“The Dead Will Be Raised Up”
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”—1 CORINTHIANS 15:52.
1, 2. (a) What comforting promise was given through the prophet Hosea? (b) How do we know that God is disposed to bringing the dead back to life?
HAVE you ever lost someone close to you in death? Then you know the pain that death can bring. Nevertheless, Christians take comfort in the promise that God gave by means of the prophet Hosea: “From the hand of Sheol I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them. Where are your stings, O Death? Where is your destructiveness, O Sheol?”—Hosea 13:14.
2 The idea of the dead returning to life seems preposterous to skeptics. But Almighty God surely has the power to perform such a miracle! The real issue is whether Jehovah is disposed to bring the dead back to life. The righteous man Job asked: “If an able-bodied man dies can he live again?” Then, he gave this reassuring answer: “You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning.” (Job 14:14, 15) The word “yearning” denotes an earnest longing or desire. (Compare Psalm 84:2.) Yes, Jehovah keenly anticipates the resurrection—he yearns to see once again departed faithful ones, who are alive in his memory.—Matthew 22:31, 32.
Jesus Sheds Light on the Resurrection
3, 4. (a) What light did Jesus shed on the resurrection hope? (b) Why was Jesus raised as a spirit, not in the flesh?
3 Ancient men of faith like Job had only a partial understanding of the resurrection. It was Jesus Christ who shed full light on this wonderful hope. He showed the key role that he himself plays when he said: “He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life.” (John 3:36) Where will that life be enjoyed? For the vast majority of those who exercise faith, it will be on earth. (Psalm 37:11) However, Jesus told his disciples: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) God’s Kingdom is heavenly. Hence, this promise means that a “little flock” would have to be with Jesus in heaven as spirit creatures. (John 14:2, 3; 1 Peter 1:3, 4) What a glorious prospect! Jesus further revealed to the apostle John that this “little flock” would number just 144,000.—Revelation 14:1.
4 How, though, would the 144,000 enter heavenly glory? Jesus “shed light upon life and incorruption through the good news.” By means of his blood, he inaugurated “a new and living way” into the heavens. (2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 10:19, 20) First, he died, as the Bible foretold he would. (Isaiah 53:12) Then, as the apostle Peter later proclaimed, “this Jesus God resurrected.” (Acts 2:32) Jesus was not raised as a human though. He had said: “The bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” (John 6:51) Taking his flesh back would nullify that sacrifice. So Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but . . . made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18) Jesus thus “obtained an everlasting deliverance for us,” meaning the “little flock.” (Hebrews 9:12) He presented to God the value of his perfect human life as a ransom for sinful mankind, and the 144,000 were the first to benefit from this.
5. What hope was extended to Jesus’ first-century followers?
5 Jesus would not be the only one resurrected to heavenly life. Paul told fellow Christians in Rome that they had been anointed with holy spirit to be sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ if they confirmed their anointing by enduring to the end. (Romans 8:16, 17) Paul also explained: “If we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection.”—Romans 6:5.
In Defense of the Resurrection Hope
6. Why did belief in the resurrection come under attack in Corinth, and how did the apostle Paul respond?
6 The resurrection is part of the “primary doctrine” of Christianity. (Hebrews 6:1, 2) Nevertheless, the doctrine was under attack in Corinth. Some in the congregation, evidently influenced by Greek philosophy, were saying: “There is no resurrection of the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:12) When reports of this reached the apostle Paul, he came to the defense of the resurrection hope, especially the hope of anointed Christians. Let us examine Paul’s words as recorded in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. You will find it helpful to have read the chapter in its entirety, as recommended in the preceding article.
7. (a) On what key issue did Paul focus? (b) Who saw the resurrected Jesus?
7 In the first two verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul sets the theme of his discussion: “I make known to you, brothers, the good news which I declared to you, which you also received, in which you also stand, through which you are also being saved, . . . unless, in fact, you became believers to no purpose.” If the Corinthians failed to stand fast in the good news, they had accepted the truth in vain. Paul continued: “I handed on to you, among the first things, that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, yes, that he has been raised up the third day according to the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that he appeared to upward of five hundred brothers at one time, the most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep in death. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles; but last of all he appeared also to me as if to one born prematurely.”—1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
8, 9. (a) How important is belief in the resurrection? (b) Likely on what occasion did Jesus appear to “upward of five hundred brothers”?
8 For those who had accepted the good news, belief in the resurrection of Jesus was not optional. There were many eyewitnesses to confirm that “Christ died for our sins” and that he had been raised up. One was Cephas, or Peter, as he is better known. After Peter’s denial of Jesus on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, he must have been greatly comforted by Jesus’ appearing to him. “The twelve,” the apostles as a group, were also visited by the resurrected Jesus—an experience that no doubt helped them to overcome their fear and become bold witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.—John 20:19-23; Acts 2:32.
9 Christ also appeared to a larger group, “upward of five hundred brothers.” Since it was only in Galilee that he had followers in such large numbers, this may have been on the occasion described at Matthew 28:16-20, when Jesus gave the command to make disciples. What a powerful testimony these individuals could give! Some were still alive in 55 C.E. when Paul composed this first letter to the Corinthians. Note, though, that those who had died were spoken of as having “fallen asleep in death.” They had not yet been resurrected to receive their heavenly reward.
10. (a) What was the effect of Jesus’ last meeting with his disciples? (b) How did Jesus appear to Paul “as if to one born prematurely”?
10 Another outstanding witness to Jesus’ resurrection was James, the son of Joseph and Jesus’ mother, Mary. Prior to the resurrection, James evidently had not been a believer. (John 7:5) But after Jesus appeared to him, James became a believer and perhaps played a role in converting his other brothers. (Acts 1:13, 14) At his final meeting with his disciples, on the occasion when he ascended to heaven, Jesus commissioned them to “be witnesses . . . to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-11) Later, he appeared to Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of Christians. (Acts 22:6-8) Jesus appeared to Saul “as if to one born prematurely.” It was as if Saul had already been resurrected to spirit life and was able to see the glorified Lord centuries before that resurrection was due to occur. This experience abruptly halted Saul in his course of murderous opposition to the Christian congregation and caused a remarkable change. (Acts 9:3-9, 17-19) Saul became the apostle Paul, one of the foremost defenders of the Christian faith.—1 Corinthians 15:9, 10.
Faith in the Resurrection Essential
11. How did Paul expose the fallacy of saying, “There is no resurrection”?
11 The resurrection of Jesus was therefore a well-attested fact. “Now if Christ is being preached that he has been raised up from the dead,” argues Paul, “how is it some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12) Not only were such ones having personal doubts or questions about the resurrection but they were openly voicing disbelief in it. So Paul exposes the fallacy of their reasoning. He says that if Christ had not been raised up, the Christian message was a lie, and those who testified to Christ’s resurrection were “false witnesses of God.” If Christ had not been raised, no ransom had been paid to God; Christians were ‘yet in their sins.’ (1 Corinthians 15:13-19; Romans 3:23, 24; Hebrews 9:11-14) And Christians who had “fallen asleep in death,” in some cases as martyrs, had perished without a genuine hope. What a pitiable state Christians would be in if this life were all they could expect! Their sufferings would be all for nothing.
12. (a) What is implied by calling Christ “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death”? (b) How did Christ make the resurrection possible?
12 That was not the case, however. Paul continues: “Christ has been raised up from the dead.” What is more, he is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) When the Israelites obediently gave Jehovah the firstfruits of their produce, Jehovah blessed them with a large harvest. (Exodus 22:29, 30; 23:19; Proverbs 3:9, 10) By calling Christ “the firstfruits,” Paul implies that a further harvest of individuals would be raised from death to heavenly life. “Since death is through a man,” says Paul, “resurrection of the dead is also through a man. For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22) Jesus made the resurrection possible by giving his perfect human life as a ransom, opening the way for mankind to be released from slavery to sin and death.—Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:18, 19.a
13. (a) When does the heavenly resurrection take place? (b) How is it that some anointed ones do not “fall asleep in death”?
13 Paul continues: “But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.” (1 Corinthians 15:23) Christ was resurrected in 33 C.E. However, his anointed followers—“those who belong to the Christ”—would have to wait until shortly after Jesus began his royal presence, which Bible prophecy shows occurred in 1914. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-16; Revelation 11:18) What of those who would be alive during that presence? Paul says: “Look! I tell you a sacred secret: We shall not all fall asleep in death, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52) Clearly, not all anointed ones sleep in the grave awaiting a resurrection. Those who die during Christ’s presence are transformed instantaneously.—Revelation 14:13.
14. How are anointed ones “baptized for the purpose of being dead ones”?
14 “Otherwise,” asks Paul, “what will they do who are being baptized for the purpose of being dead ones? If the dead are not to be raised up at all, why are they also being baptized for the purpose of being such? Why are we also in peril every hour?” (1 Corinthians 15:29, 30) Paul did not mean that living individuals were baptized in behalf of dead ones, as some Bible translations make it appear. After all, baptism is related to Christian discipleship, and dead souls cannot be disciples. (John 4:1) Rather, Paul was discussing living Christians, many of whom, like Paul himself, were “in peril every hour.” Anointed Christians were ‘baptized into Christ’s death.’ (Romans 6:3) Since their anointing, they were being “baptized,” as it were, into a course that would lead to a death like that of Christ. (Mark 10:35-40) They would die with the hope of a glorious heavenly resurrection.—1 Corinthians 6:14; Philippians 3:10, 11.
15. What perils may Paul have experienced, and how did faith in the resurrection play a role in enduring them?
15 Paul now explains that he himself had faced peril to such a degree that he could say: “Daily I face death.” Lest some accuse him of exaggerating, Paul adds: “This I affirm by the exultation over you, brothers, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Jerusalem Bible renders this verse: “I face death every day, brothers, and I can swear it by the pride that I take in you in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As an example of the dangers he faced, in 1Co 15 verse 32, Paul speaks of ‘fighting wild beasts at Ephesus.’ The Romans often executed criminals by throwing them to wild beasts in the arenas. If Paul endured a battle with literal wild beasts, he could have survived only with Jehovah’s help. Without the resurrection hope, choosing a life course that exposed him to such peril would have been foolhardy indeed. Without the hope of a future life, enduring the hardships and sacrifices that came with serving God would have little meaning. “If the dead are not to be raised up,” says Paul, “‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.’”—1 Corinthians 15:31, 32; see 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9; 11:23-27.
16. (a) Where may the expression “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die” have originated? (b) What were the dangers of embracing this sentiment?
16 Paul may have quoted Isaiah 22:13, which describes the fatalistic attitude of the disobedient inhabitants of Jerusalem. Or he may have had in mind the beliefs of the Epicureans, who disdained any hope of a life after death and believed that fleshly pleasure was the chief good in life. Whatever the case, the “eat and drink” philosophy was ungodly. Hence, Paul warns: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Mixing with those who rejected the resurrection could be poisonous. Such association may have played a role in the problems that Paul had to handle in the Corinthian congregation, such as sexual immorality, divisions, lawsuits, and disrespect for the Lord’s Evening Meal.—1 Corinthians 1:11; 5:1; 6:1; 11:20-22.
17. (a) What exhortation did Paul give the Corinthians? (b) What questions remain to be answered?
17 Paul thus gives the Corinthians this positive exhortation: “Wake up to soberness in a righteous way and do not practice sin, for some are without knowledge of God. I am speaking to move you to shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34) A negative view of the resurrection led some into a spiritual stupor, as though drunk. They needed to wake up, stay sober. Anointed Christians today likewise need to be spiritually awake, not being influenced by the world’s skeptical views. They must cling tight to their hope of a heavenly resurrection. But questions still remained—for the Corinthians then and for us now. For example, in what form are the 144,000 raised to heaven? And what about the millions of others who are still in the grave and who do not have a heavenly hope? What will the resurrection mean for such ones? In our next article, we will examine the rest of Paul’s discussion of the resurrection.
a See the February 15, 1991, issue of The Watchtower for a discussion of the ransom.
Do You Remember?
◻ What light did Jesus shed on the resurrection?
◻ Who were some of the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection?
◻ Why was the resurrection doctrine challenged, and what was Paul’s response?
◻ Why was faith in the resurrection essential for anointed Christians?
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Jairus’ daughter became proof that the resurrection was possible
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Without the hope of a resurrection, the martyrdom of faithful Christians would be meaningless