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The Nature of the Resurrection Body- I Corinthians 15:35-49

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: Answering the Critic of the Resurrection

Benjamin Franklin’s body rests in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Born on January 17, 1706, Franklin, at 22 years old, had written the epitaph that was to adorn his future tomb. Forgotten, it doesn’t appear on his grave, but we know the text. It reads like this:

′′The body of Benjamin Franklin, a printer, like the cover of an old book with stripped contents of its leaves, text and gilding, rests here in a pasture for worms. But the book will not be lost because, as he believes, it will appear once again in a new edition; more elegant, revised and corrected by the author."

Mr. Franklin got it right. And his understanding of the resurrection body leads me to believe that he had definitely read I Corinthians 15:35-49. This is a wonderful section of Scripture that teaches us about the nature of the resurrection body. In I Corinthians 15 Paul is giving us a detailed explanation of the resurrection of the dead, both Christ the first fruits which has already taken place, and ours in the future when Christ returns. The apostle is writing against those who are teaching the Corinthian church that there is no resurrection of the dead.

In this section Paul is answering some hypothetical questions that he assumes that the enemies of the resurrection might ask. We see these questions in verse 35. It states:

"But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?"

In the next 14 verses Paul goes on to answer these questions. But not before taking a jab at the foolishness of the ones who are asking them. Paul is not confronting those who have legitimate questions here about the resurrection. Rather, he is talking to those who are mocking the idea of resurrection and those who denied that it was possible. Probably the same gnostic teachers that plagued the early church who believed that flesh was evil and only spirit was good.

We get the same type of skeptics today who ask how this is possible to be raised from the dead as well. I've heard some ask questions like: "You say that there will be a resurrection from the dead. What about him whose body is totally destroyed? Maybe, it gets cremated or eaten by animals. How can it possibly come back from the dead, if there is no body?"

I like how David Guzik answers that question in the Blue Letter Bible. He says:

"Some mock the idea of resurrection. They say, “Here is a Christian’s body, lying in a grave with no casket. The atoms in the body are taken up in grass and eaten by a steer, and the steer is slaughtered and another man eats the meat and takes the atom into his body. Where does that atom go in the resurrection?” But God does not need every atom of a man’s body to make a resurrection body. Since every cell of my body contains the DNA blueprint to make a whole new body, God can no doubt take one cell of my dead body and make a glorious resurrection body out of that old blueprint."

What brilliant words from a scholarly man to deal with those who would mock our belief in the resurrection from the dead! Well, the apostle Paul has some brilliant words of his own in order to silence the critics of a bodily resurrection. He does this by a series of analogies in which he compares the resurrection body to various things that the people who are reading can understand.

Let us take some time to look at this passage in order to see the truth that the good apostle has to give us. We begin with an analogy between a seed and the resurrection body.

I. The Resurrection Body is Like a Seed (35-38)

How is the Body that is to be raised from the grave like a seed? Well Paul brilliantly lets us know that a seed, in order to become what it is supposed to be first needs to die when it is planted in the ground. Once again, someone might ask the questions: "How are the dead raised?" and "With what kind of body do they come?" Here is his reply:

"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."

If you've ever planted a seed, you know that it looks nothing like the magnificent plant that will emerge from it. It dies and decomposes. The seed ceases to exist in its seed form. However, life comes from within the dead seed. And just as God gives a new body to the plant that rises from the dead seed, so he can give a resurrection body to a man, woman or child who dies.

I think of an acorn, for instance. Just to look at it, how would you know that that seed would break open and disintegrate eventually, leaving you with a beautiful oak tree that will grow up and give you shade and beauty for many years to come. And the stalk of wheat, as Paul says, looks nothing like the small seed from which it comes.

The same is true of the resurrection body. It first has to die. Then God gives to it the body that pleases Him. It is a body that is far nicer and more brilliant than the one that gets put into the ground. It is a glorious body. God is certainly capable of this since He has been doing it in the natural world for centuries. There are a whole variety of created things, each with its own unique type of glory. It is from this variety within the created order that Paul gets his next analogy to the body that comes out of the grave.

II. The Resurrection Body is Like the Variety Seen in the Created Universe (39-44)

Though the resurrection body has continuity with the body that was placed in the grave, it differs from it as much as a seed differs from the plant that comes from it. And we can see these differences in other things in nature as well. Paul uses a number of illustrations (the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the Sun, Moon and Stars in the heavens) to show that God gives different bodies for different habitats. The flesh given to humans is not appropriate for birds or fish. In the same way, earthly bodies are built a particular way by God for living here. Heavenly bodies, on the other hand, are given by the Lord for living with Him for eternity. Here is how Paul explains it to us:

"All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is 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."

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The truth is that there are vastly different bodies and forms that are suited for all kinds of existence in different parts of the universe. Even when we look at our own natural bodies and observe each other, none of us is totally alike. Though each of us has a natural body that is perfectly suited to the earth, at the same time, each of us also have all types of different abilities and talents. Further, we physically look different. If God can make earthly bodies that are perfectly suited for this realm of existence in the natural world while at the same time different from one another, then it shouldn't be any stretch of the imagination to believe that He can design a body perfectly suited for heaven and for the resurrection life as well.

And there are some radical changes that must take place for us to inhabit heaven. Paul, in verses 42-44 shows the contrast between the natural body that goes in the grave and the resurrection body that comes out of it. He gives 4 specific contrasts.

The first is that it is 'sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body.' The New King James tells us that: 'It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.' This is referring to the fact that our bodies are subject to decay. If you are over 50 you realize that no matter how much you exercise and eat right, your body is going to break down. Your knees go bad, your eyesight goes dim. About the time your face clears up, your hair turns gray or falls out, and wrinkles set in on your face.

We look in the mirror and take a double take, wondering where the young skinny person went that we were looking at just a few days ago.

We go to the dentist to repair and replace teeth that are going bad. Or, in some cases, we lose our teeth all together and have to have a full set of dentures.

Our natural bodies are corruptible and will ultimately die and go back to the dust from which they were taken, as God has told us in Genesis 3:19.

Our spiritual bodies aren't subject to all of this decay. Rather, they are designed to go on forever and ever. No more pain, sickness and death. They will have the same stamina and abilities that we had when we first got them, no matter how many centuries have passed by.

The second thing that Paul tells us is that the natural body is 'sown in dishonor but is raised in glory.' (43). This is probably alluding to the fact that we are guilty of sin. Paul says in Roman 3:23 that:

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

We inherited our propensity to sin from our forefather Adam (Romans 5:12). This makes us sinners by nature as well as choice. This body of flesh has become the instrument through which we have committed these sins against a holy God.

The body for the righteous, that is those who have accepted Jesus Christ through faith, will receive a body that will be perfect or sinless. It will be a body of honor which is one like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20-21, 1 John 3:1-3).

Thirdly, the natural body is sown in weakness, it is raised in power' (43). Our abilities are limited by our bodies. We grow weary and must rest. We overexert ourselves and pull a muscle. We step in a hole and sprain a foot. And, of course, the ultimate weakness is seen in that we wear out, die and our bodies decay. Our new bodies won't have all the limitations that hold us back from doing everything that God wants us to do. And they certainly won't ever die and decay.

Finally, our present body is 'sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.' It is a body perfectly suited for the spiritual realm in which we will enter. (44). The natural is in the realm of the earthly. The spiritual is in the realm of heaven. One is equipped for life on earth and the other is equipped for face-to-face fellowship with God forever. What a beautiful contrast that is!

III. The Resurrection Body Is Like Its Prototype-Jesus' Body (45-49)

The final thought about the resurrection body, in this section of Paul's great resurrection chapter, is found in verses 45-49. The apostle ends this portion of the chapter by contrasting the prototypes upon which the earthly and the heavenly bodies are based. The definition of a prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process. The original earthly man with a natural body was Adam. The original heavenly man with a heavenly body is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is called the last Adam. Paul puts it this way:

"The first man, Adam became a living soul. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy. The second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy. And as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly."

Though we don't know much detail about the bodies that we'll have, it is certain that they will be like that of Jesus. We will be copies of the prototype. There are two places in Scripture that come right out and tell us this. First of all, Philippians 3:20-21 tells us:

" For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."

Also, the apostle John in I John 3:2 informs us:

"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

What we know about Jesus' body was seen during his 40 days on earth after the resurrection from the dead. Here are a few characteristics of that body as taught by pastor Greg Laurie. He states:

What did the resurrected body of Jesus look like? The Bible tells us that after Jesus’ cruel torture, crucifixion, and three days in the tomb, He was recognizable, and that His followers knew who He was.

We know that He had a body of flesh and bone. Jesus told the disciples, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).

We also know that Jesus ate food. Imagine the surprise of the disciples when the risen Lord appeared to them and then said, “Have you any food here?”

What?” they must have been thinking. But they gave Jesus a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb, and He ate it (see Luke 24:41–43).

His resurrected body also could be touched and felt. When the women were returning from the empty tomb, “Behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So, they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him” (Matthew 28:9).

Then, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room, He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing” (John 20:27).

This tells us that in His resurrected body, Jesus still wore the marks of the crucifixion. And He will wear those marks, even in eternity (see Zechariah 12:10).

I think this is to remind us of how we got there. We will not be in heaven because of our good works. We will be there because of His shed blood, because spikes were driven through His hands and feet for us."

What wonderful observations by pastor Laurie. Obviously, the believer won't have these scars because Jesus took our punishment for sin for us on the cross.

However, if we look further at Christs' resurrection body there are some other things we can notice. For instance, it would appear that He was not limited by time, gravity and space. If we read verses like Luke 24:31 and John 20:19,26 we see Jesus appearing through locked doors and vanishing at will.

We also see Him, at the end of his 40 days on earth, post-resurrection, ascending up into heaven (Acts 1:9-12). And the believers in Christ will one day themselves be caught up to meet the Lord in the air in an event sometimes called the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Of course, we can't be dogmatic about the things our new bodies will be able to do. Jesus is God and was capable of doing anything He wished before his resurrection. However, His body is still our model, and we will be like Him, as the Scriptures tell us. And just like Him, we will have eternal, glorified and spiritual bodies that are far better than what we have on this sin-cursed earth. They will be perfectly adapted to our new environment and totally capable of doing whatever God wants us to do in our eternal existence.


In conclusion, I love what former president John Quincy Adams once said about his old natural body:

When he was eighty years old, a friend said, “How is John Quincy Adams?”

He replied, “John Quincy Adams himself is very well, thank you; but the house he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shattered, and the roof is worn. The building trembles with every wind. And I think that John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it before long. But he himself is very well.”

And if you are a Christians, you can say the same thing no matter what condition that your body may be in at the moment!

Friends, death, as horrible an enemy as it is, was no match for our Lord Jesus Christ. He has indeed conquered the grave and now has a body that will never grow old, never get sick and will never die. And further, He has promised to give us that same type of body to live in for all eternity.

What a wonderful future that we all have ahead of us. If we know Jesus Christ as our Savior, death is no longer something to be feared. It has met its master. And Jesus has made it a slave to usher us into eternity.

I thank God that we can spend that eternity, not in this body that is subject to disease and decay, but in a brand-new model that will match our brand-new life in heaven. We are indeed exceedingly blessed! Praise God for our resurrection bodies!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley

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