God's End Game - Part 34
Series: God's End Game
August 11, 2019
Let’s jump right in to our series on God’s End Game, a study that started in Genesis and ends in Revelation, and yes it does have an end.
In this study we are digging into God’s Word, searching for clues about what he’s up to with us and all his creation, where all this is headed, and how he’s going to undo the damage done in the beginning, when the disobedience of Adam and Eve brought shame, sin, and death into world.
We’ve pulled over and parked midway in the series to mine the riches found in the major play of God’s end game plan, Jesus. We’ve seen how Jesus was born the God-Man, meaning he was 100% God and 100% man at the same time, that’s called the incarnation in theological terms. We’ve seen how Jesus was hanged on a cross to take our place, that’s called the crucifixion. And for the last few weeks we’ve especially focused on how Jesus rose from the dead, that’s called the resurrection.
The resurrection is really the most important part of the whole plan because from it flows everything else he’s up to. We’ve been using this theological statement to help us make sense of the resurrection:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is that central moment in human history that serves as the foundational doctrine of Christianity. After having truly assumed human nature and submitted to an agonizing and shameful public death, the eternal Son of God was truly raised from the dead in his glorified physical body, no longer subject to decay and death. His resurrection validates his identity as the divine Son of God, demonstrates his irrevocable victory over death and the grave, and secures both the present salvation and future physical resurrection of believers.
I have had a blast taking us to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances because they help us better understand a key part of our theological statement: the eternal Son of God was truly raised from the dead in his glorified physical body.
By looking at those post-resurrection appearances we discovered Jesus came back in a body that was the same yet different form the one that died and was buried in that tomb. How was it the same? It was physical. Made of flesh and bones (“Let’s have breakfast”!). If it’s physical then it must be made to exist in a physical place (piece of the puzzle we’ll place on the board closer to the end). How was it different? It was glorified. Made to exist in a physical place forever. Incapable of decay, corruption, or death.
We also learned from Paul about something we’ve called the firstfruits principle. Whatever is true of the firstfruits is true of the coming harvest. Jesus is the firstfruits of the coming resurrection of all God’s people…
1 Corinthians 15:20 (ESV) — 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
If Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection, and whatever is true of his resurrection is true of ours, then on the Last Day we will receive a glorified physical body just like his. We will live forever in his presence.
I think now we’re ready to go back to the full text that gave us the firstfruits principle in 1 Corinthians 15.
Paul was writing to the church at Corinth. The Christians there were struggling with the idea of the resurrection, not just Jesus’ but their own. We’ve covered this already but let’s look at it again to get things in context…
1 Corinthians 15:1–14 (ESV) — 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
Remember, Gentiles — non-Jews — had a really hard time with the resurrection because it went against the grain of their culture and upbringing for the most part. You might even say the idea of coming back from the dead to inhabit a physical body was offensive to them.
The goal was to break free from the physical and live in the spiritual. The greatest Greek philosopher, Plato, taught that. Their religion implied that. All the gods lived in the spiritual plane, how could the God-Man, Jesus, really be divine if he came back to life in a physical body? Why would anyone want to be resurrected into a physical body anyway?
Paul makes it clear that Jesus was resurrected and then tries to help them comprehend God’s resurrection plans for all his children, since the same was in their future…
1 Corinthians 15:35–58 (ESV) — 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 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. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
Paul uses agriculture as an analogy to carry over from the firstfruits principle introduced in verse 20. He actually got the idea from Jesus himself…
John 12:23–24 (ESV) — 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
When a seed “dies” and is planted what comes up later is the same yet different, isn’t it? A grain seed produces grain. But a single kernel, when it germinates and matures, produces a whole plant making possible the harvest.
Jesus’ dead body was put into the earth (tomb) like a seed. It germinated and came to life in his resurrection, the firstfruits of the coming harvest, the Last Day.
The same is true for us as God’s people and our impending death.
One NT scholar translates 1 Cor. 15:35-38 like this…
35 But someone is now going to say: ‘How are the dead raised? What sort of body will they come back with?’ 36 Stupid! What you sow doesn’t come to life unless it dies. 37 The thing you sow isn’t the body that is going to come later; it’s just a naked seed of, let’s say, wheat, or some other plant. 38 God then gives it a body of the sort he wants, with each of the seeds having its own particular body.
I’m no Greek scholar, and I’m sure even if I were I wouldn’t translate Paul as calling people stupid, but I think he was mystified as to how they couldn’t see the connection, which speaks to his passion and unswerving belief in what he taught. He goes on…
39 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, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 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.
God is in the business of creating things. In the beginning he created our bodies, the animals’ bodies, and the heavenly bodies: the stars, the sun, the moon. Each kind of body has its own glory, a glory that reflects the Father’s wisdom and love and power. All these bodies were good just as they were.
But sin came in and marred that glory. It brought death and decay to every kind of flesh, every kind of body, earthly or heavenly (even stars and such eventually die out).
God, in his infinite wisdom, decided before the fall to make these corrupted bodies the seed for something greater; he actually factored this failure into his end game plan…
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
Our present bodies are perishable. Because of sin we are born to die, prone to corruption not only physically but spiritually. But on the Last Day we’ll be raised imperishable, able to live forever, like a banana that never goes bad!
Our present bodies are dishonorable, we do shameful things. But in the resurrection we will have bodies reflecting God’s glory without fault, free from shame, able to mirror the image of God clearly.
Our present bodies are weak, prone to sickness and failure. Our future bodies will be strong, raised in the mighty power of God.
Now we come to the part of Paul’s explanation that has been misunderstood because we read it out of the Bible’s greater context. I waited till now to share it, because I wanted us to have the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus and what we learn from them under our belts first…
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.
What have we traditionally thought this verse teaches?
The natural body is our present physical, material, flesh-and-bone body. Our future resurrection body is in contrast a purely “spiritual,” immaterial, non-physical body and thus heaven is not a physical place.
Why have we thought that? For the same reason those ancient Gentiles had a problem with the resurrection. We also have, through cultural and generational osmosis, bought into the idea that the physical is intrinsically corrupt and bad while the spiritual is in contrast good. The goal of life is to break free from the nasty material world to the perfect, spiritual, non-material life to come in heaven.
Put the puzzle pieces together. When God created all the different kinds of bodies, each with their own glory, in the beginning, were they physical, material? Yes. And were they good, free from corruption? Yes. And had Adam and Eve not rebelled, would we still be living in that sin-free material, physical world forever? Yes.
God from the beginning, intended for us to live in physical bodies in a physical world. So we cannot say or believe that the material is intrinsically bad, can we?
Here’s a flash-forward thought: If the physical was good in the beginning, why couldn’t it be at the end?
Now add that to what we’ve learned from Jesus, who is the firstfruits of the resurrection.
He was raised in a physical body of flesh-and-bones. You could touch him. He ate breakfast. If that’s true of his resurrection body then it must be true of ours.
So, then, could it have possibly been in Paul’s mind that the natural body was material and spiritual body was non-material in these verses? No.
If Paul were trying to communicate that, he would have said “It was sown in a natural body; it is raised spiritual.” He adds “body” because that’s what we’ll have, a body!
NT Wright explains our text this way…
Imagine standing outside a car showroom, a hundred or more years from now. An advertisement has brought you and lots of others to see a new type of car. Different from all that went before, the slogan had said.
‘Looks pretty much the same to me,’ says one person.
‘Well, it’s similar,’ replies another, ‘but the engine seems different somehow.’
The inventor makes a short speech.
‘I know it may look like an ordinary car,’ he says, ‘but what makes this one totally different is what it runs on. We’ve developed a new fuel, nothing to do with oil or petrol. It’s clean, it’s safe, and there are limitless supplies. And because of the type of fuel, the engine will never wear out. This car is going to last for ever.’
A fantasy, of course… But it gets us to the point of this long, dense and hugely important discussion. What sort of a body will the resurrection produce? And what will it ‘run’ on?
We may as well go to the heart of the passage, to the verse that has puzzled people many times in the past, and still does. In verse 44 Paul contrasts the two types of bodies, the present one and the resurrection one. The words he uses are technical and tricky. Many versions translate these words as ‘physical body’ and ‘spiritual body’, but this is highly misleading. That is as though the difference between the old car and the new one was that, whereas the old one was made of steel, the new one is made of something quite different—plastic, say, or wood, or some as-yet-uninvented metal alloy. If you go that route, you may well end up saying, as many have done, that Paul is making a contrast simply between what we call a ‘body’, that is a physical object, and what we might call a ghost, a ‘spiritual’ object in the sense of ‘non-physical’. But that is exactly what he is not saying.
Paul is talking about a physical body on both counts, the difference is what animates that body, what gives it life.
The natural body is a decaying, corrupt physical body with a corrupted spirit and/or soul. The spirit/soul can be made alive, made new by coming to God through his Son, Jesus, but the body is still the same old messed up body. So the spirit is renewed but the body is still operating on the old fuel. The spirit is willing to serve God, love God, and live forever with God, but the flesh, running on that old fuel, is too weak for that.
On the Last Day, in the resurrection, God will give us new physical bodies completely animated by our redeemed spirits. Our new spiritual bodies will run on the new fuel. The spirit and the flesh will be willing and able to love God, serve God and live with God forever.
This is the idea expressed by Paul in his letter to the church at Rome…
Romans 8:10–11 (ESV) — 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Conclusion: We need to finish this morning. Paul goes on to drop a hint of what the last day will be like…
45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 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. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
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