It has been said: “Christianity begins where religions end … with the Resurrection”. How true this is! The two great world religions, Buddhism and Islam, to which hundreds of millions of the human race are enslaved, know nothing of a living Saviour, or indeed of a Saviour at all. The same is true of all the other religions, which are either ancient superstitions, demon worship, Satanic delusion, or human speculation.
Christianity alone can boast of a living Saviour. It stands unassailably on the impregnable rock of Christ’s resurrection. Men have striven to disprove it, and some are still trying, but they only expose themselves to ridicule in the attempt. One who critically examined the account of the resurrection in the Gospels with the object of disproving it, finished up with the conviction that the resurrection was an indisputable fact.
In that inspired treatise on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul deals with a number of different facets of the subject.
He writes “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”, 15. 3. When Christ rose again, He did not return to the old condition of flesh and blood. He had given that life up. He was raised in a new condition of life, a new kind of life. He said to His disciples on the resurrection day, “handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have”, Luke 24. 39. It was not a spirit they saw, but a man with flesh and bones (not flesh and blood). Yet He left the grave clothes undisturbed, and the stone needed not to be moved to allow Him to leave the grave. The closed doors of the upper room needed not to be opened to Him. He stood in the midst of His disciples, and ate before them. Such was His resurrection body.
Paul cites the appearances of Christ as proof of His resurrection: to Cephas, to the twelve, to five hundred at once, most of whom were alive when Paul wrote, to James, and to all the apostles. Finally he tells of his own experience when Jesus appeared to him from heaven, 15. 5-9.
From the Gospels we can add other witnesses, Mary Magdalene and the other women, the two whom He overtook on the Emmaus road, and that hard-to-convince disciple Thomas. These were not the hallucinations of excited men and women. When the Spirit came on them at Pentecost they realised that Christ’s resurrection had been foretold in Scripture, and remembered His own assurance that He would rise again. The Jews themselves had not forgotten this, and to make assurance doubly sure, they had the tomb sealed and a guard posted at the entrance. How futile it was.
It seems incredible that there should have been men in the assembly at Corinth who doubted the resurrection. Yet there were. And there are professors of Christianity today who doubt or deny it. To such Paul answers: “and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”., 15. 17-19. There can be no true Gospel without the resurrection.
The consequence of Christ’s resurrection is that others will be raised too. He is the firstfruits of a great harvest, 15. 20.
This is beautifully typified in the sheaf of firstfruits offered year by year according to the law, and doubtless offered on the very day Christ rose from the dead. Nearly 1,500 years earlier God had given this command: “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest”, Lev. 23. 10. The month Abib (also called Nisan), the first month of the sacred year, was the month the barley ripened. This commandment follows that of the passover and the sheaf was to be offered on the day after the Sabbath, that is the first day of the week. This is the type. Here in 1 Corinthians 15 we have the antitype, “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming”, v. 23.
“But some man will say”, writes Paul, “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?”, v. 35.
Using the illustration of the seed and the different kinds of flesh he demonstrates that the resurrection body differs from the body that goes into the grave. We have already noticed the wonderful change in the Lord’s own body. And we are told that in the resurrection we shall have bodies like His; “when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is”, 1 John 3. 2.
Our resurrection bodies will be bodies of glory, “it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power … And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly”, 1 Cor. 15. 43, 49. Moreover we are told in Philippians 3. 20-21 R.V. “Our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (or His body of glory).
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed … So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory”, 1 Cor. 15. 51-52, 54.
The emphasis here is on the resurrection. In 1 Thessalonians 4, it is the rapture, our being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, which is emphasised. Here it is the actual resurrection. Ascension is not mentioned. On the first Easter Day our blessed Lord stood upon this earth, a Man, raised from the dead. He had vanquished death. On that coming day when the trumpet sounds, the raised dead and the changed living, a vast host, will stand – if only for a moment – upon this earth, glorious demonstration of Christ’s victory over death.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”, vv. 54-55.