Many of our high school students are learning how to drive, or will learn how to drive soon. To open this week’s lesson we did an activity where they had to identify road signs. We used that to introduce the seven signs in John as pointing us towards the kingdom of Heaven. We had the groups explore the different signs (we only explored four of them) and had them discuss how these signs pointed us to Heaven or how the sign described Heaven.
Road signs exist for many different reasons. Some set limits to speed or limits to what lanes can be driven in. Other signs warn of unexpected delays or dangerous situations. Still other’s point you in a certain direction or tell you how far you have to travel to reach a certain destination. But overall signs, road signs or any sign, describes a reality that you and your car are about to enter. You are about to enter a reality where the left lane is closed. You are entering a reality where the fastest you can legally drive is 65. Signs declare a new reality.
Jesus did many things that were like road signs. His actions pointed to a new reality, a coming reality and He showed us how this new reality would be. There are seven signs in the Gospel of John (we only looked at four, and had the student discuss how these signs helped us understand Heaven and Eternity, they came up with some great answers). The final sign that John mentions is the raising of Lazarus, a dead man coming back to life by the power of Jesus. Each of these signs points us to and hints at a new world that is coming. John is trying to get his readers to see that Jesus is bringing about something different, something wonderful, something, new…or better yet, something restored. Jesus’ works, Jesus’ teachings are all about pointing us in a new direction that is coming. And this new age, this time begins to take shape when Jesus Himself resurrects from the dead.
But what does resurrection mean for us? Why is it significant for Heaven? This is what we will address for the rest of our time together. To do this we need to explore one of the greatest chapters in the whole New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15. I love this whole chapter because it is a wonderful reflection on the resurrection of Jesus and what it means for us. We’ll go section by section starting in verse 20.
20 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 turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[a] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. -1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Notice Paul’s use of the word “first fruits.” In the ancient world, a first fruit was an offering that a worshipper gave to a deity. It was a promise of faithfulness to the deity. But here Paul uses it, interestingly, in the reverse order. Instead of us making a promise to God, God makes a promise to us through Jesus. Jesus’ bodily resurrection points out that we will also have a bodily resurrection; that is God’s promise to us.
You will be the you God created, because God loves you. God doesn’t want you to be someone or something else, even in creation. He wants you to be YOU, the YOU, you were meant to be without sin. The pure creation God intended. God is glorified by our redemption and restoration because it shows how truly powerless Satan is.
Let me use an analogy from life to help you wrap your mind around restoration. Think about an old, dirty coffee table. It once used to look like a beautiful piece of furniture, but now it is warn, tired and possibly broken. Now imagine you took that table and restored it to its original shine. You sanded down the rough edges, added a new finish so that the old table looked as it once did. If you did this, you would have restored this table.
That’s what God does to humanity, through the resurrection of Jesus. He takes something that is broken and restores it to its original beauty. That’s why Paul says “first Christ, then at His coming those who belong to Christ.” The resurrection of Jesus restores us to our true beautiful selves. But Paul takes us even deeper with this discussion.
35 But someone will 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. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People 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. – 1 Corinthians 15:35-41
This is a very simple point and an important one to grasp. Paul’s belief in a resurrection body just seems to make sense when he thinks about the different kinds of bodies in our present reality. Birds and animals do not have the same kind of body as human bodies. They are different. Thus, just as there are different types of bodies among the creation on Earth, so also are there different types of bodies between earthly bodies and heavenly bodies.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. 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. 45 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 is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. – 1 Corinthians 15:42-49
OK, stay with me on this. My bible translates these different bodies as “natural bodies” and “spiritual bodies.” Other translations have “physical bodies.” This has led to a belief in a heaven like the one in cartoons, where we are sort of disembodied floating beings without feet. And if we confuse what Paul is saying here, then we can certainly arrive at that conclusion. But that conclusion isn’t as hopeful as what Paul actually intends to be understood here.
Now get ready, we have to understand the Greek language a bit to understand Paul. And in my study I came across the writings of NT Wright to help us understand what Paul means here. And this dude, is one of the best New Testament writers and scholars, so what he says should be considered. The Greek word for “natural” is psychikos. It is a form of the word psyche which means soul (Wright is quick to note this word was not used to refer to something physical).
Now the word is used as an adjectival form, i.e. it describes something (see why basic English is important). Wright argues that what Paul is describing here is not the “material out of which things are made but rather the power or energy that animates them.” The difference is like asking on the one hand “is this ship made of wood or iron?” while on the other asking, “Is this ship powered by electricity or by the wind?” Paul’s point then is that this present body is powered by the normal human pyche (the life force of this present time that is ultimately powerless against sickness, brokenness and death) while the future body will be powered by the life giving pneuma (spiritual) of God and that body will not be powerless against sickness or death.
It’s like saying in this life you drive a gas powered engine but in the next you’ll run on an electric energy. Physicality or material is not really the issue. The issue is what powers it. And to back up this point, I would also observe that Jesus had a physical body when He resurrected. This then takes us to the final portion of this chapter, verses 50-58.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 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. 54 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?”[b]
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 and sisters, 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. -Read 1 Corinthians 15: 50-58
Just like before, when you read “flesh and blood” Paul is not talking about physicality in general but rather the present physical form that is mired by sin. “The perishable must put on the imperishable”, God is not starting over or rejecting our bodies that He created, He is transforming them. And thus death has not power, death has no sting. It gets nothing in the end. And this is why a physical resurrection matters, because it paves the way for the rest of creation to be resurrected as well.
Paul even says this earlier in the chapter, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” And here’s my point for all of this: God is ever faithful to all of Creation and when the end comes, Satan gets absolutely nothing. He doesn’t get the last laugh as God is forced to destroy Creation, He doesn’t get a small smile thinking, I got to beat God at something as he destroys the body. He gets nothing, there is no laughing for Him, no hope for Hi; only destruction.
And this God and this truth is where we find our strength. That is why Paul closes the chapter by saying, “Therefore my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Nothing will bring ultimate harm to you, so be strong. Satan cannot force you out of God’s hand, he is not strong enough. He gets nothing and God gets everything!! How wonderful, how marvelous is that?
This coming Sunday I will be out of town and one of our students is teaching on the topic “Can We Sin in Heaven?” I’m hoping to get her to be a guest blogger, we’ll see if she wants to.