One of the chief problems with the first-century Corinthian church was that it greatly misunderstood what life in the Spirit looks like. For them, truly spiritual people associate themselves with preachers of particular eloquence (chs. 1–3). They also thought that spiritual people need not concern themselves with the body and that they could hire prostitutes or participate in pagan worship without any harm (6:12–20; 8–10). They also believed that they had entered into the fullness of spiritual existence, so they did not expect their bodies to be raised from the dead (15:1–45).
In sum, the Corinthians held what theologians call an “overrealized eschatology,” a belief that they had entered the final state of creation and that they were no longer bound by the old order. Paul’s overriding point in 1 Corinthians 15, of course, has been that we do not fully experience the life of the age to come—eternal, glorified existence—until Christ returns to usher in the resurrection of His people. On that day, we see in today’s passage, we will be like Jesus.
The first Adam was a man of dust, perishable and not wholly governed by the Holy Spirit. So it is with all who remain in Adam, apart from God’s grace and faith in Christ. The last Adam is the man from heaven, glorified, having been transformed even in His flesh by the Holy Spirit. Since He has conquered death, death will never take Him again (vv. 46–48). What we have in today’s passage is simply another reflection on biblical anthropology, such as we find also in Romans 5:12–21. Before the bar of God’s judgment, there are only two kinds of people: those who are in Adam and those who are in Christ. The former are subject to eternal death. The latter have eternal life.
Yet, while those who are in Christ have the right to eternal life, we await its fullest realization in our resurrection. We will surely “bear the image of the man of heaven” when our bodies are renewed and transformed as we are raised on the last day. We do not yet know completely what we will be like, but we know that we will be like Him (1 John 3:2). That day is not yet, but it is coming. John Calvin comments: “For we now begin to bear the image of Christ, and are every day more and more transformed into it; but that image consists in spiritual regeneration. But then it will be fully restored both in body and in soul, and what is now begun will be perfected, and accordingly we will obtain in reality what we as yet only hope for.”