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The Resurrection of the Dead


*1 Corinthians 15:42-49
April 21, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 17:45 in the audio file.



Or, Sown and Raised with the Last Adam

Every Lord’s Day is good and to be received from God as a blessing to His people, but in some ways the brightness of those Sundays are like moons reflecting the full glory of Resurrection Sunday. It doesn’t really matter whether you follow the venerable Bede’s calculations about the proper day of Spring to celebrate the empty tomb, Easter is a highlight of our worshipping year as the body of Christ.

In God’s providence I reached 1 Corinthians 15 at the beginning of March and, though Easter is later on the calendar this year, I didn’t have to stretch the series to make sure to stay in the chapter by this day. This chapter is the definitive chapter on the resurrection of the dead in all of Scripture. It begins with the historic and prophetic facts: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, He was buried, He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and he appeared to Peter, the other apostles, and Paul himself later on. In The Early History of Rome Livy admitted that “the mists of antiquity cannot always be pierced,” but as for Christ, the truth of His resurrection is as open and clear as when the angels rolled back the stone of His tomb.

What some of the Corinthians began to challenge, though, is whether Christ’s resurrection had any meaning for Christians beyond being a point of belief. From verses 12-34 Paul answers this challenge. Christ is the firstfruits from the dead, and that means there will be secondfruits. One resurrection leads to many more.

The second question is, then, when the dead are raised, “with what kind of body do they come?” This is the challenge taken up in verse 35 which we began to consider last Sunday. Without hesitation Paul answered the challenge by pointing to God’s creative flair. The Lord turns bare seeds into fruitful plants, He differentiates kinds of flesh among living things, and He sets suns and moons and stars in the sky. These all point to God’s pattern of making fit as He sees fit. As the poet George Herbert wrote, “He that hath built the world can do much more” (from his 1633 poem, “The Sacrifice”).

The final answers to the question about what sort of body we will have in the resurrection come in verses 42-49. We will see two sets of contrasts. The body will be better than what we have now and that’s because of the better Adam we belong to.

A Better Body (verses 42-44)

Verse 42 opens with a conclusion indicator (“So also” NASB). God made it so that death transforms a seed, and He made many different seeds (verses 37-38). God made more than one kind of flesh (verse 39). God made more than one kind of glory for bodies (verses 40-41). So it is with the resurrection of the dead. The previous verses, though not using the word resurrection, set up this summary at the start of verse 42 which prepares us for more details in the second half of verse 42 through verse 44.

There are four contrasts between the sown and the raised, between the seed-body and the plant-body. These are not just contrasts between the corpse, but the body we live with before being buried. The intensity level rises like four crescendos in these four lines.

An Imperishable Body (verse 42b)

Of all the places to start, this one seems maybe the most obvious. The body we have now is breaking bad. Whether quickly and painfully or not, whether we recognize it or not, it is inevitable. What is sown is perishable. It is in a state of corruption, of gradual decline; the body we have is at best temporary, and at death begins to decompose into dust. This Greek word for perishable (ἀφθαρσία) translates words like “breath” and “vanity” in the OT.

But remember, this is not bad news for a seed. A seed is created as perishable by nature for something better. And, because of Christ, what is raised (from that perishable seed) is imperishable. Of course this is the opposite of perishable; the raised body is not provisional but eternal. It is not even subject to spoil. But this is not merely a comment about how long this body will last, it is even more about how complete this body will be. Paul uses imperishable next to “immortality” in verse 53. Yes the resurrected body will live forever. But the raised body will be more than durable, it will be the perfect body, the body brought to fruition.

[The] contrast to such decay would not be permanence or everlasting duration, but ethical, aesthetic, and psychosocial flourishing and abundance, even perhaps perfection, and certainly fullness of life. (Thiselton)

Our resurrection in Christ to eternal life is abundant life (John 10:10). It is not just forever living but full-bodied living.

A Glorious Body (verse 43a)

Death is the stripping of any and all physical show. The dead have no more pretenses to hide behind. But again, the seed is not anxious about the descent. If seeds had mouths you wouldn’t hear them screaming in terror as they left the farmer’s hand, you’d hear them yelling in anticipation: “Let’s do this!”

It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. The dishonor is not necessarily moral shame and scandal, but it is certainly physical loss and humiliation. In our seed-bodies we know trouble, we know what it means to be lowly (Philippians 3:21) and what it means to lament. The grave is just the last humbling. There is no more respect, no more praise; no one says, “His body looks even better now that he’s dead.”

In Christ, however, we will be raised in glory. This is what God does best. He is the very manifestation of glory, the Maker and bestower of glory. He’s already given glory to earthly and heavenly bodies (verse 40) and granted different glories to the sun, moon, and stars (verse 41). The process of glorification has already started for those who have turned to the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 3:18), and God purposes to finish the process (Romans 8:30).

More than being raised to honor, we will be raised to a magnificent radiance according to God’s re-creative pleasure. You will be a transcendent being, a sight to behold.

A Powerful Body (verse 43b)

Among all the adjectives to describe the human body, limited fits like a glove. We are in many ways defined by what we cannot do. This is not how it will for the resurrected.

It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. We are without strength, lacking might. Weakness could be from a debilitating sickness or disease, it could be the general condition of fragility. We do not share the same degree of weakness while alive, but we definitely share the same degree of weakness when we’re dead.

weakness denotes an incapacity to achieve such competency and the spiral of consequent frustration and deenergization through maximal unsuccessful effort and distraction. (Thiselton)

And again, this state of weakness is not the end state. We will be raised in power, with enlarged capabilities and abilities, with remarkable energy and endurance. We will not be raised omnipotent, but we will be raised über-potent. What sort of work is the Lord going to give us to be done with these sort of empowered bodies?

A Spiritual Body (verse 44)

The fourth contrast and fourth characteristic of our better resurrected bodies will lead into another, related contrast in the rest of the paragraph. Here it is expressed in the pattern of sown and raised. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. The word natural isn’t a different translation of “fleshly”; it doesn’t seem to be driven by blood and bones distinction. Natural translates the word psuchikon, something that is soul-ish, animated by the soul. The raised body is spiritual, pneumatikon, something that is spirit-ish, animated by the Spirit.

Every Christian is regenerated by the Spirit, walks in the Spirit, and is indwelt by the Spirit as a guarantee. The resurrected body will be made imperishable, glorious, and powerful by God’s eternal Spirit. The body is “not composed of ‘spirit’; it is a body adapted to the…existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit” (Fee, quoted by Thiselton). Those who are born again are partly animated by the Spirit already, those who are resurrected will be fully alive by the Spirit forever.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. What kind of body will be raised is becoming more clear.

A Better Adam (verses 45-49)

The rest of the paragraph fleshes out how we got the natural body and how we get the spiritual body. The contrast is between two Adams, a contrast Paul introduced in verses 21-22.

The Life-Giving Adam (verse 45-46)

Paul goes back to the beginning: Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. The quote comes from Genesis 2:7, though Paul adds “first…Adam” for clarity. In the garden this was an astonishing thing, the high-point in the creation week. “The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). Adam means “man” and he was the first. He was given life, soul (ψυχή), by His Maker.

But the last Adam, the final representative of a new race of men, was not just a man with a soul. He who is “the life” (John 14:6), who is “the resurrection and the life” (John 15:25), is the Man who “gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21).

This comes in order, as God ordained. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. This is an interesting qualification, and deserves more than a Duh. We know that this is how it worked out, but it worked out because of God’s will. He wanted the soul-in-body first and then the spirit-in-body last. The second Adam is not Plan B, the second Adam is the fulfillment of Plan A. Don’t despise the seed, just don’t treat the seed like it’s the finished produce.

The From-Above Adam (verse 47-49)

More than their substance, Paul contrasts the origin of each Adam. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As Genesis 2 already reminded us, God formed Adam from the dust and, after the fall, God told Adam that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). He was “earthy of earth,” he could have been named Dusty.

The second Adam took on flesh and lived among men, but He was not from around here. Jesus came from above, from heaven, and is “above all” (John 3:31).

When the question comes up about what sort of resurrected body we’ll have, part of the answer is that God will have no problem because of His recreative flair. The answer also includes God’s representative work in His Son. The last two verses of this paragraph emphasize our future Second Adam-ness.

As was the man of dust, so also are we who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. We’re born on earth and born from above. We follow Adam One and Adam Two. So, Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. We look like One already, we will look like the Last when He returns.

Borne and bear are like clothes. We do bear the image of God already, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:7. But there is more to the image of God than we currently bear.

The man of heaven came from heaven, and He’s coming again from heaven (Acts 1:11), and He will fit us with bodies like His for heaven.

Conclusion

“How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (verse 35). We will live in a perfected, glorified, empowered, and spiritual body like Christ eternally. There is still a lot we don’t know. But we do know that He was more than a “spirit,” He showed His disciples His “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39) before eating some fish (verse 43). He was still personal, He was recognizable, and His resurrected body is beyond the limits of our imagination.

As we consider our application of these truths on Easter, I am not telling you that processing death, yours or those you love, is easy, any more than I would try to tell you that Jesus wasn’t slandered and tortured and murdered. Good Friday wasn’t good because of what Christ endured, not because it was fun. I am not telling you to burn your list of things you’d love to do by God’s grace before you die. If it’s true that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (verse 58), why shouldn’t you want to do more?

But we are able to put death and life in perspective. What we know and experience now will be way better in the resurrection body in the likeness of the life-giving Adam.

See the true and better Adam
come to save the hell-bound man.
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
of the law; in Him we stand.
(“Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery”)

Adam grabbed at life that wasn’t promised to him and died, along with all those who bear his image. Jesus gave up His life to death and will raise with Him many sons to glory.


Charge

Beloved, this world is not your home, but it is your soil, it is where you are to be sown. The perishable will put on the imperishable, and this mortal body will put on immortality, but in the meantime, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in using your body as a living sacrifice for Him.

Benediction:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)