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1 Corinthians 15:42-44a raised imperishable

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, July 27, 2023

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. It is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.

When Jesus described a girl who had died, he said, “She is not dead, but sleeping” (Mark 5:39). While this actually drew a laugh from the crowd and the professional mourners (5:40), the manner of Jesus raising her from the dead was no different from a parent waking a child up from sleep: “Talitha, koum!” (Little one, time to get up). When she rose, her only complaint was that she was hungry (5:43). Our rising will be a physical resurrection.

Shakespeare describes the resurrection with the rough and ready words of a soldier, thinking of his own death approaching, who nevertheless can confess that “all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day” (Henry V, IV:1). Paul has shown that our bodies will indeed be joined together and whole once again, and that we will have a new glory, even if it differs somewhat from one to the rest. Now he carries his explanation even further in this way:

  1. The human body is sown perishable, but raised imperishable (15:42). That is to say, when we die, we are able to die; able to suffer, able to bleed, able to decay. But when we are raised, we will be imperishable and unable to do any of those things. This is a key to our understanding of these verses. Paul cannot be talking about the wicked here, because condemned unbelievers will indeed be able to suffer, bleed, and so on, as part of their punishment in hell. The souls of the ungodly will be forever ruined by their suffering while they are forever tortured in hell (Matthew 10:28). They will be immortal, unable to die, but preserved for eternal and increasing torments (Isaiah 51:7, 66:24), “put to shame… brought down to terror and infamy” (Isaiah 44:11).
  2. The human body is sown in dishonor but raised in glory (15:43a). No matter how much honor and dignity we place on a modern funeral and burial, the body that is buried is buried in dishonor in the sense that dishonor is our word, along with “humiliation,” to translate Paul’s term atimia (ἀτιμίᾳ). It is shame or disgrace, the opposite of glory (2 Corinthians 6:8; Habakkuk 2:16; Proverbs 11:2). We also remember that death and dishonor go together because death is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Without sin, there would be no death at all. No matter how righteous anyone might be, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We have already described the glory of our resurrected bodies and the varying glories given by God.
  3. The human body is sown in weakness but raised in power (15:43b). A characteristic of the resurrected body is also power. What could be weaker than a dead body? But the raised body will be strong, sound, and robust. The raised body will not be susceptible to disease of any kind, nor even to perils, old age, or the gradual loss of power, memory, strength, etc., that comes with old age. The bodies of raised believers will be confirmed in enduring strength and health. Recall that the angels in this world are able to crush a massive army in a single night (2 Kings 19:35), and we, the “children of the resurrection,” will in many ways be “like the angels” (Luke 20:36). This will be similar to the resurrection of Christ’s human and eternal body, for he was “crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him” (2 Corinthians 13:4). And our dogmaticians apply the words of the prophet here: “The least of you will become (like) a thousand; the smallest (like) a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly” (Isaiah 60:22). Anselm said: “In the coming age the righteous will be so strong that he will be able even to move the earth if he wanted. And so, conversely, the unrighteous will be so weak that he will be unable to remove the maggots from his eyes.”
  4. The human body is sown a physical body but raised a spiritual body (15:44a). By “spiritual,” Paul cannot and does not mean a body which is spirit only (that is, a soul without a body), but rather a perfected body together with its perfected soul. For just as in this lifetime our souls are just as guilty as our bodies of being corrupt and sinful, so also in the resurrection a man’s soul, reunited with his flesh, will be holy and perfect. Again we turn to Anselm of Canterbury, who said: “If a man is to be restored in perfection, he ought to be reconstituted as the sort of being he would have been if he had not sinned. It cannot be otherwise.”

Professor Gerhard said, “Just as when a sick man who again becomes well does not lose his original nature or substance but acquires new qualities in it—namely, vigor and good temperament—so also in the resurrection the substance of the body will not be changed but will be equipped with new qualities.”

I can say with confidence that “I know not, oh, I know not what joys await us there,” but our not knowing does not diminish the truth or the certainty of the glory that will be the resurrection of our flesh, when we will be raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and a spiritual yet physical body, to give glory to God for all eternity.

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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