The resurrection. Literal, bodily. How much more attractive to some Christians if it were a myth, especially when you live in a culture which loves stories, but is set against the inconvenience of facts? And how much better if it were just a spiritual resurrection, rather than a physical one? In Corinth, you see, they were embarrassed by the fact that the body was also under God’s authority. They wanted to be able to use and abuse their bodies exactly as they wanted to (lusts of the flesh, anyone?). But if God raised the body as well as the spirit of His Son, as Paul insisted, then maybe He had some interest in their bodies, too. And if God raises the dead, maybe that speaks to our narcissistic age that God wants to have dealings with us, and that nothing, not even death, can put us out of His reach.
Don’t try to evade the resurrection of Jesus, is Paul’s message. Don’t treat is as the appendix of the body of teachings which make up the Gospel, interesting but nonessential. The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Gospel. His resurrection changes everything: it is the guarantee that there is a resurrection of us all (v.12). And, Paul reasons, if you deny that there is life after death, then you must insist that Christ Himself could not have been raised (v.13). The result of that assertion is half a gospel (if any), and a band of lying apostles who are falsely claiming that Christ has been raised (v.15).
What good, if any, is the Christian message without the resurrection of Christ? It makes us as dead and hopeless as Christ Himself would be, as well as lost in our sins (v.17). If the tomb weren’t empty on the third day, then we will one day join all those who have died before us in their mistaken trust in a Risen Christ, and our faith will have been shown to be as futile and wretched as theirs (vv.18-19).
But no! Paul thunders that Christ has been raised from the dead (v.20). More than that, His resurrection is the type of ours, since He was the firstfruits, the early and definite promise of what will one day happen to all. Now Paul contrasts Adam in the sin and death he brought to humanity with Jesus, the bringer of righteousness and life (vv.21-22). To be in Christ, therefore, means to embrace life, here as well as the life of the world to come (v.23).
The Jesus who was raised is the Jesus who rules. He rules now, but in every sense He waits until the Father “has put all His enemies under His feet” (v.25). We wait with Him, longing for that day when, at the Return of Christ, all honour is given to the Father and the Son, and the new creation is ushered in, the world of all who live because of Jesus, and who will therefore live forever.
So let us get rid of any half-hearted views of the resurrection. The tomb is empty, the Saviour lives, Christ has been raised on high, and all the word is at His command. This transforms the way we look at Jesus, but must transform the way we look at ourselves, too. Paul lived a life where he faced death gladly for the sake of Christ (vv.30-32). He deliberately shunned any notion of having a reward in this life, and staked all his faith on the reward of knowing Christ in the world to come. And for us? The time has come for each one of us to stop playing with our sins, or living for the world’s passing and empty rewards (v.34). Jesus is Saviour and Risen Lord. Our lives and our future all belong to Him. Only believe it, and live it out.