- What does Paul mean by the resurrection body being a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44)?
- ~Physical objects and people in this life can be described as “spiritual”
- ~Our resurrection body will be like Jesus’ resurrection body which was physical
- ~Our resurrection body will be a glorified body
- ~What about Paul’s statement that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50)?
- Is our resurrection body continuous with our present body?
- The importance of God overcoming death
- When will the resurrection take place?
- The resurrection of Old Testament saints
- The resurrection and justice
- The resurrection of unbelievers
- Conclusion on the Resurrection
- Resurrection is central to Christianity. The resurrection of Christ is a vital foundation for the faith. Paul writes to the Corinthian church:
- “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:14-19).
- However, Paul is equally definite about the importance of the resurrection of believers too: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor 15:13). He goes on to affirm: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed –in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52).
- In the Apostles Creed we confidently affirm: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” But what do we mean? Does it mean our present body is raised or is it a totally new body? Is it a physical body? What does Paul mean when he refers to the resurrection body as a “spiritual body”? He writes about the body at death: “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44).
- Does he mean it is no longer a physical body?
- Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians Paul uses the word ‘spiritual’ to describe people or objects which are clearly physical.
- The literal translation of what Paul writes in Greek in 1 Cor 2:14-15 is: “… a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them because they are spiritually discerned. But the spiritual one discerns all things.”
-  (The NIV translates “spiritual one” as “the person with the Spirit” which is not literal but shows Paul is speaking of human beings in this life, i.e. physical human beings. Yet he calls them spiritual).
- Similarly in 1 Cor 10:3-4 Paul speaks of the manna eaten by Israel in the wilderness and the water Moses brought forth from the rock as “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink.” Yet it was, of course, physical.
- We ourselves may refer to someone as a spiritual person, but we don’t mean they are not physical. Professor Andrew Lincoln writes; “By the term spiritual we must not understand this to mean non-material or non-physical, but that it is a way of describing a bodily existence that is fully energised by the Spirit.”
- Paul says that Jesus “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Jesus resurrection body was spiritual but it was also physical:
- · The risen Jesus could be touched: “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him” (Matt 28:9). Jesus said to Thomas “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (John 20:27). Similarly he said: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).
- · The risen Jesus ate with the disciples: “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (Luke 24:42-43).
- · The risen Jesus broke bread and gave it to his disciples: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (Luke 24:30).
- · The risen Jesus made a fire and cooked fish for breakfast for the disciples: “When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread …. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:9, 12-13).
- Paul says that our resurrection bodies will be imperishable, glorious and powerful: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Cor 15:42-43).
- Our bodies will be imperishable and powerful. They will not experience tiredness, weakness, sickness, injury, ageing or death.
- Our bodies will be glorious. Professor Wayne Grudem makes an interesting comment: “Because the word `glory' is so frequently used in Scripture of the bright shining radiance that surrounds the presence of God himself, this term suggests that there will also be a kind of brightness or radiance surrounding our bodies that will be an appropriate outward evidence of the position of exaltation and rule over all creation that God has given us. This is also suggested in Matthew 13:43, where Jesus says, ‘Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’ Similarly, we read in Daniel's vision, ‘And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever’ (Daniel 12:3).”
- The risen Jesus was able to appear and disappear and to move through solid objects: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord …. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19-20, 26). There is some debate over whether this will be true of our resurrection bodies. Some say it was something unique Jesus did but I see no reason why it should not be an ability of our risen bodies.
- Some have thought this means that the resurrection body cannot be physical. But that is to misunderstand the term “flesh and blood.” Professor N T Wright says: “Ever since the second century doubters have used this clause to question whether Paul really believed in the resurrection of the body. In fact, the second half of verse 50 [“nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable”] already explains, in Hebraic parallelism with the first half [“flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”], more or less what he means, as Paul's regular use of ‘flesh’ would indicate: ‘flesh and blood’ is a way of referring to ordinary, corruptible, decaying human existence. It does not simply mean, as it has so often been taken to mean, ‘physical humanity’ in the normal modern sense, but ‘the present physical humanity (as opposed to the future), which is subject to decay and death.’” Other scholars agree.
- In other words, our present body in its ageing and decaying state, cannot, as it is, inherit the kingdom of God, it has to be glorified by resurrection. But it remains a physical body in its glorified state.
- Some people say that our body which dies and is buried will not be the one which is raised. They say that the NT does not teach the resurrection of the flesh or the reanimation of corpses but a transformation of the whole person.
- However, it seems to me that the NT does teach that the body which dies will be the one raised, for the following reasons:
- 1. 1 Cor 15:37-38 speaks of God transforming the body but he speaks of death as sowing the seed of the resurrection body, i.e. our present body. So there is a connection between the two as well as a transformation: “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.”
- 2. 1 Cor 15:42-44 speaks of our present body being raised: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, 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.”
- 3. 1 Cor 15:53-54 speaks of the perishable (our present body) clothing itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality. This is not the language of total replacement of the present body by a new resurrection body.
- 4. Philippians 3:21 says that Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Again it is transformation, not replacement.
- 5. Rom 8:23: Paul says that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Surely the word redemption, which includes the ideas of setting free from captivity and deliverance from bondage, means the resurrection of our original body. Paul doesn’t say the redemption of the soul or spirit, but the redemption of the body.
- 6. 1 Cor 6:15: Paul says: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” Our present bodies are closely united with Christ. Surely this suggests that our present bodies will be raised, as, of course, happened to Jesus.
- 7. The term “resurrection” surely implies the resurrection of the present body. One cannot resurrect a body by replacing it.
- 8. We know that Jesus was raised in the same body – that is the reason for the empty tomb.
- But how can God raise the bodies of those whose physical remains have long since disintegrated. Again, Wayne Grudem makes an interesting comment: “We must simply say that God can keep track of enough of the elements from each body to form a ‘seed’ from which to form a new body.” As a result of the discovery of DNA unique to each created being, we now know that is all that is needed, given the intervention of the Creator God, for a body to be able to be resurrected.
- We need to understand that death is an enemy of God. Paul says of Jesus: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:25-26). Note, it is his enemy, not just ours. Death is alien to the living God. This is indicated in the Old Testament laws about contact with a dead body leading to ceremonial uncleanness (e.g. Num 19:11-16). Professor Jay McDaniel makes the following significant comment: “The significance of physical death is that it finalizes the degree of death that the soul has experienced.” The conquest of physical death is therefore very important. It is crucial that God totally overcomes his enemy death and that includes the resurrection of what Wayne Grudem calls “the elements” from a person’s physical remains. Only then is the victory total. It seems to me that the creation of a totally new body with no physical connection to the original body is not as complete a victory as the resurrection of “the elements” of the old body. Death at every level – spiritual, relational, physical - must be overcome.
- God will achieve a total redemption, including “the elements” of the old body.
- Paul exults in the victory of our resurrection: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
- ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:54-57). Death will not “be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).
- The writer to the Hebrews says Jesus shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil –and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb 2:14-15). John says that ultimately death will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14).
- We have already looked at different views of what happens immediately after a believer dies. There are also different views of when the resurrection takes place. Some say there are two or even three resurrections.
- Paul speaks of a resurrection of believers at “the last trumpet” (1 Cor 15:51-52) when the Lord himself comes down from heaven, i.e. the second coming (1 Thess 4:16).
- Then John speaks of a second resurrection: “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (Rev 20:4-6). He appears to be saying that only the martyrs are raised before the Millennium, i.e. at the second coming.
- However some believe that the first resurrection, at the second coming, is of all the believers who had previously died and the second is of unbelievers. This seems to be in harmony with Paul’s teaching in Corinthians and Thessalonians.
- Others take the first resurrection as meaning the spiritual experience of receiving eternal life and the second resurrection as the bodily resurrection. But both R H Charles and Robert Mounce quote with approval Alford who wrote: “If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned . . . the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; — then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything" (IV, p. 732).”
- The Historical or Classical Premillennial view is that the first resurrection, at the second coming, is of all the believers who had previously died and the second, after the millennium, is of unbelievers. My thinking that the millennium is likely to be literal and my reading of the NT references to resurrection makes this view seem convincing.
- We should, in passing, note that the resurrection will include Old Testament saints. The hope of resurrection is not prominent in the OT but Job expressed the hope of resurrection: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25-26). Isaiah writes; “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise” (Isa 26:19). Daniel also anticipated the resurrection in the end times: “at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).
- The writer to the Hebrews does the same. Speaking of the Old Testament saints, he says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them …. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb 11:13-16, 39-40).
- Then there is that account by Matthew of Old Testament saints rising from the dead at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection and appearing to many people (Matt 27:51-52). Some take this account as symbolical but, whether literal or symbolical, it is clearly teaching the resurrection of OT saints.
- The psalmist raises the whole issue of underserved suffering in this life very eloquently in Psalm 73. This life can seem very unfair. He writes honestly:
- “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, ‘How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?’ This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.” (Psa 73:3-12).
- He then describes how he struggled with the unfairness of it all:
in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All
day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments. If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply ….” (Psa 73:13-16).
- We too must struggle with it whether because of our own suffering or in sympathy with others. There is no room for glib comments or even accurate comments made insensitively. Suffering is real. The unfairness of this life is real. However the Psalmist continued:
- “It troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.” (Psa 73:17-20).
- There is, of course, no room for rejoicing over the ultimate end of the impenitent but the Psalmist began to see his suffering (and that of other righteous people) in the light of eternity, in the light of the resurrection:
- “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever” (Psa 73:21-26).
- Whilst avoiding insensitivity towards those who suffer we need to see the suffering, meaninglessness and unfairness of this life in the light of eternity. God forbid that we should not be compassionate and do all we can to alleviate the suffering of others. But the remaining unfairness and injustices of this life will be more than rectified for us believers after the resurrection.
- The New Testament is clear that unbelievers will be judged before God but there is controversy over whether unbelievers actually experience bodily resurrection. After all, it is possible for God to judge disembodied spirits. The New Testament says little on the subject. Jesus says: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). He also says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Paul says: “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).
- So there seem to be hints in the New Testament that unbelievers will experience the resurrection of the body in order to stand before the Judge of all, but not, of course, the glorification of the body which believers will experience.
- We shall rise after death with a glorified physical body, like Jesus. Our glorified bodies will be imperishable and powerful. They will not experience tiredness, weakness, sickness, injury, ageing or death. Our present body will provide the ‘seed’ from which God will form our glorified body. So, all the results of sin will be conquered and we shall live for ever in the new heavens and new earth. God will finally triumph over death itself.
 The Interlinear Bible, Jay P Green, Sr, General Editor and Translator, Hendrickson Massachusetts 1986.
 Andrew Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet, CUP 2004, p. 44
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, IVP 1994, p. 833
 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK 2003, p 359
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, IVP 1994, p. 834
 Jay McDaniel, Handbook of Process Theology, Chalice Press 2006, p. 42
 R H Charles The Revelation of St John, International Critical Commentary,T & T Clarke, Edinburgh 1920, vol 2, p. 185 and Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1977, p. 356.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page