The Body Will Be Incorruptible
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on the immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up” in victory. -1 Corinthians 15.50-54
As I pointed out in my preceding article, when we speak of the resurrection, we must be careful to emphasize that we will not have the same old corruptible bodies we have now. This is a continual emphasis of Paul’s, especially in the context of 1 Corinthians 15. This parallels what Paul said in Philippians 3:20-21.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who 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 given to subject all things to Himself.
But when it comes to “flesh and blood” not inheriting the kingdom of God, this cannot mean that we won’t have bodies. This verse is in a section where Paul is specifically answering the question of “what kind of bodies” we will have.
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come? – 1 Corinthians 15.35
Once again, we need to let Paul define his own terms. Paul has already described what he means by “fleshly” people.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are still not able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealously and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? – 1 Corinthians 3.1-3
Here Paul uses the word “fleshly” to describe the same people he described as “natural” in 2.14-16 (referenced in the preceding article). The “natural” and “fleshly” people are those who walk as “mere men”, as opposed to the “spiritual” people who live in harmony with the Spirit. For Paul, the primary meaning of “flesh” is not “made out of matter” or “material” or “skin” or bodily”. For Paul, “flesh” primarily referred to people who live in sinful rebellion (Rom. 7.5, 14, 18; 8.3-13; Gal. 5.16-19) and for our current bodies which are destined for decay, destruction and death (see also 1 Cor. 5.5; Rom. 7.5; 8.6, 13; 2 Cor. 4.11; Col. 1.22).
Therefore, when Paul says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, he is not claiming that material “bodies” cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Rather, as he explains himself in the 2nd half of verse 50, “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Unless the nature of our bodies are changed from “corruptible”, “merely human” bodies, into “incorruptible” “spiritual bodies”, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Or as he says in verse 53, “this perishable must put on the imperishable”.
Is Jesus Still In A Body?
One further note should be made here. I have on multiple occasions heard preachers claim that when Jesus was raised, he had not yet received his transformed, spiritual body. Since “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and since Jesus was clearly raised with a material, tangible body, they conclude that he must have undergone yet another transformation upon his ascension into heaven.
First of all, there is nothing in Scripture that would indicate that Jesus underwent further transformation upon his ascension. Such a conclusion is drawn as an effort to reconcile what appears to be a contradiction between 1 Corinthians 15.50 with what we know about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body. If, however, we simply accept Paul’s own definition of “flesh and blood” instead of assuming a different definition, the apparent contradiction resolves itself easily.
Secondly, it should be noted that Scripture is clear that Jesus is still in bodily form, even after his ascension. We get a glimpse of this in Acts 1.9-11
And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
Jesus went up in His resurrected body. And He will return “in just the same way” – in his resurrected body.
Also, notice in Philippians 3.20-21, where Paul writes,
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who 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.
Jesus didn’t shed his human skin. He still has a body – a glorious body, a perfected body, a transformed body, a body like we haven’t experienced yet but will one day experience when He returns and transforms us.
Will We Be Raised with Physical Bodies?
Occasionally debates over the nature of the resurrection body revolve around whether or not we will be raised with “physical” bodies. Rarely do I contribute to such discussions without great hesitation. In fact, you may have noticed that I have described the resurrection body as “material” and “tangible” (since it will be made out of the same “stuff” that was once in our graves, and since Jesus was clearly visible and touchable, unlike bodiless spirits (Lk. 24.39)) , but I have avoided describing the resurrection body as “physical”.
This is not because I wish to be evasive, but rather because a simple “yes” or “no” would almost certainly leave the wrong impression. The difficulty revolves around the meaning of the word “physical”. The word “physical” seems to mean different things to different people, and unless we understand the word alike, we are almost certain to misunderstand one another.
For some, the word “physical” simply means “having material existence” or things which can be perceived through bodily senses. For them, “physical” is virtually synonymous with words like “bodily”, “tangible”, or “material”.
For others, the word “physical” refers to things which are defined by and subject to the physical laws of nature. This would include the tendency for matter and energy to deteriorate over time. Thus for them, the word “physical” includes the idea of “corruptibility”. To describe a body as “physical” is to say that the body is subject to the physical laws of the universe, and therefore is mortal. For them, the word “physical” is very similar to what Paul meant by the word “fleshly”.
So will we be raised with physical bodies? If by “physical”, we simply mean “bodily”, then yes, we will be raised with material, “physical” bodies. But if by “physical” we mean “corruptible” or “mortal”, no, our bodies will not be physical.
For most, I believe the word “physical” includes a little bit of both definitions. This makes sense. In our current world, we don’t have a category for a material “body” that is not subject to decay. The idea of an “incorruptible, physical body” stretches the bounds of our imaginations and language. For this reason, I generally avoid describing the resurrection body as “physical.” Our bodies will be transformed, and I don’t want anybody to miss that point due confusion about terminology.
We must not make the mistake of assuming that all types of material bodies are necessarily corruptible. And likewise, we must not make the mistake of assuming that if we are going to be incorruptible this necessitates a non-bodily “spiritual” existence. Paul wants us to recognize that there are different types of bodies (1 Cor. 15.39-42). When we are raised, we will be raised with bodies. We will be raised with spiritual, incorruptible, material, tangible bodies.
Both Continuity and Discontinuity
In one sense, our resurrection bodies will be the “same” bodies we have now. But in another very important sense, they will be transformed into something radically different. Earlier in the same chapter (1 Cor. 15.37-38) Paul uses the illustration of a seed compared with a full grown plant. There is “continuity” (both are the same organism), and they there is “discontinuity” (the full grown plant is radically different from what was first planted in the ground.)
Yes, we will be raised with bodies, but we must not neglect the great transformation, lest we reduce the resurrection into little more than a “resuscitation” of the same old corruptible body.
Yes, our bodies will be radically different “spiritual”, “incorruptible” bodies, but we will not be bodiless spirits. The dead will actually be raised.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. – 1 Corinthians 15.16-17
You can read more on the resurrection here: