Text: 1 Cor. 15:35-49
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body…
Over the last 30 years or so, pastors have been confronted with a very delicate issue. Is it permissible for Christians to be cremated?
As I said, it’s a delicate issue. Some of you may have had loved ones cremated, and some of you may be considering it for yourselves. Cremation has become extremely common these days, and the main reason is obvious and practical: it’s much cheaper than burial. In the US today, the average burial costs between seven and ten thousand dollars. That’s a crushing amount for most people, especially if it comes at an unexpected time. Cremation, by contrast, is only around one thousand dollars. In order to ask a family to take on that kind of burden, you’d better have a pretty strong argument, and most pastors really don’t.
You see, there’s no text in the Bible which directly addresses cremation, and certainly no pastor is going to say that a person’s position on burial is an article of the faith. The argument for burial is based upon tradition, custom, and symbolism. Burial is what we see in the Bible, and sends an important message to the world about what we believe concerning the value of bodies. But still, is that enough to decide this kind of issue?
This morning, I am not going to tell you what to do with your bereavement planning. I will not judge anyone’s decision in these times. But I will tell you, I would like to see a lot of changes in the death industry. There’s no reason that it should be so expensive, and there are people working for reforms right now. I hope they are successful, and I would like to see more Christians getting involved in this kind of activism. But none of that is the point of our sermon today.
Instead, I’d like to show you the value of the body through the teaching of the resurrection. You see, the Bible does tell us a little about what the resurrection body will be like. It gives us some important ideas about the fundamental continuity between our current body and our new body. It will be changed, but it will also be the same body. And this is important because it is directly tied to the work of Christ in our salvation. By one man, Adam, death came to all bodies, and so by one new man, the last Adam, life will come to all bodies. As we will see, the very bodies we now possess will be raised again and turned into immortality. This means that how we treat our bodies matters. What we expect of our bodies in the future matters. We will live in these bodies, perfected and glorified, for all eternity, and this is a fruit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul Answers Doubters
To begin, let’s remember that Paul is in the middle of a section where he is answering skeptics of the resurrection. He ha already spent a great amount of time explaining that the resurrection is necessary for any of Christianity to make any sense. Now he moves into the “mechanics” of it, if you will.
“But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’” (1 Cor. 15:35). This does not appear to be a genuine question, since Paul responds so strongly, “Fool! What you sow is not made alive unless it dies” (1 Cor. 15:36). Paul goes on to answer this objection by analogies to nature. He says that, in a sense, all new life comes from death. Seeds must be buried under the ground before they can rise again to new life.
The resurrection of the body is no more absurd than basic agriculture. All of our food comes from miniature resurrections. Things come out of the dirt. Even the birth of livestock involves much bloodshed and danger. Further, we almost always kill the food before we eat it! Somehow, we obtain “life” from dead things. This is just normal, the way the world works. And so the resurrection of the body, while perhaps surprising, doesn’t present any kind of new philosophical challenge. In a way, it’s perfectly in keeping with how God works.
From Glory to Glory
To explain the make-up of the resurrection body, Paul compares it to other kinds of “bodies” in nature. He says that seeds turn into plants. They are essentially the same “thing,” and yet they undergo an amazing transformation along the way. Then he mentions “flesh,” by which he seems to mean earthy animals. And then he compares and contrasts “heavenly bodies” with “earthly bodies.” Within these groups, there are also different kinds of heavenly bodies. “There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (vs. 41-42a).
Paul’s point here is twofold. The resurrection body is like our natural body. The common factor is the “body.” It’s the same body. But it will undergo a transformation. It will be as if one star grew into a larger, brighter star. It will still be a body, but it will be a resurrected body, and it will possess new attributes that it currently does not possess.
The original body was created good, and it has its own glory. It has glory just as terrestrial bodies have glory. But the celestial bodies still have a greater glory, and so too the resurrection body will be more glorious than the natural one. It will be immortal. In fact, it will be fully perfected and sanctified. In heaven, it won’t even be possible for you to sin.
The original body also suffered shame and ignominy on account of Adam’s sin. It was created mortal but not yet subject to actual death and decay. Had Adam not sinned, he would not have died. And neither would we. Death is not natural. But Adam did sin, and when he sinned, he introduced sin and death into this world, thus disgracing the body. This is why we die now, why we get old and decay.
And so, undoubtedly, the resurrection body is more glorious than this body. It is more glorious because it is the original body as it was always intended to be. It is the human body forever free from the effects of sin and death.
God, in His wisdom, chooses to use death as an instrument for this, as a means of resurrection:
The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, 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. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (vs. 42-45)
Our bodies, then, are like seeds that are buried in the ground. The resurrection is when they spring up into the plants they were always intended to be. And the contrast between the seed and the flower will be like that between heaven and earth.
We should say one word about the translation here. “Natural body” is a simply terrible translation. Paul is not contrasting material and immaterial things per se, nor is he talking about body and soul. In fact, the word translated “natural” is actually a variant of the Greek word for soul! It’s literally a pyschikon body, a soulish body. This is based on the root psyche, a word normally associated with the mind or the soul. That “soulish” body is then contrasted against the “spiritual body.” Paul’s point is that the human soul is the “natural body,” and the resurrected body is that same body but now invigorated by the spirit. What spirit? If we only had this section to consider, it might be ambiguous, but given everything else we know about Christ’s resurrection, the spirit in question is the Holy Spirit.
Consider. Paul says in Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Similarly Peter says, “[Christ was] put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The spirit of resurrection is the Holy Spirit. And this means that, while the first Adam got his life from the activity of the soul, the last Adam gave humanity a Spirit which gives life, eternal life.
This is the resurrection body. It is fundamentally the same human body that goes into the grave, but it is that human body infused with God’s own spirit and granted eternal life because of the work of Christ. This will give it new qualities and greater glory.
This set up of the “first Adam” and the “last Adam” is classic Pauline theology, by the way. You see the same thing in Romans 5, and this is where we get our doctrine of “union with Adam” and “union with Christ.” Federal theology is based on this, and it’s a central part of our theology of salvation itself. What Adam did affected the whole human race, and what Christ did affected the whole new human race. Adam brought sin and death, and Christ brings righteousness and life. Fittingly, Christ brings the new creation, and He does this most fully in the resurrection.
“’The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam was the father of life, and Christ is the father of new life. Adam was “natural” and animated by a human spirit, though in the image of God. Christ is spiritual, animated by the divine Spirit itself, the Holy Spirit.
Paul then gives an explanation about order and duration. He says:
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (1 Cor. 15:46-49)
There’s a lot going on here, but the main point is time. The natural comes first. The spiritual comes later. All of us who have the Holy Spirit are living “in between.” We have the eternal life which the Spirit gives already, and yet we still inhabit our natural bodies. We have not been raised yet. We are still looking forward to that.
This means that our bodies are currently in transition. We should honor and respect them, and yet we should know that they will undergo transformation and change. We should not love our bodies to the point of wanting to freeze them in time, to not “let go of them” as they do what they must do. This is why I do not think it’s good for Christians to get purely cosmetic forms of plastic surgery. We don’t need to pretend that we’re something we’re not. We are living in the body of death, and we embrace it as reality.
Yet we should also love and respect our bodies. They are good things, and they are the bodies that will be resurrected. This is why the Jewish and Christian traditions have preserved the body, even after death.
And we should preserve our bodies even now. We should take care of them. We should honor them. We should honor them physically by a healthy diet and lifestyle. And we should honor them morally and ethically, by using them righteously. We should begin living the resurrection life now. We should “act like” how we will be living in eternity. We should begin that new spiritual life now.
We have already died, and therefore we must not live as men under the power of death. We should not live like the old Adam. We must live lives to God, and that means lives of righteousness:
…knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans. 6:9-14)
Since our bodies will be translated into glory, we should honor them. And the chief honor we can bestow upon them is in dedicating them to God. Let us then live holy lives pleasing to Him, in submission to His law.
The resurrection is an amazing doctrine. It asserts without apology that our bodies will last into eternity. What of all the decay and destruction? God is lord even of that. He can put bones and tissue back together. He can separate that which is distant. These are but trifles for the all-powerful Creator of the universe.
And yet He gives us care over our bodies and tells us to use them as a testimony. And so we should care for them as mirrors of His image and glory. We should see them as possessing eternal significance, and we should see in them points of contact with Jesus’ own resurrection.
This should cause us to rethink certain practices. It should cause us to rethink certain lifestyles. How can we bring all of our life into conformity wit the truth of our religion? How can we bear witness to the resurrection of the body in a public way? Christians must begin thinking about these things so that they can begin raising awareness and changing hearts and minds.
The resurrection also teaches us about the nature of heaven and the after life. You see, heaven is actually not the final stop. It’s really an intermediate state, where our souls will wait for their bodies. At the time of the final resurrection, our bodies and souls will be reunited, and when that happens, heaven and earth will be united as well. We will live in our new bodies on the new heavens and new earth, and we will do so in the presence of the embodied Jesus Christ. This will be our eternal destination, our eternal location. And we will all bear the image of the heavenly Man as we forever reflect the glory of the living God.
Let us pray.