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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 15:53-54 Imperishable, immortal

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 2, 2023

53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on imperishability, and the mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

These words are familiar to anyone who has stood at the graveside during a Lutheran funeral service. For the grieving family, the words often rush past like a dream; the words can be unclear and hazy even when the mourner is a seasoned minister of the gospel.

Paul talks about the present perishable body as if it’s a shirt that’s been tossed into the laundry pile. The sceptic might think that there is so much more to it than changing your shirt, but Paul’s point is that, for the risen Christian, it will be even simpler than changing your shirt. When the dead rise, the perishable will have put on the imperishable—like a boxer who finishes his fight, and then finds that his hand is being raised by someone else in victory and a robe has been thrown over his shoulders. The risen believer is clothed by Christ. There is no effort or work at all to be done by the believer in this.

And at the same time, the mortal will have put on immortality. What is the difference between imperishable and immortal? To be sure, they are synonyms. But imperishable (ἀϕθαρσίαν) is especially whatever is not subject to decay; it cannot rot, spoil, or fade away. It remains fresh and new always. The immortal (ἀθανασίαν) cannot die. So a stone (especially a polished gemstone) is “imperishable,” but it is also quite dead. On the other hand, our resurrected bodies will be like Christ’s body in eternity: not only unable to fade or decay, but also unable to die. We will be both imperishable and immortal.

Paul happily applies Isaiah’s words here. The prophet says, “He will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8), and he adds: “And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” Paul simply condenses the words by saying, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” For what is it when the tears of the people and the reproach of the people have been removed, if not victory? The victory of the cross is the end of sin, the end of the grief it inflicts upon mankind, and the end of the guilty verdict that was hanging over the heads of fallen mankind from the Garden of Eden until the garden tomb of Calvary.

This removal of the perishable and mortal and the subsequent putting on of the imperishable and immortal can be described as the falling away of everything man has in death, and the rising or replacing of everything man needs in the resurrection:

  1. At death, the unified or composite self, which is body and soul, falls away when man’s soul departs from the body. A physician will say that, biologically, death occurs when the heart or brain stop working. Theologically, we say that death occurs when the soul is separated from the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
  2. At death, the body that remains also falls away as it is dissolved into its elements. Every ‘work’ decays and ceases to exist in the end; the whole creation is subject to this bondage of decay (Romans 8:21).
  3. Even the material into which the body is scattered as it decays finally falls away into its base elements, less than dust. “You will return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19); “all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:20; Job 34:15).

But the resurrection is the opposite of all this falling away and crumbling into nothingness, dust, and ashes. Therefore, in reverse or retrograde order to the body’s falling, we find, all in an instant in the resurrection:

  1. The gathering of the scattered dust and ashes which is a preparation for the reshaping of bodies. “To provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:3a).
  2. The formation of the body from that dust and ashes, which is the arrangement for the reception of the soul. “The oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:3b).
  3. The animation (bringing to life) of that which has been formed; the bringing back of the soul to the reformed body as to its original dwelling place and its reunion with the body, a union which is partly natural, partly personal. It is natural because a human nature is once again established; it is personal because the original body of the soul in question is re-formed, “a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3c).

The union of souls with bodies from the dust of the earth and from the depths of the sea is a union that will endure forever, for God’s mercy endures forever (Psalm 100:5). “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Lord, your mercy endures forever. Do not let go of the works of your hands” (Psalm 138:8). The end of death is the same as the beginning of eternal and everlasting life.

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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