Back in the day, when my parents bought all my clothes, I didn’t appreciate them. (The clothes, not my parents. Well, okay, maybe both. Kids — go figure.) I wanted toys and games for Christmas, not socks and underwear. But to Mom and Dad, a new shirt or sweater was something to be prized and proudly worn.
Things are different now that I buy my own clothing. Not that I care much about fashion or any kind of “dress for success” mantra. Quite the contrary, in fact: it seems that whenever I show up for a formal occasion wearing a coat and tie, someone inevitably says, “Well, whaddya know! You clean up real nice!” And at some point, I may even need to buy a new suit (or reshape my body), because the old one is getting just a teensy bit tight.
One day, none of this will be an issue, for I’ll have something much nicer than a new suit to put on.
Paul is about to wrap up his response to the Corinthians’ doubts about the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, these are the climactic words of the letter:
This is what I’m saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s kingdom. Something that rots can’t inherit something that doesn’t decay. Listen, I’m telling you a secret: All of us won’t die, but we will all be changed—in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. The trumpet will blast, and the dead will be raised with bodies that won’t decay, and we will be changed. It’s necessary for this rotting body to be clothed with what can’t decay, and for the body that is dying to be clothed in what can’t die. (1 Cor 15:50-53, CEB)
The Corinthians may have hoped to shed their bodies in the afterlife, in favor of some kind of so-called “spiritual” state. But Paul insists that we will follow in the steps of our resurrected Lord. As the above passage makes clear, this isn’t about reanimating corpses. The kingdom is eternal, and a body that dies and decays — a body such as we have now — just isn’t the right thing to wear. Moreover, Paul suggests, even those who are still alive when Jesus returns will have to change out of these mortal bodies.
Change into what? The King James Version put it poetically: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (vs. 53). The Common English Bible’s translation above gives the plainer sense: to inherit the kingdom, bodies that rot and die must be clothed with something that doesn’t.
And the suggestion, of course, is that one day we will put on the very nature of the resurrected Christ.
But — and please bear with me as I stretch Paul’s clothing metaphor just a bit more — we don’t enter eternity with a suit or dress plucked off the rack. In a sense, as we’ll see in Thursday’s New Year post, we’re supposed to be getting fitted now for what we’ll be wearing later.