By Bruce Zimmerman
I have a friend named Mike who went on a missions trip to Colombia to share the gospel using the Evangecube. Similar to a Rubik’s cube, the Evangecube, through various manipulations, portrays different pictures sharing the elements of the gospel message of Jesus. The unfolding pictures help keep the attention of the person listening to the presentation. As my friend Mike was unfolding the story of Jesus before the Colombian man, he noticed the man started to weep. When Mike asked him why he was weeping, the man replied through his tears, “Nobody told me that part of the story. Nobody ever told me that Jesus rose from the grave and is alive!”
The Colombian man knew that Jesus had died on a cross, but never knew that Jesus rose from the dead in a victorious resurrection. How is it possible that the resurrection of Jesus could have been overlooked?
Unfortunately, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is often overlooked as a serious topic for contemplation, study, and application in the Christian community. Tim Keller in his book Hope in the Midst of Fear cites Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology as an example of resurrection underemphasis. Hodge devotes 124 pages to the death of Jesus Christ and its significance, but only four pages to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its significance.
Even more overlooked in preaching and teaching today than the resurrection of Jesus is the coming resurrection of believers!
The apostles proclaimed that they were witnesses to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:32). They proclaimed Jesus as not only the Passover sacrificial lamb, but also the living, resurrected Savior. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was central to their message. It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that changed the disciples into incredible preachers and missionaries of the living Lord.
1 Corinthians 15 is the great resurrection chapter. The first eleven verses show that the resurrection is a vital element of the gospel message. After Paul outlined the facts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all the eyewitnesses who testified to His being alive (vv 3-11), he went on to explain the theological significance of His resurrection and its application to believers. His explanation of the resurrection seeks to bring clarity to the Corinthians by answering a number of questions (1 Cor 15:35-55). The essential application questions of the resurrection for believers—those who will have the glorified resurrection that Paul is discussing—are how, what, when, and where.
HOW ARE THE DEAD RAISED? (1 COR 15:35-41)
Paul clarifies that the resurrection is possible only after there is a death. This at first would seem obvious, but it is worth pointing out that death for the believer is the necessary step toward the resurrection. The beautiful illustration given is of a seed like wheat, which is totally separated from life until it is planted in the ground. At the point of the planting, the dead seed begins a remarkable transformation. Life begins to sprout out of the ground when touched by a remarkable, unimaginable power. It’s a wonderful illustration that is common to all cultures around the world.
I remember my son as a child struggling with this concept of resurrection after death. Everything he saw that died stayed dead—it never came to life. He had a hard time believing this central doctrine of Christianity. It was the seed-in-the-ground illustration that helped him understand that life can spring forth from death when touched by God.
WHAT WILL THE RESURRECTION BODY BE LIKE? (1 COR 15:42-49)
Paul next moves to the “what” question. What kind of body is the resurrected body? In a series of four couplets, Paul clarifies for the believer what kind of body to anticipate in the future.
The first couplet says that the “perishable must put on the imperishable.” Everything of this life and this world is perishing. The second law of thermodynamics declares the downward spiral and the deterioration of everything in this world (Matt 6:19). Life is a constant fight and struggle to maintain and slow down the decaying process of all that is perishable. Someone said the moment we are born we are beginning to die. It is the result of the fall of Adam. But Paul reiterates that the new resurrected body will not suffer the decaying process of life we all know too well.
The second couplet defining what kind of resurrected body we will have states that the body which is sown into the ground in dishonor will be raised in glory. Having witnessed the death of people very close to me, I saw that even when they went peacefully, there was not much glory there. Oftentimes their bodies were racked with disease or the effects of aging or a serious injury, and it was anything but glorious. But the resurrected body will be absolutely glorious. There will be no more indications or marks of death or pain or disease. Believers will have the vitality of a young athlete who is at the maximum capacity of his physical abilities. Young athletes today are able to perform amazing and incredible feats during gymnastics or track and field events. This a foreshadowing glimpse of the glory of the life believers will have in their resurrected bodies. There will be no more aches, pains, and moans when we are trying to get up out of a chair!
Continuing that theme, the third couplet stresses what was “sown in weakness will be raised in power.” Old men generally do not compete in weightlifting and other strenuous activities. Strength belongs to the young (Prov 20:29). This became clear to me recently as I was trying to lift a sheet of concrete board over my head to repair a damaged patio ceiling. I managed to get the board up one time on my own and then I had to take it down to recut it. After I made another cut, I was unable to bring it up a second time to the ceiling because of my lack of strength. A few years ago, I could easily have done that. I hate having to face the reality of the loss of strength in my body. But I know that in my resurrected body I will have the power to do what frustrates me now.
The fourth couplet has to do with a natural body versus a spiritual body. This is probably the most mysterious of all the couplet statements, yet it holds great imaginative possibilities. I have never seen a spiritual body, but the resurrected body of Jesus Christ gives us an idea of what a spiritual body is like: Jesus’ resurrected body could be touched; He ate and drank with His disciples; He was able to walk through walls and appear miraculously at different places and times as needed. He was able to transcend the physical limitations and barriers that affect us now. There is still great mystery in my understanding about what the spiritual body will be like.
WHEN WILL THE RESURRECTION OCCUR? (1 COR 15:50-54)
Paul then addresses the third question of the significance of the resurrection body by answering the “when” question. The moment is clarified as being “at the last trump” (not Donald, Jr.), referring to the coming of Jesus Christ for His Church. First Thessalonians 4:13-18 is the great Rapture passage of Paul’s writings. The trumpet blast of the Lord with His shout calling for the dead in Christ to rise from the dead will mark the coming of Jesus Christ for His Church. As Lazarus responded in John 11 to the command of Jesus to “come forth,” so also the Bride of Jesus Christ will come forth from the graves to meet the Lord in the air at His command. Those who are alive will be transformed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, when the corruptible bodies of this life are transformed into the incorruptible bodies of resurrected life.
I have visited New York City several times. People often joke that “the twinkling of an eye” is the time between a light turning green and the time that the horns start honking telling people to go! However long the twinkling of an eye is, it communicates the quickness and speed of the Lord when He will resurrect His Church. The reason for this transformation is the believers’ place in the kingdom. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit [i.e., rule]” the kingdom. Christ’s kingdom will be ruled by His transformed believers who have put on the imperishable. Believers will be raised when Jesus Christ returns for His Church before the kingdom begins. What an incredible day that will be when we shall see our glorified Savior Jesus Christ and He will share His glory with us just as promised.
WHERE THEN IS THE STING OF DEATH? (1 COR 15:55-58)
The last question Paul addresses, then, is “where is the sting of death” and the sin that leads to so much death and sorrow in our world? The answer is given in the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who completely vanquishes the sting of death. Even for the believer now, because of the victory of Jesus in the resurrection, there is no more sting of sin or of the law, which condemned the sin in us. Don’t believers experience the sting of death now? Yes, in a sense we do. But since we know that death is not the end, but merely a departure (2 Tim 4:6), and that our resurrection is coming soon, death does not have the same sting for us as for unbelievers (1 Thess 4:13).
Paul concludes his chapter on the resurrection with appropriate application responses to our great future—an overflowing gratitude, an ongoing goal, and an outrageous guarantee.
AN OVERFLOWING GRATITUDE
We are to live in a constant spirit of gratitude for the greatness of the future that God has for every believer. That is why Paul says, “but thanks be to God who has given us the victory.”
AN ONGOING GOAL
Secondly, we have a goal set before us now to serve the Lord in abounding works flowing from our heart of thankfulness. This is not the time for slothfulness or a lackadaisical approach to living for the Lord and serving Him. Paul’s call is for believers is to press on and persevere until this life on earth is over.
AN OUTRAGEOUS GUARANTEE: ETERNAL REWARDS FOR OUR LABOR IN THE LORD
Lastly, Paul states in the last verse of the chapter that we have a guarantee from the Lord: “knowing that our labor in the Lord will never be in vain [i.e., empty]” (1 Cor 15:58). God is not so unjust as to forget the work that we have done for Him (Heb 6:10). There will be a great reward for those who are serving the resurrected Savior now. The resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees that for each person who chooses to serve Him with our short lives here on earth, there will be a remembrance and a reward in the future!
Let’s not minimize the doctrine of the resurrection. Let’s resurrect this cardinal tenet of the Bible and our faith all year round, not just on Resurrection Sunday (aka Easter Sunday).
Bruce Zimmerman graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1985 and has served as Senior Pastor of Waxahachie Bible Church for 38 years. He is married to Sheila, and they have four grown sons. Bruce enjoys his cattle, snow skiing, and working on his model train layout. Out of over 16,000 alumni of DTS, Bruce holds the distinction of having only 19 people listed after him alphabetically in the alumni directory.