But other evils had found means to introduce themselves into the midst of the shining gifts which were exercised in the bosom of the flock at Corinth. The resurrection of the dead was denied. Satan is wily in his dealings. Apparently it was only the body that was in question; nevertheless the whole gospel was at stake, for if the dead rose not, then Christ was not risen. And if Christ was not risen, the sins of the faithful were not put away, and the gospel was not true. The apostle therefore reserved this question for the end of his epistle, and he enters into it thoroughly.
First, he reminds them of that which he had preached among them as the gospel, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and was raised again according to the scriptures. This then was the means of their salvation, if they continued in it, unless they had believed in vain. Here at least was a very solid foundation for his argument: their salvation (unless all that they had believed was but a profitless fable) depended on the fact of the resurrection, and was bound up with it. But if the dead rose not, Christ was not risen, for He had died. The apostle begins therefore by establishing this fact through the most complete and positive testimonies, including his own testimony, since he had himself seen the Lord. Five hundred persons had seen Him at once, the greater part of whom were still alive to bear witness of it.
Observe, in passing, that the apostle can speak of nothing without a moral effect being produced in his heart, because he thinks of it with God. Thus, verses 8-10, he calls to mind the state of things with regard to himself and to the other apostles, and that which grace had done; and then, his heart unburdened, he returns to his subject. The testimony of every divine witness was the same. Everything declared that Christ was risen; everything depended on the fact that He was so. This was his starting-point. If, said he, that which was preached among you is that Christ was raised from the dead, how happens it that some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is none, Christ is not risen; if He is not risen, the preaching of His witnesses is vain, the faith of Christians vain. Nor that only; but these witnesses are false witnesses, for they had declared, with respect to God, that He had raised up Christ from the dead. But God had not raised Him up if the dead do not rise. And in that case their faith was vain: they were yet in their sins; and those who had already fallen asleep in Christ had perished. Now, if it be in this life only that the believer has hope in Christ, he is of all men the most miserable; he does but suffer as to this world. But it is not so, for Christ is risen.
Here, however, it is not only a general doctrine that the dead are raised. Christ, in rising, came up from among the dead. It is the favour and the power of God come in, [See Footnote #17] to bring back from among the dead the One who had in His grace gone down into death to accomplish and to display the deliverance of man in Christ from the power of Satan and of death; and to put a public seal on the work of redemption, to exhibit openly in man the victory over all the power of the enemy. Thus Christ arose from among all the other dead (for death could not hold Him), and established the glorious principle of this divine and complete deliverance, and He became the first-fruits of them that slept, who, having His life, await the exercise of His power, which will awaken them by virtue of the Spirit that dwells in them.
This evidently gives a very peculiar character to the resurrection. It is not only that the dead rise, but that God, by His power, brings back certain persons from among the dead, on account of the favour which He has for them, and in connection with the life and the Spirit which are in them. Christ has a quite peculiar place. Life was in Him, and He is our life. He gained this victory by which we profit. He is of right the first-fruits. It was due to His glory. Had He not gained the victory, we should always have remained in prison. He had power Himself to resume life, but the great principle is the same, it is not only a resurrection of the dead, but those who are alive according to God arise as the objects of His favour, and by the exercise of that power which wills to have them for Himself and with Himself-Christ, the first-fruits: those who are Christ's, at His coming. We are associated with Christ in resurrection. We come out like Him, not only from death, but from the dead. We mark, too, here how Christ and His people are inseparably identified. If they do not rise, He is not risen. He was as really dead as we can be, has taken in grace our place under death, was a man as we are men (save sin) so truly that, if you deny this result for us, you deny the fact as to Him; and the object and foundation of faith itself fails. This identification of Christ with men, so as to be able to draw a conclusion from us to Him, is full of power and blessing. If the dead do not rise, He is not risen; He was as truly dead as we can be.
It needed to be by man. No doubt the power of God can call men back from the tomb. He will do so, acting in the Person of His Son, to whom all judgment is given. But that will not be a victory gained in human nature over death which held men captive. This it is which Christ has done. He was willing to be given up to death for us, in order (as man) to gain the victory for us over death and over him who had the power of death. By man came death; by man, resurrection. Glorious victory! complete triumph! We come out of the state where sin and its consequences fully reached us. Evil cannot enter the place into which we are brought out. We have crossed the frontiers for ever. Sin, the power of the enemy, remains outside this new creation, which is the fruit of the power of God after evil had come in, and which the responsibility of man shall not mar. It is God who maintains it in connection with Himself: it depends on Him.
There are two great principles established here: by man, death; by man, the resurrection of the dead; Adam and Christ as heads of two families. In Adam all die; in Christ all shall be made alive. But here there is an all-important development in connection with the position of Christ in the counsels of God. One side of this truth is the dependence of the family, so to call it, upon its head. Adam brought death into the midst of his descendants-those who are in relation with himself. This is the principle which characterises the history of the first Adam. Christ, in whom is life, brings life into the midst of those who are His-communicates it to them. This principle characterises the second Adam, and those who are His in Him. But it is life in the power of resurrection, without which it could not have been communicated to them. The grain of wheat would have been perfect in itself, but would have remained alone. But He died for their sins, and now He imparts life to them, all their sins being forgiven them.
Now, in the resurrection, there is an order according to the wisdom of God for the accomplishment of His counsels-Christ, the first-fruits; those who are Christ's, at His coming again. Thus those who are in Christ are quickened according to the power of the life which is in Christ; it is the resurrection of life. But this is not the whole extent of resurrection as acquired by Christ, in gaining the victory over death according to the Spirit of holiness. The Father has given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as the Father had given Him. The latter are those of whom this chapter treats essentially, because its subject is resurrection among Christians; and the apostle, the Spirit Himself, loves to speak on the subject of the power of eternal life in Christ. Yet he cannot entirely omit the other part of the truth. The resurrection of the dead, he tells us, is come by man. But he is not here speaking of the communication of life in Christ. In connection with this last and nearer part of his subject, he does not touch upon the resurrection of the wicked; but after the coming of Christ he introduces the end, when He shall have given up the kingdom to the Father. With the kingdom is introduced the power of Christ exercised over all things-a different thought entirely from the communication of life to His own.
There are three steps therefore in these events: first, the resurrection of Christ; then, the resurrection of those who are His, at His coming; afterwards, the end, when He shall have given up the kingdom to the Father. The first and the second are the accomplishment in resurrection of the power of life in Christ and in His people. When He comes, He takes the kingdom; He takes His great power and acts as king. From His coming then to the end is the development of His power, in order to subdue all things to Himself; during which all power and all authority shall be abolished. For He must reign till all His enemies are under His feet; the last subdued will be death. Here then, as the effect of His power only, and not in connection with the communication of life, we find the resurrection of those who are not His; for the destruction of death is their resurrection. They are passed over in silence: only that death, such as we see it, has no longer dominion over them. Christ has the right and the power, in virtue of His resurrection and of His having glorified the Father, to destroy the dominion of death over them, and to raise them up again. This will be the resurrection of judgment. Its effect is declared elsewhere.
When He has put all His enemies under His feet, and has given back the kingdom to His Father (for it is never taken from Him, nor given to another, as happens with human kingdoms), then the Son Himself is subject to Him who has put all things under Him, in order that God may be all in all. The reader should observe, that it is the counsels of God with regard to the government of all things which is here spoken of, and not His nature; and moreover it is the Son, as man, of whom these things are said. This is not an arbitrary explanation: the passage is from Psalms 8, the subject of which is the exaltation of man to the position of head of all things, God putting all things under His feet. Nothing, says the apostle, is excepted ( Hebrews 2:8 ) save, as he adds here, that He is necessarily excepted who put all things under Him. When the man Christ, the Son of God, has in fact accomplished this subjugation, He gives back to God the universal power which had been committed to Him, and the mediatorial kingdom, which He held as man, ceases. He is again subject, as He was on earth. He does not cease to be one with the Father, even as He was so while living in humiliation on the earth, although saying at the same time "Before Abraham was, I am." But the mediatorial government of man has disappeared-is absorbed in the supremacy of God, to which there is no longer any opposition. Christ will take His eternal place, a Man, the Head of the whole redeemed family, being at the same time God blessed for ever, one with the Father. In Psalms 2 we see the Son of God, as born on earth, King in Zion, rejected when He presented Himself on earth; in Psalms 8 the result of His rejection, exalted as Son of man at the head of all that the hand of God has made. Then we find Him here laying down this conferred authority, and resuming the normal position of humanity, namely, that of subjection to Him who has put all things under Him; but through it all, never changing His divine nature, nor-save so far as exchanging humiliation for glory-His human nature either. But God is now all in all, and the special government of man in the Person of Jesus-a government withwhich the assembly is associated (see Ephesians 1:20-23 , which is a quotation from the same Psalm)-is merged in the immutable supremacy of God, the final and normal relationship of God with His creature. We shall find the Lamb omitted in that which is said in Revelation 21:1-8 , speaking of this same period.
Thus we find in this passage resurrection by man-death having entered by man; the relationship of the saints with Jesus, the source and the power of life, the consequence being His resurrection, and theirs at His coming; power over all things committed to Christ, the risen Man; afterwards the kingdom given back to God the Father, the tabernacle of God with men, and the man Christ, the second Adam, eternally a man subject to the Supreme-this last a truth of infinite value to us (the resurrection of the wicked, though supposed in the resurrection brought in by Christ, not being the direct subject of the chapter). The reader must now remark that this passage is a revelation, in which the Spirit of God, having fixed the apostle's thoughts upon Jesus and the resurrection, suddenly interrupts the line of his argument, announcing-with that impulse which the thought of Christ always gave to the mind and heart of the apostle-all the ways of God in Christ with regard to the resurrection, to the connection of those that are His with Him in that resurrection, and the government and dominion which belong to Him as risen, as well as the eternal nature of His relationship, as man, to God. Having communicated these thoughts of God, which were revealed to him, he resumes the thread of his argument in verse 29. This part ends with verse 34, after which he treats the question, which they had brought forward as a difficulty-in what manner should the dead be raised?
By taking the verses 20-28 (which contain so important a revelation in a passage that is complete in itself) as a parenthesis, the verses 29-34 become much more intelligible, and some expressions, which have greatly harassed interpreters, have a tolerably determined sense. The apostle had said, in verse 16, "If the dead rise not," and then, that if such were the case, those who had fallen asleep in Jesus had perished, and that the living were of all men most miserable. At verse 28 he returns to these points, and speaks of those who are baptised for the dead, in connection with the assertion, that if there were no resurrection those who had fallen asleep in Christ had perished; "if," he says, repeating more forcibly the expression in verse 16, "the dead rise not at all"; and then shews how entirely he is himself in the second case he had spoken of, "of all men most miserable," and almost in the case of perishing also, being every moment in danger, striving as with wild beasts, dying daily. Baptised, then, for the dead is to become a Christian with the view fixed on those who have fallen asleep in Christ, and particularly as being slain for Him, taking one's portion with the dead, yea, with the dead Christ; it is the very meaning of baptism (Romans 6). How senseless if they do not rise! As in 1 Thessalonians 4, the subject, while speaking of all Christians, is looked at in the same way. The word translated "for" is frequently used in these epistles for "in view of," "with reference to."
We have seen that verses 20-28 form a parenthesis. Verse 29 then is connected with verse 18. Verses 30-32 relate to verse 19. The historical explanations of these last verses is found in the second epistle (see chap. 1:8, 9 ; 4:8-12 ). I do not think that verse 32 should be taken literally. The word translated "I have fought with beasts" is usually employed in a figurative sense, to be in conflict with fierce and implacable enemies. In consequence of the violence of the Ephesians he had nearly lost his life, and even despaired of saving it; but God had delivered him. But to what purpose all these sufferings, if the dead rise not? And observe here, that although the resurrection proves that death does not touch the soul (compare Luke 20:38 ), yet the apostle does not think of immortality,(18) apart from resurrection. God has to do so, with man? and man is composed of body and of soul. He gives account in the judgment of the things done in the body. It is when raised from the dead that he will do so. The intimate union between the two, quite distinct as they are, forms the spring of life, the seat of responsibility, the means of God's government with regard to His creatures, and the sphere in which His dealings are displayed. Death dissolves this union; and although the soul survives, and is happy or miserable, the existence of the complete man is suspended, the judgment of God is not applied, the believer is not yet clothed with glory. Thus to deny the resurrection, was to deny the true relationship of God with man, and to make death the end of man, destroying man as God contemplates him, and making him perish like a beast. Compare the Lord's argument in that passage in Luke of which I have already quoted one verse.
Alas! the denial of the resurrection was linked with the desire to unbridle the senses. Satan introduced it into the heart of Christians through their communication with persons with whom the Spirit of Christ would have had no communion.
They needed to have their conscience exercised, to be awakened, in order that righteousness might have its place there. It is the lack of that which is commonly the true source of heresies. They failed in the knowledge of God. It was to the shame of these Christians. God grant us to take heed to it! It is the great matter even in questions of doctrine.
But further, the inquisitive spirit of man would fain be satisfied with respect to the physical mode of the resurrection. The apostle did not gratify it, while rebuking the stupid folly of those who had occasion every day to see analogous things in the creation that surrounded them. Fruit of the power of God, the raised body would be, according to the good pleasure of Him who gave it anew for the glorious abode of the soul, a body of honour, which, having passed through death, would assume that glorious condition which God had prepared for it-a body suited to the creature that possessed it, but according to the supreme will of Him who clothed the creature with it. There were different kinds of bodies; and as wheat was not the bare grain that had been sown, although a plant of its nature and not another, so should it be with the raised man. Different also were the glories of heavenly and earthly bodies: star differed from star in glory. I do not think that this passage refers to degrees of glory in heaven, but to the fact that God distributes glory as He pleases. Heavenly glory and earthly glory are however plainly put in contrast, for there will be an earthly glory.
And observe here, that it is not merely the fact of the resurrection which is set forth in this passage, but also its character. For the saints it will be a resurrection to heavenly glory. Their portion will be bodies incorruptible, glorious, vessels of power, spiritual. This body, sown as the grain of wheat for corruption, shall put on glory and incorruptibility. [See Footnote #19] It is only the saints that are here spoken of-"they also that are heavenly," and in connection with Christ, the second Adam. The apostle had said that the first body was "natural." Its life was that of the living soul; as to the body it partook of that kind of life which the other animals possessed-whatever might be its superiority as to its relationship with God, in that God Himself had breathed into his nostrils the spirit of life, so that man was thus in a special way in relationship with God (of His race, as the apostle said at Athens). "Adam, the son of God," said the Holy Ghost in Luke-made in the image of God. His conduct should have answered to it, and God had revealed Himself to him in order to place him morally in the position that was suitable to this breath of life which he had received. He had become-free as he was from death by the power of God who sustained him, or mortal by the sentence of Him who had formed him-a living soul. There was not the quickening power in himself. The first Adam was simply a man-"the first man Adam."
The word of God does not express itself thus with regard to Christ, when speaking of Him in this passage as the last Adam. He could not be the last Adam without being a man; but it does not say "the last man was a quickening Spirit," but the "last Adam"; and when it speaks of Him as the second Man, adds that He was "from heaven." Christ had not only life as a living soul, He had the power of life, which could impart life to others. Although He was a man on earth, He had life in Himself; accordingly He quickened whom He would. Nevertheless it is as the last Adam, the second Man, the Christ, that the word here speaks of Him. It is not only that God quickens whom He will, but the last Adam, Christ, the Head, spiritually, of the new race, has this power in Himself: and therefore it is said-for it is always Jesus on earth who is in question-"He hath given to the Son to have life in himself." Of us it is said, "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son: he who hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Howbeit that which is of the Spirit is not that which was first, but that which is natural, that is, that which has the natural life of the soul. That which is spiritual, which has its life from the power of the Spirit, comes after. The first man is of the earth-has his origin, such as he is (God having breathed into his nostrils a spirit or breath of life), from the earth. Therefore he is of the dust, even as God said, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The last Adam, though He was as truly man as the first, is from heaven.
As belonging to the first Adam, we inherit his condition, we are as he is: as participating in the life of the second, we have part in the glory which He possesses as Man, we are as He is, we exist according to His mode of being, His life being ours. Now the consequence here is that, as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Observe here, that the first Adam and the last, or second Man, respectively, are looked at as in that condition into which they entered when their respective trials under responsibility had ended; and those who are connected with the one and the other inherit the condition and the consequences of the work of the one and the other, as thus tested. It is the fallen Adam who is the father of a race born after his image-a fallen and guilty race, sinful and mortal. He had failed, and committed sin, and lost his position before God, was far from Him, when he became the father of the human race. If the corn of wheat falling into the ground does not die, it bears no fruit; if it die, it bears much fruit. Christ had glorified God, made expiation for sin, and was raised in righteousness; had overcome death and destroyed the power of Satan, before He became, as a quickening Spirit, the Head of a spiritual race,[See Footnote #20] to whom-united to Himself-He communicates all the privileges that belong to the position beforeGod which He has acquired, according to the power of that life by which He quickens them. It is a risen and glorified Christ whose image we shall bear, as we now bear the image of a fallen Adam. Flesh and blood, not merely sin, cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Corruption (for such we are) cannot inherit that which is incorruptible. This leads the apostle to a positive revelation of that which will take place with regard to the enjoyment of incorruptibility by all the saints. Death is conquered. It is not necessary that death should come upon all, still less that all should undergo actual corruption; but it is not possible for flesh and blood to inherit the kingdom of glory. But we shall not all sleep; there are some who will be changed without dying. The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we (for redemption being accomplished and Christ ready to judge the quick and the dead, the apostle always looked at it as a thing immediately before his eyes, ready to take place any moment) shall be changed (a change equivalent to resurrection); for that which is corruptible, if not already in dust and corruption, shall put on incorruptibility; that which is mortal, immortality. We see that this relates to the body; it is in his body that man is mortal, even when he has eternal life, and shall live by Christ and with Christ. The power of God will form the saints whether living or dead for the inheritance of glory.
Take especial notice of what has just been said. Death is entirely conquered-annulled in its power-for the Christian. He possesses a life (Christ risen), which sets him above death, not perhaps physically, but morally. It has lost all its power over his soul, as the fruit of sin and judgment. It is so entirely conquered, that there are some who will not die at all. All Christians have Christ for their life. If He is absent, and if He does not return-as will be the case as long as He sits on His Father's throne, and our life is hid with Him in God-we undergo death physically according to the sentence of God; that is to say, the soul is separated from the mortal body. When He shall return and exercise His power, having risen up from the Father's throne to take His people to Himself before He exercises judgment, death has no power at all over them: they do not pass through it. That the others are raised from the dead is a proof of power altogether divine, and more glorious even than that which created man from the dust. That the living are changed proves a perfection of accomplished redemption, and a power of life in Christ which had left no trace, no remains, of the judgment of God as to them, nor of the power of the enemy, nor of the thraldom of man to the consequences of his sin. In place of all that, is an exercise of divine power, which manifests itself in the absolute, complete, and eternal deliverance of the poor guilty creature who before was under it-a deliverance that has its perfect manifestation in the glory of Christ, for He had subjected Himself in grace to the condition of man under death for sin; so that to faith it is always certain, and accomplished in His Person. But the resurrection of the dead and the change of the living will be its actual accomplishment for all who are His, at His coming. What a glorious deliverance is that which is wrought by the resurrection of Christ, who-sin entirely blotted out, righteousness divinely glorified and made good, Satan's power destroyed-transports us by virtue of an eternal redemption, and by the power of a life which has abolished death, into an entirely new sphere, where evil cannot come, nor any of its consequences, and where the favour of God in glory shines upon us perfectly and for ever! It is that which Christ has won for us according to the eternal love of God our Father, who gave Him to us to be our Saviour.
At an unexpected moment we shall enter into this scene, ordained by the Father, prepared by Jesus. The power of God will accomplish this change in an instant: the dead shall rise, we shall be changed. The last trumpet is but a military allusion, as it appears to me, when the whole troop wait for the last signal to set out all together.
In the quotation from Isaiah 25:8 we have a remarkable application of scripture. Here it is only the fact that death is thus swallowed up in victory, for which the passage is quoted; but the comparison with Isaiah shews us that it will be, not at the end of the world, but at a period when, by the establishment of the kingdom of God in Zion, the veil, under which the heathen have dwelt in ignorance and darkness, shall be taken off their face. The whole earth shall be enlightened, I do not say at the moment, but at the period. But this certainty of the destruction of death procures us a present confidence, although death still exists. Death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. All is changed by the grace which, at the end, will bring in this triumph. But meantime, by revealing to us the favour of God who bestows it, and the accomplishment of the redemption which is its basis, it has completely changed the character of death. Death, to the believer who must pass through it, is only leaving that which is mortal; it no longer bears the terror of God's judgment, nor that of the power of Satan. Christ has gone into it and borne it and taken it away totally and for ever. Nor that only,-He has taken its source away. It was sin which sharpened and envenomed that sting. It was the law which, presenting to the conscience exact righteousness, and the judgment of God which required the accomplishment of that law, and pronounced a curse on those who failed in it,-it was the law which gave sin its force to the conscience, and made death doubly formidable. But Christ was made sin, and bore the curse of the law, being made a curse for His own who were under the law; and thus, while glorifying God perfectly with regard to sin, and to the law in its most absolute requirements, He has completely delivered us from the one and the other, and, at the same time, from the power of death, out of which He came victorious. All that death can do to us is to take us out of the scene in which it exercises its power, to bring us into that in which it has none. God, the Author of these counsels of grace, in whom is the power that accomplishes them, has given us this deliverance by Jesus Christ our Lord. Instead of fearing death, we render thanks to Him who has given us the victory by Jesus. The great result is to be with Jesus and like Jesus, and to see Him as He is. Meanwhile we labour in the scene where death exercises its power-where Satan uses it, if God allows him, to stop us in our way. We labour although there are difficulties, with entire confidence, knowing what will be the infallible result. The path may be beset by the enemy; the end will be the fruit of the counsels and the power of our God, exercised on our behalf according to that which we have seen in Jesus, who is the Head and the manifestation of the glory which His own shall enjoy.
To sum up what has been said, we see the two things in Christ: firstly, power over all things, death included; He raises up even the wicked: and secondly, the association of His own with Himself. With reference therefore to the latter, the apostle directs our eyes to the resurrection of Christ Himself. He not only raises up others, but He has been raised up Himself from the dead. He is the first-fruits of them that sleep. But before His resurrection He died for our sins. All that separated us from God is entirely put away-death, the wrath of God, the power of Satan, sin, disappear, as far as we are concerned, in virtue of the work of Christ; and He is made to us that righteousness which is our title to heavenly glory. Nothing remains of that which appertained to His former human estate, except the everlasting favour of God who brought Him there. Thus it is a resurrection from among the dead by the power of God in virtue of that favour, because He was the delight of God, and in His exaltation His righteousness is accomplished.
For us it is a resurrection founded on redemption, and which we enjoy even now in thepower of a life, which brings the effect and the strength of both into our hearts, enlightened by the Holy Ghost who is given to us. At the coming of Christ the accomplishment will take place in fact for our bodies.
With regard to practice, the assembly at Corinth was in a very poor condition; and being asleep as to righteousness, the enemy sought to lead them astray as to faith also. Nevertheless, as a body, they kept the foundation; and as to external spiritual power, it shone very brightly.
19: It is a striking collateral proof of the completeness of our redemption, and the impossibility of our coming into judgment, that we are raised in glory. We are glorified before we arrive before the judgment seat. Christ will have come and changed our vile body and fashioned it like His glorious body.
20: It is not that as Son of God He could not quicken at all times, as indeed He did. But in order to our partaking with Him, all this was needed and accomplished, and here He is looked at as Himself risen from the dead, the heavenly Man. Thus also it is founded in divine righteousness.