By David Feddes
Whenever spring rolls around, a lot of people seem to lose their minds. They go out and do something crazy: they bury hard, gray specks in some dirt and wait for them to come alive and become something wonderful. Isn’t that silly? Anyone can see those particles are dead. Why think they’ll come to life or amount to anything? But every spring, people get a little crazy and plant seeds in their fields and gardens and flowerbeds.
Actually, nobody thinks planting seeds is crazy. We plant billions of seeds, and they become corn or tomatoes or flowers or whatever. We know that something dead-looking can become alive and beautiful. The God who invented this process in the plant world has in mind something similar for humans. He will take human bodies that are dead and decayed and will not only bring them to life but will make them glorious and immortal. You might not expect this result from a corpse, but raising the dead is no harder for God than transforming a seed into a plant.
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, and we don’t have a clue how dead bodies can ever come alive again. Some are blown apart in war. Some are cremated and scattered to the wind. Some lie in a coffin and decay into dust. How can such bodies ever be raised to life again? And just supposing they can, what will those resurrection bodies be like?
Such questions are nothing new. The Bible addresses them in 1 Corinthians 15. Verse 35 says, “Someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish!” It’s not foolish to ask questions if you really want answers, but it’s foolish to question the resurrection with a doubting, disbelieving attitude just because you don’t understand how it will happen or what the resurrection body will be like.
If you find it hard to believe in resurrections, Scriptures says to open your eyes and look. You’ll see a kind of resurrection taking place over and over all around you. It happens every time you plant a seed. “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). It makes as much sense to bury a human body and expect it to come alive as it does to plant a seed and expect it to come alive.
The Body Expert
When we really pay attention to this universe we’re living in, we see all kinds of proof that God is a body expert. God’s power can bring life where there appears to be none, and God’s wisdom can design just the right sort of body for every kind of being. This can be seen not just in plants but in animals as well. “All flesh is not the same. Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another” (v. 39). Different things have different bodies suited to their own identity and to their own environment.
People have one type of body. They walk upright, which leaves their hands free to build and create. They have the kind of brain needed for beings who were created to think and imagine and love and worship. Humans have just the sort of bodies that it takes to be—well, human.
Animals have another kind of flesh. Land animals have bodies that suit their habitat, whether in the desert or the jungle. Birds have another kind of body, with wings and feathers and the kind of body structure 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 taking oxygen from the water and fins that are perfect for swimming. If God has created all these different bodies for different settings, why doubt that he can also raise up human bodies suitable for an environment of eternal glory with him?
The Bible presses the case by pointing out the splendor of other physical objects God has put on earth and in the heavens (v. 40-41). Things on earth each have their own beauty and appeal. The delicate snowflake, the majestic mountain, the thunderous waterfall, the vast desert—all these earthly bodies have a unique kind of splendor. Things in the heavens—sun, moon, stars, and planets—each have their own special splendor. Each displays 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 you to live with him forever, he is able to give you exactly the right sort of body for that purpose? We see hints of resurrection in the sprouting of seeds, and we see the limitless imagination of God in putting 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 been resurrected in a glorified body, and it seems foolish not to believe in the resurrection.
To believe in the resurrection, we don’t need to know exactly how it will happen. We just need know who is going to make it happen. God is more than able to handle it. When we talk about resurrection, we’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. We’re not talking about an inventor who is trying desperately to do something he’s never done before. We’re talking about the almighty God who brought the world out of sheer nothingness, who brought life out of non‑living material, who is the creative power behind every body in the universe. We’re also talking about the Father who has already raised Jesus from the dead in a glorified body. God is a body expert and a proven success at resurrection. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again.
From Seed to Plant
What will the risen body be like? We can get some helpful hints from what happens when a seed becomes a plant. Each kind of seed produces its own kind of plant. A wheat seed produces a wheat plant; a bean seed produces a bean plant. You can’t get beans by planting wheat, or wheat by planting beans. Each plant has the identity of the seed that produced it. As 1 Corinthians 15:38 puts it, “God gives each kind of seed its own body.” 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. You won’t become somebody else any more than a wheat seed sprouts into a bean plant.
However, though you keep your own identity, there will be a great difference, a miraculous transformation. The new version of your body will far surpass the old one. You’ll keep your unique self, but don’t think the resurrection body is just a revived version of the body you have now. Paul says that even those who are alive when Jesus returns will be changed and transformed (v. 51). The glorified body will still be your body, but the transformation may be even bigger than a baby turning into an adult, or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
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. The Bible says, “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed.” The body that emerges from that seed is far more impressive than the seed. In the same way, the glorified, perfect body that emerges at the resurrection will far surpass the body you now have, in ways that are hard even to imagine.
Let’s say the only thing you knew about tulips was what a tulip bulb looked like; you’d never actually seen tulip plants in full flower. You could study that homely, gray tulip bulb all you wanted, but you’d never guess at the beauty of tulips until you actually saw some blooming in all their magnificent color. The bodies we have now are like tulip bulbs. They are going to become something much more than they are now, but we won’t know what the full flowering of our bodies is like until it happens, until our lowly bodies become like Jesus’ glorious body.
Fit for Heaven on Earth
The Bible does offer some exciting hints about the bodies God is planning for his people. God provides every being with a body suitable to its identity and its environment. Just as he gives a fish the gills it needs to breath in water, just as he gives a bird the wings it needs to fly through the air, so God will give us the bodies we need to express our identity as children of God and to thrive in an environment of heavenly glory and absolute perfection.
In Revelation 21 the Bible envisions a new creation in which heaven comes down to earth. Earth and heaven become one. In this new creation, God will be directly present to us. Nothing sinful can survive in the presence of his holiness. For a body to be adapted to that environment, it will have to be perfect, absolutely free from sinful tendencies. God will make both the human spirit and the human body fit for heaven on earth.
This body will not only be perfectly holy but perfectly healthy. You may be born afflicted by fetal alcohol syndrome or AIDs, but you will have no affliction then. You may have been wounded by stabbings, bullets, or beatings, but you will be healthy then. You may have been raped in this life, but no trauma will haunt you then. You may be blind now, but you will see perfectly then. 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. The healing miracles of Jesus described in the gospels were tastes of the coming kingdom where all hurts are healed and all tears are wiped away. You will be full of energy and vigor, a perfect specimen of humanity that reflects the perfection of God and feels at home in his presence.
And there’s more. In order to be fully adapted to our new environment, the heavenly body will need capabilities that go beyond anything we can imagine. We will see the Lord face to face and be able to perceive the angels. How is that possible? Well, either our eyes and ears will be able to perceive realities that we can’t see or hear in our present condition, or we’ll be given senses and powers of perception that go beyond our eyes or ears, beyond taste, touch, and smell.
The five senses we already have will be greatly enhanced, and we may even have new senses. It’s impossible to say what a brand new sense might be like. How could you tell a person who was born blind what a rainbow looks like? How could you explain music to someone born deaf? That’s sort of what it’s like to talk about seeing 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.
One thing is certain. We will perceive Jesus in his glory as we never have before. The Bible says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). How awesome! That heavenly body will be fit for heaven on earth, designed to be at home in the very presence of the Lord!
The Perfect Body
Many of us want a perfect body right now. The pursuit of the perfect body is big business. We spend billions on various diet plans, exercise machines, and health clubs. For some, the goal is perfect looks. This can get silly and even dangerous. For men, the ideal body may be that of a steroid-popping guy whose only job is to lift weights and flex his muscles. For women, the supposedly perfect body of a model who appears in glamour magazines may actually be a chain-smoking anorexic with implants and liposuction.
Even if we’re not after perfect looks, we may be seeking perfect health. We want to stay strong and live long. Some exercise programs don’t feel very good, and some diet programs don’t taste very good. It’s been said that eating health food doesn’t make you live longer; it just makes it seem longer! I don’t want to discourage you if you’re trying to improve your exercise and eating habits, especially if your health requires it. After all, the Bible speaks of the body as a temple for God’s Holy Spirit, so we should take good care of our bodies. But I can’t help wondering if we worry too much about looks and health. Is the main goal of human existence to be as thin as possible and to stretch out our present life as long as possible? There are more important things than looking like a model in a magazine. There are also more important things than trying to add a few more years to your life.
If staying healthy becomes an obsession, it becomes downright unhealthy. You can be so busy trying not to die that you never really live. An obsession with living longer can spoil the time you do have. Even worse, you may get into the rut of acting like this life is all there is. You’re so busy trying to make your life last longer that you ignore the fact that death is unavoidable, and you ignore what comes after death.
That reminds me of two cartoons. One shows a man walking along, thinking to himself: “No smoking, no drinking, low fat, low sugar, low salt, high fiber, plenty of exercise.” He’s got a smug look on his face, thinking how healthy he is and how long he’s going to live. Meanwhile, a huge piano is falling through the air above his head, and he’s about to be crushed.
Another cartoon shows a husband and wife standing up in the clouds somewhere, in the cartoonist’s version of heaven. The wife is saying to the husband, “This place is fantastic, don’t you think?” The husband growls, “Yeah—and we would have been here a lot sooner if you hadn’t made us eat all that lousy health food.”
Again, don’t get me wrong. It’s good to take reasonable care of yourself. But don’t focus so much on your looks that you neglect your soul. Don’t focus so much on staying healthy for this life that you forget about the life to come. The perfect body sought by health fanatics and by people obsessed with looks isn’t really so perfect. Still, there’s a sense in which we should all want a perfect body. God promises those who trust in Jesus that each of us will have a perfect, resurrection body, like Jesus’ glorified body.
The imperfect bodies we have now are very different from the perfect resurrection bodies that the Lord will give us in the new creation. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 points out four contrasts between this body that will be buried and the resurrection body: “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.” Let’s look more closely at these four contrasts.
The bodies we have now are perishable. They die. There are many ways to die—war, accident, a killer virus, cancer, heart attack, or stroke—but one way or another, death comes. No matter how well you take care of your body, it is perishable. But it will be raised imperishable. We’ll be like Superman, only better. Superman could not be harmed by anything on earth, only by kryptonite from a far-off planet. But nothing at all will be able to harm the imperishable body, not even kryptonite. It’s immune to disease, injury, and death.
The second contrast is that what is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. Have you ever looked through old photo albums and seen youthful, attractive faces that are now wrinkled and homely? Or smiling, vibrant faces that are now dead? It makes you shudder. The body loses beauty as it ages, and death brings the final dishonor. When the body dies, it has to be buried or burned so that it won’t stink or get in the way. “It is sown in dishonor.” But, thank God, it is raised in glory, never again to lose its beauty, never again to experience ugliness, shame, embarrassment, or deterioration—just the glory of perfection.
The third contrast makes a similar point: the body is sown in weakness, but it is raised in power. Our bodies have various weaknesses. Sometimes as we age, our eyes begin to deteriorate. We need glasses, then we need bifocals, then we need trifocals, then we need cataract surgery. We wonder why people talk so softly and can’t speak up a little bit, when in fact our ears are failing us. As we become older, our bones become brittle and snap more easily. We spend time in wheelchairs or in surgical units. Our bodies are weak and keep getting weaker until finally we die. But if we belong to Jesus Christ, our bodies will be raised in power. Then we can throw away the trifocals and see better than an eagle. We can throw away the hearing aids and hear perfectly well. We can throw away the crutches, the canes, the walkers, and the wheelchairs, and we can leap and dance. The perfect body will never become tired or weak or worn out. It will forever be full of strength and vitality. You might wonder if people who die as babies will have baby bodies in heaven, or if people who die in old age will look old in heaven. The simplest answer is that our bodies will all be in the perfect prime God intends for them, stronger and more splendid than at any stage we experienced in this life. We will be “raised in power.”
The fourth contrast is the most profound: “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Notice that it talks about a spiritual body. The contrast isn’t between a material body and an immaterial spirit. The resurrection body is not a ghost or a foggy thing floating through the air. The resurrection body is just as much a body as the present body, just as much flesh and bone, just as real—only more so, because it never dies.
Bodies Like His
1 Corinthians 15:44 says, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Our present, natural body comes from Adam, the first of the old humanity. Our future, spiritual body comes from Jesus, the first of the new humanity. “The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (15:47-49).
The heavenly body, with Jesus as the prototype, will be at home on the renewed earth, but it will not be earthbound. It will have the kind of power, freedom, and goodness that come only from the Lord of heaven. Elsewhere Scripture says that Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). If we want to know what our resurrected bodies will be like, we can learn much from what Jesus’ body is like. Whatever Jesus’ body can do, ours will be able to do.
When Jesus was on earth, he walked on water without sinking. And Jesus wasn’t the only one. For a few moments, the apostle Peter also walked on water. Peter began to sink only when he took his eyes off Jesus. In the new creation, with the powers of the new humanity flowing from Jesus, we’ll all be able to walk on water (and we’ll still be able to dive and swim if we wish). We’ll even be able to fly! The last time Jesus’ disciples saw him, he left them by rising above the ground and soaring up into the clouds. If Jesus could fly, we’ll be able to fly too. This isn’t imagination run wild; it’s logic. It follows directly from the Bible’s statement that Jesus will make our bodies like his glorious body. If this logic doesn’t clinch it for you, the Bible directly states that we will fly. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that we will go up to meet Jesus in the air when he returns.
The heavenly body will be truly physical, but it will not be ruled or dominated by any outside physical force. God originally created humanity to rule over all creatures and forces of creation. Our fall into sin made us subject to physical forces that we were meant to govern, but in Jesus the new humanity again takes command of nature. Jesus could command storms to go away and seas to become calm. He had full command over physical forces, and we will have similar powers.
Jesus could change his bodily location at will, and when we become like him, we will be able to do the same. After Jesus’ resurrection, he sometimes appeared suddenly in a room where the doors were locked. He could vanish just as quickly and turn up somewhere else. Jesus wasn’t doing this as a spirit but with a real body. He would eat solid food with his friends. They could see him chewing and swallowing. They could touch him and feel that he was real, solid flesh. But though Jesus’ resurrection body is solid flesh, it can change location instantly whenever he chooses. Our bodies will be able to do the same. Star Trek pictures a future where machines instantly beam people from one location to another. Reality will surpass science fiction. We will be able to travel more quickly than Star Trek characters, and we won’t need machines to do it.
If you live in an urban area, you’ve probably had more than enough of long commutes and traffic jams. How would you like to be able to go from point A to point B instantly? If there’s a place on the other side of the world you’ve always wanted to see, or if you’d like to walk on the moon or explore Mars or travel to outer space, go ahead and enjoy the thought of doing that. Your heavenly body will be able to travel wherever your mind chooses.
Transcending the current laws of physics may be exciting, but it’s not the main point of the Bible’s contrast between the natural body and the spiritual body. “Spiritual” means that the resurrection body gets its ultimate life from the Spirit of God himself. Our spirits will be perfectly in tune with God’s Spirit. Our bodies won’t be enslaved to physical laws, and our spirits won’t be enslaved to our bodies.
Ever since humanity fell into sin, we have had a hard time controlling our bodily desires. Our appetite for food, our sexual urges, our craving for alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes—these are cases where our spirit is often too bent or weak to properly control the body. But our resurrection bodies will not rule our spirit. Our spirit, made perfect by God’s Spirit, will direct our bodies properly and manage our desires perfectly.
The spiritual body will not depend on the food chain for survival but on God’s Spirit. This body will be well suited to live forever in the presence of the Lord and of his holy angels in the new earth. Only a truly spiritual body, one completely filled with the presence of God’s Spirit, will be at home in the new creation. Only a heavenly body, one fully in tune with the Lord of heaven, will be at home when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:50 says, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Only God’s transforming power can create bodies fit for his glorious kingdom. And this means that the Bible’s amazing promises about heavenly bodies don’t apply to just anybody; they apply only if you have the life of Christ in you already while you’re still in your present body.
One year, during mid-March, 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 grow and blossom within less than two weeks. So she planted them in a pot of soil, placed them in a sunny window, and waited for the miracle to happen. A week passed. Nothing happened. Two weeks passed. Nothing happened. She kept it watered, but nothing happened. Nothing appeared in the pot but dirt. She couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong. On April 1, the son dropped in to ask his mom how her flowers were doing. She sadly reported that nothing was happening. Her son started laughing and said, “April Fools!” The “seeds” he had given her were really just hard little tips of turkey beaks that he had picked up at a local farm. They looked like seeds, but they didn’t grow like seeds.
When you plant a seed, it may not seem alive, it may not look like a plant yet, but it has life hidden inside it. You can’t bury just any speck of material and expect a plant to grow from it. Only a seed that already has the beginning of life inside it will grow into a plant. The Bible speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). To be raised to life in a heavenly body like Jesus, you need the life of Jesus inside you before you’re buried. 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. Those who die without Jesus will experience resurrection of sorts, but their bodies will be suited only to a miserable existence in hell. But if you trust in Jesus, if his Spirit lives in you, you will some day have a heavenly body like his, a body suited for heaven on earth.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.