Hope in the Resurrection of Christ
Grounded in the Bible’s teaching of the first Adam.
Writing to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul reminds them of the importance of belief in the resurrection, and the Gospel of salvation which he had preached to them (1 Corinthians 15:1–4). This is the message of hope that believers have because Christ died, and was raised from the dead:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).
Witnesses to the resurrection
Paul then mentions the many people who were witnesses of the risen Christ: the twelve disciples, James the brother of Jesus, five hundred brethren at the same time—many still living—and then even he himself on the road to Damascus as he was engaged in the persecution of Christians (1 Corinthians 15:5–9). There was a great crowd of witnesses who could vouch for the truth of the resurrection; believers who were willing to give their lives for that truth. Paul expressed gratitude that he was saved by the grace of God, and that was why he was working tirelessly for the Gospel, often in danger.
Paul offers the example of his own life and commitment as evidence of the resurrection. Indeed, the commitment and willingness of all the apostles to face death in their work is evidence that they wholeheartedly believed the events of Easter to have been real. While Paul mentions the men, the Gospels speak of several women who were the first to witness the resurrection (Matthew 27:61, Luke 24:10, Mark 16:9). Even secular researchers admit that the disciples really believed they had seen the risen Christ; for example, historian and theologian Paula Fredriksen comments:
“I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw.”1
There are several lines of evidence that argue for early dates for the writing of the Gospel accounts, including regarding the resurrection. English New Testament scholar Tom Wright (though wrong on Creation) points out that the theology in the Gospels regarding the raising of Christ from the dead is largely missing, and not developed as it is in Paul’s writing. The Gospels remark freely on the physical and spiritual nature of the resurrected Christ without concern to counter later heresies. They speak openly of the witness of the women despite it carrying less weight than a man’s testimony in that culture, and they do not speak of the future hope of the believer as Paul does. Wright comments that “ … it is far, far easier to believe that the stories are essentially very early, pre-Pauline, and have not been substantially altered … ”2
But sadly, not everyone believed. In Paul’s time there were those in the church at Corinth who denied that the dead could be raised—just as in the modern period today there are atheists and humanists (and even a few Bishops)3 who deny that people can be raised from the dead because it doesn’t fit with scientific naturalism.
A physical or spiritual resurrection?
This leads us to the another error that Christians may fall into—while some atheists and others may seek to deny the resurrection, as Christians we may instead over-spiritualise it. To do so is to risk disconnecting it from the material world. Without a clear knowledge of Scripture, believers may fail to see that Christ had a physical body after being raised; one with scars from the nail prints that even doubting Thomas could touch with his hands (John 20:24–29). Jesus of course had compassion on Thomas for his lack of faith, but He blessed those who believe without sight: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24–29).
Even so, John’s account of Thomas shows that Jesus had a glorified resurrection body that could pass through walls (John 20:26). The body that Jesus had was both physical and spiritual—a glorified, incorruptible body. Elsewhere, Paul elaborates that the resurrection body that believers will have will be one that is imperishable as opposed to perishable—and this overcomes the muddled thinking of some of the Corinthian Christians. He calls it a spiritual body:
“It is sown a natural [Greek: ψυχικόν psychikon] body; it is raised a spiritual body [Greek: πνευματικόν pneumatikon]. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:44–49).
Notice that Paul’s entire argument is connected with the historical, earthly Adam, the “first man” whom God created. The Greek work psychikon really means soul. So, Adam was a living human soul created from the dust of the Earth (compare Genesis 2:7), but Christ, the last Adam, “became a life-giving spirit.” Christians shall be raised with glorified, spiritual bodies because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Paul tells us that not all will sleep, but that all believers will be changed instantly at the last trumpet:
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Paul is here referencing the late summer feasts of Trumpets (1st day of the month Tishri), Atonement (10th Tishri), and Tabernacles (15th Tishri). These feasts connect symbolically to the Second Coming of Christ. Just as the feast of Passover is connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and Pentecost to the giving of the Holy Spirit, so Tabernacles is linked with Christ’s Second Coming. The spring festivals were those of first fruits; Tabernacles is one of the fullness of the harvest.
The imagery of these later feasts is that of the farm labourer hard at work in the harvest field hearing the trumpet call, and coming in from the field, putting on clean garments, and attending the celebrations of the seven-day feast of Tabernacles. At this time believers will be caught up with Christ at his return, put on the imperishable body, and then reign with Him.
Death is swallowed up in victory
In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul further expounds upon the hope of resurrection; death itself, the last enemy, will eventually be overcome. “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). And just as human beings are all spiritually dead through their connection to Adam (the real ancestor of us all), there is wonderful Good News: all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ will be made gloriously alive:
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:22–26).
References and notes
- Quoted in: Bass, J., What skeptical scholars admit about the resurrection appearances of Jesus, christianitytoday.com, 13 April 2020. Return to text.
- Wright, T., Surprised by Hope, SPCK, London, pp. 64–68, 2007. Return to text.
- Brown, A., David Jenkins: the Bishop who didn’t believe the Bible, theguardian.com, 6 September 2016. Return to text.