1 Corinthians #28
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We have been talking about the resurrection. We have learned that it is central to the Christian faith. We have also learned that it is important to keep in mind that this life on earth is only a small part of the eternity that the Lord has prepared for us. Now, Paul uses 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 to speculate a little bit about what the resurrection will be like.
Paul notes that some people have questions about resurrection: how does it happen? What kind of body will we have? Once we start thinking about resurrection, there are many other questions that come up also. Will we know each other? Do the dead have some sort of consciousness even before the physical resurrection that is to come?
Before we get too far into it, I want to make something quite clear. The bible does not give us detailed answers to questions like these. As we have seen from 1 Corinthians 15, the bible is very positive that there is eternal life through Jesus Christ, and that eternal life includes a physical resurrection. But what exactly we will look like, what exactly we will do for eternity, whether or not our pets will be there – these types of questions are not answered in definitive detail. There are some things in the bible that suggest answers to some of our questions about resurrection and life after death, but a lot of it boils down to what I might call “informed guessing.”
Paul explains part of the problem in verses 36-38
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
We are like seeds, sitting in a seed packet, wondering what happens after we are planted, but having no point of reference. I’m growing zucchini squash in my garden right now. The seeds are smooth and flat, roughly the size of a fingernail, but oval shaped. There is kind of beveled border all around the edge of the seed. The seed is cream colored. Now, that seed is pure zucchini. There is nothing in the seed that is anything other than zucchini. It contains every part of the DNA of a full zucchini plant. And yet, the seed is nothing at all like the whole plant – in fact it isn’t even very much like the zucchini squash. The plant is green. It grows to over two feet tall, and more than four feet around of spreading green stalks and leaves. The flowers are long and yellow or orange. The zucchini “fruit” is a foot long or more, with white flesh and dark green skin. The seeds do not change their essential nature. The DNA of the grown plant is the same as the DNA of the seed that dies to produce the plant. Yet the plant is so much more than the seed. And no matter how long you took, you would never be able to imagine the plant merely from examining the seed.
Another illustration comes from the caterpillar and the butterfly. The caterpillar is nothing at like a butterfly. It is slow and ugly and it must crawl on the ground. The butterfly is pretty. It flies, flitting nimbly from flower to flower. And yet the are the same. The caterpillar becomes the butterfly.
This explains some things. We are like seeds talking to each other about what our mature plants will look like – but there is nothing in our experience or knowledge that will help us understand.
So Jesus said in one place that there will be no marriage in heaven. I’m always a little ambivalent about that. What’s wrong with marriage? We will be resurrected, we will have physical existence, and yet things will be entirely different – as different as a seed from the mature plant. It would kind of like the seeds asking if they get to hang out in the little seed envelope with other seeds, once they are mature plants. It’s as if we are caterpillars, wondering if we’ll still get to eat our favorite leaves after we become butterflies – but we haven’t even dreamed of the possibility of drinking nectar from flowers. The kinds of questions we have probably don’t even apply.
Jesus had a resurrected body. This is just pure speculation now – don’t make a doctrine out of what I’m about to write. But it may be that we can learn something from the records we have of Jesus after his resurrection. His body looked human – it had two arms, two legs and so on. And yet, on multiple occasions, those who had known him well failed to recognize him. (John 20:10-15, 21:4, Luke 24:13-32). In those instances, Jesus said something or did something to open their eyes to who he was. So apparently our bodies don’t have to look like our earthly bodies if we don’t want them to. Maybe we can appear in whatever form we choose. Obviously, the wounds on Jesus’ hands were not visible to the disciples who walked with him for hours on the road to Emmaus, or they would have made some comment. And yet, when he chose, he made those wounds visible to Thomas.
Jesus ate food, made a fire and walked around in his resurrection body. That all sounds pretty normal. He also passed through locked doors and moved instantly to other places far away. That sounds kind of fun to me. My personal feeling is that Jesus’ resurrection body is operating in more dimensions than we can perceive. Our bodies operate in the three dimensions of space, and we also interact with the fourth dimension of time. Respectable scientists have theorized that there as many as ten different dimensions in the universe. My belief is that Jesus’ body operated (and still does) in space and time, but at the same time, it also operates in dimensions that we can’t perceive. Maybe our bodies will be like that.
Paul does tell us one thing one. He says our resurrected bodies will be “imperishable” or “incorruptible.” The word “perishable” or “corruptible” has several nuances of meaning. (In Greek it is phthora; fqora) It can mean something that ultimately decays and rots. But it can also mean moral decay, moral corruption. We all know (and Paul points out) that our present bodies decay. We all know that we are morally corruptible. But, Paul says that will not be the case after the resurrection. Our bodies will not decay and break down. Our moral will, the pure heart that is given to us by Jesus, will not ever be corrupted.
Paul says what we sow now is sown in corruption, dishonor and weakness. He isn’t blind to what’s going on here on earth. But the resurrection will be in incorruptibility, in glory and in power. Our present bodies aren’t suited to live forever. Our present soul suffers the effects of sin. But our future body will be indestructible. In the future, our souls will also be indestructible – safe from sin and corruption.
Verse 44 mentions a “natural body” and a “spiritual body.” Clearly the “natural body” refers to what we have now. But the spiritual body does not mean that it is all spiritual and we won’t have physical existence. We have already seen clearly that the Bible teaches there is a physical resurrection. The term “spiritual body” is almost an oxymoron. But clearly, by using the word body, Paul has something physical in mind – but something spiritual also. I think what he means is this. Our spirit has already been perfect in Jesus Christ. We are already – in spirit – cleansed from our sin, holy, blameless, powerful, righteous and so on. At the resurrection, our bodies and souls will upgraded to match that spiritual condition of perfection.
I have always wondered about some other things. Do we go to be with Jesus as soon as we die, or are we “unconscious” of time, so to speak, until the physical resurrection? I don’t think I can give you an answer beyond all doubt, but there are some things in scripture that seem to point to the idea that as soon as we die, our spirits go be with Jesus (if we trust him) or to hell (if we rejected Jesus).
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus told a parable about two men who died. The point of the parable is not to describe heaven or hell, so we need to be careful not to be overly dogmatic here. However, the parable reveals an afterlife where those who have faith wait for the end in bliss, while those who reject God suffer torment. Since Jesus told the parable, it seems to me that he does not object to that view of what happens right after someone dies.
Matthew 17:1-8 describes how Jesus was transfigured, and the disciples saw him as he met briefly with Moses and Elijah. Obviously, at that point, Moses and Elijah had been dead for many hundreds of years. Just as obviously, the physical resurrection of Jesus had not yet happened, nor has the physical resurrection at the end of the world. But there are Moses and Elijah – in existence, interacting with Jesus. Now the point is not the continuing awareness of Moses and Elijah – the point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. However, it suggests (though it does not prove) that people are spiritually alive and aware even before the resurrection at the end.
The book of Revelation records this scene:
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth? ”So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until the number would be completed of their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been. (6:9-11)
Another verse in revelation says this:
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit,” they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”(Rev 14:13)
And finally, one more:
13Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from? ” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16They will no longer hunger; they will no longer thirst; the sun will no longer strike them, nor will any heat. 17For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:13-17)
All this seems to come before the final resurrection. I think sometimes we confuse this continuing spiritual existence with the physical resurrection from death. I’m not sure it matters all that much, because it’s all pretty good for those who trust Jesus, and pretty bad for those who don’t.
Peter writes that in the “day of the Lord” the heavens and the earth will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10). Revelation 21:1 affirms that, and declares that God will make a new heaven and a new earth. What is the point of the new earth if we don’t have bodies?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed.I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.
Paul closes with these thoughts:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.