Doctrine of Christ (Part 28)

October 05, 2017

The First Adam and the Second Adam

Paul believes that the resurrection body will be radically different than this earthly body. It will be an immortal, glorious, powerful, spiritual (that is to say, supernaturally endowed) body. Therefore, it will be radically different from this present earthly body and the Corinthians should not therefore object to it.

In 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, he goes on to make a comparison between the first Adam and the second Adam – that is to say, Christ. He says,

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Here you might think that what Paul is describing is the transformation of our bodies into some sort of a spirit because he says that “the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” But, again, what you need to look at is the contrast between Christ and Adam here. When he says “Adam became a living being” (in the RSV translation) the word in the Greek, once again, is psyche – that is to say, Adam became a living soul. Obviously, Adam was not a disembodied soul. He was a physical, extended, tangible, material person. But the word “soul” here is used as a sort of synonym for a “person.” We often will do this even in English. We will say, “Fifty-five souls perished in the conflagration at the nightclub” meaning fifty-five people were killed. Here he is saying the first man, Adam, became a living soul – a psyche. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit – that is to say, this is a reference to the spiritual body again (to the spiritual body that he described in the foregoing verses).

Notice the contrast in the next verse. The first man, Adam, was from the earth made of dust. The second man is from heaven made of . . . he doesn't say! In other words, the contrast between the first Adam and the second Adam is not their substance; it is their origin. The first man is from the earth but he is made of dust. The second man is from heaven, but Paul doesn't speculate about what the resurrection body is made of. Again, we are seeing here that the contrast is the orientation of these two persons and their bodies, not what they are made out of. He promises that just as we have “borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (that is to say, we will have these powerful, immortal, glorious, spiritual bodies just as Jesus did).

Finally, he says in verse 50, “I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” What is Paul talking about here? It is important to understand that the expression “flesh and blood” is a typical Jewish idiom meaning mortal creatures or people. He is not talking here about anatomical flesh and blood. We can see this by some cross-references in how Paul uses this phrase. For example, look over in Galatians 1:16. He is speaking here about following his conversion on the Damascus Road.[1] He says,

. . . [God] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia.

Clearly Paul is not talking about conferring with anatomical flesh and blood. Right? What he means is, I didn't talk to anybody. I didn't go and confer with people. “Flesh and blood” here just means “other mortal people.”

Similarly, look over at Ephesians 6:12 where he talks about our spiritual warfare. There Paul says in Ephesians 6:12,

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Again, he is not talking about anatomical flesh and blood. Nobody thinks that we are contending against flesh and blood in that sense. What he means here is mortal creatures. We are not contending against mortal creatures. We are contending against these principalities and powers that are ranged against us.

So when Paul says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God what he means is ordinary mortal human nature cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, obviously. That's why a transformation is needed to an immortal, glorious, powerful, supernatural resurrection body.

The second half of the verse repeats in typical Hebrew parallelism the meaning of the first half of the verse: “nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable.” So when he says flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God he then uses a kind of parallelism to say “nor can the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Obviously these mortal human bodies are going to need to be transformed to make them fit for the eternal habitations.

Someone might say, but doesn't verse 50 contradict what Luke says in Luke 24:39. You remember this is an appearance of Jesus following the resurrection. He appears to the disciples in the upper room. In verse 39 – the verse where he meets with them – he says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Here Luke affirms that Jesus does have flesh and bones in his resurrection body. Paul says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Are these contradictory? No! Because neither Paul nor Luke is talking about anatomy. When Paul talks about flesh and blood he means mortal, ordinary human beings cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. The perishable cannot inherit the imperishable. Notice that Luke does not use the expression “flesh and blood.” He uses the word “flesh and bones.” Is the difference significant? Yes! He wants to emphasize the materiality of the resurrection body. In Jewish thinking the principal object of the resurrection was not the flesh. It was the bones. That is why Jewish funerary practices involved preserving the bones of the dead. Unearthing the remains of the dead after a year had passed and the flesh decomposed and then assembling or collecting the bones and putting them into an ossuary or bone box where they could then be preserved until the resurrection at the end of human history. So by saying that Jesus has flesh and bones in his risen state, Luke is emphasizing the reality – the materiality – of the resurrection body as a resurrection involving the bones.

For a vivid picture of this look in the Old Testament in the book of Ezekiel 37:1-10. In this chapter Ezekiel is using the resurrection of the dead as a symbol or picture of the restoration of the nation of Israel. Israel will so to speak be raised from the dead.[2] Notice how graphically this is portrayed in Ezekiel 37:1-10:

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.

Here is a vivid dramatic description of the resurrection of the dead in Jewish belief. It is primarily the bones that are all important in the resurrection. It is the bones that will be raised, and then they will be clothed with flesh. So when Jesus says in this resurrection appearance in Luke 24, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones such as you see that I have,” he's emphasizing this is not some illusion and not some ghostly hallucination but this is a real bona fide resurrection in the Jewish sense of the word. That in no way contradicts what Paul is saying when he says that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God because that is an idiom for mortal human creatures who obviously are not fit for inheriting the Kingdom of God. They must become imperishable and immortal.

That leads on to the final section of 1 Corinthians 15 in which Paul describes the transformation that will take place in our earthly bodies at the time of the resurrection. In verse 51 he says,

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that there are two ways in which one might receive the resurrection body. One would be by living until the time of the return of Christ. If you are still alive at the time of Christ's return, Paul says you shall not sleep, you will not die, but you will be changed. Your mortal earthly body will be transformed into a resurrection body. On the other hand there are those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their dead bodies (principally the bones) will be raised from the dead and they shall be changed and made fit for the eternal habitations. This transformation is again vividly described by Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4 verses 13 to 18:

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.[3] For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Here we have a description of how the dead in Christ whose souls have gone to be with Christ in the intermediate state will return with Christ. The remains of their dead bodies will be raised from the dead and they will be reunited as body and soul units in this imperishable, glorious, immortal, supernatural, resurrection body, and then those who are alive at that time will be similarly transformed and so then we shall always be with the Lord.

One final point to note about Paul's doctrine. I've talked about the earthly body and the resurrection body, but I wouldn't want you to be under the misimpression that we're talking about two different bodies here. There is historical continuity between them. We will not experience an exchange of the earthly body for the resurrection body. Rather we inherit the resurrection body by a transformation of the earthly body. That's why Paul says, We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed. It is this perishable that must put on imperishability. This mortal must put on immortality. So Paul's doctrine is not a doctrine of exchange of bodies but rather it will be a transformation of this body or the remains thereof (principally the bones) into a glorious resurrection body that will live forever in the new heavens and the new earth.

Finally, the application comes in the final verse of 1 Corinthians 15. And with this I'll close this morning. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 Paul draws the final application and conclusion: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The resurrection is the basis of our confidence and our hope in Christ, and therefore he says be steadfast and immovable. Don't give up. Don't cave in. Stand firm no matter what pressures or persecutions might be brought upon you. Be steadfast and immovable, and then always be abounding in the work of the Lord. Why? Because given the resurrection your labor is not in vain. In saying that he recalls the very first sentence with which he opened this chapter. He says, “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.” And now at the end of the chapter he says, It is not in vain. Your faith is not in vain because Christ is risen from the dead and he is your surety and hope of your own resurrection from the dead and therefore always be abounding in the Lord's work as long as we live.[4]

[1] 5:05

[2] 10:06

[3] 15:08

[4] Total Running Time: 19:46 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)