Sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes wakes from a coma to discover the world overrun by zombies. (A zombie, if–like me–you don’t watch the hit TV series “The Walking Dead”, is a ” fictional undead being created by the reanimation of a human corpse”.)
I’m with the Corinthians’ anti-bodily resurrection stance, if Paul is talking about “the reanimation of a human corpse”. Here’s the twin question . . .
“Someone will ask, ‘How can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have?'” (15:35 GNT).
Paul anticipates the Corinthians’ skeptical question. They ask from disbelief. Which is why he calls them foolish.
“You fool! When you plant a seed in the ground, it does not sprout to life unless it dies. And what you plant is a bare seed, perhaps a grain of wheat or some other grain, not the full-bodied plant that will later grow up. God provides that seed with the body he wishes; he gives each seed its own proper body. And the flesh of living beings is not all the same kind of flesh; human beings have one kind of flesh, animals another, birds another, and fish another. And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; the beauty that belongs to heavenly bodies is different from the beauty that belongs to earthly bodies. The sun has its own beauty, the moon another beauty, and the stars a different beauty; and even among stars there are different kinds of beauty. This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body. There is, of course, a physical body, so there has to be a spiritual body” (15:36-44, GNT).
Resurrection surrounds us. Flowers in the garden. Bushes in the yard. From seed. Seed transformed into something more, something beautiful. Varieties of flesh–human, animal, fish, birds. Heavenly bodies. Different from each other glory. So with resurrection. More than the body buried. Different glory. Fit for eschatological life.
Dr. Gordon Fee (Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia)explains “spiritual body”: “The transformed body . . . is not composed of ‘spirit’; it is a body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit. Thus for Paul, to be truly pneumatikos (spiritual) is to bear the likeness of Christ (15:49) in a transformed body, fitted for the new age” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 786).
Christ is the basis for these transformed bodies . . .
“For the scripture says, ‘The first man, Adam, was created a living being’; but the last Adam is the life-giving Spirit. It is not the spiritual that comes first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth; the second Adam came from heaven. Those who belong to the earth are like the one who was made of earth; those who are of heaven are like the one who came from heaven. Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth, so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven” (15:45-49, GNT).
Adam: every human’s first parent–“created a living being”, “made of earth” and “from the earth”. So we who “belong to the earth” are like Adam, “physical.” The “last Adam” is “the life-giving Spirit”, “from heaven”. So we who are “of heaven” are like Christ, “spiritual”. Now “we wear the likeness of the man made of earth”, then “we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven”.
Corinthians thought the “body” must be sloughed off for the full spiritual to be realized–a “spiritual” (pneumatikos) they’d already entered. In heaven we’re not a bunch of spirit-beings surfing on celestial clouds. Even so, these bodies must be changed . . .
“What I mean, friends, is that what is made of flesh and blood cannot share in God’s Kingdom, and what is mortal cannot possess immortality. Listen to this secret truth: we shall not all die, but when the last trumpet sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed. For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die” (15:50-53, GNT).
Resurrection won’t be “The Walking Dead” or even “merely” the dead rising. Fundamental transformation in human composition must occur. And, Paul prophecies, it will. Not everyone will die, but “we shall all be changed”. The “seed” of our human body will be transformed. For when the trumpet signals the End, it will call the dead from their graves and transform our bodies into “what cannot die”.
“So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: ‘Death is destroyed; victory is complete! Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt?” Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (15:54-57, GNT).
At the End, when the dead are raised and the immortal has overtaken the mortal, death itself will be destroyed. Paul refers to Isaiah 25:7,8–“On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever“–and Hosea 13:14–“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?” Fee captures Paul’s triumph: “Take that, death; for when mortality is clothed with immortality, you have lost both your victory and your sting” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p.803).
Sin is the poison that brings us to death. It’s not decay or disease. Sin empowers death. And that sin became more energized through God’s Law, which we repeatedly break.
“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” That victory becomes ours to share in, not only through Christ’s death, not only through his resurrection, but his return which ushers in the final victory. God has won the victory through Christ.
“So then, my dear friends, stand firm and steady. Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless” (15:58, GNT).
For Paul, doctrine always must result in practice. Or, to put it another way, faith must produce obedience. “So then”–because God gives us complete victory over sin and death, including the triumph of body-transformed resurrection–“stand firm and steady”. With similar words he began this chapter–“I would remind you . . . of the gospel which I preached to you . . . in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you” (15:1,2).
Here his exhortation isn’t warning (“you’re being saved if you hold fast to the word”) but motivation (“since you know that nothing you do in the Lord’s service is ever useless”–because of the triumphal End). “Keep busy always in your work for the Lord.” Nothing is lost. No act of service is ever erased by death. Because death is swallowed up by victory!
* * *
At first, I thought I should simply copy Paul’s magisterial words; let them speak their glory for themselves. Now that I’ve written comment, I think I may have been correct at the start. Nevertheless, one final thought (well, two . . . ) . . .
There’s no escaping death. It comes to us all whomever we are. Our only hope is Christ who died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, and appeared to many. When he comes again, we who are his will be bodily raised and, like Paul, we will taunt death: “Death, where’s your victory now? Huh? Death, where’s your poison-sting today? Come on, tell me!” Then we will thank and praise God who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. When I say in the face of death “our only hope is Christ”, I mean our only hope as humans who all die. Our hope isn’t medicine or technology or surgical advances. None can stop aging. None can stave off death. This body is wasting away. Christ is our only hope for resurrection-transformation. Turn to him and be saved.
Finally, why wait to taunt death? In the words of Isaiah, taunt death now: “Hey shroud that enfolds all peoples, hey death that like a sheet covers all nations, the Lord will swallow you up forever!” Or, in the words of Hosea: “Hey death, the Lord has redeemed me from your power! Where are your plagues? Where’s your destruction? Beaten! Ha!”
Oh, by the way, Easter’s near. Happy Resurrection Day! A great day to taunt death by worshiping the resurrected Christ!