What does the Bible mean when it says flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God?

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1 Corinthians 15:50-54

The phrase “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” is found in the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthian Church. To fully understand the passage, let’s look at the context in different English Bible translations:

King James Version

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-54

New King James Version

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a [a]mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory1 Corinthians 15:50-54

New International Version

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.1 Corinthians 15:50-54

American Standard Bible

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.1 Corinthians 15:50-54

Young’s Literal Translation

50 And this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood the reign of God is not able to inherit, nor doth the corruption inherit the incorruption; 51 lo, I tell you a secret; we indeed shall not all sleep, and we all shall be changed; 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the last trumpet, for it shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we — we shall be changed: 53 for it behoveth this corruptible to put on incorruption, and this mortal to put on immortality; 54 and when this corruptible may have put on incorruption, and this mortal may have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the word that hath been written, `The Death was swallowed up — to victory1 Corinthians 15:50-54

World English Bible

50 Now I tell you, my brothers, our bodies of flesh and blood can have no place in the kingdom where God rules. A body which will die can have no room in the kingdom of God where people will never die. 51 Listen! I tell you a secret. We will not all die, but we will all be changed. It will happen very quickly, as fast as one can shut his eyes. It will be when the trumpet or horn is blown the last time. Someone will blow the trumpet, dead people will rise, and they will never die again. We ourselves will be changed. 52 This body which dies must become a body which will never die. 53 When this body which dies becomes one which will never die, what the holy writings say comes true. It says, `Death is overcome by victory. 54 Death, you have lost the battle. Death, your power to hurt us is gone.1 Corinthians 15:50-54

Flesh and blood

The term “flesh,” in 1 Corinthians 15 50, is used to describe the unconverted man. This is shown in the following verses: “They that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Romans 8:8, 9). And also “ That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). In these verses, “flesh” refers to the unsaved, while the term “spirit” refers to the saved or the “born again.”

So, the Bible is simply saying that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless he receives a miracle of conversion and his flesh becomes filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus affirmed, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In the New Testament “flesh” and “Spirit” are opposites, and point to two antithetical planes of existence.

The unsaved will not inherit God’s kingdom or the perishable will not inherit what is imperishable. Paul re-emphasizes what he has set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, that the resurrected bodies will differ from the present physical bodies. So, man’s corruptible body is unfitted for enjoyment of the perfect kingdom of glory.

Figure of speech

Some claim that 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that the resurrected bodies will not be composed of flesh and blood. But such a conclusion is faulty. For the phrase “flesh and blood” is a figure of speech designating a man of this earth. This is shown in the following verses:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven(Matthew 16:17).

to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The truth is that Jesus Christ Himself declared, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). Jesus offered sensory proof of three types to convince the disciples that He was a real, material being even after His resurrection.

In the resurrected, glorified body of Jesus, we have an example of what we will be like in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22, 23; 1 John 3:1, 2). When the Son of God came to this earth, He did not strip Himself of His divine nature (John 1:14), and when He went back to the Father, He bore with Him the likeness of humanity.

Clearly, the saints at the resurrection will have bodies similar to Christ’s glorious body. Paul wrote, “Who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21). The redeemed are not only to have Christ’s character but also to be clothed in an immortal body like what he had after His resurrection. This change and transformation fulfills the redemptive work that Paul’s message conveys.

Pre-sin body

Before sin, the human body was adapted to conditions in a perfect world (Genesis 1:31). For all that God had created was perfect. The bodies of Adam and Eve were perfect and suited to their perfect surroundings. However, when man sinned, his nature was changed. Therefore, before the saved can re-enter the new Eden, they will be restored to the perfection of Eden.

For this reason, it is reasonable to conclude that the bodies of the resurrected saints will not differ too greatly from the kind of body that Adam possessed when he was first created (Genesis 2:7). It may actually compose of flesh and blood. After all, if man had not sinned, he would have retained that body forever.

For more answers to Bible related topics, please check out our Bible Answers page for Bible based answers.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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