Why do we believe in the resurrection of the body?

resurrectionA Swiss company has taken a fascinating and unexpected approach to memorializing our loved ones who have passed.  The company will compress and super-heat your loved one’s cremated ashes and turn them into a man-made diamond that can be worn and cherished.  It all begins with a chemical process that extracts the carbon from the departed’s ashes. This carbon is then heated to convert it into graphite. The graphite is then heated to as many as 1500 degrees Celsius and subjected to forces as high as 400 000 kg per square inch.  Prices begin at R50 000 for a small diamond.  This company is capitalizing on our desire to want to remember our loved ones and to keep them with us in some way.

Death demolisher

As Christian people have a better hope – not of a diamond ring of our loved ones ashes, but the assurance that our loved ones, if they are in Christ, will be given glorious new resurrected bodies.  We believe they will dwell with us, and all God’s people, one day in the new heavens and the new earth.  We have this certain hope because the Lord Jesus Christ’s dead corpse was raised to splendid new life – never to die again.  The Bible teaches that in Christ, God himself stepped into geography to rescue lost, spiritually dead people like you and I.  Jesus came to rescue us from sin, Satan and death.

Hollywood view of heaven

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth because a number of unhelpful things were happening in the church.  Some false teachers were influencing the Corinthian church in negative ways.  One false doctrine that they were placing doubt on was the future physical resurrection of believers.  They were probably saying that Christians will rise “spiritually”, their “souls” will go to heaven and exists forever in a bodiless state.   Paul corrects their thinking in 1 Corinthians 15 and shows them (and us) that because Jesus rose bodily from the dead, Christians are guaranteed of a future bodily resurrection.

In v3-5 Paul reminded the church that the fact of Jesus bodily resurrection was part of the gospel they believed.  The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ death for sins and of Jesus’ real resurrection.

v12 Now if Christ is proclaimed raised from the dead (not floating around as a spirit), how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Paul then plays devil’s advocate and paints a hypothetical picture of what it would mean if there were no such thing as bodily resurrection:

v13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

 1. Preaching is in vain (v14)

If Christ was not raised we should definitely not go to church or Bible study because all biblical teaching would be empty, with content and meaningless words.  If Christ did not rise, the preacher of the gospel is a con-artist, selling a worthless product.

2. Faith is in vain (v14)

If Christ has not been raised our faith is empty, baseless, wishful thinking, has no substance, and is hopeless and helpless

3. The Bible is a lie

v15 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.

If Jesus remained dead, the biblical writers who claimed that Jesus conquered death, are liars and story-tellers.  The Bible would be the biggest hoax in history.

4. We are still in your sins

v17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

The gospel is that Jesus died for our sins AND was raised.  On the cross Jesus bore God’s wrath that should have been ours.  He was our substitute.  Jesus’ resurrection showed that his death for sins was acceptable to God and that we can indeed be forgiven.  If Jesus remained dead that would have demonstrated that his death was not acceptable to God and his sacrifice not sufficient.

5. All is Lost

v18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If Jesus remained dead then not only are we still in our sins but also those who have died (“fallen asleep”) are lost and perished.   If you die without your sins forgiven, you must perish for you must bear God’s wrath for your sin.

6. We are to be pitied

v19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

If Jesus was not resurrected – all preaching is useless, all Christian faith is pointless, the Bible is a lie, we are still in our sins, all is lost and we are to be pitied.

“But”

However, in v20 there is a very important word, “But”.

V20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead

The above hypothetical argument does not hold water because Jesus’ dead corpse was indeed given new life.  The fact of the resurrection has huge implications for Christians.  Preaching is not useless, our faith has great substance, the Bible is true, sins are forgiven, there is hope for a bright future and we needn’t be pitied – quite the contrary.

A guarantee

V20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

“Firstfruits” are those first small fruits that the farmer sees on his trees in the new season.  They are a promise, a guarantee and an assurance of more fruit to come.  If there are firstfruits there cannot not be more fruit.   Jesus’ resurrection in the first century AD is the promise and guarantee of our future, bodily resurrection.

Future resurrection

v23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Jesus will return some time in the future as king to judge and to bring about the new heaven and earth.  Jesus will subdue all his enemies, including death itself, and hand this subdued universe over to God (v25-28).  When Jesus comes, those who belong to Christ will be “made alive”, i.e. be given their new resurrection bodies.  It does not matter if you’re buried, cremated, lost as sea or burnt at the stake; God will “make us alive” (v23) i.e. give all Christians new resurrected bodies.

Intermediate state

What happens to Christians who die before Jesus’ return?   Jesus said to the thief crucified next to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23)  The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  When Christian people die they go to be with Jesus in a place described as “paradise” and look forward to a new, resurrected body when Jesus returns as king.

God wins

V24-28 tells us that the resurrection of Jesus in history is not a small event, but rather the guarantee and foretaste of the final vindication of God.  God wins in the end; the resurrection of Jesus is proof.

Baptism for the dead?

v29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

This verse is probably the least understood verse in the Bible.  It seems that some in Corinth were being baptised on behalf of Christians that had died and not been baptised.  This is not a good thing to do!  We have no communication or connection whatsoever with those that have died.  Paul simply refers this practise to show them how inconsistent their thinking is: How can you baptise on behalf of dead people if dead people are not raised?  It is like asking: Why do you mow the lawn if you believe that grass does not grow?  Paul says, “Even your own wrong practises show how bad your theology is.”

Be willing to exert yourself, even to death, for Christ

v30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? (“Beasts” is a reference to the ferocious opponents of Paul and the gospel.)

Thousands of Christian men and women throughout history have expended themselves for the gospel.  Christians have been beheaded, have died of TB as missionaries, have accepted low salaries, have worked with outcasts, have been burnt at the stake and have made do with very little; all for the sake of Christ.   Christians have done this because they know that this life is not all there is.  V32 is the opposite worldview, “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Rather than having diamonds made from the ashes of your loved ones; rather tell them the good news of Christ’s death for sin and his resurrection to new life.

Article 4 (Of the Resurrection of Christ)

Article 4 of our denomination‘s statement of faith reads:

Christ truly rose again from the dead. His was a bodily resurrection, with flesh, bones and all things that belong to the perfection of our human nature. His ascension was a bodily ascension into heaven, where he is now enthroned until the last day, when he will return to judge all men.

 

Here is my post on cremation.