Without question, 1 Cor 15 is the most important passage concerning the resurrection in all of Scripture. Many people are familiar with the first section, verses 4–8, which is regarded as a summary of the gospel.
The climax of the gospel proclamation is the resurrection. If we do not understand the resurrection, we little understand the significance of the gospel.
I suggest then that Paul’s discussion of the gospel is not limited to vv. 4–8; rather, the entire chapter is unpacking the gospel. Let’s review some of the chapter’s key sections:
1 Corinthians 15:17-28, “17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-57, “54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Verse 17 is often cited to say that the resurrection is proof that God accepts Christ’s death on our behalf. There is nothing disagreeable with that interpretation; yet, we need to keep reading. The resurrection ensures our own resurrection (v. 18–20).
Resurrection is the defeat of death.
Notice that very strong (and often overlooked) royal language in the passage, especially v. 24–28. The resurrection is the victory of God over sin and death. Verses 55–57 explicitly use “victory” language.
The Resurrection and Missions
These observation have significance for those in a cross cultural missions context.
1. Fear of Death
For many people, as in China for example, the fear of death is paralyzing. People need to hear very clearly not simply that Jesus died for them, but more the point, he was raised for them (cf. Rom 4:25). Jesus defeats death so they need not fear.
We will have resurrection bodies; this emphasis of Paul is strangely absent from typical evangelical presentations.
People talk about “eternal life” in “heaven” but this can sound rather like buddhist-like in nature, our having disembodied sounds floating in some ephemeral sphere of existence. However, as N. T. Wright has somewhere pointed out, if there is no physical resurrection of the body, then death has won. Not having a physical body is precisely the state that death brings about. Jesus sets aside any notion of a disembodied afterlife as a final hope.
2. The Physical World
God’s victory in Christ’s resurrection validates the value of the physical world. His victory is not merely “in heaven” or in the “spiritual world.” Christ is king of this physical world, which God created. Therefore, missionaries must care about other things besides in addition to evangelism.
Here me well––evangelism is the central task of the Church’s missionary labor. However, it is senseless to proclaim a kingdom of righteousness while not trying to establish righteousness in the world around via providing for the poor, orphan care, among other social problems. God cares about our daily lives in this physical world, not simply the “next life” in some “spiritual” realm.
3. God is King
The resurrection highlights the simple point that the one true God––who raised Jesus from the dead––is King of the world, in direct conflict with all pretenders, whether Caesar, the Chairman of the Communist Party, the President of the United States, the United Nations, etc. His claim of authority extends over our families and ethnic groups. The resurrection calls for allegiance. The worst that any worldly leader can do to us is kill us––yet Christ has risen. Therefore, we proclaim Christ as Lord, above our parental or political authorities.
The resurrection, as understood in 1 Cor 15, proclaims a robust gospel and demands a holistic missiological method.
Photo Credit: CC 2.0/wikipedia