What do Paul's words about the final resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 mean?
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55 "Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
"We're atheists," the man at the door explained as he refused to accept the scripture text calendar I offered him.
A Swiss mission had provided the Nazarene church in Florence, Italy, with a quantity of these calendars free of charge. I used them in door-to-door canvassing in neighboring apartment buildings.
I met the professed atheist in the second tall building just west of the church. Unfortunately, the man didn't have time to talk, so I was not given a chance to learn more about his spiritual journey and perhaps even give witness to my faith.
I wondered how such a person must feel in the face of death. Does a sense of futility ever grip him if there are times when he realizes that his belief makes death the final victor? [ Missionary stories from Italy ]
First Corinthians 15 stands in great contrast to this philosophy. There, Paul reminds us that we Christians have begun an existence that will never end. A glorious change awaits us when our mortal bodies will one day be exchanged for immortal spiritual bodies. That king of all terrors, death itself, will be finally overthrown.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul meets head-on the heretical denial of the Resurrection. Quoting both Isaiah and Hosea, Paul also reaffirms his claim to divine inspiration. He caps his argument by asserting that what we humans should be looking forward to is eternal life.
The importance of the resurrection of Jesus is made clear: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (15:17). Thus, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection and of the final transformation of Christians is linked to justification and forgiveness of sins.
Unfortunately, Paul could not completely snuff out the denial of Jesus' bodily resurrection with his letter to the Corinthian believers. That denial has lingered on and is with us. Some time ago, a news article in what is now Holiness Today reported a widespread denial of Jesus' resurrection within the leadership ranks of some Christian denominations. The report gave the results of a poll of 10,000 American protestant clergymen. Of those who returned Jeffrey Hadden's questionnaire, one-half of the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and American Baptist ministers said they did not accept the stories of Jesus' physical resurrection from the dead as factual.
I'm glad to be a part of a church that asks its members to clearly affirm their belief that "Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that He truly arose from the dead and took again His body." Furthermore, "We believe in the resurrection of the dead, that the bodies both of the just and of the unjust shall be raised to life and united with their spirits." ( Articles of Faith, Nazarene Manual ).
Take note, as well, of Paul's "therefore" at the end of the chapter. Our faith in Jesus as the risen Savior can keep us from being intimidated by the last threats and terrors of a foe whose certain end is near. We can already taste victory. Because of that, we face the future with courage, hope, joy, and steadfastness of service.
-- Howard Culbertson,
I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.
|Christians do have a hope. Eternal life is a quality that begins here and now, but it does project on into the future when death has been conquered. [ more ]