As our transformation — our becoming new creations — anticipates God’s re-creating the heavens and the earth at the end of time, we need to take a look at what Paul says about our resurrection. Paul’s most detailed description is in 1 Corinthians 15 —
(1 Cor 15:20-23) But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Paul says that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. The firstfruits are the first of the harvest to ripen. They are sacrificed to God under the Law. But they are just the same as the fruit that follows. They’re just the first to come and so they promise the farmer that God has blessed his harvest, because if the firstfruits ripen, the rest will ripen as well.
(1 Cor 15:35-37) But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
The obvious objection to a bodily resurrection is the fact that old body will be long decayed — even destroyed. Consider the people killed at Hiroshima. For some, not one atom remains in place.
Paul explains that our earthly bodies are like seed that must “die” in order to come to life as something that is both like and unlike the seed.
(1 Cor 15:38-42a) But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.
Our new bodies will be somehow different from our present bodies.
(1 Cor 15:42b-44) The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 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.
Paul then gives a series of contrasts. The new body will be “imperishable,” have “glory,” have “power,” and be “spiritual.”
The fact that we’ll have “spiritual” bodies does not mean they’ll be made of spirit. The same word is used in these passages —
(Rom 1:11-12) I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong — 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
(Rom 7:14) We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.
(1 Cor 2:13) This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
(1 Cor 2:15) The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
(1 Cor 12:1) Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
(1 Cor 14:1) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
The word translated “spiritual” usually means “from the Spirit.” It can also mean “having the Spirit.” It never means “made of spirit.”
(1 Cor 15: 45-47) So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.
The last Adam, Jesus, is a spirit who gives life. In other words, we were made like Adam, out of dust. We were natural. We’ve now been newly created with a new life from Jesus via the Spirit. But we don’t look that much different.
(1 Cor 15:48-49) As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
We are not yet in heaven, but we are “of heaven,” because we now bear both the image of Adam and the image of Jesus. (“Likeness” translates eikon, more commonly translated “image,” and recalls Gen 1:26-27, that we were originally made in the image of God.) In other words, we’ll have resurrected bodies just like Jesus’ resurrected body, restoring us to the pre-Curse image of God.
(1 Cor 15:50) I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Our new bodies won’t be “flesh and blood.” That doesn’t mean, however, that they won’t be bodies. They’ll just be different from what we have now.
(1 Cor 15:51-53) Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
The new creation that we’ve already become will be fully realized at the end. We won’t die; we’ll be changed. We will be clothed with a new body that is immortal and imperishable.
(1 Cor 15:54-58) When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
The result, therefore, is to get busy doing “the work of the Lord,” which will not be in vain. We do the work that Jesus does — bringing new creation to a world in desperate need of it.