Division 3. (1 Cor. 15.)
Resurrection the perfecting of the individual and the Church.
We are come now to the third division of the epistle, which is easily manifested as such by its topic, resurrection. The connection with what has gone before is evident and beautiful. Resurrection is, of course, the basis of the Church. Christ risen is the rock upon which He has been building His assembly. The resurrection of Christ is the basis of the truth for us at all times and which he insists on here as that; but the resurrection also of His people is that which he insists upon in connection with it, and which has beautiful significance in the place which it has here in reference to the other truth of the epistle. The Church is not looked at in Corinthians so much in its heavenly character as we find it in Ephesians, for instance, and even in Colossians. As the body of Christ it is, of course, heavenly, but what we are occupied with is its place in the world and its practical workings, always as remembering the needs which the being in the world ever supposes. Thus, how suited now, that we should be lifted at the close into another plane and made to realize the sphere to which the Church belongs by the contemplation of this doctrine of resurrection, — of that which will at last bring her, not out of her place as the body of Christ, but, on the contrary, into the place which is hers from the beginning, and which, therefore, is to be enjoyed in eternity! This third division is, therefore, as already said, that which lifts everything to a higher plane and connects the doctrine of the Church in the present epistle with the doctrine of the Church as we find it elsewhere.
(1) The apostle begins here, therefore, with the fact of the resurrection of Christ, the manifestation of the power of His blessed work, and without which all would be indeed but shadow for us. It is, therefore, the gospel that he preached that he here insists upon, the gospel which they had received and wherein they stood. Outside of it there was no salvation; and salvation at the end could only be theirs who held fast that word which he had preached. We see, too, what place the Old Testament Scriptures had in connection with the gospel, and that even apostolic teaching was not expected to be taken for granted apart from that earnest search of these for which the Bereans are commended. Thus, if Christ died for our sins, it is according to the Scriptures. Startling to the Jew as the cross might be, the Scriptures were many which announced beforehand that which condemned the Jew for his unbelief of it. Even in his unbelief he was the custodian of the Scriptures, — Scriptures whose whole aim and purport were really Christ, from the beginning to the end. Thus he had preached that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." The many living witnesses, one would say, were ample to establish the truth, but he will not separate it from the testimony which God had given through all the previous ages, and which makes that wondrous death the centre of history.
How thoroughly the strangeness of such a death on the part of so glorious a Person is set aside by this continuous testimony of the Old Testament! Christ's death is, in fact, the opening up of this, a confirmation of it which sets everything in a new and glorious light, while it gives the New Testament, put in its place thus in connection with the Old, to have its distinct force and supremacy.
"Christ died," then, "for our sins according to the Scriptures." "He was buried," — a fact which shows how true a death it was He died, and how little His disciples expected even that resurrection which was all necessary for them. "We thought," as one of them said, "that it was He that should have delivered Israel"; as if that thought were almost of necessity buried in the tomb in which they had laid Him. His burial has also for us, as we know, a spiritual application which the epistle to the Romans, as well as that to the Galatians, make known to us. This too, then, is part of the gospel. The least fact in this connection is of immense importance, but the resurrection is the crown of all. He was raised the third day according to the Scriptures. It might have been said, according to His own words, which His enemies could quote, and which were therefore commonly known: "After three days," they quote "the deceiver" as saying, "I will rise again." He has risen again, to the confusion of His enemies; but the Scriptures, as we see, are again appealed to, and their evidence put in line with all other as most important in its place.
Here the witness to the resurrection, the testimony existing, was of the most complete character. The apostle enumerates the witnesses, leaving out in a remarkable way that of Mary Magdalene and the women, so important now in the eyes of rationalists as giving birth to the doctrine itself. Important as this was in its place, this testimony of theirs, suited as this first presentation of the spoils of death to the weakest of His people, the non-combatants, as we may say, — yet here he is busy with the testimony of those more manifestly intended as witnesses to the facts of the gospel preached.
Everything is put, therefore, in order. First, He was seen of Cephas — the sweet witness to us of unforgetting love which could thus bring out of all possible despondency the soul of one who had dishonored Him by his denial. Peter must be seen first of all, so that when he sees Him among the twelve directly afterwards, he shall not be ashamed nor afraid, nor in the distance in which that denial might seem to put him.
He was then seen of the twelve, spoken of as that, although the number, in fact, was deficient, sadly deficient, at that time; but God's grace was not going to accept the deficiency, as we know, and the twelve were to stand again as the witness of a grace which could not lack the full competent witness to itself.
Afterward He was seen of above 500 brethren at once. We have no account of this elsewhere, but it was doubtless in Galilee, where, as we know, the Lord had made a special appointment to meet His disciples, and where there would be naturally, upon the mere hint of that, a gathering of as many as could by any means be present. As the apostle wrote, the larger part of these were still in life, though some had fallen asleep. No opportunity here for conspiracy, as is clear! There were too large a number for fraud of any kind, — five hundred false witnesses will surely soon fall out amongst themselves and bring the truth to light, but there never was a hint of this. The resurrection, on the other hand, was that which rallied every faint-hearted disciple to the standard of Christ, and filled them with a boldness which no trouble, no persecution could in any wise check.
He was seen then by James, probably the brother of the Lord, afterwards spoken, of as such; one of those brethren of whom it had but too lately been said: "Neither did His brethren believe in Him." He thus has, as we may believe, a representative place here, one of a class of those who were brought into faith, or at least fully so, by the resurrection itself.
Then He was seen by all the apostles, evidently the last gathering at Olivet when He was taken from them, and who were thus witnesses of His ascension into heaven. Apart from all these in time and in character, "last of all," "as of one born out of due time," as he says, when the number of the apostles might seem to have been closed, and from the midst of those who were filled lull with Jewish enmity, He was seen by Paul himself, a notable witness of divine (trace, the grace that he was to be, above all, the witness of. "The least of the Apostles," as he calls himself, not fit even to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the assembly of God. Nevertheless grace here gained its completest expression, Christ His sweetest victory. "By the grace of God," he says, "I am what I am, and His grace which came to me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all." Still, that was grace. He claims nothing for it. What else could he do as one who had received a grace like this? But still it was grace that wrought through him to the end. But here, then, was the complete testimony. It was of one character, however various the witnesses. "Whether it were I or they," he says, "so we preached, and so ye believed."
(2) He goes on now to insist upon the resurrection of Christ as establishing the fact of the resurrection of His people. The one was no more true than the other. If the one were not true, the other was not Yet there were some saying that there was no resurrection of the dead. So early came unbelief as to such cardinal points! Very likely they took resurrection in its spiritual application, as the apostle himself applies it elsewhere, and denied that anything more was to be expected. The saints were risen with Christ. Here, they might have said, was the whole thing; but the apostle turns upon them with the assurance that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ Himself was not raised; they could not hold the one and deny the other. If they denied the resurrection of Christ, then both the preaching they had received was vain and their faith in it was vain; — the apostles, also, were turned into false witnesses, for their testimony had been that God had raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up if the fact is that the dead are not raised; for if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised. "If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins." Every hope, therefore, is gone. Those that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. He does not mean, as some strangely put it, annihilated, but that all that with which they had identified themselves, which they built upon for blessing, was gone, and what was the value of a faith which put men only in the suffering condition in which Christians manifestly were, most pitiable, in losing not only their hope for eternity, but their enjoyment of time itself?
(3) Thus, except the gospel is altogether false, Christ is risen, and that from among the dead, — the sample of His people in this respect, the first-fruits of those that are fallen asleep. Manifestly, Christ rose by Himself. There was no general resurrection along with Him. It was the "resurrection," as said in Philippians, "out from among the dead;" here simply the first-fruits of those that were to rise from among the dead in after times. This is, as we already know, the character of resurrection as it applies to the Christian. Of a general resurrection of the dead, saint and sinner all at one time, Scripture knows nothing.
God does not fail to manifest in this way what His people are to Him, and to separate them from that world out of which He has called them. They are those of whom the apostle could say they were fallen asleep. Death had lost its character of terror for them, as it had lost its real power.
Thus, as by man death had come into the world, by man also had come the resurrection of the dead. It was suited that by him who thus might seem altogether to have lost the place in which God created him, by man, should the resurrection come. Man as seen in Christ is true Man, the truest Man that possibly could be. Christ assumed not another manhood, whatever dignity He might communicate to it. He is not only Man, but even the Son of man; and thus the woman herself, through whom sin entered and who yielded to the power of the serpent, has her part in the victory through Him. The woman's seed was to bruise the serpent's head. It is the victory of man, truly that, although it is indeed the grace of God through which this has come about; but we must not discredit the manhood of Christ by the thought of His deity. These were in one Person, one blessed Person, who would not be what He is to us if either failed; but thus in Him we find, as we are meant to find, the Creator-God, Victor still through man whom He created, over that which might have seemed the setting aside of all His thoughts with regard to him. Not only are His thoughts not set aside, they are brought to the full, and gloriously developed. The second Man shows us manhood as God intends it, Himself at the same time the Lord from heaven.
"As then in Adam all die, so also shall all in Christ be made alive"; not all men, but "all in Christ." The death in Adam is indeed universal, for all Adam's, children are naturally in Adam, but it is "all in Christ" who are to be made alive. This does not deny, of course, the resurrection of the wicked, but that which they receive is not truly to be called life. The apostle will not give it that term. All true life is in Christ and thus in the saint, and "all in Christ" shall be brought into the full power and realization of this.
He speaks, as we shall find, of no other here. He does not mention, in fact, the resurrection of the wicked, although he leaves place for it, but "each in his own rank," he says, — "Christ the first-fruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming.;Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father." Here is the order; but, as already said, we find nothing about the resurrection of the wicked. We have plenty of assurance of it elsewhere, and even here place is manifestly left for it. Death is to be abolished completely, but it is simply, as many other Scriptures assure us, "they that are Christ's" who are raised "at His coming." The whole thought of resurrection, as we find it in the chapter here, is applied to this alone. It is only the saint, who sown in weakness is raised in power, who sown in corruption is raised in incorruption. There can be no possibility of applying such expressions to the resurrection of the wicked, or, therefore, to a general resurrection. It is "they that are Christ's at His coming" to whom all this applies.
But he adds, "then, cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father." The special kingdom put into His hands as Man is to he delivered up. Nay, He takes it only for the purpose of bringing everything into subjection to God. That which He taught His disciples to pray, that the Father's kingdom might come, is that which He accomplishes in power by taking Himself the kingdom. It is not for eternity, it is not even for a long period of time, and those who would tell us that the millennium is in fact but the commencement and threshold, as it were, of His kingdom, which is to continue for a long, perhaps indefinite period after it, mistake altogether the purpose of the kingdom itself. The One who takes it is, in it all, the Minister, as He ever was. He takes it, not for His own glory, but for the Father's glory. God indeed must honor the One who has glorified Him, and will put every enemy under His feet. That is right and necessary, but His own thought in it is that He must accomplish that which is in His heart; He must be, as Isaiah expresses it, "the Father of eternity." He must bring things into that condition in which they will abide eternally. Having accomplished this, for Him all is accomplished. He desires no kingdom separate from that of the Father; while, on the other hand, the throne will be ever "the throne of God and of the Lamb." It will never cease to be characterized by the One who now sits upon that throne.
Christ has manifested God for all eternity, and that manifestation abides, but the purpose of the separate kingdom is to bring everything into subjection to God as God. He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet, not after He has put all enemies under His feet, but until this is perfectly accomplished, — and the last enemy which is abolished is death. Thus, then, the final resurrection, the resurrection anticipative of the judgment of the great white throne, is implied here; and all things thus being put under Him, the Son also Himself becomes "subject to Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." For the perfection of eternity, there can be nothing separate and distinct from this divine rule. The establishment of it according to this perfection is just the glory of Christ to accomplish. The Father's kingdom is the kingdom of God in this character, where all the subjects are children, and God is seen in that place in which the epistle to the Ephesians characterizes Him, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," thus "the Father of every family, whether in heaven or earth." All these families are drawn near to God in a perfect relation which Christ has established, and to which He, therefore, gives its full and eternal character.
(4) We now come to a passage as to which there is great difficulty in the minds of many, and which has, therefore, furnished occasion for a multitude of opinions. It does not seem really so difficult after all. The apostle, in speaking of the character of the Christian life as a life of trial, of suffering from persecution, gives the endurance of this as a proof of a common faith in the resurrection of the dead. With regard, therefore, he says, to those "who are being baptized for the dead," (or in place of the dead,) "what will they do if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized instead of the dead? and why do we too stand in jeopardy every hour?" An old belief interpreted this as a mere superstitious baptism of the living in place of those who might die unbaptized. This is worth mentioning as being founded upon a mistake so prevalent, that baptism has in some way to do with the future life instead of being entirely for the present. Baptism is the mark of discipleship. It is no introduction to heaven, but simply to the kingdom of heaven, that is, to the company of disciples upon the earth. The thought of baptizing child or adult to carry them safe through to heaven is one of those false ideas which so early tended to build up the Romish system. The sacrament was supposed to minister in some way the grace of which it spoke. All this is destroyed to the root by simply keeping baptism in the place for which God has designed it, — a remission of sins indeed on the part of men, not necessarily on the part of God at all, a salvation in figure, not in fact. It is a New Testament type, and to be treated like all other types, as that which of necessity is infinitely lower than the thing of which it speaks, — yet it had and has its place as a confession of Christ, His title to Lordship over His people; that is, it introduces into the kingdom, and thus we can understand without much difficulty the text here. Christians were dying in how many different ways, and living, as the apostle speaks of himself, in constant view of death, — in that sense, "dying daily." What advantage was it to him, he says, to have fought (as after the manner of men, one might say,) with beasts at Ephesus, as a gladiator in the arena, if there was to be no resurrection of the dead? Yet men crowded into the ranks that were thus being thinned, took their place by baptism among those who were soldiers in this warfare. Was it all a dream, or were they justified in this faith in resurrection? The apostle has already identified the resurrection with Christianity itself. If there were no resurrection of the dead, Christ were not risen, and if Christ were not risen, those who had faith in Him were deceived and were yet in their sins. Thus we are not to think simply of the one point of doctrine, but of that as implying all else. The resurrection spoke, of necessity, with tremendous power, to those facing death all the time. Even the very body that dropped in the struggle would be taken up again, and taken up in a more glorious fashion. To weaken here would be to weaken all the power over sin, all the energy of the Christian life. "Let no one deceive himself," says the apostle. These things are not to be tolerated. They are not to be thought lightly of; for "Evil communications corrupt good manners." He quotes the heathen poet Menander in this last saying. That was the truth, and they must take heed to it. They must come to sobriety in righteousness and not sin. There were amongst them, evidently, some who had not the true knowledge of God. It was their shame that such should be in their midst. We see, in fact, how, in the decline of Christian vigor, the world comes in.
(5) But people would ask questions still. They must know all about the process of resurrection, and he able to predicate the character of it. They must be able to reason it out. "How are the dead raised?" they ask, "and with what sort of body do they come?" If that were meant for objection, after all it was only folly to argue in that way. The common operations of nature were sufficient to disprove their arguments. What did they know of the mystery of the seed they sowed? They sowed it that it might die, yet without that death it would never live according to that for which it was designed. In order to understand what he is saying here, we must have the true idea of human death, that it is not extinction, but separation, dissolution, the tie between spirit and body being dissolved, the body corrupting indeed, as a consequence of this, but the result, the evolution of the new thing in which the seed manifested that for which it was designed. They sowed but bare grain, whether wheat or any other, but they knew quite well that that grain was not to continue grain, but that it would soon be clothed with a body very different from that which it had when sown in the earth. God gave it the body that He had willed for it, and to every seed its own kind of body. Thus, the individuality of what was sown was maintained all through, spite of disorganization. God in it, as in so innumerable cases in nature, has stamped things everywhere with His own stamp of resurrection. Things are in His hand. You may call the process natural because you are so familiar with it, because it is so constantly taking place under your eyes. All the same, God is working in it and through it. That which looks so merely lifeless has, nevertheless, in itself the determination of its future life. No seed produces anything else but its own kind, and yet how different is that which springs out of it from the seed out of which it springs!
Look again, says the apostle, at the various kinds of higher bodies, the flesh of men, the flesh of beasts, and birds and fishes. All these differ from one another. Is it possible to decide as to how these differences take place, to follow the process by which, out of that which seems in the first place so similar, almost identical, these different kinds arise? There are bodies celestial too, and bodies terrestrial. The analogy is less perfect here, and he does not enter into it; only he makes us realize in how many different spheres God works, and how completely He is Master of the creature everywhere. The glory of the celestial is a very different thing from the glory of the terrestrial, and yet each has a distinct glory of its own. If it be only the human body, how marvelously is it made, how perfect is its fitting of part to part! How delicate everywhere the wonderful embroidery by which it is all united together! Good it is indeed to inquire with reverence into all this, and to behold what may be permitted to us of God's ways and workings; but how foolish to dictate to Him how He shall work, or to question His power to work that which is beyond us, even to understand! The glory of the sun differs from the glory of the moon and the glory of the stars, and "star differeth from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead." A mistake is often made with regard to the application here. He is not speaking of the difference of degrees of glory among those who are to be raised from the dead. He is speaking of the difference between the body sown and the body raised, as is plain from what follows. It is quite true that there will be different degrees of glory, but that is not his topic here. It is that which is sown in corruption which is raised in incorruption. Here is the difference, a wonderful contrast indeed. That which is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. That which is sown in weakness is raised in power.
We see, as already said, that the apostle has no thought here of the resurrection of the wicked at all. Little is said about this. We have the fact, but Scripture does not enter into details as to that which is merely sorrowful, and a self-perversion from that which God intended as to men. Scripture does not linger on the awful sufferings of the lost, nor enter at large into their condition. For the Christian indeed, it is well-nigh enough to know that those who have refused Christ lose Christ, and that is the most awful penalty, for one who knows Him, that can be conceived. But it is plain that he is speaking here of the resurrection of the saint simply. It is only the saint who is raised in incorruption, in glory, in power. He gives us in what follows a hint at least of the character of the resurrection body. If people ask, "With what body shall they come?" He answers: "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body." The word "natural" is the same word that we have seen elsewhere in the epistle used with regard to the natural man. The natural man, as we have seen, is the psychical man. We have no better word in English. It is the man governed by his psyche or soul simply; therefore by his instincts, appetites, senses, without the due effect upon him of that which is invisible. So with the natural body here. It is the psychical body, the body fitted to the soul, man being made a living soul. That is his characteristic. He has a spirit, but he is not, as he will be, yet characterized by his spirit. The spirit is under limitations, under constraint, as we may say. It works and manifests itself, but it manifests itself through that which is lower than itself. The very material of our thoughts is drawn from that which is seen and tangible. We learn to apply the terms derived from this to that which is unseen and spiritual, but it is, after all, a laborious process, and, as the apostle has told us but a little while ago, we see, as it were, "by a mirror in an enigma." The discipline is, no doubt, a discipline helpful for us and with eternity in view, but it seems for the present to hind us down very much to earth. This bond will be loosed, says the apostle, not by a loss of the body or of the soul. Spirit, soul and body will always make up the man. God's original thought for him will never be set aside, but the body will be fitted perfectly, as now it is not, to the uses of the spirit, and this is the meaning of a spiritual body.
We cannot enter into it in detail, clearly, but we can, nevertheless, understand quite what that means. The body of the resurrection is not spiritual in its material, but it is spiritual in its adaptation to the spirit. There will be nothing any more to weigh upon this. Every part of the man will be in complete harmony. Every part will be in its fullest vigor, a help and not a hindrance to the other. He looks back to creation as he says this. The first Adam became a living soul. With a living soul a natural body is in keeping in the sense in which we have taken this natural body. But for us there is now another Adam, a last One, never to be superseded as the first has been. The last Adam is not characteristically a living soul. He is a quickening Spirit. The life which we derive from Him is life of a higher quality than anything that naturally even, when yet unfallen, we could derive from the first Adam. God's original thought is now capable of being told fully out. "That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual." The first man, not necessarily as fallen, is of the earth, made of dust; and characterized in that sense by his lowest part; but the second man is of heaven, is characterized by a heavenly nature. Thus, then, as he that was made of dust, such also are they his offspring who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly, Christ, so also are the heavenly ones, His people. The image of the dust-made Adam is that which we have borne. We shall bear the image of the heavenly.
(6) From this the apostle draws the necessary inference, that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." This does not seem to be the same in meaning as if he said, neither flesh nor blood can inherit the kingdom of God. It is of the connection of the two that he is speaking. The blood applies to the present life. It is the vehicle of change. It is that which implies the need of continual sustenance and renewal. A body which needs no renewal cannot need blood to renew it, and thus the Lord speaks of Himself as risen from the dead, not as having flesh and blood, but as having flesh and bones. "A spirit hath not flesh and bones," He says, "as ye see Me have." He has poured out His blood and left it with the earthly life that He had lived. He has entered upon a new sphere, retaining all that makes Him truly man, but not the conditions of the old earthly life. The conditions are changed. Flesh and blood are not suited for the kingdom of God in this sense of it. He is not, of course, in the least implying that there is any evil in flesh and blood. It was that which was the original creation, as to which God pronounced that it was all very good; but it was good for its own sphere, not good for a higher one. It was good for man in the state of discipline for which God, for his own blessing, designed him at the beginning; but it is part, therefore, of the school-existence, as we may say, which, when the schooling is over, is done away. Still less can that which is corruptible inherit incorruption; so that he says, although we shall not all sleep, yet we shall all be changed. The body must, with us also, be transformed from its present condition, not merely putting off mortality or every trace of weakness and disease, but transformed to a higher condition altogether.
How suddenly will this be accomplished! Think of it, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump!" The last trump was that which in its military sense stood for departure. It was the signal to march, and that is the thought here. God is taking us into another place, and at the last trump, which sounds for this, we shall be changed into a condition corresponding with that which is implied in it. The trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and the living shall be changed. The "corruptible must put on incorruption." There he is speaking of the dead. "The mortal" (here he speaks of the living) "must put on immortality." Here will be every way the complete triumph over death. "When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then will come to pass the word that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." Everything here applies, as we see again, to the resurrection or transformation of the saints simply. There is no thought of anything besides.
It is here that at last the triumphant appeal can rise: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" The apostle answers: "The sting of death is sin." It is that which makes it what it is for man. For the animal it has no such sting as it has for him; but "the strength, too, of sin is the law" — a vigorous statement quite in keeping with the fearlessness of the apostle. Romans has shown us fully in what way we are to interpret this. The law gave sin its strength in two ways; first of all, by there being in it no power of deliverance, but power of condemnation only. Thus sin, according to it, reigned and must reign in death. But again, law gave sin its strength by the very tact that in prohibiting it, it aroused all the evil nature of man to resistance. The doer of his own will refused the curb of that which restrained it, and the result was that the evil under this treatment became not only the more manifest but the more intensely evil, — open rebellion against God his Maker. Law for us is past, with the reign of sin also. At the time that is contemplated here sin will have passed entirely. What a deliverance! "Thanks be" indeed "to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" The result of our contemplation is to be the turning, in the meantime, with energy, to the work of the Lord that is in our hands. Every shadow has been removed from our path. Only the sure recompense of everything done for Him remains for us. What trial can daunt one who is in the full energy of this? "Be steadfast therefore," says the apostle, "immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."