35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35 NRSV)
Paul is imagining this being asked with a highly sceptical tone. “How on earth can that happen?” We may have as much trouble wrapping our heads around the Biblical teaching of resurrection today. Indeed, with what kind of body will the dead be raised? Will those fortunate enough to die in their elderly years have the misfortune of being raised with elderly bodies? Will those who have been cremated be raised as a cloud of dust? The Bible assures us that we need not worry:
36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. (1 Corinthians 15:36-37)
We often confuse resurrection to eternal life with something that would be better called resuscitation. With resuscitation, you take a seemingly dead plant, add water and sunlight, and it comes back to life as a plant. So, for example, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead this was more in line with resuscitation than the kind of resurrection we look forward to. Lazarus came back to life, yes, but with the same kind of body and presumably he did die again. Paul speaks of the resurrection to eternal life in terms of transformation. Rather than being like a dead plant becoming a living plant, resurrection is like a seed becoming a plant such that you can no longer even find the seed. This transformation is so complete that those who are alive at the resurrection must undergo it:
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:50-51)
Paul’s main point in using the seed and plant analogy is that the resurrection body is a very different kind of body:
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
Drawing from this seed and plant analogy there are some further points to consider:
- Individuality is maintained. One seed gives way to one plant.
- Our identity is maintained. One seed gives way to a particular kind of plant and not another.
- Humility in theology is important. Unless you are familiar with seeds and plants you cannot tell from a seed what the plant will look like. I do not have a green thumb and generally cannot tell what most seeds will become. I do know what Dandelion seeds look like as I am quite proficient at growing those. The point is that we do not know much about what the resurrection body will be like. We have some clues by reading about the resurrection body of Jesus, but we do not know much.
- Excitement is appropriate. Though care of seed is important, no one buys seed in order to cherish the seed, but to look forward to a lush lawn, beautiful flowers, or great food. We can look forward with great anticipation to what is to come.
- God has the ultimate green thumb. When Paul refers to various ‘kinds’ in verses 38-41 we are taken back to God’s work in creation. God created. God can re-create. No wonder Paul calls the Corinthians fools for their scepticism, for they are considering matters without thinking of God’s part in them, whereas: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10 NRSV)
When it comes to the resurrection from the dead, 1st Corinthians 15 may not satisfy our curiosity. There may be many lingering questions such as what happens to the very atoms that make up our bodies. Paul does not satisfy our curiosity on such things, instead he goes somewhere else. He goes to our Adam problem and our Jesus solution. Figuring out how God will raise the dead in Christ is not the crucial thing, figuring out that God will raise the dead in Christ is. Consider:
45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life- giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:44-49)
There is a lot to be said about those verses, but for now the central point is that though we might die in Adam, we live and will live in Christ. Never mind what happens to our atoms, our cells, and tissues, and organs, never mind what happens to our DNA, or our souls. Look instead at what happens to our sin. Or rather look at what has already happened to our sin. It is nailed to the cross, and therefore death gives way to life.
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Indeed “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Resurrection to eternal life is a gift. Again, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Resurrection to eternal life is a gift only God could give.
There are many questions we might have about how the dead are raised or what our bodies will be like. The bigger question is, how can we give thanks.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
(All Bible references are taken from the NRSV. All emphases are mine)