Christ’s Resurrection Confers Glory Upon Shameful Sinners (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

gloryThis post wraps up a three-part meditation from our Resurrection Sunday Sunrise Service (part 1 and part 2).

The last thing to see about Christ’s resurrection is how God confers glory upon those who do not deserve it. In fact, this is again the difference between Adam and Christ: The first was created to glorify God, but failed. He led the human race into shame. By contrast, Jesus came into the world in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom 8:3). He took the form of a servant (Phil 2:5-8) and died shamefully so that he might arise gloriously and confer glory to all those who rise with him.

A Harvested Body

What leads Paul to explain this conferral of glory is a ‘foolish’ question: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come” (v. 35)? In what may appear to be an unnecessary censure of the Corinthians, Paul rebukes them for their foolishness. He writes, “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (v. 36).

Apparently, the same people who were influenced by the impossibility of resurrection were also confused about what resurrection was. Paul corrects their thinking by returning to the imagery of sowing and reaping. Paul teaches us that the relationship between the Christian’s earthly body and his or her heavenly body is the same as the relationship between an acorn and an oak.

In one sense an acorn and an oak are nothing alike. In another sense, there is an organic relationship between what is sown into the ground and what life emerges from the ground. With this in mind, Paul employs a handful of analogies. He writes in verses 37-41:

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.

Paul is saying, “We don’t know what the resurrected body will be,” but by way of analogy, we know that the glory of the resurrected body will be incomparably greater than the body decomposing in the ground.

He speaks of the glory of the earthly body and the glory of the heavenly, and he makes observation that the former is nothing compared to the latter. In this way, Paul shuts the mouths of his opponents who question how a diseased, decaying body can be raised to life. And at the same time, he teaches how the body sown into the ground will be raised incorruptible and glorious!

A Heavenly Body

Verse 42 completes his train of thought: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead.”  Verses 43-44, he explicates what he just implied: “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.”

Paul affirms the bodily resurrection of the believer, just as Jesus was raised bodily. He speaks again of the glorious nature of this new body, and in verses 45-49 he explains how perishable, dishonorable men can be raised in glory. He writes,

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. 

Unlike Adam who received life from God, the last Adam was raised from the dead in order to give life (by the Spirit) to those who died with him. Paul then makes the connection between this better Adam and his offspring. He indicates that just as the human race shares the earthly (think: fleshly) nature of Adam, the race for whom Christ died will share his heavenly nature. He will glorify them by means of his resurrection. What he received because of his obedience, we will receive as a free gift by means of faith in him—faith that arises from the resurrection life that Christ gives to us as “a life-giving spirit.”

Indeed, this is the high water mark of the gospel—the astounding claim that men who deserve death because of sin will receive the glory of the Son forever. In fact, men who are dying because of their sins against God will be raised from the grave by God and given heavenly bodies as glorious as the Son of God himself.

On this resurrection day (for indeed Christ is risen on every day), may we give endless praise to the One who raised Jesus from the dead and who has also raised and will raise us from the dead.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss