Recently, in a conversation with a friend, we spoke soberly about the universality of death and how all of us are confronted by its reality, whether great or small, young or old, male or female, rich or poor; we are all subjected to the power of this great enemy. With every passing day each of us gets closer to the grave. I have a friend who is not particularly excited when you wish him a happy birthday. According to him, every birthday reminds him that he is getting closer to the grave. So for him there is nothing happy about a birthday.
However, as tragic and universal as death is, it is not the most important puzzle to solve. Considering the fact that the soul doesn’t die; the most important questions we should be asking are;
(i) What happens when I die? (ii) If my soul lives on, where will it be? (iii) Will it be in a happy place? (iv) Where will God be when I die? (v) Will I see God? (vi) Will I meet my friends in the afterlife?
Every religion has something to say about death and what happens when we die. Buddhism and Hinduism believe that after death one is reborn into another body. Existence, they believe, is a cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. They also believe that depending on your deeds in one’s previous life, they will be born in one of six realms. If you’ve been good in your previous life, you get to be reborn as a higher specie in your next life. The ultimate goal is to enter nirvana (their form of heaven) and escape the cycle of life. The Muslims also believe in the continued existence of the soul. They believe that on the last day Allah will recreate the decayed bodies of all dead people and then there will be judgment. Some believe all Muslims will eventually go to heaven. Those who did some bad things in life may be punished for a while in hell and eventually go to heaven.
Equally, like all these religions, Christianity also believes in life after death. However what sets Christianity apart from all the others is that we believe in a personal Saviour who died and was resurrected. So the Christian’s belief about life after death is not mere speculation. I am yet to meet a Buddhist or a Hindu who can tell me what species they were in their previous life. They have no idea because their belief about life after death is pure speculation. I will like to examine the Christian’s hope of resurrection through the eyes of the first century believers at Corinth. Paul had received a letter from the church in Corinth about various matters, some very disturbing. There was division in the church, cases of sexual immorality, confusion over the Lord’s Supper, disagreement over the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly speaking in tongues, and the list goes on.
Now, one source of confusion was about the resurrection of the dead. Living in a Greco-Roman culture which had weird views about life after death, it was possible their belief in the life after death was getting influenced by the prevailing wisdom rather than the Bible. The Greek belief in the life after death ranged from nonexistence to a shadowy and immaterial existence in an underworld. Some people in the church believed that by the gift of the Spirit, and especially the manifestation of tongues, they had already entered into their spiritual, “heavenly” existence. The body was just a hindrance waiting to be done away with at death. They had therefore denied the body in the present, and had no use for it in the future. That pretty much explains why there was sexual immorality of various kinds in the church. With such a distorted view, it didn’t matter what they did with their bodies.
Paul, addresses this particular sin saying, “…The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1Corinthians 6:13-20).
You see, their view of the resurrection had huge ramifications for their present life. And it does for us as well. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, Paul sets out to help them renew their minds about the resurrection of the body and how that should affect how they lived.
1) The Certainty of the Resurrection
2) The Mystery of the Resurrection
3) The Implications of the Resurrection
The Certainty of the Resurrection
Paul first and foremost appeals to the resurrection of Christ as the basis for the Christian’s own resurrection. “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”(v.12). There is a chain of consequences for such a denial, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (vv.13-15). The correlation for Paul was very clear. As compelling as such an argument is, there were people who could still not wrap their heads around it. Yes they believed Christ has been raised from the dead. But that is Christ, what about us, how could that happen? Right in verse 35, we see what the confusion was in Corinth. They could not understand it, and that means it cannot be true. That’s the problem with many of us even today. We measure truth by our ability to understand it. If we cannot understand something we conclude that it cannot be true. We limit the power of God by our finite minds. For many, the idea that Jesus the Son of God could die to save sinners doesn’t sit too well in their finite minds, and that is what has kept them from accepting Him as their personal Saviour.
The Resurrection And The Natural World
Paul draws an analogy from the natural world of agriculture to paint a picture of the resurrection. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (v.36). Besides the fact that the seed must first die, Paul also emphasises that the final product is totally different from what is originally planted: “And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” (vv37-38). He further appeals to the different kinds of bodies that exist in nature, how the human body differs from that of animals or birds or the fish. Then in vv.40-41 he makes allusion to the galaxies “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.”
From everyday natural experiences he draws lesson for the reasonableness and certainty of the bodily resurrection of the Christian (vv.42-44). Further, Paul compares this to our natures both in the first Adam and the last Adam who is Christ: “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.”(45-49).
The First Adam And The Last Adam
In our first Adamic nature we are like the seed that is planted, we must first die to attain the new nature which is after the order of the last Adam. We will have the same kind of body Jesus had when he was raised from the dead, the perishable for imperishable, dishonour for glory, weakness for power and natural for spiritual. Spiritual here is not referring to a ghost-like or immaterial form. We will have real bodies, except that this body will be pure and holy, not susceptible to decay and corruption. Just as Jesus had a physical body after his resurrection and could be touched and seen, we will also have recognisable bodies after our resurrection. There will be both continuity and transformation.
The resurrection is a work God does: “God gives it [the seed] a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” When we consider the fact that it is God who works out all of this in creation, there should be no doubt that he is also able to accomplish this in us. A denial of the resurrection is a direct denial of the power of God. So regardless of what the Corinthians believed about the power of the Holy Spirit, the show-off of spiritual gifts and their elaborate “churchianity”, their beliefs about the resurrection was anti-Christian. Like the Corinthians, is it possible that we ourselves have denied the resurrection, perhaps not with words but with our actions?
To be continued.