In the 19th century, Anne R. Cousin penned this wonderful poem:
This 19th century poem reminds us about the weightiness of the resurrection. As is shown in the past two studies, we may be aware of this glorious truth, but perhaps we have not seen its grand scope and immense implications. Sometimes, the resurrection of Jesus is at best stated at a fact: because He was raised from the dead, we too will be raised from the dead. That is amazing news. But there is so much more to the resurrection of the promise that we will be raised from the dead.
In our previous session, we examined 1 Cor 15:1-35, looking at the truth and power of the resurrection. In this study, we continue our study of 1 Corinthians, looking at verses 35 to 58, and later at Romans 8. Through this study, we aim to highlight how the resurrection is a cosmic event; an event of grander scale, above the resuscitation of a physical body.
(A) The resurrection body we will receive (1 Cor 15:1-35)
In 1 Cor 15:35, Paul anticipates (and later addresses) two questions, namely, how the dead are dead raised; (1 Cor 15:35a) and with what kind of body they will obtain (1 Cor 15:35b). The first question (“How are the dead raised?”) addresses the mechanics or the energy by which the dead are raised; the second question about the kind of body by which we are raised.
In order to understand the answers to these questions, we must first pause to consider the corruption of our own current bodies, and the significance of the resurrection of Christ for us. We should know, as we read, that our bodies need a resurrection. In the context of a fallen world, marred by sin, we need to understand that every day, we are dying. These questions are not merely academic or intellectual considerations, but they are deeply existential, and pertain to all our lives!
And with that in mind, we can ask ourselves: how does Paul answer the question about “How are the dead raised”? To do so, we need to understand what the Jews believed about the resurrection, and how Jesus changed this.
Daniel 12 is crucial in helping us to understand their perspective. Dan 12:1-3 tells us that the resurrection is shown as a historical and a corporate end-time event that will surely come to past. All will be raised on the last day, but some will be brought to “life”, and others to “shame and everlasting contempt”. From this, we see that life is not merely just the mechanical state of breathing. Instead, it refers to a state that only the righteous may attain. Clearly, all are raised: and some are brought to life, and others to contempt. The resurrection is therefore seemed as a near cataclysmic event, at the end of time, where all are raised before God, some to life and others to condemnation.
In John 11:24, Martha’s confidence that Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection of the last day” affirms Daniel 12’s depiction of the resurrection as a future event, again showing that the resurrection is an event where all will be raised, and some brought to life. Clearly, The early followers of Jesus believed in Daniel 12.
We should understand, based on these two references, that nobody believed in individual resurrection in the ancient world, that an individual can come back to life from the dead, and stay alive. Even for people like Lazarus, they all die again. The resurrection of the dead is seen as the event where we come to life, meet God, and that is the end of time! No one in the ancient world believed in an individual resurrection, where one can comes back to life, and never die again.
And what does Paul say in 1 Cor 15? Remember that he speaks there to Christians believing in the divinity of Jesus. It is clear there that Corinthians believed or at least heard about the Cross and the resurrection; that was the message proclaimed to them, as we read the first few verses of 1 Cor 15. However, their questions in 1 Cor 15:35-36 refer to our resurrection. The Corinthians did not fully believe in our resurrection, or the resurrection of the dead apart from Jesus.
Furthermore, the Corinthians were former Jewish Christians, believing the resurrection as a cataclysmic end-time event. Hence, we may reconstruct their reasoning as follows: if the resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection, then is the world ending now? How can we make sense of all this?
What does Paul say in response? We can look back at 1 Cor 15:20-23 to examine his response. He makes 2 points:
Jesus was raised; His resurrection is a historical fact (1 Cor 15: 20)
You also will be raised! (1 Cor 15:22)
In 1 Cor 15:22-23, Paul makes the point that Jesus’s resurrection and our future resurrection is similar, with Christ as the “firstfruits” of our future resurrection. How will the dead be raised? In the same way that Jesus was raised! Paul uses an analogy of sowing seeds to explain this (1 Cor 15: 36-37):
“You foolish person! 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.” (1 Cor 15:36-37)
To understand Paul’s analogy of the seed, we should consider what it means to sow a seed. When departed from the plant, the seed is dead. But when placed in the ground, new life bursts forth from what is dead. This is a metaphor for 2 things: the crucified body of Christ and the new life that the same body experiences.
The post-resurrection accounts of Jesus stress that the body of Jesus resurrected is the same body crucified. This is exactly what Thomas encountered when he met Jesus when he touched and placed his hands in the wounds of Jesus. Paul goes on to say that the same power that raised Jesus is the same power that raises us!
Therefore, the initial question “how are the dead raised” is answered by saying that the dead are raised by the power that raised Jesus (1 Cor 15:45-49). We were like our father Adam in our experience of death but we will be like our new spiritual father, Christ, in our experience of the resurrection power and body.
The glory of our future body is not like the earthly body (1 Cor 15:39-44). Earthly body is dishonour, weakness and perishable. What is to come is imperishable, glorious, raised in power and spiritual. But this body to come, though “spiritual” is not just a spirit. We are not talking about a disembodied existence. It is a body and it will be imperishable. Of course it is both boggling and confusing, but it is also meant to be liberating.
Many of us read this and struggle to relate. Many of us have good health, good minds and everything kind of works the way it is supposed to. It may be really hard to relate to this as a young adult. But live a little longer and you will live to see that the body that you have is not an eternal one. Illness, disability, fatigue and ultimately death creeps in. Talk to any old person, and you realise that visits to the doctor’s office are common. Things that once used to work no longer work as well. We spend so much time trying to disguise the fact that our bodies are broken. Industries have arisen that focus on covering every blemish, wrinkle and curve. What will I be free of when God gives us that resurrection body? This is a body that is imperishable, full of glory and worth.
(B) A resurrection victory we should celebrate (1 Cor 1:50-58)
And it does not stop with the physical imperishability of our bodies. Paul expands his argument to help us see that the resurrection has much more to do with our individual bodies (1 Cor 15:50-53). Paul writes here to the “brothers” (an inclusive term referring to the church) that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”. He tells us that we cannot inherit His Kingdom apart from a resurrection body! And by addressing this to the church, Paul alludes that the imperishable body is a legal claim that all the redeemed, ransomed church of God may claim. And when shall this transformation take place? At the last trumpet; the last event of time, where God brings history to an end. And in a moment, we shall be changed.
1 Cor 15: 54- 58 includes a quote from Isaiah 25:8. He tells us that beyond receiving resurrected and perfected bodies, the larger significance behind these bodies is that the great victory over death is achieved! 1 Cor 15:56 in particular helps us to see that sin, our constant rebellion against God results in us standing condemned and cursed towards spiritual and physical death. The victorious cry that “death is swallowed up in victory” therefore implies a glorious truth: that the resurrection body we will receive will never sin again!
This means that the resurrection body is not just about increasing our anatomical or physical capabilities. The resurrection body goes even beyond a freedom from wear and tear, from sickness and disease. But more crucially, the resurrection body will have no desire for anything else, other than the glory of Jesus Christ! The same resurrection power that brought Jesus from the death is the same resurrection power that causes us to come alive from the dead, giving us our resurrected bodies. And at the end of time, all will look to our resurrected bodies and will say: “All praise to our Lord Jesus! All that we have comes from Him!” Our hearts will be in full, complete and joyful submission to Christ our Saviour.
The following statements may serve to give context to this wonderful truth about the resurrection body:
In Adam, it was possible not to sin, but he sinned.
Left in our sins, it was impossible for us not to sin.
When we are born again and our hearts are renewed, it is possible not to sin. We may reject and turn away from sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But when our regenerated hearts receive our resurrection bodies, we will not sin, and it will be impossible for us to do so!
The resurrection victory is thus the moment of transformation. And who is this victory from? From 1 Cor 15:57, we are reminded that the source, the fountainhead of this grand victory over sin, has always been “our Lord Jesus Christ”.
What does this truth about the resurrection body mean for us right now? We may face great disappointment and struggle with sin in our own lives at this moment, but the hope we have is echoed in the hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”:
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its pow'r
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.
What a great victory it will be, and what a joy for us: that with resurrected bodies that will not sin, we will truly see that “all the ransomed church will be saved to sin no more”!
The final words of this chapter in 1 Cor 15:58 show us how we should live in light of these grand truths about the resurrection. If the victory is guaranteed, and sin will truly removed from us, should we not then persevere? In this light, verse 58 urges us to be “steadfast”. In spite of whatever criticism or obstacles or trials we will faced, we can truly be “immovable”: we can continue to hold fast to Christ, knowing that the final victory is secure! Furthermore, we can “abound” in His work: to do more for His glory, in light of the glorious victory to come.
And so how do we celebrate the news of the glorious victory to come? We celebrate by staying the course in this present time.
(C) A resurrection glory we should anticipate (Rom 8:18-25)
Rom 8 extend our consideration of the resurrection even further, by giving us a glimpse of the future glory to come!
We can see this more as we examine these verses, looking at the way Paul writes about the present (“Now”) and the future (“Then”) :
Paul recognises that while we have the wonderful presence of the Spirit to lead and guide, we are still in pain, in misery, in the daily struggle of living in a fallen, sinful world (Rom 8:19). This is why we groan. Whatever great Christians experience we have in our life is but a taster of the greater glory to come. What we have now are merely the firstfruits.
But we are not alone in this waiting. Rom 8 tells us that creation waits with eager longing, for the revealing of the sons of God. Everything in our world has been made looks forward to a future state: for the revealing of the Sons of God. Right now, creation is broken, but creation is also waiting for the Christian’s transformation in the future!
Rom 8:21b helps us understand what this glorious future looks like. In that day, we will receive a redemption of our bodies, and ultimately, the realized hope of salvation: “The freedom of the glory of the children of God”! Then we know that creation will be set free from the bondage to decay, and obtain the freedom of the sons of God.
At this point, it would be helpful to remember that Paul is speaking about cosmic things, beyond our individual selves. Yes, our individual, inward struggle and groaning is real, but so is creation’s! He is saying that there is inward groaning in the Christian life; we are not where we will one day be. We have not received what we will promise. We are groaning inwardly, for the world does not satisfy. And at times, our effort and will seems futile: how we long to free from our sins! We wait eagerly for the glory to be revealed to us. This world is also clearly not as it ought to be, and creation desires to enter into the same freedom as the children of God. How does creation enter into the same freedom? Here, Paul alludes to the resurrection of all things. He suggests that the resurrection of Jesus that patterns our resurrection, points towards a larger truth: that God will make all things new!
What does this mean for us? We learn that God is not just “teleporting us to Heaven” when we die! We are reminded about the extent of resurrection and glorification: that God will one day redeem all things. In our work in the present day, perhaps some of us may struggle with understanding how our labour relates to Christ. In this confusion, the hope that we have is that God will one day redeem all things. All sin will be removed; and so, when we struggle with work, with toil, with boredom: we remind ourselves that God will redeem all things. We learn from Rom 8:19-25 that we are meant for a new world: a new creation made for new creations, where God alone will be glorified.
It is therefore fitting to end with this exhortation, from 2 Pet 3:11-13:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
As we wait for the “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells, may we truly be people marked by holiness and godliness. May we fix our eyes upon Christ, remembering Him and waiting eagerly for His coming.