Memphis Belle is one of the most celebrated aircraft of World War II. Named after the girlfriend of chief pilot Robert Morgan, the lumbering B-17F Flying Fortress carried the first U.S. crew to complete twenty-five combat missions over Europe before returning to America, where the airmen were hailed as heroes during a three-month tour to sell war bonds and raise morale.
Based in England, Belle coursed through flak-filled skies over France and Germany in 1942-43. The ten-man crew battled Nazi fighter planes while delivering their payloads before returning to base through the same threatening skies.
The crew’s survival through more than two dozen missions was rare indeed. In all, the Army Air Forces lost thirty thousand airmen in battles against Nazi Germany. During the heaviest fighting, U.S. bomber-crew airmen had a one-in-four chance of survival.
The plane’s exploits were featured in a 1944 documentary and retold a generation later in a major motion picture.
For a time after the war, however, Memphis Belle sat outdoors, neglected, until an ambitious restoration project began, requiring more than one hundred workers and thousands of hours to scrape paint, bend metal, and fabricate parts.
In May of 2018, on the seventy-fifth anniversary of Belle’s historic twenty-fifth mission, the totally restored legend was reintroduced to the public at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Today, Belle stands as chiseled and sleek as when she first rolled off the assembly line, a testament to the people who recognized her intrinsic value and labored to restore her glory for generations to come.
In a manner of speaking, followers of Jesus are like Memphis Belle. We are making our way through perilous times as we live in a sinful and fallen world. We age, get sick, break bones, suffer great disappointment, and sometimes are persecuted for our faith. Christ did not offer us an easy path to everlasting life, but in His work of salvation, He promised to bring us home one day and then fully restore us — body, soul, and spirit.
That’s what glorification means. It is the final act of God’s redemptive work, in which He raises our lifeless bodies from the grave and fully restores us to a state that’s better than the original. That’s because we have incorruptible bodies that never again suffer the flak of sin or experience death.
The glory we experience now as Christ lives in and through us, and the glory we experience in death as our souls and spirits ascend into heaven, are partial works of glorification. But full glorification for followers of Jesus takes place when He calls our bodies from the grave and gives us incorruptible bodies similar to the body He bore when He rose from the dead.
Physical resurrection is the apogee of personal glorification, for in it we shrug off the last vestiges of sin, which have clung to our mortal bodies. In glorification, the effects of the Fall are fully and finally reversed.
An amazing transformation
At the return of Christ, all who have died in the Lord are resurrected. Their souls and spirits, which are in heaven with Jesus, are reunited with their bodies, resulting in complete personal glorification; the body, soul, and spirit are fully conformed to the image of Christ and thus free of any effects of the Fall.
Christians alive on earth at the return of Christ are instantly transformed as they are given glorified bodies; at the same time, their souls and spirits are perfected as well.
Three New Testament passages in particular describe the transformation to which all Christians may look forward:
Philippians 3:20-21. Paul writes to the Philippians, “but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself.”
The Greek word summorphon (“likeness”) indicates that our bodies become similar in form to that of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5. To the church in Corinth, Paul pens these words, “For we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling, since, when we have taken it off, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.”
Paul compares our mortal bodies to living in an earthly tent, and our resurrection bodies to a heavenly palace. Further, he likens glorification to putting on new clothes that never wear out.
The word “naked” is a reference to the human soul and spirit apart from bodily existence. While we are very much alive, conscious, and blessed in heaven, Paul emphasizes that it’s far better to be resurrected and glorified, since that is the completion of our salvation and the total reversal of sin and its stain on our lives. While we “groan in this tent,” God gives us the Holy Spirit as His guarantee of future glorification.
The apostle’s tent analogy is quite fitting, since Paul made tents while living in Corinth (Acts 18:3), and the Corinthians likely sold tents to sailors or used them for housing visitors attending the Isthmian Games.
1 Corinthians 15:35-49. While Paul devotes the entire fifteenth chapter to resurrection, he draws a comparison between our present bodies and our resurrection bodies in verses 35-49. Let’s look a little closer. Specifically, let’s examine two questions, three analogies, and four distinctions.
Paul begins by raising two questions: (1) “How are the dead raised?” And (2) “What kind of body will they have when they come?” (v. 35).
Evidently, many Corinthian believers failed to understand how their material bodies — with their tendency toward death and decay — could possibly live forever.
The apostle’s first question deals with the seeming impossibility that mortal men and women have any hope of escaping the finality of death.
The Sadducees, a leading sect of first-century Judaism, denied the resurrection. Greek philosophers understood a human being to have a divine soul of pure fire that in this life is imprisoned in a body; at death, the soul escapes from that prison, returns to the divine fire from which it came, and becomes one of the stars.
Thus, the very idea of physical resurrection is abhorrent to the Greek mind. For them, the goal is to endure until death, at which time they discard the body with a sigh of “good riddance.”
These Jewish and pagan influences evidently led many Christians in Corinth to doubt the possibility of a glorious future beyond the inevitability of an earthly demise.
The second question, while allowing for the improbability of future resurrection, addresses the uncertainty of how a corruptible physical body can ever be restored. The Corinthians don’t have to wait long for an answer.
Paul assures them that resurrection is not mere reconstruction. While there is both continuity and identity in resurrection, our future bodies are significant improvements over our present ones.
“You fool!” Paul writes. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow — you are not sowing the body that will be, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. But God gives it a body as he wants, and to each of the seeds its own body” (vv. 36-38).
“God gives it a body …” Whether in our earthly lives or in resurrection, our bodies are given to us by God’s design and providence, not by chance or by any creature’s efforts.
Paul’s reference to a seed is the first of three analogies from nature he employs to explain how God takes the bodies of the deceased and prepares them for everlasting glory. A seed of wheat is distinct from the roots, stalk, and fruit, yet there is continuity between them all, and the final product comes from the seed.
A fully mature stalk of wheat comes from a wheat seed; the seed of a dandelion or an apple has never been shown to produce wheat. In a similar manner, our earthly bodies, like a seed, eventually go into the ground at death. But in resurrection, God raises them up into fully mature, completely healthy, everlasting bodies that retain our individual identities.
Kenneth Bailey writes, “The seed is a ‘body’ that first must die. That body dies naked (bare) and God gives it a new body different from the one that dies, and yet it is the same in that each seed has ‘its own body.’ There is both continuity and discontinuity in this parable. God brings about resurrection and transformation.”
Without stretching the point too far, it’s possible that Paul has in mind the words of Jesus predicting His crucifixion: “Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).
Through Christ’s death on the cross, He secures salvation for us. And in His resurrection
on the third day, He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20); that is, He is the first to rise from the dead in a glorified body, paving the way for our future resurrection and glorification.
Next, Paul writes, “Not all flesh is the same flesh; there is one flesh for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish” (v. 39). Paul uses the word “flesh” (Greek sarks) several times in this verse to make a point. Human beings share with animals the reality of physical death and corruption, even though our body types are suited for different earthly environments.
Yet followers of Jesus do not need to worry about our skin and bones turning to dust in the tomb because God will bring us back to life one day.
In his third example from nature, Paul notes, “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is different from that of the earthly ones. There is a splendor of the sun, another of the moon, and another of the stars; in fact, one star differs from another star in splendor” (vv. 40-41).
The word “splendor” in Greek is doxa, which means “glory.” The splendor of the heavenly bodies has to do with brightness, while the word doxa, when applied to people, often carries the idea of honor, reputation, or esteem.
In any case, the sun “dies” in the evening, only to rise brightly the next morning. The stars, moon, and planets “die” at sunrise, but they return at sunset to illuminate the night sky. In a similar way, believers in all levels of honor and reputation die physically, but God most certainly raises them from the dead in glory, just as reliably as He causes the sun, moon, and stars to fulfill their created purposes each day.
With that as a backdrop, Paul differentiates between the mortal body and the immortal one. “So it is with the resurrection of the dead,” he writes (v. 42a). Our bodies therefore are:
(1) Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption (v. 42b).
Physical death is the natural result of living in a perishable body. We get sick, are subject to disease, and simply wear out. Even death by natural causes proves the fittest body can’t live forever. Even those raised from the dead in Scripture — from the son of the widow at Zarephath to Lazarus — died a second time because they did not receive glorified bodies.
However, God fashions our future resurrection bodies in such a way that they are immune to sickness, disease, aging, and decay. Put another way, our glorified bodies are guaranteed to last as long as Jesus’ resurrected body endures.
(2) Sown in dishonor, raised in glory (v. 43a).
Paul may be thinking ahead to verses 47-49 in depicting our earthly bodies as dishonorable. The first man, Adam, left us a legacy of dishonor. He willfully disobeyed God, made excuses for his sin, and even implicated God in the process.
As a result, he passed to us a natural tendency to live independently of God, which manifests itself in sin and shame in every human life. Our earthly rap sheets are exceedingly long and notoriously disgraceful.
Standing in sharp contrast, however, are believers’ resurrection bodies, which are raised in glory. They no longer bear the stamp of sin, and thus they radiate the Christlike qualities of holiness, integrity, reliability, and wisdom.
(3) Sown in weakness, raised in power (v. 43b).
The Greek word rendered “weakness” is astheneia and means frailty, sickness, or disease. Our present earthly bodies cannot overpower the effects of living in a sinful and fallen world.
Ultimately, the curse of sin is victorious even over the most fit human specimens, and we all succumb to death in a thousand awful ways. But our resurrection bodies are raised in power.
The Greek dynamis means might, strength, or ability. Often in the New Testament, it is connected with miraculous power, particularly with respect to the power of God and the miracles of Jesus.
Our glorified bodies are powered by God, who destroys the vestiges of sin plaguing our earthly bodies.
(4) Sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body. (v. 44a).
Paul distinguishes between the bodies we now possess and the bodies we put on in glorification. Today, we have a soma psychikos, or a natural body. This means more than just flesh and blood, however. It refers to a living human being that belongs to the natural world.
But in resurrection, we receive a soma pneumatikos, or a spiritual body. This means the Holy Spirit preserves and directs our glorified bodies.
Commenting on this verse, early church leader John Chrysostom explains that while the Holy Spirit resides in us now, sin causes the Holy Spirit to “fly away.”
Yet the resurrected body is different: “Then the Spirit will continually remain in the flesh of the righteous and will be in control, with the soul also being present.”
Kenneth Bailey puts it this way: “In the resurrection the believer will have a Spirit-constituted physical body. The brokenness and decay of the old body will be gone. The new body will be a physical body like the resurrected body of Christ. Such a truly glorious vision and promise calls for an exuberant hymn of victory.”
First man, second man
Paul summarizes in verses 47-49, contrasting the “first man” and the “second man,” that is, Adam and Jesus. While God forms Adam from the ground, and he becomes a “man of dust,” Jesus is from heaven — eternal and otherworldly.
In our present bodies, we resemble Adam in that we “have borne the image of the man of dust.” However, in the resurrection, “we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Our glorification in resurrection is not a lengthy process. Rather, Paul reveals to us a mystery: “We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (vv. 51b-52a).
Whether we are raised from the dead or transformed as living Christians on earth into glorified believers, the promise of Christ’s return should cause us to rejoice, as Paul does: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (v. 57).