The Resurrection| What is the Nature of the Resurrection? #3
Paul next transitions to those who were “fallen asleep in Christ” and says if Christ is not raised then they were perished as well ( 1 Corinthians 15:18). Paul again argues with what they didn’t believe to show them their inconsistency. If these at Corinth were denying resurrection for all the dead ones they would have answered, “Yes, that’s exactly what we are saying.” But their argument was failing, because they believed that those in Christ had not perished. But then who perished? It must have been a category of dead ones who were not in Christ. These “dead ones” were the faithful Jews under the Old Economy that had not believed nor obeyed Christ. Some among the Corinthians who were Gentile believers denied that the Jews before Christ could be raised. This was a Gentile and Jew issue. Just as the Jews had trouble with the Gentiles, some of the Gentiles had trouble with the Jews. Paul stated that the Gentiles should remember that they were borne by the “root” and so they were warned not to boast against the branches (Romans 11:18). The Gentiles had been made partakers of Israel’s “spiritual things” (Romans 15:27).
Paul affirms to the Corinthians the great truth, that without Israel being raised, no Gentile could be raised and Christians could not be saved without the Jews. Paul cited the Old Testament scriptures to prove that Christ represented Old Testament Israel in the resurrection (Hosea 6:1,2). Paul is masterfully refuting the Corinthians’ claim that the Jews of the Old Covenant could not be raised. This truth is corroborated in the next verse, in which Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”(1 Corinthians 15:19). When Paul says, “only we” he refers to only we Christians. A Christian’s hope is Israel’s hope. If one denies Israel’s hope he implicitly denies his own hope. The Corinthians were denying their own resurrection by denying the resurrection of Old Covenant Jews. Paul was bound and was willing to suffer for “Israel’s hope” (Acts 28:20), and there is only “one hope” (Ephesians 4:5).
The Resurrection for the Dead? A Troubling Issue!
This point is further corroborated in 1 Corinthians 15:29 which says, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” In Acts 2, Peter commanded those Jews responsible for crucifying their Saviour to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Peter was preaching Israel’s hope. The promise of Salvation first given to Abraham was now shared by those obedient to the gospel call. In order to share in the promises of Old Covenant Israel one had to be baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:26,27). Paul argued, “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Romans 15:8). Jesus too affirmed, “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). So, as one submits to baptism, that person is baptized for the dead ones, in order to be raised with them and share in their hope. Again, Paul stated clearly that there is only “one hope” (Ephesians 4:5). This otherwise difficult text, as so many others, become clear by the correct view of what was actually transpiring in the text. The truth of the Resurrection brings many difficult texts into harmony and understanding.
The Resurrection Defined!
1 Corinthians 15:20-23 contains the true significance and spiritual nature of the resurrection. Christ is called the “firstfruits of them which slept.” But who were sleeping? The dead saints are the subject as they were sleeping in the dust, a synonym for Hades (Daniel 12:2). These dead ones were in the Hadean world where the martyrs were awaiting justice (Revelation 6:9-11). Christ had become the firstfruits. Yet, others had come back from the dead (physical death) before Jesus was raised from physical death (viz. Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain ). So how then was Jesus the “firstfruits?”
Jesus, the First Fruit of the Resurrection
Jesus was the only one to ever die for sins, conquer Hades by being raised out of it, and then stand in the presence of God. The resurrection of Jesus was the promise that every Old Testament saint was coming out of the Hadean world to stand in the presence of God. Jesus returned to restore the Old Covenant kingdom to God so that all in Christ could stand in His presence (Hosea 6:1,2; Revelation 11:18,19).
Isaiah’s prophecy would tell of this same great event, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of the herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). Isaiah spoke of the “dead body” of Judaism which would come out of Hades as a corporate entity. This was necessary because the Law could not deliver them from this death. The “firstfruits” is an allusion to the feast of the Pentecost that would take place at the beginning of the harvest of which Christ represented (Leviticus 23:15-17). The rest of the harvest would take place at the end of the world or age (Matthew 13:39). Yet Jesus said, “so shall it be in the end of THIS world” (Matthew 13:40). The word “world” is the Greek aion, of which the NKJV properly translates as “age”. Just as the sacrifice of Christ was in the end of the “world” (Hebrews 9:26), so too, the harvest would come in the end of the age Jesus was living in. Jesus was the “firstfruits” of the harvest that was coming in the end of the Jewish age. The result of the end of the age would be resurrection life as Christ would tabernacle with his people (Revelation 21:3; John 14:-3).
The same theme continues, as Paul speaks of spiritual death, “For since by man came death, by man came also resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made in alive”( 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22). Paul is not speaking of physical death, but rather spiritual death. The corroborating text in Romans 5:18 states, “Therefore, as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men to justification.” Paul is not teaching inherited sin as denominational doctrine avers, but rather the introduction of sin by Adam and the introduction to justification by Christ. When we follow Adam we die. When we follow Christ we live. Christ is the only answer to death by sin! Paul to Timothy wrote, “who hath abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”(2 Timothy 1:10). Again, we have the same subject under consideration. The death that was “abolished” came by means of the cross, initiated at Pentecost and consummated by the time Jerusalem fell.
The subject of salvation is the “already, but not yet of scripture.” Salvation was a process which was stated as accomplished while in the midst of being accomplished. Jesus fulfilled the type of the Old Testament High Priest who went into the holiest of holies to offer the blood sacrifice, and then returned to the people who anxiously awaited for the blessing (Leviticus 9:20-22). The entire church was eagerly looking for Jesus to return which would bring salvation (Hebrews 9:28). Christ was promised to return “in a very little while” (Hebrews 10:37). If the spiritual salvation that Jesus came to bring was complete at Pentecost then it must be some kind of physical salvation that Jesus was coming to offer. If the return of Christ is for physical life then why is not the redemption and grace which was in their future “physical” as well?
1 Peter 1:5, mentions the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” But the salvation that was brought would be to the “salvation of their souls” ( 1 Peter 1:9). The Holy Spirit with His miraculous gifts was guaranteed until this day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). The entire subject of salvation in the New Testament is proleptic in nature. The process of salvation is revealed as having already occurred though its end was not yet completed. This again, is the “already, but not yet of scripture.” Many get the “already,” but scratch their heads about the “not yet.” This “already, but not yet” is readily seen in the Ephesian letter. Paul said, “In whom we have redemption” (Ephesians 1:7), but then spoke of a future, “redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14). Did Paul speak of two different redemptions of two different natures? No, he was simply affirming the process of salvation and the redemption that would be completed at Jerusalem’s fall (Luke 21:28). The “redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14) and the “redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23) are references to the same thing; the church not the physical body. Jesus did not die to redeem flesh and blood.
In the next installment, Holger will provide even more evidence to show that the resurrection of 1 Corinthians 15 cannot be referent to physical resurrection. Stay tuned!