It’s a pretty common thing in our culture to see the letters “R.I.P” carved into a tombstone. “Rest in peace.”
Well, in Ancient Rome they also had a common acronym they put on their tombs.
NFFNSNC - non fui, fui, non sum, non curo
Which translates in English to “I was not, I was, I am not, I don’t care.”
The basic idea was that there is no coming back from the grave. Even those who believed in the mythological idea of Hades, the realm of the dead, would tell you that once you’re in, you don’t get out.
Death is final.
So you can imagine how crazy it must have seemed when this Jewish sect across the Roman Empire started going around saying not just that there was such a thing as resurrection from the dead, but that it had already begun.
These followers of “the way” (or “little Christs” - Christians) were saying that this man named Jesus, who died on a Roman cross, had risen from the grave, and anyone who believed in him would rise as well.
They believed this so completely that these Christians willingly went to their death in the arenas, singing joyful hymns or praising God as they were ripped apart by wild animals or burned at the stake.
What in the world was going on?
Well, that is the question we’re trying to answer in this series.
Resurrection - from the very beginning - has been a cornerstone of Christian belief. As I said last week, The resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of our faith.
And it’s because of his resurrection that we have hope in our own.
Just like those early Christ-followers, we can live with confidence that this broken world of ours is not the end of the story.
Last week we talked about how the world changed because of the resurrection of Jesus. Today we’re exploring the concept of our own. What is going to happen to us after we die?
Before we dive in, let’s pray.
Alright, today we’re going to continue where we left off last week, looking at 1 Corinthians 15:35.
Again, this is a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in the Greek city of Corinth. He’s answering their questions about a range of topics, and, specifically in chapter 15, about resurrection.
Earlier in the chapter, Paul explained how Jesus rose from the dead, “just as the scriptures said.” Now he’ll talk about how we, too, will rise.
1 Corinthians 15:35-38
But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed.
Paul briefly talks about how animals and objects in the sky all have different kinds of bodies like those seeds, and then he says this:
It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever.
So to answer the question of what our resurrection bodies will be like, Paul uses the metaphor of seeds.
And I like this. I start my own seeds in the spring so this is fresh in my mind.
[image: seeds] Here’s a photo of some of my early seeds this year. From left to right that’s onion, kale, basil, tomato, and celery. And they’re all pretty different from one another.
And you might think, “Ok, I get it, Paul. We all have different bodies just like those seeds. So our resurrected bodies will also be slightly different from each other.
But that’s not what he’s saying. What he’s saying is, “think about what comes out of the ground! It’s nothing like the seed that goes in.”
With the seeds I just showed you, they come out looking like this. [images: 1 onion, 2 kale, 3 basil, 4 tomato, 5 celery - rotate through them quickly, please!]
These plants are vastly different from each other, and unless you were an experienced gardener, you’d have absolutely no way of knowing what kinds of plants these seeds were going to turn into based on the seed itself. They look nothing like their future selves!
There’s continuity - the seed becomes the plant, but there is also transformation.
So let’s apply that to resurrection. Paul is saying, “you can look at these earthly bodies all you want, but” - verse 37 - “What you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow.”
So for the question of “what kind of bodies will we have?” Paul’s answer is basically, “whatever kinds of bodies God wants us to have… and probably nothing that we can currently comprehend.”
Now, that answer might not be satisfying to you because it sounds like he’s saying, “I don’t know.”
But the truth is, we don’t know. I don’t think we can know.
But that doesn’t stop people from speculating about the details.
For example, since the fourth century people have been debating what specific part of our body is God going to use to bring us back to life. Which molecules will he resurrect?
Some have insisted you have to be buried so there’s a body for God to raise.
Others say (and I agree) that doesn’t matter because our bodies decompose and spread out. “Our bodies become the grass and the antelope eat the grass…”
Maybe the bones remain? Those decompose too! Are we saying people who die at sea or in a fire don’t get resurrected?
What about the fact that all of the molecules that make up our bodies are changed roughly every seven years or so? Which molecules is God going to resurrect? Just the ones that make up our body on our deathbed? Even if they ultimately end up as part of a squirrel or a rosebush?
These are the kinds of questions we get caught up on, but Paul is saying here, these are foolish questions. “What you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow.” No matter how we die, our resurrection will be an act of New Creation.
There will be continuity with the bodies we had before, - just like seeds planted in the ground - but the end result will be something transformed.
Remember, God is not limited by time. If he wanted to, he could resurrect us exactly as we were at our prime.
He could raise us as infants who start an entirely new journey of growth and development with the memory of our past lives.
He could even raise every single version of us - from every single part of our lives (from birth to death) - as a unified whole in some way. He’s God!
All we have to go on are the seeds of our bodies now. We don't know what form they will take in the New Creation. All we know is that in the resurrection we'll be exactly who God wants us to be.
v.38 - we’ll have “the new body he wants [us] to have.”
All we can say from Scripture is that these pained, sick, decaying, dying bodies will be transformed into something new.
So let's talk a bit about that transformation.
Here’s what Paul says next:
1 Corinthians 15:42-49
Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.
The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.
Now it is easy to mistake what Paul is saying here. Especially in the American church with our standard conception of the afterlife.
It’s usually depicted as us “going to heaven” after we die in some disembodied state, like we’re purely spiritual beings, like angels.
But I can’t emphasize this enough: that is not what Scripture tells us is going to happen. We are not zipping off to heaven when we die; God is bringing heaven to earth.
He is making a New Creation here where heaven and earth are one (God’s realm and our realm together), and he is resurrecting us into new bodies where we can live in that New Creation with him forever.
But wait… doesn’t Paul say here that we’ll be raised as “spiritual” bodies?
Yes, but I think the meaning of that gets a bit lost in English.
He uses two Greek words to compare this life and life to come.
psychikos - “physical”
pneumatikos - “spiritual”
In English, we think of these words as describing the substance of something. Something physical you can touch, you can hold. Something spiritual is immaterial or invisible.
But in Greek, these two words are describing not what something is made of but how it is animated. What gives it life.
It’s like talking about different kinds of boats on the sea. There’s wind-powered sailboats and gas-powered speedboats and nuclear-powered submarines.
They’re all boats, they all float, they all go in the sea, but what powers them is different.
It’s like Paul is saying, “Right now our bodies are sailboats, but in the resurrection we’ll have a nuclear reactor!”
These bodies are animated by the physical world - by the sun, by food, by water. Our resurrected bodies, on the other hand, will be animated and powered and sustained by the Spirit of God.
Look at verse 48. Paul has been comparing Adam (the first man) with Christ (the last man). Again, we tend to miss this because of our preconceived notions.
“Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man.”
What are earthly people like? Well, we die. We decay. We suffer. That’s the limitation of being animated by the physical world - psychikos.
But the heavenly man, Jesus, by contrast, is animated by the Spirit - he’s Spirit-powered - pneumatikos.
And, verse 49, someday we will be like him. Our resurrected bodies will be Spirit-powered.
What will that be like? Well, we do have a few data points here, thinking about the resurrected body of Jesus…
He wasn’t a ghost. He was tangible. He could be touched. He could eat food. He was real.
And yet, he could also appear out of nowhere in the middle of a locked room. He could travel vast distances quickly. And, weirdest of all, he wasn’t always recognized right away by his own followers.
Like seeds and plants, there was continuity with the body he had before - there were still holes in his hands - but his resurrected body was transformed into something new.
He was now animated by the Spirit. And if I had to guess, he could now exist with God in some kind of multi-dimensional reality that we can’t even begin to wrap our minds around.
All we can say for certain is that the resurrected body of Jesus was not the same as the seed that went into the ground. And ours won’t be either.
I know this raises more questions than it answers. But the bottom line is this:
God is making a New Creation and out of his great love for us he will resurrect and remake our bodies into the kind that can live there: animated by the Spirit, no longer subject to decay, and free from even the possibility of death.
Like the resurrected Christ we will be transformed.
Can we comprehend what that will look like? No.
But we can be confident that it’s where our story ends.
Jesus made that possible for us. And now, like those early Christ-followers who faced persecution and death with joy because of the hope that they had, we can join our voices to theirs and sing, verse 54…
1 Corinthians 15:54-55
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
Those ancient Roman tombs said this life was the end.
“I was not, I was, I am not, I don’t care.”
We don’t know exactly what it will look like, but in Christ we can now say with confidence, “I was not, I was, I will be…”
And that would have been a perfect place to end my sermon.
But guys, I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic and as we end our exploration of 1 Corinthians 15 (last week and today) I have a few final thoughts for you to ponder as we get ready for Easter.
Maybe call this the appendices of these two sermons. The first idea is this:
We genuinely have no reason to be afraid of death.
And that’s kind of a big deal in a culture like ours. Right? We glorify youth and obsess over safety and put makeup on dead bodies so we don’t have to think about the inevitability of our demise.
But I’ll say this again: the resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of our faith. Because he rose, death cannot hold us. It isn’t the end. I’m going to show you again that ancient fresco we looked at last week.
[image: greek 1]
Remember? The gates of hades are smashed. Jesus is ripping Adam and Eve right out of the grave and that’s you and me.
That is the essence of our faith and we can live like that’s true. No longer afraid of death because it holds no more power. We can live brave, not safe, as we pursue God’s purposes for this world. As we live out the coming New Creation even now…
And guess what? If it not true - if it’s all made up and our faith is useless. Then we’re still going to die happy and ignorant believing that death is not the end. Either way I think it’s better than living in dread of the inevitable.
We don’t have to be afraid of death.
Second, Life after death is going to be spectacular.
I grew up with a mental image of going to heaven when I died and then just sort of sitting around forever and ever and ever and ever and ever. It sounded kind of boring to me.
But as I’ve come to a more biblical understanding of what life after death will entail, it actually has me really excited.
Because again, we are not going to be disembodied spirits, we are going to be resurrected into a New Creation, where we can fulfill the role we were always meant to have - the role Adam and Eve were meant to have - as co-creators with God, stewarding his creation with life and joy and creativity.
In verse 43 Paul says,
1 Corinthians 15:43
Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory.
Glory is God’s attribute. For us to be raised in glory means that we will be like prisms reflecting God’s glory out into the world in a multifaceted way. Each of us unique as the masterpiece God created us to be.
We’re different kinds of seeds now; we’ll be different kinds of plants then. And we’re going to do the things he designed for us to do.
I think in the New Creation we are going to be growing things and building stuff and making music and art and digging into the depths of science and mathematics and exploring uncharted territories… maybe even uncharted dimensions of the multiverse.
I don’t know what it will look like, but I do know this: we were created to be creative. And when we rise again we’ll be exactly who God made us to be.
Life after death is going to be spectacular.
Finally, and to bring our focus back to now, What we do in this life matters.
As I said before, there is continuity between this life and the next. This life may just be a seed that is planted in the ground, but it is connected to the plant that comes out of it.
Remember: resurrection and New Creation is not about God blowing everything up and starting over, it’s about God transforming us and this world.
That’s why I believe our small acts of faithfulness and obedience to God in this life will be reflected in the life to come.
Right now we are like stonemasons, carving beautiful stones with absolutely no concept of how the master builder will integrate our work into the cathedral he has designed. Our job is simply to be faithful.
The point of this life is not to earn a “get into heaven free card” and then wait around. The point is to join God in his work of New Creation now.
As Paul says at the end of this chapter,
1 Corinthians 15:58
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
Whether it’s a single act of self-giving love or a lifestyle of dedication and service to God, what we do in this life matters.
And I think when we stand in the resurrection with Christ, looking at what our God has built with our meager offerings, we will be in awe, and we will be humbled that we got to be a part of it.