As we’ve been considering various portions of 1 Corinthians, we’ve spent some time in chapter 15 noting two key points Paul has kept hammering home:

First, Jesus Christ, after he died for our sins—according to the Scriptures; and was buried and raised on the third day—again, according to the Scriptures; appeared to many of those who had known and loved him prior to his dying. These included Peter, the Twelve, over 500 brothers and sisters at once, James, all of the apostles, and finally Paul who had been busily persecuting Christians until the risen Christ appeared to him.[1]

But, second, though the Corinthians actually believed the testimony of all of the above, that is, they believed that Jesus Christ had indeed risen from death, what Paul needed to convince them about was not that Jesus rose from death but that all who have placed their faith and trust in him will similarly rise from death. This latter point was what was being denied by some of these believers. Yet as we noted last week, Paul pointed out to them the necessity of Jesus’ followers also rising for if they are unable to rise from death, then neither did Jesus rise from death for though Christ Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human. So either he rose and others will rise or he didn’t rise and neither will anyone else. And if Jesus didn’t rise from death, then there’s no point to believing in him; or in preaching about him; and then Paul and all the rest have been lying about him; and there’s no hope for anyone living who believes in Christ nor for those who have died believing in Christ—if Christ didn’t rise from the dead. And if none of this is true then, to use Paul’s own words, “we are of all people most to be pitied”[2] for having been deluded, for having believed a lie, and for having taught and preached and lived out that lie. Again, if the resurrection of the dead is impossible, it’s impossible not only for us, but also for Christ who took on human form in the person of Jesus in order that he might take away our sins, conquer death,[3] destroy Satan,[4] and one day raise us with himself for all eternity. Yet Paul ended with a strong affirmation that not only has Christ been raised from the dead but he has been raised as the firstfruits therefore all who know him will indeed follow him in rising from death.[5]

After further reflecting upon the implications of Christ being the firstfruits in verses 21–34, beginning with verse 35 Paul returned to address the matter of the resurrection of the dead: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” Again the misunderstanding Paul was addressing seems to be tied to an assumption that because physical matter in and of itself cannot rise but perishes, then a physical resurrection from death is impossible. It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient Greek world—and, again, Corinth was in Greece—to prioritize spirit over body. For example, Plato likened the soul to being a prisoner in a body. For Plato the body was an impediment and limitation that needed to be overcome by the soul by means of reason. Now Paul, knowing his audience, not only corrected the Corinthians’ misunderstanding where needed but also affirmed their understanding where it was consistent with Scripture as in the quotation by Menander, a Greek poet, stated in verse 33, “Bad company corrupts good character.”[6] Paul applied this known quote to the current situation in Corinth, i.e., those who were denying the possibility of the resurrection from death were the “bad company” that was corrupting the “good character” of those who believed the dead could be raised. For to deny the possibility of bodily resurrection is completely at odds with what Scripture teaches for from the beginning God created and declared this world—including its physical bodies—to be “very good.”[7] Further, the fact that God made humans in his own image[8] indicates that physicality is no hindrance to spirituality. And, as we noted last week, the eternal Christ, the eternal Son of God, took on a real human body in the person of Jesus. Therefore if Christ Jesus who was not only fully God but also fully human rose from death so can other humans rise from death.

But this way of thinking, this affirmation of the material world appears to have been foreign to the Greek converts to Christianity to whom Paul was writing. Again, they seemed to be struggling with the possibility of physical matter, of physical human bodies, rising from death. Therefore Paul, strongly and perhaps not too kindly, went on to respond to their question about how the dead are raised and with what kind of body by exclaiming starting in verse 36: “How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” And, to make his point, Paul next turned to the world of agriculture in verse 37: “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.” Paul used a real physical, material example to make his point and thereby help the Corinthians understand and believe in the possibility of bodily resurrection from death. Next he turned their eyes heavenward to the One who made all things as he noted in verse 38, “But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.” And with this statement, Paul brought his Greek audience back to what is affirmed in the opening chapter of Genesis. For after creating light and separating it from darkness,[9] and separating the sky from the waters,[10] God created land, the dry ground, and gathered the water into the seas.[11]

And “[t]hen God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.”[12]

Next “16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.”[13]

Following this “…God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.”[14]

And “God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds.”[15]

In essence, Paul was having to teach these Corinthian believers the basics not only of the Gospel but also of the Hebrew Scriptures, or our Old Testament, which affirm that God is the source of every possibly material body that exists. This teaching wouldn’t have been necessary when Paul taught those of the Jewish faith for they would have known their own Scriptures. But not so with these Greek Corinthians. For Paul, who referred to himself as the apostle to the Gentiles,[16] had to help them understand the Jewish soil from which Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, had come as Savior and Lord of both Jews and Greeks.[17] And part of this Jewish soil was affirming, contrary to Greek thought, the goodness of all of God’s creation against any view that suggests that matter is bad and spirit is good or that matter is something that must be escaped.

Though not part of our focus this morning, notice how Paul underscored this in verses 39–41. Again, having stated in verse 38 how “God gives [a plant] a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body” he went on to observe: “39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” God, our Maker; God the Maker of all heaven and earth and everything contained therein, has bestowed each part of his creation with its own splendor or, another way of translating this word, [18] with its own glory; with its own way of pointing to and reflecting God who made it all for himself. As noted by Greek scholar Bill Mounce, the core meaning of glory is “the awesome light that radiates from God’s presence and is associated with his acts of power.”[19]

The point is that after introducing the analogy of a seed growing into a plant and then noting how everything God has made, whether in the heavens or on earth, has its own unique glory that point back to and reflect the glory of its Creator, Paul then brought his argument home starting in verse 42 by stating, “42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” A spiritual body is a body that has been given life and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. And by this indwelling, enlivening Spirit, a natural body is transformed into a spiritual body that is prepared to enter the heaven Christ Jesus has saved it for. In stating this, Paul has returned to his analogy of a sown seed that is unable to grow into a plant unless it dies. So, too, our earthly bodies must die in order that they might be raised as spiritual bodies; in order that they might be raised as bodies made for heaven. In order to rise to heaven we must die on earth. Death is our gateway to heaven and God’s Holy Spirit is the One who, by his indwelling, will one day carry us home to Christ and our heavenly Father.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, by means of the salvation Christ gives, we are destined for imperishability and glory and power; not our own imperishability and glory and power but that which is derived from, which is given us, which is bestowed upon us by our imperishable and glorious and powerful Maker and Lord! We will have “spiritual bodies” in that once our sanctification is complete, we will have been fully transformed by the Holy Spirit into the people God has destined us to be, holy as he is, full citizens of heaven, God’s Kingdom, children who see our heavenly Father and Jesus our King face-to-face. As Paul states elsewhere, “22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”[20]

But if, as we’ve stated, God made us in his image; and if he pronounced us and all of his creation “very good,” then why does Paul say that the body was sown perishable—and in dishonor—and in weakness—and a natural body? These descriptors seem more in keeping with Greek thought that views matter negatively and therefore seem to contradict Scripture’s teaching that God created the world, and his image-bearing humans, “good.” The reason is that Paul was addressing both our created and fallen order. Notice the juxtaposition he set up between the first Adam of Genesis, with Jesus Christ, the last Adam, starting in verse 45: “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” Paul was referencing the first Adam created by God as recorded in Genesis 2:7: “Then the Lord God formed a man[21] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” So Paul began with God’s good creation. But even this good creation had to be given life by God. It wasn’t self-existent but God had to breathe life into the matter he had made and formed. Contrast this with Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who wasn’t merely fully human but was also fully God. As such, he is able to give life, his own eternal life, to all who are united with him. He didn’t just live as all men live, but he also, by his divine life, is the giver of life, a life-giving spirit.

Then Paul returned to the first Adam in verses 46–47 so as to continue to compare him with the second: “The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.” The first Adam was dust into whom God breathed life. Prior to God doing so, Adam didn’t exist. However the last Adam, Jesus Christ, is a man “of heaven” because as God, the Christ, God’s Son, he has eternally existed with the Father. This is the mystery—and the beauty—and the wonder of the Incarnation: that in the person of Jesus, God took on human form; in the person of Jesus, God lived and will eternally live as man.

Next Paul teased out the implication of all this in verses 48–49: “48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” You and I and every human that has ever or will ever live—Jesus excepted—are but earthly, as were our first parents, Adam and Eve. We are but creatures of dust and the first Adam is our representative. Paul brought out this connection earlier in verses 21–22: “21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Paul referenced the warning given by God to Adam—and ignored by Adam—that eating of the forbidden fruit would result in spiritual death.[22] But all hope wasn’t lost for God deeply loves his image-bearers. Therefore those earthly ones who have believed and placed their trust in the last Adam, the one wasn’t just earthly but also heavenly, are promised a heavenly nature like that of Jesus Christ, the one who is the resurrection and the life, the one through whom mere mortals are able to be made alive both now and forever.[23]

For those who believe in Christ don’t just have Adam’s nature, both his created and fallen nature, but the fallen part of that nature has been removed and replaced by the image of God in Christ. This is our justification, that in Christ we have been declared righteous; and this is our sanctification, that by Christ’s indwelling Spirit, we are being made holy like Christ. Paul made this very point in some of his other letters. In the book of Romans,[24] after stating that much beloved verse—“28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”— Paul went on to affirm, “29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Our earthly fallen image is being re-shaped, is being conformed, into the image of the eternal Son of God, our new representative. The language Paul used here is reminiscent of the “firstfruits” we saw last week. Christ Jesus is the first of many brothers and sisters in the family of our heavenly Father. Paul also taught about the transforming power of God’s indwelling Spirit in the lives of those who know and follow Christ in 2 Corinthians[25] where he stated, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate [or reflect] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” This is the particular splendor or glory God has offered to humanity through his Son.

A final implication of all of this can be found in the final verse we’re considering this morning, verse 50: “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” There is only one way to enter God’s kingdom and that way isn’t open to those who are but “flesh and blood.” That way isn’t open to those who don’t believe Jesus is the Christ, God’s eternal Son who has come in the flesh to save us from our sins. No, in order to enter God’s kingdom, we must be given God’s Spirit by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is what John the Baptist taught when he contrasted his ministry with that of Jesus in declaring “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[26] And Jesus himself taught this very same thing. As recorded by John, “37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”[27] And Paul similarly encouraged the believers at Philippi with this truth when he taught, “20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”[28] In other words our lowly bodies will still be bodies but they will be glorious spiritual bodies, bodies that are made to dwell eternally with our Savior and Lord.

Dear sisters and brothers, how wonderful and amazing and awesome it is to know that all who know and love and follow and serve Christ Jesus are destined for glory. For those who believe, these earthly bodies will one day be resurrected bodies; they will one day be spiritual bodies made for heaven, made for the kingdom of our King:

For their natural perishability has been replaced by the imperishability bestowed on us by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit;

Their fallen dishonorable state has been replaced by the glorious state of our Savior and Lord;

Their fallen state of weakness has been replaced by the all-powerful Holy Spirit;

Their natural, mortal state has become a spiritual state, full of the life that the Lord and giver of life has bestowed;

For all who believe in Christ are made for heaven; are made imperishable that together we might dwell in the eternal Kingdom of our kind and merciful Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with the imperishable, resurrected bodies he will provide.

To our gracious God be all glory now and forever for the victory he has given us through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Let us pray.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:3–7:For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:19b.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:25–26: 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:24: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:20–24: 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

[6] Paul’s argument in what follows in verses 35–41 might similarly be viewed as affirming Aristotle’s teaching on potentiality, e.g., that a seed is but a potential plant that only reaches its actuality by becoming that plant.

[7] Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

[8] Genesis 1:26–27: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

[9] Genesis 1:3–5a:And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”

[10] Genesis 1:6–8a:And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.”

[11] Genesis 1:9–10:a:And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.”

[12] Genesis 1:11.

[13] Genesis 1:16–18:a.

[14] Genesis 1:21.

[15] Gensis 1:25a.

[16] Romans 11:13b: Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry. Galatians 2:7: On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.; 1 Timothy 2:7: And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

[17] Galatians 3:26–29: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

[18] δόξα, -ης, ἡ. Having translated this as “splendor” in verses 40–41, the NIV translates this same word as glory in verse 43a: 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory;

[19] Found in his online Greek dictionary: “This word has a wide range of meanings in the NT, corresponding closely the Hebrew 3883: glory, splendor, brilliance, from the base meaning of the awesome light that radiates from God’s presence and is associated with his acts of power; honor, praise, speaking of words of excellence and assigning highest status to God.” < https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/doxa>

[20] Romans 8:22–23.

[21] As noted in the NIV online Bible note, “The Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah); it is also the name Adam (see verse 20).”

[22] Genesis 2:15–17: 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

[23] John 11:25–26a: 25 Jesus said to her [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die….’”

[24] Romans 8:28–29.

[25] 2 Corinthians 3:18. See also Ephesians 1:4: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

[26] Matthew 3:11. Also recorded in Luke 3:16:John answered them all, “I baptize you withwater. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire.

[27] John 7:37–39.

[28] Philippians 3:20–21.