1 Corinthians 15:35–58
There is one particular Bible passage that I often quote and find very encouraging.
It is part of verse two of the twelfth chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. I’m also going to take inspiration from these words this morning and let them guide me. The quote from Paul is: “I don’t know—only God knows.”
There are a lot of things I don’t know. With regard to the spiritual life, there are a lot of things the Bible doesn’t tell us. There are a lot of things Jesus didn’t tell us. For me it suggests we shouldn’t imagine we have to know these things. It probably doesn’t matter. I think it is much wiser to agree with Paul and quote 2 Corinthians 12:2 – “I don’t know.”
One topic where we have to keep saying ‘I don’t know’ is the topic of life after death. In fact it was just such a topic Paul was dealing with when he said to the Corinthians, I don’t know.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about the resurrection of Jesus. He says, “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”
Paul adds, “Everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.”
in the Easter season it is impossible to avoid the topic of life after death. It is what this season is all about, and it is why we have hope. While recognising our ignorance, let’s press on.
Christ was raised, so we know God can raise people. And the promise is that all who belong to Jesus will also be raised.
Although there is a lot we don’t know, we do know a few things. For example, there were two criminals who were crucified alongside Jesus. To one of them he promised that they would that day be together in Paradise. So we know at least that on the day he died Jesus went to Paradise. We also know that Paradise isn’t heaven. Heaven is where Jesus went on the 40th day of his resurrection.
The Apostles’ Creed says – and many people believe – that after arriving in Paradise, Jesus then went to hell.
- “[Jesus] Was crucified, dead, and buried:
- He descended into hell;
- The third day he rose again from the dead;”
- [The creed then says what happened 40 days later.]
- “He ascended into heaven,”
- [And tells us where Jesus is now.]
- “And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;”
In fact the Bible is not clear on this and so, although I have some ideas, I think I’ll just quote Paul again and say, ‘I don’t know.’
We do know that Jesus appeared to his disciples. Last week I used an unfortunate phrase to describe this. I said that Jesus ‘materialised’ inside a locked room.
This is a phrase we use when ghosts appear in solid form. We say they have ‘materialised’. Jesus said very explicitly that he was not a ghost. (Luke 24:39 – “Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.”) Jesus says ghosts are real, but insists he isn’t a ghost. This used to puzzle me. I couldn’t see how it was possible that Jesus wasn’t a ghost. But then I learned about particle physics.
Have you heard of the neutrino (중성미자)? Neutrinos are everywhere. They permeate the very space all around us. They can be found throughout our galaxy, and every second tens of thousands of neutrinos pass through your body. Don’t be alarmed, these tiny particles barely interact with anything. In fact, they can even pass through the entire Earth without being affected. This is like light passing through glass, or Jesus passing through a wall.
So this is how I understand it now. A ghost is a spiritual being that is insubstantial and wispy. It hardly has any reality and can pass through solid matter. On the other hand Jesus was real and solid. He was so real and solid that to him the material world was insubstantial and wispy.
Let’s return to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and our reading this morning.
In verse 44 Paul talks about natural and spiritual bodies. We can easily think he is talking about real bodies and ghost bodies. That is not what he means. Both are real bodies. Paul says the spiritual body is the body that God gives to us when we are raised.
Now lets talk for a second about ships. There are different ways to describe a ship. We can say wooden ship or iron ship. We can say steam ship or sailing ship. When we say wooden we are talking about the material of which the ship is built. That is usually how we think of a spiritual body as Paul talks about in this verse.
When we speak of a steam ship we are talking about the energy source powering the ship. This is in fact what Paul is talking about when he discusses our new bodies. They will be spirit powered.
This is the very real and substantial resurrection body that Jesus had. It isn’t made of dust like our first body, according to verse 47, but of things of heaven. And in verse 54 he says that our dying bodies will be transformed into bodies that will never die.
Christ was the first of the harvest, as Paul puts it. Those who belong to Jesus will also get these super bodies. I presume from this that everyone who doesn’t belong will never be given a super body from heaven. If you don’t belong, you don’t get the body. End of story. Sorry!
The good news for those of us who do belong is that we will get the same body that Jesus had. A body so wonderful that it can pass through walls as if the walls were just ghosts.
In this body, Jesus then went to heaven. He did not enter heaven as a spirit, but as a spirit within a body. We will join him in heaven when we get our own wonderful new bodies. All I can say about this is that these new bodies cannot die. Death has been conquered. Our dying bodies that today house our spirits cannot inherit what will last forever. We will be given new bodies.
We can have this sure and certain hope because it has already happened to Jesus. We are not talking about a theory that hasn’t been proven. We are talking about a reality.
In verse 14 Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.”
But in fact the resurrection of the dead has begun. First Jesus, then next us.
You want to know what heaven is like and exactly what will happen to you when you die. You want to know exactly who is going to hell and what hell is like. Jesus didn’t say and I don’t know. If Jesus thinks we don’t need to know, then I’m happy to quote Paul and say that I also don’t know.
What I do know is that I want a resurrection body like Jesus had.
What I do know is that the only way to get one is to belong to Jesus.
What I do know is that Jesus is alive. He was resurrected and was the first one of many to have a glorious new heavenly body.
What I also know is that he has already given us his spirit to dwell in us and confirm that we belong to him. We have a guarantee that we will receive a heavenly body.
And so we do not fear death or suffering in this shadow world. We have hope for a wonderful future in a substantial body.
We also experience this wonderful future breaking into our present as we worship together and love each other.