Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:35,
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
Such questioning would have been typical Epicurean banter, which they usually did by asking such questions. Paul does not answer the first question here. How are the dead raised? They are raised by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. The answer is found in Rom. 8:11,
11 But 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 indwells you.
The Greek philosophers did not understand spirit, because they had equated it with the soul, calling it a spiritual soul. Neither did they understand how a dead body, once decomposed or destroyed, could be reconstituted. Perhaps most importantly, as I have already shown, they did not see a need for a bodily resurrection, for in their eyes, the ultimate purpose of all things was to get rid of the body and to separate spirit from matter.
Hence, their second question, “with what kind of body do they come?” shows that Paul had been teaching about a bodily resurrection. The question of a bodily resurrection had already been settled. Paul then focuses upon this question in the rest of the passage.
The Analogy of Sowing Seeds
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:36-38,
36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
Sowing a seed is like burying a body, Paul says. The seed then comes to life and produces fruit according to the type of seed that was sown. All the seeds are given life, but the type of body which it is given depends upon the type of seed that it was when it was first sown. We see from this that in the resurrection, each person will retain his or her unique character, though no longer mortal and corruptible.
The body that is sown, or buried in the ground, is not the same body that is raised from the dead, for Paul says, “you do not sow the body which is to be.” For this reason, it matters not if one’s body decays, or if it is burned up, or if it is eaten by lions or sharks. God gives the person a new body, even as He formed man of the dust of the ground at the beginning.
Paul’s explanation answers the philosophic misunderstanding of resurrection. The philosophers assumed that in order for a resurrected man to be the same person as he was previously, he would have to be raised in the same body that he had before he died. How could one reconstitute the same body? But a resurrected body is not the same body, nor does it need to be.
He who is raised from the dead is not his body, nor does his identity reside in his soul which has also died. His soulish identity has passed away, and his seat of consciousness is now in his spirit. This change of identity has already taken place in believers, but later for unbelievers.
Hence, a resurrected person is still himself, because his spirit is the same, but his spirit now resides in a new body that is independent of the old body. Furthermore, the union of spirit with body produces a soul, and with a new body also comes a new soul. When God breathed His Spirit into the body of Adam, which had been formed from the dust of the ground, he became a living soul. This time, however, we see an upgrade, because the new soul will be created in the union of his renewed spirit and the new body. Paul explains this later in 1 Cor. 15:44-46, as we will see.
Meanwhile, Paul’s analogy of seeds being sown into the earth, dying in order to bring forth life, tells us that there will be a bodily resurrection. There will be a variety of new bodies recreated, unique to each individual according to the wish (thelo, “will, desire”) of God.
Different Types of Flesh
To further illustrate the individual uniqueness of each new body, Paul gives another analogy in 1 Cor. 15:39, saying,
39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.
Again, Paul’s point is based upon the fact of a bodily resurrection, but it shows that we do not all come out of the same cookie cutter. Each will be unique. We should also mention the fact that after Jesus’ resurrection, no one recognized Him until He said something or did something. Scripture does not attempt to explain this lack of recognition, so we do not know if He actually looked different or if the disciples’ perception was altered or dimmed. But it appears that He required them to know Him in a new way, no longer after the flesh but after the spirit. 2 Cor. 5:15-17 says,
15 … but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. 17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.
Resurrection makes a person “a new creature,” that is, a new creation. Even Jesus Himself was different after His resurrection, though His body did not decay as such (Acts 2:31). So when He appeared to Mary in the garden, she did not recognize Him at first (John 20:14). When Jesus later walked with Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, they did not recognize Him until He broke bread with them (Luke 24:30, 31). When He appeared to the disciples in the room in Jerusalem, they thought they were seeing a spirit (Luke 24:36, 37). When He appeared on the shore of Galilee, Peter and John did not recognize Him until they caught 153 fish (John 21:6, 7).
All of these examples suggest that something was different about Jesus’ new body. Before He died, the disciples easily recognized Him as the man that they had come to know. But after His resurrection, they had to discern Him spiritually, not because He had become a spirit, but because His flesh was of a higher order.
The Analogy of Heavenly Bodies
Paul continues with another analogy in 1 Cor. 15:40, 41, 42,
40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is 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. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Verse 40 establishes the distinction between “heavenly bodies and earthly bodies.” In other words, our present body is earthly, but it will be different from the resurrected body, which is heavenly. That is the first distinction. But even the heavenly bodies themselves are unique, such as the sun, the moon, and the stars. Furthermore, each star differs in glory. Hence, all things in nature illustrate the principle of a unique resurrection, for “God gives it a body just as He wished.”
This relates directly to the topic of rewards. Isaiah 62:11 says,
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation [yesha] comes; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.”
This is a prophecy of Jesus (Yeshua), for this is how it is treated in Rev. 22:12, where Jesus tells John,
12 “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
We have already seen that there is more than one resurrection. The First Resurrection gives life in The Age to the overcomers, and their glory is greater than what is given to the rest of the church in the general resurrection. It is called “a better resurrection” in Heb. 11:35. Paul called it “the prize” in Phil. 3:14.
When Paul speaks of the differing glories of the sun, moon, and stars, we might also relate this to the First Resurrection, where the glory of the sun is granted to the overcomers, followed by the general resurrection, where the glory of the moon is granted to the church, followed ultimately by the Creation Jubilee at the end of time, where the glory of the stars is granted to the rest of humanity. The multitude of stars, each having different magnitudes (or “glory”), portrays the unique differences that will characterize them as well. Though their glory will be less than the sun and the moon, yet they too will shine brightly with the glory of God.
Sown Earthly, Raised Heavenly
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44,
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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 [psychikos, “soulish”] body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural [psychikos, “soulish”] body, there is also a spiritual body.
Here again, Paul emphasizes the difference between the present earthly body and that which we will receive at the resurrection. The earthly body is “perishable,” that is it is mortal. But it will be raised immortal. It dies in dishonor, for its very death is a testimony to the sin of Adam and the judgment of God. But it will be raised in glory—that is, with varying degrees of honor. The earthly body dies in weakness, but is raised in power.
It is also important to note that the body is “soulish” when it dies, but “it is raised a spiritual body.” This is applicable not only to believers but to unbelievers as well. Even traditional thinking teaches this. Many believe that the spiritual body will allow Christians to live forever in heaven, while the spiritual body will allow unbelievers to burn in hell forever without dying.
But we know that the purpose of God (and His promise) is to save all mankind. This gives us a different picture of the resurrection of the unbelievers. When they are raised in a spiritual body, it means they will no longer have a soulish outlook on life. They will see the truth and understand its reality, having been set free from all soulish illusions.
For this reason, when they are resurrected to life in a spiritual body, they will have no trouble bowing their knees to Jesus Christ and confessing Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father. They will not be hardened criminals, incapable of repenting or of confessing Christ. Their confession will not be forced against their will, as so many have taught. Instead, their confession will be from the heart with full knowledge of the truth.
Although these former unbelievers will still have to go through the maturing process in the “lake of fire,” they will do so as gladly as we do today when we submit to the baptism of fire that currently works to purify our hearts and which brings us to spiritual maturity.