Raised to Glory!
Topic: Resurrection Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:35-52
This morning we return to our series Growing in Grace, working our way passage by passage through the letter of 1 Corinthians. I often take a moment in the introduction of the messages to remind us that we come together not to be merely informed but transformed by the word of God. Transformation is the essence of the Christian experience. All those with saving faith are necessarily being transformed. Believers are new creations, being built up into the image of Christ.
This is a lifelong process. It has many ups and downs but there should be a general trend of growth until we are finally resurrected in glory when the process will be complete. All believers are born in the image of our fallen representative Adam, but are transformed into the image of Jesus, who is our new representative. That is the main point of the passage and of the message this morning, just as believers have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. Let me say that again, just as believers have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
This promise of physical resurrection raises several questions, and it was really confusing for early believers in Corinth because in their culture the whole point of salvation was thought of as escaping the constraints of the physical world and going instead to a spiritual realm. That was the Greek idea, so it didn’t make sense to them why anyone would want a body for eternity.
The gospel, however, doesn’t teach that we are left in a disembodied spiritual realm after death. Instead, the dead wait until God has conquered all our enemies including death, at which time the faithful are resurrected in glory. Paul is clarifying how it is that mortal bodies can inherit eternal life. He begins in chapter 15, at verse 35.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
The question of what kind of body this will be and how the dead are raised are legitimate questions when asked with sincere curiosity. Many in Corinth, however, were asking the questions sarcastically. The idea was so unthinkable that these questions were being used as taunts. That is why Paul begins by addressing them as fools.
They were arrogant and presumptuous. Since it didn’t make sense to them, they thought it was impossible, but their logic was faulty. They did not understand the power of God and so their conclusions were foolish. They thought it was obvious that a body could never enter eternal life, but they were wrong. That should be a lesson for us. We need to be careful not to throw out parts of God’s word simply because we cannot fully understand them.
Paul will use several illustrations drawn from Genesis to help us understand how it is possible for us to have a body in God’s eternal kingdom. The first illustration is that of a seed. The glorified body has the same relationship to our current body as a seed has to the plant. There is continuity, it is still our body, but there is also discontinuity. It is changed. It does not have the same attributes and form. When a seed falls to the ground, it is buried and begins to decompose but from it springs new life. In the same way, we bury our bodies, and they decompose, but through the power of God new life will spring from them. The life of the plant is in the seed, though in a sense, the seed must die for the plant to emerge.
Like a caterpillar emerging from a cocoon, we will be the same creature, but transformed into a glorious new state. Just as the caterpillar has a different type of body from the butterfly, although they are the same creature, so it will be with us.
The Corinthian deniers of resurrection didn’t understand how our flesh could be raised but Paul explains that even nature shows there are several different kinds of bodies. He says,
38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.
The book of Genesis teaches us the reason plants bear seed according to their kinds is because God commanded it to be that way. There are different categories of created bodies and it is God who determines what each one is. He has a purpose for each distinct type of body. Paul’s point is that not all bodies are of the same kind.
Having observed these truths about the plants and seeds from the 3rd day of creation and the various creatures from days 5 and 6, he now turns to the heavenly bodies from day 4. He says,
40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 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.
His point is that even among these heavenly bodies, which are the sun, the moon, and stars there are different levels of glory. These are all heavenly lights, but some are much brighter and more glorious than others. If you look into the sky on a clear night, you will notice a big difference between the brightness of Venus or Jupiter and the surrounding stars. Even if you know nothing about astronomy, you will certainly notice a difference between the stars and the moon or the sun. Just as not all earthly bodies are of the same type, neither do all heavenly bodies have the same glory or splendor.
Paul is pointing out that even if we carefully observe the natural bodies in the world around us, we will recognize that there are different types with different attributes and different levels of glory. We cannot assume all bodies are the same or that our resurrected body will have the same limitations as our current body. God can provide a body that is fit for eternity because it is his practice to create bodies fit for the purposes he has for them. Paul says,
42 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.
Our bodies that are buried are weak and perishable, but they will be raised imperishable. Just as a seed dies and is buried only to bring forth life, so too it is with us. When this body is buried, it is sown with the weakness and decay associated with living in the current age. But we will be raised fit for the age to come, never to decline and waste away again. We are raised imperishable.
Our bodies are sown in dishonor because they are buried because of death, which is the penalty for sin. It is dishonorable that we die, because death is the result of sin, but our resurrection is honorable because it points to us as being accepted by God and included as part of the renewed creation. This is what Romans 8:22–23 means when it says,
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
These redeemed bodies are raised in glory. Paul says,
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
It is important we don’t misunderstand what Paul is saying. Some have fallen into a similar error as the Corinthians by thinking that the contrast here between natural and spiritual is between material and immaterial. Paul is not contrasting material and immaterial bodies. Both are physical bodies. He is continuing his point that there are different types of physical bodies.
He is contrasting the current earthly body with the future resurrected body that has been conformed to the image of Christ. He is using the adjectives “natural” and “spiritual” just as he did in the earlier chapters of the letter, distinguishing those who have not been transformed by the spirit and thus are governed by fleshly human affections and impulses and who cannot accept the things of the Spirit as opposed to those who are believers in Jesus, who are spiritual because they have been reborn by the Spirit of God.
If you remember back to chapter 12, Paul explained that all believers are spiritual. We already have new life and thus we have already begun to be led by the Spirit. Our minds are already being transformed and we are already citizens of the Kingdom of God. What Paul is saying here is that there are more blessings yet to come. Yes, we have the spirit now. We already have the life of Christ. We have already died and been raised with Jesus; our spirit has been born again but that has not yet happened for our bodies.
We still struggle with the old nature. Paul is telling us that in the same way our heart is transformed, God will also transform and renew our body so that the power of the old man is completely vanquished. This transformation includes not just physical transformation but the perfect harmony and unity of us as redeemed people.
The spiritual body is one that is perfectly animated by the Spirit. We will be completely free from death and restored to life in the Spirit. We will have a renewed body and a renewed mind. Genesis 2:7 says that Adam became a living creature, but Jesus is himself the source of life. In John 5:25–29 Jesus says,
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life…
Notice that new life begins when the word of Christ is heard but it finds its fullness when even those in the tombs are raised. To have resurrected body as believers is to enter a new and elevated mode of existence in the fullness of life. It is to experience for the first time a life completely empowered and directed by the Spirit of Christ unstained and unclouded by sin or any of its effects. Jesus, who is the second Adam is not just living, he is life-giving.
What amazing promises we have in Christ! It is hard to even get our minds around what that would be like. We get to experience the joy of our salvation even now when we walk with Christ and yet this is just the beginning of glories. How foolish we are to ever hesitate to let go of our own pride and accept the gift of salvation God offers in Jesus! What magnificent things await those who put their trust in Jesus. Verse 46…
46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Having established that there are two kinds of bodies for human beings, Paul explains that the spiritual body must come after the natural body. In the same way that Jesus, the man from heaven, comes after Adam, the man from earth, our earthly body must come before our spiritual bodies.
Earlier in the letter Paul spent a lot of time contrasting those who were spiritual from those who were fleshly. Some of the Corinthians thought they were super spiritual, and Paul rebuked them. To be mature in faith is to be humble and loving and to recognize that we are no better than our brothers and sisters.
We often overestimate just how spiritual we are but here we see more clearly that we are all yet infants in Christ. Next time you are tempted to brag about how spiritual you are, just check and see if you still have a natural body. If so, then its best to keep it to yourself because you still have a long way to go.
Until now, all of us have only experienced the bodily existence we have inherited from Adam and Eve. But if Jesus is your savior, you can look forward with joy to a body designed for your new nature and eternal life. One where you will no longer have to struggle against the flesh to bear the image of the glory of God. We will become what we were created to be.
We were all born in the image of Adam and Adam was made from dirt. By faith, we are reborn in the image of Christ and Jesus came from heaven. By faith, we are united to Jesus and receive his life-giving Spirit that works in us to conform us to his image. The glory we look forward to is to be made like Jesus. Even now, God is using every experience and every struggle of faith to bring us closer to that reality. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:28–30,
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Here we have an unbreakable chain leading to the fulfillment of a promise. The promise is that
“Just as [believers] have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Those whom God foreknew, speaking of his election in grace, he also predestined, which means he had a definite outcome planned for them. What was the outcome? That they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That they would be made like Jesus. This is God’s purpose in the life of all believers, that we will be made like Jesus.
All those he predestined he also called, and all those who receive this call God justifies, and all those he justifies, he also glorifies. That means God resurrects every one of his children where we will no longer fall short of the glory of God as those called to bear his image, because we will be like Jesus. This is an infallible promise to all who believe secured by the power of God himself. That is why Philippians 3:20–21 says,
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Why would he do any of this? The answer cannot be found in us. Our hearts are selfish and sinful. We were all born spiritually dead and everything we ever did, even the good things, were tainted with selfish and sinful motivations rather than to bring him the glory he deserves. We deserve death as punishment for our sin but instead God sent his son Jesus to die in the place of all who would ever put their faith in him. He died so we can have life. He was crucified on a cross for our transgressions, dying in our place to satisfy the wrath of God against sin. But three days later, he was raised from the dead, and now offers eternal life to all who will repent and believe.
We can receive this new life even now. All we must do is believe. Believe and we receive eternal life immediately but that isn’t the end of the journey. God will continue the good work he began in us until he brings it to completion on the day of Jesus Christ. It is God’s work; it doesn’t come from us. It is all by the grace and power of God and it is a process.
We know life is often filled with disappointment even for believers. Even as believers we still fall into sin, and we still have pain and sorrow, but it won’t always be that way. As one preacher said, “Our afflictions may be lasting, but they are not everlasting.” What awaits believers is a future filled with such overwhelming majesty that even to glimpse it is life changing.
Believer, do you recognize in all this, even a little, the magnitude of how much God loves you? The better we understand how much God loves us and what he has done for us in Christ, the more of that glory we can taste now. The key to the Christian life is not to focus on our love for Christ but to walk in the joy of his love for us.
Are you lacking in devotion or growing cold in your affection for God? The answer isn’t to try harder to build up your love for him. The answer is to meditate upon his love for you. Are you struggling with sin and temptation? You will never overcome it by trying harder to be holy. The answer is to immerse yourself in the love of God in Christ and find your satisfaction in him.
There is nothing in us that is attractive, nothing in us that is good, nothing in us that is worthy of his attention and yet God has sent his son to die in our place so that we would be made fit to share in the glory of his eternal kingdom. Martin Luther observed,
“The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.”
From start to finish salvation is of the Lord. We can no more raise our hearts from the dead spiritually to begin our salvation than we can resurrect our bodies to complete it. We have nothing, we bring nothing, we are nothing… and he is everything. What grace is this that we who deserve death should inherit eternal life at the price of God’s own son? What mercy is this that we, whose best works are like filthy rags, should be glorified with God’s own son?
Do you see how much he loves you? What should we hold back from one who loves us like this? Why do we concern ourselves with the things of this world? Why do we hesitate to trust One who loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us when we were still his enemies? Why do we cling to this world and this flesh as if it is so precious when these are the very things we are being saved from?
What a blessing it will be to be freed from these weaknesses. It is the most absurd for any person to think they can earn salvation. It is only possible by the transforming power of God’s grace. Paul says,
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 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.
It seemed absurd to the ancient Greeks that bodies could enter eternity. They could only think of bodies as they now experience them, but Paul reveals that we will be changed. Our body will be raised, but it will be changed. Because of the love of God, we will be transformed by the power of God, from perishable to imperishable.
If you have ever seen children playing on a beach and making sandcastles, you know that sand and dirt do not make the best building materials. Sand is weak and unstable and so it can only be built up so high before it crumbles. A relatively weak wind or wave can wash it away. In fact, the world record height for a sandcastle is just under 70 feet tall but even this one only stood for a few months.
Compare this with just about any major city where you can see skyscrapers that soar above the horizon and are there for generations. The tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa, which is 2,722 feet tall and if properly maintained is expected to be functional for well over a century.
The thing is that the steel, concrete, and glass that skyscrapers are made of is just sand and dirt that have been transformed by processes that increase their strength and other attributes to make them suited to be used this way.
That is the way it is with us. We are like raw materials that require processing to be suited to God’s purpose for us. Paul says “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”
That’s why those who are alive when Jesus comes must also be transformed. We do not enter eternity as disembodied spirits, but as renovated humans. We don’t have a lot of detail on what this will be like. The one example we have is the resurrected body of Jesus. 1 John 3:2 says,
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye we will be changed. It is as if there is something about the revealing of the glory of our Lord, that at that moment when he comes and we see him, it will be such a profound experience that it is seeing the unveiled glory of Jesus itself that is the final step in our own transformation.
That is what we look forward to. Until then, we who have received new life in the Spirit are called to wait faithfully for our Lord. I will end with these words from the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon,
“If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes.”