The Resurection of Christ
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
I CORINTHIANS 15
The fifteenth chapter of this letter, a section so full of triumphant life and power, answers yet another Corinthian query, "how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?", v. 12. Before examining the tremendous encouragements underlined, let us set out the divisions of the teaching.
vv. i-ii. The Gospel revealed to Paul states that Christ rose from the dead the third day. All the apostles, as well as above five hundred witnesses, confirmed this.
vv. 12-19. The premise that Christ did not rise again, and the dreadful state of affairs if this were the case.
vv. 20-28. The full programme of resurrection triumph, leading to total divine domination in the eternal state.
vv. 29-34. The thought of resurrection exerts a powerful influence on life and witness. Everything is undertaken in view of this.
vv. 35-49. The resurrection body.
vv. 50-57. The realisation of the resurrection promise at the Lord's return.
1 Cor. 15. I-II. So familiar have we become with the hope and confidence engendered by the thought of resurrection, the cheering vision of the glory-lit horizon, that we forget how much we owe to this unique section of apostolic doctrine. Stirred by the gloomy, negative teaching at Corinth that death ended all, Paul moves rapidly to define the counsel of God. This was the Gospel revealed from heaven, Gal. I. II-I2, the death of Christ for our sins, Christ's burial, Christ's resurrection. Faith in these three pillars had led to their salvation. He hoped there were no false professors among them, desiring to invalidate the third.
The fact of Christ's resurrection is one of the most soundly authenticated events in history. Peter and the others, five hundred brethren at once, James and all the apostles testify to having seen our Lord risen from the dead. At different moments, and many having decided firmly against the possibility of resurrection ("tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away", John 20. 15), they were led to contemplate the glorious Person of the Risen Christ, Victor over the power of death and the grave. Paul's meeting with Christ was later, but its impact on his life and service provided invulnerable proof of its reality. He had been a savage, fanatical opponent of this truth and of its propagation by those who believed it: "I persecuted the church of God", I Cor. I5.9. The fact that Saul of Tarsus is transformed demonstrates the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is risen. The apostolic witness is unanimous!
Depressing Supposition, I Cor. I5. I2-I9. Just for a moment Paul investigates the catastrophic state of affairs that would result from the "no resurrection" theory. Gospel preaching and belief in the Good News would be exercises devoid of meaning or reality, preachers hypocritical liars, deliverance from sin an utter impossibility, and the dead in Christ doomed. It is to this end that the doctrines of Greek mythology and twentieth century dialectical materialism lead. There is no light beyond the tomb; all is dark. Extremely miserable and meriting the utmost pity would we be, if our life were bounded by the terrestrial.
The Complete Programme, I Cor. I5. 20-28. The stirring affirmation of verse 20 leads us away from man's gloom and uncertainty. Christ is risen! The sun shines. He is the firstfruits. The promise of harvest delights our souls. Our God never abandons an original idea. Man is central in His purposes. Did disobedient man introduce death for all those "in Adam"? Rectification will be made on a basis of uncompromising justice. The sinless Son of man will die for sin, He will be buried, He will rise again, Mark 9. 31.1 know that my Redeemer liveth, cries Job, and the Last, He shall stand up above the dust, Job 19. 25 j.n.d. marg. The Perfect Man, in a spirit of implicit obedience to the will of God, has vanquished death. He is, as the last Adam, life-giving Spirit. All those "in Christ", the new federal Head, shall be made alive. By man came also the resurrection of the dead, 1 Cor. 15. 21. The earthy first man will disappear from sight, as in the Second Man the purposes of God move to consummation.
The visible triumph of the life-giving Son will be when the dead in Christ are raised and the living transfigured, made like unto the body of His glory. Later, the Son of man will establish His thousand-year kingdom, during which He will be the manifest Head of universal dominion. "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man", John 1. 51; firstly from Him; then to Him. What a contrast to that other man of the angelic vision, Jacob. He resisted, and his thigh was weakened. But on the thigh of the obedient Man a name is written, King of kings and Lord of lords, Rev. 19. 16. Perfect in all things, He will be the glorious Ruler during earth's sabbatic rest, the Man under whose feet all things have been placed.
But the thousand-year kingdom, so glorious, will still witness death. The nations will be shepherded with a staff of iron; disobedience will be punished, Isa. 11. 4; 65. 20. It will, nevertheless, be the bright demonstration of perfect justice and joyful prosperity according to the will of God. Un-regenerate man refuses to be convinced. After the manifold blessings of the kingdom of the Son of Man, the devil will re-appear. Mankind will again rebel. The fiery judgment from heaven on man's final revolt will be followed by the consigning of death, hades, the devil and the unrepentant dead into the lake of fire, there to be with the beast and the false prophet, Rev. 20. 14-15.
With all opposition removed and with the thousand-year kingdom closed, the eternal state is ushered in. The Son of man will have freed the earth from every trace of sin and corruption. He will have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father: "O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth", Ps. 8. 1.
The throne of the eternal state is that of God and of the Lamb. The Shekinah glory is the source of all light, expressed in the fulness of the Lamb. The infinite dimensions of eternal worship are found in unlimited appreciation of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. His servants shall serve Him; they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads. God shall be All in all!
The Impact of Resurrection on Daily Living, 1 Cor. l5- 29~34- New believers are baptised as they replace those who have gone home to heaven. The witness thus continued would be meaningless, the struggle fruitless, if all were not leading to the consummation of God's purposes in resurrection. The grave risks encountered by the servants of God and their spirit of self-denial have in view the age to come. If in this life only . . ., if the dead rise not . . ., everything in the sphere of Christian life and witness would be futile. But the vision of the glorified, Risen Christ is so dynamic in the spirit of the apostle that he challenges the believers: Sober up and clean up! since everything will become manifested in the morning.
The Resurrection Body, I Cor. 15. 35-49. Agriculture, biology and astronomy are marshalled now to provide illustrations of the resurrection body. The beauty of the mature perfected wheat surpasses by far the simple grain that found life in death. The new body will enter into a different biological category to all that has gone before, having flesh and bones, but dominated by the spiritual, with no trace of decay or corruption. The out-shining of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ can be wonderful in the experience of some believers now, but in the resurrection body by how much more exceedingly when changed from glory to glory. No matter how impossible a scientific explanation of the change may be, Paul leaves us in no doubt about the advantages. Corruption, dishonour, weakness and flesh yield place to incorruption, glory, power and spirit. The original design expressed by the Trinity materialises on the highest level, "Let us make man in our image", Gen. 1. 26. The second Man is from heaven, so as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
The post-resurrection capacities of our blessed Lord give us a little indication of the amazing transformation. He insists on the reality of the flesh and bones on the other side of death. He bears the traces of His wounds; He eats fish with the disciples; He enters a closed room; He vanishes, but He does not mention blood in the new body. He is the same in so many ways, yet although freed from the limitations of time and space and enjoying the power of an indissoluble life, He demonstrates the triumph of the original form. He was made in the likeness of men. We shall be like Him in His glorious triumph.
Scripture always seems to imply a link between the body having returned to corruption and the resurrection body, Dan. 12. 2; Matt. 27. 52; 1 Cor. 15. 52. Matter, as we know it, is indestructible, and the same Lord who looked after the body of Moses, Jude 9, can accomplish His purposes in respect of the myriads of His people. While their spirits are "with Christ" and "present with the Lord", their bodies are still in the dust of the earth.
The Lord's Return, 1 Cor. 15. 50-57. But physical death will not come to all; we shall not all sleep. The Word of God looks forward to the most wonderful moment of tangible triumph ever experienced, the realisation of Calvary's conquest. The dead in Christ shall be raised incorruptible; the multitudes of those who died in faith shall be raised from the dead, clothed in resurrection bodies, all in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. All the living believers will be changed, as immortality impregnates the bodily structure of those alive at the moment of the Rapture.
What a fitting climax to the centuries of patient waiting! As the vast multitudes rise to meet the Lord in the air, 1 Thess. 4. 17, the volume of praise and worship will be heart-thrilling. No need for bread or wine, since our blessed Lord Himself will be the centre of that unprecedented worship meeting. The lonely, abandoned Man of sorrows who cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" shall see His seed, shall see of the fruit of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied. What a magnificent theme of worship: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing", Rev. 5. 12. Appreciation, gratitude and worship will surge from every redeemed heart as the splendour and majesty and glory and beauty of our Lord Jesus are seen.
So many world developments seem to indicate that the moment of His return is not far distant. Israel in the land, Ezek. 38. 8; the city of Jerusalem liberated from the Gentiles, Luke 2i. 24; efforts for Western European coalition in the area of the Roman Empire, Daniel 2. 41-43; Russia's dominance as a northern power, Ezekiel 38; the appearing of the eastern powers, Rev. 16. 12, China, India, Japan, etc.; the desire to hand over total authority to one man, 2 Thess. 2. 8, Rev. 13. 1; and the movement in religious circles to create a tangible strong unity of all creeds and forms, no matter how far from the Holy Scriptures that so-called unity may wander, Rev. 17-18. These are but developments in political, military, economic and religious sectors. But all seem to point to one thing - the imminence of our Lord's return.
Paul closes with an exclamation of pure worship, "thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ". Even here and now, resurrection power is at the basis of all life and blessing. The victory is ours! In the strength of this, and looking forward to the age of true abiding values, let us be firm and unmoveable, always abounding in the Lord's work. The fullest, most satisfying occupation of body, soul and spirit here and now is to serve Him. The measure of this will determine our eternal responsibilities.