From Resurrection to Resurrection: A Reading of 1 Corinthians 15:12-23

As disciples of Jesus, when we hear the word “resurrection,” what comes to mind? Certainly the resurrection of Christ our Savior – as it should! Yet, every Easter when we teach on the resurgence of our Lord from the grave, I am struck by the way in which our theology seems inescapably bound to our present age alone, when Scripture has so much to say about future hope. In the West, our context is so saturated with rhythms of instant gratification that even the Church lives in the here and now. We quickly and easily forget these striking words from Paul to the church in Corinth:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul is making two bold and unabashed points in this letter. Firstly, he wants the Corinthians to know that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus has been unmistakably tethered to the belief in the resurrection of all believers at the end of the age. These ideas in Paul’s mind have been fused together like two metals that can no longer be separated or distinguished. If we wholeheartedly believe in the one, we must fully cling to the other. This is why Paul says that if there is no final resurrection of the dead, then not even Jesus has been raised.

The second statement Paul is making is that if we only have hope in this present life, we are “of all people most to be pitied.” What can Paul mean by this? Hasn’t Jesus died so that we can have “life and life more abundantly”? Certainly! Yet, the New Testament seems to suggest that our ultimate hope is to be set on the hope of the resurrection. Peter references this in the first chapter of his letter to the exiles when he says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians by making a correlation between the the inheritance that we have through Adam and the inheritance that we have gained through Christ:

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Although Paul (in true Pauline fashion) is making weighty theological statements here, he is also setting before our eyes a beautiful promise – that we who belong to Christ shall be raised from the dead just like he was! This is one of the many ways that Christ is fashioning us into His image. I want to postulate that this is a hope that transcends all other hope – the hope of being raised from death to be with our Lord unto life eternal. May it be so!

Here are some questions to continue this conversation…

  • Where do you place your hope?
  • When you think about the resurrection of Jesus, do you also long for the resurrection of the saints?
  • What do you think Peter means when he says to “set your hope fully” on the resurrection?
  • How can we have a hope that transcends this life?

Melody Hickey, New City Stories Contributor