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Motivations from the Resurrection

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 15:29–58

Christ’s victory over death will be fully realized when our bodies are raised and changed into the likeness of His resurrection body. This certain hope not only gives us assurance for the future but also motivates us to serve the Lord now.


In the year 1539, Jerome Russell, a Scottish Christian, was burned at the stake for his faith, along with a younger believer, Alexander Kennedy. As they were led to execution, Russell encouraged Alexander by saying to him, “Brother, fear not . . . death cannot hurt us, for it is already destroyed by [Christ].”[1]

Here was a man who believed what Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians. The Bible teaches that there is a coming resurrection of the dead. The grave is not the end of the story.  

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul has been clearing up some confusion in the Corinthian church about the coming resurrection. He has already explained how critical the literal resurrection of Christ is to the gospel message. But before moving on to answer more questions, Paul has one of his own.

He asks in verse 29 why people are “baptized on behalf of the dead” if there is no future resurrection. Now Paul is not encouraging this practice, a pagan practice that is still followed by cults today who believe that if you get baptized on behalf of someone who has died, that person is going to get into heaven. There is another possible interpretation—that it speaks of new believers being baptized as essentially taking the place of those who died.

But the point Paul is making, which often gets lost here, is this: Why continue evangelizing people and baptizing new disciples if there is no resurrection to look forward to?[2] The resurrection is a motivation for evangelism. We understand that people will live forever—either in heaven or hell.

Next, Paul says that the resurrection is a motivation to endure trials in life. He speaks personally in verse 32 that he had “fought with beasts at Ephesus”—this was probably a figurative reference to the human opponents he faced in that city (see Acts 19:23-41). But the resurrection of Christ gave him an incentive to keep pressing on.

Finally, Paul brings out in verses 33 and 34 that the resurrection is a motivation for godly living.

The resurrection of believers has not yet occurred. It is still in the future and connected with Christ’s return. So, what happens to believers who die in this present dispensation of the church age, before the resurrection? They immediately enter the presence of the Lord—but not bodily.

There is no limbo out there or soul sleep. Paul writes that when he dies, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Our spirits go immediately to be with the Lord, while our bodies sleep, so to speak, in the grave. If you have seen a deceased person lying in a coffin, it looks like the person is asleep. But let me tell you, that person has never been more alive.

The question the Corinthian believers want answered is this: What kind of bodies will we have when our spirits are reunited with our bodies? Paul puts their questions into words in verse 35: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

They are wondering about this because, after all, death brings decomposition to the body. It goes back to dust. In verse 37, Paul makes an analogy between the body and a seed. A wheat seed “dies” and is buried in the ground, but it comes forth and produces fruit.  

Now keep this wonderful truth in mind: There is continuity between the seed and its fruit. That wheat seed does not come up as an apple tree. An apple seed does not produce bananas.

Paul is teaching that the physical body you have now will be changed in the resurrection, yet there will be continuity. You will be recognizable as the same person you are now, but your new body will be perfected and healthy and sinless—a youthful body of strength and vitality. But you are still going to be you.

Stephen Davey is going to die, unless the Lord raptures me first. I am fair-skinned and six feet tall, and I used to have a head of reddish-brown hair. So, when the Lord resurrects my body, I am not going to be a short, black-headed fellow with dark skin. I will still be me—just perfected.

Here is a clue: When Moses and Elijah met with Jesus at the Transfiguration, hundreds of years after they had both physically died, they were still Moses and Elijah; they were not Harry and Sam. Even before their ultimate resurrection, they were shining in glorious splendor in intermediate bodies (Luke 9:29-31). Surely, they and we will be recognizable in our resurrection bodies. 

Paul goes on in verses 38 to 41 to mention various bodies—those of animals, birds, and fish. All these bodies are designed to suit the particular environments God created and placed them in. Likewise, we will have heavenly bodies that will be suited for eternity. The bodies we have now were not designed for eternity. Our new bodies will be.  

Next, Paul describes our resurrection bodies by a series of contrasts. For example, in verse 42 he says that our earthly, natural body is “perishable,” but “what is raised is imperishable.” In other words, it will never decay. Your knees will not need replacing every seventy-five years. You will not experience weariness or pain or disease.

Paul gives us another clue as he writes to the Philippian church that Christ will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). We inherited our earthy body from Adam, the first man (verse 45). Our spiritual body comes from “the last Adam,” Jesus Christ. So, in eternity we will look like our younger selves, perfected, glorified, and with bodies that operate like the resurrected Lord Jesus. We will know one another, talk to one another, and eat a fish dinner with friends, like Jesus did. We will be able to materialize through closed doors, appear and then disappear like He did. Jesus’ resurrected body gives us a glimpse of what our eternal bodies will be like. The only difference will be that His body will have scars—crucifixion scars that He has chosen to keep. Our scars will all be gone.

When, exactly, do we get these new bodies? Paul answers that it will take place when the rapture of the church takes place—when that trumpet sound:

I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [that is, die], 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. (verses 51-52)

A trumpet will sound, and the bodies of Christians who have died will be raised first and transformed into their resurrection bodies (1 Thessalonians 4); then Christians who are alive will not die but suddenly be “changed,” Paul writes here—instantly glorified and immortalized in the twinkling of an eye, while rising to meet the Lord in the air.

This sounds like science fiction to our world today. But the reality of this coming rapture and resurrection is based on historical fact—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul writes in verse 55, “O death, where is your victory; O death, where is your sting?” and in verse 57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Now why is it so important that our bodies be resurrected? Could we not just enjoy heaven without a body? Remember that your body was designed by God. You are one of a kind, from your fingerprints to your personality. Sin marred you and me, but God will not allow sin to have the final word. God’s perfect plan for each of us will be fulfilled when He gives us perfect bodies and hearts and minds that will never sin again.

So, in light of your glorious future, beloved, Paul writes here in verse 58, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

[1] William Byron Forbush, ed., Fox’s Book of Martyrs (Zondervan, 1967), 199.

[2] See Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Wise (Victor Books, 1983), 153-54.

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