Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:44b-52 Like the man from heaven

1 Corinthians 15:44b-52

[44a It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.] 44b If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Gordon Fee explains Pauls starting point in 1 Cor. 15:44 by saying: Paul now applies the analogy of the differing kinds of bodies from vv. 39-41. Thus, instead of describing how the body is sown, the two adjectives natural (Greek psychikos) and spiritual (Greek pneumatikos) are used with the noun body (Greek soma) to describe its present earthly and future heavenly expressions respectively.[1] This will allow him a way to bridge the conceptual gap between the two different spheres of existence. He does so by using two steps that would have been understood and accepted by his first-century audience:

1. He connects the Greek adjective psychikos (NIV natural) in 1 Cor. 15:44 to a related Greek noun psyche(NIV being, ASV of 1901 soul) in the Greek translation of Genesis 2:7, the creation of Adam. Newer English versions say that Adam became a living being and older English versions say living soul. In this verse, Adam receives both a body and an earthly life.

2. Adam is used as a representative of all humanity; his name means mankind. The people of Roman Corinth were very comfortable thinking in representative/corporate terms rather than the radically individualistic thinking which characterizes our own culture.

Verses 45-49 resume the discussion about Adam and Christ that began in 1 Cor. 15:21. Verse 45 refers to them as the first man Adam and the last Adam, meaning Christ, the founder and firstborn of the new creation. While Adam became a living being, Christ is a life-giving Spirit — capitalizing the word Spirit in agreement with NLT, HCSB, Thiselton and Garland. There is a huge difference between living and life-giving! In this context, life-giving refers primarily to resurrection of those who have died in Christ.

Anthony Thiselton reminds us that Adam is no ideal human; he stands for all that is fallen and destructive. Adams fall into sin set the pattern for all who descended from him and made the cross of Christ the utterly necessary ground of all our hope. The cross brings reversal, not merely degrees of improvement. Christ does not offer a return to Eden for a re-try; he brings us the promise of a new creation. Paul does not devalue the physical, which is Gods gift, but the natural is bound up with human sin and bondage, and there is no hope of full salvation without transformation by an act of the sovereign God.[2] That is why Christ died and rose again.

Verses 47-49 provide the theological logic for the transformation we will undergo in being resurrected. To aid our understanding of the second man is of heaven (1 Cor. 15:47), Thiselton says, Heaven is not a locality as such, but the realm characterized by the immediate presence and purity of the living God in and through Christ and the Spirit.[3] He also quotes a telling slogan: It is not that in heaven we find God, but that in God we find heaven.[4]

Garland does an outstanding job of explaining verses 48-49: If humans take the shape of the first Adam sown with a body made from dust that goes back to dust, then Christians will take the shape of Christ in their heavenly existence, who is from heaven and has a spiritual body. The last Adam, then, sets the pattern for all who will be resurrected and given a spiritual body for their new celestial habitat.[5]

It is in this way that Jesus says to us: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the one portal that takes you from this realm of existence to that greater realm of eternal life with God. It is only those who are joined to Christ, those in Christ, who will rise in the likeness of the same resurrection he has already had. We must ask: have you given your allegiance to Jesus so that you will have this resurrection?

For now, we are like the Corinthians were then; we are vulnerable, fragile and fallible as human beings who have borne the image of the earthly man (1 Cor. 15:49a). Yet the Holy Spirit has come to live within us and has begun the transformation that makes us more like Christ, that guides us toward bearing the image of the man from heaven.

Verse 50 speaks in terms that are meaningful first to Jews and then to those of Greco-Roman origin. The idea that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God is pitched for Jewish ears; flesh and blood refer to our current physical existence. Nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable makes better sense to Greco-Roman Christians. Keep in mind that the physical decay bound up with the word perishable was even more obvious to the ancients than it is to us with our nice refrigerators.

The clause we will not all sleep (1 Cor. 15:51) makes use of the standard metaphor that Christians fall asleep, whereas unbelievers die. The we who will not all sleep (in death) quite simply refers to those Christians who will be living when Christ returns. But, regardless of whether Christians are alive when Christ comes or have fallen asleep, we will all be changed. The transformation that God provides for us in Christ is so powerful that it does not matter whether we are alive or dead when he comes.

Just how long is the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52)? Thiselton informs us that the crucial word is used outside the New Testament [to] denote the rapid wing movement that causes the buzz of a gnat or the twinkling of a star.[6] We are talking about fast!

The last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52) signals a mighty act of God and signals the passing of the present order of reality. This is one alarm that no Christian will sleep through! In that moment God will give us a body like that of Christ — an act that defies description.

Copyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 785.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1284.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1287.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1287, footnote 138.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 737.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1295.

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