In this post-Easter week, we look at Paul’s discussion of the resurrection, in 1 Corinthians 15.
Yesterday, we saw Paul arguing against “some” in the Corinthian church who claimed that there was no resurrection of the dead. (They were probably Greeks who viewed a bodily resurrection as absurd; in Greek thought, people hoped to escape from the prison of the body into the superior, spiritual realm.) Paul showed how Jesus’ bodily resurrection was integral to the gospel: without it, we would still be sinners and faith in Christ would be futile. Today, he turns to the benefits of Jesus’ (and our) bodily resurrection:
1 Corinthians 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
This links to his reminder earlier in the chapter about the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection (the solemn truth he received from eyewitnesses, and passed on to the Corinthians). Christ has been raised – bodily, since he was buried, then seen by over 500 people at various times. And this has implications for us. He was raised as the firstfruits of the dead. (Firstfruits are the first bits of the harvest, which give an indication of the quality of the year’s crops.) Paul is saying that Christ’s resurrection is the forerunner of our own: the guarantee it will happen, and the “taster” of what resurrection looks like. (Meaning, among other things, we can walk into locked rooms. I’m looking forward to freaking out Jonathan Creek with that.)1 Corinthians 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
What do you mean by that, Paul?1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Ah, OK. Adam sins first, everyone follows suit, and so we all die. (Thanks, Adam.) Christ bears the punishment for sin and is resurrected, and so we all are resurrected, too. (Thanks, Jesus.) You can see a longer and more confusing form of this argument in Romans 5:12-21 if you like.1 Corinthians 15:23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Possibly this is reassuring people that they haven’t missed the resurrection. (Compare with those in 2 Tim 2:18 who are freaking people out that it’s already happened.) Christ first, then we follow. He’s the firstfruits, right?1 Corinthians 15:24-25 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
So when will we be resurrected? When Jesus comes to take out the trash: destroying everything that is opposed to God. And why is that linked to resurrection?1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
By raising his people to life, Jesus destroys death once and for all. And as our representative, bears God’s image by ruling over his creation. Just like Psalm 8 says we were intended to do (which Paul now quotes):1 Corinthians 15:27a For he “has put everything under his feet.”
This placing of enemies under one’s feet is a strong symbol with a long history in the Ancient Near East. (See the picture, right, of Tutankhamun’s footstool, 14th century BC, on which his enemies are depicted with hands bound behind their backs. It can also be witnessed more recently: anthropologist Kenneth Bailey tells the story of the socialist regime in Ethiopia burying the deposed emperor under the tiled floor of the new leader’s office, directly below his desk. Bailey, Paul through Mediterranean Eyes, loc. 5282)
And for the pedants in his audience (they had them back then, too) he clarifies, just in case some smart-alec asked “does that include God the Father, too?”:1 Corinthians 15:27b-28 Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
In fact, it’s to guard not just against pedants, but against the notion that by doing this Jesus is becoming a “second god” alongside God the Father. (To explain this, Paul seems to be using a military analogy, where a conquering general arrives home in triumph to have his victory accepted by his emperor.)
So we can sum up his point thus far by saying: Jesus was resurrected, which means that we, too, will be resurrected, when he comes to put everything right.
So aren’t you looking forward to that?
Paul’s next point is that – if you look closely – you’re actually looking forward to that. But we’ll leave that until tomorrow.