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Prophecy of Scripture
The truth of Christ's resurrection and future coming form a large and important part of scriptural revelation. Christ's resurrection is fundamental to the gospel, which is God's means of salvation, "by which also ye are saved" (1 Cor. 15:2). His resurrection was foretold long ago in the sacred Scriptures, guaranteed in such prophecies as Psalm 16:10, Isaiah 53:10 and Jonah 1:17. It is an event rooted in Biblical history and confirmed in the experience of the Son of God, a truth verified by unimpeachable witnesses as it was founded upon proven facts. Six appearances of the risen Christ are referred to in vv. 5-8 of I Cor. 15. In the following verses is recorded the complete and unqualified witness of the first apostles to this truth.
Consequences of denial of resurrection
Some of the Corinthian converts in the Church of God in Corinth began to dispute the associated truth of the resurrection of the dead (v.12). "If a man die, shall he live again" was not a question of doubt but a statement of belief spoken many centuries before Paul's letter to Corinth by God's servant Job (14:14). The apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15 hastens to rehearse the vital facts of the gospel which had been believed by the Corinthians and on which their faith rested. Those who denied the resurrection are not without innumerable successors in the religious world today. If there is no resurrection of dead people the consequences are fearsome: no living Saviour; no message of hope for a world confronted by the grim reality of death; preaching that is empty; faith that is only a dream; the burden of sin unremoved; no redemption by Christ; no reconciliation with God; no salvation for man; no prospect beyond the grave. Christians would be people with vanished hopes and the victims of a cruel delusion: the objects of pity. Such assumptions are contrary to the evidence of history.
In some religious circles today there is a mistaken idea that there is only one general resurrection when the utmost rim of time is reached. The Word of God declares that Christ's resurrection was a victory - a precursor of coming triumphs. It is the guarantee that those who are His - "in Christ" - will be with Him at His coming (v.23). These comprise the "dead in Christ" (1 Thess. 4:16; those who have fallen asleep - in Christ, or through Jesus, 1 Cor.
15:18,20; 1 Thess. 4:14), and those Christians who are still alive when He comes (1 Thess. 4:15,17). By virtue of the fact that Christ was victorious over death, the Christian also is a victor over death (1 Cor. 15:57). This is to be distinguished from the resurrection of the dead in Rev. 20:11 - 15 when everyone, created as moral and responsible beings accountable to their Creator of God, will stand before the appointed Judge - the Son of Man (John 5:27).
From Eden to Eternity
The resurrection of Christ then is a credible, authenticated fact. He is the "Firstfruits" of believers who have "fallen asleep". This has a double significance. Firstfruits were God's part of the harvest, given in honour to Him as the provider of the harvest. They were also a pledge of the harvest to come. So Christ in resurrection is not to be alone; they that are His are to be with Him (1 Cor. 15:23), resurrected to a life which knows no death, no end. The sublimity of teaching on the whole panoramic view of God's dealings with men from Eden to Eternity in verses 20-28 stands out majestically. Through the first man, Adam, came death, first spiritually, then physically. Through the second man, Christ, comes life both spiritual and physical. As in Adam all mankind by nature is subject to death, being already spiritually dead, so through Christ all mankind will be raised physically, but not all will be raised to eternal life as all have not been "made alive" spiritually in Christ (vv. 21 ,22)'. "They that are Christ's" is not a selected, special group of His own who enjoy a partial rapture based on spiritual attainment. It is all who have believed on Him who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). They will share in the reign of the exalted Christ in that final kingdom of God; the climax of the long drama of conflict between righteousness and iniquity will culminate in the subjection of all things to Christ. The certainty of ultimate victory is secured in the defeat of death as the last enemy, and then God will be supreme in a sinless, deathless universe.
Nature of the resurrected body of the believer
Having dealt with resurrection of the dead, Paul now takes up resurrection from the dead. He has already proved that death is not the end of everything.
Though suffering for the Faith, facing risks, hazarding life, at death's door daily (v.31), Paul rejoiced that the raising of the dead in Christ and the changing of the living saints will complement the victory gained by Christ in His own resurrection.
How are the dead raised when their bodies have disintegrated? "What kind of body will they have?" Paul deals with the second question first. Many in the Church of Corinth would have a background of non-belief in the resurrection of the body while maintaining a belief in the eternal nature of the soul. Paul uses a botanical illustration to describe the process of death as a prelude to life. In nature new life often springs from death (John 12:24). It is no argument against resurrection that the body is subject to decay. The seed sown has not the same form as the plant produced (v.37). It dies, then is quickened (comes to life), and is clothed with a finer, more glorious body by God who oversees the whole operation of life and growth. He ordained what should take place (v.38). Everything is done according to His plan. The metaphor conveys the truth of the believer's body, in its present form, being very different from his resurrected body. Further lessons are drawn from zoology, geology and astronomy (vv.3941) to emphasize the principle of transformation from the present state of the natural body to the future state of the spiritual body (v.44). "Spiritual" expresses the quality of the new body: no possibility of corruption, no work of sin, no trace of decay, thereby allowing unhindered and unceasing fellowship with God. Only then, in transformed, heavenly bodies, shall we see Him and be like Him (I John 3:2). When the believer is called to His presence before His advent, he is conscious of being at home with Lord and absent from the body (2 Cor. 5:8). He awaits his garment of immortality, his heavenly building, his eternal house to exercise these faculties of the new body which will never be diminished. Bearing "the image of the heavenly" is not mere similarity, but derived resemblance.
How are we raised?
At the given signal, instantly, completely, all will be changed. Victory over death for living saints, victory over decay for sleeping saints. The old Adamic order of sin and death will be changed to the new eternal order of immortality and incorruption. Quietly, secretly, swiftly, Christ will come for His own. The natural law of gravity controls natural bodies. The law of glory is for bodies of glory. When Christ comes, no believer will be left behind; all will respond. Isaiah 25:8 will be fulfilled, being in the apostle's mind when writing vv. 54, 55 of 1 Cor. IS. How true are the words of Jeremiah - "there is nothing too hard for Thee" (32:17). As extracting venom from a deadly snake, so Christ has removed the "sting" from death for those who believe on Him. Death, the entail of sin, has been abolished for the Christian (2 Tim. 1:10). The law, which accentuated sin its power, has been fulfilled by Christ and its righteous requirements potentially fulfilled by His followers (Rom. 8:4). Farewell mortality, welcome endless life!
Thou art my resurrection, Lord!
My soul begotten through thy word,
Shall rise with glorious body found
To greet thee at the trumpet sound.
Adoption must o'eride our fear,
We erstwhile slaves as sons appear.
Redeemed the body shall be free,
Thy saints be glorified with thee.
So Lord, when e'er shall break thy day,
And all earth's shadows flee away,
Alive, asleep, 'twill be the same,
We rise triumphant in thy name.
(G.Bull, "War on the Soul")