This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news
1 Corinthians 15:12-28
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
12 But if it has been proclaimed that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, how is it that some of you are saying there is no such thing as a resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then the Messiah has not been raised; 14 and if the Messiah has not been raised, then what we have proclaimed is in vain; also your trust is in vain; 15 furthermore, we are shown up as false witnesses for God in having testified that God raised up the Messiah, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then the Messiah has not been raised either; 17 and if the Messiah has not been raised, your trust is useless, and you are still in your sins. 18 Also, if this is the case, those who died in union with the Messiah are lost. 19 If it is only for this life that we have put our hope in the Messiah, we are more pitiable than anyone.
20 But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a man, also the resurrection of the dead has come through a man. 22 For just as in connection with Adam all die, so in connection with the Messiah all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: the Messiah is the firstfruits; then those who belong to the Messiah, at the time of his coming; 24 then the culmination, when he hands over the Kingdom to God the Father, after having put an end to every rulership, yes, to every authority and power. 25 For he has to rule until he puts all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be done away with will be death, 27 for “He put everything in subjection under his feet.”[a] But when it says that “everything” has been subjected, obviously the word does not include God, who is himself the one subjecting everything to the Messiah. 28 Now when everything has been subjected to the Son, then he will subject himself to God, who subjected everything to him; so that God may be everything in everyone.
We know from the Gospels that the Pharisees were distinguished from other Jewish religious groups by their faith in resurrection, amongst other differences. Jesus is reported as teaching resurrection. Using the phrase “the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob”, he says “God is the God of the living, not the dead.” Paul had been a Pharisee, and had a general belief in resurrection before he believed in the resurrection of Jesus. Pharisees believed that resurrection would take place in the end times, when God would judge the living and the dead before allocating the righteous a place in the “world to come.” Paul’s logic tells him that if Messiah Jesus has been resurrected, the end times have begun: God is already preparing the present world for its collision with the world to come. Part of the preparation is the preaching of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah. Although to some, the world may look much as it has been, people of faith see the risen Messiah as the the first fruits, the beginning of God’s harvest. Those who belong to him through their trust are the new humanity for the new world in which they will share his immortality.
Paul seems to be dealing with people for whom the concept of resurrection was foreign and incredible. Most people of Greek culture shared a belief in the survival of the soul after the death of the body. To them it seemed axiomatic that the material body with all its imperfections would revert to its constituent elements whereas the immaterial soul could be liberated for a new disembodied existence, or according to some philosophies, re-incarnated in a new earthly body. Jewish faith has great reverence for the body as the condition of human identity and relationships. An after-life without a body was for them the pitiful state of those who dwelt in Sheol, the shadow world of dead souls. Paul believed that after the death of the body the soul would be re-clothed or rehoused in a new glorious body similar to the resurrection body of Jesus Messiah.
In today’s excerpt, Paul insists that a denial of resurrection is a denial that Jesus Messiah is alive. Some Corinthians may have thought that they could envisage the risen Christ as an immaterial and disembodied spirit. Paul insists that the Gospel means the bodily resurrection of Jesus: there is absolute identity between the One crucified and the one raised to life. Paul states that this identity is crucial to the good news of forgiveness: only the injured party can forgive. The risen one is identical with the crucified one injured by human sin and can therefore offer forgiveness and new life to human beings.
As Paul is often accused of having a hatred of the body (because readers misunderstand his use of the word “flesh”) it’s important to see that here Paul is insisting on the bodily life of Jesus Messiah as the bearer of salvation. In “Adam” who wasn’t content with his human body and wanted to be like God, we are all subject to death; whereas in Messiah Jesus who refused to snatch at equality with God but took a human body and suffered death on the cross, we will all be raised to life.
I’m not sure of all the implications of this teaching, but I regard it as astonishing and often misunderstood. It is similar to the Thomas incident in John’s gospel where the writer wants to emphasise the complete identity of the risen Lord with the crucified Jesus: the resurrection body bears the wounds of crucifixion. Whatever else may be implied, this tells us that eternal life does not make mortal life irrelevant. It is a transformation which honours the courage and the wounds of mortality. The tears will be wiped away but the eyes will not have forgotten why they wept.
Paul gives a kind of timetable for resurrection- Jesus first, then on his return, all who trust in him, then at the culmination of God’s rule, all who oppose the Messiah, the evil powers of the world, will be raised, judged and disarmed, and finally, death itself shall be abolished. This is of course speculative theology, but it does spell out the logic of God’s rule through the crucified and risen Messiah.
Paul is hard work but he’s worth the effort.