What is a resurrection body? When Christ returns, will our bodies be raised as well as our souls? What will our new bodies be like? This article discusses the resurrection of the body from the text of 1 Corinthians 15.

2008. 9 pages. Transcribed by Diana Bouwman. Transcription started at .

What Is a Resurrection Body? Heaven Series: Part Eight

Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-23; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.

We turn again to that theme that we began a while back: the theme of heaven. What is heaven? What do we believe about it? What is it like? Where is it? Who is there? We come back to this theme. I have been dividing the overall topic of heaven (it is really not the greatest title, because it is sort of misleading) and have been describing heaven in terms of two aspects of it. And by heaven I mean the ultimate final reality. There are two aspects to what we call heaven.

There is what is called by theologians the intermediate state; that is: what happens now if I should die before the Lord returns? So what happens between death and the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is called the intermediate state. It is not the final state. The final state is the other aspect. So there is this intermediate state.

And with that intermediate state we described things such as: Does heaven exist (recall Ecclesiastes 3)? What is heaven (Revelation 4, for example)? Where did Old Testament believers go after death? Well, they went to heaven. What did Jesus say about heaven? What did Paul say about heaven? And, our last sermon: If heaven exists, is there really a hell? That was from Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Divas. The intermediate state, we have seen then, exists. God has created it. Jesus and the apostles spoke of it. And we are inheritors of it, if we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Final State🔗

Now today we want to think about the first of a few sermons on the second aspect of heaven, and that is the final state. We are putting the intermediate state behind us now. What happens when the Lord Jesus Christ returns? What events are yet to transpire? And as we will see in our final sermon or two: What really is the final state going to be like in the new heavens and the new earth? The final state, then, is where we want to pick up.

We think about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, and we think about the words we recited from the Apostles Creed. Towards the very end, after we say, “I believe in God the Father…Jesus Christ…the Holy Spirit,” we confess to believe the resurrection of the body. And what is so amazing about that confession of faith is that we see its truth and we see it illustrated in this chapter of the apostle Paul. Because when we say the resurrection of the body, what we are saying is the resurrection of the flesh. The Latin term and the Greek term both in the ancient creed speak of flesh: ‘carnis’ and sarx’. The ‘body’ is one thing – that is how we describe it – but the ‘flesh’ is the most specific word that could be used.

You see, there were those who believed that Jesus had already come back. That is in 2 Timothy. “The resurrection has already occurred” some were saying already in those days. And the ancient Church faced a heresy called Gnosticism, which said that matter is evil and spirit is good, and so there was to be a resurrection, but not of the flesh. When Jesus returned he would raise our souls, he would raise our spirits into his heavenly existence, and our bodies would be there lying in a grave. Because after all, as the philosopher [Plato] said, the body is “the prison-house of the soul.”

We confess to believe the resurrection of the flesh. This stuff right here in front of you we believe will be raised, as Paul says to us. And so when I ask the question, 'What is a resurrection body?” I am asking that question. What do we mean when we say, “I believe the resurrection of the body, the resurrection of the flesh”? 

What is a Resurrection Body?🔗

And that is Paul's question. Look at verse 35. That is our first point: The question. Notice how Paul asks that. It is a question, and it is so amazing how he anticipates the objections, the curiosities, the questions, the things that we are thinking about.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?”1 Corinthians 15:35a, ESV

Have you ever thought about that? What about those who have been cremated? What about our forefathers in the faith who died in the mouths of lions? What about those who have been incinerated? How shall the dead be raised? He goes on to ask the second question:

With what kind of body do they come?”1 Corinthians 15:35b, ESV

Think about your friends who believe in reincarnation. Will you come back as a roach or as a higher being? And then when you ascend and you ascend and you ascend, will you then finally cease? You will be moulded into eternal bliss/nirvana – unconscious eternal existence.

“But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” These are precisely our questions. How is this going to happen? Who does the work? What will it be like? What kind of flesh will they have? What kind of body will they come in to that everlasting kingdom? That is our question. What is a resurrection body? How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?

Paul’s Answer🔗

Then notice how Paul answers the question. This is typical apostle Paul! He gives us an illustration, and then he explains the purpose of that illustration. So that is our second point: the answer. The question is very brief. What is this resurrection body? What are you hoping for? What are you looking for, beloved, when Christ will return? What are you expecting to happen when Christ says, “Come forth” and he speaks forth your name and your body and soul are united?

The Illustration of the Seed🔗

Paul answers the question by first of all giving us an illustration. He calls us foolish. “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” That is Jesus’ saying. Jesus spoke that very saying in John 12: that a seed must first fall to the ground and die before it comes to life, and so the Son of Man must himself die and be raised.

You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.1 Corinthians 15:36, ESV

“For man is appointed once to die, and then comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). His answer is to use the illustration of a seed and of a plant. His metaphors are about planting and harvest. Back in verse 20 and 23 already notice the word there: ‘firstfruits’. So there the metaphor/illustration was one of harvest. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. The resurrection, my friends, has already begun, and Jesus is the beginning of that resurrection. The resurrection is an event yet to come for us, but yet for Christ has already begun. He is the firstfruits, the “harvest” that God will raise up from the earth. Christ is the beginning of it. But then in verse 35 and following, the metaphor and the imagery shifts a little bit. It is not the harvest, but it is before that. It is a planting metaphor. That is the illustration there of a seed. He is describing planting a seed in the ground.

And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.1 Corinthians 15:37-38, ESV

Do you see his illustration here? You plant the seed in the ground, and that seed must first die, but that seed is not exactly what comes up, is it? The seed, as he describes it here, is simply “a bare kernel.” There is something greater to arise out of the ground. It is not as if the kernel is placed in the ground, or the seed is put in the dirt, and you water it, and then it comes forth in even bigger seeds! No, it is a bare kernel. It is a little minuscule seed. And from that comes forth wheat, or comes forth whatever else, a flower or a tree. And here, of course, he is speaking about us. What is planted and what is sown is this body, and what comes forth is something that is greater than it, although it comes forth from it and it is it. The seed must die before it becomes an ear of wheat.

As he continues to describe for us this seed imagery/illustration, he then goes on to say (as I began to read): “and to each kind of seed its own body.” It is not as if you plant a kernel of corn and you get a watermelon. You cannot plant a kernel of wheat and get barley. It does not work that way. There are all kinds of seeds and all kinds of bodies.

For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies.1 Corinthians 15:39

And their glory varies: The sun, the moon, the stars.

For star differs from star in glory.1 Corinthians 15:41b, ESV

The seed is planted, whatever the seed is. It dies. But then it comes to life again, and it brings forth whatever kind it is. Here is creation language! God creates all things, and they bring forth “according to their kind” (Genesis 1): The trees, the grains, the animals. So his answer is to give us this picture as we think about that. The seed dies, and it then comes to life, but all seeds are not made equal. There are different kinds of seeds and kernels. They all undergo the same process but they come forth differently.

The purpose of the illustration is found in verse 42: “So it is with the resurrection of the dead.” It is not just a good children's illustration; there is a purpose to it and there is a reason for what he says. He wants us to grasp it in the simplest of terms. Something must be sown. Something must die. Something will be raised, and it will have glory according to its kind. So is it with the resurrection of the dead.

Four Contrasts🔗

And then he goes on to give us four contrasts. Amazingly, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.” What is buried in the earth is a body that will perish. It will wither. It will turn dust to dust and ash to ash. But what will be raised is imperishable, never to decay, never to dissolve, never to cease. “It is sown in dishonour;” (because of our sins and because of the Fall of our first father, Adam), “it is raised in glory.” “It is sown in weakness; it is raised a spiritual body.” Think about your sickness, think about illness, think about disease, and think about death. What is sown in weakness is raised in power.

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. And there he speaks to us about the Holy Spirit. It is sown a natural, earthly, weak, perishable body, but yet what is raised is raised by the power of the Holy Spirit! The same Spirit who raised that lifeless valley of bones shall raise us. The same Spirit that raised Christ, the New Testament says, shall raise us! And we shall be therefore a spiritual body. Here is the role of the Holy Spirit in eschatology: to raise us gloriously; to powerfully raise us up; to transform us from perishable to imperishable, natural to spiritual; to make us fit for eternity.

Adam and Christ🔗

Now, you have to understand the next phrase. When Paul says, “What was sown in dishonour is raised in glory,” here he is thinking about the contrast between Adam and Christ. He gives these contrasts, and then he gives us the reason for those contrasts. He is thinking in terms of Adam and Jesus Christ. There is the first man, and there is the last Man. There is the first Adam, there is the Second Adam. There is the first representative, Adam, the one who stands in the place of all and by his Fall all of us have sinned. And there is Christ, the head of another group and another race. That is why in the first part of the text that I read Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ as being the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (verse 20).

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.1 Corinthians 15:21-22, ESV

There are two great figures. All of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, comes down to two people and two people alone. There are two men. Notice the language of the text: the first man and the last Adam, or the last Man. In terms of redemption, there are only two men. Do you think Paul in any way whatsoever believes that our works, however pious they sound, contributes anything? Two men: Adam and Christ. Period! There is no other person, persons, or thing that contributes. Adam and Jesus.

Jesus: The Life-Giving Spirit🔗

So he gives us these four contrasting phrases, and then he says, “Thus it is written.” He is saying, “Here is the proof of what I just said.” 1 Corinthians 15:45: “’The first man Adam became a living being’” (he became a ‘soul’) “the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” A soul and a life giving spirit. A living being: God makes him from the dust of the earth and he breathes into his nostrils a breath of life, and he becomes a living being, a soul, a ‘nephesh’, a human being. The last Adam, the last Man, the second Adam, though, becomes a “life-giving spirit.” Notice that! Adam's life is a receptive life; he becomes a living being. But Christ, the second Adam: his life flows forth from him to others. He is a life-giving spirit.

And there again it is the Holy Spirit the apostle Paul is thinking of. I say that because texts such as Acts 2, which describes for us the history of salvation, where at the Day of Pentecost the Spirit is poured out. And after the Spirit has been poured out, they hear the languages, and they hear Peter's explanation of the languages. And Peter describes Christ, who was put to death by their wicked hands. He was raised and he was exalted at the right hand of God. And as Peter says in Acts 2:33, now he is pouring out his Holy Spirit! The link between Christ and the Spirit is so united, because by the resurrection of Christ he receives his inheritance, which is the power of the Holy Spirit. And Christ is the One who pours the Spirit out upon the earth! He is a life-giving spirit.

The imagery that Peter uses is of a pitcher of water. Jesus is in heaven, and he has received from his Father the reward of his merits: the Holy Spirit. And Jesus pours out upon the Church, like you would pour a pitcher of water, the Spirit of God! He is a life-giving spirit. The first man became a living being, a soul, but yet the second Adam, the last Adam, became a life-giving spirit.

The Man of Dust and the Man of Heaven🔗

And then Paul describes it for us, saying, “It is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:46). What does he mean by that?

It is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

He is the God-Man. There is the incarnation.

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. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

We are “those who are of the dust.” This is why he says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Flesh and blood is natural. Flesh and blood is of the earth. Flesh and blood is of the dust. Flesh and blood as of this one who is a living being. Flesh and blood is a natural body. It is weakness. It is dishonour. It is perishable. It cannot enter God's kingdom! It is not made for that purpose. It is not capable of that purpose. It is not fit for that purpose. “But yet! I tell you a mystery…we shall be changed.”

So What Is a Resurrection Body?🔗

So what is a resurrection body? That is the question. He gives the answer in metaphor/illustration/descriptive language. It is earthly terms which we can grasp. Then he describes it in terms of the history of God's dealings with these two men: There is this One who is a life-giving spirit. What is a resurrection body? He describes for us in these terms in verse 49 that “we have borne the image of the man of dust.” We are of Adam. His image is imprinted upon our DNA. But “we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” We shall be like that glorious Saviour! So what is this resurrection body like? What is Paul saying to us about that final state, when Christ comes and the last trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, as Paul says? In the twinkling of an eye we shall be changed, imperishable, and become immortal. “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Bearing Jesus’ Image🔗

In the first place, in order to understand what a resurrection body is, above all other things you have to understand this: to understand the resurrection body you must look to Jesus. You must look to Jesus! What is a resurrection body? Look at Jesus. What will it be like on the last day? Look at the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scripture. What will I be like and how shall I live and how shall I move and what shall I be doing? Look at Christ. We shall bear his image (verse 49). We shall be like him, as 1 John 3:2 says. There the apostle John, who was the beloved apostle, who reclined upon Jesus breast, says this:

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.1 John 3:2, ESV

A resurrection body is to bear the image of the man of heaven. It is to be as the apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.Philippians 3:20-21, ESV

What is a resurrection body? It is to be conformed to Christ in the most ultimate way possible. Sanctification, of course, is being conformed to the image of Christ on an ongoing, continual, daily, lifelong basis. The resurrection body is the final phase of that sanctification. It is the ceasing of our sin, the Heidelberg Catechism says. And it is an entering into everlasting life. It is to be completely and climatically and consummately created into Christ's very image. We shall bear the image of the man of heaven. We shall be like him. We shall be like him in his glorious body.

I say that, and you might think, “Well, that does not say much.” Well, don't you grasp the mystery of the Scriptures? John the apostle says, “What we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). I cannot conjure up exactly what it is going to be like if the apostle cannot do it! There is mystery, and the reason for mystery is that we would hope and long and desire something greater than what we have already. But although we do not know what it is because it has not yet appeared, we will be like Christ. We have to be content to be Christ-like to have Christ's mind and Christ's Spirit within us.

Continuity with Our Present Body🔗

With that said though, secondly, what is a resurrection body? We know that a resurrection body has great similarity with the body that now exists. The body of this age shall be taken up in the age to come. What that means is this: Which body was raised from the tomb of Jesus – “crucified, dead and buried,” the Apostles’ Creed says? Which body arose? “Behold, he is not here; he is risen” (Matthew 28:6). The same body that lived, that died and that was buried was raised! All that was left were those burial clothes and the headdress. That is it! The body that was buried was raised. “He is not here; he is risen!” So there is great similarity between what is and what shall be.

After all, the disciples recognized Jesus (of course, after he turned away the scales from their eyes). They even ate with him along the seashore – a little fire, roasting fish. Jesus ate breakfast with his disciples. The Belgic Confession of Faith describes this for us like this: “For all the dead shall be raised out of the earth” (that is believers and unbelievers) “and their souls joined and united with their proper bodies in which they formerly lived” (Article 37). The Confession takes the account of Jesus' resurrection and the fact that we shall bear his image (we shall be like him, we shall be transformed like his glorious body), and we see his tomb empty, and so we believe and as confess that when we die now in the intermediate state, our soul goes to be in the presence of God, and our body lies there in a tomb or grave. On the last day when Jesus returns, our soul shall come with Christ from heaven and our bodies shall be summoned forth out of the earth, transformed and changed in the twinkling of an eye (as Paul says). But yet, that soul and that body shall be united, our Confession says, our soul with its “proper body.” That means the same body that was there shall be raised! Your body shall be raised. “In which they formerly lived”: Just in case we do not catch the message. Our souls “joined and united with their proper bodies in which they formerly lived.”

That might seem strange; that might seem weird; that might seem odd. It will make more sense when I describe to you in Revelation 21-22 the new heavens and the new earth. Why would God raise our bodies? We are going to be in heaven for eternity after all, right? Why do we need a body if we are in the presence of God? If we are floating on clouds with harps with wings? We need a body because we will have a new creation: a new heavens and a new earth. We need a body because Christ has a body. To be like Christ is to be conformed to his image, flesh and blood. Jesus says, “I am not a spirit; I am not a ghost. I am flesh and blood. Those do not have these wounds” (in his hand and in his side and in his feet). They saw him; they touched him; they conversed with him; they ate with him.

Different from Our Current Body🔗

So a resurrection body is to be like Christ and it has great continuity with the present body. But thirdly, as Paul describes for us in verse 59 and following, there is discontinuity, of course. That is Paul's point, right? The perishable shall become imperishable. That which is in dishonour, in glory. Weakness and power. Natural to a spiritual body. And that is why he says, “We shall be changed.”

The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.1 Corinthians 15:52b-53, ESV

You do not have that yet! You have not experienced that yet. But you will. In “the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet,” you shall be transformed. Here is the mystery, here is the secret that is now revealed to the sons and daughters of God. “Thanks be to God,” as Paul says, “who gives us the victory” through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

When you confess next Lord's Day morning that “I believe the resurrection of the body,” you are confessing that you shall be raised like unto Christ's body. You are confessing that your proper body, which will be buried in the earth, will rise. And you are confessing that that body, which is conformed to Christ image, shall be changed! It shall be made appropriate for everlasting life. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 5). How can this body inherit God's kingdom? Well, it will be changed, transformed, renewed, purged of its sins, and made unto everlasting life. You will be fit for that kingdom. You will be made appropriate for that dwelling place of God.

And that is what you hope for. That is what you are longing for. That is what you confess. That is what you believe. This is our resurrection body. This is our hope. And this is why Paul can say to us: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (verse 58).

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