Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Are the Dead Raised?

1 Corinthians 15 is the Resurrection Chapter. Nowhere in Scripture do we find such an extensive treatment of the importance and extent of the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers. However, this second aspect, the resurrection of believers, is often given less emphasis than it deserves.

How could I criticize anyone for holding high the resurrection of Christ - which is indeed writ large in this chapter? I would not do that. Our accent should be upon our Lord's historic, bodily resurrection. For example, Tim Challies just posted on this passage today (his excellent piece prompted me to write this post). I commend his article to you and have no complaint against it.

However, I think that there is some background to Paul's address to the Corinthians regarding the resurrection of the believer that is often overlooked, and it points to a bigger problem in many churches than many pastors know.

I really don't think many people in the Corinthian church were overtly denying the resurrection of Christ, nor were they denying the immortality of the soul. Some flying the banner of "Christian" will always deny Christ's resurrection -- these are impostors that the Apostles warn about elsewhere. However, what prompted Paul to write primarily was faulty doctrine concerning the future bodily resurrection held by some in the church. Of course, Paul addresses other crucial doctrines in this chapter - chief among them being the absolute necessity of Christ's resurrection. However, I can imagine people in the church saying, "You don't really think that these bodies of ours will be raised?"

Consider how Paul writes:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised (15:12, 13). And in case we missed it,

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised (15:16).

It appears that Paul is arguing back to the resurrection of Christ from the necessity of the resurrection of everyone else. In other words, if the resurrection is not true, then it can't be true that Christ has bodily risen from the tomb. The proclamation of Christ risen from the dead was and is essential Gospel doctrine (15:1-4), but if Christians fudge on the doctrine of the resurrection going forward, they are effectively - even if unwittingly -- jeopardizing the truth of Christ's "first fruits" resurrection in the past. 

Is a denial of the resurrection a real problem in the contemporary evangelical church, or am I just doing theological nit-picking? I do believe that there is confusion in evangelical churches among regular attenders regarding the future bodily resurrection of believers. Pastors need to be explicit in their teaching regarding the resurrection of believers because it is dangerous to assume that people understand and hold on to this doctrine. I have heard upstanding church members mock the idea that we will be raised literally. I've heard more than one professing Christian say, "This body? I don't want this one back!" I've heard others say that they hadn't really thought about the future resurrection, even though they'd attended church for decades.

I don't think there is an area that Christians are more tempted to drift into Gnostic (matter bad / spirit good) heresies than in this matter of the future bodily resurrection and the coming New Creation.

Yes, by all means, we must proclaim the reality of Christ's historic resurrection! Soberly consider the consequences of denying this doctrine and shudder. Celebrate the glory of this life-giving, justifying miracle of our Risen Lord. However, don't neglect to trace out the cosmic and personal consequences of our future, bodily resurrection as well.

There is so much more urgent teaching regarding the reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 than I have mentioned here. Go and read it carefully. Listen to some good sermons on it. Read the Challies article. All I wanted to do in this post was prompt you to think about the resurrection in a personal, urgent way and think about the consequences of failing to do so.

As Paul argues, if we get the resurrection of believers wrong, we will also distort the reality of Christ's resurrection. Then we will indeed be the ones most to be pitied.


Jim Reynolds said...

Perhaps this is why misconceptions abound on the topic of eternal life - like thinking we will float on clouds strumming harps. And perhaps we preachers have shied away from proclaiming the truth of eternal life on a New Earth in glorious resurrection bodies. Now that's a hope worth holding!

the Old Adam said...


The dead had better be raised or we are all in deep doo-doo.

Thank you.