April 18, 1993
THE BODY OF THE FUTURE
“But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35)
Whenever spring rolls around, a lot of people become irrational. They take tiny specks of dry, dead material, they bury those specks in some dirt, and then they wait for something to happen. They seem to think that once those little things are buried, they’ll come to life and grow and become something useful.
Now, is that silly, or what? Do these people believe in miracles? Anybody can see that those hard, little particles are dead. They’ve been lying in storage for quite some time and nothing’s happened. They show no signs of life whatsoever. So what sense does it make to think that they’ll come to life just because they’re buried in some dirt? And yet every spring, people go out to plant seeds in their fields and gardens and flower beds.
Actually, of course, nobody thinks that planting is irrational. When billions of seeds come to life each spring, we don’t shake our heads in shock that billions of unexpected miracles have just taken place. We take it for granted. Of course, seeds are going to sprout and grow and become plants! That’s just what seeds do!
You bury a lifeless seed, and you end up with a living plant. Something tiny and gray and dead becomes something large and colorful and very much alive. We’re so accustomed to this miracle that we take it for granted. But according to the Bible, the God who invented this process in the plant world has in mind something similar, only much more astonishing, for his human creatures.
God has said that he will take human bodies that are dead and decayed, and he will not only bring them back to life, but he will make them glorious and immortal. You wouldn’t expect this just from looking at a corpse, but then you’d never guess that a lifeless little speck could become a plant, either.
Some of us can’t seem to accept something unless we can explain it. We won’t believe that the resurrection will happen unless we understand how it will happen. We know all too well that dead bodies disintegrate, and we don’t have a clue at to how they can ever be raised to life again. Many corpses disappear completely: some are dismembered in war; some are cremated and scattered to the wind; some lie in a coffin and wither away to dust. Isn’t that an insurmountable problem? How can bodies which have died and decayed into nothingness ever be raised to life again? And just supposing they can, what will those resurrection bodies be like?
Well, questions like this weren’t anything new to the apostle Paul. He’d heard them all before. In fact, he was a little tired of hearing them. In 1 Corinthians 15:35, Paul writes, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish!” It’s silly, says Paul, to doubt the resurrection just because you don’t understand exactly how it will happen, or because you don’t know precisely what the resurrection body will be like.
Open your eyes and look, says Paul. You’ll see that a kind of resurrection takes place over and over again all around you. It happens every time you plant a seed. Paul writes,
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed, he gives its own body (v. 36-38).
In other words, resurrection is woven into the very fabric of the creation around us. It makes just as much sense to bury a human body and expect it to come alive in a transformed condition as it does to plant a seed and expect it to come alive in a transformed condition.
What’s more, says Paul, when we really pay attention to this universe we’re living in, we see all kinds of proof that God knows what he’s doing when it comes to designing bodies. “All flesh is not the same,” writes Paul. “Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another, and fish another.” In other words, different things have different bodies suited to their own identity and to their own environment.
People have one kind of flesh. They walk upright, which leaves their hands free to build and create; they have the kind of brain structure necessary for creatures who were created to think and imagine and love and worship. Humans have just the sort of bodies that it takes to be–well, to be human.
Animals have another kind of flesh, says Paul. The various land animals have bodies that express the kind of creatures they are and which suit their habitat. Birds have yet another kind of body, with wings and feathers and the kind of body structure that makes it possible for them to be at home in the air. Fish have still another kind of body, one that’s at home in the water, with gills for getting oxygen from the water and the kind of fins and tails that are perfect for swimming. So why can’t the God who created all these different bodies to suit their different environments also create resurrection bodies that are suitable for an environment of eternal glory with him?
Paul presses his case by pointing out the magnificence of other physical objects, on earth and also in space. He says,
There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another, and the stars another; and the star differs from the star in splendor.
Physical objects on earth–“earthly bodies,” as Paul calls them–each have their own beauty and appeal. The delicacy of a snowflake, the majesty of a mountain, the thunderous splendor of a waterfall, the vast silence of a desert–all these earthly bodies have a unique kind of splendor.
The various heavenly bodies also have their own splendor which is different from the earthly bodies. The sun, moon, and stars, the planets and the galaxies–each of the heavenly bodies is different, each is impressive in its own way, and they all bear witness to the creativity of a God who has unlimited skill in designing and creating a vast array of physical objects.
When we consider all this, is it so hard to believe that if God wants people to live with him forever, he is more than capable of providing them with suitable bodies? We see hints of resurrection in the sprouting of seeds, and we also see the limitless imagination of God in putting such an astonishing variety of bodies on earth and also in space. Put all this testimony of creation together with the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ has already be raised in a glorified body, and it seems rather foolish not to believe in the resurrection.
To believe in the resurrection, you don’t need to know exactly how it will happen. You simply need to know who it is that’s going to make it happen. When you talk about resurrection, you’re not talking about some researcher in cryogenics who has to freeze a corpse intact until the technology can be discovered to revive it again. You’re not talking about an inventor who is trying desperately to do something he’s never done before. You’re talking about the omnipotent God, who brought matter and energy out of sheer nothingness, who brought life out of none living material, who is the creative power behind every last body in the physical universe. Not only that, but you’re also talking about the One who has already raised Jesus from the dead. So he’s a proven success at resurrections. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again.
Once we know that, a lot of our doubts evaporate. We take the resurrection seriously, and we even start to wonder what the body of the future will be like. Once again, it’s helpful just to look at what happens when a seed becomes a plant.
When we look at seeds and plants, we see that each kind of seed produces its own kind of plant. A wheat seed produces a wheat plant, a carrot seed produces a carrot plant, and a radish seed produces a radish plant. You can’t get carrots by planting radishes, or radishes by planting wheat. Each plant has the identity of the seed that produced it. As the apostle Paul puts it, God gives each kind of seed its own body (v. 38).
Likewise, God will give you your own body. Each resurrection body will have the same identity as the mortal body that preceded it. After the resurrection, you’ll still be you and I’ll still be me. My resurrection body will be unique to me, and yours will be unique to you. You won’t become somebody else, any more than a radish seed sprouts into a carrot. There will be continuity between the body you have now and your future body.
However, there will also be a great difference, a miraculous transformation. The body which is buried will be far surpassed by the body that is resurrected. You’ll retain your individual identity and uniqueness, but don’t think for a moment that the resurrection body is just a resuscitated version of your old body. After all, Paul says that even those who are alive when Jesus returns will be changed and transformed (v. 51). So obviously, the glorified body won’t be just a revived version of the body you have now. There will be a total transformation.
Again, think of a plant. In one sense, it has the same identity as the seed–the same genetic code, if you will–but in another sense, the plant is very different from the seed. As Paul puts it, “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed.” The body that emerges from that seed is very different from the seed itself, and far more impressive. In the same way, the glorified body that emerges at the resurrection will far surpass the body I now have, in ways that are hard for me even to imagine right now.
Let’s say that the only thing you knew about carrots was what a carrot seed was like. Well, you could study that seed all you wanted, but you’d never guess what a carrot is like unless you actually saw one and tasted one. Or suppose that the only thing you knew about tulips was what a tulip bulb looks like. That ugly little bulb wouldn’t give you much of an idea of how beautiful a tulip looks when it’s in full bloom.
We’re in a similar situation when we try to imagine what it will be like to live in our glorified resurrection bodies. All we’re familiar with right now are the bodies we have. But those are only seeds. We won’t know what the plants are like until the resurrection actually happens, and God transforms our lowly bodies to become like Jesus’ immortal and glorious body.
Paul, inspired by God, doesn’t try to give us all the details about our resurrection bodies. We wouldn’t be able to understand anyway. But the apostle does show that just as God knows how to transform a seed into a plant that has the same identity as the seed and yet transcends it completely, so he can transform my mortal body into something that has the same identity as my old body and yet transcends it completely.
What else can we learn about our resurrection bodies? We saw earlier how Paul, inspired by God, points out the astonishing variety of bodies that God has created: people, animals, birds, fish, and even physical objects in space. God always provides a body suitable to its identity and its environment. Just as he gives a fish the gills it needs to breathe in water, just as he gives a bird the wings it needs to fly through the air, so he will give us the bodies we need to live in an environment of glory and absolute perfection.
What’s this going to mean? Well, God will be directly present to us in the new creation, and nothing sinful can survive in the presence of his holiness. So in order for a body to be adapted to that kind of environment, it will have to be absolutely free from sin and from any sinful tendencies. God will make both my soul and my glorified body absolutely pure.
Also, to be in the environment of God’s absolute perfection, the body must be flawless and complete. You may be blind now, but in your resurrected body, you will see with perfect clarity. You may be hard of hearing now, but you will hear perfectly then. You may be crippled by injury or arthritis now, but you will walk and leap then. All suffering and sorrow and disease and weakness will be removed, and you will be full of energy and zest and vigor, perfect specimens of humanity that reflect the perfection of God and feel very much at home in his presence.
And there’s even more. In order to be fully adapted to our transformed environment, the body of the future will need to have capabilities that go beyond anything we can imagine. The Bible says that we will see God face to face, and we’ll be able to perceive the angels. How is that possible? Well, either our eyes and ears will have the capacity to perceive realities that we can’t see or hear in our present condition, or perhaps we’ll even be given senses and powers of perception that we don’t yet have, that transcends any of the five senses.
It’s impossible, of course, to say what such a sense would be like. How could you possibly tell a person who was born blind what it’s like to see? How would you describe a rainbow to someone who doesn’t even have a concept of color? That’s sort of what it’s like to talk about seeing God and angels and the spirit world. We’ll need powers of perception that we’ve never had before, that we can’t even imagine right now. People born blind won’t know what sight is like until the resurrection, but none of us will know what real spiritual sight is like until the resurrection. Then, for the first time, we’ll be able to perceive God directly. How we’ll be able to do that and what it will be like is impossible to say. But the Bible says that “we shall see him as he is.” I’m speaking here of things so wonderful and so holy that I might be wiser just to remain silent, but I want you to realize how awesome it is that the body of the future is designed to be at home in the very presence of God.
Well, after pointing out how God brings life out of dead seeds, and how he creates various bodies that are adapted to their environments, each with its own degree of splendor, Paul states explicitly some contrasts between the present body and the body of the future. In verses 42-44 of 1 Corinthians 15, he writes:
So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, 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.
These four contrasts are some of the most comforting statements in the Bible. The bodies we have now are perishable. They die. It might a war, an accident, or a killer virus; a mass of cancerous tissue, a malfunctioning heart valve, or a stroke; but one way or another, death eventually strikes each of us. However, says the Bible, although the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable. It’s immortal. It’s immune to accidents and disease and death. There is no more fear of death, only life without end. Imperishable! Indestructible!
The second contrast is that what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. Have you ever felt a twinge of sadness while watching an old movie? You see a good-looking young actor, and you know that this star who was once so youthful and handsome is now stooped and wrinkled. Or you see a stunningly lovely actress, and you realize that she’s now dead. The impact may be even worse if you go through your own family photo albums. The body deteriorates as it ages, and at last until it reaches the ultimate disgrace. It dies and has to be buried or burned so that it won’t smell or get in the way. “It is sown in dishonor.” But, thank God, that’s not the end of the story. It is sown in dishonor, but it is raised in glory, in splendid perfection, never again to lose its beauty, never again to experience shame. No more ugliness, no more shame, no more embarrassment, no more deterioration–just the glory of physical and spiritual perfection.
The third contrast makes a similar point: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. The body of the future will never become tired or weak or worn out. It will forever be full of strength and vitality.
The fourth contrast is the most profound: “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Notice that Paul talks about a spiritual body. The contrast isn’t between a material body and an immaterial spirit. The resurrection body is just as much a body as the present body: it’s just as material, just as physical, just as real–only more so, because it’s indestructible. Both the present body and the resurrection body are physical, but the present body is merely natural, while the resurrection body is spiritual.
One thing this might mean is that the resurrection body, though physical, will not be ruled or dominated by the laws of physics. We know that Jesus’ resurrection body is tangible and physical, and yet he had the capacity simply to appear instantaneously in a room without even going through the door–a bit like Star Trek’s notion of beaming a body from one place to another, only without needing any machines or gadgets to pull it off. The resurrection body is physical, but because it’s also spiritual, it may transcend the current laws of physics.
That’s not the main importance, however, of the Bible’s contrast between natural and spiritual. “Spiritual” means that the resurrection body derives its ultimate life from the Spirit of God himself, that it relies not on the food chain for survival but on God’s Spirit, and that it is suitable to be in the presence of the Lord and of his holy angels. Only a truly spiritual body, one completely infused and filled with the presence of God’s Spirit, will be at home in the new creation.
As Paul writes a few verses later, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Only God’s transforming power can create spiritual bodies fit for his glorious kingdom. And that brings us to a very important matter. These amazing promises about the resurrection body apply to you only if you have the life of Christ in you while you’re still in your present body.
During the month of March one year, a man I know gave his mother a package of tiny specks. He told her that they were a special kind of flower seed that would germinate and grow and blossom within less than two weeks. All she had to do was put them in a pot of soil and place them in a sunny window and wait for the miracle to happen. Well, two weeks later, she still couldn’t see anything but dirt in her flower pot. She kept it watered, but nothing happened, and she couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong.
Finally, April 1 rolled around, and the son stopped over at his mom’s house to ask how her flowers were doing. She got a pained expression and said that there was still nothing happening. That’s when her son started laughing and said, “April Fools!” The seeds he had given her were actually nothing but the hard little tips of turkey beaks that he had picked up at a turkey farm. They looked like seeds, but they sure didn’t grow like seeds.
When you plant a seed, it may not look like a plant yet, but at least it has life hidden inside it. That’s what makes a seed different from a grain of sand or a turkey beak. You can’t bury just any speck of material and expect a plant. It takes a seed that already has the beginning of life inside it.
That’s also true of the resurrection. In order to be raised to life in the resurrection glory of Jesus, you need to have the life of Jesus already present in your life before you’re buried. Those who refuse Jesus will experience a resurrection of sorts, but their bodies will be suited only to a miserable existence in hell. The true resurrection body, the body of the future that we’ve been talking about, the one destined for glory, will spring to life only where the life of Jesus is already present inside. Without the life of Jesus inside you, you’ve got about as much chance of being raised to eternal glory as the tip of a turkey beak has of becoming a flower.
But if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, if the life of his Spirit is within you, you will someday have a resurrection body like his. As the Bible says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Lord God Almighty, we praise you for the wisdom and the love and the power of your life-giving Spirit which is displayed in the universe you’ve created, and which is revealed supremely in the glorious resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We praise you that by faith we may share in his resurrection and that we may look forward to the immortal bodies you’ve prepared for us. Fill each of us with your Spirit’s life, and hasten the day when we will see you face to face and enjoy you forever. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.