- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://www.fpcjackson.org -

How Are the Dead Raised?

Now if you would please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 15; page 961 in the church Bibles. 1 Corinthians 15. We'll be considering verses 35 through 49 today. We've been in 1 Corinthians now for many months as we've worked our way through Paul's letter, and over the last few weeks, we've been in chapter 15. And it is providential, in God's kindness, that we would be here because of course the great theme of 1 Corinthians 15 is the resurrection – Christ's resurrection and our resurrection and the link between them. And that will be the focus of our study together this morning.


There were those, you may remember, at Corinth who had begun to teach that actually there is no such thing as a resurrection. For them, the very idea of resurrection was, we might say, one giant April Fools. Paul quotes them in verse 12. You can see it if you look in verse 12. Here’s their perspective. “Some of you are saying, ‘There is no resurrection from the dead.’” You see, in the Greek thought that was current in Corinth in those days, the idea that the human body might have an eternal future was ridiculous. They believed that the body was a prison; that the material world was a thing from which we ought to escape. And so that there might be a material future for the body in a world to come was beyond their ability to credit. And so in response, as we saw last time in verses 12 through 34, Paul worked to unpack the implications of their thinking that were actually far more radical than they likely even realized themselves. And so Paul showed us if there’s no possibility of resurrection in general, then that must mean there's no possibility of resurrection for Jesus Christ in particular. And if Christ has not been raised, then, Paul says, "we are of all men most to be pitied." If Jesus Christ did not step alive again on the third day from the tomb, Christianity is a sham and we may as well go home now. You cannot slide the resurrection out of the superstructure of the Christian faith and not find the whole thing crumbling down around our ears. The resurrection of Jesus is essential. And that was Paul's message last time.


And now this morning, if you’ll look at verse 35, you will see Paul anticipates a rather snarky, cynical response from his Corinthian dialogue partners. Verse 35, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” That’s not an honest inquiry; it’s an attempt to highlight what the Corinthians felt was an absurdity in Paul’s teaching. “Oh sure, Paul! Resurrection! Right you are! Just one question. This resurrection body you’re so convinced we’re all going to receive one day, just what will they look like? You’re being ridiculous, Paul.” That’s their perspective. Then Paul, in verse 36, really turns the tables on them because he calls them the fools. “You foolish person,” he says. You see, when you embrace the philosophy of the age instead of bowing before the truth of the Word of God, you embrace foolishness. “You are the real fools here,” he says to them.


And then he sets out to correct their mistake. He wants to set them straight. And he does it by highlighting three themes that we will be focusing on together this morning; if you'll look at the passage with me for a moment before we read it together. The first theme, in verses 36 through 41, he speaks about resurrection and creation. Resurrection and creation. Then 42 through 44, the second theme – resurrection and transformation. And then finally, 45 through 49 – resurrection and redemption. He makes the connection for us between our resurrection and the resurrection of Jesus by returning to a parallel that he's already drawn between Adam in the garden and Christ whom he calls the second Adam, the last Adam. So resurrection and creation, resurrection and transformation, and resurrection and redemption. That’s our outline. Before we turn to the passage and then begin to work through it together, let me invite you please once again to bow your heads with me as we pray. Let us pray.


Lord Jesus, we pray that You would send us anew the Holy Spirit, that the Word of God might take hold of our hearts, change our lives; that we might be united to You in the fullness of resurrection life. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.


1 Corinthians 15 at the thirty-fifth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:


“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 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, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 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.


So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But 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. 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.”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and authoritative Word.


Leo Tolstoy, reflecting on his life, once wrote, “My question, that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide, was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man; a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was, ‘What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live? Why wish for anything or do anything?’ It can also be expressed thus” – listen to this – “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy? Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” That was his question. “If death is an inevitability, what’s the point?”


On that first Easter Sunday morning when the stone was rolled away and Jesus Christ stepped alive again from the grave, Tolstoy’s fearful question was decisively answered. Wasn’t it? Because Jesus Christ died and is alive forevermore, death is not the end and life is full of meaning. And in our passage this morning, as we’re going to see, the apostle Paul shows us how that is so, how that works. He’s going to remind us of the link between our future resurrection and Christ’s resurrection on the third day that we celebrate together this morning. Because Jesus lives, you see, death no longer has the victory.


Resurrection and Creation

And as we’ve said, Paul is dealing, as he’s explaining all of this, he’s dealing with Corinthian skeptics who doubt the credibility of the very idea of the concept of resurrection. And so in verses 36 through 41, if you’ll look there with me, Paul offers, he begins his defense of the resurrection by pointing first to creation. Resurrection and creation. Verse 36, “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” The idea of resurrection isn’t ridiculous at all, Paul says. In fact, we deal with it all the time. When the farmer sows his seed, he buries it. When the crop finally sprouts up and grows, the seed is gone completely; it has perished. Something new has arisen from it. There’s a kind of death and resurrection all around us, Paul is saying; in every field and in every garden. And that, he says to us, is a picture of the resurrection of believers.


But of course, the teaching of Jesus Christ is never far from the mind of the apostle Paul. And as he develops this imagery of the seed that is sown that dies and bears fruit in resurrection, he is really building on the language of Jesus Christ Himself in John’s gospel chapter 12 at verse 23 where Jesus was talking about His own death and resurrection. He said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus is the seed that dies and rises to bear much fruit. And Paul is saying, by using that same language only to describe our destinies, he’s saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection becomes the great template for our own. If we are believer in Him, we like Him, shall die, and like Him, shall enter into the glory of His resurrection life.


Window Into Your Destiny

There’s a sense, you see, in which Easter is a window into your destiny. Easter is a window into your destiny. Sometimes when the going gets tough, when, as maybe the case for some of you here today as you see families gathering and celebrating this Easter Sunday and old wounds and loneliness and grief are very sharply felt, when you get weary and worn out and life begins to drag, in those moments it can be hard to imagine a better world to come. Can’t it? The skepticism of the Corinthians becomes really quite plausible in moments like those. Well, we need to let our passage this morning point us back to the antidote not just to remind us that there’s a future, glorious and wonderful, awaiting every Christian, but to remind us the basis of that glorious destiny. The seed of our lives one day will be sown, buried; they will die and rise and bear much fruit because the seed that was Jesus Christ was buried and died and rose again. There is hope, you see, in the gloom of our sorrow and sadness. There is hope only because the tomb is empty and Christ has risen. Because He lives, the sting of death is gone and Jesus Christ has the victory.


Orders of the Created World

Notice also very quickly verses 39 through 41. You see there Paul listing the various orders of the created world. Do you see that? Verses 39 to 41. Not all flesh is the same. Humans have one kind; animals another. Birds, even fish; they’re all different. The heavenly bodies and the earthly bodies are different. The sun and the moon and the stars all differ one from the other in glory. The point he’s making this time is that each of God’s creatures has been perfectly fitted for its environment by its Creator. You remember the Corinthians were asking, “How were the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Paul is answering them and saying, “Just like the creation that we see all around us right now, so in the resurrection that awaits us, God will prepare for us a body that will fit perfectly our new environment.”


What I think is interesting to notice is the order in which he lists these things. Look at it again, 39 to 41. He lists first humans, then animals, then birds, then fish, then the sun, then the moon, and then the stars. That’s actually the reverse, precisely the reverse, of the order in which each of these were created on the various days of creation in Genesis chapter 1. Here’s the point, I think. When the resurrection comes, when Jesus returns at the last day, it will not be as it were an upgrade on the software of your life. It won’t be a lick of paint and the broken-down house of your life. It will be an entire renovation not only of your life but of all creation. It will be a thoroughgoing transformation of all things. Nothing will be left unchanged on that great day.


Resurrection and Transformation

And that gets us really to the second thing I want us to think about. Not just resurrection and creation but resurrection and transformation. Verses 42 through 44, just as each of God’s creatures has a glory that fits its environment, verse 42, we also will be made suitable for the new creation that is to come. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; raised in glory. Sown in weakness; raised in power. Sown a natural body; raised a spiritual body.” Now just notice those adjectives. The seed of this life, he says, is sown – perishable, in dishonor, weakness, a natural body. That’s a pretty decent description of my life and experience. Can you relate to that too? Weakness, dishonor, perishable; a body that ages, gets sick. A body that’s fragile. A body that becomes the focus of temptation, even the instrument of sin; a natural body. That’s me and that’s you.


Perishable to Imperishable

But Paul says when the Lord Jesus comes back, when the trumpet sounds, the perishable seed will be raised imperishable. Bodies will not break down. They will not age. They will not hurt. They will not die. Bodies sown in dishonor, he says, will be raised in glory on that day. You remember since Adam and Eve hid themselves in the garden after eating the forbidden fruit, because they were afraid, because they were naked, since then we have found shame and dishonor in our bodies. But the apostle John says that "what we shall be has not yet appeared. But we know we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." A day is coming when we will no longer regard ourselves with shame and dishonor, but we will be made like Jesus Christ in the glory of His resurrection body, raised in glory and not in dishonor. Our bodies here, Paul says, are sown in weakness. On that day, they will be raised in power. The inexhaustible vitality of the risen Christ, the power of an indestructible life that is possessed by Him in full, will begin to empower our natural bodies, raised spiritual bodies, no longer natural bodies at all. There will be a marvelous transformation.


When I was a minister in London, England, the secretary of the Reform Club, a man called Mr. Forest, was a regular visitor to the congregation. The Reform Club is a very exclusive, private members club frequented by the political elite in the United Kingdom. It was the site from which Phileas Fogg was supposed to make, depart for his around the world journey in eighty days. The Reform Club. It’s a pretty swanky establishment! And so when he extended to me, when Mr. Forest invited me for lunch at the Reform Club, I must have looked to him like a deer in the headlights! Here I’m just a wee pleb from Glasgow, not accustomed to moving in such lofty circles! And so in an attempt to put me at my ease, he proceeded to explain the conditions upon which I might gain entry to the club. Top of the list, of course, was the dress code – jacket and tie at least. If you didn’t meet the dress code, you would be altogether out of place amongst the upper crust of London society. You would not be allowed entry to the Club. Now as an attempt to put me at my ease, that was a spectacular failure!


But as an illustration of Paul’s point in our passage, it was pretty helpful, at least to me. You see, Paul is saying the resurrection, when it comes, will be that action of God finally remaking our bodies so that they fit the environment of the new world, the new creation that is to come. In other words, there’s a dress code for the new creation. Without it, you will not be able to gain entry. New bodies belong in the new creation. And so, resurrection demands transformation. Resurrection and creation. Resurrection and transformation.


Resurrection and Redemption

Then our question needs to be, “Where do I get this transformation? From whom will this transformation come?” And so, resurrection and redemption. Look with me at verses 45 through 49. If I’m going to meet the dress code for the new creation, I need to know where to get the transformation, this resurrection body. And Paul answers those questions by returning to a parallel that he has drawn already in this chapter back in verse 22. It’s the parallel between Adam and Jesus, whom he calls the last Adam; the second and last Adam. If you’ll look at the text, verses 45 through 49, you will see the parallelism. “Thus it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam’” – he means Jesus – “’became a life-giving spirit. But 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. 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.” So you see the parallel. There are two Adams, as it were – the first Adam, Genesis chapter 2, 1 and 2, made by God, spoken into being, made from the dust of the ground. He was a man of the earth; of the dust. And then there’s another Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, who unlike the first, perfectly obeyed God and so became the Savior of a new creation, a new humanity. God was making a new start through this second Adam, the Lord Jesus. He is heavenly. And there are those who are united to the first Adam – merely earthly, without hope of the glory to come. And then there are others who are united to the last Adam, Jesus Christ.


First Adam and Last Adam

Paul’s point is this. If you are in Jesus Christ, though now for a little while you will bear the first Adam’s likeness, we will one day certainly bear the last Adam’s likeness, the image of the Man of heaven. You will be like Christ in resurrection glory yourself. Easter is a window into your destiny. Jesus rose from the dead. Everybody who believes in Him shall rise to life too. The demands of the dress code, you see, can only be met through faith in Jesus Christ. In Jesus and only in Jesus is their hope of glory. In Jesus and only in Jesus is their assurance of a new body to fit the new creation to come. The great question then becomes, "Are you in Jesus or are you still in the first Adam, a man of the earth who will not see the glory to come?" 


Let me say this another way and then we’re done. You may not know that in Scripture there are two births and two deaths. Two births. There’s natural birth. We’ve all experienced natural, physical birth. But you remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3. There’s another birth, a second birth. You must be born again, Jesus told Nicodemus. You must be born from above. That is to say, new life must break in upon you, even here and now. Spiritually you must be made new. Resurrection life must become yours right here and now. Two births. But there are also two deaths. There’s natural death. At the end of our lives, we all must face our own natural deaths. But there’s another death. John, in Revelation 21, calls it the second death – the lake of fire. We call it hell. It is the place of final and eternal judgment.


Birth and Death

And so now here’s the issue that I think we all need to walk away from 1 Corinthians 15 wrestling with. Here’s the issue. Those who have been born only once are destined to die twice. Those who have been born twice, shall only die once. Those who have been born once, are destined to die twice. Those who have been born twice, shall die only once. That is, unless you are born again, unless you are born from above, unless the resurrection life of Jesus Christ erupts into your heart here and now changing you forever, unless you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to be your Rescuer, you will die a natural death only to face the second death – the eternal death under the wrath and curse of God hereafter. If you’re born only once, you will die twice. But if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose from the grave that first Easter Sunday, if you’ll trust in the one who called Himself the Resurrection and the Life, as He Himself put it, “though you die, yet shall you live.” And if you live and believe in Him, you will never die. In fact, one day the beginning of resurrection life that springs up in your heart here, will reach its consummate expression when your bodies are raised imperishable to be like His glorious body. You will bear the image of the Man of heaven.


And so let me ask you, are you in the first Adam – a man of dust born only once, doomed to die twice? Is that your situation? Or are you in the last Adam – the Man of heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior of sinners; born twice to die once and then to live in resurrection life with Christ forever? Is that your destiny? That is the demand the first Easter makes of everyone. Will you be born twice and so die once and then live in glory and resurrection life forever through faith in Jesus Christ? Or will you remain in Adam, a man of the earth, a man of dust, born once, doomed to die twice? May the Lord be gracious to all of us and enable us this Easter Sunday to cling to the Lord Jesus, the resurrection and the life, that by believing in Him we might never die. Let’s pray together.


Our Father, we pray for one another and we ask You to help us, each of us, all of us to fix our eyes on Jesus – not the Christ on the cross nor the Christ in the tomb, but the Christ who died, was buried, and rose again on the third day who is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. Fix our eyes upon Him. Draw us, all of us to Him. To bend the knee to Him; to claim Him, the last Adam, our only Rescuer, that resurrection life, not death, might be ours. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.