The Resurrection of the Dead (1 Corinthians 15)
Lord Alfred Tennyson once said, “No life that breathes with human breath has ever truly longed for death.” If that isn’t the truth, we must admit it is close.
Americans spend much time and money in efforts to postpone death. Health clubs operate on the principle that the more you exercise the longer you’ll live. Americans spend millions each year—and rightly so—in trying to find cures for life-threatening diseases. We place a high value on life.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, showed a glorious contrast with death, the hope of the resurrection of the dead. When we fear death, Paul’s words must be remembered, and then our fears can be vanquished. When we stand at a grave mourning the loss of a loved-one, the promise of the resurrection brings hope. It would be glorious to be standing in a cemetery when Jesus raises the dead!
It is only through the resurrection of Jesus that we have hope. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, we would have no hope. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, life would not be worth living. But because of the resurrection, life does have meaning and we can look forward to the resurrection of our body and being united with Christ.
Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to remember that wonderful hope, a hope he proclaimed to them. “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you come to believe in vain.”
Paul pointed to this message as if to say: “Listen, I need to say something important.”
Paul pointed out some important truths of the resurrection in this chapter. We wish to explore these important truths in this lesson.
The Evidence of the Resurrection, vv 3-11
We like empirical evidence, i.e., evidence which can be tested, seen, and touched. Missouri has a reputation as the “Show me state”—“Unless you show me, I will not believe it.”
Scientists refuse to accept hypotheses as truth without first submitting them to intense scrutiny. Scientists test and re-test their hypotheses using empirical evidence—that evidence which can be observed—to be certain their hypotheses are correct.
Paul dealt with such people in Corinth. These people had serious doubts about the resurrection. Since these Christians had not personally seen the resurrection, they doubted.
These disciples were upsetting the faith of others. Paul said in verse 12: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?”
Therefore, Paul begins his discussion of the resurrection with the evidence in favor of it.
Jesus appeared to Peter. Yes, the apostles who denied they knew Jesus, now proclaimed that he had indeed been raised from the dead. It is interesting that Peter would claim Jesus lives. It was Peter who encouraged Jesus not to die. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!’” (Matthew 16:21-22). But now we see Peter preaching a resurrected Christ. How could this be if Christ had not been raised?
Jesus appeared to five hundred disciples at once. It would be impossible for give hundred people to believe they all saw something at the same time unless they did! It is more absurd to believe that five hundred people were deceived into believing they saw the resurrection Christ than to believe they saw the resurrected Christ!
Why would Paul say he saw Jesus alive if he did not? Paul lost prestige, honor, comfort, and the security of life because he preached the resurrection. No blasphemer would say, “I saw Jesus after he was raised from the dead” unless it was the truth.
The only way to account for such evidence is that the tomb was empty!
The Purpose of the Resurrection, vv 12-19
Imagine for a moment that Jesus had never been resurrected from the dead. In such a world, life has no purpose, no value. The people have no joy, because they have no hope. In such a world, guilt is insurmountable, because forgiveness is unknown.
That’s a world where Christ has decayed in his tomb. Yet, that world is not a reality, because Jesus lives!
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the culminating event in God’s scheme for man. It is the resurrection which proved beyond all doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Psalm 16:10: “You do not give me up to Sheol [the grave], or let your faithful one see the Pit.” Peter quotes that Psalm in Acts 2:27, where Peter says that prophecy was fulfilled in the resurrection, sealing Jesus’ claims as the Savior of the world.
Jesus was “declared to be [the] Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4).
“Baptism . . . now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him” (1 Pet 3:21-22). We, as a fellowship, have rightly placed a lot of emphasis on baptism. One cannot be saved without scriptural baptism. But baptism is meaningless without the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If Jesus is still in his grave, we have no hope beyond this life.
The Period of the Resurrection, vv 20-28
The resurrection will be at the period when God brings time to an end. Scripture teaches that the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead will occur within the same timeframe. The resurrection will occur without warning at that time when Jesus comes to judge the world.
Paul told the Thessalonian church what that day will be like. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:3. Jesus will descend from heaven and bring with him all those who have died before. It is at this moment that the resurrection will occur.
The resurrection of the dead is not just an event for the faithful Christian, but all the dead will be raised. “Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29).
After the resurrection, Jesus will hand over his kingdom to the Father. In these verses, we see a small glimpse of eternity. In these verses, we see Christ in some manner subject to God the Father.
In all these eschatological events, we see that God will be glorified.
The Morality of the Resurrection, vv 29-34
If there is nothing beyond this life, no resurrection, there is no reason to live a morally upright life. This is a serious danger of atheism. If there is no God (and, therefore, no resurrection), morality becomes subjective. It is as the Latin poet Catullus wrote, “Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, and let us value the tales of austere old men at a single halfpenny. Suns can set and then return again, but for us, when once our brief light sets, there is but one perpetual night through which we must sleep.”
Paul said such logic is false, because of the truth of the resurrection. There is something beyond this life—the glory of being eternally with God or the torment of being eternally separated from him. We need to live in the shadow of eternity, realizing the choices we make now affect our eternal destiny.
Scripture often exhorts us to come out of the world and to live morally upright lives. Colossians 3:12-17. This passage is not in a context of the resurrection, but its truth is just as relevant. Paul says, “Live for Jesus. Live like Jesus.” This we must do with an eye to the resurrection, the events that will allow us to be eternally with our God.
The Body of the Resurrection, vv 35-54
Some in the Corinthian church were apparently questioning how the body could be resurrected.
Paul makes it plain that God will make the body suited for the resurrection. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Therefore, God will give us a body suited for the kingdom of heaven, a spiritual one. Even the bodies of those wo have not died will be changed to be suited for the kingdom of God.
The body at the resurrection will be vastly different from the one in which we now well. “We will be changed”—given a different body, a body suited for heaven. Our bodies cannot remain as they are and enter the gates of heaven.
Our body at the resurrection will be eternal. Paul places a high emphasis on the fact that we will never die once in heaven. Actually, Paul contrasts the perishable nature of our earthly body with the eternal nature of our heavenly body six times in verses 50-54. Paul uses such expressions as: “The dead will be raised imperishable” and “This perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
We will never die, for “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess 4:17).
The Victory of the Resurrection, vv 54-57
The idea of victory is very crucial to our American culture. The idea is so popular that expressions such as “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” and “Fight to win” are commonplace.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest victory ever known. After Calvary, Satan had Jesus right where he wanted him—in the tomb. In the tomb, Jesus was helpless—or so Satan thought. But Jesus arose!
Jesus finished the work of salvation with his resurrection from the dead. Without his resurrection, salvations work would have only been half-finished but with his resurrection, Jesus conquered death and gained victory over the forces of evil.
Our resurrection will be a great victory. When we arise from the grave, death itself will die. Death will no longer have dominion over the Christian, and he will be able to live forever with God. I will be resurrected and live forever with my God.
The cross is essential to Christianity, but no more than the resurrection. Without the resurrection, we would not now be meeting as the people of God. The blood shed at the cross gives man freedom from sin, the shackles loosed at the resurrection give man hope for tomorrow.
Paul ends this great chapter with an exhortation: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”