The Death and Resurrection of the Body
Most people try to take care of their bodies. We usually eat
good food, take baths, see the doctor when we are sick, brush our teeth, visit
the dentist twice a year, get our eyes checked, wear nice looking clothes, fix
our hair, and maybe even exercise some. All of this is for the well-being and
enhancement of the physical body. However, someday, no matter what we do, we are
going to die, and our bodies will be put in the grave where they will return to
the dust of the ground from whence they came, unless Jesus comes first.
Yet, just as surely as the body without the spirit dies, so when Jesus does return, the bodies of all who have or will have died will be raised from the dead and reunited with their spirits. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, Paul talks about the death and resurrection of the body. "So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in honor. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
It is very important to note that Paul is not discussing the nature and immortality of the soul in this passage. Rather, he is talking about what happens to the body in both death and the resurrection. Some have misused this passage to teach "conditional immortality," affirming that even our souls cannot be considered immortal until after the resurrection of the dead. However, the subject is introduced in verse 35. "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?'" The topic which Paul is addressing is not the soul but the body. What does Paul have to say about this?
First, he says that it is sown in corruption and raised in incorruption. The word "corruption" apparently refers to the fact that the body is physical and will decay, as God has said (Genesis 2:7, 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7). It will be put in the ground and return to the elements from which it was made. However, when it is raised, it will never again be subject to decay but will be incorruptible. This, which is now corruption, will in the resurrection will put on incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). The reason is that we shall be fitted for an inheritance that is incorruptible (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Second, Paul says that the body is sown in dishonor and raised in glory. Why sown in dishonor? This probably refers to the fact that we are guilty of sin (Romans 3:23, 5:12). The body or flesh has been the instrument through which we have committed these sins (Romans 8:5-8). However, at least for the righteous, the body will be raised in glory because it will then be perfect or sinless, like Christ's glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21, 1 John 3:1-3).
Third, Paul says that the body is sown in weakness and raised in power. The very weakness of this physical body is seen in the fact that it wears out, dies, and then decays. In John 11:38-39, after Lazarus became sick and died, Jesus came and commanded the stone of his burial place to be removed. Martha, and probably everyone else there, was amazed because a body that had been in the tomb for four days would be repulsive and offensive. After the body dies, man does not have the power to bring it back to life, in spite of all those horror movies about "the living dead." However, God has power to raise the dead and will do so at the end of time (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Fourth, Paul says that the body is sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body. The idea of the natural body here is simply that which is physical by nature and hence mortal or subject to death (Romans 6:12-13, James 2:26). However, while the body that is raised will be the same body, it will no longer be natural or physical but spiritual. Paul talks about a change taking place; hence, it will be different in nature. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 Paul talks about the destruction of our earthly house or tent, referring to death, and then being clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.
Paul illustrates this change with the sowing of wheat. "Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain, perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body a He pleases, and to each seed its own body" (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). When we sow a seed, it must die in order to produce a new plant. The plant that comes forth is not the same seed that was planted. It is like the one from which the seed came, but it is still different because it is new life.
One other thing that we need to remember is that in this passage Paul is primarily talking about the resurrection of the righteous. Yes, all of the dead, both righteous and unrighteous, will be raised at the same time (John 5:28-29). However, the blessings of the resurrection that Paul discusses in these verses are reserved for those who are righteous (Philippians 3:10-11). All will be raised, but only the righteous will attain unto the resurrection of life.
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 10.12; December, 2003