“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the
first-fruits of them that slept.” — I Corinthians 15:20
The Holy Scriptures are an inexhaustible “gold mine” of truth. This statement is clearly supported by our Savior’s words to His heavenly Father, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17b), as well as His words to some newly-converted believers: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). The revealed truth in the written Word of God gives us certain and sure counsel for this life and for the life hereafter. This is evident in the above verse, I Corinthians 15:20, which is the focus of this article. Let us be on guard against doubt, that tool of the devil, which he has used effectively in the past to delude souls into “misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice” (Luther, 3rd Petition; cf. Genesis 3:1-6), and which he wants to keep on using in the future toward His wicked goals, especially to attack and destroy the children of God (I Peter 5:8-9a).
Christ Jesus, “the Word [who] was made flesh” (John 1:1, 14a), “died for all” sinners (II Corinthians 5:15a), “bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24a), and “died unto sin once” (Romans 6:10). His actual death is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 24:46; John19:30). His body was buried by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus in Joseph’s own new tomb, with a great stone rolled in front of the entrance and guards posted at the tomb (Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). We have a simple, yet a profound, summary of these two events (Jesus’ death and burial) in I Corinthians 15, where the apostle declared: “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” (vv. 3-4a).
Three days after His death and burial, Christ Jesus, true God and true Man in one indivisible Person, raised Himself from the dead, “as He [had] said” (Matthew 28:6b; Luke 24:5b-8) earlier, as He had prophesied beforehand (Luke 18:33c), even in the sign which He gave to His enemies: “Destroy this temple [this body], and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 and 21). The Lord Jesus kept His Word; He could not, would not, and did not lie (II Corinthians 1:20; II Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2b). Those who deny or reject the resurrection of Christ from His grave on the third day after His death are liars, are labeling the Triune God (especially the Son of God) a liar, and are identifying the Holy Scriptures as a book of lies (Cf. I Corinthians 15:15); and they will, as a result of their denial and rejection of this fundamental doctrine necessary for salvation (vv. 17–18), “bring upon themselves swift destruction” (II Peter 2:1b).
The resurrected body of Jesus was the same body that He had received in the Virgin Mary, the same body that died on the cross at Calvary, and the same body that was buried in Joseph’s tomb. He prophesied this when He said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple [this body of Mine], and in three days I will raise it up [the same body which they will have killed three days earlier]” (John 2:19 and 21). On the first Easter evening, Jesus came to His disciples (minus Thomas) and “showed unto them His hands and His side” (John 20:20a). When these disciples later said to Thomas: “We have seen the Lord” (v. 25a), he replied: “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe” (v. 25b). Eight days later, Jesus appeared to His disciples again. This time Thomas was present. After His greeting, Jesus said to Thomas: “Reach hither thy finger and behold My hands, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side; and be not faithless but believing” (v. 27). When Jesus raised Himself from His grave, He did not raise a different body than the one that He had at His birth, at His death, and at His burial.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead took place on a certain day, the “third day” after His death and burial. This was a predetermined day; therefore it could not have been any other day. When the women, on the third day after His burial (as the Jews reckoned time), came to Jesus’ tomb, found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus absent, two angels appeared to them and said: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen. Remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, saying: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and the third day rise again.’ And they remembered His words” (Luke 24:5b–8).
Jesus’ resurrection definitely proves that He is the Son of God. No one but God could raise Himself from the grave. The Apostle Paul confirms this fact when he tells us that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
Now, how is Christ’s resurrection the prototype, the model, the pattern, for our resurrection from the dead and the resurrection of all other human beings from the dead?
First of all, our bodies will die just as His body died. The difference between these two events is that our bodies will die because of our sins (Romans 5:12), while His body was sinless and died for “our sins” (I Corinthians 15:3), to pay the full ransom to God for the sins of all mankind (I Timothy 2:6; I John 2:2), giving us and all sinners in the world reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10a; II Corinthians 5:19; Luke 2:14). In the past, there have been only two human beings who have not died (even though by nature they were sinners like everyone else, Romans 3:22b-23), those two being Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (II Kings 2:11). The only human beings in the future who will not die are those who will be living when our Savior visibly comes again to this earth, at His second advent, on the Last Day of this world (I Corinthians 15:51; I Thessalonians 4:15 and 17; Acts 1:11; Matthew 25:31; II Peter 3:10; Revelation 1:7).
Secondly, our bodies will be raised from the dead, as our God, in His Word, promised they will be, just as Christ’s body was raised from the dead, as He, in His Word, promised that it would be made alive again. In John 5, Jesus Himself spoke these clear and unchanging words of truth: “The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth” (vv. 28-29a). As our title-text for this article says to us, “But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept,” so it is most certainly true that Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the prototype, the pattern, the model for our sure resurrection from the dead and the sure resurrection of all the dead in all the world. First Corinthians 15 also conveys to us this two-fold truth: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 22). This enormously instructive chapter, I Corinthians 15, also sets before us these striking words of truth regarding all true believers: “…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” (v. 52). Anyone who denies and rejects the bodily resurrection of all the dead on the last day is labeling Jesus and the Apostle Paul as liars and deceivers (I Corinthians 15:15–16), and is viewing “the Scriptures” as not worthy of anyone’s trust and confidence (vv. 3–4). Such persons are “wicked” (II Peter 3:17) and pervert the Scriptures to “their own destruction” (II Peter 3:16b).
Thirdly, our resurrected bodies will be the same bodies in which we were born, the same bodies that we had during our years on this earth, and the same bodies that we had when we died and were buried. Job, one of the faithful Old Testament believers in the Savior (Job 1:8), declared: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the Latter Day upon the earth; and, though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold and not another, though my reins [my organs] be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).
Fourthly, the resurrection of our bodies will take place on a certain day in the future, that day being the Last Day of this world (Cf. Job 19:25; John 5:28; I Corinthians 15:52; I Thessalonians 4:15–16), just as the resurrection of Christ’s body took place on a certain day, that is, the “third day” after His death (John 2:19; Luke 24:7). The resurrection of our bodies and the resurrection of all other dead bodies will most certainly take place on that future day known only to our God. Jesus Himself confirms this truth when He conveys to us these changeless facts: “But of that day [the last day of this world] and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only. …Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. …Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh” (Matthew 24:36, 42, and 44).
Fifthly, the resurrection of our bodies from the dead will definitely prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Just as He raised His own body from the dead, so Jesus, “the mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6b), will raise the bodies of all the dead on the Last Day. He Himself declared in John 5 that “the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice [Jesus’ own voice] and shall come forth” (vv.28-29a). Human beings cannot raise themselves from their graves, but with Jesus “all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b); with Jesus “nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). Jesus (with the Father and the Holy Ghost) “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20a). Let us not forget that, after Lazarus had been “in the grave four days” (John 11:17b), Jesus came; and, when the stone was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb where Lazarus had been buried, Jesus “cried with a loud voice: ‘Lazarus, come forth’” (v. 43). What happened after Jesus spoke these words? “He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Loose him and let him go’” (v. 44). Furthermore, Jesus showed His almighty power over death when He raised from the dead Jairus’ twelve-year old daughter, saying to her: “Maid, arise” (Luke 8:54b). What took place after the Savior said these words to the young girl? We are told that “her spirit came again, and she arose straightway; and He commanded to give her meat” (v. 55). These miracles in the lives of Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and still others are a preview of what Jesus, the mighty God, will do with all the dead on the Last Day; and they are recorded in the Scriptures for the very purpose “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31), the Name of Him who has given us everlasting victory over sin, death, and the grave (I Corinthians 15:55-57), and is therefore, in His own resurrection, the prototype, the pattern, the model of our own promised, future resurrection from the dead.
To all of His saints (I Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 1:1), to all of His dear sheep (John 10:27-28) and believing children (Galatians 3:26; I Corinthians 6:20a) who are still living in this world, Jesus gives this changeless, certain, and sure comfort: “I go to prepare a place for you; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also. …Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:2b-3, 19b). He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
— R. J. L.