In Romans 5:12-21 Paul contrasts the first Adam, through whom sin, death and condemnation came to all men with Jesus Christ through whom came righteousness and eternal life. This “Last Adam” theme also plays an important part in 1 Corinthians 15.
For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (15:20&21.)
Just as in Romans 5, in this text, Paul sees human history through two representative figures, two “men”. One man – Adam brought death, one man – Christ brings resurrection life. Jesus is the head of a new humanity, a humanity redeemed from sin and death .
And so it is written, “The first man became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However the spiritual is not the first but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second man is the Lord from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:45-47.)
In (44), Paul contrasts the present “natural body” that believers have by creation, a body that is subject to death with the “spiritual body” that they will possess when they are raised to life. “Natural body” however is not an accurate translation of Paul’s words. He meant something like “soulish body” or a body characterised by “soul”. Genesis 2:7 tells us that, “Adam became a living soul.” The life of this Adam was “of the earth”, belonging to this world. In contrast the Last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. He is the Lord from heaven.
The distinction between “natural body” and “spiritual” body is not that the one is physical or material and the other immaterial. Liberal scholars have latched on to Paul’s language of a “spiritual” body to justify their view that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical non-event. Borg suggests that, “Perhaps we should take seriously that Paul thought there are spiritual bodies that are not physical.” (The Meaning of Jesus, Wight & Borg, 1999: p. 133.) But Fee is closer to the mark when he says, “It is ‘spiritual’ not in the sense of ‘immaterial’ but of ‘supernatural’” (1 Corinthians NICNT, Fee, 1988: p. 788). Paul is not talking about the composition of Adam’s body - that it was composed of “soul” and that the believer’s new body will be composed of “spirit” and therefore, somehow immaterial. Rather, Adam was a man belonging to the realm of soul-animated, earthly humanity. Humanity that was created good, but then fell into sin. The Last Adam, at his resurrection, became a life-giving spirit. He is “from heaven” – belonging to that supernatural, spiritual realm. He gives “spiritual bodies” to those he raises to life, bodies energised and transformed by the power of the Spirit.
Why then does Paul insist that, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”? Surely that suggests that the future existence of believers will be non-physical or immaterial? Wright reminds us that for Paul, “flesh” often means fallen humanity.
It does not simply mean, as it has so often been taken to mean, ‘physical humanity’ in the normal modern sense, but the ‘present physical humanity (as opposed to the future one), which is subject to decay and death’. (The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright, 2003:p. 359.)
Such a fallen human existence needs to be transformed and renewed by the Lord from heaven. He, as the “life giving spirit” will transform fallen humanity into glorious, heavenly, spiritual humanity.
Jesus’ resurrection body is the prototype of the believer’s resurrection body. He was raised to life; his dead body was reanimated and his humanity was transformed into a new pneumatic or spiritual existence. The people who belong to the Last Adam will be made like him, “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man.” (1 Corinthians 15:49.)