Whole Life Whole Bible Day 48
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NASB)
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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 natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
47: Soul or body?
One of the major dimensions of the end of all things is the final resurrection. Indeed, the phrase from the Apostles’ Creed, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’, reminds us that the goal of our salvation is not an immortal, immaterial soul but a glorious body.
Confusion surrounding the concept of ‘eternal life’ arguably goes right back to the culture prevalent at the time of the early church. It is commonly thought that Christians believe in the ‘immortality of the soul’. But this was a Greek concept, put forward by (among others) Plato in his Dialogue Phaedo, in which he contrasts the pre-existent immortal soul with the corruptible human body. It is possible that Hellenistic converts to Christianity held this dualistic belief but Paul does not accept it. ‘The perishable,’ he wrote, ‘must clothe itself with(or put on) the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality’ (1 Corinthians 15:53).
As long as we think of an immaterial, spiritual ‘heaven’, we’re likely to find it difficult to conceive of what Tom Wright, in his masterly book Surprised by Hope, describes as ‘a new mode of physicality’. But if, along with the apostle Paul, we conceive of Christ’s return as inaugurating not only a new heaven but also a new earth, this physicality makes perfectly good sense. Wright suggests that the contrasting adjectives in 1 Corinthians 15:44 are misleadingly translated as ‘natural’ or ‘physical’, and ‘spiritual’. Rather, he says, the contrast is between the present body, which is ‘animated’ by the human soul, and the future body, which is animated by the Spirit, ‘God’s breath of new life’.
This way of understanding, astonishingly, liberates us from two of our great dilemmas about the future life: first, ‘Shall we be able to recognize each other?’ and second, ‘Will all my present physical characteristics, many of which seem to me unattractive, be there for all to see throughout eternity?’ Jesus is described in 1 Corinthians as ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (15:20). So, as we look at his resurrection body, we get a glimpse of what it may be like for us — the individual essence of each of us ‘in beauty glorified’, recognizable yet transformed.
Meanwhile, this resurrection hope flows back into our lives, shaping the way we think, speak, and live as we embody God’s all-encompassing salvation in the here and now.
For further reflection and action
How far are your own beliefs about life after death consistent with each other? How far do they tie up with scripture?
How should our understanding of the resurrection body shape our attitude to our present bodies? Can we learn to thank God for the bodies he has given us, as well as praising him for what they will be?
How might we seek, in the large and small areas of our lives, to make the world a better place, in preparation for the physical return of Jesus?
Visit LICC to find out more or get an overview of the Biblical narrative and the ways it can shape us by reading the Introduction to Whole Life, Whole Bible from the Whole Life, Whole Bible book.