Adrian Warnock raises a flag for the importance of the resurrection in his new book Raised With Christ. I received a free copy of the book from Crossway as a thank you for some minor contributions towards its writing, as a service to the author who is a friend.
The subject is very important. Catch a taste of Mike Reeves preaching on resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15 for UCCF London in 2008 (mp3 link). And a flavour in writing here:
Despising the body, did not just cause problems – it caused problems because in doing so they had thrown away their hope and the very gospel itself. The gospel is all about the body.
Now of course the unbelievers in Corinth would despise the body and laugh at the idea that there might be any hope for the body beyond death. The whole Greek mentality was anti-body. But what was really sick was that some within the Church in Corinth had become so unspiritual and worldly that they had started to actually laugh at this hope of resurrection.
It was like with the Sadducees in Jesus’ day who came up to Jesus with this terribly funny joke, meant to show how ridiculous the idea of us all walking out of our graves is.
They asked Jesus: if a woman manages to marry seven different men throughout her life who will she be married to when she’s resurrected? Ha, Ha! What a silly idea resurrection is! And some in Corinth were doing the same. See 1 Corinthians 15:35 – ‘someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?"’ Obviously the latest joke doing the rounds: What kind of body will we have in the resurrection? Will we be married? Will there be enough room on a renewed earth for so many resurrected people and animals? Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Being so ‘spiritual’ as many in Corinth thought they were, the idea of a future for their bodies after death was just beneath them. That wasn’t very ‘spiritual’. So, in v12, at the beginning of our passage, ‘some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead’.
Now for Paul, this is not a side issue – for him, it’s not an option to say: ‘OK, you believe in a bodily future after death; and you hope for some sort of out-of-body experience after death. Doesn’t matter – whatever comforts you.’
No – v13, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.’ If you say our bodies being raised up after death is a silly idea, then you’re saying that Christ’s body being raised up after death is just a silly idea.
And if we’re saying that Christ was not actually, physically raised up from the tomb, then what are we wasting our time for, telling people that they should trust him? Why do we trust in Christ ourselves? He’s dead!... in that case. V14 – ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’
It’s pointless to trust in someone who’s dead. If Christ did not rise from the dead, don’t trust him! That’s why Paul spent vv1-11 showing how certain it was that Christ did rise from the dead. And so key is this that he repeats his point in v16:
‘if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.’ If there’s no future for our bodies after death, then you’ve got to be consistent and say that Christ was not raised from the dead. And then there’s no point in trusting him.
Because he’s dead, and that means – second half of v17 – ‘you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.’ If Christ is still under the power of death, then we must still be under the power of death – his attempt to save us failed, and so when we die, that’s it.
It is through his new ‘birth’ from the grave that Jesus offers us new birth from our spiritual deadness. But if he is still dead, then we are still in our sins. No salvation, and no life beyond death – at all. And if that’s the case, then Christians are idiots – putting ourselves through unnecessary troubles, dreaming of a hope that will never come to pass.
V19 – ‘If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.’ Yes, the resurrection of the dead decides it: Christians are either the most blessed creatures to ever walk the face of the earth. Or we are the biggest bunch of idiots. It all depends on whether there will a resurrection for these bodies of ours.
A hundred years after Paul, the great evangelist of the day, Justin Martyr, put it like this.
He said: there are some ‘who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven [and that is all]; do not imagine that they are Christians’. Now Justin’s not denying that, as a Christian, your spirit goes to heaven when you die.
He saying that if you think that’s it – your spirit going to heaven, that’s the only future – then you’ve fallen in with these Corinthians. Heaven is the intermediate state, not the final hope. And yet how often do our hymns and songs talk about heaven as our ultimate hope? Fleeing the earth to a tearless life there?
Or worse, pretend we have it all now with lines like ‘we now see you face to face’. But if your spirit going to heaven when you die is not the final picture for Christians, then what is? V20 – ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’
Here’s the real future. ‘Christ has been raised, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.’ Now Christians in Paul’s day – and particularly those who were Jewish – would instantly know what Paul’s talking about here.
For that Sunday – the day after the Sabbath – when Jesus walked out of his tomb – that was the day Israel celebrated the festival of firstfruits. The first Easter Sunday was the day for Israel’s feast of firstfruits. Now for us to get what they understood, keep a finger in 1 Corinthians and flick with me back to Leviticus 23...