We should remember that we have now come to consider the last major section of I Corinthians 15. In this part Paul discloses some more mysteries of the resurrection of the dead. Paul is indeed like a scribes which is instructed unto the kingdom, and like a man who is a householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old!
Paul is answering two very definite questions in connection with the blessed resurrection of the dead. Incidentally, it should be remembered that Paul speaks here exclusively of the resurrection of the dead who have fallen asleep in the Lord. And in connection with the resurrection of these dead the apostle replies to two questions which are evidently raised by the skeptics. These questions are, and we quote, “How are the dead raised up and with what body do they come forth?” Verse 35.
It is the former of these questions which Paul is answering in the verses 36-38. Here we read: “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body which shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body”
It would be a very serious error to overlook at this point that Paul does more than merely repeat what he had already taught these Corinthians, while in their midst, as a father, who had brought them forth in Christ. Paul is here “making known” in the sense that we have here a fuller “revelation” of the mysteries of the kingdom. The things that were secret in God are here disclosed by Paul according to the grace given him. See verse 1 and Eph. 3:1-12. We have pointed out in the first essay in this series, when we discussed verses 1-10 of this Chapter, that the term “to make known” in the Scriptures, when applied to Christ and the apostles, is the same as “to reveal.” No minister climbs on the pulpit and says “today I reveal to you the truth . . .” If he be at all orientated in Reformed language he will say that he preaches, instructs, announces, declares, warns. But he does not “reveal.” He preaches what God has already revealed. That is the apostolicity of the church.
Howbeit, here we are dealing with revelation on the part of Paul.
And we, shall we really preach this revelation of God’s will, shall needs have to pay very close attention to the revelation which here lies before us, and pray that the Lord open our eyes to behold wondrous things out of his Word!
I believe that often the form and content of a question tells us about as much as the answer, provided the question is well put. And, in this case, we have a very well formulated question. It is: how are the dead raised? We believe Paul limits the answer in verses 36-38 to this question.
We should notice concerning this question, first of all, that the term “the dead” are those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Paul is standing in the midst of the church. Hence, he is not speaking of the dead in general, but most specifically of the dead, the saints who have passed on to glory, and whose bodies are in the grave. This is evident from verses 16, 17 where Paul speaks of the dead, as well as from the entire sequence in this chapter. And, secondly, these dead are here considered as a class from another class. They are all the rest of the church in distinction from the church which is now on earth and the church latent, which must still be born in the future. And they are the church as gradually they are brought to glory, while at the same time the realm of Sheol, the grave, is more and more the realm of “the dead.” Thirdly, they are the dead of whom Paul writes so comfortingly in Romans 8:11: “Now if the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus dwell in you, he that raised up Jesus shall also quicken your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwells in you.” It is the Spirit of Christ in us, the risen Lord, who is the first fruits of the full harvest.
This latter point is very, very necessary for a correct understanding of the analogy which Paul draws between the sowing of grain and its coming forth a new plant and the sowing of the human body and the manner of its coming forth in the resurrection. There is a germ of life in this dead body of ours. It is here on earth already “indwelt” by the Holy Spirit through regeneration, sanctification as really as it will be presently in the glorification. See the “golden chain” in Romans 8:30.
Now the question is how are these to be “raised up.” The term in the Greek means: to arouse, to stand up! And thus they come forth, go forth from the grave. And then they are clothed with immortality not only in their soul, but the body also shares in the resurrection life, the life of glory.
And the question is “how”?
The question of the manner, the mode might mean: by whose power, either by that of God in Christ, or by man himself. However, what follows here in the text points in a different direction. It refers, evidently, to the inner connection between the present body and the resurrection body. There is identity and yet also a difference. How do we come from the one to the other?
This question here is asked by the skeptic.
He casts doubt upon the reality of the resurrection by questioning the manner. None, of course, has ever observed that process, they say. And Paul answers anyone who might skeptically raise that question. It makes no difference whether this be the out-and-out skeptic and unbeliever, or whether this be the flesh and doubts of the saints.
To all of these Paul says: “Thou fool”!!
The term fool in the Greek is a very strong term. It means to be mindless, unintelligent, without the true wisdom that sees the nature of God’s work in creation and in re-creation. Christ applies the term, in the parable of the rich farmer, to a man who was rich in material things and not rich in God. God says to him, “Thou fool.” That very night his soul was required of him. And, again, this term is employed by Jesus, when, speaking to the Pharisees, he chides them for cleansing the outside of the cup in their legalistic self-righteousness, but do not cleanse the inside of the cup in true righteousness! And in Eph. 5:17 where the term “fool” is the opposite of seeing the practical relationship of the course of our walk to the will of Christ.
In the text here Paul is speaking of the folly which does not observe the most simple and beautiful analogies of the blessed resurrection in the plant world, right in our own back-yard. God’s Name is very near, his wondrous works declare! And these are placed here by God, each season anew, that they be observed by us. Says Paul: “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not made alive except it die.”
Permit us a remark here concerning the general approach of Paul to this question of the resurrection!
Paul points out the increated nature of the plants and herbs and trees, as well as the distinctive nature of each body in the universe, sun, moon and stars, fish and fowl and beast and man.
That this can be done by the apostle is based upon another general truth of Scripture. It is that Paul proceeds here from the premise, the prejudice of faith that he believes in God! He believes in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, who also by His counsel and providence upholds all things. He directs the life and existence of each creature. There is nothing but what it lives and moves and has its being in the almight of God. His is the strength of all strength, and the power of all power. This is stated by Paul in verse 38, “But God giveth the same a body even as He wills.”
Now this “as He wills” is a tremendous concept in this connection here. This as he wills is his determining will in providence. It cuts off both the pantheistic theory and the deistic. The former believes that all things are God. Here the will of God has no place. There is no counsel or providence. God and the world are identified. There can be no resurrection. And the plants do not receive a body as he wills. Deism conceives of all things as being divorced from God. There is nothing but laws of nature. God has, so to speak, in some way put the world here, and now it runs by its own laws. God does no longer by His counsel and providence bring forth each creature, maintaining the original creation ordinance.
To both of these Paul deals the death-blow.
He is not fighting these two explicitly. That is true. However, Paul does start on his own basis of implicit and explicit belief in God. And when this is held fast one is wise and not a “fool.” For “by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God so that the things which we see are not made of things which do appear.” Heb. 11:3. We see creation not by the eyes of experience, but first of all and primarily through the eyes of faith. We believe and therefore we understand. We believe in the Creator and therefore the entire universe is a book wherein we know God. Hence, we know God “first by creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely his eternal power and Godhead, as the apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20).”
And now this phrase of Paul comes to stand before us in bold relief, does it not?
He giveth to each a body as He wills!
And if God does this with each creature, each year, and in every land and clime, what will prevent him from doing the same with our mortal body by His Spirit who dwells in us?
The first point, the chief lesson to observe all about us in the plant world is that nothing is made alive unless it first die. It is this truth that Christ applies to Himself in John 12:24 where we read: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” Jesus is here referring to his death and resurrection. There is a divine must in this. This is not only true because this is written in Moses, the Psalms and all the prophets. Luke 24:25. There too it is written upon every page that the Christ must die in order to live. However, this is also written in the world created by God in six days in the beginning. Whether this was there from the moment of creation, or whether this is due to a drastic change in the constitution of the creation due to the fall and the curse, is, of course, a question. But the whole creation points toward Christ. If we could see all the details we would see Christ written in every plant and flower. Christ is named as the Lion, the star, the sun, the tree and the vine. Christ is stamped into the very nature of all things. He is the firstfruits of creation.
And therefore also the truth that nothing grows and becomes alive except it die is a revelation and creaturely manifestation of the resurrection of the body.
The mode of the resurrection is very evident.
This we hope to point out in our next essay, D.V.