“Death Is to Be Brought to Nothing”
“As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.”—1 CORINTHIANS 15:26.
1, 2. (a) What hope did the apostle Paul hold out for dead ones? (b) What question about the resurrection did Paul address?
“I BELIEVE in . . . the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” So says the Apostles’ Creed. Catholics and Protestants alike dutifully recite it, little realizing that their beliefs are more akin to Greek philosophy than to anything the apostles ever believed. The apostle Paul, however, rejected Greek philosophy and did not believe in an immortal soul. Still, he firmly believed in a future life and wrote under inspiration: “As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Just what does that mean for dying mankind?
2 In answer, let us return to Paul’s discussion of the resurrection recorded in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. You will recall that in the opening verses, Paul established the resurrection as a vital part of Christian doctrine. Now he addresses a specific question: “Nevertheless, someone will say: ‘How are the dead to be raised up? Yes, with what sort of body are they coming?’”—1 Corinthians 15:35.
What Kind of Body?
3. Why did some reject the resurrection?
3 In raising this question, Paul may well have intended to counteract the influence of Plato’s philosophy. Plato taught that man has an immortal soul that survives the death of the body. To those raised with such an idea, the Christian teaching no doubt seemed unnecessary. If the soul survives death, what is the point of a resurrection? Further, the resurrection likely seemed illogical. Once the body has dissolved into dust, how can there be a resurrection? Bible commentator Heinrich Meyer says that the antagonism of some Corinthians was possibly based “on the philosophic ground that the restoration of the matter of the body was impossible.”
4, 5. (a) Why were the objections of faithless ones unreasonable? (b) Explain Paul’s illustration of the “bare grain.” (c) What kind of bodies does God give resurrected anointed ones?
4 Paul exposes the emptiness of their reasoning: “You unreasonable person! What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies; and as for what you sow, you sow, not the body that will develop, but a bare grain, it may be, of wheat or any one of the rest; but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him, and to each of the seeds its own body.” (1 Corinthians 15:36-38) God was not going to raise the bodies that people had while on earth. Rather, there would be a transformation.
5 Paul compares the resurrection to the germinating of a seed. A tiny seed of wheat bears no resemblance to the plant that will grow from it. The World Book Encyclopedia says: “When a seed begins to germinate, it absorbs large amounts of water. The water causes many chemical changes inside the seed. It also causes the seed’s internal tissues to swell and break through the seed coat.” In effect, the seed dies as a seed and becomes an emerging plant. “God gives it a body” in that he set in place the scientific laws governing its development, and each seed receives a body according to its kind. (Genesis 1:11) Similarly, anointed Christians first die as humans. Then, at God’s appointed time, he brings them back to life in entirely new bodies. As Paul told the Philippians, “Jesus Christ . . . will refashion our humiliated body to be conformed to his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20, 21; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2) They are resurrected in spirit bodies and live in the spirit realm.—1 John 3:2.
6. Why is it reasonable to believe that God can supply resurrected ones with appropriate spirit bodies?
6 Is this too difficult to believe? No. Paul reasons that animals come in many different types of bodies. In addition, he contrasts heavenly angels with flesh-and-blood humans, saying: “There are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies.” There is also great diversity in the inanimate creation. “Star differs from star in glory,” said Paul, long before science discovered such celestial bodies as blue stars, red giants, and white dwarfs. In view of this, is it not reasonable that God can provide appropriate spirit bodies for resurrected anointed ones?—1 Corinthians 15:39-41.
7. What is the meaning of incorruption? of immortality?
7 Paul then says: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised up in incorruption.” (1 Corinthians 15:42) A human body, even when perfect, is corruptible. It can be killed. For example, Paul said that the resurrected Jesus was “destined no more to return to corruption.” (Acts 13:34) He would never return to life in a corruptible, even though perfect, human body. The bodies that God gives to resurrected anointed ones are incorruptible—beyond death or decay. Paul continues: “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised up in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised up in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:43, 44) Further, Paul says: “This which is mortal must put on immortality.” Immortality means endless, indestructible life. (1 Corinthians 15:53; Hebrews 7:16) In this way, the resurrected ones bear “the image of the heavenly one,” Jesus, who made their resurrection possible.—1 Corinthians 15:45-49.
8. (a) How do we know that resurrected ones are the same individuals they were while alive on earth? (b) What prophecies are fulfilled when the resurrection takes place?
8 In spite of this transformation, the resurrected ones are still the same individuals they were before they died. They will be raised with the same memories and the same sterling Christian qualities. (Malachi 3:3; Revelation 21:10, 18) In this they resemble Jesus Christ. He changed from spirit to human form. Then he died and was resurrected as a spirit. Yet, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) What a glorious privilege anointed ones have! Says Paul: “But when this which is corruptible puts on incorruption and this which is mortal puts on immortality, then the saying will take place that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up forever.’ ‘Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?’”—1 Corinthians 15:54, 55; Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14.
An Earthly Resurrection?
9, 10. (a) In the context of 1 Corinthians 15:24, what is “the end,” and what events take place in connection with it? (b) What must take place for death to be brought to nothing?
9 Is there any future for the millions who do not have the hope of immortal spirit life in heaven? Indeed there is! After explaining that the heavenly resurrection takes place during Christ’s presence, Paul outlines subsequent events, saying: “Next, the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has brought to nothing all government and all authority and power.”—1 Corinthians 15:23, 24.
10 “The end” is the end of the Thousand Year Reign of Christ, when Jesus humbly and loyally hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father. (Revelation 20:4) God’s purpose “to gather all things together again in the Christ” will have been fulfilled. (Ephesians 1:9, 10) First, though, Christ will have destroyed “all government and all authority and power” opposed to God’s Sovereign will. This involves more than the destruction wrought at Armageddon. (Revelation 16:16; 19:11-21) Paul says: “[Christ] must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 15:25, 26) Yes, all traces of Adamic sin and death will have been removed. Of necessity, then, God will have emptied the “memorial tombs” by bringing the dead back to life.—John 5:28.
11. (a) How do we know that God can re-create dead souls? (b) With what kind of bodies will those resurrected to the earth be supplied?
11 This means re-creating human souls. Impossible? No, for Psalm 104:29, 30 assures us that God can do so: “If you take away their spirit, they expire, and back to their dust they go. If you send forth your spirit, they are created.” While resurrected ones will be the same individuals they were before their death, they will not need to have the same bodies. As with those raised to heaven, God will give them a body just as it pleases him. No doubt their new bodies will be physically sound and reasonably similar to their original body so that they will be recognized by their loved ones.
12. When does the earthly resurrection take place?
12 When will the earthly resurrection take place? Martha said of her dead brother, Lazarus: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:24) How did she know that? The resurrection was a subject of controversy in her day, since the Pharisees believed in it but the Sadducees did not. (Acts 23:8) Still, Martha must have known of pre-Christian witnesses who hoped in the resurrection. (Hebrews 11:35) Too, she could have discerned from Daniel 12:13 that the resurrection will occur on the last day. She might even have learned this from Jesus himself. (John 6:39) That “last day” coincides with the Thousand Year Reign of Christ. (Revelation 20:6) Imagine the excitement during that “day” when this grand event begins!—Compare Luke 24:41.
Who Is Coming Back?
13. What vision of the resurrection is recorded at Revelation 20:12-14?
13 At Revelation 20:12-14 is recorded John’s vision of the earthly resurrection: “I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.”
14. Who will be among those resurrected?
14 The resurrection will encompass “the great and the small,” both prominent and inconspicuous humans who have lived and died. Why, even infants will be among that number! (Jeremiah 31:15, 16) At Acts 24:15, another important detail is revealed: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” Prominent among “the righteous” will be faithful men and women of old, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Rahab. (Hebrews 11:1-40) Imagine being able to converse with such ones and obtain eyewitness details of Bible events of long ago! “The righteous” will also include the thousands of God-fearing individuals who have died in more recent times and who did not have a heavenly hope. Do you have a family member or a loved one who might be among these? How comforting it is to know that you can see them again! Who, though, are the “unrighteous” individuals that will also come back? They include millions, perhaps billions, who died without having an opportunity to come to learn and apply Bible truth.
15. What does it mean that returning ones will be “judged out of those things written in the scrolls”?
15 How will returning ones be “judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds”? These scrolls are not the record of their past deeds; when they died, they were acquitted of the sins they committed during their lifetime. (Romans 6:7, 23) However, resurrected humans will still be under Adamic sin. It must be, then, that these scrolls will set forth divine instructions that all must follow in order to benefit fully from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As the last trace of Adamic sin is eliminated, ‘death will be brought to nothing’ in the fullest sense. By the end of the thousand years, God will “be all things to everyone.” (1 Corinthians 15:28) No longer will man need the intervention of a High Priest or Ransomer. All mankind will be restored to the perfect state Adam originally enjoyed.
An Orderly Resurrection
16. (a) Why is it reasonable to believe that the resurrection will be an orderly process? (b) Who will likely be among the first to return from the dead?
16 Since the heavenly resurrection is orderly, “each one in his own rank,” it is evident that the earthly resurrection will not create a chaotic population explosion. (1 Corinthians 15:23) Understandably, the newly resurrected ones will need to be looked after. (Compare Luke 8:55.) They will need physical sustenance and—more important—spiritual assistance in gaining life-giving knowledge of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. (John 17:3) If all were to return to life simultaneously, it would be impossible to care for them adequately. It is reasonable to assume that the resurrection will take place progressively. Faithful Christians who died shortly before the end of Satan’s system will likely be among the first ones raised. We can also expect an early resurrection for the faithful men of old who will serve as “princes.”—Psalm 45:16.
17. What are some issues regarding the resurrection on which the Bible is silent, and why should Christians not be unduly concerned about such matters?
17 Nevertheless, we should not be dogmatic on such matters. On many issues the Bible is silent. It does not spell out the details of how, when, or at what locations the resurrection of individuals will occur. It does not tell us how those returning will be housed, fed, and clothed. Nor can we state with certainty how Jehovah will work out such issues as the rearing and care of resurrected children or how he will take care of certain situations that might involve our friends and loved ones. True, it is natural to wonder about such things; but it would be unwise to spend time trying to answer questions that at present are unanswerable. Our focus must be on serving Jehovah faithfully and gaining everlasting life. Anointed Christians rest their hope in a glorious heavenly resurrection. (2 Peter 1:10, 11) The “other sheep” hope for an everlasting inheritance in the earthly realm of God’s Kingdom. (John 10:16; Matthew 25:33, 34) As for the many details about the resurrection that are unknown, we simply trust in Jehovah. Our future happiness is safe in the hands of the One who can ‘satisfy the desire of every living thing.’—Psalm 145:16; Jeremiah 17:7.
18. (a) What victory does Paul highlight? (b) Why do we confidently trust in the resurrection hope?
18 Paul concludes his argument by exclaiming: “Thanks to God, for he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57) Yes, victory is won over Adamic death through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and both anointed and “other sheep” share in that victory. Of course, “other sheep” alive today have a hope that is unique to this generation. As part of an ever-increasing “great crowd,” they may survive the coming “great tribulation” and never experience physical death! (Revelation 7:9, 14) However, even those who die because of “time and unforeseen occurrence” or at the hands of Satan’s agents can put their confidence in the resurrection hope.—Ecclesiastes 9:11.
19. What exhortation must all Christians today heed?
19 Therefore, we eagerly await that glorious day when death will be brought to nothing. Our unwavering trust in Jehovah’s promise of the resurrection gives us a realistic view of matters. Whatever happens to us in this life—even if we should die—nothing can rob us of the reward that Jehovah has promised. Hence, Paul’s final exhortation to the Corinthians is as appropriate today as it was two thousand years ago: “Consequently, my beloved brothers, become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
Can You Explain?
□ How did Paul answer the question about what bodies the anointed would have when resurrected?
□ How and when will death finally be brought to nothing?
□ Who will be included in the earthly resurrection?
□ What should be our attitude regarding matters about which the Bible is silent?
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A seed “dies” by undergoing a dramatic change
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Faithful men and women of old, such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Rahab, will be among those resurrected
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The resurrection will be a time of great joy!