To religious progressives wanting to at least acknowledge the morality of Jesus without having to acknowledge His rightful place as the Lord of the their lives, the resurrection of the body is viewed as a disposable dogma more suited for less scientific times when the masses of humanity were less capable of comprehending the harsh realities of life. Often the believer confronts this kind of thinking in contemporary academic forums such as the Quest for the Historical Jesus and the like. However, this attempt to undermine this teaching goes back even further among beloved historical figures from the past such as Thomas Jefferson who exorcised from the pages of the Bible those passages attesting to the miraculous truth. However, by analyzing I Corinthians 15, the believer is assured that the Resurrection is perhaps the most important doctrine in the pages of Scripture.
In verse 1, Paul points out that what he is about to teach is not some new doctrine pulled out of the sky but rather a reminder of the fundamental Gospel on which believers in the church have taken their stand often without regard to earthly consequences. In verse 2, Paul makes it known that the Gospel is not just a set of intellectual propositions but rather the message through which the believer is saved if they "hold firmly to the word I have preached to you" outside of which there is no hope.
Sometimes when confronted with the complexities of both daily life and raging religious debates, it is easy to neglect and even forget about the basics upon which our faith rests. Thus, in verses 3 and 4 Paul provides the Corinthians with a recap of the basic Gospel message which he summarized as the following: "that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
Either in an attempt to lull believers into lowering their discernment or, as in the case of the Neo-Orthodox to curry favor with the elites of academic theology, occasionally one will find that the cultured despisers of the old time religion will allow those comforted by traditional religious language to speak of some kind of belief in Christ's Resurrection. However, these propagandists turn around and insist that at best the Resurrection be understood merely as a metaphorical or spiritual event meaning Jesus simply went on living in the memories of those that loved him or in a manner outside of verifiable empirical history.
In verse 5, the reader is told that the risen Christ appeared to Peter and then the Twelve. This is also a summation of Gospel accounts such as John 20 where Jesus appeared to His disciples in the Upper Room.
Some skeptics might dismiss such encounters, claiming that the Disciples were so fraught with grief and so beside themselves that they imagined seeing Jesus. However, from verse 6, we learn that Jesus appeared to over 500 believers and it is highly doubtful you could get 500 Jews to agree on anything unless they had witnessed it for themselves. And though it might carry slightly less resonance with us as it did for the Corinthians, at one time one could ask these 500 if what Paul wrote was true or not as at that time most of the witnesses were still alive.
In verse 7, it is pointed out that Jesus appeared to James. While the testimony is powerful that Jesus appeared to over 500 people, the resurrected Christ is further authenticated by appearing before his earthly half-brother who would have been more qualified than the 500 as a family member to expose someone masquerading as Jesus.
While this report of what others experienced is sufficient to establish the veracity of Christ's resurrection as a concrete historical event, in court first hand eyewitness testimony is considered a very powerful form of evidence. As such, in verse 8, for that reason Paul claims Christ appeared to him as well.
But whereas most would consider themselves superior to others if they had a tangible firsthand encounter with God, in verse 9 Paul does not consider himself worthy of being an apostle and views himself as the least among them because of his past persecution of the Church. This itself has implications in the life of the average person.
Often, some put off accepting Christ as their personal savior by claiming that Jesus would never accept them because of all the wicked things they have done. However, by accepting Paul into the ranks of apostleship, the average sinner is shown that, if we confess the error of our ways and repent of them under the shed blood of Christ, as I John 1:9 tells us, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
In verse 10, Paul admits that his turnaround was not the result of pulling himself up by his own sandalstraps but rather as a result of God's own grace. From this, believers realize that what good ultimately comes about in their own lives is not the result of our own efforts but rather a result of God working through us. As it says in Isaiah 64:6, our righteousness is as filthy rags.
Even in our religiously turbulent times, the denial of the Resurrection sounds so foreign to our Christian ears that it is easy to assume that this heresy is a new development. However, it must be remembered that the Greco-Roman world was marked by (to utilize an overused phrase) considerable diversity. Paul writes, "But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is not resurrection of the dead?"
Such an inquiry would indicate that, even at this early stage in the history of the church, criticisms of the Resurrection were beginning to creep in doctrinally, possibly in part due to Neo-Platonic or Gnostic influences. For these philosophies tended to downplay the role and need for the body in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. For example, the Docetics believed that Jesus only appeared to have a body and was rather a spirit that could not really die or be resurrected.
In verse 13, Paul begins to expose the implications of just what it would mean if there was no resurrection from the dead. Paul bluntly states, "If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised."
Some are so detached from what they believe that they would probably continue plodding along not caring one way or the other whether Jesus rose from the dead. It is not until the implications of certain ideas show up on the doorstep of our own existential predicament that we begin to sit up and take notice.
Thus, in verse 14, Paul draws the conclusion that, if Christ has not been raised, his preaching is useless and so is our faith. We are shown why this is true for a number of reasons.
In verse 15, it is pointed out that, if Christ was not resurrected, the Apostles such as Paul would be false witnesses about God. And if they cannot be trusted in this matter, why should they be trusted in others?
In verse 16, the subject is examined from a slightly different angle. Paul posits that, if the dead in an absolute sense do not rise in the body, then Christ has not been raised either.
In verse 17, Paul applies the issue of the Resurrection to a direct personal application by pointing out that, unless Christ has been risen from the dead, our faith is a waste of time. For as Christ Himself responded in Matthew 12:39-40 when asked for a sign authenticating His authority, “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Adding to the personal repercussions if Christ is not raised from the dead, in verse 18 Paul provides an added shock observing that, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, the those asleep in Him (a polite way of referring to the dead) are lost. Anyone that has lost a loved one as a Christian knows that sometimes the only thing that enables you to cope with the big gaping hole in your heart is knowing that one day we will be reunited with them. As I Thessalonians 4:13 instructs, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” Because of this hope, we don’t cry because those we cherish have passed out of existence but rather in a manner more akin over someone that has moved away that we won’t have any contact with for what to us may seem to be many years or even decades to come.
Finally, to end this litany of despair regarding the ramifications if Christ did not rise from the dead, Paul flat out says in verse 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pittied more than all men.” As stated previously, sometimes liberals and progressives think they are doing a magnanimous thing by enunciating an admiration for the so-called “ethics of Jesus”. However, if we simply end up as food for worms as G. Gordon Liddy mused one time on “The Tonight Show” before his own spiritual awakening, then turning the other cheek and putting others before yourself is a rather pathetic way to live if kindly and devout grandmothers end up with the same eternal reward as homicidal serial rapists.
Fortunately, Paul does not leave the reader on a decidedly glum note and in fact becomes markedly more positive with verse 20. Here it is reinforced that Christ has indeed risen from the dead as the firstfruits of those that have fallen asleep.
In verses 21-22, Paul shows how it is only logical that the Resurrection would be provided through Christ. Paul’s argument goes something like this: since death came through one man, the resurrection would also come through one man.
From Genesis 3, we learn that, as the forefather of the human race, as a result of his sin of eating the forbidden fruit, Adam brought death to all those to whom his sin nature was passed on. Therefore, since God the Father sent His Son into the world in the form of a sinless human being to live the sinless life we could not yet have to pay the price of the sins of the world through the shedding of His blood and being raised from the dead, if we acknowledge our sinfulness and what Christ did for us what we could not, then as our newly adopted federal head we are extended the privilege of enjoying our resurrection life in Heaven with Him throughout eternity.
In verses 23-28, Paul provides a rough chronology to the order of events connected to the Resurrection and the ultimate fulfillment of all things. In verse 23, it is pointed out that, as we already know, Christ was risen first as the firstfruits. We will be given our opportunity when He returns.
However, that will not be the sole purpose of Christ's return. For at that time, according to verse 24, Jesus will hand the world over to God the Father after He has destroyed all earthly power and authority.
In verse 25, Paul informs us that Christ must reign until all His enemies are under His feet, the last of which, verse 26 tells us, is death. These verses coincide with Revelation chapter 25, describing the Millennial Kingdom particularly as that period draws to a close when Satan is released from the Pit to foment one last rebellion that is ultimately put down according to verses 7-10. In Revelation 20:14, death is cast into the Lake of Fire, becoming (as I Corinthians 15:26 tells us) the "the last enemy destroyed".
In verses 27-28, the believer is given a glimpse into the distinctions within the Trinitarian Godhead. Verse 27 tells us that, while everything has been put under feet of Christ, that does not include the Father as it was the Father who put everything under Christ. In verse 28, Christ the son willingly subjects Himself to God the Father. This demonstrates that, while Christ is Himself God, He is Himself subject (though in perfect accord) to the will of the Father.
In verses 29-34, Paul returns to the theme of why should anyone even bother with Christianity if the Resurrection is a fiction. In verse 29, Paul asks, "Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?" If there is no future hope for the dead, why should we express any formalized concern for them?
Throughout this chapter, Paul has primarily analyzed the logical implications that would result if the Resurrection was not an actual event. However, in verses 30-33, we can easily pick up on the emotion and passion the Apostle feels in connection with the issue.
In verse 30, Paul asks point blank, "And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day...just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord." Paul is asking why should he bother risking his behind if its all for nothing anyway.
Often in Christian circles, it is portrayed that serving in the Lord's will is all sunshine and moonbeams here in this life, forgetting that in this life we will have trouble. Paul makes it known in verse 31 that, even though he found much glory in his labors on behalf of his fellow believers, he died a bit everyday as of a result of these hardships.
Bringing this line of analysis to a conclusion in verse 32, Paul observes that, if he fought wild animals in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what had he gained and if the dead are not raised one might as well "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." While this quote is from Isaiah 22:13, it is also a summation of the Epicurean philosophy prominent throughout the Greco-Roman world at that time. It was the contention of this perspective that, since this world was all the individual had, the best one could hope for was to maximize pleasure, minimize pain, and look to one's own interests while in pursuit of this goal.
From verse 35 onwards, Paul for the most part examines what the Resurrected and their bodies will be like. In verse 35, the question on everybody's mind is asked: "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"
Since most of us are buried in the ground after we die, in verse 36-40, Paul likens the process of the resurrection to the planting of a seed. As such, our earthly bodies that are subject to decay and death serve as a kind of seed from which God will bring forth our glorified bodies, each after its own kind.
Though there will be similarities between our old bodies and our resurrection bodies, they will also be marked by considerable differences. In verse 42, it is observed, "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable." Thus, unlike the old body, the resurrection body is not subject to death.
From verse 43, we learn this is because the resurrected body of the Christian will no longer be marred by the stain of sin. The text reads, "it is sown in dishonor [a reference to original sin passed down through our parents all the way back to Adam and Eve], it is raised in glory." In verse 44, we learn that while the body is sown as a natural body, it is raised as a spiritual body.
In verses 45-49, we learn that the natures of these are derived from the federal heads to whom those possessing them belong. In verse 45, it is stated that the natural body traces back to Adam whereas the incorruptible body comes as a result of the finished work of the last Adam, Jesus, being "a life-giving spirit."
It would be easy from this to dismiss the natural body entirely as was the tendency of certain Gnostic sects of the ancient world. However, as Paul points out in verse 46, the natural body came first before the spiritual. In terms of human beings, one cannot have one without the other.
In verses 47-48, Paul examines a number of the differences derived from the natures of the first and second Adams. Verse 47 informs us that the first man cam from the dust of the earth whereas the second man, Christ, came from Heaven.
Since Adam and Christ are the two respective heads of the human race in terms of representing redemptive states, their respective followers take on a number of their characteristics. Verse 48 says, "As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven." As those, those still in Adam remain in sin and are subject to the penalties of being in such a state. Those found in Christ are no longer subject to the eternal penalty of their sins.
In verse 50, Paul announces that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Thus, we are provided with the primary reason why we much undergo this transformation from, to the use words found at the end of the verse, from the "perishable" and into the "imperishable".
It is usually assumed that one cannot enter this glorified state without having first partaken of death's bitter taste. However, in verses 51-52, Paul reveals that, for all Christians, such will not be the case. According to the text, in the twinkling of an eye (even quicker than a blink) when the lat trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, those living at that time will be instantaneously changed.
Verse 53 reminds us of the lesson learned in verses 42-44 that this transformation of our very nature signals death's ultimate defeat as it will no longer hold any power in the end over the redeemed child of God. In verse 55, a bit of a taunt is rubbed in the face of death when the passage reads, "Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?"
From verse 56, it is clarified that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. However, as is proclaimed in verse 57, God gives the believer victory over these things through Jesus Christ. Since He takes away our sins and takes them as far as the east is from the west according to Psalms 103:12, these transgressions do not leave a lasting stain if we ask for forgiveness.
In verse 58, Paul ends on a note of victorious encouragement. Echoing words similar to the comforting truism of if the Lord is for us, who can be against us, Paul admonishes Christians to stand firm, let nothing move them, and to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord because of labor is not in vain. Without the Resurrection provided by the work of Christ, the most anyone could hope for is the cold sleep of the grave. However, such physical affliction is ultimately temporary as a result of His triumph.
In “Star Wars”, Obi-Wan Kenobi warns Darth Vader that, should the Sith lord decide to strike him down, the Jedi master would become more powerful than could possibly be imagined. Though a fictionalized scene since as soon as Kenobi was struck down by Vader’s blade Kenobi began to instruct Luke in the ways of the Force from beyond the grave, the sentiment is one echoed in the hope that the Christian has a life beyond this one not subject to the same drawbacks, restraints, and letdowns that plague is the few brief years that we trod this earth.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.