1 Cor. 15:45-49 – Bearing the Image of the Heavenly Man

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 27 Dec  2009, and Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Carbondale, IL, 03 Jan 2010.


42. The resurrection of the dead is also like this:

            sown in perishableness, raised in imperishableness;

            43. sown in dishonor, raised in glory;

            sown in weakness, raised in power;

            44. sown a soulish body, raised a spiritual body.

If there is a soulish body, there is also a spiritual one. 45. Thus also it was written,

            “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.”

            The last Adam, a life-imparting spirit!

                        46. However, the spiritual one was not first, but rather the soulish, then the spiritual one.

            47. The first man was of dust out of the earth;

            the second man is out of heaven.

48. Whatever the one of dust is, such also are those of dust,

and whatever the heavenly one is, such also are those who are heavenly.

49. And just as we carry the likeness of the one of dust,

let us carry also the likeness of the heavenly one.


As he was trying to convict the Corinthians in v.34 with “shame” over their readiness to believe false apostles who taught that there is no resurrection of the body, Paul also answered some of the arguments of the false teachers.

o       He answers the question, “How are the dead raised?” with the teaching that they are raised by God through death.

o       The second question gets a little more detail, “What kind of body is the resurrection body?”

§         In verses 37-49, the resurrection body is described as a different body,

§         a body determined by God,

§         a unique body that continues your personal identity,

§         and a glorious/splendid body that is imperishable, powerful, and spiritually-oriented.

o       Jesus’ resurrected body is the prototype of our resurrected body:

§         Different enough not to be recognized by Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, but similar enough to be recognized by His disciples in the upper room.

§         Not limited in the same ways regarding matter that our bodies are, for He passed through His grave clothes, leaving them undisturbed in the same way they had been wrapped around his body, and he passed through locked doors to visit his disciples in the upper room (John 20).

§         When He appeared to Paul, there was an audible voice, but the appearance was so gloriously radiant that it blinded Paul (Acts 9:3).

§         This is also like the time in Matt. 17:2 when Jesus “was transfigured… His face shone as the sun, and His garments became white as the light.”

o       Paul concludes this section with the theological principle of federal headship which assures us that just as surely as we all inherited mortality from Adam, so we who are in Christ will be glorified with Christ in the resurrection.


Let’s start at v. 44:

A)    As we saw last week, Paul talks about planting natural bodies and having spiritual resurrected bodies. The word “sown” is an extension of the analogy of planting seeds and seeing the body of a plant grow out of it.

1)      It creates a beautiful picture of hope for the believer, because burying the dead body is like planting a seed that will spring forth in new life in the future.

2)      However, I think that the “sowing” mentioned here is not limited to burying a body in the ground, but indicates the whole of our natural life, from the time God places our soul on earth at conception, to the time our body dies.

B)    The bodies resurrected to eternal life are integrally connected to Christ (vs. 45-49)

1)      Paul goes into a parenthesis in v.45 to quote Genesis 2:7 from the Greek Septuagint “man became a living being/soul,” adding the name of the first man, Adam.

a.       This indicates that Adam was the personal name for the first man and thus was a historical figure and not a myth.

2)      The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

a.       Who is the last Adam? Rom 5:12-19 expounds on this: (cf. Job 19:25)
“Therefore, as through one man, sin entered into the world – and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men, because all sinned: - for up until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is a figure of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many. And the gift is not like [that which came] through the one that sinned: for the judgment came of one man unto condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so, through the obedience of the one, shall the many be made righteous.”

b.      Adam was the physical head of the human race who gives us all physical life through physical descent and also plunged us all into sin. Jesus lived to undo the problem of sin and redeem us from sin. Jesus is our spiritual head who gives spiritual life to all who believe in Him. (Vincent)

c.       Jesus is not only the last Adam, He is a life-imparting spirit:

(i)     John 6:63 “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (cf. 2 Cor 3:6)

(ii)   Rom 8:11 “And if the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

d.      The essence of human life is to survive; to keep from dying, but the essence of Jesus’ life was to make others alive (Calvin)

(i)     John 1:4 “In him was life; and the life was the light of men”

(ii)   John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have eternal life

(iii) John 5:21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He will.”

(iv) John 10:10b “…I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”

(v)   John 11:25 “…I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes on me, though he die, yet shall he live;

(vi) “It was when Christ’s body was raised and glorified that He became a life-giving spirit. For then, as the reward for his atoning death, He received the promised Spirit in His resurrection and ascension… He became a life-giving spirit as the last Adam, i.e. the last man: the unique and exclusive representative of those whom the Father gives Him, who leads them to that glory which Adam should have obtained for the human race as its first representative.” (Geoffrey Wilson)

3)      Verses 47-49 speak of the Federal headship of the first Adam and the second Adam:

a.       British Christian apologist John Blanchard explains federal headship this way in his newly-published book, Why on Earth Did Jesus Come?

“For some time after ‘God created man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27) our first parents lived in flawless harmony with God, with nature, and with each other. Then at some point in time they suddenly flashed their fists in God’s face and went their own way. When they did, ‘sin came into the world’ (Romans 5:12), with catastrophic results. Their relationship with God was wrecked, their natural inclination to righteousness was replaced by a bias to do evil, they lost their moral balance, and they developed an appetite for wrongdoing.


“While they were both guilty, the Bible focuses on Adam, who sinned not only as the natural head of the human race but also as its representative head, and when he sinned he dragged humanity down with him. Later, he fathered children ‘in his own likeness, after his image’ (Genesis 5:3). They and their successors inherited not only their father’s physical nature, but also his spiritual nature – and we have the same spiritual DNA. Israel’s King David confirmed this when he confessed, ‘I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Psalm 51:5). The same is true of us. Assuming we were carried to full term, we were sinners nine months before we were born. 


“This may be hard to take, but it is impossible to deny. Our greatest moral problem is not what we do but what we are! As Adam’s descendants, we have inherited guilty, fallen natures and a fatal tendency to break God’s law. Anyone who doubts this has not faced up to the fact that ‘The law of the LORD is perfect’ (Ps. 19:7) and even a single sin means the entire law has been broken. (If a policeman stopped me for breaking the speed limit it would be no defense for me to prove that I had kept every other part of the traffic law.) We may not all have sinned in the same way, or to the same degree, or with the same knowledge of what we were doing, but this much is certain—we have all sinned, and one sin is sufficient to make us guilty in God’s sight and deserving of His judgement.”

4)      vs. 47-48 plays out the federal headship of these two men, Adam, and Jesus:

a.       v.47 contrasts the origin of Adam “of the earth/dust/clay/dirt” w/ the origin of Jesus “from heaven”

(i)     The noun form of this word “of dust/earthly” is found in the ancient Greek translation of Gen 2:7 “Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” and later in Gen 3:19b, God told Adam, “you were taken out of the ground, for your are dust, and unto dust you will return” when you die.

(ii)   Every descendent of Adam is also of dust/earthly/clay/dirty.

b.      The heavenly man is Christ, who has ascended to heaven and will return from heaven:

(i)     John 3:13 “No one has ascended into heaven but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven… 31 He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaks. He who comes from heaven is above all.”

(ii)   Eph. 2:6 God “raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus”

(iii) Phil. 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven; out of which we also wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ”

(iv) Mark 14:62 “Jesus said… you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

(v)   1 Thess. 4:16 “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first”

c.       The idea is that whatever Jesus is like, that is what we are going to be like. Everyone who has had that second birth and is a child of God, is a spiritual descendent of Jesus, will be like Jesus.

d.      This does not mean, however that we will become God ourselves. We will remain creatures subordinate to God. (Arnold)

e.       What it does mean is that God guarantees glorious resurrected bodies to all who are in Christ.
The resurrection is not just for spiritual superstars, it is for you too. (Ratliffe)

f.       “At the resurrection, the Creator’s purpose that man reflect His image will be finally realized when we are conformed to the Man ho is Himself the image of God.” (Geoffrey Wilson)

5)      v.49 Image-bearers

a.       I love looking at people to see family resemblances. At our Christmas banquet last week, Caitlin took a lot of photos and I got to print them out. I noticed that everyone who came to the banquet had things in common. They all shared the likeness/image of the man from earth. Everybody at that banquet resembled Adam. (cf. Gen 5:3 mentioned earlier)

b.      There is an interesting difference among the Greek manuscripts of this verse – and translations of it. The variation is found in the word translated “we shall bear” in most English translations.

(i)     The vast majority of Greek manuscripts, including the Chester Beatty Papyrii (dating back to the 2nd Century A.D.) and the Sinaiticus (which dates back to the 4th Century), all the way up to the modern Byzantine text used by the Greek church today, spell the word with a long vowel in the ending, which throws the verb into a subjunctive, hortatory form, “Let us carry/bear.”

o       With the exception of John Calvin, all the commentators I read seem to agree that this is the original spelling and that this is the way this spelling is standardly translated. (ATR, Vincent, and Gordon Clark)

o       The ancient and modern Latin translations also carry this word through as a hortatory, “Let us bear the image of the heavenly.”

(ii)   There are a couple of Greek manuscripts, however, (most notably the 4th Cent. Vaticanus) that spell the word with a short vowel in the ending, making it a future tense verb: “we will bear.”

o       At the time that hand-copied Greek manuscripts began to be mechanically copied on printing presses, the first printed Greek text, commonly called the Textus Receptus, went with this minority spelling.

o       All the English translations that I read, went with this future tense variant, translating the last part of this verse, “we will bear the likeness/image of the heavenly man.”

o       The sense is that we can have assurance of the resurrection of our own bodies because just as surely as we bear the likeness of Adam, so surely we will bear the likeness of Christ.

o       Is this true? You betcha. But it has already been stated in the previous verses & in Rom. 5.

(iii) Several commentators mentioned that it just didn’t fit the flow of Paul’s argument on the proof of the resurrection to suddenly throw in an exhortation to bear the image of Christ. However, one of the principles of textual criticism is that if your original has been copied two different ways, and you don’t have the original, then the copy with the more difficult or unexpected word is likely to be the original, because it is unlikely that someone hand-copying the original would have introduced a more difficult or unexpected word; they would be more likely to simplify or clarify, or write a phrase that is more commonly used.

(iv) Of course, this is not an absolute proof that the hortatory is correct, for a copyist could have mispronounced or misspelled the word, but the fact that the vast majority of hand-copied Greek Bibles, from the most ancient to the most modern, have the hortatory, adds weight to this theory of textual criticism that the more difficult reading is likely the original one.

(v)   I do not want to sow seeds of mistrust in your English translation of the Bible. All the major translations are excellent and trustworthy, and we are so blessed as modern-day English speakers to have multiple translations that you can lay side-by-side to study to see the range of meaning and nuances in the original texts of the Bible. But here is one of the few places where, as far as I understand this verse, I believe I must depart from the standard English translations, so I’m going with the hortatory, “Let us bear the likeness of the heavenly man.” And the best thing about this is that it gives me an application point to preach on!

C)    APPLICATION: How can we go about bearing the image/likeness of the heavenly man?

Answer: Go back and look at the characteristics of Christ’s resurrected body:

1)      v.44 – It is spiritual rather than soulish/natural:

a.       In other words, it is oriented toward the Spirit of God, attentive to Him, seeking to be guided by Him, rather than oriented toward the flesh and its desires – what you can eat and drink and have your own pleasure with.

b.      Often when I need to be concentrating on studying God’s word, I get this craving for a cup of coffee, and it becomes a tug-of-war between my flesh and my spirit. I’m not saying that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with coffee, although it can be abused like anything else, but which way will you be oriented, the flesh or the Spirit?

c.       That tug-of-war also shows up when you have the choice to rest or to engage with another human being. The easy way is to just watch a movie when you’re tired and not go to the trouble of thinking of what to say to make disciples of the people around you – or of your own children and grandchildren. Again, nothing inherently wrong with moving pictures, but the question is your orientation, is it natural or spiritual?

d.      “Let us bear the likeness” of our Lord from heaven by looking to God to show us what to do and disciplining our bodies to do it, rather than focusing on what our fleshly desires want.

2)      v. 45 – The last Adam is a “life-giving spirit.” Do you have that quality?

a.       Do you impart life, or are you a collector of resources for your own survival?

b.      Listening to the Gospel of Mark as I have driven around to do errands the weeks before Christmas has really put me to shame, because my natural tendency is to get in to the store and get out with what I need in the shortest time possible. It is easy for me to consider interacting with people to be a time drain that I want to avoid. Jesus, however, had compassion on people when he saw a crowd. Jesus incessantly made disciples. He seemed to never tire of teaching the things of God to whoever happened to be around Him wherever He was. This imparts life.

c.       John 5:24  Jesus said, “He who hears my word, and believes on Him who sent me, has everlasting life, and will not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”

d.      “Let us bear the likeness” of our Lord from heaven by imparting His own life-giving words to others that they may believe and live!

3)      v.46 – The last Adam did not come first. He represented a changing of the guard:

a.       Have you had that changing of the guard in your own life yet?

(i)     You cannot bear the likeness of the man from heaven if you have not believed on Jesus.

(ii)   You cannot bear the likeness of the one from heaven if He is not your Lord whom you obey.

b.      God knows every thought you think. If you agree that Jesus died for your sins and was raised from the dead and is the Lord and giver of life, God knows that you are a believer.

c.       If you have never bowed your heart before Jesus and pledged allegiance to Him as the Lord and leader of your life, I urge you to do so now.

d.      “Let us bear the likeness” of our Lord from heaven by believing in Him and submitting to Him as our Lord.

4)      Even though we make choices to bear the likeness of Christ, we cannot attain the resurrection by our own efforts. Our growing likeness to Jesus Christ is effected by God Himself:

a.       Rom 8:29a, “For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son…”

b.      God loves us and He is going to glorify us. He is serious about transforming us and sanctifying us!

c.       2 Cor 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.” The picture is that of simply looking to God and being transformed by Him as we keep looking upon Him.

d.      Let us keep our eyes upon Jesus so that we may indeed “bear His likeness!”