The Resurrection—The Only Hope for a Better Life

“If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” —I Corinthians 15:13,14

TO ONE WHO has complete confidence in the promises of God, the hope of the resurrection should mean more this year than ever before. Only those who are thus blessed by the vision of faith are able to pierce the dark clouds of the present and see beyond the destruction of today, the life-giving blessings of God’s tomorrow. Faith in God’s promises that he will raise the dead is strengthened by the fact that in the past he has raised the dead; hence we can say with the apostle, “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”—I Cor. 15:20

There was high hope among the disciples of Jesus when he was with them in the flesh, teaching and performing miracles, that at long last God’s promises respecting the Messiah were about to be fulfilled. They were Jews, and he was their Messiah, of whom great things had been promised. Daily he demonstrated that divine authority and power were operating through him for the ultimate accomplishment of all God’s good purposes concerning the children of men. Yes, he who healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, cast out demons, and raised the dead, could surely deliver their nation from the Roman yoke, and, through them, establish the long-promised kingdom of God on earth!

But suddenly and unexpectedly, the Messiah was taken from his disciples and crucified. How their fond hopes and inspiring dreams must have been dashed to the ground. Their Master, their King, their Lord, their All in All, was dead. What mixed emotions of bewilderment, disappointment and sorrow must have racked the souls of those ardent followers of the Master during the days of awful darkness between the time the Prince of Life hung upon the cross and the morning that the angel standing guard at his tomb announced, “He is not here; for he is risen.”—Matt. 28:6

Quickly that soul-cheering and heart-gladdening news spread from one to another of the disciples. There was great joy and revival of hope on the part of most of them, but Thomas doubted. Finally he, too, was convinced that the power of God had intervened to restore their Master to them. Later St. Paul lists the evidences by which the fact of Jesus’ resurrection had been established, saying: “He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”—I Cor. 15:58

As the apostle indicates, there were still many living in his day who had been personally acquainted with Jesus while in the flesh, and who had seen him after he had been raised from the dead. The testimony of these faithful witnesses was all sufficient to convince new believers of the great miracle that God had wrought in raising the Master from the dead, but apparently there were some in the Early Church who doubted that anyone else could be resurrected, for the apostle inquires, “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”—I Cor. 15:12

The Jewish sect of the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and possibly some from this group had corm among the Early Christians, partially accepting Jesus as the Messiah but not willing to believe all that he taught nor all that the prophets had foretold concerning him. In combating this false viewpoint, Paul went on to show how it would take away the whole foundation upon which Christian faith and hope are based. It would mean, he reasons, that even Jesus himself, their leader and Messiah, was dead, not alive. This, in turn would mean that all who had borne testimony of his resurrection were false witnesses.

If Christ be not risen, Paul further reminds us, it means that we are serving a lost cause; that our persecutions as his followers are meaningless. The members of the Early Church risked their lives in being Christians, but why thus ‘stand in jeopardy’ if Jesus is still dead, and there is no resurrection hope for any of the dead? Why are we then “baptized for the dead” if those for whom we are now laying down our lives are not to be benefited thereby? Christians are baptized into the likeness of Jesus’ death in the hope of sharing in the likeness of his resurrection, but there could be no likeness to a resurrection that has never occurred.

Those who are fallen asleep in Christ are “perished,” if there be no resurrection of the dead, Paul insists. This would mean that God’s purpose in giving his Son to be man’s Redeemer had signally failed; for do we not read that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”? How clearly St. Paul discerned, and how clearly every true Christian should discern, that the hope of both the church and the world depends upon the exercise of divine power in raising the dead; and that our assurance of God’s ability to do this is in the fact that Jesus became, “the firstfruits of them that slept”!

Similarity of Our Time

When Jesus was taken from his disciples and crucified, they were bewildered and discouraged because they did not understand the divine program that was being worked out through him. Today, the professed Christian world is bewildered by the development of events which threaten to destroy what has been looked upon as Christian institutions. The difficulty now, as then, is the failure to understand what constitutes the present purpose of God in the earth.

Jesus was the Messiah, and the disciples believed this. Furthermore, they believed that he would establish a worldwide kingdom, and that they would share with him in the glory of that kingdom. They did not understand that he must first suffer and die as man’s Redeemer. This they later learned, and then they rejoiced in the cross of Christ, and what his shed blood meant to them, and what it would later mean to all mankind.

Shortly after the apostles fell asleep in death, the church gradually developed the idea that the Messianic kingdom should be established here and now, without waiting for the return of Christ Jesus the king. This erroneous theory failed to take into account a very important phase of the divine plan, namely, the suffering and death of the body members of the Christ—a work that had to be completed before the glorious kingdom reign of Christ could begin.

Thus practically the whole professed Christian church stumbled over the same truth concerning the followers of the Master, as the early disciples stumbled over, with respect to the Master himself. To the two disciples on the way to Emmaus Jesus explained that it was necessary first of all that the Christ should suffer, and then enter into his glory. (Luke 24:13-32) They grasped the thought and rejoiced in its implications. They learned later that the sufferings of the Christ were not completed at Calvary, hence that the glory of the kingdom must still wait. But still later this vital truth was lost sight of, and there followed, as a result, the abortive efforts of ambitious, self-willed members of the church nominal to bring in the glory of the kingdom ahead of time.

Now these efforts are failing. The church systems of the world, called “Christendom”—Christ’s kingdom—are falling to pieces, and the civilization built up by them is crumbling. Because of this, many are now wondering if Christianity has failed. Certainly faith in the ability of churchianity to save the world out of its present predicament is failing. But just as it was the wrong expectations of the disciples concerning Jesus that failed when He was crucified, so it is the false expectations of the professed church of Christ today that are failing. The expectations of the disciples were wrong because they did not take into consideration the necessity of the suffering and death of Jesus. The expectations of the church are false because they fail to discern the necessity of the suffering and death of the body members of the Christ.

A Sad Record of Failure

Kingdom efforts of nominal churchianity have not brought the promised blessings of universal and lasting peace to the nations of the earth. (Isa. 26:18) Now the full extent of this failure is being revealed. Meanwhile God’s power has not been manifested anywhere among the nations. He has kept silent, and restrained himself from interfering with the selfish course of humanity. (Isa. 42:14; Ps. 50:21) Hence, with the failure of what men thought was Christianity, and failing to observe the hand of God otherwise in the affairs of the nations, the outlook is, indeed, dark for those who do not know the real plan of God.

Nevertheless, the professed Christian world will in 1992, as usual, again commemorate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All who participate in this commemoration tacitly acknowledge their belief in miracles, yea, in what was the greatest miracle of all time. Why should we not then, permit our faith in a miracle working God to reveal to us the silver lining to the present dark clouds of trouble?

There was no evidence to the world of divine protection for Christ nor for the Christian cause during those dark days of his suffering and crucifixion. There has been no evidence to the world of divine protection for the true followers of Jesus since. (Isa. 57:1) God’s power in the case of Jesus was manifested, not in preventing his death, but in raising him from the dead. His power, in the case of the true followers of the Master, will likewise be manifested in their resurrection from the dead, and in their exaltation to reign with Christ.

Today the world is filled with darkness and foreboding, but God is still able to perform miracles. The resurrection of Jesus was but the beginning of a program of miracles which, when complete, will have brought peace, health, happiness and everlasting life to all mankind, including those who are now dead. This is the heart cheering assurance which the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection should induce in every Christian heart this year despite the work of destruction that is increasing everywhere throughout the world. Yes, Jesus was raised from the dead, and became “the firstfruits of them that slept.”—I Cor. 15:20; John 5:28; Acts 17:31

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

Jesus died as the Redeemer of Adam and his race. That is why the apostle explains that as “in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22) The weak in faith may say, Yes, that’s a very fine theory; but it hasn’t worked out that way. If God could use his power to raise Jesus from the dead nineteen centuries ago, why has there been no demonstration of that power on behalf of those for whom Christ died? If all in Christ are to be made alive, why does death continue unabated in the earth?

These are reasonable questions, and Paul answers them. After telling us that life for the Adamic race is provided through Christ, then he adds: “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (I Cor. 15:23) When Paul tells us that Jesus, in his resurrection, became the “firstfruits” of them that slept, he evidently refers to Jesus alone. But when he explains the order of the resurrection and uses the expression “Christ the firstfruits;” he is evidently referring, not only to Jesus, but to his body members, the church, as well.

A careful study of I Corinthians, chapter 12, and of Galatians 3:27-29, reveals that, Scripturally, the Christ of promise is not one member, but many, and that Jesus is the Head over these “many members,” constituting his “body.” All of these participate in the “first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:6) In James 1:18 they are referred to as a kind of “firstfruits unto God of his creatures.” In Romans 6:5 they are promised that if they are planted together in the likeness of his death, they shall also be in the “likeness of his resurrection.” It seems clear, therefore, that the resurrection of “Christ the firstfruits” is not complete until all the ‘body’ members of Christ are raised from the dead and united with him.

The “firstfruits” terminology is based upon God’s dealing with Israel during Old Testament times. It was a requirement of his Law that the “firstfruits” of the harvest should be used as an offering to the Lord. In this arrangement there were not only the firstfruits in general, but also what was called the ‘first’ of the firstfruits. In harmony with this we might think of Jesus as the ‘first’ of the firstfruits, and of the entire church of Christ as the remaining firstfruits in God’s great resurrection harvest.

Firstfruits, An Offering to God

As the firstfruits in Israel’s harvest were offered to the Lord in sacrifice, so Jesus the firstfruit of the resurrection, as well as his church, who are also of the firstfruits, offer themselves in sacrifice to God. Jesus offered himself to God and was accepted as the Redeemer of the world. His followers are invited to suffer and die with him sacrificially, with the promise that if faithful they will live and reign with him.

Paul refers to this program of sacrifice and suffering on the part of the church, asking, “Why stand we in jeopardy every hour,” and why are we being “baptized for the dead,” if there is to be no resurrection of the dead? The offering to God in sacrifice of the body members of the Christ has continued throughout all the centuries from the First Advent until now; and until that work is complete, and all the firstfruits are raised from the dead and united with Jesus in the kingdom, the resurrection of the remainder of mankind cannot begin.—I Cor. 15:29,30

The ‘After Resurrection’

Afterward, they that are Christ’s at his coming”—that is, after “Christ the firstfruits” are resurrected, then follows the resurrection of mankind in general. The clarity of this thought is somewhat obscured by the use of the word “coming” to translate the Greek word parousia. This word should always be translated “presence,” and here the reference is not to the moment of Christ’s arrival at his Second Advent, but to the entire period of his second visit to earth. This period will include the thousand years of his kingdom reign.

That this is the proper thought is clearly shown in the second verse, which reads, “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (I Cor. 15:25,26) Those who “are” Christ’s at, or during, his presence are not the same as those already mentioned as the firstfruits, but those who will then, after the firstfruits are complete, upon the basis of accepting him as their Redeemer, and becoming obedient to the Messianic kingdom laws, receive life through him.

The distinction between the body members of Christ, the “firstfruits,” and those who are given life by him during his thousand-year reign, is further emphasized by the apostle’s explanation of the manner in which the dead are raised. “But some man will say,” continues Paul, “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” (I Cor. 15:35) It is in answer to this question that we are given definitely to understand that in the resurrection the ‘firstfruits’, the church, will receive spiritual or celestial bodies, and that the remainder of mankind will receive human or earthly bodies.

As “one star differeth from another star in glory: so also is the resurrection of the dead,” Paul explains. (I Cor. 15:41,42.) Then he proceeds to tell us something about this variety of glory, saying that there is a “glory of the celestial” (heavenly) and also a glory of the “terrestrial” (earthly). The “glory” of the terrestrial (earthly) is referred to by David in the 8th Psalm, where he tells about the original creation of man and explains that he was “crowned with glory and honor.”

The glory of the celestial, which is the hope of the church, is referred to in Romans 5:2 as the “glory of God,” and is referred to in Colossians 1:27 as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In II Corinthians, chapter 3, the apostle tells us that it is a glory that was foreshadowed by the brightness of Moses’ countenance as he came down from the mountain to administer the Law of the covenant given at Mt. Sinai. In the last verse of this chapter he explains that we are being prepared for and transformed into this glory by the influence of the Holy Spirit of God, mirrored or reflected to us through the Word of God.

First Adam, Earthly

The matter of the two glories is further clarified by Paul’s reference to the two Adams, namely, the “first man,” and the “Lord from heaven.” The first Adam was earthly, the apostle explains, but the last Adam Is a spiritual being, exalted to the celestial glory at the time he became the first of the firstfruits from the dead. And the remainder of the firstfruits are to be made like him. Paul explains that as we have borne the image of the earthy—that is, by nature those who will constitute the church of Christ were human beings—we shall also bear the image of the heavenly, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”—I Cor. 15:49

As human beings we cannot comprehend the glory of the celestial. The Apostle John says that “it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) Paul caught a glimpse of the glorified Jesus at the time he was converted on the Damascus road, seeing him as “one born out of due time.” The whole church, when born to the celestial glory will see Jesus as he is, and will be made like him, but as far as the Scriptures are concerned, Paul was the only one to see him in his heavenly glory before being born of the Spirit—as “one born out of due time.”—I Cor. 15:8

The apostle sums up the lesson of the church’s exaltation to heavenly glory in the resurrection, describing it as “this corruptible” putting on “incorruption,” and this “mortal” putting on “immortality.” And it is not until this resurrection and glorification of the ‘firstfruits’ class is complete at the end of the age of sacrifice, that mankind in general will have fulfilled to them the wondrous promises of restitution to the lost earthly glory. Assuring us of this the apostle says, “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”—I Cor. 15:54,55

These promises are not alone fulfilled by the resurrection of those who are exalted to immortality because they are promises, also, of earthly life to mankind. The apostle’s time identifications, ‘when’ and ‘then’, are merely reminding us of the order of the resurrection as set forth earlier in the chapter where he says, “Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ’s at his presence.” “Christ the firstfruits”—Jesus, the Head, and the church, his body—are exalted to immortality, and when this is accomplished ‘then’, will come the fulfillment of those other promises which apply to the ‘afterward’ class.

The promise, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” is recorded in Isaiah 25:8. Verses 69 of this chapter are wonderfully descriptive of the Messianic kingdom blessings coming to the world. Christ’s kingdom is here symbolized as a “mountain” in which the Lord makes unto “all people” a “feast of fat things.” It is the same kingdom mentioned by Paul in which he says that Christ “must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet.”

The prophet tells us about the destruction of these enemies, saying that the Lord will “wipe away tears from off all faces,” “swallow up death in victory,” and take away the “rebuke of his people … from off all the earth.” (Isa. 25:8) This latter statement definitely locates the fulfillment of the promise as taking place upon the earth, and indicates beyond question that the promised swallowing up of death in victory is a reference to the destruction of death that takes place during the reign of Christ, as pointed out by Paul in I Corinthians 15:25,26

Paul’s further quotation, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” is from Hosea 13:14. This, too, is a divine promise of life to mankind in general, made available through the redemptive work of Christ. It has not been fulfilled yet. Like the hundreds of other kingdom promises of the Old and New Testaments, its fulfillment must wait for the completion of the firstfruits lass. Then, when all the church of the firstborn ones are changed from earthly to heavenly glory, from mortality to immortality, there will follow the thousand year work of destroying death and the grave.

The Divine Victory

No wonder the apostle closes this chapter on the triumphant note, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor. 15:57,58) Since Jesus returned to heaven, and the apostles fell asleep in death, it has often looked as though there would be no genuine victory in the earth for the Christian cause. It has often seemed as though the Christian’s labor in the Lord was in vain. But not so.

There is to be a glorious victory. The Christian’s baptism for the dead is worthwhile, for the long promised kingdom of peace and righteousness and life is to be established. It waits only for the completion of the firstfruits class, and then will come the promised blessings, the firstborns sharing in the work of dispensing them to all mankind.—Rom. 8:19; Rev. 20:4

And what a glorious victory for the Christian cause that will be! First, it will be the victory of Christians themselves over death—the greatest victory of all, because they will be exalted to immortality with Christ. But this will not be the end of the victory, for “afterward,” during the thousand years of the kingdom, death will be entirely destroyed, because “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.”—John 5:28,29

That there is to be this universal awakening of the dead is clearly indicated by many of the promises and prophecies. The Sodomites were destroyed because of their wickedness, but the prophet assures us that they will be restored to their “former estate.” And Jesus tells us that it will be “more tolerable” for Sodom in the Day of Judgment than for the Jews who rejected him at the time of his First Advent. But it will be ‘tolerable’ for the Jews also, for after the work of this age is complete, then “all Israel shall be saved” and this salvation is promised even to those unbelieving Jews who were cast off from divine favor because of their rejection of Christ.—Rom. 11:26,31

Not Universal Salvation

But there is nothing in these promises to indicate that every person will be everlastingly saved from death. What they mean is simply that all are to have a full opportunity for salvation—an opportunity given but to few in this life. Jesus said that the Sodomites would not have been destroyed had they had the same opportunity that was given to the Jews. This means that the Sodomites did not have a full opportunity. He also said that the people of Tyre and Sidon would have repented long ago had he performed similar works there to those which he did in Chorazin and Bethsaida. St. Stephen informs us that it was in ignorance that the Jews rejected Jesus, which shows that while they had a better opportunity than the Sodomites, yet even they did not have a full opportunity.—Matt. 11:23,24; Acts 3:17; I Cor. 2: 8

In I Timothy 2:4 we are told that it is God’s will that all shall be saved and come to an accurate knowledge (Diaglott) of the truth. This is a salvation that precedes knowledge, and evidently is a reference to an awakening from the sleep of death in order that they might be enlightened. The eternal salvation of all those thus saved from Adamic death will depend upon their acceptance of Jesus as their Redeemer, and obedience to the laws of his kingdom. Concerning this St. Peter declares “that every soul, which will not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people.”—Acts 3:19-23

It is to this that Jesus refers when, in John 5:29, he tells us that those who have done evil, such as the Sodomites, Jews, and, in fact, practically all mankind, shall come forth to a resurrection by judgment. (See Revised Version.) The Greek word here used by Jesus, and mistranslated “damnation” in our Common Version, is krisis, which has the same meaning as our English word crisis, namely, a test or trial. When a patient afflicted by some disease passes the crisis it means that he has passed the crucial period of the illness, and will get well. If, when the crisis is reached, there is a turn for the worse, the patient usually dies.

So the dead will be awakened from the sleep of death in order to be tested, and upon the basis of how they react in that crisis it will be determined whether or not they will live forever or be cut off in the “second death.” It is for this reason that the thousand year period of Christ’s reign is also spoken of as the Judgment Day. It will be during that time that all mankind will be on trial, and the basis of the trial will be the knowledge of the truth which will then be made so plain that no one will need to err.—Isa. 35:8

There is no such clear knowledge available for the people today. The fact that a Christian may attempt to explain the truth to another does not mean that such an one has been given a fair opportunity for salvation. God alone knows what may stand in the way of one’s acceptance of the truth. Probably the greatest obstacle has always been the bungling way in which it is told. Counter-influences of deceptive errors also hinder. Heredity and environment often stand in the way also.

All these hindrances and many others exist even in lands where the name of Christ is preached. Besides, the great majority of the human family have never heard about Christ, even in a distorted manner. It is God’s will that all these shall be awakened from death and come to a dear knowledge of the truth. This full, perfect knowledge will be given to the people at a time when Satan, the great Deceiver, will be bound—when no counter influences of any kind will be permitted to stand in the way of acceptance.

Finally, under such favorable kingdom influences, the knowledge of the Lord will be so universal in the earth that it will not be necessary for anyone to say to his neighbor, “Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.”—Jer. 31:34

Dawn Bible Students Association
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