the dead. This is further evidence that something powerful and unique happened on that first Easter morning and we ignore it at our own peril.
In today’s passage, Paul finishes up his exposition on the resurrection of the body. As we have seen, when the first Christians spoke of the resurrection, they were not talking about dying and going to heaven to live forever in some disembodied state. No, as Paul explains here, the first Christians had in mind bodily resurrection in which our mortal bodies would be raised and reanimated by God’s Spirit, just the way Jesus’ mortal body had been.
This was and is the Christian hope.
When Paul speaks of a spiritual body, he is not talking about some disembodied state. He is talking about what will animate our new resurrection bodies–God’s Spirit. That is why Paul tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God because flesh and blood or mortal. Our mortal life is in the blood and we must one day die because of sin in our mortal bodies (the first Adam who brought about death). But when our mortal bodies are raised on the Last Day when the trumpet sounds–biblical speech that refers to signaling the New Creation is upon us–when Christ returns with great power and glory to finish the work he started at his First Coming, our bodies will no longer be perishable but imperishable because those who belong to Christ, the second and life-giving Adam. As Paul reminds us in today’s passage, then death will be truly vanquished forever. Neither will we be subject to sickness, decay, or anything else that can go wrong with our bodies. We will be alive and living directly in God’s Presence, never to be separated from him again. Clearly, then, we can see that Paul is not talking about some form of resuscitation of our mortal bodies, but of actual transformation of our mortal bodies.
To be sure when we die there will be an intermediate state where we will go and rest with the Lord as a disembodied spirit (cf. John 14.1-9; Luke 23.40-43; Philippians 1.22-24). To be with Jesus is surely a wonderful thing, but that is not our permanent destination. Our permanent home will be in God’s New Creation where there will be no more suffering, sorrow, hurt, despair, brokenness, loneliness, alienation, sickness, or death. None of it. As we have just seen, we will get to live in God’s direct Presence and for those who love the Lord, this will be something unimaginably wonderful!
“That’s all well and good,” you might say, “but that’s way off in the future (maybe). What does the resurrection of the body have to do with me today?” Just this. In raising Jesus from the dead as first-fruits of the general resurrection of the dead and as the promise of New Creation, God is telling us in a powerful way that creation matters to him and so it should matter to us. If God intends to set his fallen creation and creatures aright in the New Creation, so we who follow Jesus must resolve to work to bring about New Creation in ways that are possible for us and with his help through the Holy Spirit. In Jesus, God himself has given us an example of how he wants us to live. It is the way of the cross and it involves giving our lives completely to God in service to him and others. We can be sure to encounter opposition along the way, sometimes violent and severe opposition, but because we have our resurrection hope, that will not deter us.
Look around God’s good but fallen creation. There is plenty of work to be done on God’s behalf. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that we need to care about what is going on in this world and open ourselves up to the guidance of his Holy Spirit so that he can use us as his Kingdom agents. By our loving service to God and others, we can have confidence that God will use us to bring his healing love and mercy to others who desperately need it and in doing so, we reveal God’s glory to his broken and hurting world. I don’t know what God is calling you to do–and it doesn’t have to be anything spectacular–but he is surely calling you to do something in his Name and service, and he is asking you to do it simply in the context of your own life. When you say yes to his gracious invitation to have life in Christ, you can be sure that you will be living life to its fullest. You will know what it means to have abundant life and you will have it, not by self-aggrandizement but through selfless and sacrificial love, the same kind of love that our Lord demonstrated when he walked this earth. Think about this. Each of us has the opportunity to mimic our Lord. Is that not just the coolest thing ever?
Here then is the complete package for life. In Jesus’ resurrection we have the assurance of life forever, of being intimately connected to the Source and Author of all life, now by the power and Presence of his Holy Spirit living in us and then in his Direct Presence. We also have our marching orders for this life in which we will find meaning and fulfillment, even as we encounter resistance and opposition. But when the latter happens, we also have confidence that nothing in all creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. We know this to be true because we have the very life of Christ and his first disciples as powerful examples that even in the midst of utter despair, there is real hope. We have real hope because we have a God who loves us and delivers for us in and through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
If you have not yet discovered this rich secret, take a chance and ask Jesus to come into your life and make you his own. It will be the best decision you ever make. And for those of you who know and enjoy this kind of relationship with Jesus already, take a moment today and stop to give thanks and praise to this wondrous God of yours who loves you, created you to have relationship with him, and took care of knocking down all the barriers that prevented you from having the kind of relationship with God that he intends for you to have.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!