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Being Forever

Humans living forever? With or without bodies?

Written by David Steltz on .

Notes

Two weeks ago, I introduced the topic of life, and humanity, this present reality we all live in, from a philosophical perspective, as informed by the lens of God’s word.

God is the source and sustainer of life; apart from whom there would be no life. So, life, in general matters a lot to God, since he is intimately involved in every life, from the grass to the sparrows, to the pinnacle of God’s creation: the replicas he made of himself.

Last week, we honed in more about what the Bible says about us as creatures. We are all built out of the same stuff, the same kind of materials as the rest of the world. Essentially, we’re dirt things; mud creatures. But inhabited by the life-giving breath of God, we are living, breathing replicas of him, with authority to rule the earth on his behalf!

We’ve made a mess of things, but God has promised to restore everything, and says that it started with Christ. Today, we, the church, are living examples and testaments to the transformative power of Christ, and that he is living and working among us, through us. Though we may be but mud and spit, when used in the hands of Jesus, we may be agents of restoration, healing, and life in the world around us.

Today, we’re going to be continuing on the topic of humanity, and what it means for humans to live forever.

We’ll be camping out primarily in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.

We’ve established that humans are immortal, though our bodies are corrupted and therefore mortal. What happens to the intangible essence of a person when their body dies is not clear in scripture.

It’s clear in the Bible that people do survive their bodies. However, only in rare and notable examples do they interact with the remaining physical world in any way, and very little attention is given to this quasi-state of existence, as interesting as it may be. In fact, we are told to avoid dwelling on such things, and to NOT pursue the realm of the dead on a spiritual level.

Throughout the Bible, much more focus is given to a future culmination of God’s promises to humanity, of the ultimate restoration of humanity to creation and the life for which we were made.

Throughout the story of the Bible, the ultimate goal of humans is not to escape Earth to live in Heaven, but rather to return to the ideal of Eden, where heaven and Earth are one, and humans live in harmony with God and each other.

‌That’s where humans came from, and that’s where we’re going.

‌If you were looking for one passage to give you a systematic presentation of New Testament eschatological anthropology, this would be a pretty good candidate.

‌That is, if you’re wondering what Paul’s view is on the purpose and future of humanity, and what it means for us today, look no further than this passage.

‌It’s a very thick passage, and we won’t be able to explore every interesting little thing along the way, but I think we can wade through it together and make sense of it as a whole.

1 Corinthians 15 (LSB)

1 Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel which I proclaimed as good news to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I proclaimed to you as good news, unless you believed for nothing.

‌Paul is starting this section off with a concise summary of the whole gospel message, which Paul had brought to them in the first place.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.

7 After that, He appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

‌He’s writing to them as an apostle of Christ, appealing to their mutual commitment to following Jesus, whether because of his testimony or anyone else’s. With that established, he’s going to call out the logical shortcomings of those who denied the resurrection:

‌12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised.

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we bore witness against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.

16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.

‌Paul’s logic is obvious when he puts it like that, but for some, the resurrection is the stumbling block.

Greek thought on this topic, and particularly Platonic philosophy, was already influential, and still is, probably in your own concept of body/soul/spirit, in that only the soul was thought to be immortal, and not the body.

The Jewish and Christian assertion is that the body, too, survives, though transformed in some way, and that’s ultimately what preventing some of the Athenians from believing Paul in Acts chapter 17:

Acts 17:22–32 (LSB)

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to inhabit all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’ 29 “Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to suppose that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the craft and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now commanding men that everyone everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He determined, having furnished proof to all by raising Him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”

‌Alright, going back to 1 Corinthians…Paul’s logic is this.

If God doesn’t raise anybody from the dead, then he didn’t raise Christ from the dead, and if you don’t believe Christ rose from the dead, then why would you bother being a Christian? What good does that do you?

He continues...

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

‌In other words, being a Christian is NOT the most logical or profitable way to go through life unless you believe that Jesus raised from the dead and is alive today.

He continues...

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

‌As if in a field where seeds have been planted, Jesus is the first out of any of the plants to actually sprout and bear fruit, fulfilling the purpose and completing the life cycle of that plant. Bearing fruit also means spreading more seeds and perpetuating its life, but that’s another parable. Let’s keep reading.

21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.

22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

A human introduced death, so a human restores life.

23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.

24 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.

25 For He must reign UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL HIS ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

‌These enemies he’s referring to are the “principalities and powers” in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

26 The last enemy to be abolished is death.

‌This is not to say that death is a person, but that ultimate victory will be claimed once death is no more. Once death no longer has any authority, no claim over life. Instead, Christ claims that authority, he says in verse 27:

27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.

28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?

30 Why are we also in danger every hour?

31 I affirm, brothers, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE.

33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

34 Become righteously sober-minded, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

‌So, Paul has ventured into some pretty thick theology here, and I really would love to hear more about his fight with wild beasts, but the underlying message is still that following Christ is pointless unless he’s alive, and that the way we live should reflect a mind set on eternity, rather than on how much pleasure we can eke out of this short time in the ground as seeds.because of Cahrist’s authority,

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”

Guilty! That’s me! I want to know! I want to know how! I want to know what my body will be like! Don’t you?

36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;

To be fair, I think the word “fool” is being directed at people who pose this question out of cynicism or provocation, rather than simple curiosity. To someone who argues that once a body dies, or is destroyed, it can’t be recovered. To the contrary, he’s saying it’s actually necessary for the old body to pass away.

He goes back to that analogy of sowing a field…planting seeds, and he compares the dying human body to the seed of plant. The seed itself contains all the information it needs to become whatever plant God designed it to be, but the seed is not the final form of that plant, and in fact the seed itself passes away as the outer husk gives way to the new growth within.

37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.

39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.

40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.

41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a corruptible body, it is raised an incorruptible body;

‌We’re humans, and we’ll always be humans, and we’ll have human bodies! It’s not like we’re going to turn into fish, or stars, we’re all created unique and uniquely glorious and beautiful, once raised to life in the light of the creator.

Back to the seed:

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 also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.

47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.

I love that the LSB uses the term “earthy.” “Dirt things!” That’s what he’s getting at here! The first human was a dirt thing who was given life; the second human is the origin of life and gives life; new life. A second chance.

48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.

49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

‌We have inherited Adam’s sin; we resemble the first humans in that way. But we now also inherit Christ’s salvation; we resemble him in that way.

50 Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the corruptible inherit the incorruptible.

Look, these bodies are not going to last with us into eternity. They just aren’t. That’s what he’s saying! But he continues:

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,

52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.

53 For this corruptible must put on the incorruptible, and this mortal must put on immortality.

‌Like a seed that sprouts and becomes a plant, he’s alluding to a transformation, even a physical transformation, that will take place. For some of us, that’s very good news! And for anyone who’s dead, that’s very good news! Broken bodies need fixing.

The exact nature of this change is pretty ambiguous; we’re not given specifics of what our bodies will be like…how similar or different to the bodies we have now. Even descriptions of the resurrected Jesus are somewhat ambiguous and confusing. He was still recognizable by those who knew him, and even bore scars from his execution, and yet there were some who didn’t recognize him at all right away for whatever reason. Then, when he leaves the earth, he basically just floats away into the sky, and the next time he shows up he looks quite a bit different. So we don’t really know what his physical existence is like now, or what ours will be like. Basically, we’ll be the same. But different. Got it?

Regardless, one thing is clear. Once we do all “graduate” so to speak, or “put on” this transformed body, it will be as triumphant garments of victory:

54 But when this corruptible puts on the incorruptible, and this mortal puts on immortality, then will come about the word that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.

55 “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”

56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;

57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

And so it ends with this powerful exhortation to remain steady and be encouraged knowing, not hoping, not praying, just knowing that our labor is not in vain.

‌Of course, that’s only IF we labor “in the Lord.”

The good news of Christ is only good if the resurrection is true. But Christ did raise from the dead, so everything he said is true, and he said that we get to share in the resurrection with him! Because Christ promises eternal life, we know our labor now (even in corruptible/dying bodies) is not in vain! Rather, we are sharing in a much larger, ongoing work of God in and through his people.‌

That work is not in vain.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

‌Our labor is never vain, IF it is in the Lord.

So, what is that work? If we are to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord,” what is that work?

‌Here’s one description of what it looks like. Galatians chapter 6, an exhortation to the church.‌

Galatians 6:1–6 (LSB)

1 Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each of you looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

‌Take care of each other! That’s the Lord’s work!

3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.

5 For each one will bear his own load.

6 And the one who is instructed in the word is to share in all good things with the one who instructs him.

‌He’s naming some specific situations, but the general message is still that they should be taking care of each other.

Galatians 6:7–10 (LSB)

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

‌That good ol’ seed analogy again!

‌For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

‌Cultivate that which has lasting, eternal value, not the opposite.

And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

‌Take care of each other! Do unto others! Love your neighbor! Share Jesus! And don’t grow weary of doing it. It’s not for nothing. It matters.

Lord, help us to serve you by serving each other now, with our whole lives; our thoughts, our plans, our bodies, our desires, our actions and our speech. Especially our speech. Help us to see and become motivated by eternal value rather than by what provides the most gratification or pleasure or profit or power to me, right now. Help us to see, hear, act, and speak with love, rather than hate, compassion rather than callousness, and generosity rather than greed. Help us to represent you as bright beacons of hope, peace, and life. By your grace and for your Glory. Amen.


Being Forever