Heavenly human

Christmas is nearly upon us.  We celebrate the birth of a baby, a child whose name is Immanuel, God with us in the flesh.  And through that act of Incarnation, God turns a page in human history, launching a new narrative arc in which the climax is resurrection.  But in that gospel story, as we’ve seen in a previous post, Paul hears the echoes of a much older tale: the resurrected Jesus stands at the head of a new creation and a new humanity, just as Adam stood at the head of the first creation.

Our physical bodies are perishable; they die and are buried.  But Paul teaches that in the resurrection, we shall be raised in a physical yet imperishable form, to a life animated by God’s Spirit — that’s what he means by “spiritual body.”  Having said that, Paul returns to the image of Christ as the second (or last) Adam:

So it is also written, The first human, Adam, became a living person, and the last Adam became a spirit that gives life.  But the physical body comes first, not the spiritual one—the spiritual body comes afterward.  The first human was from the earth made from dust; the second human is from heaven.  The nature of the person made of dust is shared by people who are made of dust, and the nature of the heavenly person is shared by heavenly people.  We will look like the heavenly person in the same way as we have looked like the person made from dust.  (1 Cor 15:45-49, CEB)

As Paul has argued before, God has a plan, and things must be done in proper sequence.  The first Adam represents the old order.  He was created from dust and given life — Paul says that he became “a living soul (psyche),” and as with all living creatures, we share in that “soulish” existence.  But Jesus, the last Adam, represents a new order: an order of the Spirit.  The promise is that we will share in the heavenly nature of the resurrected Christ — we will look like him, or more literally, we will “bear his image.”

That is promise enough.  But Paul may also be saying something else.  If you have a study Bible, there may be a note in the margin for verse 49.  Some ancient manuscripts, instead of saying “We will bear the image,” say, “Let us bear the image” — the two verbs are different by only one letter in the Greek.  If that’s the more original reading, then Paul is adding a moral command: Our destiny is to share in Christ’s resurrected nature — so we ought to start living renewed lives now!

And as we’ll see in the next post — for Christmas morning! — that has implications for what we celebrate at Christmas.