A Twilight Musing
Paul begins 1 Corinthians 15 by pointing to the Resurrection of Jesus as the culminating capstone of the Son’s mission on earth, forming an essential part of the Gospel message (vv. 1-19). He then proceeds to argue that if there is no resurrection from the dead, the consequence is that “in this life only we have hoped in Christ, [and] we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19). In the succeeding verses, he goes on to draw a sharp distinction between the resurrected body of Jesus (the Second Adam) and the “natural body” of the First Adam: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 20-21). After an expansion on why “we are of all people most to be pitied” if there is no resurrection, Paul responds to the question, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (v. 30).
Paul goes to nature for analogies to answer these questions. The resurrected body is as different from the natural body as is the fruit of a grain of wheat from the seed that was sown. He points also to how the kinds of flesh are different from each other, and how heavenly bodies differ in brightness. But the difference between our fleshly bodies and our resurrection bodies is even more striking:
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 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. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15:42-49, ESV)
What struck me in a fresh way in this passage was Paul’s reference to the first man being “from the earth, a man of dust.” I had always assumed that the “body of death” from which we are finally delivered in the Resurrection is the fallen body destined for physical death because of sin. A corollary of this assumption was that the original, unfallen bodies of Adam and Eve were not temporal, but eternal, so long as they lived in obedience to God. But as I pointed out in Part One, even unfallen mankind was subject to some form of limitation on their physical lives; some kind of development in the context of temporality still remained to be worked out. Paul’s discourse makes clear that Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the participation of all believers in that resurrection, constitutes the final working out of God’s eternal purpose for His creation. By giving details of the distinction between the body of Adam and the body of our resurrected Lord, which we will one day share with Him, Paul demonstrates also the difference between our present universe, whether fallen or unfallen, and God’s “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13).
The core of my new insight hinges on the implications of Paul’s summation in vv. 50-51: “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” It is not just the corrupted, sinful body of the fallen First Adam that cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but even the yet-unfallen flesh and blood with which God clothed him in the first place. If we accept that the original, unfallen Adam and Eve were “flesh and blood,” then it must also be accepted that they were, in some sense, perishable when they were created. We have no way of knowing what would have developed in our world if our first father and mother had not rebelled, but it seems fair to conjecture that some form of cessation to their fleshly form would have been part of the picture.
I ran across a statement in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet that articulates as a general principle of God’s creation what I believe to be true of Earth and the life God put on it. The major character, Ransom, is talking to a being in the unfallen world of Malacandra (Mars), who has told Ransom about an ancient race that perished from the planet, leaving the area where they once lived cold and lifeless. Ransom asks where the divine Creator and sustainer of the planet was when all this happened. Could He not have prevented this destruction? Ransom’s instructor replies, “I do not know. But a world is not made to last forever, much less a race; that is not Maleldil’s [God’s] way.” I present for your consideration the idea that God’s design in creating the world in which we live was not that it would last forever as it was, even if it had not rebelled; but that it was intended to be the stage for a process by which the Devil would be defeated and God’s moral superiority be established.
The eternal, resurrected bodies we will share with Jesus, as well as the eternal home in which we will dwell with Him, are not merely transformations of our present bodies and our present world, but entirely new, spiritually defined bodies and an abode that transcends completely our material universe. In this eternal state, body and soul and spirit are so bonded together that they are no longer separable nor distinguishable from one another. History, which by definition records change, will be at an end, wrapped up in God’s eternal “now.”
Image: "Eternity" by Norbert Reimer. CC License.