8 The Resurrection in the Gospel
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
The gospel that Paul preached all across the Mediterranean is summarized in his own epistle,“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve"(1Cor.15:3-5). What happened to Christ is described here with four verbs, but it could be summed up in two: Christ died and Christ rose. Both of them happened“in accordance with the scriptures." God has worked through Christ as He told beforehand through His prophets and testified in the scriptures.
Of these two acts of salvation that God has manifested in Christ, the death of Christ is the one that clearly relates to us as an expiation“for our sins." Christ died in order to reconcile us, the sinners, with God. Without reconciliation we can not rekindle our relationship with God, for we have all turned away and separated from Him. This is the sin Paul always describes in singular form. Surely this reconciliation, which is also called 'redemption' or 'the forgiveness of sins' in biblical terms, is one of the most important and central messages of the gospel. But now we have to emphasize another one which is that God raised Christ from the dead! What does this fact mean? At first God designated the raised one to be Christ, the savior of the world. Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross, but God designated this Jesus as Christ, the savior of the world, by raising him from the dead. (Rom.1:3-4).
Raising Jesus from the dead has another meaning. God raised Jesus from the dead to tell us that He would raise His people from the dead. Jesus' resurrection announces the resurrection of His people 'in Christ.' When Paul knew that some believers in Corinthians said there was no resurrection of the dead, he was shocked and wrote a letter to correct their serious error. He dedicated one long chapter(ch.15) in his first Corinthian letter to this subject. In the first section of this chapter (v.1-11) he enumerates many testimonies (including his own) pertaining to the appearance of the resurrected Christ. In the second section(v.12-19) he further emphasizes: "if there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ has not been raised.”
This statement is usually interpreted in the following manner: Christ has not been literally raised, because it is impossible for a human being to live again after he has died. Paul's statement is not one that pertains to the physical world but, instead, to the truth of God's history of salvation (Heilsgeschichite). If God, the creator of the world and the finisher of history, did not intend to complete His salvation design by raising His people from the dead, He would not have raised Christ, His people's representative, from the dead. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, a fact that means that God will raise His people, those who belong to Christ, from the dead, at the final stage of His salvation design.
The relation between Christ's resurrection and the resurrection of his people is explained in the parable of the first fruits(v.20). What is to become of the first fruits prefigures what is to become of the entire harvest. God has raised Christ from the dead which means that God will raise all His people in Christ from the dead. The truth of salvation is further stated in the next verses (v.21-22). Here Adam and Christ are the representatives of two types or two realms of human beings. Adam represents all the human beings who live according to their innate nature; Christ represents all the people who believe in Christ and are made anew in Him through the workings of the Holy Spirit(those who are 'in Christ'). There are two states or realms for us human beings to exist and live, either in Adam or in Christ. If we live in Adam, that is, if we live in accordance with our innate nature, we have to die. Death is the destiny of humanity. We can not escape from this destiny. In Adam all die.
If we are in Christ, that is, if we believe the gospel and throw ourselves into Christ, we will 'be made alive' through the workings of God's Spirit within us. In Christ God forgives our sin(going astray from God who is the very foundation of our existence), and gives His life by pouring His Spirit into us. It is the eternal life in our mortal lives, it is the life that lives towards the resurrection in our mortal, death-bound bodies. Our bodies will expire, but we know that, in Christ, we will partake in the resurrection from death when God completes His salvation work. In the present time we exist between two resurrections, the resurrection of Christ and our own. The first resurrection precedes and guarantees the second resurrection. As such, the Holy Spirit given to us and working within us is called 'the first fruits of the Spirit.' (Rom.8:23)
Here Paul uses the expression 'to make alive' in the passive form. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive"(1Cor.15:22). This expression 'to make alive' may have a deeper meaning than simply 'to raise or resurrect.' This expression means 'to give life where there is none.' Therefore it is synonymous to 'to raise' in Jn.5:21. But in Rom.8:11, "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you," they bear slightly different meanings. Paul uses the verb 'to raise' to symbolize God's workings when He raised Jesus from the dead, but he uses the expression 'to make alive' to describe the workings of His Spirit within us. His Spirit gives us life to(make alive) our mortal bodies, reserving the verb 'to raise' for the hope of our resurrection from the dead (1Cor.15).
In the New Testament two kinds of lives are mentioned and put in contrast, one is the earthly life and the other the eternal life. Earthly life is life lived in the physical world. It begins when one was born and ends when one dies. We all are familiar with this aspect of our existence, but we know nothing about life after death. The New Testament, however, tells us about the other kind of life, a life that does not end with our physical death, and it further claims that we may attain this kind of life ('zoe' in Greek) by believing that Jesus is Christ, the son of God(Jn.20:31). Among the various New Testament books, the gospel of John focuses on this very point.
This other kind of life, eternal life, begins when one is born anew through the workings of God's Spirit. This truth was told to Nicodemus by Jesus in the first part of John's gospel(Ch.3). Jesus told this truth to Nicodemus, a specialist of religion. Jesus told him,“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he can not see the kingdom of God.”(Jn.3:3) The Greek word translated here‘anew’is ‘anothen', which also means“from above.” Maybe Jesus used this word in this sense, meaning“unless one is born from above, that is, unless one is born by the workings of God, he can not experience nor understand the reality of God's sphere." But Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus' words and said,“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb?”He understood Jesus' words as to be born 'a second time' and he was surprised and perplexed.
We are born anew by the workings of God's Spirit from above. The life which begins when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus, is eternal life within us. The gospel of John emphasizes this fact.“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life”(Jn.6:47). Those who believe the gospel, throw themselves into Christ, and get God's salvation through the Holy Spirit, do have eternal life in them from that time on. This is true, but on the other hand we know that we are mortal and the end will surely come to our present lives. We are living this eternal life in our mortal bodies.
Here we have to consider Paul's statement once more,“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you”(Rom.8:11). The Holy Spirit given to us in Christ will 'give life to' our mortal bodies destined for death. This verbal form is used to show both God initially providing eternal life and the upcoming salvation and resurrection from dead in Christ. Then, as far as we live in our present mortal bodies, this eternal life must take the form of hope in the upcoming resurrection. Paul's eschatological hope concentrates on the hope for resurrection from the dead (2 Cor.4:14, Phil.3:10-11, Rom.8:23-25).
John's gospel emphasizes the reality of eternal life in the present time throughout the book. But even this gospel makes mention of God's raising of the dead on the last day.“For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."(Jn.6:40, see also 6:39, 6:44, 6:50).
This gospel presents the story about Lazarus whom Jesus raised from his tomb as the ultimate and biggest of all signs (Jn.ch.11). The reality of eternal life in the present shall never preclude hope for our future resurrection from death. On the contrary, the reality of eternal life born out of the Holy Spirit in us, strengthens our hope for the future. "We were saved unto this hope”(Rom.8:24).
Surely the Bible phrase "Death is swallowed up in victory" (Is.25:8) will be fulfilled when God raises up the dead in the future. But those who are saved in Christ through hope can cry out now in victory over death,“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”(1Cor.15:55). Death has lost its ruling power over those who are saved in Christ and living in hope.