Transformation of the Dead (I Corinthians 15:35-49)
Having proved that there is a resurrection, Paul moves on to address a related question: It what body are the dead raised? People have often asked this question. Do come back in the same body that you currently have? What happens if your body was damaged? What happens to all your aches and pains? What about those whose body has decayed?
Paul points out that the questions are going in the wrong direction if a person just stopped to think a moment. When you plant a seed, you don’t expect to see a seed come out of the ground. You know that the seed “dies,” disappears and a plant takes its place. In fact, until it “dies” in the ground, the seed will not produce a new plant. If we understand this, then it isn’t hard to understand that the body we will have at the resurrection will be different from the ones we currently have.
Just as the plant doesn’t resemble the seed it comes from, each type of seed produces a different type of plant. Even from the same type of seed, each plant looks unique. Thus we don’t expect to resemble in our new body what our old body looked like, nor are we all going to look alike.
Nor can it be argued that humans must occupy one type of body. We look in the world and see that life is found in a variety of types of flesh, each geared to the type of life the animal lives. We look at the stars and planets and see variation among them as well, though we see them as occupying the same place. Even among the stars, each one is unique.
It will be the same in the resurrection. What is raised will be far more glorious and stronger than what was buried (Daniel 12:3; Philippians 3:20-21). The spiritual body that is raised will be vastly different from our physical body. The difference is as great as between Adam and Christ. Adam was made a living creature, but Jesus is a life-giving spirit. Yet there are also similarities. Adam was the first of his kind and Jesus, the last Adam, is the first of his kind (I Corinthians 15:23; Romans 8:11; Colossians 3:4).
Just as the seed comes first and then comes the plant, so our physical life must come first. The imperfect comes first and the perfect comes second, just as Adam came first, and then came Jesus. And just as Adam was from the earth and Jesus was from heaven, so our first bodies are physical and our new bodies will be spiritual (Romans 8:29; I John 3:2).
- Did ancient men know that all the lights in the heavens were not stars? Did they understand there were other earthly worlds similar to our own?
Transformation of the Living (I Corinthians 15:50-58)
If we understand that the dead will not be raised back to life in the same physical body, this naturally leads to the question of what happens to the physical bodies of those living when Christ returns.
It isn’t possible for those in physical bodies to enter spiritual heaven. Imagine trying to live in eternal heaven in bodies that decay! So Paul reveals something that has been kept secret before – those living at the time of Christ’s return will be given new, spiritual bodies. It will not require that the living first die. The change will take place instantaneously at the moment of the end (II Corinthians 5:1-4). The Greek word Paul uses is that of an atom – something, in this case, time, which cannot be divided any smaller. Trumpets were used in wars to announce troop movements. At times God’s movements in the world are described as being heralded by trumpet calls (Isaiah 27:13; Zechariah 9:14; Matthew 24:31). Thus, the last trumpet is the last heralded move by God in the world – a move that brings about the end of the world (I Thessalonians 4:16; II Peter 3:10-13). The transformation of the living must take place when the world ends.
When that does occur, death will no longer exist because what once died (our physical bodies) will no longer exist. Thus, death is consumed by Christ’s victory (I Corinthians 15:26) and Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 25:8 will be fulfilled, along with the prophecy in Hosea 13:14. The Greek word for victory, nikos, is that of a complete conquest.
Death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). Since sin is the breaking of the law (I John 3:4), Satan used the law to encourage sin (Romans 7:5-13). In fact, without the existence of the law, there can be no sin since there would be nothing to break (Romans 3:20; 4:14; 5:13; John 15:22). It would be an impossible situation for man, but thanks to God, we were granted a victory over death and sin (Psalms 98:1), through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 11:25).
Because victory is assured, we need to be firm, constant, and productive in our work because nothing that we do for God is useless (Colossians 1:23; II Peter 3:14). This is in contrast to what would be true if the false teachers in Corinth, who claimed there was no resurrection, were correct (I Corinthians 15:16-19).
Literary Style: Personification
One method to get a reader to sit up and take notice is to treat something all knows is inanimate and talk about it as if it was a living being. Such treatment makes a dry subject more interesting because we tend to relate better to beings who have emotional responses. It makes the discussion more vivid and easier to remember.
Therefore, death is treated as a would-be conqueror who suddenly finds the tables turned on him and it is he instead who is conquered.