The Resurrection is not primarily about an afterlife,
but about the process of transformation
that begins in the present time.
The Corinthian Christians were so appalled by the idea of rotting corpses coming to life (known today as “zombies”) that they were on the verge of rejecting the doctrine of the resurrection altogether. Part of it had to do with the Greek philosophy of dualism of spirit and body, in which the spirit was good and the body, evil. Where one of the reasons for this life was to shed the evil body to release the “good” spirit. The Corinthian Christians were likely influenced by this philosophy.
Paul argues throughout in 1 Corinthians 15 that there is no existence apart from a body. There is no “spirit” that continues apart from a body. In vv. 35-50 Paul further explains the nature of bodies and more specifically, the nature of the resurrected body.
Paul employs a variety of parables (or analogies) to show that there are a variety of bodies: plants, animals, humans, and celestial bodies. Through these analogies he shows that the “body” is not synonymous with “flesh”. He shows that the “body” is not evil. He explains that at the present time, human bodies are composed of “flesh” that is perishable, but that it is still not evil. He explains that the nature of bodies change from one type of existence to another (the parable of the seed and plant). He explains that Christian bodies will be changed from one form (perishable flesh) to another (imperishable, spiritual bodies). But in all cases, there will be a body – a body that is most suitable to each type of existence, as determined by God.
Paul uses the analogies of the two Adams to further explain the two different types of human bodies: one is for the present, earthly existence; and a different one for the eternal, spiritual existence. The spiritual existence is not immaterial and ethereal, but just like the resurrected Christ’s it will be substantial and physical – just not perishable flesh. Just as Christ’s death and resurrection transformed the nature of his body, a Christian experiences transformation of the body at the resurrection.
Paul explains in v. 49 that the process of resurrection is primarily about transformation. The Resurrection of Christ is the evidence of the power of God to transform people in mind, spirit, and finally, body. Christians are participating in the Resurrection in their present lives, in their present bodies as their mind and spirit are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Resurrection does not necessarily require a physical death, as v. 51 will show. But a transformation is necessary. A transformation of being is necessary so that when Christ returns, the perishable body can be replaced by an imperishable one. Christ is the life-giver who gives a new body to all who belong to him.
Christians participate in the work of Christ’s Resurrection as they allow themselves to be transformed by Christ’s Spirit, and as they bring the power of transformation to the people and the world around them. The kingdom of God, eternal life, begins today.