Resurrection’s Promise

by Bob Burridge ©2018
an Easter meditation based upon 1 Corinthians 15

Easter is celebrated by all those who call themselves “Christian”. Not all those claiming that title fit with how the Bible defines “Christian”. Not all of them celebrate Easter Day in the same way. To some, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not taken as historical fact. To some Easter is just a celebration of Spring, so it doesn’t go much beyond bunnies and colored eggs. But to those who are redeemed by grace and who put their trust in the Risen Savior, Easter takes on a very special meaning. The resurrection remembered on that day holds a great promise to God’s people, a promise that must be central in how that holiday is celebrated, and in how we live all the other days of the year.

Easter isn’t set up as a holiday in the Bible.

In our time in history the resurrection of Jesus is often blended with traditions from the way the Spring season was celebrated in various past times and places.

Ancient pagan cultures saw the beauty of Spring displayed around them and set a time to celebrate it. Sadly, those tragically lost in spiritual blindness miss appreciating God’s glory in it all. They see the amazing way things seem to come back to life after a long winter. But they miss what it’s telling them about the one who made it all and keeps it all working. So the ancients made up god’s and spirit beings they honored at that time of year.

The word “Easter” itself comes from an ancient word for “to shine”. It was associated in some cultures with the “Goddess of Sunrise” or “Goddess of Spring”, who was called by variations of the name “Eostre”. This root word is where we get our English word “East”, since that’s the direction in which the Sun rises.

As the message of Christianity spread into the different parts of the world the Spring holidays were adjusted. The pagan elements were eliminated and replaced with remembering the resurrection of Jesus. The traditional name of “Easter” continued to be used, but with a new meaning for the Christians.

In the time of Moses, the Passover feast was set up at the beginning of Spring using a lunar calendar. It celebrated how God delivered Israel from hopeless captivity in Egypt. Since Jesus and his Apostles celebrated Passover the night before our Savior was crucified, the date of Easter each year is determined by the old Jewish calendar as it was reflected in the Roman calendar which is more like the calendar we use today.

God used the feast of Passover to teach about the Savior who would come to die in their place. Just as a lamb died in place of the first born sons back in Egypt, Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to die in place of his people on the cross at Calvary. Then he rose again from the dead three days later to prove that he accomplished what he came to do.

All the beauties of Spring and the wonders of the promises of God come together this time of year. We may love to hunt for baskets of candy, get together for a good Easter dinner, come to a special worship service at our church, and enjoy a few days off from school or work. But Easter is more than a time for budding trees, warming temperatures, and new spring outfits.

Those who don’t have hope in Christ are left with just the celebration of Spring. But there’s a lot to celebrate when we think of the resurrection of our Savior. It was on the Sunday following the Passover that year, the first day of the week on the Roman calendar, that Jesus rose from the dead.

The victory of Resurrection is often missed
because people don’t understand why it happened.

It’s not just a promise of life after death. It’s proof that the cause of death was overcome. In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul explained the details of what Christ’s resurrection was about.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The first issue he mentions here is the most primary truth of all. Christ died for our sins. This is the focus of the entire Bible. He didn’t just die as a martyr to inspire us, or to stir us up against evil. He died to deal with the problem of sin.

It was God’s first promise after Adam and Eve sinned. While they were still in Eden God said that One would be born of a woman who would strike at the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).

God explained it more as history unfolded. Today we know that Jesus was that Christ, the promised one; and he fulfilled the promise. He died in place of his sinful people to fully pay for their sins. Death was the penalty, and he paid it in full for all those he represented there on the cross. The attempt by Satan to destroy the human race failed, and that evil tempter was defeated.

Isaiah 53 is one of the places that told about Jesus Christ’s work hundreds of years before his birth. Verses 4-6 say, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Then 1 Corinthians 15 says that he was buried to show that he was really dead. They laid his dead body in a tomb, sealed the door, and posted Roman guards. His body truly died. His human soul was separated from it while he remained in the grave.

Then as the final and complete evidence that death was conquered, he rose again from the dead on the third day. Everything came about just the way God said it would in his word. When sin was overcome by the Messiah, death was conquered too, because death is the penalty for sin. That’s what the Scriptures had said.

For example, there’s the promise in Isaiah 26:19, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.”

Resurrection is the evidence that the debt had been fully paid for those God intended to redeem.

This was one of the promises God gave in his Covenant with his people. All that happened surrounding the death of Jesus took place according to the Scriptures. It was not only fulfilling God’s promises in the Gospel books of the New Testament which recorded what Jesus did and it’s meaning, but also what was foretold in the books of the Old Testament about what God would do.

Later in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul went on to make sure we understand what God accomplished.

Every true believer in Christ’s work
will experience resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:51-54
51. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
53. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
54. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

There will be an unexpected moment while we’re going about our regular routines, when God will announce the end of this long period of history on earth. Those who have already died will be raised up in restored bodies, and those alive will be changed. This promise of dramatic change applies to all who are redeemed by God’s grace.

What we will be is beyond anything we are now or can even imagine. Believers will all be transformed into something far greater at the resurrection. Their bodies will be reconstituted and joined again with their souls. Their new form will be specially suited for their life in heavenly glory with the Lord forever. All that grows old, breaks, and wears out with time, will be upgraded into an eternal form. Death and aging will be gone forever and a whole new era will begin.

We shall all be changed instantly! Literally the expression “in a moment” is “in an atom” [“ĕn ătōmō” (ἐν ἀτόμῳ)]. The Greek word “ătōm-” (ἀτόμ-) in the original text means an indivisible piece of something, something that can’t be cut up. In this case it’s time. It will happen instantaneously. When the time comes, it won’t be a drawn out process. God will do it all at once. There won’t be warning signs like there were when God judged Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some day, when things are going along as if nothing beyond the usual is going to happen, Jesus Christ will appear in a way much more spectacular than his first coming. It will be openly visible everywhere, not like his humble birth in that simple manger in Bethlehem.

At that moment, both the living and the dead in Christ will be transformed. Bodies that up to that time became diseased, injured, and deteriorated, will be corrupted no more. They will be made incorruptible, and immortal — they will never die. When this change takes place at the great resurrection, death will be swallowed up in victory.

Then Paul went on to explain
why death isn’t our master anymore.

1 Corinthians 15:55-58
55. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
57. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

The second word translated “death” in verse 55 is actually the Greek word “hades” (ᾅδης). It’s translated as “grave” in the old 1611 King James Version. It had many uses at the time Paul wrote this. It was sometimes used for “the grave” where the body is buried, sometimes for “hell” where unredeemed souls suffer for their sins, or more generally just the “unseen realm” where the souls of the dead go after being separated from the body. Since this passage is about the body being raised up to rejoin the soul at the resurrection, here it probably means the grave where the body was remaining.

Paul is probably using the language of Hosea 13:14, though not exactly quoting it. There it says, “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.” There, the Hebrew word “sheol” (שׁאול) is very similar in it’s various uses as the later Greek word “hades” (ᾅδης) which Paul used here in 1 Corinthians 15:55.

What this verse is saying is the point Paul’s making here. Where is the sting, the painful punishment of death? Where did it go? Where is the victory that makes people think the grave will overcome them in the end? These threats and sorrows of death and the grave are now gone for those redeemed by Jesus Christ. Those threats aren’t there any more.

When a debt is paid, it can no longer be collected. Jesus Christ paid the debt of sin, so there is no remaining debt of death to be collected. He was raised up to show that death’s grip had been overcome.

This promise is ours now too. The resurrection of all God’s true children is assured. The pain that terrorizes people about death is taken away. It’s not a pain anymore. Its venom is taken away. We will be with the Lord at death, in a life far better than the best of lives lived here.

Verse 58 of 1 Corinthians 15 shows us how we should therefore be living. Considering this great victory, and the certain triumph that’s coming for us, we should be steadfast and immovable — not giving in to the pressures and power of evil. We should be always abounding in the Lord’s work doing what’s good in the eyes of God.

When we’re doing the Lord’s work, our labor is never in vain. There is in fact, great reward. Nobody wants to work hard for his regular pay check, then not get paid, or find out that he’s getting paid a lot less than he thought his work deserved. That can’t happen in our labor for Christ and his Kingdom. When it comes to our work here on earth, this side of the resurrection, all that we do for God’s glory will abound to blessings now and even more after this life is over. The reward has already been earned, not by us, but by our Savior in our place. Our engagement in declaring the glories of the King of Kings, the only Creator and Redeemer, is rewarding to us because we love to serve our Savior and to be what we were made to be.

The resurrection of Jesus was more than a receipt that our debt was taken care of. It was the arrival of the product itself. We have that certain hope in our possession today!

When something breaks down, we know it’s fixed when it starts working again. We know that sin was overcome because life was restored and proven by Christ’s resurrection. Things are working again for God’s redeemed people, and they will live forever in glory.

Lives don’t end at the time of death – they never really end. When our life here is over, those redeemed by grace will immediately enjoy living in the presence of their Savior. When that period of time is over — their bodies will be resurrected. Those who sincerely put their trust in the finished work of our Savior will begin an eternity of living in glory – finally perfected and fit for heaven.

That’s how the resurrection of Christ instructs us about living for God’s glory today.
– It’s evidence of the truth of all that God promises us in his word.
– It gives us personal hope in facing the reality of death (our own, and the death of our redeemed loved ones).
– It balances the value of this present life in relationship with our eternal future.
– It’s proof of the fulfillment of the promise of victory over the continuing consequences of sin.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 tells about our future and that final resurrection day. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

[Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

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