Happy Easter! He is risen! He is risen indeed. I had the real joy a few years ago (7! can you believe it?) to preach an “Easter” sermon at Gainesville Bible Church. It wasn’t on Easter proper but during the Easter season. I remember staying up for days studying 1 Corinthians 15, one of the foremost writings from the Apostle Paul on the resurrection of Jesus and what Jesus’ followers can expect post-death. I’m sure I have sermon audio somewhere around but it might take me a while to find it. Instead, I want to share with you the content of that message reformatted into an essay. It’s a bit dry in places, I’m sure, but it covers some of the major objections to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Resurrection: A Fantastic Reality1 Corinthians 15:12-28
A friend of mine came rumbling into my office one Friday morning a few years ago, seemingly distraught. He told me that Pope John Paul II was about to die. One news source had even reported his death but then recanted their report later. We talked about it for a while, and then I went home to find out the latest news. When I turned on the television I saw the people gathered in the Vatican, at Saint Peter’s Square, holding rosary beads, prayer books, Bibles, and any other religious object they could find. They were looking up at the pope’s apartment, at several lit windows, to be exact, and hoping that they wouldn’t see the lights go out. If the lights went out, they knew the pope was dead. Not only were the eyes of the people alert, but so were their ears. When a pope dies, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica ring to announce it. The news commentators were very melancholy in their demeanor. Something big was about to happen and, this time, it wasn’t something people wanted.
I find that death is one of those things that scare people. I know it worries me. It has been intimidating people ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Every generation has succumbed to its power by the will of God, and every person has, at one time in life, felt its fear. After all, death is the end, isn’t it? No more living? No more talking to people? Walking with people? Breathing that cool, clean wisp of air that drifts across the plains?
This is what people two thousand years ago thought about death. Sure, there was the thought of an afterlife in just about every ancient culture. The Jews certainly had dreams of an afterlife. But every theory of the afterlife was missing one very important ingredient — the body. Once the body was dead, it wasn’t coming back again. The spirit lived on but the body stayed put.
All that changed two thousand years ago, when one brand new empty tomb threw the whole cosmos into an uproar. Where was Jesus? Where’s His crucified body? What happened here?
In this essay I would like to, along with the apostle Paul, talk about the events surrounding that empty tomb. Is it even possible for the dead to come back to life? If not, what does that mean for nearly 2,000 years of church history? If not, what does that mean for today? What about tomorrow? But if Jesus is risen, as His apostles proclaimed, what does that mean for today? What about for tomorrow? In other words, is the resurrection of Jesus a fantasy or a reality?
Popular Christian author and pastor Max Lucado has said the following, “The resurrection… is the keystone in the arch of the Christian faith. If it be solid, the doorway is trustworthy. Dislodge it and the doorway crumbles.”1 In other words, the resurrection is essential to the Christian faith. If it is not true, then there are grave consequences (pun intended). Henry Morris said, “The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the crowning proof of Christianity. If the resurrection did not take place, then Christianity is a false religion. If it did take place, then Christ is God and the Christian faith is absolute truth.”2
There are only two answers to the question, “Can the dead come back to life?” Yes or no. And the apostle Paul addresses these answers in his first letter to the church in Corinth. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15 to see what Paul had to say about the two answers to the reported resurrection of Christ. Just like Paul, I think there is great significance of the two answers for our lives today. I’ll begin with the negative and then move to the affirmative. I think you will find that there is no comparison between a simple “yes” and a simple “no.”
If Jesus was not raised …
I want to begin by exploring the morbid possibility that Christ did not rise from the dead. Why would I, a pastor, choose to begin with something whose opposite I proclaim? Because in our day the resurrection of Jesus is given very little legitimacy by the secular public. Scholars, philosophers and skeptics refuse to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Even some Christians hold doubts about His resurrection. After all, when was the last time you saw someone come back to life?
This was the same situation in Corinth, the church to which Paul addresses this letter. There were some in the church who had become skeptical about the possibility of resurrection. Whether this skepticism originated inside the church or in the popular culture of 1st century Greece, It’s not clear. Probably both are to blame. The Stoics Paul encountered on Mars Hill in Athens believed that all matter is evil. Only the spirit is good. Therefore, there was no place for the resurrection of an evil material body. This was also the claim of one of the early church’s stiffest opponents, Gnosticism, which reared its ugly head late in the 1st Century. It is fair to say that Greek philosophy was still alive and active in Corinth during this time.
Paul had already been to Corinth, preaching the resurrected Christ. However, some in the church doubted the reality of the resurrection. Paul spent all of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 forcefully combating this belief. Starting in verse 12, he wrote:
“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;”
The issue at hand in the first half of chapter 15 is the preaching of the apostles — namely, the gospel message. Paul starts off chapter 15 by writing about the importance of the gospel message, which was preached to and received by the believers in Corinth (v. 1-2). This message was that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day (3-4). So Paul and his associates were proclaiming the resurrection of Christ to the Corinthians but there were some in the church who refused to believe its possibility!
I liken this situation to a baseball club. Suppose one off-season, the owner tells his general manager that his team needs more pitching, because pitching is what wins championships. The general manager agrees and signs a bunch of pitchers. Two months into the season, a fan comes to the general manager and tells him that the owner is wrong — pitching never won anybody anything, for hitting wins championships. The general manager switches his position and trades his star pitchers for star hitters. How do you think the owner would feel when he found out? Paul was experiencing the frustration of a teacher, who has taught his students a fact over and over again only to hear dissenting murmurings among them.
How can you say that there is no resurrection from the dead when that’s not what I, and the other apostles, have been telling you from the beginning? And to prove the absurdity of such a statement, Paul gives dramatic, life-altering examples.
Madman or Messiah?
A failure on the part of Jesus Christ to rise from the dead has exponential consequences. The first thing that comes from a resurrection failure is a failure of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he is a dead lunatic — a madman who is not simply a moral teacher, as some skeptics today claim. Why would he be a lunatic, you ask? The answer lies in all in the words he said. Jesus repeatedly prophesied his physical resurrection from the dead. He prophesied his resurrection on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9:9, on the road to Jerusalem in Matthew 20:18-19 and Luke 18:31-33, and at the Temple in John 2:19-22.
But if there is no resurrection from the dead, Paul says, then not even Jesus could have been raised. And if Jesus was not raised, I dare say, he is proven to be a liar, for he said he was going to be raised from the dead. And this is no spiritual resurrection prophesied. Jesus’ spirit did not rise from the grave. John 2:19-22 makes it clear that Jesus said his body was going to be torn down and then raised up.
The consequence of this failed prophecy is a loss of divinity, messiahship, salvation and credibility. Jesus could not have been God, for he would have proven to be wrong, and he could not be messiah, for he did not do what the messiah was prophesied to do — namely, liberate the people from captivity and reign in righteousness, and he could not save anyone, for he himself died for his sin. Even more, he could not be a moral teacher, for he is not trustworthy. If he was wrong on the resurrection, what else was he wrong about? Liars don’t make messiahs.
Oh, and the obvious point — he is still dead and his body is still on this earth. It’s just that no one has found it yet. It’s funny how unique Christianity’s resurrection claim is among world religions. If you want to see Buddha, his body can be seen. If you want to see Confucius, his body can be found. Gandhi? His body can be found. Mohammed? His body can be found. But Christianity claims not only that Jesus died, but that his body was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and political figure, and just about everybody knew where it was. Yet his body went missing and his followers organized into the world’s most influential entity — the Church.
How Many Lives Does a Lie Cost?
Speaking of Jesus’ followers, they must be awfully good liars if Jesus was not raised from the dead. To think that a whole religion started from the proclamations of 12 largely uneducated Jewish men about 30 years into the 1st Century A.D! But Paul is writing that this must certainly be the case if there is no resurrection from the dead. Look with me at 1 Corinthians 15:14-15.
14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.
The “our” and “we” refer to the apostles. We can see this from the first part of the chapter, which sets up Paul’s statements in verses 12-19. It was the apostles who first claimed to have seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion. They then preached this fact as part of the gospel message, which Paul outlined earlier in verses 3-4. If it was not true that Christ had been raised, then their preaching counts for nothing. It is vain. The word Paul uses here for “vain” is kene, which means “empty, without reason, foolish.” The teaching of the apostles was illogical and foolish if Christ had not been raised from the dead. That certainly puts Paul in a bright light, doesn’t it?
Even worse than being fools, the apostles were intentional liars against God if Christ was still dead. If God existed, which even pagans of this time period believed that there is at least one god, then the apostles’ evoking of his name in relation to Jesus was scandalous if there is no resurrection. If the dead cannot be raised, God did not raise Christ, and the apostles cannot rightly claim that He did.
Even worse than starting a false religion, all followers of the apostles are proven to be deceivers. Why are they deceivers? Because many have all the training in the world and a strong mind to think, yet they do not proclaim that Jesus is dead. If the dead are not raised, all pastors, teachers, church leaders, etc., are proclaiming what does not exist. Even that guy you love to listen to on the radio or watch on the television is also a deceiver. In fact, his deception is far greater than mine, for his audience dwarfs mine. He is responsible for more people because he is reaching more people with the gospel message.
But what about the apostles? What would have motivated them to lie about the resurrection? J.P. Moreland said persecution would have exposed any scam: “The disciples had nothing to gain by lying and starting a new religion. They faced hardship, ridicule, hostility, and martyr’s deaths. In light of this, they could have never sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie. The disciples were not fools and Paul was a cool-headed intellectual of the first rank. There would have been several opportunities over three to four decades of ministry to reconsider and renounce the lie.” But they did not. And neither did their true disciples and followers.
Of the 13 post-resurrection apostles (the original 11 plus Matthias and Paul), Church history records that 12 died a martyr’s death. Only John was spared this fate, though he was persecuted mercilessly. A lie doesn’t usually make it through 12 martyrdoms, especially when each martyr knew the truth of what happened Easter Sunday and the weeks thereafter. Did they die for nothing? Why didn’t any of them confess a resurrection lie?
The Testimony of Martyrs
In fact, as Paul declares, many saints who have held fast their confession of faith died in vain if Christ is not raised from the dead. Look with me at the next few verses of chapter 15:
16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
If Christ was not raised from the dead, the death of the saints in the name of the Christ was for nothing, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15. Yet it was these deaths that fueled the spread of the Church in the first 250 years of its existence. A Roman emperor once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Jesus had said that if someone wanted to save their life they must lose it (Matt 16:25), and if they lose their life for His sake they will find it, and the martyrs did that literally. The church exploded in size and influence in the midst of deadly persecution. And the testimony of the martyrs was more powerful than any sword the emperor possessed. Many believers died believing in the hope of eternal life in Christ and the resurrection of the body. Let me run down for you several of the famous martyrdoms in church history:
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and one of the early church’s leaders. In 156 A.D., he was imprisoned along with a group of Christians and commanded to recant his faith. According to one early church writing, “The Procounsul urged Polycarp, ‘Swear, and I will release you; curse Christ.’ Polycarp said, ‘I have served him eighty-six years, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme the king who saved me!’” When the procounsel threatened him with burning him alive, Polycarp simply answered that the fire the judge could light would last only a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never go out. As a result of his faith, Polycarp was burned alive.
Felicitas was a Christian widow in the late 2nd Century, a consecrated widow to her church, which means she served the church faithfully and received support from it. Felicitas had seven sons, and all eight of them were put on trial for their faith. The judge tried to get her to abandon her faith, first with promises, then with threats, but she answered, “while I live I shall defeat you; and if you kill me, in my death I shall defeat you all the more.” Her sons were accused and tried next, but Felicitas urged her sons to stand strong in the faith. They never wavered. Finally, after hearing about the case, emperor Marcus Aurelius ordered that they each be taken to a different part of the city and sacrificed as an appeasement offering to the gods.
Tertullian, another 2nd Century church leader and martyr, described the persecution this way: “If the River Tiber reaches the walls, in the River Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky does not move or the earth does, if there is famine, if there is plague, the cry is at once, ‘The Christians to the lion!’” In other words, the Romans were looking for excuses to kill the Christians. Floods, drought, cloudy days … it must be the fault of the Christians. It is widely believed that the emperor Nero set fire to Rome in 64 A.D. in order to eradicate the Christians from there. History records that the Christians were blamed for the fire and killed in horrifying ways. All they had to do was deny Christ and live. But the majority chose to die believing in a future resurrection.
What about Aunt Peggy or Uncle Fred, or Mother or Father, or my little brother, all of whom died as believers a death different from the martyrs? Paul says they are lost, too, if there is no resurrection from the dead. They wasted their lives by believing in Jesus and hoping for the resurrection of the dead. They died believing in an inadequate person who did not have the power to forgive their sins. So they still died as sinners needing salvation. How sad.
As I mentioned before, if Jesus was not God, nor perfect man, then his death was not sufficient for the atonement of our sins. And if Christ was not been raised, His sacrificial death was not accepted by God. Paul is saying here that Jesus’ death and resurrection are connected in God’s plan of salvation. And if that plan failed, or was misinterpreted, then we had better look for the real way of salvation.
Well, the past is all fine and good, but what does a resurrection failure mean for us today? In Paul’s words, it means our faith is “worthless” and we are above all men to be pitied. The great Matthew Henry said the following, “Indeed, the Christian is by his religion crucified to this world, and taught to live upon the hope of another. Carnal pleasures are tasteless to him in a great degree, and spiritual and heavenly pleasures are those which he pants after. How sad is his case, indeed, if he must be dead to worldly pleasures and yet never hope for any better!”
If Christ has not been raised, the whole world has reason to feel sorry for us. After all, we are just too weak minded to know what’s best for us. Christianity is just another religion. The morals may do you good in this life, but when you die, where is your hope? Jesus won’t do you any good then if He was not raised. For He could not even conquer death, our greatest enemy. Believing in a dead savior leads to a wasted life. Paul’s word for pity here refers to the poor and needy. If Christ was not raised and Christians are fools, then the rational people should look on us with pity, and show mercy to us, maybe even with an act of kindness. Pretty dramatic, isn’t it?
But thank goodness Paul goes on from here, lest we all give up and go home! Let’s look at the other side of life’s great question, “Can the dead come back to life?” Paul responds with a resounding, “Yes! And the Supreme Author of Life was!”
Since Jesus was raised …
The physical resurrection of Christ is what Paul and the other apostles had been proclaiming, for they had beheld the evidence with their eyes, heard it with their ears and touched it with their hands. Jesus was first seen by Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:11-18), two travelers on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-34), then by the disciples in the Upper Room (20:19-20). Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote that Jesus had been seen by more than 500 people at the same time.
It has been speculated by skeptics that the appearances of Jesus were hallucinations. This is highly unlikely seeing how hallucinations do not happen to 500 people in different areas at the same time. Paul lays even greater evidence on the line in 15:6, saying that some of these eyewitnesses were still alive. If you doubt their stories, go ask them. That’s exactly what Luke did to research his gospel account (Luke 1:1-4).
I do not have time to explore the many evidences of the resurrection of Jesus here, but needless to say the greatest evidence is in the lives He has changed. Look at James, the half-brother of Jesus and number one skeptic before the cross. Yet James became the pillar of the church in Jerusalem. And, of course, there is Paul, who was Saul of Tarsus and a religious zealot sworn to put down the growth of the church. He met the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and was forever changed, as was the Church. It is this testimony that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, prior to his discourse on the effects of a resurrection failure.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed lives then and is still changing lives today. Author John Stott said, “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection.”3 But what were their lives changed from, and to what were they changed? What can our lives be changed from, and to what can they be changed? Paul gives three changes in the next eight verses of 1 Corinthians 15.
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. (But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.) 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
The Curse is Reversed
There is little doubt that Paul supports the resurrection of Christ. The fact that he had spent the previous seven verses playing out a “what if” scenario just sets up the power of the resurrection that dominates the rest of the chapter just as it had dominated Paul’s own life. The word “but” at the beginning of verse 20 draws the contrast. We are not to be pitied, for our Lord has been raised from the dead. Moreover, He is the first fruits, which means He is first and primary, of all who will be raised from the dead. Adam was not raised. Noah was not raised. Abraham was not raised. Moses was not raised. David was not raised. Christ was raised from death to eternal life of the flesh.
The first change that happens because of Christ’s resurrection is a change of physical longevity and spiritual destination. Paul writes in verse 21 that through Adam came physical death but through Christ came the resurrection of the dead. What we have here is a reversal of the evil act of one formerly perfect human by the righteous act of an eternally perfect human. This is a subject Paul discusses in greater detail in Romans chapters 4-6. Because Christ was raised from the dead, the curse is reversed.
In order to unlock the depth of this statement, I feel it is necessary to explore the origins of the doctrine of total depravity. In Genesis 3, God lays down the law after Adam and Eve were caught in the world’s first sin. The taking and partaking of fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil sent the human race into sin and despair. Before this time there was no talk of death. Many theologians speculate that Adam and Eve would have lived forever if there were no sin in Eden. But God decided that as punishment for their sin, that privilege would be taken away. In verse 17, he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.” In verse 19, God brings physical death to humanity, “By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” God had made man out of the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7). And we all will return to dust when we die, with few exceptions, like Enoch, Elijah and believers at the rapture. Physical death is our curse.
But thanks be to God that we will not be conquered by death. For in Christ we will live physically after we die. It is, in my mind one of the most beautiful things about the resurrection. Our bodies will not be abandoned to the grave. Man will physically live because Christ physically lives. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:20. Paul writes that Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrected, meaning He has preeminence — He has supremacy over death. In the Jewish sacrificial system, the first fruits were the first of any crop or livestock offered to God before the rest could be used. It was to be the best of the best, for nothing less would be suitable to give to God. And so here is God’s own Son, perfect God, perfect Man, who offered up His physical resurrection as the first fruits. Now all other resurrections can follow because of Christ. His resurrection is our guarantee.
In verse 22, Paul writes that “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” The phrase be made alive does not just refer to the spirit. Our resurrection will be a spiritual one, as some liberal scholars have contended. The Greek words are pantes zoopoie, which means, “to make alive in every way.” There is nothing about us that will not be raised. I’ll talk more about that later.
But physical death is not our only obstacle to overcome. In Adam, all will die spiritually as well. For just as physical death has been passed down to every human, the sin nature has also been passed down. Look at Paul’s words in Romans 5:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned — 13 for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (5:12-14)
When a new baby is born, not only does he or she inherit the physical curse of Adam’s fall but also the spiritual curse. We are born with what is commonly referred to as total depravity — we have no redeeming quality about us apart from God. We have one choice — to do evil — and we will always make that choice. Even the “good” things done by unbelievers have impure motives behind them. Maybe it is selfishness that leads that celebrity to give a million dollars to the cancer research foundation. Maybe it is arrogance. Maybe it is self-promotion. Or maybe it is that fleeting feeling one receives when they think they have done something good. But the only good that exists comes from God and the only blessing to be received comes from obedience to Him.
Once we become saved we have two choices instead of one: to obey God or to not obey Him. We can do either because He enables us to do good but our sinful flesh is calling us to do bad. In Adam, all die spiritually. As a result, there needed to be a second Adam, one who was perfect man — without sin — to reverse the curse by obedience, even to death on a cross (Phil 2:8).
Through faith in Christ, our spiritual destination changes from hell to heaven. Paul continues in Romans 5:
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous… For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (5:18-19, 6:5-7)
Because of Christ’s resurrection, we have both justification with the Father — which means we have been declared righteous in His presence — and eternal life with Christ. God the Father said we are righteous because we identify ourselves with Christ, but not only that, we also get to spend eternity with Christ. We will die with Him in death to that we live with Him in our resurrection. He has led the way for us to rise again physically and live eternally spiritually. That completes the reversal of Adam’s Curse.
The Resurrection Order
Paul’s second change concerns the order of our resurrections. Not everyone will be resurrected at the same time. There is a “pecking order” that God the Father has established. In 1 Corinthians 15:23, Paul writes that each person will be (resurrected) “in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.” He specifies this last statement in his first letter to the Thessalonian church, telling them that the dead in Christ will rise first at the great rapture of the Church, then those who are alive will meet Christ in the air and be taken to heaven (1 Thess 4:13-18). We find out in Revelation that there are yet two other resurrections, one involving the Old Testament saints (Rev. 20:5) and those who died without salvation (20:5, 13). This is the order of resurrection. I would like to focus on the first multiple resurrection occurrences for a minute.
Paul mentioned in our Corinthians passage that because Jesus rose from the dead He is the firstfruits of those who have died. He has the supremacy. According to the Thessalonians passage, next come those who have spent their lives in faith and died “in Jesus.” The raising of the dead to meet Christ here is a physical resurrection. The root word for “rise” used in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 means “to come back to life.” Since the soul never dies, this resurrection must be the body. This fits with what Paul told us in 1 Corinthians. 15:22 — that all in Christ will be made alive in every way.
Let there be no doubt. Christ’s resurrection means our physical redemption. But those who have died believing in Jesus Christ will be redeemed first at the great rapture. Then those who are alive. Both are made possible only by Jesus’ resurrection, for He has become the firstborn from among the dead (Col 1:18), the first fruits of all who will be resurrected. I promise you — we will be with Christ as whole people, body and soul.
The Supremacy of the Son
Finally, Paul declares that the resurrection of Christ gave Him the supreme authority over all things that exist, even death. First of all, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 that because Jesus lives, He has been given supremacy over all rule, authority and power. This fits with the prophecy of the messiah found in Psalm 110:2, when David said, “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
After the resurrection of Christ came His exaltation, when God the Father put his enemies as a footstool under His feet and gave Him the name above all names. Hebrews says that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father, His work completed (10:11-13), and Paul mentions here that Jesus is not just chilling out in that position. His reign continues from heaven until He returns to the earth to reign at His Second Coming.
The resurrection also proved the obvious — that Jesus Christ is supreme even over death. You often see and hear that Satan and his demons screamed in defeat at the resurrection of Christ. After all, death was the last enemy to be placed under Christ’s feet. Robert Russell had a great line in his book, If a Man Dies, Will He Live Again? When he wrote, “When a man steps out of his own grave, he is anything that he says he is and he can do anything that he says he can do!”4 This is so true! When Christ conquered death, He proved His supremacy over death.
However, just because the work was finished does not mean we can see the end result. Paul says that the last enemy of Christ not subjected to Him was death (15:26). But death is now doomed because of Christ’s resurrection. Just like the cause, sin, the penalty is also under the divine judgment and holds no lasting power. The grave may take us, just as it took Jesus, but it will not keep us, just as it could not keep Him. However, death has not yet been abolished. That is why you and I and our loved ones still physically die. The physical part of Adam’s curse is still in effect, though its days are numbered. We toil on this earth, tilling the soil of living, until that soil reclaims us. But we should take hope in the day when the dead will rise and death will never again take the breath of a human being. Christ has guaranteed this through His resurrection. And all will be raised with a body that is imperishable — unable to die.
Living Life With Boldness
In light of the fantastic reality of Christ’s resurrection, I would like to propose four points of action that we can implement in our own lives to reflect the resurrection. They all revolve around the theme of boldness, because so few believers today seem willing to stand out above the crowd and live with certainty in their future resurrection. If you ask them, they may acknowledge with their mouth that they believe in the resurrection of the dead, but it is how they respond to death that reveals their true belief. A believer who is certain in the eternal reality of resurrection will live with a hope in an eternal life that they are certain of, meaning they will beam with confidence when a loved one is dying or they are facing a life-threatening situation. They are bold in the faith and bold in their hope. And they will show that boldness in front of other people, especially those who do not know Christ. That being said, here are four points, spelling out the word “BOLD,” in order of their importance.
B — BELIEVE in the supremacy of Christ in your life
The Good King reigns above and is our eternal advocate; all things are subject to Him. Leave worries and troubles in His hands. Believe that He has the power and desire to be a part of our lives. He is all-sufficient for He is all-supreme. The Father has placed all things under His feet.
O — OWN your new life in Christ
I think that owning one’s new life in Christ begins with a proper perspective of who Christ is. He is the Risen One, the Supreme ruler, who has supremacy over any hindrance that may get in your way. Secondly, I think we have to maintain a proper perspective of where we are and what death means to us. There is a trend among churches today to hold “homecoming” celebrations instead of funerals for believers. What a wonderful idea! It helps to be reminded that a person’s life does not end at death. The body just lay dormant for a predetermined period of time while the spirit resides in heaven with Jesus, awaiting the day of reunion. Thomas Watson put it well: “The world is but a great inn, where we are to stay a night or two, and be gone; what madness it is to set our heart upon our inn, as to forget our home.” Own your life in Christ, starting with a recognition of His supremacy and continuing with the living out of your
What you believe affects how you live your life. The late Christian musician Rich Mullins once wrote a song with these words, “I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am. And I did not make it; no, it is making me, it is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.” The truth of God pertaining to death is that death is doomed to die. If you live your life according to that knowledge, the hope that is developed will pour out of your heart.
L — LIVE with hope in your future resurrection
Do not fear death, for our bodies shall rise again, glorified and incorruptible. Whether you die fighting for the name of the Lord or die behind the front lines, if you die in Christ, you will live with Christ. There is a resurrection from the dead, and our Lord will raise us all up, just as He will raise those who have fallen asleep in Christ over the past two thousand years. Your faith is not in vain — it will be vindicated by the Risen One. So live with the hope of resurrection, for Christ has conquered death and paved the way for our rise.
William Secker, a 17th Century British minister, said, “Who would fear the hissing serpent, if he knew it had no sting?” Martin Luther believed that instead of forcing death to the back of our minds, we should embrace the reality of death. He said, “Even in the best of health we should have death always before our eyes. We will not expect to remain on this earth forever, but will have one foot in the air, so to speak.” Indeed, death to a believer is not to be a gloomy thing, though it is still sad. The unbelieving world has no hope, but we have a hope that is certain — our bodies will live again. “What a wicked man fears, a godly man hopes for.” Thomas Watson once said. “A Christian’s best things are to come.”
D — DEMONSTRATE your hope before others
What did the apostles and disciples do on the day of Pentecost and for the rest of their lives thereafter? They lived with boldness and confidence in the resurrection of Christ, demonstrating their present and future hope before all men. They were witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and we are witnesses as well, though our witness does not lie in our visual affirmation of the resurrection but in our life affirmation. Those who have been changed by the risen Christ are witnesses of the risen Christ.
Of course, that does not mean you need to stand up and preach to thousands of people like Peter did on Pentecost. To bear witness is to not only affirm the living Christ in your speech, but also in your behavior. Christian author Stuart Briscoe explained witnessing this way: “A witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible and visible evidence of what he has seen and heard without being deterred by the consequences of his action.”5 According to one recent poll I read, 90-percent of the responders reported failure in witnessing attempts in the past. Many others are afraid to even witness. Why? According to a survey taken at a Billy Graham crusade training session, 51-percent said they hesitate to witness because they were afraid of how the other person would react!6
But witnessing does not have to be hard. It could and should be done during the course of a normal day. To show you an example of this, I would like to point to the life and actions of Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived in Italy in the 1200s. Francis once invited a young monk to join him on a trip to town to preach. Honored to be given the invitation, the monk readily accepted. All day long he and Francis walked through the streets, byways, and alleys, and even into the suburbs. They rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people. At day’s end, the two headed back home. Not even once had Francis addressed a crowd, nor had he talked to anyone about the gospel. Greatly disappointed, his young companion said, “I thought we were going to town to preach!” Francis responded, “My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!”
1 Max Lucado, “God the Son, Jesus Christ,” Christianity: a Follower’s Guide (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001) p. 77
2 Henry Morris, Many Infallible Proofs (San Diego: CLP Publishers, 1974) p. 88
3 John Stott, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity press, 1971) pp. 58-59
4 Robert Russell, If A Man Dies, Will He Live Again? p. 9
5 Stuart Briscoe, Getting Into God, p. 76
6 Leighton Ford, Good News is for Sharing, p. 15