(1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
The hope of salvation that we teach and believe in is that we will be resurrected to life in Christ Jesus through the grace of God and the faith that we have in His working. It is not about anything we do but what we believe.
And in this short section of scripture we see the power of the resurrection. And it is incredibly powerful because it is the means by which we receive life with Christ.
Resurrection is Real
The previous few verses leading to this section speak about how if there is no resurrection then there is no Christianity. It also shows us that if there is no resurrection then our beliefs and faith are in vain, we have not been set free from sin and there is no future for us or a life after death. Thus Paul states that if there is no resurrection we are of all men the most to be pitied.
But his opening verse here proclaims joyfully that there is indeed a resurrection. Christ was raised from the dead so that all the promises of God could and would be fulfilled.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. – (1 Corinthians 15:20)
Now we may not see Christ standing before us in the flesh, raised from the dead as they did three days after He was risen, but we have the testimony of many others who have and did see him after His resurrection and their word is trustworthy and true. Look what Paul wrote earlier in this chapter.
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. – (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)
Jesus did not appear just to the twelve apostles, nor to just Mary and the other women who saw Him in the garden after He had risen, but we see here that Jesus appeared to many of the early disciples and followers of the Lord in the early church. Just taking the count above as a minimum there were more than five hundred people to whom Jesus appeared.
With so many witnesses, no one could say that it did not happen. While one or two or a handful of people may be able to conspire together to say a thing happened when it did not, you cannot discount the evidence and eye witness accounts of more than five hundred people.
Jesus appeared to so many so that there would be no doubt that He was raised from the dead. He wants us to believe with no doubt that He was indeed put to death and subsequently raised from the dead. That is why there were so many witnesses to His resurrection.
Resurrection is real because Jesus was raised from the dead. And because it is real and was witnessed by so many people, we take comfort. Take heart in the hope of salvation and the resurrection offered to us.
Why the Resurrection of Christ
Now there are a few reasons why Jesus was resurrected and Paul teaches us in these verses as to the primary purpose of the resurrection. Note his words.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)
Christ was the first to be resurrected to life. He was the first fruits of the resurrection.
You may recall there were others prior to Christ who had been resurrected, chief among those was Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha. But Lazarus and all the other men who were raised from the dead were brought back to this life, not eternal life. They were raised but were destined to die again since they had not been raised to eternal life.
It was not until Jesus was raised that the new covenant and the offer of the eternal resurrection came to be. Jesus was the first man to be raised to eternal life so that in Him the debt of sin could be repaid.
We see in verses 21-22 above that death came through one man’s mistake and one man’s sin, that is through Adam. Because Adam sinned the penalty of death fell upon all who were descended from Adam, which includes every man or woman ever born. Adam and Eve sinned and so we all die because we are all born under the penalty of sin.
But the purpose and the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to save us from sin.
The debt of sin can only be paid by death. When a person dies, the debt of sin stored up throughout their life is paid.
But God in His infinite kindness gave man a second chance through His divine grace. He offers all mankind the chance to be remade anew, not as children of Adam doomed to die, but as children of God with the hope of eternal life.
And God did this through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Christ man can be made alive if man has faith and believes in the resurrection God the Father wrought through Jesus Christ.
All mankind will die because of the sin of Adam, but likewise all mankind can and will be made alive through the resurrection of Jesus Christ if they have faith.
The Resurrection Process
We need faith because there is a process involved. There is a timing to these things that must be followed.
Although we say as Christians that we will not die, we know that this refers to the death of our spirits. Our bodies are doomed to die because the flesh of man is descended from Adam and under the bondage of sin. Our bodies will grow old, get sick and eventually wear out and die.
But it is the spirit of man that is important, not the flesh. What happens to the flesh is irrelevant in the total scheme of things. It is the spirit that is important for it is in the spirit of a man or woman that the person exists. You are not your body but your spirit, and it is the spirit that holds fast to the hope of the resurrection. This is why Jesus said,
62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. – (John 6:62-63)
It is the spirit that gives life and the flesh is of no help or of no avail. The flesh brings death for the flesh is subject to sin. But through faith and the working of the Holy Spirit, our spirits are set free from the bondages to sin and death, which comes through grace and by faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But we must remember that there is still a process and a timing involved in all of this. Paul points out the process involved here saying,
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. – (1 Corinthians 15:23)
Christ was the first to be resurrected and in Him the process began. In Christ Jesus we receive God’s grace and the offer of eternal life through faith. It was at the death and resurrection of Jesus that the new covenant was established and came into force.
A covenant is a binding promise. The old covenant was the covenant of law where the people of Israel were told that they would receive the blessings of God and life if they kept the law.
But the new covenant is based on better promises because we are given life through faith by believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and following His teachings that lead to life. This is a better way because there is no restrictions as the law imposed, no reminder of sin and no need to offer sacrifices for our sins because Jesus became the perfect sacrifice. Under the ne covenant we are freed from sin, freed from law and freed from death.
But the freedom from death, which is the resurrection of the just, will come at a later time. This is the process Paul referred to in verse 23. Christ was the first to be raised and the rest of those who will be resurrected to eternal life will occur when Jesus returns to gather those who believed and eagerly await His return.
Seek to believe and know about the resurrection because it means life. There is a resurrection yet to come when the Lord returns. Seek to enter into His resurrection and so hold the hope of salvation in the final resurrection of His people.
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