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Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
When the first man and woman sinned, a curse came upon God’s creation. And the human body was affected by this curse. To Eve, God said, “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). To Adam, he said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19). Adam and Eve (and all of their descendents) would experience three physical problems: pain, weariness, and death.
Some of our body problems are very serious; others are simply annoying. Health.com lists twenty-five annoying body problems. Here are a few: waterlogged ears, hiccups (a man named Charles Osborne hiccupped for 68 years! ), stiff neck, chapped lips, sleeping foot, dry skin, mosquito bites, and heartburn.
God promises that one day believers will receive new bodies—bodies that will be free from all of the body problems we experience now.
The Hope of Our Resurrection
Jesus repeatedly promised that there would be a future resurrection.
- “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29; cf. v. 25).
- “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40; cf. vv. 44, 54).
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:24).
In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives us three truths about the resurrection of believers.
1. The hope of our resurrection is connected to the reality of Christ's resurrection.
Apparently many of the Corinthian believers didn’t believe that the dead in Christ would be raised: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12). In verses 13-19, Paul stresses how crucial the resurrection of the dead really is.
- “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (v. 13).
- “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (v. 14).
- “We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (vv. 15-16).
- “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and your are still in your sins” (v. 17).
- “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (v. 18).
- “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). “Firstfruits” is an agricultural term. The firstfruits were the first crops harvested; at the end of the growing season would come a bigger harvest. Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, and our resurrection is the bigger harvest to come.
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vv. 21-23). Because of Christ’s resurrection, we will be able to experience life apart from the curse. Death (the “last enemy,” v. 26) will be destroyed.
2. The resurrection body is a transformed body.
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body to 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” (vv. 35-38). The seed and plant analogy suggests both continuity and change. In other words, our bodies won’t be replaced, but they will be changed.
“So it is 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” (vv. 42-44).
Joni Eareckson Tada (who is paralyzed from the shoulders down) writes, “Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I shall become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs against splendorous resurrected legs. I’m convinced that if there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably ‘Joni,’ although a much better, brighter Joni” (Heaven: Your Real Home, p. 37).
Why is it important that we have new resurrection bodies? God created us as humans. Having a physical body is part of what it meant to be human. And it is God’s plan to redeem us completely—spirit and body. Resurrection is the final step of redemption.
- “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). Paul longed for his resurrection body (2 Cor. 5:1-2).
- “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
- “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). To be “glorified” means to receive resurrection bodies. God’s plan is for us to be like Christ—not just in character but also in resurrection.
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v. 49). Since we will “bear the image” of Christ, perhaps the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances give us clues about what our new bodies will be like. However, as Millard Erickson writes, “It should be borne in mind that Jesus’ exaltation was not yet complete. The ascension, involving a transition from this space-time universe to the spiritual realm of heaven, may well have produced yet another transformation” (Christian Theology, p. 1205).
3. The resurrection will happen when Christ returns.
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (v. 50). In other words, our bodies as they are right now (“perishable”) aren’t suited for eternity.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed” (vv. 51-52; cf. vv. 53-57). The return of Christ was previously a “mystery” (not revealed by God to man). On that day, dead Christians will be “raised imperishable” and living Christians will be “changed.”
Your Labor Is Not in Vain
Paul ends with a practical application: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, im-movable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58; vv. 30-32).
What we do now matters.
If what we do matters, we need to be doing what really matters.