1 Corinthians 15:35-49
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 
In the previous two sections of chapter 15, Paul has written “to refute those who deny the [physical] resurrection of the dead by urging its absolute necessity if there is to be any Christian faith at all. Everything is up for grabs—Christ’s death as a saving event, forgiveness of sins, hope for the future, Christian ethics, the character of God himself—if there is no resurrection. But almost certainly lurking behind that denial is a [dualistic] view of the material order that found the resurrection of material bodies (or dead corpses) to be a doctrine most foul.” 
Not only does this new section begin with two questions, but there’s also a shift in the apostle’s language. The word dead (nekros) showed up 11 times in verses 1-34. That word occurs only three times in our text this morning. The word that dominates this section is body (soma), showing up 10 times here and not once in the previous 34 verses. The word dead refers not only to the people who have died, but also too their corpses. It appears the Corinthians’ concern was the resurrection and reanimation of rotting corpses. Perhaps they were imagining the resurrection to be a kind of Walking Dead, zombie apocalypse.
Paul’s task is to help the Corinthians make sense of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. What does resurrection teaching say about our present world? What does it say about our future world? Does it have any practical significance? Paul has argued that if Jesus was raised, then all those who are in him will also be raised. If Christ has defeated death, then death cannot ultimately reign in the lives of those in union with him. In this section, we learn that how the human body is viewed shapes the way we think and live. If the body is unimportant, we are led into escapist mysticism or unbridled hedonism – because the material world doesn’t matter.
Biblical Christianity provides the strongest foundation for seeking material, bodily health, and wholeness. If we allow scripture to speak for itself, we will see God’s revelation of the virgin birth, incarnation, and resurrection as the true laws of the flesh and the physical. We will know that death, decay, and destruction are the suspension of these true laws. The suspension of the true laws is a result of mankind’s sinful condition inherited from our first union representative, Adam. What we will learn from Paul this morning is that the resurrection: is understandable; is, at the same time, incomprehensible; and is mysteriously beautiful.
UNDERSTANDABLE RESURRECTION (15:35-44)
The first thing we learn is that the resurrection is understandable because it is natural. We see hints of it in nature. 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” The Corinthians struggled with the implication that all Christians will be raised with their bodies because Christ was raised in the body. Their culture had categories for the soul living on indefinitely, but no category for the body living on. They had been raised in the Greek culture with a dualistic understanding of humanity. The immaterial human soul was thought good and immortal, but the material body was seen as unnecessary to life eternal. The body was limited and inferior; it needed to be discarded for the soul to experience purity and limitlessness.
This is still a commonly held belief in our day. Many believe the body is just a container for the soul. Death, then, becomes a great release from the mortal body. The soul flees to some undefined “better place.” Many Christians believe Heaven is strictly a spiritual existence in an otherworldly location. That belief is held by most spiritualists and many other religions. Paul makes two arguments in verses 35-41 to combat this belief. First, he argues that the resurrection of the body aligns with the understanding of change or transformation of quality (36-38). Second, he argues the resurrection of the body aligns with our understanding of variety or difference in kind (39-41).
The resurrection of the body involves our human observation and understanding of the transformation of quality. Paul writes, in verses 36-38:
36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
It’s natural to our earthly understanding to assume that bodies will not rise from the dead. Very few people have ever had firsthand experience of a resurrection. None of the Corinthians had ever experienced such a thing. So, Paul begins with the subject of transformation and change. Transformation is counterintuitive. Paul uses the example of a seed that transforms to look completely different than it originally did. The DNA is the same, but there is physical transformation. In the same way, our lives transform, and meaningful change usually comes during moments of crisis. Life often emerges from what feels like death.
Transformation is out of our control. The planted seed is left to forces outside of its control. It needs good soil and moisture. It is God who enacts this transformation, “God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (v .38). It is God who gives us our earthly bodies; it is God who gives us our resurrection bodies. God transforms the quality, which is at the same time intelligible but foreign because it happens outside of our control.
Along with the transformation of quality, the resurrection of the body also aligns with our human understanding of variety or difference in kind. Verses 39-41 read:
39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
Paul argues that just because we cannot imagine a body that is different from the one that we have now does not mean that it isn’t possible. God has created all kinds of bodies. Each is fit for its environment. The land animal is fit for the land, the bird for the air, and the fish for the sea. God creates specific kinds of bodies to thrive in specific environments or habitats. The observable varieties of life should lead us logically to believe that God is capable of creating a human body that is different in quality and kind than our present sin-tainted temporal earthly bodies.
Paul is using visible natural illustrations in order to explain the intelligibility of the resurrection. Despite the ways resurrection aligns with what we can observe in the world, it is also beyond us. There is some form of physical continuity but there are equal amounts of discontinuity. We cannot predict what a resurrection body would look like because it’s outside the realm of our experience.
INCOMPREHENSABLE RESURRECTION (42-46)
Resurrection has observable parallels in our natural world, making it somewhat intelligible. Resurrection is natural, but it is also supernatural. There is an incomprehensible change in quality, from perishable to imperishable (v. 42).
42 So is it 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.
Although we can understand that adaptation and transformation happen in the natural realm, it is beyond our understanding how something could go from perishable to imperishable, from dishonorable to glorious, and from weak to strong. Everyone longs for the imperishable. The Corinthians believed they had found the imperishable with their dualistic view that souls are eternal and physical things are temporal. Today we can see the longing for eternity in the health and cosmetic industries as people attempt to fight death with so many different kinds of tools because they know their bodies are perishable. Most people will try anything to lengthen their lives. The biblical doctrine of resurrection of the body says that human beings will be raised. Those united into Christ by trust will be completely transformed from the perishable to the imperishable, from dishonor to glory, from weakness to power. Scripture affirms the longing to overcome death, disease, sickness, and decay. But overcoming does not happen ultimately through escaping from the body, but by a transformation of the body itself.
We will experience an incomprehensible change in kind, from natural to supernatural. Paul writes in verses 44-46:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 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 natural, and then the spiritual.
The transformation of our bodies begins when our bodies are infused and recreated by the lifegiving Spirit of Jesus. We are moved from mortal to immortal, but the sin-bound temporal body is still present. The closest thing we have to an encounter with a resurrection body is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He was human. He was recognizable. He had scars. He ate food. And yet, supernaturally, he walked through walls – something completely beyond our normal understanding. Jesus’ resurrection body proves that what we believe about the body truly matters. If one believes the body is done and over at death, that person is most likely a mystic escapist. Why care for the body? Why care for anything in the physical realm? Why care for the earth?
If we believe the body has eternal significance, we don’t have to stave off death because death has already been defeated. We can then understand why the physical world is important. We can begin to understand that we should exercise stewardship over not only our bodies, but also the created world because it too has a lasting significance. Death and decay are not natural, they are the result of God’s curse upon sin. The body in the physical world is not something from which to escape but something to embrace and something for which to care.
But how can we possibly believe this? How can we know we will experience incomprehensible transformation of both quality and kind? We know because we see the beauty of the resurrected Jesus. His truth is our certainty and our future promise of experiencing indescribable beauty.
RESURRECTION BEAUTY (47-49)
Paul writes in verses 45-49:
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 natural, 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 also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
We inherited our temporal earthly bodies from the first federal head of humanity, our first union representative, Adam. When Adam rebelled, he led humanity into sin and death. We are all perishable because of Adam. For our bodies to become imperishable, we need a second Adam, another union representative, another federal head. Jesus was the federal head who came to represent his people. He did perfectly what Adam could never do and paid the penalty of death for Adam’s sin. We inherit our natural temporal bodies from Adam. We will inherit our supernatural eternal bodies, our new sinless hardware, because we are in union with Christ.
What was incomprehensible in Adam God has made understandable in Christ. Jesus reversed the cosmic order for his people! “In order to save his people, Jesus, the only naturally imperishable one, became perishable on their behalf. The Man of Heaven took on a body of dust in order that people who are made of dust might take on a heavenly body.” Like a grain of wheat, he was buried in the ground but was transformed to bear much fruit. Jesus said in John chapter 12, “24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Christ the imperishable became perishable so the perishable sons and daughters of Adam might become imperishable. Christ, the glorious one, experienced dishonor so that the dishonorable might experience eternal glory. Christ, the powerful one, became weak so that we who are weak can become powerful. Messiah Jesus, who deserved only life, experienced death so that we who deserve eternal death could experience new life. The one whom Paul calls “the man of heaven” (v.49) made himself a Son of Man (a man of earth) so that the earthly sons of Adam might become people of heaven. In Christ, the natural and the supernatural merge. The present and future meet. His reality is our surety that, “49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
If you are trusting into Jesus, your future supernatural resurrection body is just as certain as your present natural body. Christ is in us, so we already have the spiritual DNA! We are like a seed buried in a dying world that will miraculously sprout into a counter-intuitive, unexpected new life that is physical and spiritual and eternal. What does the grace of resurrection mean for us to whom Jesus clings? How does the beauty of resurrection show itself in our lives? In Hebrews Chapter 11, Saint Author writes about the great Portrait Gallery of Trust. He lists impressive examples of people who were faithful to God. But we need to recall the literary structure of the whole letter, which is clearly introduced in chapter 1. There, we are taught that Jesus is the one who is superior to all individuals and institutions.
So, when we read Hebrews 11, the context of the passage is NOT that the reader must copy the faithfulness of people mentioned. Rather, we must recognize that even their faithfulness is not superior to the faithfulness of the One about whom Saint Author is writing, namely Jesus Christ. Their faithfulness is a gift from Christ. In that context, St Author writes, in 11:33-34 of those:
33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 
One of the examples in this text is a reference to the three men in the book of Daniel who faced death for their refusal to worship King Nebuchadnezzar. Another is to Daniel himself and his time spent safely in the lions’ den. If we don’t take the context of the book of Hebrews into account, the implication of these two verses in Chapter 11 can be preached as moralistic. We might see it as a call for us when we are in the lions’ den of life to simply show faith like these men so God will deliver us. But what happens when there is no miraculous deliverance? The answer is God’s resurrection power. If we cling to the doctrine of the resurrection, we can face anything in life. There is hope in even the most difficult of circumstances when the fact of the resurrection is a foundation of our lives.
We know this because Saint Author goes on to say:
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…. 
These verses reference events during the Maccabean period of Judaism before Christ. One such story is found in the book of Second Maccabees, a book not part of the canonical scriptures but still part of Jewish history. In Chapter 7, the emperor Antiochus Epiphanes demanded that seven brothers renounce their faith in Yahweh or die. Their mother encouraged them to stand firm in their faith. One by one, each son was tortured to death and still the mother continued to encourage each to stand firm. What sustained her? Resurrection faith. St Author wrote, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” We who trust into the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ know that we will rise again to a better life. Like the mother who watched all of her sons martyred for the sake of their Messianic hope, we know one day God’s people will be transformed with glorified supernatural bodies like the one possessed by the Man of Heaven.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 15:35–41.
 Fee, 775.
 Um, 277-278. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 12:23–24.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 11:33–34.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 11:35–37.