There was a small party in the Corinthian assembly who had imbibed Sadducean notions and were seeking to foist them on believers as the truth of God. This faction denied the reality of a physical resurrection. We need not suppose that they went so far as to deny spiritual survival after death, but they were like many today who refuse to accept the teaching of Scripture that the physical body of Christ came forth from the tomb and that therefore the bodies of all men will eventually be raised.
Paul addressed that serious error in this great chapter on the resurrection. We can almost be thankful that the error was permitted to arise so early so that it might be countered by the pen of inspiration. How much we would have lost had there been no occasion for this magnificent treatise to be written!
In preparing to combat—yes, to annihilate—the false teaching, the apostle first gave a restatement of the gospel. He showed that there is no gospel to preach to dying men if the resurrection is denied. The whole proclamation of Paul and the other apostles can be summarized in the phrase from Acts 17:18: “Jesus, and the resurrection.” Even Festus recognized their theme, for we read that he wondered at the strange “superstition” about “one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (Acts 25:19).
Yes, Jesus died and lives again! He lives in a material body and, though glorified and marvelously changed, it still bears the print of the nails.
The Resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
In this passage Paul restated the gospel and referred to the witnesses of the resurrection, which alone gives validity to that message of redeeming grace.
Paul had preached the good news for lost sinners, and the Corinthians had received it. It was the gospel of grace, and in this they stood. We need to remember that our standing is in grace as truly as our salvation is by grace.
Through this gospel the Corinthians had been saved—if their faith was genuine. If their faith was not real, Paul said, they had “believed in vain.” He was not intimating that some who had believed the gospel might be lost at last; rather he was saying that continuance in the faith was the evidence of the genuineness of their faith. This is important. Christ said, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
It is quite possible to give mere mental assent to the truth of the gospel and by baptism and lip profession take the place of a Christian when there has been no actual work of grace in the soul. To have such an empty faith is indeed to believe “in vain,” for it accomplishes nothing as far as the salvation of the individual is concerned. Real faith will be emphasized by godly living, and “he which hath begun a good work” in the believer “will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Paul reviewed the basic truths of the gospel, as he had preached it in Corinth and elsewhere. First, “Christ died for our sins.” When the apostle wrote, “Christ died,” he was stating a historical fact, which in itself might not mean anything more than the death of a martyr. But when he added “for our sins,” he completed a definite doctrinal statement that explains the reason for that death. It was an expiatory sacrifice. Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). He took the sinner’s place and bore the sinner’s judgment. He died that we might never die.
This, Paul told the Corinthians, was “according to the scriptures.” Throughout the Old Testament, in type and actual prophetic declaration, we find the sacrificial, atoning death of Christ. Psalms 22 and 69, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12-13 are examples. All the sacrifices of former dispensations pictured His one offering of Himself on the cross. The prophets looked forward to that great event as the supreme fact of revelation. God declared in Leviticus 17:11, “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls.” Yet we know that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Only through the propitiatory death of Christ could this be accomplished and, thank God, it did indeed take place—and all “according to the scriptures.”
The second basic truth Paul reviewed was, “He was buried.” This suggests the reality of His death. It was not, as Mrs. Eddy has intimated in her blasphemous chapter on the atonement, His “seeming” death. He actually died and because He was dead, they buried His precious body in Joseph’s new tomb.
But as Robert Lowry’s hymn reminds us, “Death cannot keep its prey…He tore the bars away,” and so we come to the third basic truth in Paul’s declaration of the gospel: “He rose again the third day.” The resurrection of Christ was the Father’s expression of satisfaction in the work His Son accomplished on the cross when He “gave himself a ransom” for our sins. The sin question having been settled, God raised Christ from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the highest glory, exalted to be “a Prince and a Saviour” (Acts 5:31).
We need to remember that apart from His physical resurrection there was no proof that God had accepted Christ’s work as an atonement for our sins. But having been delivered up to death “for our offences,” Christ was raised again “for our justification,” or as some render it, “because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). His death so fully met all the righteous claims of God’s throne against our sins that God declared, by bringing Him back from the dead, that there is no longer a barrier to our complete justification.
The physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is fundamental. There is no room for human theories here. It will not do to say, as one individual has said, that “the body of Jesus sleeps in a Syrian tomb, but His soul goes marching on.” This is to deny His resurrection altogether. His soul was never dead, but His body died, and it was His body that was raised again.
Note that the resurrection of Christ is ascribed to each person of the trinity; all three had part in that glorious work. Romans 6:4 says, “Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (also see Hebrews 13:20). In John 2:19-21 we read that the Lord Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up… He spake of the temple of his body.” And in Romans 8:11 His resurrection is attributed to the Holy Spirit. There is no contradiction in these verses; they are all in harmony because the entire godhead was involved in the resurrection.
Paul reminded us that Christ’s resurrection, as His death, was “according to the scriptures.” For example in Leviticus 23 the resurrection is pictured in the feast of the firstfruits on the day after the Passover sabbath. Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:10 reveal that for Christ the path of life lay through death; after death He would “see his seed” and “prolong his days.” Psalm 110 portrays Him as the risen One taking His seat at God’s right hand in Heaven.
Having thus restated the gospel, Paul went on to mention witnesses to the resurrection. God had provided positive testimony regarding this great fact to those who were appointed to go out and proclaim the message of salvation throughout the world. The risen Christ’s many visible appearances to so large a number of reputable witnesses, the fact that His dead body could never be located anywhere, the demonstrations of the Holy Spirit’s power, the confident assurance and new bravery of Christ’s apostles, and the way God set His seal on their ministry with miracles of healing and the salvation of thousands—all alike proved that Jesus had indeed vanquished death and come forth alive from Joseph’s new rock-hewn tomb. That crypt is still empty and always will be. The body that once lay wrapped in linen cloths came out of its shroud like a butterfly leaving its cocoon when God’s appointed hour struck (see John 20:4-8).
Survival of the spirit after the death of the body might be considered immortality, but it is not resurrection. What Scripture plainly declares is that the body that hung on the cross is the same body that was raised from the grave. Christ’s resurrected body still bore the print of the nails in His hands and the wound in His side (see John 20:27). Long years afterward, John the beloved saw “in the midst of the throne… a Lamb as it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). The marks of His passion will be visible on His body forever.
Thy wounds, Thy wounds, Lord Jesus,
Those deep, dark wounds, they tell
The sacrifice that frees us
From sin and death and hell.
They bound Thee once forever
To all who own Thy grace;
No power those bonds shall sever,
No time those scars efface.
Christ’s literal bodily resurrection is the pledge that eventually “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth” (John 5:28-29). The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). Paul declared that He is “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
It is true that a great change came over Christ’s body in resurrection. After He rose from the dead He could enter a room when all the doors were locked; He could appear and disappear at will. And so we are told in regard to ourselves that what is sown in burial is “not that body that shall be” (15:37). Nevertheless there is positive identity: “It is sown;…it is raised” (15:42-44). The body that died will live again, but under altogether new and wonderful conditions.
Adding himself to the list of witnesses to the resurrection, Paul said he saw as one “born out of due time.” We are apt to think he meant that he was born much later than the other witnesses, but the Greek word he used precludes any such thought. The original word means “born before the time.” The apostle was thinking of that glorious day when the risen, glorified Christ is to appear on earth once more and His people Israel will “look upon [Him] whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). As they recognize Him as their Lord and Savior, the nation will be born in a day. Paul had known that experience already: he first saw Christ in resurrection and, receiving Him as Savior, became part of the new creation.
The apostle could never forget that he had once been an opponent of Christ and a persecutor of His church. Paul felt that he was not fit to be called an apostle because of this, yet he could rejoice in the infinite grace that had made him what he was: the messenger of the Christ he had once hated. Taking the glorious gospel message to the Gentile world, he went from country to country and from people to people. God worked through him in such a mighty way that he could say in all humility, “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Paul wanted to emphasize not the work of the servant, but the message that the servant carried. Regardless of who the preacher was, when people believed the message, they were saved.
Let me remind you again that Christ’s bodily resurrection is proof that God accepted His propitiatory work. The way into the holiest is now opened up for all who would draw nigh, trusting Christ’s precious blood as the only basis of redemption. In this great resurrection chapter the inspired writer insisted on the absolute necessity of Christ’s rising again to validate His death as an atonement for sin. “If Christ be not raised,” he said in 15:17, “your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
It is useless to laud Jesus as a teacher while denying His bodily resurrection. He Himself predicted it. He declared that He must be rejected and be put to death and rise from the dead the third day. His disciples could not understand what He was saying at the time, but the empty tomb and the subsequent appearance of their Lord in His resurrection body made everything clear. Then they remembered His words, and after His ascension to Heaven in that same body and the descent of the Holy Spirit, they went everywhere declaring Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Apart from this they would have had no gospel to preach.
Without His resurrection there would be no message for sin-laden, condemned humanity today. The proclamation that has brought life and blessing to untold millions through all the Christian centuries is that embodied in Romans 10:9-10: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We rest on His Word and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The Basis of Our Hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)
In this passage the Holy Spirit developed and vigorously defended the fundamental truth of the bodily resurrection of the saints. There were some in the Corinthian assembly who, because of the influence of the pagan philosophies with which they were familiar before their conversion, were questioning this teaching. I do not suppose that they thought for one moment that people cease to exist when they die. One can hardly think of any real Christian believing that, but some doubtless thought that while the spirit lives on in another world, the body ceases to exist; death is the end of it. They never expected either to meet their deceased loved ones again in physical form or to inhabit a material body again after their own deaths. The apostle identified their belief as a definite error and showed how serious the consequences of such a view would be.
Paul asked the Corinthians, “If Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” The apostle was referring to the very foundation of Christianity. Everywhere the apostles went they preached “Jesus, and the resurrection.” Our faith rests on that. The two great truths that Scripture teaches are that He was put to death because of our sins and that He was raised again as the token of God the Father’s satisfaction in the work that His Son’s death accomplished. Thus as the risen One He ever lives “to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” (Hebrews 7:25).
Though changed in a most wonderful way, our Savior’s resurrection body was a real human body. The print of a nail was in the palm of each hand, and the mark of the Roman spear was still on one side; and the Bible indicates that the raised body of the Lord Jesus will bear those marks for all eternity. In this it will differ from the bodies of all the saints.
I do not think there is any reason to suppose that even those who have been martyred for Christ’s sake will bear in their resurrection bodies any evidence of suffering; there will be no scar, spot, blemish, or any such thing (see Ephesians 5:27). Our bodies will be absolutely perfect when raised and glorified. Why then should the body of our Lord Jesus bear scars that speak of His sufferings and of His passion? Because those marks will be the visible evidence throughout the ages to come that the same Jesus who died for our sins on the cross has been raised in the power of an endless life.
Yes, He lives in Heaven in the same body in which He once walked on this earth, but that body is now changed and glorified. Christian testimony begins with this fact. If one who is seeking the way of life inquires, “What must I do to be saved?” the answer comes in unmistakable clearness: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30; Romans 10:9). Therefore we have no right to think of any man as a Christian if he denies the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23), but that was not all that the apostles proclaimed. They also preached Christ raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand. “We have testified of God,” Paul wrote in 15:15, “that he raised up Christ.”
Some wonder, “If He is living in Heaven, is that not sufficient?” No, for Paul continued, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” If our Lord Jesus Christ did not come forth triumphant from that tomb, we have no gospel to preach to lost men. If the body of Jesus still sleeps in the grave, then you and I are absolutely hopeless; there is no salvation for us. The fact that He rose from the dead is the proof that His sacrifice on the cross satisfied the claims of divine righteousness and met every requirement of infinite holiness.
You may ask, “Why do you say that if Christ did not rise there is no way of knowing that redemption is an accomplished fact?” You see, when our Lord was here on earth, He told His disciples that He was going to die: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He also told them, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). If that latter statement was never fulfilled, He stands convicted of false testimony. Either He was deluded in thinking that He was the Savior, the Redeemer who was to die for sinners and rise again; or He was a deliberate deceiver. It was His resurrection, the fulfillment of His own prediction, that proved Him to be the sacrifice for sin that He had proclaimed Himself to be.
Thank God, that testimony is true. More than five hundred witnesses saw Christ after He rose from the dead. As Horace Bushnell said, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely the best attested fact in ancient history.”
My sins nailed Him to the cross; He, the sinless One, took my place and died under the judgment of God. After settling the sin question by pouring out His life and dying for us, Christ lay in the tomb. Three days were permitted to elapse to prove the reality of His death and then God brought Him back from the dead to declare His acceptance of the sacrifice of His Son. The resurrection is the testimony that God is satisfied and now can open His arms of love to every poor sinner in the world and proclaim a full, free, and eternal salvation for all who believe. I know that my sins are gone because He who made Himself responsible for them, who died for them, now sits enthroned at God’s right hand and there are no sins on Him there.
As a sinful man, I could not cleanse my own heart. “If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean,” said Job, “yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me” (Job 9:30-31). But when the absolutely holy One went in grace to Calvary’s hill and hung on that cross of shame, Jehovah “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Darkness enwrapped His soul and in anguish He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The Holy One who knew no sin,
God made Him sin for us;
The Saviour died our souls to win,
Upon the shameful cross.
Having borne sin’s judgment, Christ descended to the grave and lay there for three days and three nights. During that interval no one in all the world knew whether His work was satisfactory. No one knew whether He had really settled the sin question until, when the first day of the week came, He rose in triumph from the grave and broke the bands of death asunder. No sins remain on the risen Christ, for He has left them all behind in His open grave and has ascended to God’s right hand without them. The Irishman was right when he said, “What a wonderful salvation! If anybody will have to be kept out of Heaven because of my sins, it will have to be Jesus; but, blessed be God, they cannot keep Him out, for He is there already.”
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are in a hopeless state. Those who have trusted in Him are trusting in a bruised reed; we who are counting solely on the work He did, have believed in vain. As Paul wrote, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable [or to be pitied].” I suppose there are miserable men living for the devil, but if Jesus did not rise, Christians would be the most to be pitied, for we stake everything on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of our faith in Him we have given up the world and its pleasures and follies; we have become strangers and pilgrims on this planet. If our faith is all a mistake, we are going to lose both worlds. We gladly gave up this world because we thought we saw another above our heads, but it was only an illusion, a fantasy, if Christ did not rise.
The unconverted man can at least enjoy this present world, but the converted man says, “There is nothing here for my heart. It has been won by that One who has gone over yonder, and for His name’s sake I have surrendered the things that other men live for down here.” If Christ did not rise, he is simply following a will-o’-the-wisp that will land him at the end in darkness and despair.
However, the apostle did not close this passage with any such dreary suggestion. He immediately added, “But now is Christ risen from the dead.” There is no question about it. We know that He who died has been raised again. He Himself said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17). He who was put to death was quickened by the Spirit. “The God of peace… brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).
The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the basis of our hope for eternity. His resurrection is not debatable; it is not something about which those professing the name of Christ may have different opinions. He came out of the grave as a sample of the great harvest that is yet to come forth from the tomb at His return.
Christ is risen, and His resurrection is the assurance of ours. He has become “the firstfruits of them that slept.” Every Israelite understood that figure of speech. When the days of planting and cultivation had gone by, when the summer was ending and the time of harvest was just beginning, the Israelite went out in his field and plucked a fast-ripening sheaf. He presented it to the Lord in the temple or at the tabernacle gate as “the firstfruits,” the pledge of the coming harvest. A few days or weeks later he went back to his field and found ripened grain everywhere—all like the firstfruits. Likewise our Lord Jesus is the firstfruits of resurrection. The day will come when all His own will be called forth from the tombs; that will be the glorious harvest and we will be like the firstfruits—that is, we will be like Him, our glorious Lord. We too will have resurrection bodies; we too will be forever triumphant over death and throughout an eternity of bliss we will glorify the One who has redeemed us.
The Last Enemy (1 Corinthians 15:21-28)
It was Adam who as federal head of the race plunged humanity into death and judgment by his sin. But the Second Man, the Lord from Heaven, went down into death and triumphed over it. Coming forth a victor, He robbed death of all its terror. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.”
Now through Him will come the resurrection of the dead, “for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” All—the righteous dead and the wicked dead—will come forth from the tomb through Him. The emphasis here is on the fact that it is the man Christ Jesus who will call the dead to life, for God is contrasting the first man, who plunged the race into ruin, with the Second Man, who brought redemption.
As we stress the importance of the deity of the Lord Jesus, we must never belittle or in any way lose sight of the perfection of His humanity. He is as truly man as if He had never been God, and He is as truly God as if He had never become man.
“There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). And it is the Son of man whose voice will eventually be heard by all the dead: first by the righteous dead, the saved dead, when He comes again to call His own to be with Himself; and then at last by the unsaved dead when they are summoned from the tomb to judgment.
Scripture distinctly teaches two resurrections, not one general resurrection. Our Lord spoke of those who will be rewarded “at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and Paul told Felix, “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Christ said of Himself, “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life [that is the first resurrection]; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [that is the second resurrection]” (John 5:28-29). In Revelation 20:6 John wrote, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” But in reference to the resurrection of the unjust, he wrote, “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (20:5).
It seems that when writing 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul had especially in mind the resurrection of the righteous, for he began the chapter by saying, “I declare unto you the gospel which…ye have received, and wherein ye stand.” However, the phrase “in Adam” in 15:22 includes all who received their natural life from Adam. We are all his children by natural birth. He was the head of a race and over that race hangs the death sentence. So the phrase “in Adam” takes in an entire race. Similarly the phrase “in Christ” takes in a race, but naturally a narrower, smaller group, for while everyone born into the world is in Adam, only a limited number are in Christ by grace. When we receive divine life from the risen, glorified Christ, we are then said to be in Christ. We are in Christ only through that second birth, only through becoming members of a new creation.
In Romans 16:7 Paul referred to some of his relatives as “my kinsmen…who also were in Christ before me.” I do not know whether they were older than Paul—they may or may not have been in Adam before him—but they were in Christ before Paul was. I often wonder if that might be one reason the apostle had his remarkable experience on the Damascus turnpike. His relatives had probably been praying for him and partly in answer to their prayers God broke him down and saved him.
“In Christ shall all be made alive,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “but every man in his own order.. .at his coming.” The word translated “order” was a military term used to describe the various companies or cohorts of soldiers. So the dead in Christ for example form one “cohort.” First Thessalonians 4:16-17 tells us that the Lord “shall descend from heaven with a shout.. .and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
“Then cometh the end,” Paul told the Corinthians. I do not know that we need that italicized word “cometh,” for it does not represent anything in the original text. Another translation reads, “Then the end.” The apostle was referring to the time when the glorious kingdom reign of our Lord Jesus will have come to an end, “when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”
Now our Lord Jesus Christ is sitting at the Father’s right hand until the time comes for Him to return to this planet. Then He will take the kingdom and reign for a thousand wonderful years. He will bring in that age when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). During those thousand years the Lord will exercise righteous government and righteous judgment in this world. Then will come the day of judgment when the wicked, raised from their graves, will appear at the great white throne, where they will be sentenced according to their works.
When the mediatorial kingdom is ended, all will be handed back to the Father, “that God may be all in all.” Christ may be likened to a receiver—that is, a person appointed by a court to administer the property of a bankrupt company. Suppose a business in San Francisco is owned by a firm of three persons in New York City. They send a manager out to take charge of the business, but the manager proves to be dishonest and incompetent, and the business gets into inextricable difficulties. One of the owners says to the other two, “You allow me to go out there and act as receiver and I will try to straighten everything up and put the business on its feet.” He goes out there, takes charge of everything, goes over all the books, and uncovers the crookedness. It may take him months, or perhaps years, to straighten things out, but he stays there until everything is cleared up. After every bill is paid and all debts are settled, he goes back to New York, accounts for what he has done, and hands the business back to the firm. Does he cease to have an interest in it? No, for he is a member of the firm. But the firm takes complete charge and he no longer administers the business as a receiver.
Similarly when this world was put under the dominion of Adam, Satan interfered and the whole earth was thrown into turmoil. And so our Lord Jesus, one of the eternal trinity, is going to come back to this world and take charge of it. When everything has been subjected to God, and all the wicked and utterly impenitent have been dealt with, Christ will hand the earth back to the Father “that God may be all in all.” Will we lose our Savior then? No, He will remain the same loving Jesus that He has always been since His incarnation, but the kingdom will be delivered up to the Father, and God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) will maintain it in righteousness for all eternity.
When Christ takes charge of the earth, “he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” and “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Death will hold within its grasp all the wicked dead up to the end of the millennium, but God will not permit that condition to last forever. Death will be destroyed. Satan himself will be banished to the lake of fire and the wicked will share his doom because they refused God’s grace.
When the Lord Jesus puts all things under the feet of God the Father, Jesus Himself will voluntarily occupy the place of the Father’s beloved Son and the Servant of the redeemed. He will serve us through all the ages to come, for love delights to wait on the objects of its affection.
There is a beautiful picture in the Old Testament of Christ as a Servant. We read in Exodus 21 that when a Hebrew who had been sold into slavery completed six years of service, he could “go out free.” If his master had given him a wife, the wife and children would remain in bondage. But if that servant said, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,” he was put through a peculiar ceremony. The master placed his slave’s ear against the door and pierced it through with an awl, and he would then serve his master forever.
What a striking picture that is of the place our Lord Jesus voluntarily took in order to be identified with us for eternity! When He came into this world, He took a servant’s place, and having completed His service, He could have gone back free at any time to the Father’s house. But He chose not to do so, for there were those down here on whom His love was set: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). We can think of Him saying to the Father, “I love My Master, My bride, and My children; I will not go out free.” He bears the marks of eternal subjection because of His love for us.
When meditating on Exodus 21,1 have often pictured that Hebrew servant sitting in his little cabin on his master’s plantation. His wife is preparing a meal and his children are playing about. One little tot climbs up on his knee and says, “Father, what is that ugly hole in your ear? I do not like that.” The child’s mother hears the question and says, “Oh, my darling, don’t speak that way; to me that hole is the most beautiful thing about your father. He could have gone out free and left us behind in bondage, but he wouldn’t do it. He loved me and gave himself for me; he loved you and the other children and because of his love for us he chose to remain a perpetual servant. That mark tells of his undying love.”
Our reaction will be similar to that wife’s when we see our Lord Jesus, the One who has subjected Himself for all eternity. As we look on His wounds, which will never be effaced, we will say, “There we have the evidence of His unchanging love.” What a Savior!
“Man of sorrows!” what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
(Philip P. Bliss)
We will be the joy of His heart and He the joy of ours for an eternity of bliss. We will delight in looking back and remembering His suffering on the cross for us. Others may think of His beauty as a lowly Nazarene, or of His glorious transfiguration on the mount, but to us who are redeemed He seems most beautiful when we think of Him wearing His crown of thorns, bleeding, suffering, and dying for us.
Filling Up the Ranks (1 Corinthians 15:29-34)
Verses 20-28 formed a parenthesis, as it were, in which the apostle turned aside from his reasoning regarding the resurrection, but in verse 29 he picked up the thread of the argument from verse 19: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable… Else what shall they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”
The expression “baptized for the dead” is found nowhere else in Scripture. Exactly what does it mean?
Down through the centuries a number of different interpretations have been suggested. One of the most common among orthodox believers is that we as Christians are baptized for or in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ who died. He went down into death and we have been identified with Him, and in our baptism we confess our death with Him. Therefore it could be said that “baptized for the dead” really means “baptized for Christ who died.” Certainly that interpretation is not repugnant to Christian consciences. It is absolutely true that believers are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, for that in fact is the exact meaning of the ordinance of baptism. But is that what Paul meant here?
In baptism we confess that we were sinners, that we deserved to die, but that our Lord Jesus Christ died in our place. We say before the world, as it were, “I take my place with the Christ who died; I desire henceforth to be recognized as one identified with Him in His death, in His burial, and in His resurrection.” Looked at in this way the ordinance is wonderfully precious. I never can understand the state of soul of Christians who would try in any way to belittle or set aside Christian baptism. Many people have been brought to Christ simply by witnessing the carrying out of this ordinance. There is something so solemn about it as it definitely reminds us of Christ’s death on our behalf and demonstrates our identification with Him, that it cannot but speak to everyone who has ears to hear. So I fully understand the view that “baptized for the dead” could mean “baptized for Christ who died,” but I do not believe that interpretation explains the context: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?”
A second suggested interpretation, which has found favor with many, is that “baptized for the dead” refers to the fact that we who are baptized confess that we ourselves are dead, that we have died with Christ; in baptism we take the place of the dead. We bury the dead and since we have died to the old life, we are buried. Although we are in this world, we no longer belong to this world. We who were once living for this world, we who were once living to gratify the flesh, have now in the cross of Christ died to all that. Undoubtedly baptism teaches this; the ordinance speaks of a burial, but I do not think this interpretation explains the expression in the text either.
From the earliest days a third explanation has been suggested, but it is rather grotesque. In recent times the Mormons have spread it abroad as though it were the very gospel of God. Mormons are known as Latter Day Saints, but I am more interested in “former day saints”; it is my joy to be linked with the saints of all ages unto whom Christ Jesus has been made “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1:30).
The view held by these Mormons and a few others is based on the belief that baptism in itself is a saving ordinance, that apart from it none will ever be saved. It would follow that since a great many people have died without having had the opportunity of being baptized, someone else must be baptized for them if they are going to be saved. Therefore the Mormons say that the apostle was referring to—and approving of—living Christians being baptized vicariously on behalf of people who have died unbaptized. This is a common practice among the Latter Day Saints. In fact they have temples in which they carry out the ceremony of baptism for the dead, and people are urged to be baptized, some over and over and over again, for the dead who were never baptized in this life.
When I was in Salt Lake City some years ago, a young Mormon elder told me about a wealthy lady who had been baptized over thirty thousand times. Every time she was baptized she paid a sum of money to the Mormon church, so you can see that baptism for the dead is a rather good thing from the financial standpoint! She had spent her entire fortune redeeming people, so she thought, from death and destruction. She had been baptized for all her deceased friends and relatives; then she had taken thousands of names from history and literature and had been baptized for every one of them. Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Cleopatra were among those for whom she wanted to be the means of salvation. The youthful elder said to me with a very solemn face, “I believe that in the day of judgment it will be proven that this lady, through being baptized for the dead, has saved more souls than Jesus Christ ever saved through dying on Calvary’s cross.” That ridiculous and blasphemous theory of course finds no support whatever in the Word of God.
In the first place the Word of God never teaches that baptism is essential to salvation. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that if people die unbaptized, they are lost. It is quite true that it is perfectly right and proper for people who are saved to be baptized. We find this ordinance linked with faith because it is the confession of the faith that we have. But when Scripture says, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” it never adds, “He that is not baptized shall be damned.” It says, “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16, italics added).
We have the remarkable example of the first soul ever saved after Christ was nailed to the cross: the penitent thief who hung beside Him was saved that day without any possibility of being baptized. With hands and feet nailed to the tree he could do nothing; he could not carry out any ordinance or do anything to earn salvation. He was saved only by the finished work of the One who hung on the central cross. And every man who is ever saved will be saved only through what Jesus did when He died on that tree. So we can put away the Mormon concept.
There is a fourth view, which certain Christians have held throughout the centuries. According to their interpretation, the apostle was referring to that practice of vicarious baptism without saying whether it was good or bad. (The Mormons say he approved of vicarious baptism.) But we can be sure that Paul would not refer to it in the way he did without telling his readers that it was contrary to the mind of God.
I have spoken of four suggested interpretations and now I will tell you what I believe to be the exact meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29. First let me say that the expression translated “baptized for the dead” literally means “baptized in place of, or over, the dead ones, or those who have died.” The word translated “dead” is plural; since it is not a singular noun, it cannot refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither can the preposition be translated “because of or “on behalf of or “for the benefit of.” Thus “baptized because of Christ” and “baptized on behalf of the dead” and “baptized for the benefit of the dead” are not permissible interpretations. The actual rendering would have to be “baptized in place of dead ones.” So Paul was thinking of the fact that when people professed faith in Christ and availed themselves of the ordinance of baptism, they were filling up the places made vacant on earth by Christians who had died.
Verse 29 may be translated, “What shall they do who are baptized in the place of the dead ones if no dead ever rise? Why are they then baptized in the place of dead ones?” Paul was saying, “If those who have died are lost, they have gained nothing by their profession. Why then should people fill up the ranks if there is nothing to be gained by it? They might as well go on enjoying this world, for death ends all if Christ did not rise.”
Perhaps the apostle was making a comparison to a regiment of soldiers going into battle. After the battle is over, they count the men and find, let us say, that seventy-five have been slain. Immediately they begin to recruit others to take the place of the dead—not to do the dead any good, but to take their places—and seventy-five replacements are drawn into that regiment. They don the uniform and take part in the next conflict. But if they are fighting a losing battle, if there is no possibility of ever winning, if they are just wasting their lives, why were they recruited to take the place of the dead? It is the height of folly if they know there is nothing but certain defeat and destruction awaiting them.
Think of Christian people as a mighty army. Down through the centuries the church has been in conflict with the powers of sin and death and Hell; over and over again one generation of Christians has fallen and another has taken its place. By being baptized the new converts in each generation have publicly demonstrated the fact that they have thus enlisted in the army of the Lord. But what a pointless thing it would have been to enlist if Christ had not risen and “if the dead rise not”! What would the reinforcements have gained by being baptized in place of the dead? Would it not have been better to have wound up the history of Christianity in the first century and to have declared: “The whole movement is a failure; there is no risen Christ; there is no possibility for salvation”?
A man may accept the philosophy of Christianity and keep it to himself. Possibly his neighbors will never suspect his belief and he will not be subject to ridicule—or persecution or perhaps even martyrdom in some countries. But if he really believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he will say, “I must make it known.” So he is baptized, and in that way openly confesses Christ as the One who died and rose again. Afterward one neighbor may say, “That man is a Christian,” and another may ask, “How do you know?” The first will reply, “He has been baptized, confessing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Paul’s day and for many centuries afterward, the moment a man was baptized he put himself, as the apostle wrote, “in jeopardy.” Paul was risking his own life “every hour,” for there were enemies of Christianity on every hand. He declared, “I die daily.” In other words, “I am exposing myself to death every day, and I am ready to die for Jesus Christ.” Why should Paul and his fellow laborers have taken those risks? Because they knew that Christ had risen; in fact the apostle had seen Him in the glory as He appeared to him that day when he fell stricken on the Damascus road. For the name of Christ, Paul took his life in his hands daily and became the outstanding defender of Christianity. He said in Philippians 1:17, “I am set for the defence of the gospel.”
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,” he was referring to the beast-like men who were ready to tear him apart in the riot at Ephesus. He was prevented from going into their midst, but the angry mob, shouting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” thronged his companions and would have destroyed them if the townclerk had not intervened (Acts 19). But the apostle assured his friends in Corinth, in effect, “It is all right no matter what people do to me. Christ is real, for He rose again. I know Him as the risen One and am ready to die for His name’s sake.” If Christ had not risen, there would have been no advantage to living in such jeopardy.
Why should any Christian give up the world and live a life of self-denial and devotion to the One whom this world has rejected “if the dead rise not?” If there is no reality in Christianity, why shouldn’t we get all the enjoyment out of the world that we can? Why not accept its philosophy? “Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (the apostle was quoting from Isaiah 22:13). Let’s have a good time while we live. If death ends everything, why shouldn’t we get what we can out of this life?
But there is a better world beyond the grave. There is a Savior who died to put away our sins and who lives triumphant in glory waiting to receive those who trust Him. So we say to the world, “You can have your feasts, your fame, your frivolity, and your wealth. Christ is more to me than all of these.” The Christian, you see, is a man who has heard the drumbeat of another country and no longer keeps step with the drumbeat of this world.
Some people say, “It does not make any difference whether or not Jesus died and rose; we can be just as good without this assurance.” But when they deny the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, they inevitably will give free rein to their lusts, live for the world, and please themselves. So to us the challenge comes: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not.” If you are a Christian, you are joined to a risen Christ and you are in this world to glorify Him. Let that risen One control your heart and life, and yours will be a holy life devoted to the glory of God.
A number of years ago I was leading the funeral service of an aged saint who had devoted his life to God’s glory. For a great many years he had been a bright witness for Christ in the part of the city where he lived and had brought up his family in the fear of God. In fact one of his children was a missionary in the Philippines. But the deceased man had grandchildren who, though they attended church, had not yet confessed faith in the Lord.
As I closed the funeral service and we were about to take our last look at his face until the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering unto Him, I felt led to step up to the casket and say, “Just wait a minute before we take our farewell look at the face of our beloved brother. He has been a witness for Christ in this city for many years and his place will not easily be filled. He will be greatly missed by Christians. I wonder whether anyone at this funeral service would like, by the grace of God, to take his place. Is there anybody here who has heard the voice of God speaking to you? Perhaps you have never yet come to Christ, but right here you will take Him as your Savior and be ready to be baptized for the dead? Since this brother has gone, there is a vacant place in the ranks. Will you take his place?”
I waited a moment and then his grandson, a fine young man, rose from his seat and came forward. He faced the audience and said, “Today I accept my grandfather’s Savior and I want you to pray that I may be able in some measure to take his place.” Then he knelt at that casket and gave himself to the Lord; the next Sunday night I baptized him for the dead. Thus he gave public testimony that he had turned from the world, trusted Christ, and would now seek to live for His glory.
Lessons from Nature (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)
Having settled the question of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle took up another problem that has perplexed and exercised the minds of many: If there is to be a resurrection of the dead, in what kind of bodies will they arise? In answering this Paul gave us a special divine revelation, and we should remember that apart from revelation, we can know nothing of this matter. We are just as ignorant today of what comes after death as philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle were five hundred years before Christ. If God had not spoken, all our discussions on life, death, and immortality would be mere speculation at best. But He has spoken. He has given us His sure Word, and we may be certain that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Let us read then in this letter to Corinth what God Himself, the Creator of all, the God of the resurrection, had to say on the subject.
Our salvation is threefold: salvation from the guilt of sin, salvation from the power of sin, and salvation from the presence of sin. We who believe have already received the redemption of our souls; we are already saved from the guilt of sin and the judgment due to sin. But we are still looking forward to “the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23); we still inhabit poor, failing human bodies. Christians get sick just as other people do, and Christians die just as other folks die.
Every once in a while somebody rises up to tell us that we may have redemption of the body in this life and that no Christian need ever be sick if he will just claim the Lord as his healer. But no matter how fervently people believe such a new gospel, no matter how faithfully they teach it, they all catch cold if they sit in a draft, they all get indigestion when they eat things that do not agree with them, and they all get sick and die eventually—unless they die by accident. Christians are just as truly subject to sickness and death as other people are. Even the faith healers of the past have died, and the faith healers of the present will die soon—unless the Lord Jesus should come in our lifetime and we should all be changed and caught up to meet Him without passing through death.
All under the Adamic sentence die; but, thank God, there is a provision for the redemption of the body. The hour is coming when our Lord Jesus Christ will return from Heaven and transform these bodies of our humiliation to make them like the body of His glory. This is just as true for those who have died and whose bodies have decayed as it is for those who are still living when our Savior returns.
The natural mind says, “I can understand how He could touch this mortal body of mine and make it immortal if I am living when He returns. But if I die before He comes, my body will go back to the dust from which it came, and that dust will be scattered to the four winds; I cannot understand how it could possibly be raised again. I may have a body in resurrection, but it will surely be another body; I cannot actually be raised from the dead.” Scripture answers that objection in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49.
Paul began, “Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” In other words, “In what way are they brought from the tomb, and what kind of body will they have in the resurrection?” The apostle answered in effect, “Take a lesson from nature, thou simple one.” The word translated “fool” in 15:36 is rather strong, but Paul was not insulting the inquirer the way we would be if we called a person a fool. The Greek word simply means “unthinking one,” so Paul was just saying, “If you would only stop to think, you would realize that there are many analogies in nature to the resurrection.”
We can think of some analogies in addition to those given in Scripture. Consider the caterpillar crawling along the leaves. Suddenly a strange alteration comes over it, and it spins a cocoon around itself. The whole appearance of the caterpillar is changed and it dies to its old life altogether. It stays in that cocoon awhile and eventually emerges as a beautiful butterfly, a lovely creature that is able to soar above the ground. That transformation is a wonderful picture of what the resurrection will be.
The apostle used the illustration of a farmer sowing seed. He sows it, to use the words that are so often recited in funeral services, “in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” The farmer sows the “bare grain” because he believes that when it falls in the ground and seems to rot away, that will not be the end of it; it will soon have a fuller life than it has known before. When the resurrection of that grain takes place, the farmer does not see the seeds he has sown coming up from the ground; he sees first a blade of green, then a stalk, and then a head of wheat, oats or barley.
“God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.” There is no mistake made. If wheat is sown, wheat rises from that grain; if oats are sown, oats rise from the ground; if barley is sown, barley rises from that grave. The same will be true of our resurrection bodies; in some way there will be absolute identification with the body that died. There is absolute identity and yet a wonderful change. The beautiful head of grain is much more lovely to look on than the simple little seed that went into the ground.
How much of the seed of wheat is in the new stalk? If you look at the root of that stalk, you will still find the little shell out of which this stalk came. Just so will it be in the resurrection. God will not have to use every part of this body. As a matter of fact, I do not possess today a particle of the body that I had a few years ago. When I was a boy in school, my teachers told me that the body changes every seven years. Now they say it changes every three years. I am not conscious of that change except of course that I know my nails and hair grow and have to be cut. Like my nails and hair, my entire body is changing continuously. I do not have a bit of the body that I had three and a half years ago, yet I know that I am I. If I say to you, “You are looking so much better than you did the last time I saw you,” you do not answer, “Well, that is because you never saw me before if you haven’t seen me for three and a half years.” No, you are the same person, and the body is your body, and you know it is; yet there is not a cell in it that was there three and a half years ago. And so we say that in resurrection there is identity, though the entire body that is put into the grave is not necessarily used in the resurrection body.
After giving the illustration of the grain, the apostle stressed the fact that there are different kinds of flesh: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.” We do not understand the differences, yet we know that they exist and that one kind never changes to another. Men are made to live on the earth, and that is the only environment in which they are comfortable. Beasts are also made to live on the earth, but in a different way. For instance the bear and the raccoon hibernate; as winter approaches, they go into a burrow or a hollow tree and become dormant until spring comes again and then they emerge. That would be impossible for a man.
Fish, another kind of flesh, are adapted to a different environment. Beasts and men can survive in water for limited periods, but they would drown if they stayed under water indefinitely. Fish are at home there, but they are so constituted by God that when they are taken out of the water, they die. One writer has well said, “If fish are philosophers, if they are capable of thinking, I am absolutely certain that every philosophical fish is quite sure that it is impossible for any creature to live out of water.” Birds, differing altogether from mankind and beasts and fish, are suited to fly in the air. And so if there are such differences in kinds of “flesh,” why should we wonder about the differences between bodies suited to Heaven and bodies suited to this planet?
Paul told the Corinthians there are “celestial [heavenly] bodies” and “bodies terrestrial [earthly].” Our Lord Jesus came into this world and took on a terrestrial body, but after having made satisfaction for our sins on the cross, He came forth at the resurrection in a celestial body. In that body He ascended through the heavens into the very presence of God where “he ever liveth to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). His celestial body is the pattern for ours. Our resurrection bodies will not be subject to the laws that control us now.
When we read in Scripture of our Lord talking with the Sadducees, who denied that there is any resurrection, we get a little better understanding of celestial bodies. They said, “There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she?” (Luke 20:29-33) They thought they had asked a puzzling question.
But the Lord Jesus simply answered, “You do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God…They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world [attain to the coming glorious age of the kingdom], and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage.. .for they are equal unto the angels, being the children of the resurrection” (Matthew 22:29; Luke 20:35-36).
The angels are sexless; they do not propagate their kind. Each is an individual creation, and believers, in resurrection, will be like the angels. That means we are not going to be men and women as we are now. We will simply be redeemed people with no sex distinctions whatsoever because the day will have gone by when the human race is to be propagated.
As long as we are in this world our bodies have to be nourished by food, so we have digestive tracts by means of which we are able to take from our food those elements that repair and build up our physical constitutions. But in the resurrection our digestive tracts are to be destroyed. You will remember that when the apostle was reproving the Corinthian believers for making a fuss over questions of clean and unclean foods, he said, “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them” (6:13). It is not that we will not be able to eat, for Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish and a piece of honeycomb after His resurrection, but he no longer needed a digestive tract to process the food. In the resurrection we too will have bodies that need no nourishment or repairs. All the changes of time will have come to an end and our bodies will be like the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Turning his attention to the sun, moon, and stars, Paul thought about the light shining from those celestial bodies and related it to the resurrection. When we get our resurrection bodies, they will be bodies of light like the body in which our blessed Lord was seen on the mount of transfiguration and on the Damascus road. Saul of Tarsus said, “I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).
Daniel 12:3 says, “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” This suggests that when we have our celestial bodies, there will be differences in the glories that we will enjoy. Contemplating this fact, the apostle noticed how even the material celestial orbs—the sun, the moon, and the stars—differ in glory: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” In that day there will be differences in glory according to the measure of our devotedness to Christ down here, for Paul added, “So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
We are all saved by the same grace, and through the same grace we will all be raised and changed at the coming of the Lord. But we will not all be rewarded in the same way, for reward is for faithful service. I am afraid that many of us are going to lose a great deal at the judgment seat of Christ because we have not been as true and earnest as we should have been. The day is soon coming when you and I would give worlds, if we possessed them, for another chance to let God have His way absolutely in our lives. The greatest joy that can come into any life results from wholehearted surrender to the will of God, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time. Often the things we most dread are the things that bring us the greatest blessing as we seek to walk with our gracious God and Father.
When the Lord reviews our lives, when He goes over everything with us, when He says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… Enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21), how we will rejoice in His approbation! And how we will wish that we had been more devoted! There is not one soul with Christ today who, looking back on his earthly life, says, “I wish I had not been quite so out-and-out for God; I wish I had been less self-denying; I wish I had been more concerned about my own comforts.” But I imagine there are many who say, “If I had my life to live over again, no matter what suffering it might mean, no matter what heartbreak it might entail, I would never hesitate a moment to let God have His will in everything in my life.” It is not a question of whether or not we get to Heaven. All who are saved by grace will be there, but there will be a difference in our rewards.
As you read on in 1 Corinthians 15, observe the repetition of the impersonal pronoun in verses 42-44: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” These verses tell us again that there will be differences in appearance; but the sameness of the pronouns indicates that there will be identification of the body that dies with the body that rises. The body that is sown is the one that is raised, yet it is changed.
Corruption of the natural body begins only a few hours after death occurs, but the new body will be incorruptible; it will be a glorified body. Just what that means may be seen in what the disciples beheld on the mount of transfiguration. They saw Moses and Elijah shining in the same glory with the Lord Jesus. Moses had died, yet he was there in a glorified body. Elijah had been caught up to Heaven without dying and he also was in a glorified body.
The dead will be “raised in power.” How weak our poor bodies are! “The spirit [often] is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). We find ourselves hindered by the body, but the day is coming when instead of being a hindrance to the spirit, the body will be like wings to the spirit; we will be able to go to the uttermost parts of the universe on the Lord’s business more easily than we can cross the street today.
The natural body “is raised a spiritual body.” Do not misunderstand that. A spiritual body is not a body formed of spirit. God is a Spirit and is not said to have a body. He took a body when the Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [in a body]” (Colossians 2:9). Likewise you and I are spirits dwelling in bodies.
But I am not all spirit; I am also soul. Paul acknowledged that when he wrote, “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The soul is the seat of my emotional nature, the seat of all my natural instincts; the soul is my human self. The spirit is the highest part of my nature, the part to which God can make Himself known. Romans 8:16 says, ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” As a Christian I ought to be constantly under the control of the spirit; I ought to live according to the highest part of my nature. But once in a while I find that instead of being controlled by the spirit part of me, I am controlled by my soul and I am more or less a creature of emotions. I am easily influenced this way or that by my emotions, and often to my detriment and that of others.
The word translated “natural” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 is simply the adjective form of the Greek word meaning “soul,” so the “natural body” is a soulish body. This body is the suited vehicle for the expression of the emotions of my soul, but in resurrection I will have a body that is suited to and dominated by the spirit. There will be nothing then to hinder the full expression of the spirit and I will be absolutely subject to God who is a Spirit.
Paul continued, “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” The first Adam was the head of the old creation, and God formed him out of the dust of the ground. If you do not believe that, wait awhile and your body will go back to the dust and prove that Scripture is right. God breathed into the first Adam, and he became a living soul, the progenitor of the human race. The last Adam is our Lord Jesus. He is the risen One and so has become the quickening Spirit who breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). As descendants of Adam we have bodies like his, but since we are now linked with “the Lord from Heaven,” we will in resurrection have bodies like the one He has now.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that the first man, Adam, was of the dust, dusty—or of the dirt, dirty. That is what man is by his relationship with Adam. The very word “Adam” means “red clay.” But just as we have looked like our first father and have had the appearance of the natural man in this world, we will one day “bear the image of the heavenly,” the image of the Second Man, our glorified Savior.
I think this helps explain another passage (1 John 3:2) that has bewildered many people: “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” A lady expressed the confusion of many when she said to me one day, “If we are all going to be like Him, we will all look alike. How are we ever going to know each other?” She had misunderstood what Scripture says.
It is true, as Paul said, that “we have borne the image of the earthy” and we are like Adam, but we certainly do not all look the same. If all the people in the world were to pass before you, you would never find two exactly alike. There are cases where two people are so nearly alike that we can hardly tell them apart, but there is always some little difference. The infinite variety in creation is amazing when you think that there is so little to work with: only one nose, one mouth, two ears, two eyes, one chin, two cheeks, and one forehead!
I do not know much about music, but I am always dumbfounded when I think how much can be made from seven tones. One would think that all the music that could have been written would have been written years ago, that no one could possibly make up another melody; but there are symphonies to be written that men have never dreamed of yet. Likewise in resurrection there will be infinite variety. Although we will all be like Christ in that we will have incorruptible bodies, we will know each other in Heaven as we have never known each other down here. What a wonderful hope this resurrection chapter holds out for believers!
The Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
In the concluding verses of this chapter Paul revealed that while all believers will have part in the glorious event at the resurrection of the saints, some will not have passed through death; these will not need to be raised from the grave, but they will need to be changed.
“Flesh and blood,” the apostle said, “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul was referring to that future reign when the authority of God will be exercised in Heaven and earth. The kingdom of God will consist of two spheres. We read of one sphere in Matthew 13:43, where our Lord Jesus said, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Those are the heavenly saints in the kingdom day. In the other sphere are the people who are brought into blessing here on earth during the period of the kingdom; they of course will be in bodies of flesh and blood. The apostle was considering the heavenly side of the kingdom when he said, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” As we have noted before, the heavenly saints “neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
Observe that the apostle did not say, “Neither flesh nor blood.” He said, “Flesh and blood.” In other words, our bodies in their present condition, sustained by blood, are not suited for the coming glorious heavenly kingdom and therefore we must be changed.
Introducing an explanation of how this change will take place, Paul declared, “Behold, I shew you a mystery.” A mystery in the New Testament is not something mysterious, strange, or difficult to understand; it is something revealed only to the initiated. Some of you have been initiated into secret societies and although you have not discovered anything very mysterious in them, you have found that there are certain things that folks like me on the outside do not know anything about. Paul was revealing something to the initiated, and all God’s beloved people are looked on by Him as His initiated ones. The only lodge I have ever joined is the grand army of the redeemed. I was initiated into that by being born again, and then the Holy Spirit revealed to me the mysteries that are found in the Word of God.
A number of sacred secrets were kept hidden from the people of God in past dispensations, but have been made known now in the glorious dispensation of the Holy Spirit. One of these secrets is this “mystery” of the first resurrection and the rapture of the living saints: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” This is a remarkable statement.
We often hear it said that there is nothing more certain than death and taxes. Taxes seem to be quite certain, but I am glad to say that death is not absolutely certain for the Christian. Someone may say, “Doesn’t the Word say, ‘It is appointed unto men once to die’?” (Hebrews 9:27) That is the divine appointment for man as such, but there will be a generation of God’s redeemed people who will be exempt.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “We shall not all sleep,” he used the word “sleep” in place of “die” because death to the believer is the putting of the tired, weary, worn body to sleep until the Lord Jesus comes to waken it again. It is only the body that sleeps. The real man, his spirit and soul, is “absent from the body, and.. .present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8); he is taken home “to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). So the bodies of our friends in Christ who have died are sleeping, but they themselves are with Christ and wonderfully happy in His presence.
The apostle Paul gave us an idea of their state and condition when he spoke of being “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). The first heaven is the atmospheric heaven, the second is the starry heaven, and the third is God’s dwelling place. When the apostle had his experience in “the third heaven,” he was so enraptured that he could not tell whether he was “in the body” or “out of the body.” That teaches us that if Paul was in the body, his body did not impede him, and thus when we are in the presence of the Lord in the body, our bodies will be no hindrance to us as they often are now.
On the other hand, if Paul was taken out of the body, he did not miss his body; he was just as conscious when he was out of it as when he was in it. Some say that it is impossible to live outside of the body, but it is not. Just as the works of a watch go on running without the case, the body dies but the spirit of the believer lives on. Then in the first resurrection the body is raised in glory, and the spirit comes to dwell in the body again. That is the state of the believer when Christ calls him forth from the tomb.
There may be some of us in this generation who will be living when our Lord Jesus Christ returns, but whether living or dead we will all be changed. Every one of us must undergo the glorious transformation in order to have part in the heavenly side of the kingdom. This change will take place instantly, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” Paul did not say “in the winking of an eye,” but “in the twinkling of an eye,” which is much faster. At the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be changed as quickly as a gleam of light shines in the eye.
I have often tried to think of what the swiftness of the change will mean to dear children of God who are lying on hospital beds—weak and suffering, enduring days of pain and nights of anguish, they cry out in the distress of their souls, “O Lord, how long?” One moment they will be in excruciating pain, and the next they will be rising to meet the Lord in the air in bodies that can never suffer again. I have also thought of God’s people whose minds have failed because of stress; some are shut away in sanitariums and, in their melancholy, are imagining that God has forsaken them and there is no hope for the future. Their poor brains, which have given way completely, will in a moment be filled with the intelligence of angels, as they find themselves in their glorified bodies looking into the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a marvelous hope that is! No wonder the apostle spoke of it as “that blessed hope” in Titus 2:13.
When will we be changed? “At the last trump,” Paul told the Corinthians. Many have attempted to link this trump with the trumpet of the seventh angel in Revelation. In that book we read of a series of seven trumpets; when they are blown, various judgments are poured out on the earth, and when the seventh is blown, the kingdom of God is ushered in. If Paul had been referring to that seventh trumpet, he would have been indicating that the church of God is to go through the tribulation until that trumpet is blown. But the book of Revelation was not written until approximately thirty years after 1 Corinthians was written, so there can be no connection between these trumpets. And when we turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, we find that “the last trump” is called “the trump of God”; it is not the trumpet of an angel.
Why did Paul use the phrase “the last trump” when writing to the Corinthians? The reason is that the expression, being in common use in connection with the Roman army, was familiar to the people who lived in Paul’s day. When a Roman camp was about to be broken up, whether in the day or in the middle of the night, a trumpet was sounded. The first blast meant, “Strike tents and prepare to depart.” The second meant, “Fall into line.” And when what was called “the last trump” sounded, it meant, “March away.” Likewise when the last trump of this age of grace sounds, we will be called away to be forever with the Lord.
Most of you readers have heard the first blast. At the time you were part and parcel of the world; you were living with the world and like the world and you were settling down here, but you heard the gospel trumpet awaking you out of your sleep. And then I trust you have heard the second trumpet calling you to take your places in fellowship with God’s beloved people as soldiers in this world. And now what do you and I wait for? We are waiting for the last trump, when we will be summoned; we will not be called to march away or fly away, but we “shall be caught up together.. .to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
When will we be caught up? We do not know the date. It may be today; it may be tonight. Whether the trumpet sounds at midnight or in the morning or in the daytime will make no difference to us, for we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.
Paul told the Corinthians, “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we [who are living] shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Notice the two groups: the “corruptible” and the “mortal.” The “corruptible” are the dead; their bodies, which have decayed, will be “raised incorruptible.” The “mortal” are those who are alive but subject to death if time goes on; they must “put on immortality.” The terms “mortal” and “immortal” refer to the body, never to the spirit or soul. The everlasting existence of man is taught in Scripture, but immortality is a blessing that will be experienced when our Lord comes.
In Romans 8:10 we read, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin.” A little word is omitted there, which may be added to make the meaning more clear: “The body is still dead because of sin.” In other words, you may be a believer, but your body is still under the Adamic sentence: “Dying thou shalt die” (Genesis 2:17, Hebrew). But the spirit is alive and is the pledge of the new life yet to be: “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). I know that some have taught that the indwelling Spirit gives new life to the mortal body right here and now, but the apostle denied that when he said, “If Christ be in you, the body is [still] dead because of sin.” At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of life will raise our mortal bodies into newness of life.
“Then,” Paul told the Corinthians, “shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (also see Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14). Now death comes in and takes from us our nearest and dearest, and our hearts are pained because of the separation. But if we know Christ, and if our loved ones were in Christ, the sting of death is gone and we can look forward to a glorious reunion when Jesus comes again. What a wonderful event it will be when saints who have been separated here on earth recognize one another as they are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” What makes death terrible to the unsaved is sin: “The sting of death is sin.” But if we know that sin has been put away, that sin has been purged by the precious atoning blood of Christ, the sting is gone.
Paul continued, “The strength of sin is the law.” Some people think that the law is the strength of holiness. They imagine that the way to be holy is to be under the law, and they try to obtain sanctification by keeping the law. But the law simply stirs up everything in the human heart that is opposed to God, and instead of producing holiness, it produces greater transgression. The law never produces holiness; it is the heart’s being occupied with the Lord Jesus Christ that produces holiness. When you have seen that the law condemns, but that Christ has borne the condemnation for you, you can look away to Him; and as you are occupied with Him, you will be a holy man or woman. You cannot make yourself holy by obeying rules and regulations. Not even God’s law given at Sinai has the ability to make men holy; but the living glorified Christ can change people into His image as their minds dwell on Him, and in that way they become holy.
Absorbed with Christ and confident of the final victory, Paul offered heartfelt thanks. Death may seem for the moment to triumph. Years ago it seemed like death was triumphing when it came into our home and took one after another of those whom I loved most tenderly; but as I look on to the glorious future and realize that death is to be conquered at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, by faith I claim the conquest and cry, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The verse with which Paul closed the resurrection chapter comes home to every one of us: “Therefore [because these things are true], my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Some people say that occupation with the precious truths that have to do with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ may have a tendency to make people theoretical, impractical, and no longer useful in the church of God here on earth; but I do not know anything that should so grip the soul and motivate one to work for God as the knowledge of the truths we have just been considering.