How do you explain a blind from birth person what is red color? The only choice you have is to appeal to his other senses (hearing, smell, touch, taste). But is the taste of orange is like red color? Or maybe touch of wood is like a red color? Well, not really.
But this is exactly what Paul is trying to do in this passage, explain to us what’s going to happen at the resurrection. The main question is in v.35: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”. Verses 36-50 provide the answer to the second question, while the first question is quickly addressed in verses 51-52.
1. Key observations about the nature of the new body
- The new body is as different from our current body as the plant is different from the seed – v.37. Pushing the metaphor a bit, just as a plant is much more alive than the seed, we will be much more alive than we are now
- Everybody’s bodies will be different, just as animal bodies are different from human and from heavenly bodies – v.38
- The new body will be a spiritual body rather than a natural body – vv.44-49
- The current body is perishable, the new will be imperishable – v.42
- New body shall bear the likeness of Jesus – v.49
2. What is the difference between the natural and spiritual bodies mentioned in vv.44-49?
It is a common mistake to think that physical means material and spiritual means immaterial. That is not what Paul means. If the new body is going to be immaterial, why talk about body at all? Why not just call it spirit? Or earlier in 1 Cor 10:3-4, when Paul talks about spiritual food and drink, does he imply that these are immaterial? No, there by spiritual he means that their source was the spiritual rock of God. In 1 Cor 2:15, Paul addresses a spiritual man as somebody who has the Holy spirit.
One of the sources of confusion is the translation “natural body”. A better translation is “soulish body”, body formed from and for the soul. Spiritual body is then a body formed from and for the spirit, which does not mean it will be immaterial.
3. In the last two verses Paul is basically saying, Now, since you understand these facts about resurrection, devote yourself to the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. What’s the connection?
One possible answer is that proper understanding of the resurrection might help you do your work better. It could also mean that in the view of resurrection, some work matters and other not. I think both statements are true – there is a work that is not in vain because of resurrection and understanding this connection will help you do this work better. Just as our new bodies will be different from the current ones, as the plant differs from its seed, both have something in common – the share the DNA. There is some continuity between the current and the new creations – something that we do here now will be in some sense preserved in the life to come.
One obvious example is evangelism – a saved soul now will become a new resurrected inhabitant in the New Earth – a clear connection between now and then. Another example is giving away your earthly possessions that Jesus equates to storing up treasures in Heaven. This is clearly work not in vain.
However, it is also important not to push this idea too far. What you believe will matter in the life to come should not be the only guiding principle to what you do now. For example, if this Earth will be completely destroyed and nothing from it will be carried out to the New Earth, why care about rare species, global warming, pollution, etc? Yet what about God’s command to take control and care for his creation in Gen 1? Another example is marriage – there will be none in the new life. So why get married now, if it’s not going to last?
There is more to life that just trying to do what we think will matter in the next life. First, we have to admit we do not always know what will matter. Will there be music and, if yes, will my skill and appreciation for it be preserved? Will there be science? If doing something helps strengthen the character, will it be preserved? Second, some things are worth doing only because they serve to represent God or obey his commands, whether we think the results of such actions will last or not.