The Bible teaches that the resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact with cosmic ramifications. The resurrection of Jesus establishes the forgiveness of human sins, the bodily resurrection of all believers, and the renewal of all things. And so the resurrection of Jesus is the ground of all Christian hope.
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?…” (1 Cor. 15:12-26)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Paul has just reviewed the basics of the gospel, emphasizing the witnesses of the resurrection, last of all Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:1-11). From that record, Paul asks how any of the Corinthians can be saying there is no resurrection (15:12). Paul ties the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of all believers together: you cannot have one without the other (15:13). And if Christ is not risen, the problems pile up: our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain, the apostles are false witnesses, we are still in our sins, and all who have already died are lost (15:14-18). If the Christian faith is twisted into a message that merely makes people feel better in this life, we are a most pitiful lot (15:19). But Christ is risen from the dead, and therefore He is the first fruits of those who sleep in death – so it makes sense that He would rise first and afterward all who belong to Him (15:20, 23). It should not seem impossible that God might bring resurrection through the man Jesus, since the man Adam plunged us all into death (15:21-22). Finally, Paul insists that this harvest includes all authorities, all enemies, up to and including death itself (15:24-26).
FIRSTFRUITS OF THE RESURRECTION HARVEST
In the Israelite festal calendar was the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, a sort of harvest festival, but it began with the offering of firstfruits of the harvest (Lev. 23:10). This was kind a tithe, where Israel was required to give the Lord the firstfruits of the harvest in faith, trusting God for the entire harvest. Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus is like that: the resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruits of those who sleep (1 Cor. 15:23). When we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, we are simultaneously confessing our sure and certain faith in the whole harvest, the resurrection of all who believe in Him, when He comes to judge the world (1 Cor. 15:23).
It may be that some were contemplating the heresy of “hyperpreterism,” which includes the notion that there is only a spiritual “resurrection” at death to heaven, and in another place, Paul specifically warns Timothy about profane and vain babblings that increase ungodliness, specifically those who say that the resurrection is past already (2 Tim. 2:18). But we know that the resurrection is not past already because one of the enemies that Christ has determined to put beneath His feet is death itself, the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:25-26). People are still dying, and therefore, that enemy has not been destroyed. But it’s not an accident that Paul calls death “sleep” throughout this text (15:6, 18, 20, 51). The clear implication is that those who sleep most certainly will wake. God is not an incompetent farmer. He does not plant and fail to get a harvest. As Job said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh, shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).
CONCLUSION: EASTER FORGIVENESS & HOPE
The Christian faith stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the apostles and hundreds of other witnesses lied, our faith is empty, those who have died already are lost, and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:13-18). This last one leaves us the most miserable and hopeless. But if Christ is risen, then the power of death has been broken. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 8:28), but if a true man, a descendant of Adam has come back from the dead, then there is a way out, a way of escape. The debt of sin has been paid in full. So we are proclaiming forgiveness when we say, “He is risen!” So, how can you hold on to any grudges against anyone?
If Christ is risen from the dead, then the harvest has begun, and we have great hope beyond this life (1 Cor. 15:19-20). This is because God is the Farmer, and His harvest is certain. Winter is ending, the Spring has begun. And our hope is specifically that Christ must reign until all of His enemies have been put beneath His feet (1 Cor. 15:25-26). Hebrews quotes this same verse from Psalm 8 and says, “We do not yet see everything put under Him. But we see Jesus… that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man… that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:8-9, 14). All of this means that Christians must be robust optimists. All things serve Him. He holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). Therefore, we are more than conquerors in life and in death, in prison or free, in perils, in success, in glory, in pain, and everything in between (Rom. 8:35-39).
Paul closes 1 Corinthians 15 with this exuberant celebration: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:57-58). Earlier it says that our bodies are seeds that go into the ground (1 Cor. 15:37-44), but the implication here at the end is that our entire lives are a sort of seed, since our labor is not in vain in the Lord. Since God is the Farmer, He knows how to plant and water us and every detail of our lives perfectly so that we will yield the greatest crop. So do not grow weary in doing good. Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. He is risen indeed.