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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:39-41 one star differs from another

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 26, 2023

39 Not all flesh is the same. There is one kind of flesh for people, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are celestial bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the celestial differs from that of the earthly. 41 There is one kind of glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; and one star differs from another star in glory.

Paul follows his seed illustration with another, this time about the body that is raised. He could have carried along the same line of argument with seeds becoming different sorts of plants—one becomes a flower, another becomes a tree, and so on, but someone might easily get bogged down by details and argue that wheat seeds don’t become anything but wheat. This isn’t his point. So instead Paul moves on to all physical bodies having a different form. Created flesh is different from other created flesh. People look and are different from animals, and from birds, and from fish, even though people, animals, birds and fish are all created by the same God. Note that aside from “clean and unclean” (Leviticus 11:47), the grouping of “animals, fish and birds” is the simplest division of living creatures in the way Moses describes them: “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

Then Paul turns our gaze upward to the heavens. In ancient times, Bible writers thought of what is “up there” in terms of three heavens. The first heaven is simply the sky, the place where birds fly and from which the rains fall (2 Samuel 21:10). The second heaven is the place above the sky where the Lord has “pitched a tent for the sun” (Psalm 19:4) and the other heavenly bodies like the moon, the stars, and the planets (Joel 2:1; Nahum 3:16; Habakkuk 3:11). The third heaven is the place where God dwells, which is Paradise, which a Christian like Paul might have seen momentarily in a vision (2 Corinthians 12:2-3), but which defies our meager ability to describe.

By “celestial bodies” Paul means the flesh in the resurrection. This isn’t just the soul, but the flesh, because otherwise he would just say “soul,” and there would be no argument or need to illustrate the resurrection if it were not of the flesh. Since the soul departs from the flesh in the moment of death (Ecclesiastes 12:7), it has no resurrection of its own, but the soul (which is with God after we die) rejoins the flesh in the resurrection when the person rises from the dead, both body and soul (Hebrews 12:23).

A common misconception today is whether the soul of a human being is the same as an angel in heaven. Both are spirits. Is it correct to speak of children who have died as “our little angels,” as so many do? First and foremost: When parents or grandparents are grieving the death of a child, it isn’t always the best moment to sternly correct their false doctrine. Second: If the movies that so many of our people get their false doctrine from were censored on account of such false teaching, then nobody would ever see “The Sound of Music” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I have found it helpful to explain the doctrine this way: We do not become angels; what we have in store is even better for us! For the angels do not have a physical form like we do, but in the resurrection, we will have our bodies back; glorified bodies, so that you will be able to hold and hug and kiss your child once again, and forever.

Paul also shows that just as animals and fish have different bodies, so also stars and planets have different physical forms, and one star is even different from another.

Finally, verse 41 is one of the five main passages that appear in the Scriptures that explain for us the ways that there will be degrees or differences of glory for mankind in heaven. Now, the blessedness of everyone in heaven comes from God, and therefore has a common blessedness. We will all be glorified and blessed in Paradise. But there are specific passages that teach what we might describe as a secondary “ornament to the soul” given by God to certain of the elect in eternal life beyond the essential glory. Our Lutheran theologians are in complete agreement with the ancient Christian church about this:

    One salvation for all the saints
    but a differing glory.

The five classic passages that describe this are:

  1. Daniel 12:3. “But those who are learned will shine like the splendor of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” The brilliance of the firmament is different in some way from the brilliance of the stars. Therefore, Paul concedes that he labored more than the rest of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 11:23), then surely he will be adorned with a greater glory than the rest.
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:41 (our verse). Whatever sort of difference there is between sun, moon, and stars, there will also be that kind of difference in the brightness of the bodies of those who will be raised again.
  3. John 14:2. “In my Father’s house are many dwellings.” Where there are different dwellings, there are also degrees of glory. These are not different with respect to place, or brightness in themselves, but with respect to degrees of brightness. Cyril of Alexandria said: “Through the multitude of dwellings, Christ signified both the great capacity of heaven and the difference of its glory.”
  4. Matthew 19:28. “You will sit upon twelve thrones.” This sitting (on thrones) should not be taken in a literal sense as a physical sitting, but in a mystical sense as a reference to an uncommon glory that the apostles will have in the judgment more than the rest of the saints.
  5. Matthew 25:21. “I shall set you over many things.” Different payments are promised and given for the different profits from the entrusted talent.

But our task here in this lifetime is not to seek a greater glory for ourselves hereafter, but to be faithful to the task that God has given each of us to do. So various Christians may have various tasks: a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a mom, a carpenter, a painter, a carpet-layer, a farmer, a pastor, a goatherd, a weatherman; but all of us with faith are children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ. So one or two of us—Peter, for example—raised the dead (Acts 9:4) and did other miracles, and brought many to faith, and so they will have a greater and brighter light than mine in heaven, but they are not different kinds of stars, and they do not have a different heaven or a different Savior. The merits we must concern ourselves with are the merits of Jesus Christ, for only through him do we have eternal life. We will all shine like lights on a Christmas tree. Whether my light is yellow or blue or green or white is not for me to say or even to wish about. That Christ is my light is my whole glory, and my whole delight.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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