The Resurrection of the Flesh
Luca Signorelli’s painting of the “Resurrection of the Flesh” is based on
St. Paul’s great resurrection chapter in 1 Corinthians 15. The
painting is especially founded upon this particular Bible verse: “For the
trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be
changed” (1 Corinthians ).
In the painting, two angels are blasting their long trumpets from the sky. There is action upon the earth. Skeletons are rising from the ground. Flesh and muscle and sinew are returning to their bodies. There is laughter and joy at the great reunion of flesh and bones; the great reunion of body and soul; and the great reunion of God’s saints embracing one another.
There is great comfort in a painting like this for anyone who is going to die – which will be every one of us.
Recently, the national scare in
America has been about the Ebola virus. Though I’m not a
doctor, I do know how to Google. According to the NPR website, the chance of
you contracting Ebola in America is 1 in 13.3 million. Your chance of dying in a plane
crash is 1 in 11 million. Your chance of dying from a lightning strike is 1 in
9.6 million. Your chance of being eaten by a shark is 1 in 3.7 million.
Your chance of dying in general – 1 in 1. There is a 100% fatality rate for humans infected with the deadly disease of sin.
We don’t have to worry too much about dying from an exotic illness like Ebola. Most of us will probably die in much more “common” ways like cancer, a stroke, dementia, heart attack, car accident or old age. But every one of us is going to die. The percentages are clear.
Death is creepy. Every film that calls itself a horror movie has death in it. A casket is not a happy symbol in our culture, is it?
Death is terrifying. Death does not discriminate. It affects every nationality, gender and race. It doesn’t hesitate. It will take parents, spouse or children. It is endlessly innovative and perfectly ruthless.
Death is devastating. One of the hardest things about death is it takes away the people we love – one by one. The longer we live, the worse it gets. And when it comes to the death of someone extremely close to us, we may never completely get over it. Such a death is going to leave a scar. That’s just the way it is. That’s what it means for sinful people to live in a sinful world. The moment we are conceived in the womb the clock starts ticking toward the moment of our death. We are born to die. Everyone dies.
Death is a reality. And it points us to another reality – that we are sinners. Death is God’s punishment for sin. “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis ). Death is God’s righteous judgment upon all of our sins – the secret sins, the willful sins, the accidental sins, the sins of omission, the sins of commission, the sins of thoughts and words and deeds. Death does not inflict and infect us without cause. God sees our sin and His holiness demands death.
Death is the great human enemy. Death seems to make it certain that the body will never move again, that the heart will never beat nor the lungs breathe again. The mind will never think again nor feel any emotion again. Death seems final. It is Satan’s last laugh.
But then along comes Jesus. Along comes His resurrection from the dead. He defeated death when He walked out of the tomb on Easter morning. However, death still remains. It still claims the people we love. It will still claim us. All of that ends, though, when Jesus returns. Then death itself will die. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.
The apostle Paul assures us: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians ).
Christ is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Firstfruits were the first of the harvest from the fields and groves picked by the Israelites and then offered to God. These sacrifices were given in faith that the Lord of the harvest would bless them with more to come. The best part of picking and offering the firstfruits was knowing that this was just the beginning. The firstfruits were God’s guarantee that the remainder of the harvest would soon come in. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that there will be more resurrections. The harvest of believers will come in on the Last Day.
That is what Signorelli is signifying in his painting – the harvest of believers on the Last Day. The trumpet call is sounding (1 Thessalonians ). Hearing the trumpet, as well as the voice of the archangel, the dead in Christ are rising from their graves.
The dead are like seeds planted in the ground. Paul uses that exact illustration later in 1 Corinthians 15: “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians -44). On Judgment Day, the bodies of believers will wake up and burst forth from the ground with new imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual bodies. This is the great harvest of souls.
Paul also says that the last and greatest enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians ). Even though death has no sting and death has been defeated by what Christ accomplished at the Easter tomb (1 Corinthians -57), it is not defeated by sight. We must remain waiting and trusting in that first offering to be enough. Jesus is the firstfruits. We and all believers are the rest of the harvest. He became death’s greatest Victim so that He might become the Victor over death.
When Paul says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, the Greek word he uses for “destroyed” means “to put out of existence” or “to abolish.” When Jesus returns, death itself will cease to exist. Jesus will abolish it. When death is defeated once and for all, stripped of its power, the only thing left for believers is life – eternity in the presence of the crucified and risen and reigning King.
No matter how we die – exotic disease or falling asleep in our old age – we have the confidence that death is dead. We will all die. But through faith in Christ, we will all live. Jesus has defeated the last enemy. That means there will be a resurrection of the flesh and a great reunion of the saints rising from the ground.