There’s a lot of different ways to finish a story.
“They all lived happily ever after” – fairy story
“Everyone got killed” -Shakespearean Tragedy
“It was all a dream.”
Older readers may remember Dallas -the American TV sitcom. Viewers watched the twists and turns, love affairs, conspiracy, disaster and death of series 7 and it turned out that it was all in the mind of one of the characters. Fans were furious. They felt cheated by the story line. That’s a bit ironic really isn’t it. The whole thing was fantasy to start with. Still, I find the “It’s all a dream” ending the least satisfactory of all endings.
Well, when it comes to the resurrection, it’s not so much a question of “was it all a dream? or “Was it just a myth?” Did the Gospel writers just create a wonderful story about a messiah who dies and rises in order to give meaning and hope to dark futile lives?
Last week, we saw that Paul insisted that the Resurrection was real. It had been seen by eyewitnesses Paul goes on to develop his argument showing why it is important that the Resurrection is true. The truth of the resurrection is vital. It means that
– We should believe in it and proclaim it
– We can have real hope for the future
– We are called to live radically different lives.
Believe because The resurrection is true and your faith is not empty v 12-19
Some Corinthians were saying that the dead would not be raised. That physical life ends with the grave. Possible that they believed in some kind of after-life. Pagan beliefs involved a shadowy underworld where the spirits of the dead were – leads to the idea of ghosts etc. But no real physical resurrection to new life in God’s creation. The Sadducees also did not believe in a real physical resurrection.
Their argument may have been against the idea that our corpses would be re-animated. This would conjure up the image of a sort of zombie army and leave awkward questions about what happens when a body has decomposed or when someone is cremated? Paul will deal with this in v42 onwards showing that the resurrection body has both continuity with now but is also different, just as Christ’s was.
Paul sees that there’s a logical link between Christ’s resurrection and the general resurrection of the dead. If the dead don’t rise, then it is not possible for Christ to be raised. Also vice versa the dead can only be raised because of Christ’s resurrection.
This will also mean that the Gospel itself is empty and meaningless because the resurrection of Christ and the empty tomb give God’s verdict on his sacrifice. He was raised for our justification. Death is the penalty of sin. Christ’s resurrection shows that the penalty is paid.
So, if Christ is not raised, then we are still sinners -not forgiven. This also means that those who already died -image of falling asleep in Christ -well they are destroyed – that’s it. Paul doesn’t seem to allow for even a shadowy afterlife, the purpose is resurrection.
This is important because some people like to treat the resurrection of Jesus & the whole bible as a myth. A good moral story. But if it’s just that then it’s pretty useless, faith is meaningless. The problem of sin and evil is still not dealt with. We don’t really even have a good example to follow.
Paul is confident that Christ has been raised. He and others were witnesses to The Resurrection. Jesus had appeared to many of them bodily, walking, talking and eating with them. These were people who could be quizzed and challenged at the time Paul was writing. Paul himself had met with the risen and ascended Christ on the Road to Damascus and Christ had spoken to him. So, this was a verifiable historical event. If Christ was not raised, then Paul was a liar and not to be trusted on anything else. This means you cannot have a liberal Christianity where you see the Bible as telling stories to give hope and meaning to life. You either believe that it is telling the truth about what happened, when and how or you have to throw the whole thing away.
Hope because the resurrection is true and so we look forward to our resurrection day v 20-28
Hope looks back – Adam and Christ (v 20-22)
Literally “But now” (v 20) not a time sequence but a logical sequence. This is the fact that changes everything. Speculation about the general resurrection is not needed because we know that Christ has been raised.
One of Paul’s key images is of Christ as the new Adam. Just as Adam sinned and so death came through him to all “in him” -i/e his physical descendants, so in the same way all who are in Christ will be raised. This is the same image given in Romans 5.
Hope looks forward – the coming day (v23-28)
There’s an order. Christ is raised first, then the dead in him. This will happen when he returns
But there is a goal to this. Christ’s enemies will be defeated and all creation including all human and spiritual powers and even death itself will be placed under his rule and reign. Psalm 110 is cited here as a prophecy of Christ’s eternal reign.
Note, there is one who does not submit to Christ. The Father does not submit to the Son. The Father loves the son by giving all things to him. The Son loves the Father by obeying him. He hands everything over to the Father. The sense here is that Christ does not (unlike Satan and unlike the first Adam) try to reign independently of God the Father as a rival God but the Trinity share together in victory.
Resurrection points us forward too. There is a day coming when Christ will come back. We will see the final defeat of evil. There will be a new creation. We will be raised. There will be no more sickness, suffering or death. This means that death does not have the last word.
We can say three things here
First, this means that proclaiming the Gospel is our urgent priority
Secondly, for those experiencing pain, terminal illness, suffering, care for a loved one, failure, struggle, weakness, opposition, there is hope. These present struggles are momentary – keep on keeping on.
Thirdly, it means that what we do now matters.
Or, in other words…
Live Differently because The resurrection is true and gives meaning to life now v 29-34
Note Paul makes three arguments here. The first sounds a bit weird. Don’t spend all day speculating about it and lose sight of the other two which are a lot more obvious.
First of all, Paul says “If there’s no resurrection then why do you have baptisms for the dead?” To be honest, no-one now is too sure what that meant but the Corinthians did. It’s possible that h that the Corinthians had started a practice of nominating people to be baptised for those who had died before having chance to get baptised. This would make sense in their context of a crisis and plague with people dying. If this is the case then Paul isn’t endorsing or commanding the practice. What he is saying is that the practices you do point to what your hearts tell you about what is really true.
However, no such practice seems to have been known. So it is possible that Paul means by “on account of The dead” -means that baptism itself is a practice that reflects the hope that the dead will be raised (cf Romans 6).
When we hold funeral services, when we encourage palliative care that honours and looks after the terminally ill, when we keep a photo of a loved one, we are saying that we believe death is not the end.
So even more importantly, make sure that all that you do in life reflects that belief in resurrection.
If we know that we will be raised, then we will be ready to share our faith just as Paul did. Paul was willing to risk injury and death for the Gospel. Am I at least willing to risk embarrassment and rejection? (v 30-32)
If we have the hope that we will see Jesus, then we will purify ourselves (1 John 3:3). We will look back to the Cross and know we are forgiven. We will look forward to his coming and know we will be glorified. In the mean-time we will pursue sanctification. We will seek to put sin and sinful habits to death in our lives. We will seek to grow in godliness, love, patience, kindness, self-control etc.
This means that we cannot hold onto bitterness and anger.
It means for some of us we need to ask forgiveness from someone.
It means that for some of us we need to forgive someone.
Is the hope that we have through the resurrection shaping our lives? Are we taking opportunity to share the good news with others? Are we seeking to live differently? For some of us who are believers there’s urgent business to do with God and with each other. The Resurrection means that our lives matter now. We are working for something that will last, we are living in the expectation that one day we will see Jesus face to face. Do you need to seek forgiveness or offer forgiveness today?
If you have been convinced of the truth of the Gospel and your need for a saviour, I would like to invite you to put your trust in him today. Here’s a simple prayer you can use to help you do that
Heavenly Father, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the penalty of death. Thank you that you sent your son, Jesus to die in my place so that I can live. Thank you that Jesus has been raised from the dead, defeating death. I repent from sin and trust in him for forgiveness. Please come and fill me with your Holy Spirit and give me that certain hope that one day I will be raised with Christ. Amen
 Ciampa and Rosner think that the Corinthians would have seen resurrection as metaphorical reference to either the soul’s release from the body or a spiritual exhaltation to a higher status. See Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians 755.
 Fee, 1 Corinthians, 741.
 Paul uses the Greek word “Parousia – appearing.
 For a full discussion of the possible interpretations here see Fee, 1 Corinthians 765-768. See also Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 780-786.
 Reference to wild beasts here is probably metaphorically referring to powerful but spiritually depraved opponents, rulers and the mobs he faced. See Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 789.