Resurrection is the Center of the Center
“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 Co 15:3–4)
The epistle of 1 Corinthians is bookended by the primacy of the gospel. The key verse of the first two chapters is, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), and of the last two chapters is, “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 Cor 15:34). In other words, everything else in the book centers on the gospel. The entire Bible is about Christ and his kingdom and the center of the center is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Resurrection is the Lifeblood of All Biblical Truth
“But 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. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:13–19)
Paul writes with blunt clarity.
Resurrection Demands a Shared Life
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 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.” (1 Cor 15:20–23)
A firstfruits offering from the harvest was a representative part of the whole. Paul’s description of the resurrection of Christ as a firstfruits offering means that the believer’s bodily resurrection is as certain as the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection since they are two episodes of one whole harvest. The general resurrection event begins with the resurrection of Christ. In the resurrection of Christ, the harvest has arrived and is visible. Our union with Christ ensures our bodily resurrection, which we have already witnessed in Christ’s bodily resurrection. However, this vital union also implies that we should see ourselves, not as random Christian individuals, but in the plurality of the harvest.
Resurrection is the Goal of All Goals
” 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. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:24–28)
The resurrection makes clear that the believer’s life is lived in the context of the already but not yet tension of the kingdom of Christ. The church of Jesus Christ is an outpost of the kingdom embedded in the parasitic kingdom of the fallen world. Believers serve Christ in the already of his kingdom, having already been spiritually raised from death to life, but knowing that it is not yet the final consummation of the kingdom when the final bodily resurrection of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation will occur and sin will be fully and finally dealt with. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:24, “Then comes the end
Resurrection brings Awe to All of Life
But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 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. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. 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 lifegiving 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 Cor 15:38–49)
The reality of the resurrection in the believer’s life produces a sense of awe at the fact that our physical bodies have an eternal purpose. We must constantly be on guard against an ancient heresy called Gnosticism (“the one who knows”) that continually rears its heretical head.
Gnostics desire to separate the spiritual from the physical. The body becomes an irrelevant container that is ultimately unimportant while mysticstyle spirituality is what really matters. This approach makes people impatient with restrictions of embodied place and time and the grind of everyday living. The gospel, on the other hand, means that no aspect of life is meaningless or mundane because it is infused with resurrection. Your actual embodied life is your unique and strategic ministry opportunity now, and your resurrected body and spirit in the consummation of the kingdom in the New Heavens and New Earth will be the same body and spirit you have now.
Resurrection Produces Spiritual Courage in Us
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?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Co 15:54–58)Paul is doggedly insistent on making the point that the resurrection matters to the believer here and now. Also, the reality of the resurrection means that this world matters here and now as well. We are to set our minds on resurrection and have its gospel-intoxicating power transform our lives as we serve him in this fallen world. We do not have to be success judges, constantly comparing and evaluating whether our position is important enough or our efforts are applauded and properly valued. The resurrection liberates us from that kind of deadend pursuit of identity and allows us to live in joy as we simply attempt to be faithful wherever we find ourselves. The reality of the resurrection steals the power of death as a weapon able to make us a slave to our own fears and infuses us with scandalous, selfforgetful courage because, as Tolkien has Sam ask Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings (chapter 4, book 6), “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Because of the resurrection the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”