I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body
I Corinthians 15:35-44
35But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There 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. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. — I Corinthians 15:35-44
Do We Believe in The Resurrection of the Body?
We have now come to the next to last affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the resurrection of the body. But, do we? Or do we really believe in something else altogether? And, is it necessary to believe in the resurrection of the body because don’t we go to heaven when we die anyway? And, what about those whose bodies are lost or destroyed in fire or battle or a horrendous accident? Will they rise on the last day too?
Who knew that so few words could create such controversy and uncertainty.
Let’s begin to sort out what the Bible says about this business of the resurrection of the body and why that’s important to us.
Our God is a Flesh-and-Bones God
From the very beginning of Christianity, even during the ministry of Jesus, there was the tendency to spiritualize everything. Here’s an example — when Jesus meets the woman at the well and begins to talk with her, she attempts to change the subject to an old conflict over where one should worship. She was trying to shift the conversation from the reality of her own life, to the less-real, more spiritual conversation about an esoteric idea of worship.
We encounter the same problem when it comes to talk about living and dying, and eternity. We had much rather spiritualize this conversation because we find it hard to do otherwise.
We comfort ourselves during our grief at funerals by saying that the body that lies in the casket is not the person we knew. It’s only the physical shell and their spirit, their soul, has gone to be with God. That is true, and Paul said,
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. – 2 Cor 5:8
So, there is the sense in which we are right. If we are absent from this body, we are indeed present with the Lord. But, our presence with God is not at that time the presence of a disembodied spirit. We have a spiritual body immediately upon death.
The story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus — not the Lazarus he raised from the grave who was the brother of Mary and Martha, but the Lazarus who suffered at the hands of a rich man called Dives for many years.
They both die, and Lazarus goes to God, but Dives goes into the underword where he is in great torment. Apparently, Dives can see beyond the divide, and can recognize Lazarus, and Dives himself can be recognized. Both Lazarus and Dives have recognizable, distinguishing features very much like they had while alive in their physical bodies.
In Hebrews 12, Paul follows his great chapter on faith where he names Abraham, Isaac, and a host of others, by beginning chapter 12 this way —
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The picture is of a racetrack with the stands filled with spectators, like the Roman arenas and our modern track and field stadiums. A great cloud of witnesses, not disembodied spirits, is looking on and cheering us as we run our race. These witnesses have names and faces, and they are recognizable and known by God and others.
Finally, we do not know about the body of Jesus between the time of his death and resurrection for our encounter comes at he bursts forth from the tomb. But he is recognizable in his resurrected body — he looks like he did, and yet there is something different about him. He cautions Mary not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. He can pass through locked doors, and also offer Thomas the opportunity to touch his pierced hands and side. He is real, corporeal, and recognizable, yet different at the same time.
So, our first lesson is that God is a flesh-and-bones God. He created us from the dust of the ground and it is to that dust that our physical bodies shall return. But, we then receive a spiritual body with correspondence to our previous physical body, but changed in ways we do not understand.
Why A Body At All?
Paul, as were the other apostles, was fighting a philosopy called gnosticism. Gnosticism, among other things, said that the material world was evil, corrupt, and irrelevant. All that mattered was the spiritual.
So, if all material things are evil and irrelevant, then the body is included in that list. And, if the body is irrelevant, then it doesn’t matter what you do in or with your body. So, you can live it up, sin to your heart’s content, because the body is going away and we’re all going to become super-enlightened disembodied spirits.
Gnosticism also said that Jesus was not from the beginning God, but that the spirit of the Christ — the messiah — came upon him at his baptism, and left him before his physical death. Gnostics denied the role of the body.
But the point of the resurrection is to defeat sin, death, and the grave. And, to do that, you must have a body that crosses over the threshold of death, enters that dark door, but then returns in greater power, strength, and presence than before.
In other words, for God to prove that God has defeated death, he has to have a body to show for it. So, Jesus is raised from the dead to do two things —
- To prove that he is indeed the Messiah;
- To demonstrate that death is a defeated foe.
That’s why we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Because the resurrection, not the cross, proves that God has defeated death. In the cross God sacrifices to himself his son Jesus in payment for our sin. In doing so, God could have stopped right there. God does what he had asked Abraham to do — God gives his only Son as a sacrifice to himself.
To forgive our sins, God could have stopped there. But forgiveness of sin was not all that God was up to on that day Jesus died. Sin was settled, but death still roamed the earth. Death which entered the world with the sin of Adam and Eve. Death which was the scourge of mankind. Death which shattered dreams, took loved ones, cut down the young, and stalked the old — death still had the last word.
But, as some preacher said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”
On Friday, sin has been given a pink slip. Sin has been dismissed as the great guilt-inducer. Sin has been neutralized as man’s most persistent foe. For there is now permanent, lasting, forever forgiveness. Hebrews 1 says:
“After he provided purification for sins, he sat down…” The high priest only sat down when his work was done. The high priest only sat down after the sacrifice was made. The high priest only sat down after the blood of the sacrificial lamb had been sprinkled on the mercy seat. The high priest only sat down when sin was done for another year.
But, Jesus sits down once and for all because the sin problem is done, settled, paid for, over with, canceled, no longer able to beat us.
But, death is another story.
Death rears its ugly head, prances over the cosmos, and defies anyone to stop it from doing its destructive work. Death is still loose. His running buddy Sin is no longer at his side, but Death is on the move.
One might imagine that sometime late Saturday night, Death marches into the throne room of God, and says, “You may have solved the problem of Sin, but you can’t stop me. Jesus may have paid the penalty for all sin for all time, but it cost him his life. Come with me, I can show you the body.”
And so Death and God go to that garden tomb where Jesus body is laid. And Death points to the seal placed on the tomb by the empire; Death points to the sleeping Roman soldiers posted by Pilate; Death pounds the stone sealing the grave, a stone that a single man can’t move; and, Death stands back to admire his handiwork. And Death says, “That tomb contains the body of Jesus. I put it there, I’m keeping it there, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
But Sunday’s coming. And without a word to Death, God does what he has always done — God gives life.
Somehow, in ways too mysterious for our own understanding, Jesus was raised from the grip of Death. Raised to new life with a new body. Jesus who had given up his life willingly on the cross was vindicated by God. God’s vindication, God’s “Amen” to Jesus’ sacrifice, was new life.
And so the ground trembles, the angels rush from heaven to earth, the stone rolls, the death clothes no longer cling to the corpse for Jesus lives. He is alive.
He who walked willingly through the door of Death, now walks back again. No one had ever done that because Death would not allow it. No one had ever done that because Sin barred the way. No one had ever returned from the grave, untouched by decay, to live forever. No one. Until Jesus.
That’s why the resurrection of the body is so important. That’s why Jesus had to rise again. That’s why we believe in the resurrection because we know that we live now, we live beyond the door of death, we live in eternity, we will return with Christ, we will live in the presence of God on the new earth, in the new Jerusalem, beside the River of Life, shaded by the Tree of Life, where there will be no more tears, and Death will be finally and forever defeated.
We believe in the resurrection of the body because we believe in the God who gives life. So, those who have died before us will rise. Those whose physical bodies have been destroyed will rise. Those whose earthy bodies have been lost will rise. And we will know, Paul says, even as we are known.
As C. S. Lewis says — we will all have faces and the God who called us by name here on this earth, will call us by name again. I believe in the resurrection of the body. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus.