Where are the Dead –
According to the Bible?
We come now to the apostle Paul and his own teachings on the foregoing subjects: death, soul, judgment and resurrection. Paul’s teachings follow the traditional line of the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus. Indeed, once he says he bases his hope on the “word of the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15) Paul never uses the word for “hell”, Hades even though he tells the elders from Ephesus: “I kept back nothing profitable unto you.” (Acts 20:20 KJV) Most believers in “hell fire” would admit it is a “profitable” doctrine for the fear of hell keeps people in church.
Unlike the Greeks who believed in the immortality of the soul – rendering the idea of a resurrection useless – Paul holds to a strong belief in the resurrection. (Acts 7:18, 31, 32; Acts 24:15, 21) The resurrection is yet future and he condemns those who would say the resurrection has already occurred. (2 Timothy 2:18) He teaches Christians will rise first and then the faithful men of old. (1 Corinthians 15:23; Hebrews 11:35)
In the following research paper there is a thorough discussion of what Paul taught about the resurrection and after-life based on First Corinthians chapter 15. There are those who believe Paul’s teachings allow for an immediate change to celestial life upon the death of a Christian. The idea – similar to the Greek’s immortal soul – contradicts what Paul has to say about the timing of matters in his letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians. The primary text used is 2 Corinthians 5.1-10: “Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.” [CET] Is it fair to say that Paul teaches the earthly, physical body is to be finally “destroyed,” or “demolished”? Does he teach that there is another, future “house” not of human origin that will be everlasting in the heavens? He does not describe some reunion of the immortal soul with the former natural body of flesh. “2While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. 3We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked. 4These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don't do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. 5God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.” [1 Corinthians 5:2-5 CET] Paul does not here teach that this “putting on of the other” will occur immediately upon death. It is only his desire to put off the one and attain the other. “6So always be cheerful! As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the LORD. 7But we live by faith, not by what we see. 8We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the LORD. 9But whether we are at home with the LORD or away from him, we still try our best to please him. 10After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies.” [1 Corinthians 5:6-10 CET] Nothing here has indicated an immediate change to spiritual life. But what does Paul teach on this subject. Follow the next essay.
In the entire Bible, in all of the Scripture, there is only one chapter which deals exclusively with the subject of the resurrection. It is the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Here in 58 verses is the inspired subject of the resurrection according to Saint Paul. In this essay about death and life in the here-after the saintly rabbi uses words like soul, spirit, body, life, earth, heaven, resurrect, immortality and others. Is it fair to assume that we have here in this one chapter the sum of what the Bible teaches, or does not teach, on the subject of the after-life?
The after-life is right at the root of all religion. Virtually all earth’s inhabitants, with the exception of less than one or two percent, share some kind of belief in the after-life. There is only one absolute in all of our lives, one matter that we may be quite assured of, one item which all earth’s billions can agree: we are going to die! If this is the case, then death and the possibility of life after death, ought to be a subject we are intensely interested in. If we believe God exists, and the odds are fifty-fifty that He does, then the Creator must be factored into this subject of death and life after death.
Virtually all of us were raised with some idea on this subject. We may have learned them from our parents. Later, we formed certain ideas of our own as taught by our religion. It is fair to state that most religious persons share a common belief: we possess an immortal soul that survives the death of our body and continues to live in an after-life. At this point the beliefs vary as to what exactly happens. Many “Christian” churches believe the faithful go to heaven to live with God while the wicked go to a hell-fire. Catholics would throw a middle ground, a Purgatory, into the picture. Eastern religions would tend toward some transmigration of souls or reincarnation in which all of us are recycled.
With 55 verses, an entire chapter before us, what did Saint Paul believe regarding this subject? We must admit this is a most excellent opportunity for him to address this question thoroughly. Certainly, he will not omit such things as an immortal soul, hell, purgatory, the resurrection of the physical body, or even reincarnation?
Is it possible to set aside previously held views and approach Saint Paul’s commentary with an open and unbiased mind as we consider these verses? Is it possible to come to this subject without religious prejudice just for the moment? Can we set aside what we have heard or learned, and read these verses with the motive of wanting to know what the inspired Apostle had to teach?
What follows will be an overall consideration of these verses. Some of the verses will be paraphrased while others will be copied from the Revised Standard Version with comparisons from the Greek and other translations. The letters NCMM stand for 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures. Words or phrases in [brackets] indicate alternate renderings. Let us begin then with a fair reading and commentary on First Corinthians chapter fifteen.
First, we begin by asking what question is Paul addressing in this section of his letter? There are two. The first is in verse 12: “How can some of you say there is no resurrection?” The second is in verse 35: “How are the dead to be raised?”
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 PAUL’S GOSPEL MESSAGE. In the opening four verses Paul restates to the Corinthian the kernel of his original message to them: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried and then he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
A word is introduced here which Paul will use about twenty times, “raise(d).” The word will occur in verses 4, 12-17, 20, 29, 32, 35, 42-44, 53. The Greek word is EGEGERTAI (he was raised). Since Paul’s subject is the “resurrection” (verses 12, 35) is it fair to state “raised” is a synonym for resurrection? So, Paul believes Jesus the Nazarene was raised or resurrected from the dead. Paul is not the first inspired writer to use the metaphorical word “raised” or EGEGERTAI. He may have been well aware the idea occurred in Job 14:13 and Daniel 12:2. He probably knew his Lord and early disciples had used forms of the word EGEIRO. (Matthew 10:8; 11:5; 12:42; 16:21; 26:32; 27:63; Luke 9:22; 11:31; John 2:19, 22; 5:21)
1 Corinthians 15:5-8 PROOF OF CHRIST BEING RAISED FROM THE DEAD. In these verses Paul lists the witnesses to the raising of Christ from the dead: Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, and then “more than five-hundred” disciples. He states that most of these are alive and so can be interviewed or cross-examined for eyewitness evidence. This personal testimony of the living eyewitnesses must have been powerful for within a few months thousands of people were baptized publicly confessing their belief in a Risen Christ. (Acts 2:41; 3:15; 4:2, 4)
Paul adds two “unbelievers” to whom the Risen Christ appeared: the disciple and half-brother of Jesus, James; and, Paul himself. The strength of this eyewitness testimony can be understood by realizing that as a result of Jesus’ own teaching and miracles about 500 persons committed themselves to Nazarene discipleship. However, within a couple months of hearing the testimony of the disciples nearly ten thousand persons became Christian believers. Christ’s own resurrection, and the eyewitness testimony to it, had a more powerful affect than the miracles of Jesus himself.
If Peter, Paul, and other disciples, are examples of some of the enthusiasm and zeal of these eyewitnesses then their personal testimony throughout their lives, during the next 40 years, is responsible for so many conversions from among Jews and pagans alike. (Acts 10.39-41) In First Corinthians Paul has already stated his conviction with powerful faith when he asks them, “Have I not seen Christ?” (1 Corinthians 9:1) He could not have begun to make such a claim if the Corinthians had not already accepted the testimony Paul had given to them.
The idea that a certain man actually was raised from the dead and that eyewitnesses had not only observed his death and burial, but also his resurrection, was the driving force in the spread of Christianity. Meanwhile, for the Nazarene’s enemies, the “empty tomb” was not only an embarrassment but the silence of that grave resounded around the world! (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 15:47; 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18)
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 “THERE IS NO RESURRECTION!” Now there is a voice of objection from within the Corinthian congregation. Paul must have been told this idea was making its rounds among the Corinthian Christians. This assertion that some Christians were saying “there is no resurrection” seems completely out of character to modern Christians. However, these were Greeks and after Plato they had no belief in a “resurrection.” Rather, Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul making a resurrection unnecessary.
A new word is here introduced by Paul in response to this divisive chord coming from the church in Corinth: “resurrection.” It is the Greek word ANASTASIS from which the name Anastasia comes. It literal means “again + standing” or a re-standing. In verse 12 here it seems clear that “raised” (EGEGERTAI) is a synonym for “resurrection.” The word “resurrect(ion)” is to occur three more times. (1 Corinthians 15:13, 21, 42)
Paul is not the first one to use a form of ANASTASIS in the Bible. That scholarly Jewish rabbi, now converted to Christianity, knew quite well forms of the word occurred in the Hebrew Scriptures in its Greek version, the Septuagint. He likely was quite aware this word could be found at Job 14:12 (ANASTE) and Job 42:17 (ANASTESESTHAI, ANISTESIN). Surely, he himself had read Isaiah 26:14, 19 (ANASTESOUSI, ANASTESONTAI) for he will quote from Isaiah 25:8 near the end of his inspired commentary. (1 Corinthians 15:54) He may have known also that his own Lord, Jesus the Nazarene, had quoted Isaiah 26:19 and used a nearly identical phrase including the word ANASTASIN. This was to be recorded later at John 5:29. Finally, Paul would have known ANASTESE occurred in Daniel 12:13 with regard to the prophet’s own standing up from his restful sleep.
Paul may have known his traveling companion the beloved physician Luke was preparing his own Gospel and would have their Lord Jesus use ANASTASIS in Luke 20:33, 35, 36. The apostle John was to put this Greek word in the mouth of the Nazarene in John 5:29; 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24, 25. It would appear that the Nazarene believed “resurrect” meant “to make alive” or “raise from the dead.” (John 5:21, 29)
If there is no resurrection at all Paul argues: a) Christ has not been raised (resurrected); b) our preaching and faith is useless; c) we are false witnesses; d) we are still in our sins; e) the Christian dead are perished; and, f) we Christians are most to be pitied (for such a false hope).
In this particular context Paul uses a word he introduced in verse 6 and will use again. (1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51) It is the word “asleep” or “sleeping.” Paul uses the Greek KOIMETHENTES (have fallen asleep) as a metaphor for death. Paul knows the Hebrew Scriptures use such a word to describe the condition of the dead in unconscious sleep. (Job 14:12 KOIMETEIS; Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2) Paul is likely to have known that his Lord Jesus also used such a word for death. (John 11:11) So Paul uses such a word as “sleep” elsewhere for death (1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15), as does Peter. (2 Peter 3:4)
Accordingly, the opposite of “sleeping” in death is to awaken or wake up. (Isaiah 14:9; 26:19; Daniel 12:2) Paul uses the idea at Ephesians 5:14: For this reason he says: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead then Christ will enlighten you!” [NCMM Paraphrase ©MM] He uses an even more subtle expression inferring an early or dawn rising from sleep with EXANATASIN at Philippians 3:11.
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 WHAT THE RAISING OF CHRIST MEANS. Now we embark on one of the most important series of phrases in Paul’s answer. Who will be resurrected and when?
1 Corinthians 15:20, 23: “Indeed, Christ has been raised [EGEGERTAI] from the dead, the first-fruits of the dead. … Christ, the first-fruits.” The first to rise from the dead is Jesus the Nazarene. Paul is well aware that there had been temporary resurrections as miracles performed by the prophets and Jesus. (Hebrews 11:35) So, he must enlarge his idea here to mean raised or resurrected in the fullest sense. He writes of this unique resurrection of Jesus in Colossians 1:18 where he calls Jesus, “the first-born from the dead.” In his Apocalypse, the Nazarene describes himself, “the first-born from the dead” and “the First and the Last who died and now lives.” (Revelation 1:5; 2:8)
Can any other idea be understood by this other than Jesus the Nazarene was the first person to rise or be resurrected from the dead and thus all others are still sleeping in the grave? If mankind had been surviving death, either to go to heaven or to hell, Paul does not explain this as part of his belief. He does not say that now that Jesus has been resurrected he has joined Abraham, or Moses, or the Prophets in heaven, for then Jesus would not be the “first-born from the dead” but merely one other of the millions who had already risen from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:21, 22: “For by sin death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead had also come through a human being, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” Here Paul introduces another word as a synonym for being raised or resurrected: “made alive.” The phrase is from the Greek ZOOPOIETHESONTAI (will be made alive) and contains what is the English word “zoo” and from which Eve gets her name, Zoe. Paul is to go on to use a form of the word in verses 36 and 43. Perhaps he knows his Lord used it as later recorded in John 5:21.
Paul makes it clear, just as “all” died in Adam, “all” will be made alive in Christ. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that paves the way for all mankind traceable back to Adam to be raised, made alive or resurrected. It is according to the purpose of God that all men die due to sin, but will finally be raised for judgment regarding the life they lived. Paul teaches this in his letter to the Romans 2.5-10, 16: “You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For He will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek glory and honor and immortality,21 He will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. … on the day when, according to the gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.” To the Jews Paul wrote: “It is determined that humans die once, but after this death a judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27 NCMM)
|21||IMMORTALITY. Or, incorruption.|
To the Athenian philosophers who believed in the immortality of the soul Paul spoke: “(The God) has appointed a day on which He will righteously judge the inhabited earth by a Man He appointed, having furnished proof to all by having him raised from the dead.” (Acts 17:31 NCMM) So, it seems clear that all will be resurrected. But, in what order, or when, will mankind’s masses rise, or be made alive again, or be resurrected?
1 Corinthians 15:23-28 THE ORDER OR RANK OF THE RESURRECTION. Paul continues to answer the next obvious question: “But, each one in his own order [rank, division]: (1) Christ the first-fruits, (2) afterward [then, next] those of the Christ at his Arrival [coming, presence]; (3) then The End when (the Son) hands over the kingdom [realm, domain] to his God and Father – when [after] (the Son) has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For it is a necessity for ‘(the Son) to reign [rule as king] until (The God) places his enemies under his feet.’” (Psalm 110:1) The last enemy to be abolished [destroyed, stopped, done away with, made ineffective] is Death. For (the God) ‘subjected everything under (the Son’s) feet.’ (Psalm 8:6) “But, when (the God) says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that (the God) who subjected (everything) to (the Son) is excepted [not included]. But, when everything is subjected to (the Son), then also the Son will subject himself to the One who subjected (everything) to (the Son), so that The God will be everything to everyone.” (RSV; NCMM)
Though there is much of interest in these verses, here our main focus is the resurrection itself. Does it seem fair to conclude that after the Son as the first-fruit of those made alive from the dead there are two orders or ranks? Is it fair to conclude that these two are a first and a last? Is it fair to conclude that none rise, come to life, or are resurrected between the resurrection of the First-fruits until the Arrival (PAROUSIA = Presence or Coming) of Christ. Is it fair to conclude that between these two events the King “reigns” alone? Is it fair to conclude that upon the Arrival (PAROUSIA) of the King “those of Christ” rise first?
The phrase “those of Christ” (OI TOU CHRISTOU) is generally rendered “those who belong to Christ.” Who may these be? Judging from similar phrases in Paul’s letters is it fair to conclude these are Christians, that is disciples of Jesus, the Friends of the Nazarene? (Romans 1:6; 14:8; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:21; Galatians 3:29; 5:24) So, the first rank or order of mankind to be made alive, raised, or resurrected are only those who have identified themselves with the Christ.
Paul must know that his Lord Jesus Christ the Nazarene taught that upon the King’s Arrival “the Elect” (or, chosen ones) would be gathered. (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27) In the context of the Parousia (Arrival) Paul uses a similar term in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 showing the “Gathering” is so connected. Paul had written his two epistles to the Thessalonians before those verses dealing with the resurrection in First Corinthians. At 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Paul had already written that “those dead in Christ will be resurrected first” (OI VEKROI EN CHRISTO ANASTESONTAI), “the dead in Christ will rise first.” (RSV)
So, how do we conclude and summarize Paul’s teaching thus far on the subject of the resurrection? Out of all mankind, Jesus Christ was the first to be made alive, raised or resurrected. Christ reigns alone until that moment of his Return or Arrival (Presence). Then the first to be made alive, raised, or resurrected are those claiming to be Christians. Next in order will be the rest of dead mankind at the moment Paul calls “the End.” (HO TELOS) Paul does not reveal how long it will be between Christ’s own resurrection as the Firstfruits and the awakening, making alive, raising, or resurrecting of all the Christian believers throughout time. Nor does Paul make known how long a time it is between the raising of the Christian body of believers and “the End” when the last awakening or resurrection of humankind occurs.
However, the Beloved Apostle John does reveal this matter in complete harmony with Paul. Revelation22 20:4, 5 reads: “Then I saw thrones and those seated on them were given authority to judge. … They came to life and reigned with the Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended [TELESTHE].)”
|22||REVELATION. For details see the publication NAZARENE APOCALYPSE.|
This explains that there is at least a thousand years between the resurrection of Christian believers and “the rest of the dead.” This point agrees with Paul’s “order” and what occurs at “the End” (1 Corinthians 15:24 HO TELOS). Interestingly a form of this word occurs in Revelation 20:3, 5, 7 (TELESTHE) which refers to the end of the Thousand Years.
What does this mean today? Since Christ has not returned in his foretold Arrival or Presence – with the accompanying visible signs (including celestial darkness) observable to “all the tribes of the earth” (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:25, 26) – ONLY ONE PERSON HAS GONE TO HEAVEN TO BE WITH GOD! Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the Firstfruits of those who sleep in death. All the rest of mankind, including all Christian believers throughout almost twenty centuries, still lie asleep in the dust of death awaiting the “first” or “early resurrection.” (Revelation 20:6; Philippians 3:11) NO ONE HAS YET GONE TO HEAVEN! ALL OUR DEAD LOVED ONES WHO HAD BEEN CHRISTIANS ARE ASLEEP IN THE GRAVE. All may be described in the words of Job 14:13, 14 (LXX Bagster): “For, O that Thou hadst kept me in (Hades) and hast hidden me until Thy wrath should cease, and Thou shouldest set me a time in which Thou wouldest remember me! For if a man should die, shall he live again, having accomplished the days of his life? I will wait till I exist again.”
Where do our dead Christian loved ones “sleep”? Job catches the idea in his word “remember.” All the Christian dead wait in the Divine Memory and so in this sense “they are ‘living’ to Him” (Luke 20:38) and must await the resurrection. It is comforting to us that the dead are in the peace of sleep and “know nothing” of the passage of any time for “their thoughts perished.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Psalm 146:3, 4; Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) To them, upon their resurrection, it will seem instantaneous, just as when a person undergoes surgery and suddenly awakens in the recovery room though many hours may have passed.
For his own reasons Paul does not discuss Judgment Day in his consideration of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Paul knows his Lord Jesus taught about Judgment Day: “Out of the good person’s heart comes a treasure of goodness; and expelled out of the wicked person’s wicked treasure comes wickedness. But I tell you that every fruitless word humans speak will be held to account on Judgment Day. For by your words you will be declared ‘Not Guilty,’ and by your words you will be accursed." (Matthew 12:35-37 NCMM; compare also Matthew 10:15; 11:22, 24) John is later to record the Nazarene’s teaching on resurrection and judgment: “Wonder not about this, because the time will arrive when everyone in the tombs will hear [the Son’s] voice and come out. Those who did good [will come out] to a resurrection of life. Those who habitually did wicked things [will come out] to a resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28, 29 NCMM)
Paul himself would have known the Nazarene there combines Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2, the later verse reading: “Of those who are sleeping in the Land of Dust, many will awaken, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace.” (NJB) This later phrase is what Jesus means by “resurrection of condemnation.” Both Paul and John use these same phrases to speak of the judgment at the PAROUSIA or Arrival of Christ. Combining the two apostles we have: “Do not judge anything before the Lord arrives [comes] at the Appointed Time. (He) will expose [reveal] with Light the hidden things [secret motives; inner aims and motives] of darkness and make manifest the (secret) counsels of the hearts and then each ones praise will come from The God. … For it is a necessity that we must all be made manifest [appear; scrutiny] in front of the Judgment-Seat [bar; tribunal] of the Messiah, so that each one may be awarded [reap the results; repaid; get his payment] for those things done while in the (fleshly) body [the life he has lived in the body], whether good things or vile things. … So, now, Little Children, remain in harmony with [live in union with; abide in] (the Son) so that whenever he should be manifested [appear] we might be outspoken [cheerful confidence; full of courage] in the Day of Judgment and not be put to shame [embarrassed] in his Presence [Arrival].” (1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 2:28; 4:17 NCMM) Both Paul and John uses words right out of Daniel 12:2 and John 5:29. (Paul’s PHAULON (vile – 2 Corinthians 5:10) and AGATHON (good – 2 Corinthians 5:10) with Jesus’ PHAULA (vile – John 5:29) and AGATHA (good – John 5:29); John’s KRISEOS (judgment – 1 John 4:17) with Jesus’ KRISEOS (judgment – John 5:29); John’s AISCHYNTHOMEN (put to shame – 1 John 2:28) with Daniel’s AISCHYNEN (shame – Daniel 12:2)
What does this mean? Upon their resurrection all dead Christians will face the judgment before the Throne of Christ. Peter puts it this way: “But these will render an account to the One ready to judge the living and the dead. … Because the judgment at the appointed time starts first with the Household of The God.” (1 Peter 4:5, 17 NCMM) This is called the parousia-Judgment or that judging which occurs upon the living and the dead Christians when the Master of the Household of faith returns for his inspection. This is what is behind the numerous parables of the Nazarene dealing with the Master’s Return. (Matthew 24:45-25.46; Luke 12:35-48; 19:12-27) According to Jesus’ parable of the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, “the sons of the Devil” within the Realm of the Son are destroyed first before the Wheat-class are taken to the Father’s “barn.” (Matthew 13:29, 30, 41-43) But, what more does Paul have to say on this subject of the resurrection?
1 Corinthians 15:29-34 BAPTIZED OVER THE DEAD. This series of verses presents several problems and the commentaries vary on their meaning. Some have gone so far as to understand it to mean living Christians can be baptized in proxy for dead relatives. Since the Bible no where else contains such an idea, and since the idea seems to contradict the Bible teaching of personal judgment and accountability to God, we must pass on to another explanation.
Paul continues to describe his life as a Christian missionary as to be one that is daily exposed to death. “I die every day,” Paul says. To the Roman Christians Paul had written something similar where he combines the idea of baptism and death: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3, 4 RSV) The idea echoes the Nazarene’s own words to those who would follow him: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 RSV) And again, Jesus warns: “’Are you able to drink the cup which I am drinking, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am being baptized?’ They said to him: ‘We are able.’ At that Jesus said to them: ‘The cup I am drinking you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am being baptized you will be baptized.’” (Mark 10:38, 39 NWT)
Combining all of this it seems to mean that any Christian disciple who wishes to follow the Nazarene must also be immersed or baptized into a life of sacrifice unto a death in loyalty. Thus, Paul’s meaning of “baptized over the dead” asks: If Christ has not been raised then your life of self-less sacrifice, exposed to death daily for your faith, is useless.
1 Corinthians 15:35-49 HOW ARE THE DEAD RAISED? WITH WHAT KIND OF BODY DO THEY COME? We are very much interested in these questions though Paul calls the one who raised them, “Foolish,” or, “Senseless.” Evidently Paul knows the argumentative question is raised by someone among those who said there was no resurrection in verse 12. However, Paul goes on to answer the question in detail.
Paul writes: “Fool, what you [the singular “you” referring to the “fool”] sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” Paul could be alluding to the Nazarene’s parable of the Wheat and Tares, indicating this person may be a “tare” or “son of the Devil.” (ZIZANIA) The word “sow” must refer to that state of life that ends in being planted in the ground and thus “dies.”
Paul continues: “But God gives it a body [Greek: SOMA] as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” Paul goes on to state that bodies vary in nature as well in the celestial universe. Does Paul not seem to mean that the body in which you live is not the body you are going to become, but God will give you another body as He so chooses? And, just as there is variety in earthly bodies as well as different glory among stars, they will be a variety among those bodies God will yet give.
1 Corinthians 15:42-45 A SPIRITUAL BODY. It seems likely that what is to follow deals with “those who belong to Christ” (verse 23). Paul is to now describe the difference between the human body and that future body which is “given” the faithful in Christ. Paul writes: “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable [corruption; decomposition; perishable; decays], what is raised is imperishable [incorruption; imperishable; free from decay]. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body [natural; animal; soulical; soul-like], it is raised a spiritual [spirit-like] body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7); the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” [NCMM]
Something quite surprising occurs here, quite contradictory to what most have come to believe about the “soul.” The words above, “physical body,” are from the Greek SOMA PSYCHICON (body soul-like). This is the only time Paul uses the word for “soul” in a form of PSYCHE. But, here he makes it clear that which is soul-like (PSYCHICON) is perishable, dishonorable, and weak. Thus the human soul (the Latin ANIMAS = animal) is not incorruptible, glorious, or powerful. This is completely opposite the ancient Greek notion of an immortal soul residing within the physical body.
To prove his point Paul paraphrases Genesis 2:7 where the Jewish Greek Bible (the Septuagint) says: “the man (Adam) became a living soul [PSYCHEN ZOSAN].” Paul would have known that this was not the first occurrence of PSYCHE in the Jewish Greek Bible. The word occurs earlier when used of animals and fish, or breathing creatures. (Genesis 1:20, 24) So, to Paul, the soul is the living person with its physical body. He has already said this is not the “body” that will be, for God will give the soulical, or animal, another body.
1 Corinthians 15:46-50 THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SOUL-LIKE AND SPIRIT-LIKE. Paul continues: “But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical [soulical; soul-like; animal]; and then [afterward] the spiritual [PNEUMATICON = spirit-like]. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (RSV)
Is it fair to conclude that no human (other than Christ) was ever “spiritual” [PNEUMATICON = spirit-like] first as if he had a pre-existence? Paul’s statement would seem to rule out the idea of a continual recycling of human souls in different life forms, such as transmigration or reincarnation; or, the idea that we first existed as spirit entities and then became physical.
Now we have numerous synonyms to describe the soul-like or physical existence:
In contrast, the body that God will give upon the resurrection (that is, being raised or made alive) will be:
Paul now summarizes his point: “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable in inherit the imperishable.” (Verse 50) The “perishable” is that which is “flesh and blood” or that “soul-like body” (PSYCHICON SOMA). In order to enter the heavenly Kingdom of God the Christian “sown” in this physical body of flesh and blood, this soul-like [soulical] body, must die and be planted in the ground – mortal, perishable, earthly, weak, and lacking honor. Only then will The God “give it a body as He chooses.” This new body is not flesh and blood, but rather it is incorruptible, immortal, heavenly, powerful, and glorious. All dead Christians are still waiting for the Arrival of the King, as they “sleep in the Land of Dust.” But, obviously there will be some “living” Christians at the moment of the Master’s coming. What about them?
1 Corinthians 15:51-57 A MYSTERY AT THE LAST TRUMPET! Now comes one of the most sublime and transcendental passages in all Scripture. Paul centers his attention on the moment of the resurrection during the Last Trumpet. He writes: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! [a secret truth; sacred secret] We will not all die [sleep], but we will be changed [transformed], in a moment [Greek ATOMOS = uncut time], in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [incorruptible], and we shall be changed [transformed]. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability [incorruption], and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (Isaiah 25:8)
These verses and phrases may be best understood by realizing that in an earlier letter from Paul to the Thessalonians he has already written about this same subject of what happens at the “last trumpet.” Thus, we may view his words to the Corinthians to be something of a commentary on his earlier teaching. First Thessalonians 4:15-17 reads: “For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming [presence; arrival] of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the arch-angel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up [raptured] in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air [at the same time; simultaneously].” (RSV)
Paul’s “mystery” in 1 Corinthians 15:51 is here explained as “the word of the Lord” or as the New Jerusalem Bible has it, “by the Lord’s own teaching.” Paul has comprehended a hidden truth in the teachings of Jesus which the Nazarene draws from Daniel 12.1, 2. What is this “secret”? The prophet Daniel had foretold a great “oppression” which would befall God’s People but when “Michael (the archangel) appeared” (JPS) “those written in the Book” would “escape” (Daniel 12:1) while many of those sleeping in “the Land of Dust” would “awake” to everlasting life. (Daniel 12:2) This seems to indicate two groups: a living group who “escape,” or are “delivered”; and, a dead group who rise from their sleep.
Did Jesus the Nazarene rely on this text in Daniel 12:1, 2 for some of his own teachings? We have already seen where he made use of Daniel 12:2 at John 5:29. Also, Jesus alludes to the prophet Daniel in Matthew 24:15. Where does he make use of Daniel to show that there would be two groups of believers at the moment of the resurrection? The Nazarene does this when he comforts the sister of Lazarus who he had formerly told his disciples was “sleeping” in death. (John 11:11-14) John 11:24-26 has Jesus saying to Martha: “Martha said to him, ‘I know that (my brother) will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (RSV) Is it carrying things too far to conclude that here, in the context of the resurrection, the Lord Jesus taught there would be two groups? The believing dead who would rise, and the living believers who would not die, just as Daniel has it?
This is exactly what Paul writes to the Thessalonians above: at the Arrival [Presence] of the Lord the dead would rise first, and thereafter the living would be “caught away.” Thus, there would be, as Jesus had it, some dead believers and some living believers at this critical moment.
The phrase “caught away” is from the Greek word HARPAGESOMETHA which means to “snatch” or “grab” quickly. The Latin equivalent in English would be “raptured.” The living Christians at the Arrival of Christ will be raptured, snatched out of harm’s way, to gather with the raised dead Saints. Then, all together, at the same time [Greek: HAMA SYN], they will gather to meet their Lord in earth’s atmosphere. (2 Thessalonians 2:1)
With these thoughts of Paul in mind, we return to his verses to the Corinthians. Paul teaches, at the trump of God, the dead in Christ will rise immortal, and then the living Saints will be “changed” in the blink of an eye; or, using the literal Greek, in an atomic moment. So, in both his letters he confirms that the dead Christians are not raised, resurrected, or awakened, until the Return or Arrival of Christ in his foretold Parousia. Only those Christians alive at this moment will experience an instantaneous change from “flesh and blood” to a spirit-like immortal body. Only then will Isaiah 25:8 be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory!”
The idea that Christians have been resurrected to immortality since the days of Christ is not based on the writings of Paul. Note in all of Paul’s verses he never mentions the soul as being immortal, rather the PSYCHICON (soul-like) is perishable and mortal. Nor does Paul mention “hell” or Hades. Indeed, nowhere in Paul’s letters does he ever make use of the Greek word HADES from which “hell” is often derived. Nor does he here indicate the fleshly, physical body will be resurrected. Nor does he indicate that the dead go to heaven at death, or go on living as immortal souls while they await being rejoined to their physical bodies in some kind of resurrection.
Your dear loved ones, now dead, are in the safest condition they could be – in God’s memory, an infinite data bank – in the Mind of The God! In First Thessalonians 4:18, Paul writes for us “to continue encouraging one another with these words.” So, we draw comfort that our dead Christian friends and relatives are asleep in death and have not yet gone to heaven. We must all wait for that thrilling moment of the Last Trumpet, when the unconscious dead will be resurrected without any seeming passage of time on their part; and, the living remnant of the New Israel of God will undergo an instantaneous change. At that moment it will seem to the dead that there was no passage of time at all, but here suddenly they exist in glory with their living brethren raptured off this earth. Words have not been created which can express that thrilling moment and the celestial hymn that will result in a New Song.
1 Corinthians 15:58 WITH THIS HOPE, NOW WHAT? Paul concludes his writing on the subject of the resurrection with this exhortation: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (RSV) What more could spur us onward than this transcendental hope? How busy should we find ourselves in ”the work of the Lord”? Immortality will come only to those who “endure in good work.” (Romans 2:7)
What does the “work of the Lord” involve? Though “work” may vary (Mark 13:34; 1 Corinthians 3:13, 14) there are several specific areas of Nazarene “work.”
Whatever Christian “works” we perform will go with us when we die. It is with these “works” in our hands that we will appear before the Judgment Throne of Christ. (Revelation 14:13; Romans 14:10, 11; 2 Corinthians 5:10) Should we not make our appearance before the Presence of the Lord with works commensurate with the reward of immortality so that we can speak freely about our efforts and not be shamed away in his Presence? (Romans 2:5-10; 1 John 2:28) May you be blessed by saying as our Lord, “I have glorified You on earth, completing the work You have given me; and now, Father, glorify me with the glory I had in Your Presence before the Cosmos came into existence.” (John 17:4, 5 NCMM)
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
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