The Defeat of Death

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Perhaps the closest theological connection to the resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of the believer as a result. In 1 Corinthians 15 – that exceptionally glorious passage – Paul equates the believer’s eschatological hope to that of a great harvest. The resurrection of Christ is, as Paul says, “the first fruits” of that harvest and is to be followed by the resurrection of “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (v. 23)

But this resurrection hope is not to be understood in a Hellenized context, where “resurrection” may connote some incorporeal afterlife that is one step removed from reality. Rather, the Christian hope in “resurrection” should be seen through the first century Jewish context from which it was begotten; where resurrection means bones and bodies.

As a first century Jew himself, Paul demonstrates belief in the physicality of the resurrection when he says, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body” (1 Cor. 15:42). Clearly, Paul is affirming a Jewish hope in the resurrection (and transformation) of the body, just as he would have when he was a Pharisee. But here, in his post-Damascus road state, Paul’s hope is firmly rooted in the person of Jesus and will ultimately resemble his resurrection.

Therefore, like Paul, Christians should center their hope, not merely on “going to heaven” as in contemporary church piety; this is only an intermediary state. Rather, the hope to which the Christian looks is centered around the fundamental accomplishment of Christ. What is this accomplishment? It is the defeat of death – it is death’s reversal – which culminates in a literal resurrection of the body, just as it did with Christ. As Paul says, “Death is swallowed up in victory”  (1 Corinthians 15:54).

Thus, resurrection is not something that happens to our soul as a result of death. It is the exact opposite of that; it is the reversal of death by the resurrection of one’s body. This is the hope established by the work of Christ and that to which the Christian clings.

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