The gospel writers describe the events leading up to and including Jesus' resurrection, but do not mention ours very much. This is left to the writers of the epistles. No one discusses this subject in more detail than the Apostle Paul in the first letter to the Corinthian church. In this chapter, therefore, we will review a passage that not only talks about Jesus' resurrection, but also gives us a glimpse of what ours will be like as well.
Death and the Unbeliever
In order to speak about the resurrection we must first discuss the phenomena of death itself. Death, we ignore it until it happens to someone near; then, and only then, does it become real, life changing and powerful. It is when death strikes close to home that we begin to have a real sense of time. The idea that we have only so much time and no more.
Men have struggled with the reality of death in different ways (i.e. the Greek philosophers thought that the best way to deal with the inevitable fact of death was to take control of it yourself by committing suicide; this was the noble or enlightened way to go).
There are many superstitions, ideas, ceremonies and philosophies to help people deal with the reality and pain of death. Paul sums up the non-believer's feelings about death in I Thessalonians 4:13,
but we do not want you to be uniformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope.
In those days, like today, when it came to death, unbelievers had no knowledge and no hope. All they knew was: everyone was subject to death, no one ever conquered death, and the only thing one could do was grieve. This was the condition of man until Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ and Death
Jesus Christ dealt with death in a way that no one had ever done before or since.
- It was the first time someone claimed openly to have power over death (Matthew 28:18).
- It was the first time someone foretold of His own death and subsequent bodily resurrection, and then accomplish it before witnesses.
The Jews then said to Him, "What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple and will You raise it up in three days? But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
- John 2:18-22
Most significantly for us, it was the first time such a leader promised to His disciples a similar resurrection from the dead.
This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. "For this is the will of My father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
- John 6:39-40
It is this resurrection that I wish to focus on in our study of I Corinthians 15. In it, Paul not only teaches about the reality of Christ's resurrection, but what it has accomplished for the Corinthians: the possibility of their own resurrection, and ours as well.
Paul's Teaching on Our Resurrection
Background on Corinthian letter:
Among other problems in Corinth, it seems that some were maintaining Greek ideas about the immortality of the soul:
- That after death the soul escaped from the body to be absorbed into the divine or to continue some shadowy existence in the underworld.
- To Greeks, physical (conscious) resurrection was impossible (Paul was scoffed at in Athens for even suggesting it, Acts 17:32).
Greeks who had become Christians were hanging on and circulating these ideas in the church, and so Paul responds to them by giving more details concerning Christ's resurrection and the eventual resurrection of all believers.
15:1-11 – Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
In this passage Paul re-establishes the fact that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead, and this event was witnessed by numerous people who were still alive at that time and could substantiate his claim. He also re-affirms the idea that the resurrection of Jesus is the basis of the gospel which he and the other Apostles preached, and the rock upon which their salvation was based.
Resurrection of the saints
In the next section Paul deals with the resurrection of believers.
Deals with doubters
He begins by dealing with the logical conclusions that come from doubting the possibility of resurrection. Seven things happen when you doubt:
Vs. 12-13 – Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised.
If resurrection from the dead is impossible then even Christ is not raised.
Vs. 14a – And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain
If Christ is not raised then their preaching is worthless because that's the core of it.
Vs. 14b – Your faith also is vain.
If Christ is not raised, your faith is for nothing because that is what you hope for.
Vs. 15 – Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, who He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.
If Christ is not raised we are liars because we have declared that God raised Him.
Vs. 16-17 – For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
If there is no resurrection you are still guilty of sin and condemned. Why? An un-risen Christ means that He is guilty of sin. If this be so, then death still holds Him, and He cannot be a perfect sin offering for us.
Vs. 18 – Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If Christ is not raised, neither will we be, and so we are without hope just like the pagans.
Vs. 19 – If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
If Christ is still in the grave, Christians are to be pitied because their entire lives and hopes are based on illusion.
Denying the resurrection of Christ has disastrous consequences for believers. If Christ is not raised then neither are we, and our faith and religion are worthless. We expect scoffers and non-believers to deny the resurrection, they always have. But for those who call themselves Christians or disciples to do so is foolish and dangerous.
After having addressed the doubters, Paul moves on to speak to and encourage those who do believe in the resurrection, and provide them with more information on this vital topic.
The truth about what to expect
Vs. 20 – But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Christ has been raised from the dead, and this fact witnessed by over 500 people (I Corinthians 15:6). His resurrection, however, is not like that of Lazarus, His friend, or Jairus' daughter who were miraculously brought back to life but eventually had to face death again. His is a glorious resurrection where He will never face death again; this is the type of resurrection we are to look forward to. In addition to this, Jesus' resurrection is the beginning of many other resurrections (Lazarus' resurrection didn't start others). Jesus' resurrection, however, is like the beginning of a harvest: the first fruit is a sign that the rest is ready.
Paul explains how Jesus accomplishes this resurrection, and the procedure it will follow.
He describes how both death and life come into being.
Vs. 21-22 – For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Death, he says, comes through Adam and all who share in his nature. Adam sinned, and death entered as a consequence of sin and spread to all men.
Eternal life comes through Christ and all who share in His nature. Jesus offers forgiveness for sins which removes the penalty of death and provides access to life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23
And so, death (physical and spiritual) comes through Adam and his sin. Life (eternal and spiritual) comes through faith and union with Christ.
The procedure of resurrection
Here, Paul describes how the resurrection will take place.
- Christ resurrects first – vs. 23a
- Believers will resurrect at Jesus' return – vs. 23b
This resurrection will be in conjunction with three other events:
- The destruction of the wicked – vs. 24-25; II Thessalonians 1:7-8
- The destruction of death for both the wicked and the just by the power of resurrection – vs. 26
- The reintegration of man and the Godhead – vs. 27-28
Re-integration of Godhead
Each person in the Godhead has, within the history of mankind, operated in a special way in order to accomplish man's resurrection.
God the Father has initiated the work of salvation by sending the Son. The Son didn't send the Father, the Father sent the Son. God the Son has revealed the Father and His plan to save mankind. The Son has also executed the plan. This is why He came. God the Holy Spirit has maintained the creation after the fall, and empowered the church in its work of preaching the gospel and remaining faithful until the Son returns.
Now, at the resurrection none of the persons in the Godhead will need to exercise a separate ministry on behalf of man's salvation since it will have been completed; resurrection is the last step. The Godhead will be in perfect union with the saints without various roles to accomplish salvation.
Paul says that when the last step of the Father's plan, carried out by the Son, powered by the Spirit, is completed (that being our glorious resurrection), the wicked will be punished, death will be defeated, and the Godhead and man will be re-integrated in perfect union.
This is the "end game" of salvation. That we, the resurrected, become part of the Godhead!
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement; For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
- II Timothy 2:10-12
Paul silences the doubters by reestablishing the fact that Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection witnessed by hundreds of faithful brethren; they shouldn't doubt this fact. He explains that this is a most significant fact in the Christian faith because our hope for forgiveness, resurrection and eternal life are based upon it. Without the resurrection, Christianity is foolish. He begins to describe the process of our resurrection.
Death comes through sin (the problem in the first place). The first resurrection begins with Jesus who is without sin. Believers will be resurrected when Jesus returns, and that resurrection will be accomplished by:
- The final judgment and destruction of the wicked.
- The final destruction of death itself.
- The final unification of God and man.