The Resurrection of the Believer

In I Corinthians 15, Paul presents the necessity of the resurrection: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain ... and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (I Cor. 15:13,14,17).

Why? Because Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin. The outcome of sin is death and if Jesus did not rise from the dead, that is, if He did not conquer death, then death conquered Him which means He did not atone for sin. Sin won the victory, sin killed Jesus and the power of sin is unbroken. If sin’s power is unbroken, then our faith is useless because we are trusting in a sacrifice for sin which had no effect. We are still in our sins. Faith in a dead Savior saves us from nothing. Our sin debt was not paid and we are still lost in sin, separated from God by sin and under the condemnation of a holy God who must judge sin and sinner. 

However, Paul triumphantly declares, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (I Cor. 15:20).

The risen Christ is the first fruits of those who share His nature, who have been united to His life through faith. His resurrection speaks prophetically of those who will someday rise in Him. The word asleep does not refer to soul sleep but to those whose bodies have died while their souls have gone into the presence of Christ. 

15:21,22 “For since by a man death came, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Adam is the one who introduced death into the world. He was the first fruits of death. God had said to him, regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “In the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The seeds of death were planted first in Adam, bearing fruit throughout humanity for these thousands of years. But through the obedience of Christ, whom Paul calls the Second Adam (2 Cor. 15:45,47), comes resurrection. Now, resurrection life flows from Jesus Christ, “The first fruits of those who are asleep.”

15:23,24 “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”

“Those who are Christ’s” refers to those have trusted in Christ’s atonement and resurrection, surrendered to Christ’s Lordship and by faith are living in union with Him. “At His coming” refers to His return.

“Then comes the end” — telos. Telos refers not just to finality but the fulfillment, completion of something. When Jesus has completely “abolished all rule and all authority and power” — all human and angelic governments deposed, all false religion destroyed, all Satanic /  demonic influence removed, when the universe is restored to God’s original purpose and design, then Christ will hand the kingdom over to His Father.

15:25,26 “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.”

God the Father determined to subject all things to His Son, who then will hand all things over to His Father. The word abolish is katargeo which means do away with, make void, put away. The return of the resurrected Christ initiates the resurrection of the redeemed which demonstrates, which reveals the complete destruction of death.

In I Cor. 15:35, two questions are being asked of Paul: 

“How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”

1. How are the dead raised?

The dead are raised by the power of God, a power revealed in nature. Referring to the grain or fruit which springs up from the seed, Paul says, “But God gives it a body just as He wished” (15:38) 

Elsewhere, Paul says that Christ “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phlpns. 3:21). Jesus will transform us into conformity with His resurrection body.

Let’s be clear that we are speaking only of the resurrection of the body, not the soul. The soul never dies. You are an eternal soul — your body is not eternal, it’s aging and unless the Lord returns first, your body will die and decompose. But if you have trusted in the redeeming, atoning sacrifice of Jesus, when your body dies your soul, the essential you, will go immediately into the presence of God. 

Paul was perfectly confident of this when he said, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Another translation reads, “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (NLT). 

And he said, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phlp. 1:23).

Paul knew that when his body died, his soul would transition instantly into the presence of the Lord. That soul is absolutely recognizable as you — people will know you because your soul is the essence of you. On the day of resurrection, your soul will be reunited with a body that is as fit for eternity as this body was fit for time.

2. What kind of body?

“It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (15:44)

“Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (15:49). 

In our earthly bodies, we bore the image of Adam. In our heavenly bodies, we will bear the image of Jesus. The Apostle John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2).

Other than “we shall be like Him” the Bible doesn’t give us much detail. Paul compares our earth body to a seed planted in the ground but the seed doesn’t show you what the mature plant or fruit or grain will look like. A pumpkin seed is different from the mature pumpkin. An apple seed doesn’t resemble an apple.

The seed is planted, it disintegrates, then the tree, plant or stalk comes forth. In the same way, the body is planted but will be raised as a glorified body and reunited with the perfected soul which has been in the presence of God.

Who determined this process? God did from the beginning — God created fruit bearing trees and grasses, God determined the form of the seed and the form of the plant and the fruit. The seed doesn’t disclose what the plant will look like and the plant doesn’t disclose what the fruit looks like. So we don’t know a great deal about our resurrection body but it is certain that we will be raised. So certain, we may say that a graveyard is a garden of resurrection seed, waiting to spring up into everlasting life. And what is resurrection life? It is life in the presence of God, sharing the eternal life of God as the full human being God designed us to be.

“Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (I Cor. 15:49). As our earthly body is like Adam’s body, so our heavenly body will be like that of Jesus — transcending the laws of gravity and space, unaffected by time, reflecting the glory of God. The Lord will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phlp. 3:21).

Whereas we now bear the image of the first Adam, we will someday bear the image of the Second Adam, conformed to His glory. “If this earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

This is certain, promised. It is also necessary: “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (I Cor. 15:50).

Flesh and blood cannot transition into heaven. We cannot enter eternity with bodies designed for time, for this world. Perishable cannot live in an imperishable world — resurrection implies the necessity of transformation.

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (I Cor 15:51,52).

In the New Testament, a mystery is something that was not clearly explained in the Old Testament but now is revealed. This particular mystery is that not everyone will die — some will be alive when Jesus returns and they and all who died previously in Christ will be changed when Jesus returns.

The word changed is allassoto make different. It will be a different kind of body fit for a different environment. However, though the form of our body will be different, there is a continuity — it is the same essential you inhabiting that body but without the imperfection or sin and all the other frailties and corruptions which accompany this life.

“We will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The word momentatomos —  from which we derive the English word atom was the shortest measure of time available in that language. The twinkling of an eye is the time required for light to enter the iris and hit the retina — one-sixth of a nanosecond. In one-sixth of a nanosecond the souls of those who died in the Lord will be united with resurrection bodies and those who are alive on earth at that time will also experience this instantaneous transformation.

This will happen at the last trumpet. There is some disagreement as to which trumpet this refers to but the point is not the trumpet but the return of Christ. At that time, “The dead will be raised imperishable / (incorruptible).” That word is aphthartosundecaying in essence, continuing, immortal.

“For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (15:53). 

The word must implies necessity — the transition from earth and time to heaven and eternity requires a change. Corruption must put on that which is incorruptible. The phrase put on is the normal word for putting on clothes.

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (15:54). (“The saying that is written” — Paul is quoting Isaiah 25:8).

When we put on the imperishable body, at that point, “Death is swallowed up in victory” — death will cease to exist. What causes death? “The wages of sin is death” and all things are under the power and sentence of death since the fall of humanity into sin. Sin made all things subject to death. But Jesus paid for our sin, His resurrection is proof that death has been defeated and someday will be entirely abolished, as Paul said, “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death” (I Cor. 15:25,26).

The Apostle John saw this amazing event, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14). Death, the negation of existence, will no longer exist. Death, the condition of those who die, and Hades, the place of those who die and are awaiting judgment, are thrown into the lake of fire. This means that death and Hades will cease to exist. Nothing in the universe will ever again die and there is no need for a holding place for the dead, for all the dead at that point have a final destination — heaven or hell.

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57).

Our victory over sin and death is “through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Our resurrection is through Christ who gives us the victory. After everything that assumed dominion since the sin of Adam has been abolished, after everything that has exalted itself against the knowledge of God has been brought under submission including death, then the victory. This victory is only through our Lord Jesus Christ. Victory over death is a gift of His grace. Jesus rose from the dead, conquered death and shares His victory with us.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58).

The certain promise of resurrection motivates us to be steadfast, settled — because of what we know is in front of us. We are to be immovable. The word moveable is kineme, to shift. The English word cinema, derives from this word — motion pictures. We are to be not moveable, abounding in the work of the Lord. We abound in the work of the Lord because of the abounding grace the Lord has poured out on us and the promise of life in front of us. This promise of resurrection is what drives us, motivates us to stand, to work while we have the opportunity.

It is certain that we will be resurrected as individual persons — not rising or blending into some cosmic deity. We will rise as the unique individual persons that we are, in resurrection bodies fit for eternity and perfected insofar as a human being can be perfected. It is the promise of Jesus:

“I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44)

Jesus said of Himself, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:26-29).

It is convenient for unbelievers to disbelieve in resurrection as individual persons — either annihilation of the soul or we merge into a universal deity — because then there is no personal moral accountability. But for those of us who have entered into a living relationship with a living Savior, the promise of resurrection is cause for great celebration:

We will possess a body that can exist in the presence of the glory of God; 

a body that can radiate the glory of God; 

a body not subject to time — eternal — not aging, 

not burdened by the past or anxious for the future; 

not subject to laws of space — able to move at the speed of thought, not subject to gravity; mentally and physically and spiritually able to do whatever God asks, partnering with God; 

able to understand mysteries of God; 

perfected in wisdom insofar as a human mind can be perfected; 

able to eat but not requiring food; 

able to enjoy perfect peace and joy and love.

How wonderful that will be!

But when is the day of resurrection?

To answer this question, Paul wrote two letters to the Church at Thessalonica. They knew something about the coming day of the Lord, the day when Christ will return as revealed by this statement of Paul, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you” (I Thes. 5:1). 

But they may have been disturbed by the thought that those who had already died would miss the return of Jesus: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (I Thes. 4:13).

Paul doesn’t want them to be uninformed “about those who are asleep.” As we said, the word asleep is koimao. But this refers only to the bodies of those who died, not their souls.

In John 11:11 Jesus said that Lazarus was asleep. That refers to his body — his soul had passed into the dimension of being that God designed for those who died in faith before the resurrection of Jesus but his soul was conscious.

In Acts 7:60 we read that when Stephen was killed, “He fell asleep.” Again, this refers only to his body. In the preceding verse, as he was dying, he called on the Lord saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (7:59). 

The death of the body does not result in the annihilation of the soul or a merger into some universal being. When the body dies, the soul or spirit is still alive and this is true for all who die — believer and unbeliever. Unbelievers who died are in a state of conscious separation from the presence of God, just as believers are entirely conscious of their existence in the presence of God. In the future, hell will not be a place of non-being — it will be a place of conscious separation from God. Likewise, heaven is conscious existence in the presence of God.

We see this in the parable of the beggar and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man died and though he was not in hell — hell is not populated yet — he was aware of his separation from God. The redeemed are in the presence of the Lord and conscious of this reality.

So let’s look at what Paul said to the Thessalonian church:

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thes 4:14)

“If we believe” may be translated “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” Even so means as certain as we are of the atonement and resurrection of Christ, it is just as certain that Jesus will return and will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Him.

It was the atoning death of Christ that delivered us from judgment / hell / eternal separation from God. It was the resurrection of Christ that validated His atonement. If the wages of sin is death, and Jesus bore the judgment and penalty of sin, then death has now been changed into nothing more than the sleep of the body. And we know that when the body of Jesus died, His soul lived on because He preached to imprisoned demons (I Peter. 3:18,19). So for us, though the body dies, the soul lives on and will be someday united with a resurrection body. 

Jesus promised this: “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19 ).

Paul testifies, “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power” (I Cor. 6:14).

Again, Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, “Knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:14)

Let’s read these words again:

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thes. 4:14-17 ).

When Christ returns He will bring with Him those who “have fallen asleep in” Him. Again, fallen asleep does not refer to the soul but only to the body. Jesus will bring with Him the souls of believers who died in relationship with Him through faith. Their souls have been with Him in heaven. They will descend with Christ and be instantly reunited with resurrection bodies. Those alive at that time will also be clothed with resurrection bodies and will rise to meet Christ and His saints in the air. 

Notice that it is “the Lord Himself” who will descend. God Himself will intervene in human history to establish His resurrection purpose by His power and for His glory.

This will not be a secret event. The Lord “will descend from heaven with a shout.” The word shout is keleusma and carries a strong sense of command. It was used of a ship’s captain to those who were rowing; by a charioteer to his horses; by a general to his soldiers, a battle cry. 

There will also be “the voice of the archangel” and “the trumpet of God” will resound. Trumpets were used in the Old Testament to announce festivals and to announce triumph. Both meanings apply here. The Lord has triumphed over the powers and principalities of this world and now the saints are summoned to the marriage feast of the Lamb.

The phrase caught up is harpadzo and means to seize, to take by force — the exercise of sudden force. It is the same word used to describe Phillip being caught up by the Holy Spirit and taken to another location (Acts 8:39). It is the word used of Paul when he was caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). (The Latin translation of harpadzo is rapturo from which we derive the English word rapture.)

This event will be visible to everyone on earth. John tells us, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen” (Rev. 1:7).

On that day, every person who ever lived will be raised from the dead and clothed with a body perfectly fit for the context of their eternity — apart from God or with God. A terrible day for those who rejected the saving grace of God in Christ. But the most wonderful of all days for those who die in the Lord or are living when He returns. Paul says, “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” ( I Thes. 4:18).

Study Questions

1. If you are a follower of Christ, what happens when your body dies?

2. When will you receive a new body?