You are hereThe Nature of the Resurrection According to 1Corinthians 15
The Nature of the Resurrection According to 1Corinthians 15
by John McPherson
This issue is currently being hotly contested among several of my fellow Preterists here at this site, and I felt that presenting my own position in a clear and concise manner might add some new dimension to the ongoing discussion. Perhaps some middle ground can be found between polarized views.This issue is currently being hotly contested among several of my fellow Preterists here at this site, and I felt that presenting my own position in a clear and concise manner might add some new dimension to the ongoing discussion. Perhaps some middle ground can be found between polarized views.This chapter introduces the subject of the resurrection as a shift in focus from issues pertaining to corporate worship (the first fourteen chapters of the book, which also include some instruction concerning personal, individual values judgments and the basis for them). In chapter 15, Paul shifts his focus to the gospel itself, which formed the basis for his own ministry and the fledgling faith of the Corinthian Christians.
It is highly significant that Paul opens this examination of the gospel – and the resurrection’s role in it – by referencing Christ’s PERSON. He clearly states, in v.3, that “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. Paul does not go into specific details here, concerning which parts of Christ’s Being experienced death or in what form they experienced it. Rather, he states plainly that Christ Jesus Himself – as a Person – experienced death. He goes on, in v.4, to state, “And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures”. It is natural to view this text in terms of a reference to Christ’s physical body that died on the cross. After all, that body was placed in the tomb, which was a form of burial. It was from that tomb that He issued, seemingly, on the third day. So there should be no room for confusion or alternative interpretation here. But let us consider this possibility. In keeping with Paul’s focus on Christ’s PERSON – is it not possible that God’s sending His soul/spirit to Sheol was a form of burial in itself? Certainly, the concept of “rising” lends itself more closely to the idea of one’s soul/spirit rising from “the place of the dead” (where the other, pre-resurrection saints/”elect”/”just”) were held in waiting. Samuel, when he appeared to Saul at the witch of Endor’s house, was said to “ascend out of the earth” (1Samuel 28:12-14). We know that his physical body didn’t rise at this time, so it is logical to conclude that his disembodied soul/spirit was kept somewhere, awaiting the resurrection (at which time they could be called forth, to rise into the full presence of God, forever). His soul/spirit was allowed to make a brief appearance to Saul, in order to communicate a message of judgment from God. But Samuel was required to return to a "sleep condition" in a "disembodied state" after his interaction with Saul. Note Samuel's words to Saul, in 1Samuel 28:15, "Why hast thou disquieted me, to BRING ME UP?"
But let us continue with our examination of the chapter under immediate consideration. Verses 5-8 read as follows, “5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” Two things are of particular interest here. One is that Paul emphasizes the fact that Jesus was SEEN by these followers of His. He does not state that His physical, pre-death body was seen, handled, interacted with in a highly physical way. Rather, the emphasis is on the VISIBILITY of Christ’s Person to His followers. There is no question as to His identity. It was truly their Lord who had arisen from the “place of the death”. But the other point of interest is that NOWHERE in the Scriptures do we have any record of ONE sighting of Christ’s post-resurrection form by a non-believer or one who was not a follower of His. Surely, if He possessed a physical body like the one He had in His pre-death ministry and life, He would be readily visible to all who happened to encounter Him (on the road to Emmaus, for example). He was a highly public figure and well-known in those days, according to the accounts presented in the Gospels. Surely some note would have been made of His incidental encounter with one who was NOT one of His followers. But such was not the case. In fact, in the case of Paul (as referenced in v.8), those with him heard a voice but SAW NO-ONE SPEAKING (Acts 1:7)!
Paul makes a few personal observations concerning his own ministry in vss. 9-11, then returns to his examination of the resurrection concept. It is here that we find particularly strong evidence against the idea that Paul has a covenantal concept in mind. In vss. 12-19, Paul develops a rhetorical argument, emphasizing the logical outcome of denial of the resurrection. The whole focus is not on the NATURE of the resurrection, here, so much as the reality that their ministries and preaching were founded on the reality and firm belief that God raised Christ “from the dead”. In OTHER words, their ministries did not have their foundation on whether or not Christ Jesus was revitalized PHYSICALLY, but whether His “raising from the dead” as an entity or person was factual or fictional.
Verse 19 particularly emphasizes the contrast between “this life” (Paul’s reference to the blessedness of fellowship with God through Christ while physically alive) and “the next” (which, if Christ’s resurrection were not a reality, would involve continued separation from the Presence of God in Sheol with the other saints of the “seed of Abraham” by faith). Verse 20, however, powerfully affirms the reality that Christ Jesus had, indeed, “risen from the dead” (again, notice the absence of any specific reference to His physical reanimation/restoration/quickening in bringing His pre-crucifixion body back to life). Christ’s resurrection established the form and pattern which those of the remainder of the saints (in Sheol) would follow. Verses 21,22 draw parallels between the bias toward sin which Adam introduced into the human race (thus creating a spiritual separation between God and man, finding its ultimate expression in the “imprisoning” of the souls of God’s “elect” and “just” in Sheol, until the resurrection), and Christ’s introduction of spiritual release for these spiritual “captives”.
Verse 23 confirms that the actual resurrection would occur at His “coming”. His Return (Parousia) would involve this very event (among others), and as we know – this occurred @70 AD.
Verse 24 speaks to Christ’s subjecting all “rule, authority and power”, referencing the authorities and powers of the destroyed “Old Covenant Jewish world”.
Verse 25 speaks of Christ’s reign including the final overthrow of His “enemies” (the Jewish leaders, particularly those directly responsible for His crucifixion and the ongoing attempts to destroy His Church at that time).
Verse 26 speaks of the “final enemy”, “death” being destroyed. The “place of the dead” is what, I believe, is in view here. When hell/gehenna and Sheol were destroyed in 70 AD (cf. Rev. 20:14), then this verse was fulfilled and accomplished.
Verses 27,28 describe the final reconciling of “all things” unto God through the consummation of His Son’s reign. The spiritual “world” initiated in Christ Jesus and founded upon His Word and His Church would be fully established at this time, with God alone as Sovereign.
The importance of the resurrection (for these First Century believers in particular) in all of this cannot be overstated. This is Paul’s point in vss.29-34. Again, it is not the nature of the form Christ possessed in His post-resurrection state that is at issue here. It is the resurrection ITSELF, in terms of the location and RElocation of the PERSONS involved that Paul is focussed on here. The role all of this plays in the Master Plan of God eschatologically is glorious and Paul is eager to impress this reality upon the minds of his readers. This was THEIR hope, and THEIR motivator to live the lives of faith required of them.
Paul finds the issue of the NATURE of the form assumed by those in their post-resurrection state both mundane and unwise to inquire into. It is of far less significance than the relocation of the saints in Sheol from the “place of the dead” to glorious, conscious life with God for eternity. Verses 35-38 establish a very simple lesson. It is not easy to definitively identify the exact FORM and SUBSTANCE which the resurrected believer will experience as the manifestation of his/her PERSON in the resurrected state. Just as a seed will die and disintegrate in the ground, providing the opportunity for life in the form of a plant, God sovereignly bestows a form for each and every resurrected person according to His own wisdom. Just as the seed and the plant are completely dissimilar in form, so the form granted to the resurrected person and the physical body the leave behind in the grave are completely different.
Verses 39-44 compare the differences between the various different PHYSICAL “bodies” which are so drastically dissimilar (contrasting earthly bodies with celestial ones, animals with people, etc.). Verses 42-44 in particular speak to the impossibility of DEFINITIVELY establishing the specific differences between all of these “forms” or “bodies” we are so familiar with, let alone those we haven’t experienced yet.
Verse 45 makes mention of Adam’s being granted physical life, thus becoming a “living soul”, with the ability (through procreation) to pass on physical life to others. Christ, on the other hand, became the “second Adam”, being granted SPIRITUAL LIFE – ETERNAL life – thus becoming a “quickening spirit” with the ability to spiritually “procreate” in passing on His spiritual life to His followers (all those who believe). This included the ability to raise from Sheol those who demonstrated obedient faith in God in the pre-resurrection period of history, after which the “place of death” (spiritual death/separation from God) was terminated.
Verses 46-50 re-emphasize the drastic, supernatural differences between the physical, “earthy” state and the eternal, “heavenly” state. Those who had not experienced the spiritually transforming work of Christ and His gospel within them (and who had no hope of the resurrection) were “earthy”. Their interests and concerns were in the physical life alone. They had no eternal place in God’s Presence to anticipate. The “corruption” spoken of by Paul in v.50 is not precisely a condemnation of the physical body enjoyed in this life, in a “gnostic” sense. Rather, he is referring to the fact that the physical body ultimately dies and returns to dust. It becomes “corrupted” and is, in essence, temporal. “Corruption” and “incorruption” simply contrasts the durability of the physical body vs. the spiritual, heavenly one. The post-mortem expectations for one over the other are completely opposite. Thus, the “corruptible” physical body has no place in the spiritual Kingdom of God after this life (the place of “resurrection” where the resurrected saints would spend eternity). Their inheritance was in heaven with God, and only their incorruptible souls/spirits would be allowed to enter there.
Verses 51 and 52 get as specific as Paul was able to (under the provision of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration). Obviously, God had no desire to spoil the surprise of Resurrection Day for His First Century saints. But v.52 DOES speak to the nature of this resurrection in its understatement and LACK of specifics. “The dead” (the souls in Sheol) would be raised “incorruptible”. There is no mention of physical bodies being reconstituted from the soil into which they had disintegrated (most of them). NO mention of their being restored to pre-physical death bodies whatsoever. Rather, they are raised in their incorruptible, SPIRITUAL state, and given NEW forms – SPIRITUAL, HEAVENLY ones.
“and we shall be changed”. Did Paul foresee in this inclusion of himself with “the dead” that he wouldn’t survive, physically, unto this event? It’s certainly possible. I believe he may have been speaking prophetically, here, concerning his own, physical death before the resurrection, and that he would be numbered among “the dead” who would be raised from Sheol. The other possibility, of course, is that the living saints of that period were the ones Paul had in view in the statement, “we shall all be changed”. In keeping with his emphasis on the shedding of the “corruptible”, physical body in exchange for an “incorruptible”, spiritual one – it follows that those saints who were alive at the time of the resurrection, and joined “the raised dead” in the Presence of God, had their physical bodies disposed of (removed in the twinkling of an eye), to be replaced with heavenly, incorruptible, spiritual ones – just like the resurrected dead. Paul anticipates this event, not so much in terms of the SHEDDING of his corruptible, fleshly body, but in view of his “being clothed” with an incorruptible, eternal, spiritual form. “Death” (the place of spiritual death – Sheol) would be swallowed up in the glorious victory of the release of the dead saints there into the eternal freedom of incorruptible, spiritual, resurrected forms, ever present with God.
Verses 55-57 pinpoint the implications in Paul’s terminology beyond any doubt. “Death” had a “sting” and the “grave” had a temporal power over the faithful saints of God after their physical lives had come to an end – up until the resurrection. At the resurrection, death’s “sting” would no longer have any power, and likewise the “grave” would be denied its ultimate victory over these saints. Sheol would no longer be tolerated as a place where God’s beloved saints would be forced to remain separate from Him. The “law” (the Mosaic Covenant) gave strength to sin and death, and necessitated the existence of Sheol. But the “law” was fulfilled in Christ and no longer had jurisdiction over the post-mortem experience of the saints of God.
The labors of the saints in the First Century, during their physical lives, was “not in vain” (v.58), since they had the resurrection to look forward to, rather than a time of indefinite waiting in Sheol.
Thus concludes this brief overview of 1Corinthians 15. I would love to go into much greater detail on some of these things, because this homily is by no means a passage in isolation unto itself in the Scriptures. As we know, NO passage of Scripture has that characteristic. Paul was speaking specifically to resurrection expectations and hopes harbored by Old Covenant Israelites for centuries. THEY spoke of their forefathers who had “fallen asleep”. THEY used terminology like this to communicate the awareness that this “sleep condition” (in a disembodied, spiritual state) was TEMPORAL. There would come a day when their forefathers would be awakened and permitted to enter the glorious Presence of the God of Israel.
Developing this in a more thorough manner, however, would involve a lengthy book. Time and space permit no more than has been presented, above, for the careful, meditative, studious reflection of my fellow Preterist brethren here on Planet Preterist. May our Saviour’s Truth be manifest and glorified in our deliberations here, together.
Serving the Truth,