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What Does Our Resurrection Body Look Like? - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

What Does Our Resurrection Body Look Like? - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

By Ted Schroder,
May 14, 2017

"There is nothing that is more at variance with human reason than this article of faith. For who but God alone could persuade us that bodies, which are now liable to corruption, will, after having rotted away, or after they have been consumed by fire, or torn in pieces by wild beasts, will not merely be restored entire, but in a greatly better condition. Do not all our apprehensions of things straightway reject this as a thing fabulous, nay, most absurd." (John Calvin, 1 Cor.15:35)

Far from backing away from his proclamation of the resurrection of the body of each individual believer in Jesus Christ, St. Paul calls the skeptic a fool for his questioning. Rationally and logically he patiently explains how this seeming absurdity is possible. He uses two analogies: from nature and from the spirit.

First, the analogy from nature. A plant has to die before it can be reborn. It lives out its normal cycle and withers and perishes but its seed enters the earth and produces new life. The seed contains that genetic structure of its parent which it reproduces. There is no physical resemblance between the plant and the seed but when the seed dissolves in the ground it produces a continuity with its past. Jesus used the same analogy about his own death and resurrection. "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24). Death is only an appearance of lifelessness. The seed contains the essence of life which, when quickened by its environment, sprouts and flourishes. It perpetuates the identity of its origin. So it is with our own bodies. There is no visual likeness between the seed and the plant that grows from it. There may be no visual likeness between our lifeless body that is buried and our resurrection body, but God preserves within it a sort of life germ which provides continuity and our personal identity. Sea oats are symbols of the resurrection (see our chapel doors). They sprout again after hurricanes.

It may be objected that continuity cannot be preserved when ashes are scattered or the body destroyed in an accident or in war. We need to remember that God created us as atoms, and joined us together to produce us as living beings from the dust of the earth and human generation. God, who constructed us in the beginning from the minutest particle can reconstruct us in eternity. A little seed that does not weigh the hundredth part of an ounce falls into the earth and springs up and produces a forest tree that weighs two tons. And yet the tree is positively identical with the seed. It is the same thing. The cells in our bodies change every ten years or so. We are not the same body we were twenty years ago. Yet we are the same person.

Yet, there is individuality. We do not have the same DNA. God gives each of us a body as he has determined. All creatures have different kinds of bodies. Whatever diversity we see in nature is a confirmation of the possibility of resurrection, because God clearly shows, that it is no difficult thing with him to renew our bodies since he can create all kinds of bodies. As the celestial bodies of the sun, moon, stars and planets differ from one another in their glory we will also.

The contrast between the dead body and the resurrection body is stark. "The body that is sown in perishable, it is raised imperishable." In this life there is decay and corruption. Our fragile bodies are prone to all kinds of illnesses and diseases. Outwardly we are wasting away. But in the resurrection we will be liberated from bondage to decay and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. The body is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. Our present bodily emotions and passions that can dishonor us will be replaced with the purity of service to God and others which will bring glory to God. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. The limitations of this life which prevent us from being and doing all that we would want will be replaced by the strength that God supplies in Christ. The natural analogy is that of metamorphosis: the transformation of the caterpillar, through incubation in a chrysalis, to become a beautiful butterfly.

Secondly, it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Our natural, physical body comes from the dust of the earth as in the story of Adam. Our spiritual, resurrection body comes from heaven as in Christ. "And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so we shall bear the likeness of the man from heaven." There are some who would say that Jesus Christ modelled for us what the resurrection body would resemble. He was the same as in his earthly life and yet he was different. His body was not confined within the limits of our space-time world. Bars and bolts could not shut him out of rooms. It was not an earthbound body. It was something that bore a developmental relationship to an earthly human body, but it was not identical with it. There was clearly a continuity of life between the body of Jesus and the body of the resurrected Jesus, but in the time between his death and resurrection it had undergone a very fundamental change.

Donald Mackay, one of the foremost experts in the communication systems of the human brain, describes what resurrection means. "It is not as disembodied spirits that God promises us eternal life, but as personalities expressed in a new kind of body -- what the apostle Paul call a 'spiritual body.' Just as a message is still the same message, whether it is spoken in words or flashed in morse code [or by text or semaphore], so, according to the Bible, we shall be the same persons, whatever the material form in which our personalities may be expressed." Resurrection necessitates a suitable body in which to live. We shall be perfectly designed to live in a spiritual environment in the new earth that is to come. It will be infinitely more glorious than this life.

Addressing questions about premature deaths St. Augustine speculates, "All shall rise in the stature they either had attained or would have attained had they lived to their prime....in the resurrection of the flesh the body shall be of that size which it either had attained or should have attained in the flower of its youth, and shall enjoy the beauty that arises from preserving symmetry and proportion in all its members....there be no deformity, no infirmity, no languor, no corruption -- nothing of any kind which would ill become that kingdom in which the children of the resurrection and of the promise shall be equal to the angels of God, if not in body and age, at least in happiness....not a hair of its head shall perish. The flesh shall then be spiritual, and subject to the spirit, but still flesh, not spirit as the spirit itself, when subject to the flesh, was fleshly, but still spirit and not flesh....But what this spiritual body shall be, and how great its grace, I fear it were be rash to pronounce, seeing that we have as yet no experience of it." (The City of God)

Our bodies are holy. "The body is meant for the Lord and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body"1 Cor.6:13-20).


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