Strengthening Our Resurrection Hope - 1 Corinthians 15:35–49

Some years back, Chapman University in California began a widespread survey to find out peoples’ greatest fears.  Interesting results from 2017. Number 1 rated fear: corrupt government officials. Number 2: the government healthcare act. Number 5: Not having enough money for the future. Where do you think “Death” rated?  Top 5? Top 10? Number 48.  Statically speaking, more people readily admit to the fear of identity theft, heights, even sharks, than of death itself. Which makes sense I think. “Death” is a reality, but not a pressing one for most people. On Easter we celebrate that Jesus has overcome death through his resurrection. But it sounds like people have many other pressing and immediate fears.

We have bills to pay, needs to meet, dreams to fulfill, and there are various things that threaten our health, our livelihood, and our happiness. We fear that our lives will be disappointing, unfulfilling, or miserable.

Strengthening Our Resurrection Hope - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

Do you fear that you will never have the things you want or have the lifestyle you desire? Do you fear that you will may have a spouse or children? Or that you may outlive your spouse or children and perhaps wind up alone? Do you fear that you will never get to do or enjoy the things that you see other people doing and enjoying (and posting about on social media)? For many people, hearing that Jesus overcame death may not immediately resonate with them because they don’t fear death at the moment as much as they fear life. 

We all fear a miserable or unfulfilling life in this earthly body. And so we try to put ourselves in position to possess, achieve, or experience the best this life has to offer us.

But the resurrection of Jesus addresses these fears. It tells us that God has determined that for those who trust in Jesus, the greatest health, pleasure, and satisfaction will come not in this life in this body, but in resurrected bodies in a life to come.

So our future body and life should be our greatest hope. But since we’ve never seen a resurrected body, that hope can be hard to hold onto.

So how can our resurrection hope be made stronger?

1 Corinthians 15 tells us. You’ll see an outline on page 6 of your worship guide that clarifies what God says here through the apostle Paul. God himself strengthens our resurrection hope in two ways:

(1.) as we look at the composition of the created world,

and (2.) as we look at the relationship between the first man, Adam, and Jesus Christ.

So let’s look at this passage together.


First, as we look at the composition of the created world. (v.35-41)

The new believers in the city of Corinth didn’t understand this future resurrection. They were influenced by a belief that the physical body was evil. So death was good because through it you are finally free of this body. You’re rid of it. But Paul taught, as did the other followers of Jesus,

that when you die, your soul temporarily leaves your body, but at the resurrection on the last day when Jesus returns, you’ll be back in your body. And these people are confused. Many have doubts.


Verse [35], he writes, “But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 

  • The body of a dead person decays, or is perhaps even destroyed
  • Who wants to see these grotesque dead bodies raised up?


He says, “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.”

  • Notice here: to Paul, death is not a setback.  It is a step forward.
  • He calls them “foolish” because they foolishly underestimate the power of God.


Verse [37], “And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.”

  • He uses an example from the created world. A seed, which is basically dead, but from it comes a living thing.
  • Dying doesn’t stop a seed from future life and transformation.
  • What it begins as and what it becomes are two different things.


Verse [38] But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

  • God determines the body type of each kind of plant he makes, and he determines what it looks like as a seed and what it looks like when it’s full grown.
  • We see over and over in the created world that what is sown does not look like what is grown.
  • Richard Pratt summarizes Paul’s point this way: “God displays his sovereign ability and desire to raise the dead each time he grows a seed into a plant.”


Now notice these next verses: For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. [40] There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, (here “heavenly” refers to the skies and outer space) but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 

  • “Glory” refers to the differing brightness among the stars and planets.


[41] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory (or brightness).

  • God has created numerous things that look different and function differently.
  • If with a seed God can create a new, living thing from an old, dead thing, in which the new thing looks drastically different from the old thing, then he can do the same with our earthly bodies.  He can create a resurrected body.
  • In Jeremiah 32 in the Old Testament, God states, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?”
  • The point is, don’t get hung up on how God could make a resurrected body with a  composition that is different from your current earthly body.
  • Don’t limit God.  Look at what he has done all around you.


You might think, “Well, a seed isn’t actually dead, it’s only dormant. So that isn’t true.” Paul isn’t making a biological commentary. This is an illustration of a greater truth. Jesus illustrated his point the same way when he said in John 12, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus was explaining why he had to lay down his life and die so that others could be freed from sin and live.


The seed dries out, falls to the ground, is buried or covered up, and is seemingly finished. No one would assume that from it would come, for instance, a corn stalk. But God’s power and process are on display. He produces something useful from something otherwise useless. A corn kernel won’t feed you; but a corn stalk full of ears of corn will. Jesus’ living body couldn’t save people from sin; but his dead body, later raised up, would. And when he resurrected the body of Jesus, God produced something that looked completely unlike what existed before. After the resurrection, the body of Jesus transcended physical limitations.  


He could still walk around and talk, he could be touched, he could eat, he could interact with the physical world. But he possessed new and amazing immortal power. He passed through doors, and appeared and vanished. The wounds from his beating and crucifixion were healed. Jesus’ body no longer abided by the normal law of the physical world. Theologian George Ladd writes that the resurrection of Jesus is “the manifestation of something utterly new. Eternal life has appeared in the midst of mortality.”


I realize for the modern mind, this might seem too difficult to believe. But think about it: with no prior knowledge of what comes from a buried seed, would you believe it would produce something like a California redwood tree, stories tall?! 


Romans 1 states that God’s eternal power and divine nature are on display in his creation. Is it illogical to believe that God could transform one thing into something else? Is it illogical to believe that God could create something you haven’t seen yet? Or do you think that it makes no sense to believe that what is coming could be better than what currently is? Is it absurd to believe that God could make more than one kind of body? To that, Paul says “look at the created world.  It’s all there.” And reflecting on it strengthens our hope that we will have a new life in a new body like the one Jesus had, and our hope that this life is only a precursor to something unimaginably better.


Also, God strengthens our resurrection hope as we look at the relationship between Adam and Christ. (v.42-49)

Paul appeals not only to nature, but also to doctrine. To the teaching of the gospel. Romans 5 says, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” That one man is Adam, the first created man.  He sinned and passed on that sinful nature to all people. But we understand that Jesus was a second Adam. Again, Romans 5, “if, because of one man's trespass (or sin), death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Now watch as Paul argues his point here from the lesser to the greater, from Adam to Christ. The earthly body is like the seed that is sown – the resurrected body is like the plant that grows.


Verse [42] Paul says, So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.

  • The human body is perishable - decaying, subject to illness and death
  • But the resurrected body is unsusceptible to those things


It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. 

  • The human body is disgraced, corrupted by sin (in thought, desire, and behavior)
  • But the resurrected body is unaffected by sin’s corruption


It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 

  • The human body is frail, unable to fully subdue the creation as God said we would in Genesis 1.
  • But the resurrected body will have power to reign with Christ over the new creation


It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. 

  • Don’t take this to mean that we just become ethereal spirits or ghosts.
  • In Luke 24, Jesus specifically addressed that idea. He said to his followers after his resurrection, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  Jesus was not a ghost.
  • Paul means that people are naturally born spiritually dead, but the resurrected body will be spiritually alive, renewed by the Holy Spirit.
  • Those who are born again have a deposit of this, so to speak - a taste of things to come because the Holy Spirit lives within a person who is born again.


And Paul says, If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 

  • So, if spiritual deadness exists, well then spiritual life exists. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
  • The first man, the last man. The lesser to the greater.
  • Arguing from the lesser to the greater is a common thing in Scripture.
  • Because Jesus is the second Adam, Jesus must be in every way greater than Adam
  • the life that Adam passed on to each of us is spiritually dead and temporary.
  • but the life Jesus passes on to us is spiritually alive and eternal.


Paul then says, But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

  • Adam was made mortal, from the ground.  The resurrected Jesus was raised immortal.


As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 

  • we all were “dead in our sins,” like Adam after the fall into sin, as Ephesians 2 states. 
  • But Ephesians says those who are born again are made “alive in Christ” and so we will be like the resurrected Jesus.  In fact, it is as if we already are.
  • Over and over, the apostles described that future state as if it had already taken place.
  • This is because Jesus has secured it for us.


And finally, verse [49] Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

  • Genesis 1 in the Old Testament says that God made man and woman in his own image.
  • In the ancient time and place in which Moses wrote the first 5 books of the OT, a king’s image was a representation of his authority. Man was to have dominion over the creation by the authority of God who created it.  But sin turned Man against God, and so it marred the image yet didn’t completely remove it.  
  • We are born with our hearts hostile to the rule of God over us.  But when a person is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive the first glimpse and the first taste of our resurrected state in which we will bear the image not of Adam, but of the resurrected Jesus.

Paul’s example doesn’t hold up if Adam was not a real person and if Genesis 1 and 2 are not a real account of the origin of things. You might think, “Well I’ve never interacted with the resurrected Jesus. How could I even begin to imagine what that kind of resurrected existence would be like?And for that matter, how could I find any hope in it that would help me in this life?” But look again at what Paul is doing. Why argue from the lesser to the greater? Paul isn’t foolish.  

He knows you haven’t experienced the greater. But you’ve experienced the lesser. You live in it everyday. You have read the news lately, haven’t you?  You feel the weight of destruction, hostility, illness, decay, death, and sin’s corruption of not only your own thoughts, desires, and behavior, but also of those around you. You know frailty, weakness, and disappointment. You know the first, and lesser, Adam. And because of this, you do have a natural sense of, and an innate longing for, the greater. 

There’s a chapter in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity which he titles “Hope.” Lewis was previously an outspoken atheist who came to faith in Jesus in his 30s. And he wrote Mere Christianity to defend the rationality of Christian belief. In the chapter on Hope, he discusses heaven, and ultimately, the hope of the resurrected life. He writes this: 

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want…something that cannot be had in this world…The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean.”

He’s describing our experience of “the lesser,” the unfulfilling nature of this life.  Then he says:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud… I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.”

Have you become so discouraged or worn down by the lesser that you’ve lost sight of the greater? Or have you never come to terms with the lesser in such a way that you could admit to God your need for something greater? Does bitterness or doubt keep you from admitting the shortcomings of this life? Do you continually chase temporary things because you have little or no hope of the life to come?

Hearing what I’ve said today, maybe you feel that I don’t understand your life or situation. You’re probably right. You may feel as though no one understands how you feel. Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent 8 years in a Soviet concentration camp. He later wrote “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” about a man in one of those freezing Siberian camps. At one point in the story, the main character, in his misery in the prison, asks, “

How can you expect a man who's warm to understand a man who's cold?” You may feel that no one can understand your situation, but there is one who fully understands. There was a man who was warm and stepped out into the cold. 

Philippians 2 says, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Isaiah 53 says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Hebrews 4 says he is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but…in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 

In going to the cross, Jesus stepped out in the cold. He stepped down into the lesser and endured the misery of punishment to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin. And he not only overcame death. He overcame the weight of this life.  This is why in 2 Peter 3 the apostle Peter states, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Those who turn from sin and trust in Jesus will dwell there, forever.

Let’s pray.