By Wayne Hammel
First Corinthians 15 is called the great resurrection chapter in which Paul makes the argument for Christ’s bodily resurrection as ensuring our own resurrection. He makes the argument that if Christ hadn’t been raised, we will not be raised and even further we are still in our sins.
If you go to funeral services for any believer, you will more than likely hear things such as the deceased as having “gone into the presence of the Lord” and “entered into glory,” as “enjoying the splendors of heaven” and so on, but no mention is usually made of the bodily resurrection of the dead being the great Christian hope. It is almost as if we believe that death is the completion of a Christian, that we are fulfilled, complete, at rest, glorified when we die without any need for the resurrection.
Along with this very un-Jewish idea is the confusion surrounding Christ’s actual state in heaven: does He have a body? Or is He a disembodied spirit now, a wraith? If I were to ask each one of you if you believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, most you would say, yes. But how would you respond if I asked you whether Christ now had a fully human body, albeit a glorified body, but one that was recognizably human? You see, there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that Jesus changed from His resurrection body to some other kind of existence when He ascended to heaven.
The church seems to have lost sight of her great hope. And it is not death, and then transitioning to some other kind of exalted existence in heaven. Our great hope is Resurrection. Very early on, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of believers were both recognized as essential Christian beliefs.
The very first sermons preached by the apostles in Jerusalem were all about the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, right? Peter’s great sermon in Acts 2 had these great lines, Acts 2:23–24 (KJV 1900) 23 “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”
What happens when we die? Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 2 Corinthians 5:8, We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
Christ crucified and Him resurrected was the topic of the first sermon recorded for us Acts. The most important event in human history, the most important event in all eternity, occurred in one three-day period nearly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. Christ is alive today, raised in body, in newness no doubt, but raised in body. How does that affect us as Christians? It affects us in every aspect of the Christian life.
Foretelling of bodily resurrection
The Resurrection is a fundamental article of the Christian faith, one that cannot be denied. To deny that Jesus physically rose from the dead is to effectively say, “I am not a Christian!” In other words, I don’t believe you can be a Christian and, at the same time, deny the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the objective content of the Gospel Paul preached. There is a subjective side of the Gospel as well; it is that the Corinthians have received it, right? They received it by faith, didn’t they? They had trusted in Christ’s work on the cross for eternity, right? For forgiveness of sin. And that truth is subjective in the sense that none of us can see in a person’s heart; we can say anything, can’t we? No one can see with their physical eyes the truth of Christ living in my heart, for instance. The truth of our profession of faith is seen by others in the manner in which we live.
The truth of Christ’s resurrection, however, is also verifiable. It is objective. We can see it in two ways. First, The Resurrection was an event foretold in Scripture. Secondly, The Resurrection of Christ is verifiable historically. It was a real event that occurred in real space and time. It was an event that had many witnesses. Look again at 1 Cor. 15:3-11.
It is relatively easy to see Christ’s death foretold in the entire sacrificial and ceremonial system of the OT. When John the Baptist introduced the Messiah, he said in John 1:29 (KJV 1900) 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Jesus is our Lamb without blemish, isn’t He? In Exodus God commanded the COI to observe the Passover, sacrificing a lamb without blemish. Exodus 12:5 (KJV 1900) 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: God commanded the Children of Israel to wipe the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the top and sides of the doorway. We can see then that Jesus fulfilled all the law in His Person and work. He is the Lamb of God. He is that Passover Lamb, perfected.
Do the Scriptures foretell of His Resurrection? Jesus pointed to the experience of Jonah (Matt. 12:38–41). Paul also compared Christ’s resurrection to the “firstfruits,” and the firstfruits were presented to God on the day following the first Sabbath after Passover (Lev. 23:9–14; 1 Cor. 15:23). Since the Sabbath must always be the seventh day, the day after Sabbath must be the first day of the week, or Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection. This covers three days on the Jewish calendar. Apart from the Feast of Firstfruits, there were other prophecies of Messiah’s resurrection in the Old Testament: Psalm 16:8–11 (see Acts 2:25–28); Psalm 22:22ff (see Heb. 2:12); Isaiah 53:10–12; and Psalm 2:7 (see Acts 13:32–33).
And then there are all the witnesses. The objective Word of God is the best evidence we have for Christ’s Resurrection; I believe the witnesses are the next best evidence for the historicity of Christ’s Resurrection.
And complimenting all the eyewitness testimony by folks who say they saw Jesus after His death and burial is the fact that the Apostles began preaching the Gospel of Christ crucified and Him resurrected in Jerusalem. In what city did Jesus die? Jerusalem. In what city was He buried? Jerusalem. Where was the tomb? Jerusalem. Who were the enemies of Jesus and this new way of Christianity? The religious leaders. Where were the majority of them living? In Jerusalem!
After the Gospel began to be preached, if Jesus was still in that tomb, dead, why didn’t the religious leaders march up to the tomb, open it, and point to the moldering corpse of Jesus of Nazareth? And then say, “There’s your resurrected Messiah! Dead in the ground!” Why? Because the tomb was empty, wasn’t it? Did the disciples steal His body and then begin this new religion? If they did, they were fools, weren’t they? With the exception of John, everyone of them died a martyr’s death because of their insistence on the resurrection of Jesus, the Word made flesh, God in the flesh! Men will die for causes that are not true; witness the deaths of Muslim Jihadists who die for a lie. It is a lie, but they believe it, right? No one will die for a cause they know to be untrue, or die for a cause that they themselves made up. And besides, the Bible records that the disciples turned tail and ran home after their Master died.
They were frightened for their lives. They weren’t going to overpower a detachment of hardened Roman legionnaires and steal Jesus’ body, even if they wanted to do so. That the disciples stole Christ’s body is the oldest reason given for doubting the reality of The Resurrection. The religious leaders bribed the soldiers to say this very thing in Matthew 28:12-13. And yet several weeks later these very same disciples boldly preached the Gospel in the very city where their enemies were strongest. In the very city where Christ’s empty tomb lay. Why? Paul said they saw the resurrected Jesus.