Follow the Leader
The one who first suggested that “a man only has to do two things in life — pay income taxes and die,” no doubt spoke in jest. But, he underscored the certainty of paying taxes by placing it beside the one absolute in living —— DYING.
With the eye, a man’s last movement may be seen. With the ear, his last breath may be heard. With the hand, cold lifeless skin may be touched. And with the nose, decaying flesh may be smelled.
Death is an observable phenomenon. But what happens after death? What is the fate of the body beyond the grave? Does it simply return to the dust of the ground from which God formed it? Or, does it rise one day in glorious physical resurrection? This latter question had become a major issue in the church at Corinth. Some members had become enamored by the prevalent gnostic philosophy (1 Cor. 15:12). Gnosticism (the “g” is silent) as a philosophical and religious movement worshiped before the “image” of knowledge. It viewed the physical universe as inherently evil and, as a corollary, denied the “humanity” of Christ in the gnostic scheme of things, matter (that which could be seen and touched) was evil, and if Christ rose physically from the grave. He, of necessity, possessed an evil body.
For those, therefore, who wanted to plant one foot within the gnostic camp and the other within the church, there could be but one solution. The resurrection of Christ was not physical but spiritual.
This religious philosophy was in direct conflict with God’s revelation. Nonetheless, its poisonous tentacles were engulfing multitudes within the early church.
The final ten chapters of First Corinthians contain Paul’s response to important questions asked of him in a letter from the believers in Corinth. Their questions are restated by Paul and marked out by his recurrent use of the word “now”. To illustrate:
Now concerning the things about which ye wrote unto me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman (7:1).
Now concerning virgins . . . (7:25).
Now as touching things offered unto idols. . . (8:1).
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you (11:2).
Now concerning spiritual gifts . . . (12:-1).
Now concerning the collection for the saints . . . (16:1).
It is in chapter 15 that the Corinthian question concerning physical resurrection and the related issue of gnosticism is raised. Paul inquired:
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? (15:12).
That is, since the “Gospel” message includes the resurrection of Christ — how can some of you reject the concept of a general resurrection of man? This heresy threatened the infant church’s very life. Immediate action had to be taken.
The Apostle Paul was a man capable of great tenderness and compassion. But, where doctrine was concerned — where eternal truth was at stake — where the souls of men were in jeopardy — he gave no quarter, he showed no mercy, he advanced with sabre drawn and blade flashing. The whole cancer must be cut out — the glory of God itself was at issue.
Gnosticism must be refuted. To do that, the proof of Christ’s resurrection must be presented, the importance of Christ’s resurrection must be clarified, and the benefit of Christ’s resurrection must be revealed.
First then . . . .
The Proof of Christ’s Resurrection Must Be Presented (1 Cor. 15:1-11)
Paul began by simply reinstating the gospel (vv. 1-4). The word “Gospel” literally means
“good news” and is, in itself, germane to his argument. The apostle had, on an earlier occasion,
preached the Gospel to the Corinthians. And they had believed that message, unless their faith had not been genuine (vv. 1- 2). The three essential ingredients of the “good news” which Paul preached were: “Christ died for our sins” — “he was buried” — “he rose again” (vv. 3-4). The first two verbs, “died” and “was buried”, are in the Greek aorist tense which denotes a once-and-for-all occurrence. That is, Christ died at a specific point in time, He was buried at a specific point in time — these were past historical events. The Greek verb for “rose again”, however, is in the perfect tense. This described a past historical event, the effect of which continues on into the present. That is, Christ died, period; Christ was buried, period; Christ rose and is still living — and the effect of that resurrection life continues uninterruptedly on. The “good news”, then, is that Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He arose and IS STILL LIVING. Any denial of physical resurrection is,therefore, a repudiation of the “good news”.
Death, burial and resurrection stand or fall together — and with them the Christian faith.
Paul’s argument is not based on speculation. There is evidence — overwhelming, unassailable evidence. Men had seen Christ following His resurrection. He reviews their testimony.
There was the appearance to Peter (v. 5) who had, only days earlier, denied his Lord three times and who, if ancient tradition is to be believed, was to end his life by being crucified upside down because of his faith. Do men willingly lay down their lives for a lie?
There was the appearance to the twelve disciples at one time (v. 5). These men who had been his close companions for more than three years, who knew Him up close as no other men knew Him — were they deceived by an apparition?
There was the appearance to about five hundred people at one time (v. 6), Great masses of people do not have the same vision or see the same mirage at the same moment. Yet this multitude saw Him and most, at the time of writing, were still alive to give testimony to that fact.
There was the appearance to James, the half-brother of Jesus (v. 7). Prior to the resurrection the Lord’s half-brothers had rejected Him (Jn. 7:5). Following the resurrection James not only believed but became the leader of the early church (Acts 15:13).
Paul hastens on to a new line of evidence. He reevaluates himself. “And last of all” he says, “he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (v. 8). The apostle viewed himself as one who experienced a premature spiritual birth. That is, what had happened to him would happen to a great multitude of his Jewish brethren in a future day — he had been born out of due time.
But what exactly had happened to the great apostle? On the Damascus Road he first encountered (a blinding light), then was captivated (fell prostrate), and finally was captured (“Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”) by a resurrected Christ (Acts 9:3-6). Paul’s past was one of antagonism and persecution of the church (v. 9). His present was characterized by unequaled commitment and service for Christ and His church — he “labored more abundantly than they all” (v. 10). What made the difference? What transformed this man from worst antagonist to greatest champion? There is only one intelligible answer. Paul encountered a resurrected Savior on the Damascus Road.
To review then, Paul restated the Gospel, which included the resurrection — reviewed postresurrection testimonies, which testified to the resurrection — and reevaluated his life, which can only be understood in the light of the resurrection. Each pointed to an open tomb and a living Savior.
The Importance of Christ’s Resurrection is Clarified (vv. 12-19)
The Apostle Paul was small in physical frame but brilliant in intellectual capability. He possessed one of the greatest minds in history. To clarify the importance of Christ’s resurrection, he employed what is termed in logic “reductio ad absurdum” — that is, reduce and show how absurd.
The hypothesis of some in the church at Corinth was stated in these words,
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? (v. 12).
Paul was amazed that some in Corinth could subscribe to the position that there is no resurrection of man in view of the overwhelming evidence for the resurrection of Christ.
Based on their proposition, he reaches the only possible conclusion. It is simple, logical and universal, tf there is no bodily resurrection from the dead (that is, if man doesn’t rise from the grave), then Christ is not risen (v. 13). He then chronicles the tragic consequences if their proposition is correct “If” is the key word. He declares, “. .. if there be no resurrection of the dead” then:
My preaching is vain — your -faith is vain (v. 14).
We who testified of Christ’s resurrection are liars (v. 15).
You are yet in your sins (v. 17).
Those who died in Christ are perished (v. 18).
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (v. 19).
Down to the depths of despair he has brought them — the only place to which acceptance of the gnostic denial of physical resurrection could lead.
Paul clarified the importance of Christ’s resurrection by considering their hypothesis in verse 12, reaching the only valid conclusion in verse 13, and revealing the tragic consequences in verses 14 to 19.
And then, with eight words he ascends “from the lowest depths of despair (where the gnostic denial of resurrection had unalterably brought them) to the heights of Heaven itself as he jubilantly exclaims, “BUT NOW IS CHRIST RISEN FROM THE DEAD, . . ” (v. 20).
Finally .. . .
The Benefit of Christ’s Resurrection is Revealed (vv. 20-28)
On at least nineteen separate occasions in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul uses the phrase “but now”, in each instance he uses it to make the strongest of possible contrasts
— to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn in the subject under consideration.
A few examples will serve to illustrate. He wrote:
For ye were once darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord . . . (Eph. 5:8).
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only but now much more in my absence . . . (Phil. 2:12).
Even the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints (Col. 1:26).
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds. Who in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me (Phile. 10-11).
Having demonstrated to the Corinthians the tragic consequences which accompany a rejection of bodily resurrection, Paul proclaims, But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept (1 Cor. 15:20).
There is Hope for Those Who Died in the Past (vv. 20-22)
First Fruits is one of the seven holidays which God instituted with the children of Israel (Lev. 23:9-14). Passover was first in sequence and depicts Christ’s death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29).
This holiday was immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Leaven (yeast) in the Bible is illustrative of sin. The Lord said to the disciples, “. . . beware of the leaven of the Pharisees . . . ” (Mt. 16;6), and Paul warned the Corinthians, “… a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Unleavened bread, therefore, depicts the sinlessness of the Lamb, an absolute essential if His sacrifice was to satisfy the demands of a holy God.
Third in sequence was the Feast of First Fruits. This holiday occurred in the springtime. When the barley harvest came out of the ground and ripened, the first fruit, or sheaf, was cut and offered to the Lord. His acceptance of the first fruits was the assurance that more barley would come out of the ground.
The resurrection of Christ, who is Himself the First Fruit, is evidence that God accepted the atoning work of His Son on Calvary and the demonstration that all mankind will be raised from the grave. For those who have spurned His love, rejected His grace and refused His mercy, it will be a resurrection unto death. This truth strikes a death blow to -the very heart of the gnostic denial of man’s physical resurrection.
Every man, woman or child who has ever lived will one day rise from the grave because Christ, the First Fruit, has risen from the grave.
There is Assurance for Those Living in the Present (vv. 22-23)
Adam was the first man. He was created to be king of the earth — to give names to the animal creation — to have dominion — to rule and reign. As the federal head and official representative of mankind, he disobeyed God and brought death to all men.
Jesus is the second man — the God-Man. He rose from the grave and brought resurrection power to all men. For those who trust Him, it is a resurrection unto eternal blessing. For those who reject Him, it is a resurrection unto eternal torment.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; But every man in his own order [a military term suggesting rank or file]: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s [the redeemed] at his coming. Then cometh the end [or last ones — the unregenerate] . . .(vv. 22-24a).
There is Certain Victory for the Future (vv. 24-28)
When Christ returns to the earth a second time, it will not be with lamb-like silence but with the lion’s roar — not on a lowly donkey but on a great white charger — not in humility but in glory — not in weakness but in power — not to be executed but to execute judgment in the earth.
He will establish a millennial kingdom a golden age where sin and death will ultimately be destroyed (v. 28).
As Paul comes to the conclusion of this great and classical discourse on resurrection, he triumphantly inquires,
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory. The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law (vv. 55-56).
This man who had been raised on the Scriptures of Israel had a trilogy of related Old Testament concepts in view. They were law — sin — death. He is literally paraphrasing the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, “. . . the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18: 4, 20). And then he adds,
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 57).
Through His death and resurrection, we who are in Christ are tree from the law which condemned us, free from the sin nature which controlled us, and free from the fear of death which enslaved us.
In light of this triumphant truth, Paul admonished:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (v. 58).
Thank God for resurrection reality.