“Then the graves were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Coming from the graves after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and were visible to many.”
Everything…everything…for the record, everything surrounds the resurrection of Christ. At the death of our Lord, we are told that there were many (a large number of) saints (believers) who were raised from their graves. Literally, the text reads that their bodies were “awakened,” which is an euphemistic reference to death and being raised from the dead (this does not teach some sort of “soul sleep” as was popular for a brief time in some theological circles). But, while they were raised from the dead — brought out from their graves or tombs — they did not enter the Holy City until after Jesus’ resurrection. As Christ’s body laid in the tomb during that time, though raised from the dead, they too remained in their tombs.
Some object to this reading, suggesting that there was nothing physical that would have impeded these saints from returning to Jerusalem on that very Friday of the crucifixion. I would respond that it was not something physical, but spiritual that so impeded them — the very will of God the Father. And so, these saints remained at the tombs until such a time as the Father released them to come en masse into the city. What were they doing in the meantime? Probably praying and worshipping God.
What is the significance of this raising? It is an anticipation of what is to come. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead (Revelation 1:5), thus with his rising will come the rising of others. The advent of his resurrection being christened, as it were, by the raising up of many believers from the tombs.
Some ask, “what kind of bodies did these raised saints have?” The answer is that we are not told. They could have been raised to natural bodies, as had been the case with Lazarus and others and then would eventually die once again. Were I to speculate, I would suggest that perhaps these saints were raised to glorified bodies, again, joining Jesus in his triumphal entry into the heavenly realms, singing his praises as the Galileans had done a week prior as Jesus entered into Jerusalem. This speculation is one that we cannot be dogmatic about, but it would certainly add light to the language in Ephesians 4:8 that reads:
“Therefore it says, ‘Ascending on high, he led many captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
and Psalm 68:18:
“You ascended to the heights and led many captives, bringing gifts to man that even the rebellious may dwell with Yahweh God.”
and Romans 5:8:
“Yet God demonstrates his own agape love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
The appearance of these saints became visible to many as a first sign of the Resurrection of the Lord…a promise of good news that not only did the grave fail to keep Jesus, but that it would fail to keep believers as well. And did you notice of whom this text speaks? The dead were not raised indiscriminately, but it was the saints — literally, “the holy ones” — who were raised. Jesus did not die for all people without distinction, but he died for believers to pay our debt before God. Those who die in their unbelief will have to stand before God in their own merit — a dreadful thing indeed.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom Yahweh does not count iniquity, in his spirit there is nothing fraudulent.”
“But our country exists in heaven, from which we also eagerly await a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ,”
While many of our English translations will render this, “our citizenship is in heaven,” to do so requires a degree of inference. Literally, Paul writes that “our country” or “our homeland” is in heaven. The language paints a picture of a group of colonists living in a land that is not their own. One must recognize that in Paul’s era, this was a common experience. Rome was expanding its borders and oftentimes Roman citizens would relocate to newly expanded territories for economic reasons and thus found themselves as strangers in a strange land.
Some of our translations, then, infer the language of citizenship to emphasize the permanent connection to where the people of the church belong. This world is not our home. Peter describes us a sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), the author of Hebrews says that we await the permanent city to come (Hebrews 13:14), and Paul contrasts the Jerusalem above with the Jerusalem below (Galatians 4:21-28). Satan is referred to as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2 — often used as a reference to this world but also a reference to idolatry — vanity of vanities says the Preacher!). Like Abraham, we are travelers amongst a people who are unlike us.
How are they unlike us? Go to the previous verses. They are those whose end is destruction, who revel in their sin and seek to satiate their bellies. They are those who will not follow the model of Christ but who pursue the things of the flesh. In contrast, we live a different lifestyle, pursuing the pattern of behavior that we have observed in Paul and in other faithful believers before us.
I find it interesting that when I travel, everyone knows that I am an American even before I open my mouth. Perhaps it is the cowboy boots and the blue jeans, perhaps it is the way I carry myself, whatever it is, when I travel it is as if I carry a neon sign over my head that says, “American.” And note that I am not complaining about that reality; I am grateful to have been born in this great nation. I simply make an observation that should carry back to Paul’s language here. By the way we live, the people of this world (unbelievers) ought to recognize that we don’t belong to this world. Sadly, for many professing Christians, that is a stretch.
But Paul does not stop with the idea of belonging to a different country. He also speaks that while we are colonists here in this world, we are awaiting the coming of a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ — the Prince of Heaven who will return to this world in glory and call all his citizens to himself. Therein lies our hope. Our hope is not in simply returning to heaven in spirit after our death, but it is in the physical resurrection, like Christ’s resurrection, that will come when our Savior returns from the homeland to claim his own people. That is our hope. Sadly, too, it seems that many professing Christians do not have this hope in sight either.
Like Abraham before us, we are sojourners and aliens in a land not our own. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are a church moving through the wilderness on the way to the promised land…but we are not there yet. Yet, let our lifestyles reflect the land to which we belong.
“so that I might arrive at the resurrection from the dead.”
It seems that the majority of our English translations do us a bit of a theological disservice when rendering this verse. The phrasing that is typically found in our English Bibles is, “that I might attain the resurrection…”. This implies, in contradiction to what Paul has been writing in the previous verses, that somehow this resurrection is something that we participate in earning for ourselves. And such could not be further from the Truth.
The verb in question is katanta/w (katantao), which can refer to the attaining of a goal, but it also refers to the arrival at a desired destination. In the New Testament, this word is most commonly found in the book of Acts (9 of the 13 uses of the term) and it always refers to the arrival of a person at a given destination.
Why is this significant? It is significant because if our resurrection from the dead is based on our works or even on our personal sanctification, we are all hopeless. Paul has already spoken of his own works as dung…how can we even hope to compare? Will we not fall short every time? Yet, while arrival at a desired destination is something with which we participate, it does not rest fully on our shoulders. How often, in ancient times, we find Paul stepping onto a boat as part of his travels, yet when you are on a boat, while you hope for a particular destination, you are at the mercy of the boat’s crews…and the boat’s crew is even at the mercy of the winds and waves. We know too, as Paul sometimes traveled on land, that God guided the travels, protected him from brigands and other terrors on the roadways. Even today, when I get onto an airplane to travel from place to place, while I have a reasonable assurance that I will arrive at my destination safely, I am in the hands of the pilots and the crew. Ultimately, my trust is in the Lord to guide our plane by his hand of providence so that I might arrive at the destination I seek.
Thus, Paul’s desire is to arrive at the destination…the destination of the resurrection from the dead. Here Paul uses the term ejxana/stasiß (exanastasis) rather than simply to use the more common term, ajna/stasiß (anastasis). This seems to imply a sense of completion — an arrival at more than just the state of being (when it comes to resurrection), but an arrival at the New Creation and a dwelling therein as a resurrected person. For this promise, Paul is willing to let go of anything worldly and to be stripped of anything that would become a stumbling block toward that end.
Our struggle, then, is do we yearn for the destination of heaven so greatly that we care for nothing of this world that might be a stumbling block? I honestly don’t think so. Like Christian, in Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, we are often distracted by the things of Vanity Fair, the discouragement of the Giant Despair, or the fear of the Valley of Death. Yet, what are these things in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that lies ahead of us as believers? What can this world offer that does not pale in comparison? A hunk of glass might look like a diamond to the untrained eye, but under the inspection of the master its forgery is discovered. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the forgery has value.
“to know him and the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, sharing in the sake kind of death as his —”
What does it mean to be “found in Christ”? It means that in the context of his imputation of righteousness to us, we come into relationship with him — we know him — and that knowledge gives us a promise of the resurrection to come. He who was raised from the dead will also raise us that we may indeed experience the power of that resurrection firsthand.
Yet, the power of the resurrection also comes at a cost. Paul writes of a fellowship of suffering and entering into a death that is “like his.” How are we to understand this death? Certainly, one must not die on a cross to enter heaven? So, what does Paul mean by this? As you continue to read the flow of Paul’s language, he explains exactly what he means by this — Paul means the putting to death of his sins and the things of the world that he might boast in. That means suffering, when God calls him to suffer, that he might be found faithful in service and grow more like Christ.
Yet, this notion of suffering is something that often is difficult for us to hear. We have been accustomed to the notion that we are to seek the comforts of life and that suffering is somehow undesirable. Yet, did not our Lord choose to suffer for us? Did not our Lord choose to die on the cross for us? And did not our Lord enter into glory through the pathway of suffering? If it was good enough for our Lord’s entrance into heaven, is it not good enough for us? Is not suffering often the way that God refines those who are most precious to him? As C.S. Lewis wrote in his Problem of Pain, if we ask for less suffering and not more, are we not asking God for less love and not more?
We live in a world where many Christians are dying for their faith. And, these Christian brothers and sisters count it their privilege to “enter into” our Lord’s sufferings. At the same time, in the west, we live in a world where, while there is comfort for those who believe, people and churches are apostatizing faster than can be counted. While it is quite true that the freedoms we enjoy in this western world have been a great and profound blessing to the church, particularly in the realm of discipleship (formation of Christian Schools, Colleges, Seminaries, Book Publishers, etc…), with that freedom there has also been a fertile seedbed for false teachers and lazy believers. Let us be neither, even at the cost of persecution, that we may guide the church in a way that willingly enters into Christ’s sufferings — internally as we put sin to death and externally as we face persecution.
“In this way they came to the place which God had told him and there Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. He bound Isaac, his son, and set him on the altar on top of the wood. Then Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
It is at this point where the faith of Isaac comes to surface next to the faith of his father. There is no longer any doubt as to whether Isaac understands what is going on for he has likely seen his father make many such sacrifices of animals. Even still, Isaac allows his father to bind his hands and feet like one would bind an animal for the slaughter and then lay his bound body on the fire. There is also no question that if Isaac chose to resist, this teenager could have easily maneuvered around his centenarian father. Yet, Isaac chooses to submit to his father’s will and his obedience to his father here moves from an active obedience to a passive one, trusting the call of God upon his life.
How, in Isaac’s submission, we see an image of Christ. Being God, Christ could have chosen not to go to the cross — yet such a choice would have condemned us all. In love for us and in submission to his Father, Jesus chose to go to the cross and submit to the cruelty of the sacrifice that was laid out before him. Isaac gives us a picture of that submission in his own life though we rarely give Isaac the credit for being a man of faith.
Abraham, too, stands as a man of faith, trusting God to fulfill his promise even through resurrecting his son from the dead. There will be another son (Jesus) who will indeed do just that — die and be raised from the grave to glory. While the promise to Abraham was through Isaac, the one who the promise is ultimately guaranteed by is Christ Jesus, who indeed is the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15 as well as being the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Abraham believed the promise would be fulfilled through Isaac even if God had to raise him from the dead; God made his promise fulfilled and consummated through Christ, His Son, by resurrecting him from the dead that our hope and life may be in Him. Isaac is a shadow for us of the Christ to come. Praise be to God that he has indeed come and given us life and life eternal.
“Wherefore, if from me or them, in this way I preached and in this way you believed.”
(1 Corinthians 15:11)
Paul has returned to his starting point. This fact of the resurrection of Christ, he says, is the heart of his preaching. Without the resurrection, there would be no good news for man. There would be no hope for anything beyond this life except eternal condemnation. The resurrection of Christ is the surety we have been given that points to our own resurrection. This is an essential of the faith. Paul is saying that there is no Christian preaching apart from this fact and no one can come to faith apart from this fact. If one denies the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ, one cannot be a Christian. It is that simple.
All too often, when we think of the afterlife, we only think in terms of the spiritual. Some of this is a result of the tremendous influence that Greek philosophy has had on our culture, which taught that the spiritual was good and the physical was bad. One of the things that Paul goes out of his way to show us in this chapter is not only the reality of the physical resurrection of Christ, but later on he will talk at length about the physical resurrection of us. The point is that the Greeks were wrong and the conception of floating around in spiritual bodies forever is also wrong. There is indeed an intermediate state, where we will be with God in spirit and our bodies will be kept in the grave, but that state is not final. There will come a time when Christ will return as he left, with a shout all of those who are dead in Christ will rise up from the grave and be reunited with their spirits and they, along with all believers who are still alive, will be caught up in the air with Christ in glorified bodies. Those who are unbelievers will also rise to life once again, but will be raised for the purpose of eternal condemnation. Eternal life will be physical—though without the negative effects of sin.
Friends, I hope that you look forward to that day. It will be a day where you will be restored to a body that will be free from sickness and disease, free from aches and pains, and free from weakness. It will be a day where we will work, but without frustration or toil. It will be a day when hope is transformed into the reality of Christ’s presence. What a glorious time that will be! Praise be to God!
“and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:4)
There should be no sweeter words in the Christian’s ears than, “and he was raised…” For it is the raising of Christ that assures our hope. Had Jesus not risen, there would be no afterlife, there would be no promise of the resurrection, and there would be no assurance of our justification before God. Were that the case, we would be a sorry fellowship indeed. But he was raised! Jesus is alive! And he has promised us that on the last day he will raise us up with him! Oh, what a glorious day that will be!
And all of this happened according to the scriptures. The prophesies of the Old Testament which speak of the Messiah all point to the person of Christ. There was nothing that he did that was outside of the scope of God’s plan, and there was nothing in God’s plan that was meant to be a total surprise. It is all laid out in the Old Testament scriptures. The reason that it was such a surprise is that the people of Jesus’ day were not putting the puzzle pieces together properly—they were trying to force pieces together that did not belong together to make the puzzle turn out their way. Of course, this is not how God works.
Yet, are we not guilty ourselves of trying to put God in a box or to make his puzzle pieces fit like we think they ought, rather than how God designed them? Do we not have a tendency to tell God how he “ought” to do things? Oftentimes we are just as guilty of interpreting scripture according to our own preferences.
In the end, Paul is driving the Corinthians to remember the first things, or primary doctrines, of the faith. Yet, in doing so, he deliberately ties it all to scripture. It would do us well to keep that principle before us at all times. God’s word is our only rule for faith and practice; it is the only guide that will keep us on a straight path. As a people, we must affirm the things that God’s word affirms and deny the things that it denies—of course, to be able to do this, we must constantly have God’s word before us so that we know what it affirms and denies! But, if we would be faithful to make God’s word our foundation in all things, we would fall into much less error in the doctrines that we hold.
“Now I reveal to you, brothers, the gospel which I preached to you, and which you received, and in which you have stood,” (1 Corinthians 15:1)
As Paul is bringing this letter to a close, he closes by putting before the Corinthian church both the hope that they have (resurrection) and the reason for that hope (the resurrection of Christ). Do understand that when Paul says that he is “revealing” these things, or making them known, that this is no new information for the Corinthians. The death and resurrection of Christ is the single-most important aspect of the gospel and was at the heart of Paul’s preaching. Yet, in light of the church’s problems, it is very appropriate for him to remind them of these things—reminding them to put first things first.
One of the things that you will find in the New Testament model for preaching and teaching is that when there are problems within churches, the Apostles taught doctrine. How doctrinal teaching is lacking in our churches today! People often think of doctrine as something that is dull and lifeless, and that impression could not be further from the truth. Doctrine is rich with truth and it is doctrine that allows us to live out our lives faithfully in this world. Doctrine is the rudder of the church, without it we will drift to and fro without direction. Doctrine keeps us from drifting into the shallow reefs of error.
Thus it is important that we always keep these things before us, but more importantly, it is important that we stand upon these things. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they did stand on those teachings at one point, but given that they have drifted into problems, the implication is that they are no longer standing firmly on the doctrines, which Paul preached.
And this doctrine, which Paul is reminding them of, is the heart of all doctrines. Apart from the death and resurrection of Christ, we can have no hope. There would be nothing for us but sin and condemnation. In Christ, there is life and hope. Loved ones, keep this doctrine before you and ground your hope in it. In Christ, there is life. Keep that before you always.
“Jesus Was Slain”
To those who would deny the crucifixion, this song affirms even this gruesome detail of Jesus’ ministry. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22); each year, the priest, on the day of atonement, would slay a lamb for the forgiveness of the people’s sins (Exodus 30:10), and Jesus has become that lamb for all of the elect (Matthew 26:28), and as Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect and effective, it is a sacrifice that never needs repeating (Hebrews 9:25-26).
In addition, it is a reminder to the historicity of the crucifixion. So many liberals would simply say that there was no real Jesus of history, and if there really was, he wasn’t anything like the Jesus we find in the Bible. Friends, ignore their lies. This song, as does all of scripture, affirms the historical sacrifice of Jesus.
Friends, Jesus was willing to pay a gruesome price for the redemption of believers. If you are a believer, born again by the Spirit in Jesus Christ, then he paid a terrible price for your eternal redemption. Yet, This is something that Jesus gladly did. Don’t take it for granted. It is too easy to relegate the words of scripture to a list of abstract concepts. There was nothing abstract about Jesus. He lived and he died, living in this world as you and I. He was slain for the sins of you and me. Yet, he arose, and therein lies our hope, for he has promised that if we put our faith in him as our Lord and Savior, then he will raise us as well on the last day.
Death cannot keep his prey—
Jesus, my Savior,
he tore the bars away—
Jesus, my Lord.
Up from the grave he arose,
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes.
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!