I cannot tell you how shocked I was to learn about your terrible loss. In one breathtaking, heartbreaking instant he left us, without warning or farewell. In one mind numbing moment he vanished from our midst. In a trance, we lowered his beloved body. . . . In total wonderment, we heard friends and family discuss him in the past tense. In a haze of horror, our thoughts came to grips with our feelings: We will never see him again in this world, his smile will never cheer our spirits one last time, his tenderness will never again touch our souls. . . .
At a fundamental level, death is the dark shadow hanging over every human thought, choice, plan and action, seeming to rob them of ultimate meaning and value. I know that you believe we humans have come from nowhere and from nothing and are likewise destined to return nowhere, become nothing: that all we have achieved and become will be lost forever when we die so that it will be as if we had never been.
In contrast . . . I hold that human life does have an ultimate purpose, meaning, and significance, and that the true “end” of Homo sapiens . . . is union with the Ultimate Reality. We do not come from nowhere and nothing and return nowhere to nothing. . . . (Varghese xi-xii)
The contrast seen in the above words is a contrast between two fundamental worldviews concerning life and death. It is a contrast between (1) the origin of life, (2) the purpose of life, and (3) the end of life. One view is “humans have come from nowhere and from nothing and are likewise destined to return to nowhere, become nothing” (xi). The other view is “that human life does have an ultimate purpose . . . and that the true ‘end’ of Homo sapiens . . . is union with the Ultimate Reality” (i.e. God; cf. Eccl. 12:7) (xii).
The late Thomas B. Warren addressed the significance of these issues in his book, Immortality-All of Us will Be Somewhere Forever, when he wrote:
Down through the centuries men have asked themselves these very intriguing questions: “Will physical death be the end of me? After physical death, will I live on as a unique center of consciousness? If there is to be persistence of personality after physical death, will such persistence be the case for each and every human being? Or, will it be for only some of the totality of human beings who will have lived on earth (during all of its existence)? If such is to be the case for only some—but not all—human beings, which ones will it be? Will only those who, during their earthly lives have been righteous (faithful to God) live eternally as unique centers of consciousness? Or, will every person who has ever lived on earth be resurrected, to live on forever?”
Thus, the basic—the “bed rock,” fundamental—concern . . . is to deal with this question: “Will every human being who has ever lived on the earth live on—after physical death—as a unique center of conscious (human) personality?” (It would be difficult to imagine a more important problem for any human being.) (vii)
Christianity brings these matters into sharp focus, in general, through the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and, in particular, through the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Classical scholar E. M. Blaiklock and his son, D. A. Blaiklock, call the resurrection the
“central point in the teaching of the early Christians, the edge of their appeal” (70). MacArthur says,
Just as the heart pumps life-giving blood to every part of the body, so the truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth. The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation. . . . If the resurrection is eliminated, the life-giving power of the gospel is eliminated, the deity of Jesus Christ is eliminated, salvation from sin is eliminated, and eternal life is eliminated. (398)
“The resurrection is no tailpiece to Christian doctrine. It is the centerpiece” (Green 143). And, as the center of the Christian hope is the resurrection, the center of “critical attention on the resurrection” is First Corinthians 15 (Habermas 614). Thiselton called it “the crown of the
epistle” of First Corinthians (306). This biblical chapter is the most comprehensive treatment of the resurrection in the entire Bible. It is the longest chapter in the New Testament epistles, and one of the most crucial because of the subject matter. “It is a masterpiece of exposition, surely the result not only of long thought and meditation on the subject . . . but of a revelation of divine truth, through the Holy Spirit, beyond anything the Human mind alone could ever attain to” (Smith, Notes 354). Burton Coffman eloquently extolled the greatness of the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians in the following:
When darkness falls upon the day of life, when death has come, and when men gather around a grave, then it is that they turn to this immortal chapter, where are recorded the title deeds of man’s highest hope, the Christian gospel’s promise of eternal life. Light from this chapter dispels the darkness surrounding the grave; its message reassures the sorrowful, redefines the meaning of life itself and writes upon the tomb the blessed words, “Asleep in Jesus.” It speaks at every funeral.
Apostolical power and inspiration charge every word of this chapter with everlasting significance, which has been neither dimmed nor eroded by the passing of [twenty] centuries. Even the mysteries of it, which men may not fully understand, have power to quicken the human spirit and rekindle the fires of faith. The dimensions of this heavenly message are so vast that finite man may neither completely comprehend nor intelligently deny it; thus leaving every man the moral option of trusting the Father’s promise or turning to the blackness of total despair. It is the voice of God the Father of mankind that speaks to men here; and, for all who listen, it promises that nothing can harm the Father’s child, that there is no need to fear, and that even life’s sorrows, infirmities and sufferings are not without purpose, and that none of life’s labors are in vain “in the Lord.” (245)
Here we see how Christianity confronts the problem of death. “However hard a recession bites, the undertakers are not going out of business. Death is the unwelcome fact at the end of the road. Thus, one of the great tests of any philosophy . . . is what it makes of death” (Green 139). Here the Christian view of death is manifest. Here the solution to the problem is revealed. Little wonder, as McGarvey observed, “This chapter has been read as an antidote to the pain of death at millions of funerals” (McGarvey and Pendleton 145). Many have been the saints who through the centuries have dried the tears on their pillow with the words of hope contained in this chapter. Dynamic in its defense of the resurrection, powerful in its presentation of the resurrection, and logical in its lessons on the resurrection, this chapter takes the gloom out of the grave as it gives a hope that is steadfast and sure.
The chapter may be studied in light of the following keys that unlock the door to understanding and appreciation of its inexhaustible contents: (1) The resurrection’s reality, (2) the result of rejecting the resurrection, (3) the Redeemer and the resurrection, (4) the relationship of the
resurrection and righteousness, (5) the resurrection and a response to two questions and, (6) the rewarding results of the resurrection.
The Reality of the Resurrection (vv. 1-11)
By the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ I mean it actually happened. It is historically real. It happened in human history. E. M. Blaiklock, himself a teacher of Latin, Greek, and ancient and biblical history for over four decades, called the resurrection “the best authenticated fact in ancient history” (70). Concerning the resurrection, Wilbur Smith wrote, “We are here in the realm of history. The reality of the Resurrection of Christ is something we may judge as we do any other historical event” (Stand 361). In his vigorous defense of the
resurrection, Smith referenced the following:
. . . John Singleton Copley, better known as Lord Lyndhurst (1772-1863), recognized as one of the greatest legal minds in British history, the Solicitor-General of the British government in 1819, attorney-general of Great Britain in 1824, three times High Chancellor of England, and elected in 1846, High Steward of the University of Cambridge, thus holding in one lifetime the highest offices which a judge in Great Britain could ever have conferred upon him. When Chancellor Lyndhurst died, a document was found in his desk, among his private papers, giving an extended account of his own Christian faith, and in this precious, previously-unknown record, he wrote: “I know pretty well what evidence is; and, I tell you, such evidence as that for the Resurrection has never broken down yet.” (Stand 425)
Paul’s affirmation of the reality of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-11) was “written approximately twenty-five years after Jesus’ death. Almost never is the book’s date or its Pauline authorship questioned, no matter how radical the researcher” (Habermas 614). Professor Habermas continues,
So the assertion of Christ’s resurrection found in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 is an exceptionally early tradition from a very short time after the events. . . . Historian Hans von Campenhausen writes, “This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text.” . . . C. H. Dodd emphasizes, “The date, therefore, at which Paul received the fundamentals of the Gospel cannot well be later than some seven years after the death of Jesus Christ. It may be earlier.” (614)
Taylor describes Paul’s affirmation in the first four verses of First Corinthians fifteen as “the factual heartbeat of Christianity. That factual heartbeat is composed of Christ’s death for our sins, [H]is burial, and [H]is triumphant resurrection” (295). N. B. Hardeman, in his inimitable
style, set forth the meaning and significance of the basic facts of the Gospel of Christ as presented by Paul in this powerful text:
. . . [T]here are three fundamental and basic facts of the gospel of our Lord. Here they are: first, the death of Christ for the sins of a lost and ruined world; second, his burial in a borrowed tomb; and third, his bursting the bars and coming forth, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel. That’s the basis upon which all of our hallowed hopes and fondest desires must forever rest. Now, friends, those facts are like three piers supporting a wonderful bridge that spans the arch from the shores of time to the shores of eternity. And just as stable as are those piers, is the Gospel of Christ. In the city of Memphis there are three bridges across the Mississippi River, not more than a hundred feet apart. I’ve watched the building of two of them within my time. I’ve seen men go down deep into the water, down to solid rock and erect great concrete piers. Then they begin to span the arch between them. Finally they pour in the concrete, and thus the structure. But those bridges are no stronger than are the piers which support them. Just so, there is no hope whatsoever for mankind apart from the sublime fact that Jesus Christ tasted death for every man, that he was buried in Joseph’s new tomb, that on the morning of the third day he burst the bars and came forth triumphant. He plucked the rose of immortality from the realm of the dead and planted it to blossom and to bloom upon the bosom of His own grave, thus giving hope and joy to mankind. So, preach the Gospel, go tell the world that Christ the Saviour, the Son of God, died for their sins. Go make them conscious of the fact that without such they are helpless, hopeless and hapless in this world. Tell them that Christ was buried, and while He was buried, all the demons of hell and the devil’s representatives on earth rejoiced. But their joy was turned to sorrow on the glad morning of the resurrection, when Christianity was born upon the earth and the hope of everlasting life beyond was ours. (40)
The attestation of the resurrection is implied through four lines of evidence marshalled by Paul. First, Heaven revealed it. “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received . . .” (v. 3). Alford says Paul received it “by special revelation. Before his conversion he may have known the bare fact of the death of Jesus, but the nature and reason of that Death he had to learn from revelation:--the Resurrection he regarded as a fable,--but revelation informed him of its reality . . .” (602). To the Galatians he wrote, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). Second, the Scriptures prophesied it. “. . . He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (v. 4). It means “even as the whole tone of the O.T. so foretold concerning Him” (Rogers and Rogers 385). For an example, note Peter’s reference of Psalm 16:8-11 when he preached the Gospel in its fullness for the first time on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:14-40). He claimed that David said these things concerning Jesus of Nazareth (vv. 22-25). Peter said, “[H]e [David], foreseeing this spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ . . .” (v. 31). Third, eyewitnesses verified it (vv. 5-8). Paul provided here a partial “list of witnesses who were to attest to Christ’s resurrection to the world” (Lenski 638). “The appearances were not just visions; he [Jesus] could be seen by human eyes” (Rogers and Rogers 385). Concerning the appearance of Jesus to more than five hundred at one time (v. 6), Robertson says, “The strength of this witness lies in the fact that the majority . . . of them were still living when Paul wrote this Epistle, say spring of A.D. 54 or 55, not over 25 years after Christ’s resurrection” (188). The observation can be made concerning the other appearances also. In discussing all the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord, including those from First Corinthians fifteen, Smith addressed the implications of the empirical nature of the evidence. He stated,
. . .[A]fter studying over a long period of time, this entire problem of our Lord’s Resurrection, and having written some hundreds of pages upon it at different times, I was suddenly arrested by the thought that the very kind of evidence which modern science, and even psychologists, are so insistent upon for determining the reality of any object under consideration is the kind of evidence that we have presented to us in the Gospels regarding the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, namely, the things that are seen with the human eye, touched with the human hand, and heard by the human ear. This is what we call empirical evidence. It would almost seem as if parts of the Gospel records of the Resurrection were actually written for such a day as ours when empiricism so dominates our thinking. (Stand 389-90)
Fourth, the apostles preached it. Paul concluded the thought of this section of chapter fifteen with this statement: “Therefore, whether it was I [Paul] or they [the other apostles], so we preach and so you believed” (v. 11). Such connects with Dr. Luke’s introductory words in The Acts of the Apostles. Luke recorded that Jesus had given commandments to the apostles He selected and to whom He, by many infallible proofs, was seen alive following His death and resurrection (cf. Acts 1:1-3). Paul’s point seems obvious: “Without exception, the preaching and teaching in the early church centered on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Wherever Christ was preached and by whomever . . . His resurrection was . . . pivotal. . . . There was no dispute about the truth or the importance of the doctrine . . .” (MacArthur 406).
The Result of Rejecting the Resurrection (vv. 12-19)
Although the resurrection was “a constant fact” (Rogers and Rogers 385) in the continual preaching of the apostles, and it was also a fact that the Corinthians had believed it (cf. Acts 18:8), how could some say there can be no resurrection of a dead body (cf. v 12)? From the fact that Christ had resurrected, how can anyone say, how can it be maintained, or “it be held that there can be no resurrection, while yet it is admitted that Christ rose” (Barnes 298). “Faith in the resurrection of Christ actually includes faith in the resurrection of the body” (Grosheide 356). It is absurd to accept the former and reject the latter. Alford paraphrases the meaning as, “If the species be conceded, how is it that some among you deny the genus?” (605).
In showing the absurdity of affirming the resurrection of Christ, while denying the resurrection of the dead, Paul constructed a series of powerful modus tollens premises (i.e. If P, then Q; Not Q; Therefore, not P). He begins with the premise “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen” (v. 13). He argues that it is false that Christ is not risen (cf. vv. 1-11). Therefore, it is false that there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul sets before his readers the challenge to face the question-“What if. . . .” What if Jesus had not been raised? What if the angel who spoke to the women at Jesus’ tomb would have said, “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:6), and they did, and the body was still there? What are the implications of saying there is no resurrection of the dead? What if Christ is not risen? For if there is no resurrection, then Christ is not risen. Robert G. Lee called it (i.e. “if Christ is not risen”) “the world’s blackest assumption” (126).
Paul’s flawless logic proves that if it is the case that there is no resurrection, then it is also the case that at least seven other history-altering propositions are true. However, it is false that any of these propositions is true. Therefore, it is false that there is no resurrection. The false
propositions that are the logical result of rejecting the resurrection are as follows. If there is no resurrection . . .
The resurrection of Christ is untruthful—“Christ is not risen” (v. 13).
Gospel preaching is unsubstantial—“our preaching is vain” (empty, without content v. 14).
Christian faith is unreliable-“your faith is also vain” (empty, nothingness v. 14).
The apostles of Christ are unethical—“[W]e are found false witnesses of God” (v. 15).
The human soul is unredeemable—“[Y]ou are still in your sins” (v. 17).
The end of life is unrewardable—“[T]hose who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (v. 18).
The Christian life is undesirable—“[W]e are of all men the most pitiable” (v. 19).
Paul’s sound logical argument (vv. 13-19) may be set forth as follows:
1. If there is no resurrection, then the resurrection of Christ is untruthful, gospel preaching is unsubstantial, Christian faith is unreliable, the apostles of Christ are unethical, the human soul is unredeemable, the end of life is unrewardable, and the Christian life is undesirable.
2. It is false that the resurrection of Christ is untruthful, gospel preaching is unsubstantial, Christian faith is unreliable, the apostles of Christ are unethical, the human soul is unredeemable, the end of life is unrewardable, and the Christian life is undesirable.
3. Therefore, it is false that there is no resurrection. The above argument shows that the “denial of the resurrection of the dead . . . cuts up by the roots” the “whole significancy and value” of the gospel of Christ” (Candlish 18). There are no less than “seven disastrous and absurd consequences” (MacArthur 416) that are the result of rejecting the resurrection. Each one of these is false. Therefore Paul can affirm “But now Christ is risen from the dead . . .” (v. 20, emp. added).
The Redeemer and the Resurrection (vv. 20-28)
“After writing seven conditional statements to demonstrate the effect of denying the resurrection, Paul turns from the contrary teaching . . . to the consistent doctrine . . . of Christ’s resurrection” (Kistemaker 547). The first two words “But now,” are extremely crucial. They introduce “the real situation after an unreal conditional clause or sentence but, as a matter of fact” (Arndt and Gingrich 548, emp. added).
This important section (vv. 20-28) shows the relationship of Christ, the Redeemer, to the resurrection. This is considered in light of three implications concerning Christ. First, His redemption consists of the resurrection of the body as well as the salvation of the soul. Christ is risen as “the firstfruits” of those who have died (v. 20). He is not the first to die. He is not the first to be raised. However, He is the first to die and be raised to never die again. “. . . Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more . . .” (Rom. 6:9). In a dialogue with former atheist Antony Flew, published as an Appendix in Professor Flew’s 2008 book, There Is A God, N. T. Wright stated, “. . . instead of resurrection being something that was simply going to happen to all God’s people at the end, the early Christians said it had happened to one person in advance. Now, no first-century Jew, as far as we know, believed there would be one person raised ahead of everybody else. So that’s a radical innovation, but they all believed that” (199). Paul wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). This is that time of which Paul wrote when he said, “. . . [W]e also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit . . . groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the . . . redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23; cf. 2 Cor. 5:4).
Secondly, His return marks the commencement of the resurrection. “. . . [E]ach one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:23). Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that their “whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Earlier he had written, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven. . . . And the dead in Christ will rise first . . .” (1 Thess. 4:16).
Third, His reign culminates, in one sense, at the end-time resurrection of all humans who have died.
Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24-28)
Coffman says, “. . . [T]he thing in view here [is] the end of Christ’s mediatorial office. At the time of his kingdom being united with [the][G]odhead in heaven, the need of those special devices . . . necessary in human redemption shall have disappeared” (257). Kelcy explained, “. . . [H]aving completed that [redemptive] work, voluntarily turning all over to God. But God is triune, and the Son shall share the eternal reign which belongs to the Godhead. There will be no mediatorial arrangement” (73).
The Relation of Righteousness to the Resurrection (vv. 29-34)
Paul “interrupts his argument with what might be called a parenthesis, in which he considers some of the more practical aspects” of the resurrection (Smith, Notes 357). He shows how the resurrection doctrine affects righteous living. “Paul presents our resurrection as being vital to the entire Christian life from . . . its beginning in baptism onward to . . . its close in temporal death. . . . If there is . . . no resurrection, then the entire Christian life . . . is vacuous” (Lenski 687).
This section is developed around three topics addressed by Paul in reference to the practical application of the doctrine of the resurrection and righteous living. These topics are (1) baptism and the dead, (2) battling the devil and, (3) belief of bad doctrine. First, Paul asked, “. . . [W]hat will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise? . . . Why then are they baptized for the dead?” (v. 29). Ferguson, in his definitive volume of almost 1000 pages on baptism, says Paul’s reference here to baptism shows “how intimately he connected baptism with resurrection” and notes that “any basis for a reference to a vicarious . . . baptism” here has been effectively removed by Hull whose interpretation of this is “baptized on account of (resurrection) . . . the dead” (154). McGarvey’s explanation concurs with this.
If the resurrection is not part of God’s plan—if affairs are otherwise, and there is really no resurrection—then what are converts to do, who, under the mistaken notion that there is a resurrection, are now constantly presenting themselves to be buried in baptism on account of the dead? If the dead are not raised, why then are these converts buried in baptism on their account, or with a view to them? Rom. 6:3-11 makes Paul’s meaning in this passage very plain. The dead are a class of whom Christ is the head and firstfruits unto resurrection. By baptism we symbolically unite ourselves with that class, and so with Christ, and we do this because of the hope that we shall be raised with that class through the power of Christ (Rom. 6:5). But if the dead are not raised at all, then why should converts be united with them by a symbolic burial? why should they be baptized on their account, or with reference to them? If there is no resurrection, baptism which symbolizes it, is meaningless. (McGarvey and Pendleton 152-53)
Second, Paul shows the implications of the resurrection concerning his (our) daily battle with the devil. He affirmed he was willing to “stand in jeopardy every hour” (v. 30). “He was never out of danger from Damascus to the last visit to Rome” (Robertson 193). Furthermore, he was willing to “die daily” (v. 31). However, in effect, he was asking, “Why should a Christian accept the battle and the dangers and the perils of the Christian life if it all is to go for nothing?” (Barclay 171-72). Without the hope of the resurrection, Paul argued, it is all for nothing. He then said he “fought with beasts at Ephesus,” but what advantage is that if the dead do not rise? “If this life is all there is, why should the sensual not rule? Why not grab all we can, do all we can, live it up all we can? If we die only to remain dead, hedonism makes perfect sense” (MacArthur
428). “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (v. 32). “Take away the thought of a life to come and this life loses its values. Take away the idea that this life is a discipline and a preparation for a greater life to come and the bounds of all honour and morality are loosened. . . .
The fact remains that the man who believes that this is the only world will inevitably live as if the things of this world are all that matter” (Barclay 173-74).
Finally, Paul implies the bad effects of bad doctrine. Doctrine “always works itself out in life” (Lenski 701). Here the bad doctrine is the erroneous teaching that there is no resurrection of the body. Paul’s argument is that believing the false teachers who denied the resurrection will corrupt the life of the Christian. “Evil company corrupts good habits” (v. 33). “This line of poetry . . . occurs in Menander. It may be a current proverb. Paul could have gotten it from either source” (Robertson 194). The point is that bad philosophy produces bad theology, and bad theology corrupts good morals. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Moral collapse follows upon spiritual collapse” (265).
Paul warned the Corinthians of the insidious nature of this false doctrine. “[D]o not embrace a doctrine which is not only erroneous, but the tendency of which is to lead into sin” (Barnes 309). He wrote, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (v. 34). Barclay says, “To say there is no resurrection is not a sign of superior knowledge; it is a sign of utter ignorance of God” (174). In this powerful section Paul argued that living Christianity begins with an act (baptism) that is built upon the hope of the resurrection. Likewise, the Christian life continues with the knowledge of this great event of the resurrection.
A Response to Resurrection Questions (vv. 35-53)
Paul anticipates two questions asked by those who repudiated the doctrine of the resurrection. The questions are: (1) How are the dead raised, and (2) With what body do they come forth when resurrected? Kistemaker deduced from Paul’s rebuke in verse 36 [“Foolish one!”] that these
questions “had already been posed at one time or another” (566) by those who denied the resurrection doctrine. Bruce observed these questions were seen “not as genuine requests for information but as arguments against the doctrine of the resurrection” (151).
The first question—“How are the dead raised?”—is answered by Paul with basically two words that appear in verse 38. The words are “But God . . .” (emp. added). How are the dead raised? The answer is by the power of Almighty God. If God exists, then the resurrection is possible. On another occasion, Paul asked, “Why should it be thought incredible [“unbelievable,” Rogers and Rogers 303] by you that God [Who is infinite in all His attributes] raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8). In his 1978 debate with University of California at Berkeley Philosophy Professor Wallace Matson, this very point was emphasized by Dr. Thomas B. Warren as he responded to Matson’s denial of the resurrection. Warren said:
. . . I want to go now to Dr. Matson’s contention about the body. He says, “What I deny is that the reassembly of the body would be me.” I want to read from first Corinthians chapter 15, verses 35-38. And I submit to you that there is no way in this world known to Wallace Matson, or anybody else, that this is not true. But he has staked his case on this. He has said, “For all I know, a good infinite God may exist and may have been the creator of man.” But, now, he comes along and says, “Even though God may have created man, He could not have resurrected him—or he could not resurrect his body.” But let us see.
“But some will say how are the dead raised? And with what manner of body do they come? Thou foolish one, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not of the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; but God giveth it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own” (1 Cor. 15:35-38).
If God in heaven could create man, if He could bring the world into being from nothing and create man—which Dr. Matson has admitted may be the case, for all he knows—then certainly He could resurrect man. Besides that, surely, Dr. Matson, as you think about the continuity of your own self as a unique center of personality, you are aware of the fact that your physical body changes, that it changes completely, as I recall, every seven years. So, figure from how many years you have been living, how many times your body must have changed! Are you still Wallace Matson? It is not any longer you, I suppose!
Let us look at Second Peter, chapter 1, verses 13 and 14. Well, over here to my left (pointing to Dr. Matson), the body is changed, so, it is not he any longer. At any rate, he is debating the proposition that Wallace Matson signed. “I think it right as long as I am in this tabernacle to stir you up by putting you in remembrance. Knowing that putting off this my tabernacle comes swiftly even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified to me” (1 Pet. 1:13-14).
This is, of course, the sense in which I am involved in my body. There is also the sense—clearly taught in the Bible,—this is a Biblical viewpoint; we are talking about the God of the Bible—that I live in my body. My body is an instrument of my mind. I either work and serve God, or I work against Him, by my body. My body changes physically, but still there is continuity of identity. The Bible makes clear that when we die, we put
off the physical body, the soul continues to live; it will be in a place waiting for the resurrection in which the body will be resurrected, changed and reunited with the spirit, and then all men will be gathered before God in judgment. Now, friends, certainly if God can create, as Dr. Matson has admitted, then certainly He can resurrect the body! (77-78) The second question—“And with what body do they [the dead] come?”—is answered by Paul with (1) the illustration of seed that is planted (vv. 36-38) and (2) the illustration of various kinds of bodies, yet all are bodies (vv. 39-53). For example, a grain of wheat (or any seed) will not produce until it is first buried, in a figure, having died (i.e. becomes no long only a grain or seed). It is that grain or seed as it grows, but it becomes something greater than that (vv. 36-38).
The grain planted is not, in every sense, the body that shall be (v. 37). It contains that seed, but it is greater. God gives the grain (seed) a body with a stalk, blade, head, etc. (v. 38). If God can change a seed that has, in a figure, “died” (having been sown, buried), and give that seed a body, then He can take a dead human body that has changed, even drastically beyond recognition, and provide a new body. Wilbur M. Smith provides what, to me, is one of the finest explanations of this I have read:
The grain of wheat that is sown must first die, before it comes up again (compare John 12:24). The kernel of the seed cannot die, or no living shoot can ever arise from it; that is, the stream of life must itself never case, for that would imply death issuing in life, which is contrary to all natural law. However, the visible grain must disintegrate, dissolve, and then the kernel itself will burst into a new shoot—it “dies.” Grains of wheat in a granary still retain their individual identity; but they do not thus produce more grain. If new grain is to come from them, they must be buried, and must disintegrate—“die” to themselves. The “body that shall be” is not the identical grain that was sown in the ground; that is, no kernel of wheat that appears on a stalk of wheat in the harvest can be identified with the particular kernel that was sown in the ground. It is similar, but it is not identical. The first one died. The new one is produced by, comes forth from, and is similar to that sown, but the particles are not identical. It has always seemed to me, from this passage and for many other reasons, that the theory held by some that our resurrection bodies are identically the same, particle for particle, as the bodies in which we now live, is utterly untenable. However, while our resurrection bodies will not have the identical particles of the bodies we now indwell, they will be similar to them, and will be raised out of them. How this identity of the two bodies will be maintained the Apostle does not say, though of course it will be accomplished only by a miracle of God. Our resurrection bodies will be as definitely related to the bodies we now have as a stalk of wheat with its kernels is related to the kernel buried in the ground out of which it came.” (Notes 358)
Furthermore, there is the illustration of different kinds yet all remain bodies (vv. 39-53). There are different bodies for humans, animals, fish, and birds, yet all are bodies (v. 39). There are celestial (heavenly) bodies, and there are terrestrial (earthly) bodies (v. 40). As the sun, the moon, and the starts are different from one another “so also is the resurrection of the dead” (vv. 41-42). The body prior to the resurrection is corruptible (v. 42), dishonorable (v. 43), weak (v. 43), and mortal (v. 53). In its resurrected state the body will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, heavenly, and immortal (vv. 42-53). Note the words “it [not another] is sown” (vv. 42-44). Also, observe “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (v. 53, emp. added).
From my dear friend and man of faith, W. Terry Varner, comes the following that illustrates wonderfully the power of the infinite God upon which the hope of the resurrection rests: In Hanover, Germany, a woman died who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of herself, or anyone else. In order to ensure her beliefs, writes Aquila Webb, the woman had huge granite slabs cemented together and secured by iron straps on her grave. In her will, the woman insisted on these words being engraved on those stones, “This burial place must never be opened.” However, a seed fell into the grave as it was being covered. By and by the cement wore away, light shined in and the seed germinated, grew into a twig which found the slight of daylight. The twig turned into a tree and laid those granite slabs and iron straps to the side. Mere tons of granite and iron cannot stop the power of a seed that has fallen to the ground and died (not to mention the power of the resurrection)!
“But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body” (1 Cor. 15:38). How are the dead raised? The resurrection occurs by the infinite power of God (cf. Rom. 1:4; Acts 26:8). With what body do the resurrected ones come? The dead are raised with the body that God, according to His sovereign power, is pleased to provide. “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?” (Rom. 9:20)?
The Rewarding Results of the Resurrection (vv. 54-58)
The final section is one in which Paul “bursts into a song of victory celebrating the triumph over death” (Smith, Notes 360). “Paul taunts death by quoting from the prophecies of Isaiah and Hosea and expresses thanks to God for the victory through Jesus Christ” (Kistemaker 589).
“Death is swallowed up in victory” (v. 54; Isa. 25:8). “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (v. 55; Hosea 13:14). The gloom is taken out of the grave with the resplendent hope of the victory of all victories.
Seeing that the victory is sure (Alford 621), Paul affirms that the logical conclusion to this is a personal commitment to be resolute (steadfast), reliable (unmovable), and resourceful (always abounding in the work of the Lord). The hinge word is “therefore” (v. 58). “It draws a conclusion
from the previous” (Rogers and Rogers 389). Lenski says the word reaches back over the entire chapter. Additionally, he makes these powerful, practical observations:
. . . [T]he entire chapter comes to a climax in this victory gift. This “therefore” bases the practical on the doctrinal. It shows how true doctrine results in godly life. Doctrine is a statement of the divine facts. When these facts are apprehended they automatically shape the life. Take away the doctrine with its substance of divine facts, and the life drifts and is blown about by every wind of (false) doctrine. . . . With the facts in our possession, we have something to live for; when these facts are absent from our hearts, what have we to live for? (752)
The atheistic existentialist Martin Heidegger saw human life as “being towards death” (296). The Christian sees life as being towards the Resurrection. Thus, C. S. Lewis parted from his friend Sheldon Vanauken with the words, “Christians NEVER say goodbye!” (Vanauken 123). In William Jennings Bryan’s book, Seven Questions in Dispute, there is a chapter on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As with each of the book’s seven chapters, there is a pictorial illustration at the chapter’s beginning. The picture is one which illustrates the hope of the resurrection. The
picture’s caption is “The Comfort of the Scriptures.” It is the picture of an old man and woman seated at a table. It appears the old man is blind. While resting his hands on his cane, and staring with sightless eyes into the distance, he speaks to his wife who, seated beside him is reading from an open Bible. He says: “Read that again, mother, where it says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life . . .” (86). May we read it again and again and find great consolation and comfort. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57).
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