Last time we began to think about the question: What happens to us after we die?
Many people are plain confused about what waits for us after death. And with confusion comes fear. The Bible doesn’t answer all our questions, but it does have a lot to say. It addresses the future of those who do not know the Lord Jesus. And it addresses the future of Christians who do know and love him. And 1 Corinthians 15 is one of the places where it does.
Last time, we said that everything flows from the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Because Jesus rose, we will rise. Because Jesus rose, he reigns now. And one day every last enemy of his will be subdued, including death itself.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of what life will be like when that happens. What will life be like when we rise? What will life be like when all you can see in every direction is the reign of Jesus? And while we’re here: What about those who haven’t died when Jesus comes back? How will they rise? Will they miss out?
Those are the questions Paul comes onto today. The short answer is: It’s going to be absolutely wonderful! Let’s look a bit more closely.
If you look at verse 35, you’ll see the question he’s answering: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”
The Corinthians were struggling to believe all this stuff about us being raised, physically, from the dead. Some of them pictured our corpses being reactivated. Heart, lungs and brain start to work again. We pick up where we left off, complete with arthritis, cancer or pneumonia.
I mentioned a few weeks back that others of them thought our bodies didn’t matter. What mattered was our spirit, our soul. We’re hermit crabs, borrowing a body for the short while we live on earth, while the “real me”, doesn’t have a body. We’re not actual crabs, where our shell is part of who we are. So the very idea that God will raise our bodies, well that’s just ridiculous!
And because the Corinthians couldn’t figure out how God would raise us from the dead, they were laughing off the idea that he would. So Paul answers their question. He tells us what kind of body we’ll have. He tells us something about what life will be like. Then, instead of laughing at the idea that God will raise us from the dead, we can look forward to it.
There’s more glorious detail here than we’ve got time for. I’m going to use two headings as I take us through the main points.
We will be given heavenly bodies like Jesus
First, we will be given heavenly bodies like Jesus. We will be given heavenly bodies like Jesus.
This is verses 35 to 49.
Paul makes two points in verses 36 to 41, and then puts them together. It’s not hard to understand.
So, point 1, verses 36 and 37: What you sow is not the same kind of body as what you grow. You plant a seed. You grow a plant.
Then point 2, verses 38 to 41: Creatures don’t all have the same kind of body. They each have an appropriate body for what they are.
The hinge in verses 38 to 41 comes in verse 40: “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another.”
Above that, 38 and 39, he talks about how different kinds of earthly creatures have different kinds of bodies: People, livestock, birds, fish.
Below that, verse 41, he talks about how different kinds of heavenly creations have different kinds of bodies: sun, moon, stars.
All different. All appropriate.
And then he puts those two points together. When you die, it’s like a seed being sown in the ground. When we are raised to life, it’s like a plant growing. What goes into the ground has an appropriate body for what it was. And what comes out of the ground has an appropriate body for what it is. Different. But appropriate.
And so verses 42 to 44: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, 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.”
We have an appropriate body for what we are now. It’s perishable, it dies out. It’s weak. But it will grow, it will be raised as something different, something wonderful.
Imperishable. It will never wear out.
Glorious – fit for the presence of God.
Powerful – no limitations.
And spiritual – a body that matches the wonderful reality God lives in us by his Spirit.
And there’s a reason why we’ll get bodies like this when we come back out of the ground. It’s because we’ll be like Jesus.
We talked last time about the fact that the human race has two great ancestors: Adam and Jesus. We’re all descended from Adam. We inherit from him the tragic facts that we all sin and we all die.
But when someone becomes a Christian, they join the family of Jesus. He’s the second Adam, the head of a new race. We inherit from him the fact that we will live. We said last time: This is one of the reasons why we will be raised; Jesus our ancestor was.
But Paul now takes this further. It also explains the kind of body we will have when we are raised.
Our bodies now resemble Adam: broken, decaying, gradually falling apart, until we die.
But the bodies we get then must resemble Jesus, our new representative head: heavenly, spiritual, full of life.
Heavenly bodies are still real bodies. Physical bodies. Spiritual bodies are still real bodies. Physical bodies. Like Jesus had. They’re bodies fit for heaven. Bodies fit for God’s Spirit.
It’s nearly Christmas. People often omit the last verse of Hark! The herald-angels sing. Here’s the second half of that verse. What a glorious thing Jesus came to do:
Adam’s likeness now efface;
stamp your image in its place;
second Adam from above,
give us life; impart your love.
Or the better-known third verse celebrates like this:
Mild, he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die;
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
We will be given heavenly bodies like Jesus.
We will be clothed with immortal bodies for eternity
Then, second, verses 50 to 57: We will be clothed with immortal bodies for eternity. We will be clothed with immortal bodies for eternity.
The picture changes. In verses 35 to 49, the picture was of having a body that fits your nature. Now, in verses 50 to 57, the picture is of clothing. That’s to say, we have to be dressed for the occasion.
The occasion is God’s wonderful, eternal kingdom on earth. A renewed world, in which God himself reigns, in which everyone can see that God reigns. The question is: What kind of clothing do you need to live in a world like that?
You can’t just turn up in an old, decaying body, that keeps on getting sick and one day dies. That would be no use at all for God’s kingdom that lasts forever. Everything would be eternal, everything would be perfect, until you turned up — and sneezed. You’d have ruined it.
If the world is perfect, we must be perfect. If the world will last forever, we must last forever. We need new clothes. We need immortal bodies.
So look at verse 50. Once again, when he says “flesh and blood”, he cannot mean physical bodies. He must mean bodies that wear out because of what he goes on to say. “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
Which means that even those who haven’t died by the time Jesus returns will need to get changed for the party. In fact, Paul explicitly says that some people will still be alive when Jesus comes back. The human race is not going to wipe itself out, hard though that is to believe at times.
The moment Jesus returns, every Christian who is still alive will be changed, transformed, instantaneously. Literally, “in an atom”, which in Greek thought was something so small you couldn’t chop it up any smaller. We’ll be changed in such a small interval of time that you won’t see it happen. If you had the highest tech slow motion camera possible, filming thousands of frames per second, you wouldn’t see it happen. One moment, the person would be their old mortal self. The very next frame they’d have become immortal and glorious.
It’s what he says in verses 51 to 53. These verses are just wonderful: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed –in a flash (that’s the atom), in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”
From that moment on, provided you trusted and followed Jesus in this life, you will have a body that never wears out, never gets old. No cells will die. The endless cycle of death and decay will have been broken forever.
Which means that death itself will have gone. It will have eaten itself. Verse 54: “the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”
And the thing that makes us die is our sin. So sin will be gone as well. You’ll never again say, think or do anything selfish or unkind. You’ll never hurt anyone again, never mistreat anyone again. You’ll be the person God made you to be – in the way you behave, and in the kind of body you have.
And it will go on forever. Welcome to the party! God’s eternal kingdom. For eternity. And we’ll be dressed for the occasion. Clothed with immortal bodies, for eternity.
I love the last book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle. At the end, the children go through a door into Aslan’s new world. It’s a wonderful world. Here’s a little bit of it:
“Peter,” said Lucy, “where is this, do you suppose?”
“I don’t know,” said the High King. “It reminds me of somewhere but I can’t give it a name. Could it be somewhere we once stayed for a holiday when we were very, very small?”
“It would have to have been a jolly good holiday,” said Eustace. “I bet there isn’t a country like this anywhere in our world. Look at the colours! You couldn’t get blue like that blue on those mountains in our world.” …
“If you ask me,” said Edmund, “it’s like somewhere in the Narnian world. Look at those mountains ahead—and the big ice-mountains beyond them. Surely they’re rather like the mountains we used to see from Narnia, the ones up Westward beyond the Waterfall?”
“Yes, so they are,” said Peter. “Only these are bigger.”
“I don’t think those ones are so very like anything in Narnia,” said Lucy. “But look there.” She pointed Southward to their left and everyone stopped and turned to look. “Those hills,” said Lucy, “the nice woody ones and the blue ones behind—aren’t they very like the Southern border of Narnia?”
“Like!” cried Edmund after a moment’s silence. “Why, they’re exactly like. Look, there’s Mount Pire with his forked head, and there’s the pass into Archenland and everything!”
“And yet they’re not like,” said Lucy. “They’re different. They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more … more … oh, I don’t know …”
“More like the real thing,” said the Lord Digory softly.
It’s a wonderful world. But then listen to what it was like as they explored it.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!"
He shook his mane and sprang forward into a great gallop--a Unicorn's gallop, which, in our world, would have carried him out of sight in a few moments. But now a most strange thing happened. Everyone else began to run, and they found, to their astonishment, that they could keep up with him: not only the Dogs and the humans but even fat little Puzzle (the donkey) and short-legged Poggin the Dwarf. The air flew in their faces as if they were driving fast in a car without a windscreen. The country flew past as if they were seeing it from the windows of an express train. Faster and faster they raced, but no one got hot or tired or out of breath.
A world with limitless beauty, endless new depths to explore, ever more to enjoy and to do. And renewed, transformed, immortal bodies with which to explore, to admire, to do. Bodies that never get hot, or tired, or out of breath. Bodies that never get frail. Bodies that never sin. Bodies that never die.
A few weeks ago I was talking to someone who was telling me a great long list of things they’d recently had diagnosed. “I need a new body”, they said. “One day, you’ll get one,” I replied.
I was talking to someone else about their glasses. “The day will come when your eyesight will be perfect, and you’ll have no need of glasses,” I told them.
For the Christian, we will one day enjoy a world without walking sticks, pacemakers, inhalers or pain killers. Nobody will ever need a diet that avoids gluten or dairy. There will be no need for hospitals, or GP surgeries, or ambulances. Nobody will ever need a flu jab.
The last time I taught on this subject, somebody felt disturbed, and asked why I had to upset the apple cart. This person had been brought up on the idea that when we die we go to heaven. Why can’t I just leave it at that, they wanted to know.
And the answer is that this is too wonderful to miss.
By the way, Christians do go to heaven when they die. The New Testament pictures heaven as the waiting room. Jesus is there, which straight away makes it better than being here on earth, but it’s only temporary. We don’t have our new bodies in heaven. We’re waiting for the day when Jesus returns to this earth. At that point, so do we, and we’re given the glorious, heavenly, immortal, perfect bodies that this chapter is talking about.
I refuse to leave it that we go to heaven because God refuses to leave us in heaven. He has something that is so much more wonderful planned for us.
This is meant to capture your imagination, set your pulse racing, and give you a deep longing to for that day.
We will be clothed with immortal bodies, for eternity.
We live in a world that is fearful of what comes after death, and sceptical of anyone who says we can be sure what lies beyond.
But we can be sure. Jesus has come back to tell us. And when he rose from the dead he did so as the firstfruits, the second Adam, the reigning king, the one who would one day destroy death itself.
And so as surely as day follows night, we too will rise, glorious, heavenly, immortal. And death itself will be swallowed up.
This is all absolutely certain.
Don’t move from it.
Build your life upon it.
Here’s verse 58: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”