We began by confessing that God the Father is the Maker of heaven and earth. This means, among other things, that the material created order is good. There is nothing wrong with being made of matter, and there is nothing wrong with being finite. The difficulty that has plagued our race since the Fall has been ethical and moral, and not any essential problem with matter. God likes stuff. He invented it. And this is why we look forward to the resurrection of the body. We are not yearning to become ethereal spirits, or heavenly and celestial ghosts.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42–44).
The apostle outlines a grand metaphor, comparing our present life to the time of seeds and planting, and the day of resurrection to the time of glorious harvest. Following the metaphor, seeds can look pretty nondescript—tiny, little dried up things. The comparison is particularly apt, because there is complete continuity between the seed and the plant that will come from it, and yet at the same time there is apparently a complete discontinuity in appearance.
The seed is corrupt, but the plant has no corruption. The seed goes down into the dirt in dishonor, and in the springtime of resurrection it comes up in glory. The seed is weak, the plant is powerful and full of life. The seed is natural, the resurrection plant is spiritual. This is because there is a body dominated by the soul (psyche) and there will be a body dominated by the spirit (pneuma). We currently live in our soulish bodies, our seeds. We will live in our spiritish bodies, in power, glory, and vibrant life. There is a plain difference between soul and spirit, but we should not be too quick to pronounce on the details of those differences. Only the Word of God is sharp enough to do something like that (Heb. 4:12).
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20–21).
An Old Testament Hope:
It is common for us to hear that in the Old Testament there was no real awareness of an afterlife. This is false, but we have to begin by acknowledging that in the Old Testament the resurrection is not as much in the foreground as it is in the New Testament. But it is plainly and evidently there. Let the New Testament tell us what can accurately be gleaned from the Old Testament.
Martha, an ordinary believer with just an Old Testament, knew that her brother would be raised on the last day. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23–24). The Pharisees were the orthodox and biblical party, and the Sadducees were the liberal party. “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both” (Acts 23:8). And in what they taught, Jesus said that they sat in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), which means that they were hypocritical in their practice, not heterodox in their basic doctrine.
The Messiah would die and not see corruption (Ps. 16:10). Job knew that in his flesh he would see God (Job 19: 26). Daniel predicted the glory of the resurrection. “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:2–3). And the great vision of resurrection in Eze. 37 is about the resurrection and rebirth of Israel in the new Israel, but the metaphor depends for its power and force on a knowledge of bodily resurrection.
And right after our text, where Paul has taught us that our bodies are so many seeds, he takes us right back to Adam. “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit . . . The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47).
“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). From the Fall to the Resurrection, human history is seedtime. And the seed nature of man has been evident to the faithful for millennia.
Rot and Rise:
But let us bring this home. Look at your hand. A time is coming—at a rate of 60 seconds a minute, 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day—when that hand will have no flesh on it. It will be the hand of a skeleton. You will die, and you will decay. You are full of life and plans and purposes now, just as the people living three hundred years ago were.
Now hear the gospel. As certain as that day of death is, it is just as certain that the day of resurrection is advancing toward us at the same rate of speed. That day of resurrection is guaranteed to us in the raising of the Lord Jesus from the dead. The great day of resurrection at the end of the world has been placed through Jesus in the middle of history, where everybody can see it.
In fact the day of resurrection is more certain that the day of death because there will be a generation overtaken by resurrection, a generation that will not have to experience death, but will rather be clothed in immortality.
The fact of bodily resurrection has ethical ramifications for what you do with your body now. If the dead are not raised, then let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die, and that’s all (1 Cor. 15: 32). We should walk in newness of life because Christ was raised (Rom. 6:4), and our future resurrection is tied completely in with His (Rom. 6:5). Honor God with your body for it is going to rot completely away. Honor God with your body for it is going to be raised in power and shining glory.
“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:16–17).
So we are to lean toward what is inevitably coming. And because we are doing this against stiff opposition in this life, the good that is done here is accelerated. A mile gained in Heaven will be a mile. A mile here will be a thousand in Heaven. And what we gain in this will not be fueled by selfish competition, but should rather be understood as capacity for joy. We have the privilege of living our lives here in such a way as to spot ourselves a head start in glory. Do you want to arrive in glory as a thimble, filled to the brim with life and glory, or as a fifty gallon drum, filled with the same? A moment’s reflection should show that selfish ambition can have nothing to do with this. The calculus will always be a choice then between Christ and more Christ. Which do you want (Phil. 1:21-23)?
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).