Reality of the Resurrection
Tim Temple

Introduction

Today we come to the middle section of this lengthy fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians in our “Lordship of Christ in the Local Church” study. Very often these days we hear predictions of the doom and degeneration of our society, and we see evidences of that all around us. The question always nags just below the surface of our consciousness, where is all of this leading? What's actually going to happen to us as a nation or even as individuals? Many people have many ideas in answer to those questions, but fortunately the Scripture gives us some answers that are God's answers to these kinds of questions, and because of His answers we can have peace and stability in the midst of what will probably continue to be a deteriorating situation.

In the passage to which we come today, in the middle of Paul's teaching concerning the Resurrection, as he deals with various problems at Corinth, he deals with the problem of a lack of belief in the Resurrection on the part of some Corinthians. In the paragraphs that we have looked at before this one, we saw that Christ's Resurrection is tied in with our own; and if we believe that Christ rose from the dead, then we have every reason to believe that we, too, will rise from the dead. But the emphasis in the paragraphs that we are going to look at today is on the fact that there is a progression involved in the complete program of God's work. It's very important for us to understand this because the death of loved ones and the prospect of our own death has caused human beings down through the years to come up with all kinds of false doctrines about death and all kinds of misunderstanding about the future and about eternal life.

False Doctrine Concerning Death

There is a lot of false teaching, such as the idea of annihilation. There are many people who believe that when you die, that's it. You're dead; it's over with, and whether it's called annihilation or not–and there are many people who believe in that theory, not even knowing that it is a theory–just the idea that life ends, and that's it–annihilation.

Others believe in what's called soul sleep, and that is the idea that the soul somehow continues, but it's just like sleeping, and then hopefully, we may wake up in eternity someday, but maybe not. It's just sort of a peaceful, sleeping kind of existence after death.

Others seem to hold to the hope of reincarnation, and there has been a resurgence of this it seems right now, that when this life is over, we will come back in some other form, maybe in some other part of the world.

Everybody tries to deal with the matter of death and find some kind of solution to it, but the solution of the Word of God is the doctrine of the Resurrection. Chapter 15 of I Corinthians is all about that. In verses 1-11, we read all about the “Reason for the Resurrection.” In verses 12-22, the “Results of the Resurrection,” and in verses 23-58, almost a chapter within itself, the“Reality of the Resurrection.”

We have looked at the first two sections of the chapter, but today we begin looking at this last section of the chapter, “The Reality of the Resurrection.” As we look at this lengthy section of the chapter, we're going to see three things. First of all, the details of the deliverance of our bodies from this faulty human existence. This life is not all there is. God describes, in verses 23-28, a process through which He is going to deliver us from these frail human bodies. Then in verses 29-34, we will see the daily results of that process in our lives, the daily results of the Resurrection, and finally the last section of the chapter deals with the demand for a glorified body. In verses 35-58, we will talk about what our resurrected body will be like.

The Process of Deliverance

The first thing we will notice in the details of the deliverance is the presence of a process of deliverance. The thing that is stressed in this section is the fact that our deliverance from these human bodies into our glorified bodies is a process. If you think about it, why was the Resurrection necessary in the first place? Why not just translate believers? When God is ready for us to come home to Heaven, why put us through death and put our families through the death of loved ones? Why not just immediately take us to Heaven? Well, that's the thing Paul deals with in these verses, and the answer involves the fact that God has set up a process of delivering the world from sin ultimately. God's purpose is not just to get you and me to Heaven. That's not His whole purpose; that's just a part of His Plan. His overall purpose is to deliver the whole universe from the plague of sin.

Keep a marker here in I Corinthians, and turn with me to Philippians, chapter 2. In Philippians, chapter 2, Paul, in a separate letter written to his friends in Philippi, explains this process, and explains God's overall goal. The particular verses I want to look at are verses 9-11, but I want us to back up and look at verse 5. We begin with verse 5 to get verses 9-11 in their complete context:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Now these are the verses we want to zero in on:

Philippians 2

9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let's stop and think about this. God's purpose is to work through normal, human processes and normal, human activities. This is the reason Jesus came to the earth in the first place. This is why He took a human body. We talked last week about the Doctrine of the Incarnation–God in the flesh, incarnate. God became man, took upon Himself the form of man because He wanted to work with the human race and through the normal processes of the human race. The reason for that is that that is the most effective way for humans to understand what He was doing in redemption. For our sakes, God became a man. He became perfectly identified with us, so that we could perfectly identify with Him. Probably very few of us would understand the concept of the Gospel if would could not point back to a time and a place and a person in history around which our faith centers. It began long before that time and place–and person in history, but God focused in on a human being and a place and a time, and that's how He reveals Himself to us, and that's how we relate to Him. By that means, He is going to prove to the whole human race that Jesus Christ deserves homage and worship from all of us. By that means, He settled the sin question. He solved the problem of sin by Jesus Christ's death on the cross.

The Progression of the Process

Now going back to I Corinthians, chapter 15, the progression in this process is described in verse 23:

I Corinthians 15

23But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

I have frequently used the word “progression”, and I want you to see this series of events that God has designed to ultimately bring us into His presence and to ultimately rid the world of sin. Progression is suggested by the use of the term “everyone in his own order”. Notice that phrase in verse 23, “everyone in his own order.” The Greek word which is translated with our English word “order” is a military term which deals with military ranks; so just as in the military, there is a certain pecking order, there is a certain level of ranks, each one with their own important place. Just so in the Resurrection, just so in bringing us to Heaven, there is also an order. There is a rank there. And then this progression is also suggested by the reference in the middle part of verse 23 to the firstfruits, Christ the Firstfruits.

Most of Paul's original readers would have been familiar with the Old Testament. By the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians, they were not all Jews. There were many Gentiles as Christians by that time, but all of them were much more familiar with the Old Testament religion than we probably are. They would have immediately recognized this term, “firstfruits”, but some of us need to review what the firstfruits is all about. This is a reference to an offering in the Old Testament in Exodus, chapter 23, that God had instructed that when they harvested the crop, the very first part of the crop was to be brought to the temple and given to God as an offering. It was called the “Offering of the Firstfruits”, because it was the first of the fruits that were harvested. This signified to the giver and to anyone who saw that offering that the giver recognized the harvest had come from the Lord, that the harvest belonged to the Lord, even though the farmer had harvested it and had planted it and had taken care of it. The offering was to remind everybody that the harvest really belonged to the Lord, and it also was to remind everybody that there was more to come. This was the firstfruits of of the harvest.

Christ the Firstfruits

Paul takes that Old Testament terminology and carries it over into this subject of the Resurrection, and he says, “Christ is like that firstfruit offering. He was the first one to be resurrected.” Incidentally, let me mention this technical point. Others had been raised from the dead while Jesus was on earth. Even a time or two in the Old Testament, people had been raised from the dead, but Christ was the first one to really be resurrected. Lazarus and the Widow of Nain's son, and Jairus' daughter, and all these various ones that were raised from the dead during Jesus' ministry had to go through death again. Really when you think about it, poor Lazarus and his sisters had the expense of two funerals. What a shame. Of course he probably made up for it in after-dinner speaking fees. Can't you just imagine how popular he was as a speaker after he had been raised from the dead? But Lazarus had to die again. They had to have a second funeral, but Jesus was resurrected. Jesus will never die again, and someday you and I will be resurrected, because Jesus was just the firstfruits, and His Resurrection is a token that it is of God and also a token of the fact that there is more to come. You and I are part of that harvest that is yet to come. So by it's very nature, Paul is saying in this verse, Christ's resurrection signifies our resurrection.

The Time of Our Resurrection

This progression, this series of things that God is doing, is explained in the phrase, “at His coming.” Christ, the Firstfruits, afterward those that are Christ's at his coming. When will Christians who have died be resurrected? At His coming. That resurrection at His coming is described in I Thessalonians, chapter 4. If you have attended funerals that I have conducted, you have heard these verses before, because I rarely conduct a funeral without being drawn to these verses. It's not that I think that they have to be used in a funeral, but it's just that they were designed for our comfort at the time of the death of a loved one, and in fact verse 18 of this passage says: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” Notice in I Thessalonians, chapter 4, beginning with verse 13:

I Thessalonians 4

13But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

God's clear intention is that we not be afraid of death. I mentioned a few minutes ago, the fear of death and the mystery of death has given rise to all kinds of false doctrines. God says, “You do not have to be afraid of death. You can be comforted about death.” Notice in verse 14 that this is tied in specifically with the Resurrection of Christ.

I Thessalonians 4

14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

A little technicality is that in verse 14, the word “if” is a first class, conditional clause in the Greek, which means it could be translated with the word “since”. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” In other words, the certainty of your loved ones rising and your meeting them again in Heaven is as certain as the Gospel. Sometimes, we run across Christians, and there were some in Corinth, who were saying, “I can believe in the fact that Christ died for my sins. I accept Him as my Savior, but I'm not sure about the Resurrection. I'm not sure about eternity.” Listen, if you can believe the Gospel, it is just as certain as that, Paul says. Those who have died before us will be brought up from the graves, and those of us who are alive, if any of us in this room are when Christ returns, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. It is a certainty, based just as certainly on the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Order of Believers' Resurrection

The thing that I really wanted us to notice in this passage is the order, the progression, that's suggested in these events. First of all, verse 15 speaks of those of us who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord. There are going to be some believers who never die, who don't go through death at all. There are going to be some families who don't need the services of the funeral home. Hopefully some of us will be alive when the Lord comes back. There are all kinds of indications that the Lord could be coming back very soon. That's our blessed hope, that the Lord is going to return. There will be a generation of Christians who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord. The flip side of that is that every generation since the Lord did rise from the dead thought they would be alive. Paul thought that, too. Notice how he words it, “We who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.” So don't be disappointed if you or somebody else that's looking forward to the Rapture die before it takes place. After all, you will just be in Heaven that much sooner. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. But there will be a generation that will be living when Christ comes back. So that is the second part of the order.

The next step in this progression is in verse 16. The dead will come out of the grave first. Those who are alive and remain will not precede those who are asleep. I think I mentioned in our last lesson that the term “asleep” is not a reference to the false doctrine of soul sleep, but it is a generalization of the fact that since we do have the Resurrection, the death of the believer is no more serious than that same believer going and taking a nap. They have gone to sleep. That doesn't speak theologically. It speaks practically; it speaks illustratively. But we need be no more concerned about our loved ones who have died than we are concerned when they go take a nap for awhile. Now we're not worried about them while they are taking that nap. We know what they are doing, and we need be no more worried about that after they die than we would be while they're taking a nap.

From other passages of Scripture, we know that the soul and spirit of that person go directly to Heaven. Absent from the body–the body goes into the grave–but present with the Lord. But now what he is talking about here in I Thessalonians, chapter 4, is the day is coming when the bodies of my mother and your loved ones and people who have died believing in Christ will come out of the grave. The bodies will be rejoined with the soul and spirit, which is in some kind of an intermediate form in Heaven right now waiting for the resurrection of the body. So those who have died will come out of the graves first, and those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. So that is the fourth stage–the living believers caught up to meet the Lord in the air.

Reunion With Loved Ones

Then verse 17 has a beautiful statement. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” Think about this. There will be a resurrection, and then there will be a reunion. There will be a reunion of us with those who have gone before us, or if we die before that event, there will be a reunion of those who are still alive after we die. Then there will be a reunion with the Lord. We will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. A reunion with the Lord! Then shall eternity begin. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” No more death, no more sorrow. A beautiful, beautiful comforting passage of Scripture. That's the progression that the Scripture tells us about.

The Purpose of the Process

At this point, the question might come up, “What is the purpose of this process of deliverance?” Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 15, because in verses 24 and 25, the question is dealt with–the purpose of the process. First of all, in verse 24, the purpose of this process as to it's goal is given. In verse 24, of I Corinthians, chapter 15:

I Corinthians 15

24Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

When this process of delivering the dead bodies and bringing up those who are still living, when we all join, when we meet the Lord together in the air, when that process is all said and done, it will have demonstrated that Jesus Christ is superior to all authority. When we meet the Lord in the air, everyone will know–those who are still living on the earth who aren't caught up to meet the Lord, and certainly all those that are caught up–that Jesus Christ is superior to all of the other authorities. We will know that reincarnation was mistaken, that soul sleep was mistaken, that annihilation was a mistake, and that Jesus Christ is the answer to eternal life.

Now the process includes the fact that after we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, then there will be a period of time on the earth in which Jesus demonstrates to those who are left behind that this was not just some kind of fluke, but that it was a work of God. We don't begin to have the time to go into that now, but what he is talking about here, if you will just take my word for it, is that seven years of tribulation that will take place on the earth after we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. That is described for us in the book of Revelation. The basic subject of the book of Revelation is that seven year period which will demonstrate that Jesus Christ is worthy to rule over the whole earth.

Many times teachers talk about the book of Revelation, and they talk about the plagues that come upon the earth, and they try to explain that away in various ways, and they explain it as nuclear war or as the crusades that took place in the past, or something like that. Again because of the limitations of time, I can't demonstrate this to you, but if you take the time to read through the book of Revelation and particularly those chapters that deal with that seven-year period–chapters 5-19 deal with the details of that period; the rest of the book is leading up to it and concluding from it–you'll see again and again when these terrible things happen on the earth, people don't curse the Russians, and people don't curse their bad luck; they look up in the sky and curse God. The people who are alive on the earth during that time will know that these are not just nuclear-powered helicopters, these are not some kind of new developed weapons. They will look at this as the work of God on the earth.

God is a great God of mercy and love, but listen, God is also a God of great wrath and judgment. In fact, if there is no wrath of God, it is pointless to talk about the love of God, and God talks about both in the Scripture. We have been focusing our attention, and we do normally focus our attention in our worship services and in our studies on the love of God; but the day is coming when God is going to pour out His wrath on the earth, and those who think of God as a paternal, fatherly figure looking down on His creation, benignly wondering what is going on, are going to see the other side of God's nature.

God's Judgment In the Tribulation

The Scriptures tell us why God is waiting so long. The second book of Peter, chapter 3, verse 9 says:

II Peter 3

9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

The day is coming when His day of grace will be over and His day of judgment comes. Now there will be a few people who are saved during that seven-year period, but it will be much more difficult to accept the Gospel in those days, and it will be much more difficult to live on the earth during those days, if you do accept the Lord. I have met a few people who have said, “I'm just going to wait and see if you people go up like you say you're going to, and if you go up, then I'll accept Christ.” What I've said to those folks is, “Good luck.” There is a much easier way to do it. You may not, theologically speaking, have the chance to accept Christ during the Tribulation if you have rejected Him during this age, but even if you do, that will not be a fun time to be a Christian. You don't want to go to the zoo during the Tribulation period. You don't want to go outside during a hail storm–hundred pound hail storms. It'll rain fire. The wild animals will be loosed, and the animals that we now consider domesticated will become wild animals. It will not be a good time on the earth. But all of that is part of Jesus demonstrating His authority and His Godhead to those who are living on the earth at that time who have not accepted Him as Savior. A few will be saved; a massive number of Jews will realize that they have crucified their Messiah and will accept Him as Savior. One hundred forty-four thousand Jews will circumnavigate the globe with the Gospel and at that time, if not at any other time in history, the whole earth will be reached with the Gospel of Christ, and people will be saved out of every kindred and tribe and tongue and nation. Percentage-wise, it will probably not be a great number of the earth's population, but everybody will hear the Gospel, and that's when the Kingdom will be delivered up to God.

The Millennial Reign of Christ

Our time is gone so let me just mention quickly in passing that the next three verses deal with the fact that there will be a thousand years reigning of Christ after that seven year Tribulation period. During that time, Jesus Christ will demonstrate what human government can be like under a perfect ruler, and the curse will be removed from the earth. Even at that time, though, salvation will still be by grace. At the end of that thousand-year period, Satan, who during that thousand years has been bound–not allowed to interfere–will be loosed, the Scripture says, for a little time. In that little time–we don't know how long that is–he will go and he will be able to find rebels all over the earth who are willing to reject Jesus Christ, even after a thousand years of Christ's benevolent leadership, and they will side with Satan.

I want you to understand this as carefully as you can. A major purpose of the thousand-year reign of Christ is to demonstrate that salvation is by grace, not by works. During the Millennium, that thousand-year reign of Christ, men will have every opportunity to do good, and people will no longer have the excuse, “I just can't overcome this temptation or that temptation.” There won't be any temptation in those days. Everything will be absolutely perfect, and yet there will still be men and women who will reject the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Why is that? Because, you see, salvation is not just because of your individual sins; it is because you are a sinner, and the children who are born during that thousand years will be born sinners just like you were born a sinner, and they will need to face the issue of faith in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Have you faced the issue? Maybe you say, “I'm not that bad a sinner. I'm not really sure I need a Savior.” People during the Millennium will say that, and they may be able to prove it. But the issue is not your individual sins. The issue is the fact that you are a part of a fallen, sinful human race, and you have come short of the glory of God, whether only barely or by a great margin, and you need a Savior. The day will come when that Savior will be demonstrated as the ruler of the earth, the ruler of all the universe. Jesus Christ will be given the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, even those who are under the earth, those who have rejected Christ as Savior, therefore in Hell.

I think the saddest thing in all eternity will be those folks who are burning in Hell. Jesus taught a literal, burning hell. Those folks will be burning in Hell, and they will know why they are there, and they will know how they could have avoided it. That will be one of the major factors of Hell, I believe. Today is the day of salvation. Accept Jesus Christ right now, right where you sit, if you haven't done so. Do business with Him. Say, “Yes, I understand I'm a sinner. I cannot save myself. I accept the offer of freedom and forgiveness Jesus Christ has provided in His death on the cross.”


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