I’m really looking forward to spending a series of Sunday nights with you on the subject of resurrection, resurrection; and we’re going to build that around 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, and we actually will get to 1 Corinthians 15, but not right away, a little later tonight. I want to give you an introduction, a kind of reason why I’m doing this. I know you all believe in the resurrection or you wouldn’t be here, because to be a Christian, as we hear it in the testimony and baptism, you must confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. That is God’s vindication and validation of the atoning work of Christ on the cross. So we are believers in the resurrection.
But as much as we believe in the resurrection, as much as we affirm that as part of the set of convictions which govern our thinking and our lives and give us hope, the centrality of the resurrection tends to fade away; it tends to fade away, even from believers, but not just from believers, from unbelievers as well. So I want to begin at the beginning, if I may tonight, and lay down a foundation for the importance and the urgency of this study.
To start with, every human being who has ever lived will have a resurrection. Every human being who has ever lived will rise from the dead. Every human being who has ever lived will receive a resurrection body that will last forever, and that resurrection body will be suited to the eternal home of every individual. All who have died and will die will be raised from the dead. It is not just their spirits that go into heaven or hell, they will be given an eternal body to be joined with that spirit, a body for use to God in heaven, or a body or use to God in hell. Everyone lives forever in a resurrected body; that is the testimony of Scripture.
The age old question was asked in Job, Job 14:14, “If a man dies, will he live again?” And the Bible answers emphatically, “Yes, everyone will live forever in a resurrected form.” God has declared that all the godless, all the unbelieving, all the sinners of all time, will be raised from their graves. They will be brought up from the land and the sea, and they will stand before God for judgment, for sentencing, and for punishment in hell, and they will possess a body suited for endless punishment and suffering in the lake of fire. Every believer, everyone who belongs to God, everyone who is redeemed, regenerate will be raised from the dead and will also have a body, a body suited for eternal glory in the presence of God.
Our Lord spoke of this in very clear terms in the 5th chapter of John. John, chapter 5, verse 25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of damnation.”
Both are resurrections. Jesus said, “All, all who are in the tombs will come forth, those who committed the good to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment.” That final resurrection is described in more detail with regard to the unbelievers in Revelation, chapter 20; turn to that. Here is the final universal resurrection of unbelievers.
Revelation, chapter 20 and verse 11: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away.” So we now know when this will happen; it will happen when God uncreates the present heaven and earth. It is in that period between the destruction of the universe as we know it and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth that this judgment takes place. As this universe is uncreated it yields up recreated bodies of all dead unbelievers.
“I saw the dead” – he says in verse 12 in his vision, – “great and small, standing before the throne” – he means the spectrum from people who mattered to people who didn’t matter, – “and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”
In the vision John says, “I saw the dead” – because they are not invisible spirits, they are visible people, with bodies, – “and they are about to be judged by the only basis on which their judgment can take place, and that is the record of their deeds. And since no one by his own works can attain salvation, all their deeds will do is demonstrate that they are to be sentenced to eternal judgment.
Verse 13 says, “The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades” – the grave – “were thrown into the lake of fire.” This is the second death, the lake of fire. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” The Book of Life is the Lamb’s Book of Life which records the names of all who belong to God purchased by the Lamb. If your name is not in the Book of Life then you will be judged on the basis of the books that contain your evil deeds.
In a scene here, the one on the throne may appear to be God, but in reality the one on the throne is the Lord Jesus Christ, because as we just read in John, chapter 5, the Father has committed all judgement to the Son. The Father has determined that the Son will be the judge.
In John, chapter 5 again, and verse 22, we read: “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” Verse 27, as we read, “He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” He will judge men, because He Himself was a man.
In Acts 10:42 we read, “Jesus is the one who has been appointed by God as Judge, the Judge of the living and of the dead.” In Acts 17:31 we read, “God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:1, “Christ Jesus is to judge the living and the dead.”
It is none other than the Lord Jesus who is the judge on the throne, and John is declaring this judgment takes place at the end of the universe as we know it. From His presence, the presence of the Judge, earth and heaven flee away; no place is found for them. Peter describes it as the elements melting with fervent heat. The reversal of the creation by atoms is the destruction of the universe in an atomic implosion. It’s a terrifying scene. And John sees the dead – great, small – all standing before the throne. They have been raised, and they are alive, and they are before the judge to be sentenced and sent to the lake of fire with the devil and his angels. Daniel speaks of this resurrection, and he calls it the resurrection of disgrace and everlasting contempt.
In Acts 24:15, this resurrection is identified as the resurrection of the wicked. Their souls have already been in a place of conscious punishment. But now in the final lake of fire, the final hell, their bodies will be joined to their tormented souls in a kind of punishment that is incomprehensible. This scene in Revelation, chapter 20, is also revealed to us in the book of Daniel. Daniel, chapter 7, verse 9, Daniel says, “I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, and His hair, the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, it’s wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened.” Fiery judgment, throne of God and Christ.
What do those books contain? Those books contain the record of every thought, every word, every action of every unregenerate person who has ever lived – a complete record, leaving nothing out. From those books, they will be judged and sentenced. Nothing will be left out; nothing will be hidden.
In Luke 8:17 we read, “For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Matthew 16 our Lord said this: “The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and they will repay every man according to his deeds.” And the sentence is clear – the lake of fire – twice mentioned in Revelation 20: the final hell, the place of endless burning, gehenna.
Fire is used more than 20 times in the New Testament to depict the torment of hell, more than 20 times. Whether the fire of hell is physical as we would know physical fire is unlikely. Since the bodies of the resurrected will be eternally suited to hell, they would have to have different properties. The fire would have to be of a different nature. Whatever the fire is, it is more horrifying and more painful and more lasting than any physical fire.
Perhaps, strangely, the Bible also describes and depicts hell as a place of total darkness – fiery, tormenting, endless punishment in total darkness, which is to speak of the isolation. It’s not as if you’re going to go to hell to party with your friends. It is also described as a place where the worm – perhaps emblematic of an accusing conscience – devours the wicked, but never stops. The worm never dies.
It is described as a place of being banished from the kingdom of God and the presence of God forever. It is a place of unending sorrow and remorse, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. These descriptions are repeated again and again, most often by the Lord Jesus Himself who is the Judge and Executioner. He is the one who destroys both soul and body in hell, a kind of destruction that never ends.
The apostle Paul spoke of this in, frankly, terrifying terms in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 5: “This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worth of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, and this will happen when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day.”
The writer of Hebrews gives a warning that perhaps you’ve heard a number of times, chapter 10, verse 26: “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
These are all terrifying realities largely ignored in the world today. There is a resurrection to damnation. The church has mostly gone silent on this; and in reality, this is the most important of all truths. It is a severe act of irresponsibility not to proclaim the warning of eternal punishment and the resurrection of the ungodly to eternal, conscious suffering. The church has gone silent on this. The church hasn’t kept the reality of everlasting punishment before the world, certainly not here in our country.
I was reading a recent survey done by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Center at Wheaton College and LifeWay, the Southern Baptist publishing arm. They surveyed people with an interest in how to evangelize them, how to bring the gospel to them. The results of the survey were very interesting – these are non-believers. Nearly fifty percent of people never think about the next life. This is just a survey from last week. Another thirty percent think about it rarely; and twenty percent of that thirty percent can’t even remember the last time they thought about it. Eighty percent of the people surveyed don’t ever think about death and the afterlife.
They concluded that there is among unbelievers a lack of interest in death and the next life, and so they suggested this is a problem for us if we’re trying to witness by focusing on that. It’s a problem for those who want to “share their faith” a phrase that I do not like, because it’s not your faith, it’s the faith; and it’s not just the faith, it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you don’t just share it, you proclaim it. But for the sake of this article, those who try to witness and share their faith very often use the common question that basically was developed in evangelism explosion decades ago: “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven? And on the basis of what?”
The problem is nobody cares about heaven. They have decided that Christianity may have some validity if it does something for me now. That’s why Joel Osteen’s book is titled Your Best Life Now. The people who made the survey suggested that it’s probably not going to be very effective to talk to people about the future life, we need to start telling them what Jesus will do for them now; that will elicit a response.
The study also revealed nearly seventy-five percent of unbelievers would not attend a small group to discuss Christianity. Over sixty percent would not attend a church service. Sixty-one percent would attend a church for a meeting to discuss neighborhood safety. Forty-six percent would go to a church for a sports or exercise program. Forty-five percent would go for a concert.
If eighty percent of unbelievers don’t care about the afterlife, that doesn’t mean we change the message, that means we start preaching it; we double-down on the truth. This is our message. It’s not about here and now, it’s not about sucking everything you can out of your fourscore-and-ten, it’s not about milking this life for all it’s got, it’s not about your best life now, it’s about your only hope in the next life which is forever.
So here we are in a world where nobody cares, because they have no fear of hell, because the church has gone silent on it. They have no interest in heaven, because even believers don’t seem very interested in heaven. It’s all about, “What can you do for me now?”
If the world is going to understand how absolutely critical it is to be prepared for the next life, which is everlasting, the church is going to have to get its act together; and part of that is to tell people the truth, as our Lord did. The other part is to live lives that are focused on heaven.
Turn to Colossians, chapter 3. Colossians, chapter 3: “If you have been raised up with Christ – ” that has already happened to us spiritually, though our physical resurrection awaits His coming, “ – if you have been raised up with Christ – ” that is we were united with Him in His death and resurrection since that has happened, “ – keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Is that how we live, setting our minds on the things above? Are we heavenly-minded? Are we constantly seeking the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God? Do we have all the holy longings for the next life for the glory of heaven? You have died – past tense. Your life is hidden with Christ in God, Christ who is your life is revealed, and one day you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Get your focus in glory. Get your focus on heaven. Start to live for the next life. This life has been jammed with so many things that seduce us, that draw us down from setting our affections on things above.
Listen, the whole purpose of salvation, the whole purpose of salvation is to experience spiritual resurrection and physical resurrection so that you can spend your entire eternity enjoying the glory of God. This life, James says, is a vapor that appears for a little while and vanishes away. Resurrection should be the focal point of Christianity. It should be the focal point of our gospel message. Do you remind unbelieving people that they will live forever, not just as some floating spirit being tormented with guilt, but in a form which will be punishable in an everlastingly painful way; because they will be raised from the dead, brought before the bar of God, judged by Jesus Christ, and sentenced to conscious punishment forever. Resurrection is the focal point of our evangelism. I’m thankful for what the Lord does for us now. But what He does for us now is just a very small, small taste of what He’s going to do for us in glory.
As believers, the resurrection should be our preoccupation; setting our affections there should be the easiest thing for us to do. I think about it so often when I went over to Kazakhstan to preach, and I got off the airplane, it was 6:00 in the morning, about 35 hours of flying in Almaty, and I was to speak to 1,600 pastors and leaders from Central Asia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and I was to speak about the church, life of the church, God’s plan for the church. And I remember starting, I arrived at 6:00, and I was preaching at 7:00, and I stopped six days later; it was nonstop. But by Friday they said to me, “When are you going to get to the good part?” “What’s the good part?” I said. “Heaven.”
They had very little food, very little money. I stayed with Roman Dechtiarenko in a house of a widow whose husband had died, and she stood in line for hours to get a little tiny piece of horse meat to feed us. The people were fed soup. Unfortunately, it rained all week, and they had those big pots like you boil a missionary in, and the rain kept filling up the soup, and they threw more potatoes in. They had nothing; all they wanted to know about was heaven.
Christianity is the religion of resurrection; that’s the cornerstone of the gospel. If you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead and confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord you’re saved. It starts and ends with a resurrection. It starts with believing the resurrection of Christ and ends with your own resurrection, being the glorious hope of your heart.
What is the Bible all about? What is Christianity about? What is the plan of God? It is to take into eternal glory a people that had been raised from the dead – new, glorified bodies. What are they like? Philippians 3, like His glorified body when He raised from the dead.
Everything in redemption is headed toward resurrection. The entire universe is going to die. It’ll be destroyed, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth; that’s a resurrection. All of us who die, our spirits go to be with the Lord, our bodies go to the grave. But one day when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we will be changed. We’ll learn more about that in 1 Corinthians 15. This is the story of the Bible. Adam and Eve had life with God in the garden, no death; then they sinned and they died, and we all died. And eventually we die physically, but we will be raised either to the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment.
There is a powerful force in the world, a person who has many minions to assist him, and he wields the power of death, and it is Satan. He does everything he can to defeat the purpose of God. But God’s purpose is to give back life to those that are spiritually dead, and give back life to those that are physically dead, and bring them to glory. The Lord Jesus is able to do that because of His resurrection. He said, “Because I live, you will live also.” He said, “Destroy this body, in three days I’ll raise it up. And when I raise you up, you’re going to have a body like Mine.”
His death and resurrection are the pinnacle of the Christian story. They’re the pinnacle of the Bible story. It’s a story of death, and then it’s a story of the death of the One who by dying conquered death and gained the right and the authority to raise all God’s people to everlasting life. This is the story of the Bible. “I am – ” He said “ – the resurrection and the life.” And He said that right at the time He had raised Lazarus from the dead as a preview of what will happen to everyone.
Why is God doing this? Why is He going after dead people giving them spiritual life and then giving them a new, eternal kind of physical resurrection? Why is He doing that? Because His goal is to bring a redeemed humanity into His presence to love them and to be worshiped by them forever.
Listen to Revelation 21:3, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.’” That’s heaven. That’s what Christianity is. That’s the story of the Bible, God gathering a redeemed and resurrected people to Himself to dwell with Him forever, to be worshiped by them, and to pour out love and the lavish riches of that love on them forever.
So when somebody says, “What’s the Bible about?” it’s about God gathering a people to be raised from the dead to live with Him in heaven forever. Those who reject Him, He will gather and raise from the dead to be punished forever. Do you know why it’s so hard to set our affections on heaven? Because we’re really selfish, really selfish.
I was reading book this week and the author said this: “The clearest picture of the mindset of our culture is the love affair with Apple.” He said, “It is no coincidence that the bitten apple has become the iconic symbol of our culture, because it represents what fallenness wants – independence and self-rule.”
Next time you look at your computer you’re looking at the sin being represented that catapulted the whole human race into judgment. Oh, by the way, that thing you have in your pocket; it’s not called a you-Phone or a we-Phone. This is why it is so difficult to be absorbed in heaven, because that’s so far beyond you, so far outside of you, so irrelevant to anything you are or do or accomplish.
Historian Hans Boersma said that up until the 15th century, life was very hard and people looked at the world with a sense of mystery. There was the hope that there were realities that were greater and more wonderful than the difficulties of life. There were things that could be understood or discussed or maybe imagined. But they were beyond sight, and they were beyond experience and beyond feeling. There was something pulling the heart upward. So he wrote a book called Heavenly Participation. He said recovering a sense of mystery is the most urgent task facing the church today.
It is well-nigh impossible to get people today to think about heaven, because there’s way too much stuff to think about in their own hand. Treasures of this earth, cultural endeavors, political achievements, educational accomplishments become the matters of ultimate concern. Writer says, “This loss of mystery reveals itself in our pragmatically-driven churches. See our tendency to want every sermon to be made practical, to give us action steps or things to do. See our prayer lives too often narrowed to to-do lists for God. See the rise of church shopping, church hopping, worship wars, and other evidences of the language of commerce and ownership invading our spiritual lives.”
We’re a long way from heaven, a long way from Colossians, again, 1 and 2, a long way from seeking the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, a long way from setting your mind on things above and not on the things that are on the earth. For many professing Christians God is a kind of stagehand working in the play that we are writing about ourselves. We just want God to move the furniture, to change the setting. The cure for all of this is to set your affections on things above, because that’s really the end of you. Now you are outside yourself.
To one degree or another all Christians through the ages have banked their eternal destiny and hope on the reality of the resurrection, and all Christians by necessity have believed in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then we sort of forget it. It was the resurrection that totally transformed the fearful, disappointed disciples into courageous gospel resurrection preachers and martyrs, wasn’t it? The early church was the start of the fellowship of the resurrection.
One of the familiar greetings in the early church was, “Christ is risen, Christ is risen, Christ is risen, Christ is risen – ” reminding people in the difficulty of living a Christian life in a totally pagan world that someday this would end. The resurrection is always the foundation of Christian truth, always the foundation of gospel faith and gospel preaching. The resurrection then is often attacked, but never defeated. So we are the people of the resurrection.
Now, I remember saying years ago that we’ll all eventually get to heaven, and we will be resurrected, and we will be perfect; and when we are all perfect, we may not recognize each other, because we’re so far from that. The more you set your affections on heaven, the more you focus on what really matters. So as we come to 1 Corinthian 15 – and now we’re there – it’s okay, because this clock says ten minutes to one. I don’t know what this means. This is really helpful – ten minutes to one.
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” And here comes the gospel: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; and then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I’m the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” And what is it that we preached? Verse 12: “Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead. So how do some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?”
In this great chapter, which runs 58 verses long, Paul will defend, define, describe, and delight in the resurrection. But what prompted him to write the chapter? What is going on here? What is happening? Certainly the believers in Corinth believed in the resurrection, because they believed in the resurrection of Christ. Apparently there were some in the Corinthian church who maybe understood the spiritual aspect of the resurrection but were denying bodily resurrection, because if you go back to verse 12 it ends by saying, “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? And if there’s no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also in vain.”
What is going on here? Where did such a thought come from that there was no real resurrection? What will be from pagan beliefs? And by the way, most Bible scholars would place the writing of 1 Corinthians very early in the writing of the New Testament, so that the gospel accounts of the resurrection wouldn’t even be available. This is perhaps the first chapter on resurrection. Resurrection was a very strange – bodily resurrection – a very strange and inconceivable concept to the Greek world.
In Acts, chapter 17, just to make that point – Acts, chapter 17 – the apostle Paul is in Athens and he’s reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, verse 17, the marketplace. Verse 18: “Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with Paul. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say? He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities – ’ because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”
Over in verse 32, same chapter: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer.” This is a reflection of Epicurean and Stoic philosophy. Plato had taught, for example, that the human body is a prison from which the soul escapes at death. This is kind of the seedbed of what we call philosophical dualism, that spirit is good and matter is bad; and you wouldn’t want a body when you finally were delivered from your body, you were delivered from that which was in inherently evil. The resurrection of the body then would be a descent into a second kind of hell.
The Greeks did believe in the immortality of the soul, absolutely, all kinds of Greek literature about the immortality of the soul; they did not believe in the resurrection of the body. They had a proverb: “The body is a tomb. I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse.” They wanted to be released from that.
Seneca wrote, “It please me to inquire into the eternity of the soul – nay” to believe in it. I surrendered myself to that great hope.” Then he said, “When the day shall which shall part this mixture of divine and human, here, where I find it, I will leave my body, myself I will give back to the gods.” This is a much more sophisticated philosophy than you might think just hearing that.
The Greeks believed that their existence, their soul existence was a spark of God, a spark of divinity – you’ve heard that – and that spark of divinity comes down to earth and it gets embodied in a corrupt form; and death then is the shaking of that corruption; and the flame, the spark of God, goes back and is absorbed into the deity.
To the Stoic God was fiery spirit, that which gave men life, and every life was a spark of divine fire that came and dwelled in a man’s or a woman’s body, a spark of God. When a man dies his body simply dissolves into the elements from which it is made. The divine spark returns, is absorbed back into the deity from which it came. That was their philosophy.
For the Greek, immortality lay precisely in getting rid of the body. The resurrection of the body was an unthinkable thing. Even their personhood was lost at death, because they were absorbed back into the deity. By the way, that philosophy is still around, that we’re all a little piece of God.
Most likely when some of these Greeks became Christians they accepted the resurrection of Christ, they accepted the immortality of their souls, but they balked at the personal bodily idea of resurrection. They seemed to be confused about this, and that’s why the apostle Paul writes this very long, detailed, careful chapter. Perhaps they were trying to imagine how it was that they could drag their corrupted bodies into heavenly glory. Well, philosophical dualism said the body can’t be fixed, you just have to get rid of it. The Greeks were likely reasoning like Celsus later a couple of centuries who said the bodily resurrection of Christians was “the hope of worms, for what soul of a man would long for a body that had rotted.”
So Paul has to overcome some cultural errors. He wants to clearly show in this chapter that there is a bodily resurrection, and even discuss what kind of body. Paul’s purpose is not to present the immortality of the soul here, it is to present the resurrection and immortality of the body. This is a vital chapter. This is the hope of every Christian, as I said, likely the oldest written account of the resurrection of Christ, which is how it starts.
Paul’s whole case for the believer’s bodily resurrection is predicated, as I read, on the resurrection of Christ. “If we say there’s no resurrection, which some must have been saying, then Christ isn’t raised; and if Christ isn’t raised we’re all lost and damned.”
So the foundation of his entire argument in this chapter, the foundation of his entire argument is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that’s where he starts. Since Christ was raised bodily and there were plenty of eye-witnesses – I just read that to you – and his was a real bodily resurrection, we too will be raised. That is the pattern of his reasoning.
In the opening eleven verses or so – and I’ll just make a comment and we’ll pick it up next week – the opening eleven verses, he wants to give irrefutable, unarguable testimony to the resurrection of Christ, so he picks a handful of categories of evidence. Let me just share the first one. The first proof, the first evidence of Christ’s resurrection is the testimony of the church, the testimony of believers.
Go back to 1 Corinthians 15 and just look at the first two verses; at least we’ll get that far. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the work which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
That’s where his testimony starts by saying this, “I really, I really don’t understand how you can have questions about bodily resurrection when I preached to you the gospel, which is that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day, and you believed that; and when your faith was genuine, you continued to stand in that. You are saved by that. You are the first line of evidence for the validity of the resurrection, your existence, your very existence.”
He says actually in the Greek, “I gospelized you and you received it, and you stand in it – ” perfect tense, past going forward. “You are in a permanent state of having received and believed the gospel. You cannot now deny bodily resurrection, because that’s necessary in the gospel. If Christ is raised, then there is a resurrection. He as man was raised, and we as redeemed humanity will be raised.”
Let’s go back to the basics is what he’s saying. “Let’s start at the very beginning. You heard the gospel, you believed the gospel, you stand in the gospel, you hold fast the Word, you persevere in this truth, and it’s predicated on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if Jesus rose from the dead then there is a bodily resurrection, there is a bodily resurrection. That’s where it all starts.” Having established that, he’ll take a closer look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and then make the connection between that and the resurrection of believers.
The very fact that the gospel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ so dramatically transformed the lives of these pagan Gentiles, the very fact that they had experienced the power of the gospel – and it was powerful. To understand how powerful, listen to this, Chapter 6, 1 Corinthians, same people, verse 9: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexual, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God.” “You were all of that, but you were totally transformed by believing the gospel of resurrection.” The Christian church couldn’t have come into existence without the resurrection, wouldn’t have any members unless somebody believed in the resurrection.
Kenneth Latourette the historian said, “It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted His followers out of the despair into which His death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by Him. But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him and talked with Him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus Himself would probably have been all but forgotten.” So he is saying, “How can you question the resurrection when you’re the proof of resurrection?” The church holding fast to a living Christ has affirmed His resurrection, and in Him the promise of their own resurrection.
Resurrection faith is unique to Christianity by the way. On the other corner down here we have a Buddhist temple. Original accounts of Buddha never ascribed to him any resurrection. In fact, in the earliest accounts of his death in what is called Mahaparinibbana Sutta we read this: “When Buddha died, it was with that utter passing away in which nothing whatever remains.” Not much hope for anybody else in that.
Muhammad died June 8, 632, at the age of 61 at Medina, where his tomb is annually visited by millions of devout Muslims. All Muslims agree their founder has never come up from the grave. But the Lord Jesus did. And when you saw those three baptisms you saw that being symbolized as they were placed under the water symbolizing that they died in Him, and as they came up out of the water, they were raised in Him. They have all had, as you have if you’re a believer, a spiritual resurrection; and we all await the physical resurrection. And Paul will tell us so much more about that.
So the first line of evidence is the existence of the church. The second is the testimony of Scripture, and we’ll see that next time. Let’s bow in prayer.
Lord, please help us to refocus our lives on what matters, to think on things above and not on things on the earth, to think in a transcendent way, to contemplate the marvelous fullness of the mystery of the glory of heaven. Help us, Lord, to be conscious all the time that we’re just pilgrims here, just a breath or two, a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away, and we’ll live forever with You. Continue to make us aware that there are a world of people who will live in eternal punishment apart from you if they do not hear and believe the gospel. Give us eager hearts to proclaim the true message. Help us not to be found responsible with blood on our hands because we failed to warn, and not to be so world bound, so earth bound that we don’t long for the joyous, pure worship and bliss of heaven.
Lord, I would ask as well that You might do a work in the hearts of all of us who are here. There are some here for sure who are on the way to hell, eternal punishment. Draw them to Yourself. May they come to Christ, cry out for forgiveness and salvation, and know that You receive the sinner who repents and pleads for salvation. You do not turn him away, or her.
Give us heavenly-mindedness. May our whole lives be focused on that which is eternal and not that which is passing, temporal. May this be part of the demonstration that unbelievers see in us that will cause them to ask questions that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise ask about the next life. Thank You that we know the answers. May we give them with boldness and love, in Christ’s name. Amen.