Sermons on the Resurrection:



John R. Broadus

Will you examine with me the 15th chapter of the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians? The subject of this grand chapter is the resurrection of the body. There were some of the professed Christians in Corinth who denied that there is any such thing as a resurrection of dead men. They might naturally do so for the obvious reasons which occur to many people now. But besides, it is probable that some of them were influenced by a curious speculative theory which in the next century is called Gnosticism. We see that theory appearing in the errors condemned by Paul in writing to the Colossians, and by John in his Epistles. It seems far away from us, but it was a very proud philosophy in its day, boasting of itself as science. The fundamental position of the Gnostics was that matter is necessarily the seat of evil: all evil resides in matter, and no matter is free from evil. We can at once see how they would deny the possibility of a resurrection of the body, because that would involve the perpetuating of evil. However this may be as to the Corinthians, there were some of them who not merely questioned the doctrine of a general resurrection, but positively denied that there is any such thing as a resurrection of dead men. The Greek has no article. It is not strictly "resurrection of the dead"; but they said, "there is no resurrection of dead men" -- as Eschylus long before had declared: "When a man has once died there is no resurrection to him."

Now, in the first section of the chapter --verses l-19--the Apostle says: To affirm that there is no resurrection of dead men is to deny the resurrection of Christ, and thus to destroy Christianity. He begins by reminding them that the Gospel which he ordinarily preached to them -- from which they derived all their knowledge of Christianity -- involved and rested upon the fact that Christ had been raised from the dead. "For I delivered unto you first of all ... that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried; and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." Both His death and His resurrection were in accordance with the predictions of the Old Testament. Then the Apostle proceeds to speak of witnesses to the risen Christ: First, Cephas, whom we call Peter. Second, the twelve. Third, above five hundred brethren at once, "of whom," he says, "the greater part are still living." It had been no great Interval of time. We know most exactly that this Epistle was written in A. D. 57 -- it cannot have been more than a year earlier or later. Most probably our Lord's resurrection was in A. D. 30, with a possible variation of one or two years. So it had been about twenty-seven years since His resurrection. Consider a moment. It is twenty-eight years since our great civil war began, and twenty-three yean since it ended. The older persons present remember with perfect familiarity all its events from beginning to end. And there had been only the same lapse of time in the case of these witnesses whom Paul mentions. No class of skeptics at the present day will think of denying that Paul wrote this Epistle: and he declares that more than half of those five hundred witnesses were still living. Afterwards he adds that Christ appeared to James, and then again to all the Apostles, and finally to Paul himself. This statement of the testimony of our Lord's resurrection is surely remarkable, and is to be added to the evidence furnished in the four Gospels, in the Acts, and in the other Epistles. Allow me to say as a student of history desiring to speak calmly: If I don't know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then I know nothing in the history of mankind. It is a great assured fact; and rightly considered it carries with it the truth of Christianity in general. And not merely is our Lord's resurrection a pillar of Christian evidence, but it is a part of His work of salvation. In 2 Corinthians 5:15 we read: "He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again." He did not merely die for them; but for them He both died and rose again. And in Romans 4:25: "Who believe in Him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised up for our justification." I cannot now elaborate this thought; but these passages plainly teach that our Lord's resurrection is a part of His saving work. He died and rose again for our salvation. Now, let us see the Apostle's argument: "If the resurrection of Christ is a cardinal part of Christianity, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of dead men?" Observe: this was not the general belief of the Corinthian Christians, but only of some, who are carefully distinguished elsewhere in the chapter also, from the general body of the brotherhood. The Apostle declares that to deny a resurrection of dead men will necessarily exclude the resurrection of Christ. Notice the argument in verse 13. He doesn't say: "Unless it is true that there is a resurrection of the dead in general, then Christ is not risen." That wouldn't be sound logic -- for Christ might have risen as an isolated fact. But he says -- and the Greek shows the difference plainly: "If it be true, as some among you maintain, that there is no resurrection of dead men, then Christ is not risen."

Again and again he repeats this -- verses 14-17 -- showing that to deny a resurrection of dead men is to deny Christ's resurrection, which overthrows Christianity and destroys all the hopes founded on it. And that not only as to the living, but -- in verse 18 -- as to those who are fallen asleep in Christ. Their existence has ceased -- they are perished if what these men say be true. As to ourselves also (verse 19): "'If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." The word "miserable" used to signify, not as now "wretched," but "pitiable"; and the Revised Version here says: "We are of all men most pitiable." If we have simply hoped in Christ in this life, and it will turn out to be all a delusion -- there being no future life -- then we are of all men most to be pitied, because we have cherished such a delusion. I have heard good men sometimes say: "If Christianity be a delusion, I should wish to cherish it still, because it makes me happy." But I say: "No! I want no delusions -- no happiness coming from delusions. I want truth -- reality. My soul was born to know truth, and to love truth. And, blessed be God! He has given me the means of learning truth through His Spirit; and I don't wish to be cheated with delusive hopes." It is to that feeling the Apostle here appeals. To deny the Christian's hope of a future existence is to make his a pitiable lot.

Now comes the second section of the chapter -- verses 20 to 28.

Before completing his argument the Apostle turns to the other side in a manner quite characteristic of him. He says: "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and this secures the resurrection of His people." He proceeds to speak only of the resurrection of Christ's people. We know full well that he believed in a general resurrection of all mankind. A little more than a year later -- in Acts 24:15 -- we find him saying before Felix that he expects a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. But in our passage he confines his view to the resurrection of the just, and declares that of this Christ's resurrection is the pledge and assurance. Christ was the first-fruits, and the first-fruits of the harvest gave promise of all that should follow. So he proceeds to remind us that death came through Adam, and in like manner the resurrection comes in Christ. It is wholly beside the mark to quote as teaching universal salvation the statement in verse 22: "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"; for the whole connection shows plainly that he speaks of bodily death and bodily resurrection. And so he declares that Christ's people will all rise at His coming. Having mentioned the coming of the Lord, he declares that then Christ will deliver up the kingdom to God, and will Himself also be subject to God, "that God may be all in all," This does not conflict with the plain teaching elsewhere that Christ is Himself Divine. The reference is to the authority delegated to Him as the God-man -- the Mediator. As He told the disciples just before His ascension: "All authority in Heaven and in earth was given to Me"; so here we are told that this delegated Mediatorial authority will at last be turned back again to God who gave it, and Messianic dominion will be merged in the general dominion of God.

In the third section of the chapter -- verses 29 to 34 -- the Apostle gives further arguments against these persons at Corinth who denied the resurrection. This section needs to be closely connected with the end of our first section at verse 19. The Apostle here: practically identifies the question of a resurrection with that of a future existence. We know that he believed in and taught a conscious existence of the spirit between death and the resurrection of the body. In 2 Cor. 5:6-8 he declares: "We are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." Here he distinctly asserts a conscious existence in the presence of Christ while absent from the body; but in the passage with which we are dealing he speaks only of the re-embodied existence, and points out that for them to deny a resurrection is to deny a future existence. The Corinthians would make no distinction. The first argument he here presents has awakened much disputation, and I have thought all the trouble arises from the unwillingness of many readers to take the passage in its plain and obvious sense. I don't know how you have found it, but I think one of the commonest sources of difficulty in understanding the Bible is a certain unwillingness to let the Bible mean what it wants to mean. We don't fancy the obvious meaning of some passage, and we say, "Oh, it cannot mean that," and proceed to look for another meaning. Then the plainer the language is, the more difficulty we find in drawing from it any other meaning; and so we call the passage extremely difficult. I do not say that you have ever done this, but certainly I have, and have become conscious of it again and again. Now, the obvious meaning of this passage -- verse 29 -- is that some persons among this party at Corinth had been baptizing living persons instead of those who had died without baptism. There is a great disposition in human nature to magnify the externals of Christianity. This would easily arise among Jews and among Greeks. We know that a disposition to exaggerate the importance of Christian ceremony existed not many generations after this, and it might easily have existed at the beginning among some persons. And as to this particular matter, we know from several Fathers that there were in the second century certain professed Christians who did actually practise the baptism of a living person for the benefit of one who had died without baptism. Of course, that is all nonsense from the Christian's point of view; but I pray you to observe that the Apostle doesn't present this as his own argument in favor of his own teaching -- he presents it as what the logicians call an argument ad hominem: an argument specially applying to the persons addressed. He wishes to show them how inconsistent it is for some of them to be practising this baptism for the dead when they say that men will never live again. He carefully distinguishes the persons who do this from himself and from the Church in general. It is not, "What shall we do who are baptized for the dead?" but, "What shall they do?" Before and after he speaks of the Christians in general as "we." All the difficulty about this passage appears to have arisen from a failure to observe that the Apostle introduces it only as an ad hominem argument, to silence captious objectors; even as he tells Titus concerning certain unruly persons, that their mouths must be stopped. Our Lord used a similar argument when they charged Him with casting out demons by a league with Beelzebub, and He said: "Well, then; by whom do your sons cast them out?" It was a mere argument ad hominem to silence unreasonable controversialists. The. Apostle then proceeds to further considerations addressing themselves to all Christians. "Why do we also stand in jeopardy every hour -- constantly exposed to peril, to death, in the service of Christ -- if there be no future life?" For his part he declares that his sufferings amount to daily death. And why should he have fought with beasts at Ephesus if there be no resurrection? We don't know whether he means that he has literally fought with beasts, or means it figuratively; and it doesn't at all matter for the understanding of his argument. He had encountered great perils and sufferings in the service of Christ; and what was the use of bearing all this if there be no future? Naturally enough might one then say, as the wicked Jews had said long before -- Isaiah 22:13: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." People would very generally say this if they abandoned all belief in a future existence. But the Apostle checks them: "Be not deceived. Don't adopt any such ruinous notion. Don't allow the people who assert that there is no resurrection to communicate their ideas to you." And then he quotes a line of a Greek poet. We don't know whether he was quoting directly from the poet, or the saying had become proverbial. It is a little difficult to translate. "Communications" is not indeed the word. The revisers say "evil company." It means evil intercourse or conversations. And the word rendered "manners" signifies both morals and manners. We have no term that denotes both at once, as they have in German -- "Sitten," The thought is surely one of great importance -- perhaps especially to the young: "Evil conversations and intercourse corrupt good morals and manners," The Apostle has repeatedly quoted Greek poets, as a missionary in China now likes to quote, some saying of Confucius, because that will take hold upon his hearers,

The remainder of the chapter presents a reply to objectors. The first objection, which is answered in verse 35-49, turns upon the inquiry: "How can the same body be raised?" The Apostle introduces it in a manner characteristic of his writings, by representing some individual objector as speaking. "But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what kind of body do they come?" Now, this is not the question of a sincere and anxious inquirer wishing to have difficulties removed out of the way of his faith. It is the question of a curious and hostile objector. We see that from the harsh term with which the Apostle introduces his reply. He says: "Thou fool!" -- a strong expression, which an inspired teacher might employ because he would know that it was deserved, and could use it without improper feeling on his own part. There are occasions on which for us also this would be the most appropriate answer to use; but we feel a difficulty in making it. Apart from the matter of civility, there is danger of wrong judgment or wrong feeling on our part; so we sometimes have to shrink from saying: "You are a fool, and you know you are," -- or: "You are a fool, and have not sense enough to know it" -- although at times that would be the only logical reply. To this silly objector the Apostle now answers that there are many different kinds of bodies in the world; and so the risen body may be very different from the present body, and yet be in some just sense the same. He illustrates this, first, from sowing wheat. The grain of wheat that we sow must die in order to be made alive. The body that grows out of it: the stalk, the leaves, the head, the blossoms, and many grains -- are in one sense the same as the single seed we planted, though in another sense they are very different. Again, there are many kinds of flesh, he declares; flesh of men, flesh of beasts, flesh of fishes, flesh of birds. There are also many bodies; bodies celestial and terrestrial; and the celestial bodies widely differ in glory. You see the point of all these illustrations. The risen body may be in a true sense the same, while yet in the conditions of its existence exceedingly different. It will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful -- a spiritual body. You ask just what the spiritual body is; and I answer: We don't know -- we are at the end of our information on the subject. But you see at once that there is no propriety in questioning or denying the resurrection on the ground that the matter composing the body becomes widely scattered -- even enters into new bodies, and that the same body contains entirely different matter at different periods of its existence, and all that. The risen body will not be in the strict sense a flesh and blood body; it will be incorruptible and spiritual; so the objection is cut off, and that is what the Apostle undertook to do. He is not attempting to define for us the nature of the risen body, but only to meet the objector by showing that it will be exceedingly different from the present one.

The second objection -- in verses 50-57 -- asks how it will be with those living when Christ shall appear. That difficulty might well present itself at the beginning. People would say: "Grant that the dead will rise again. How about those whom Christ finds alive?" The Apostle declares that they will immediately be changed without passing through the experience of death. They must be changed, because flesh and blood unchanged cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and the corruptible must become incorruptible. So, when the dead shall have been raised, and the living at that moment shall have been changed, then all the consequences of death will have been destroyed. Then -- as written in Isaiah 25:8 -- death will be swallowed up in victory. And, borrowing from the prophet Hosea, the Apostle breaks into an outburst of rejoicing: "O death, where is thy sting? -- O grave, where is thy victory?" It is a triumph which Christianity warrants -- a victory which Christianity promises. He adds: "The sting of death is sin; and sin cannot be overcome by the law: nay, the law gives strength to sin" -- a thought here mentioned in passing, and to be developed a few months later in the 7th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. The law has no power to take away the sting of death by conquering sin; but the Gospel has this power. And so he adds: "But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

The conclusion of this great chapter -- in verse 58 - contains a twofold exhortation, and a great encouragement. He exhorts, first, to be fixed in Christian convictions. "Be ye steadfast, unmovable." Second: To be active in Christian work -- "always abounding in the work of the Lord." Only fixed convictions will produce permanent Christian activity; and only those who are actively at work will maintain fixed convictions. The two may stand together: either attempted alone will fail. Observe how strong is the expression here: not merely "engaged" in the. work of the Lord; but "abounding in the work of the Lord," and "always abounding." Then he adds the encouragement to steadfastness and activity: "Forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." It is not in vain, because it shall not fail of good results. Labor in the Lord is never in vain. Speak any word for Christ in public or in private, that is in accordance with the Bible, and pray God's blessing upon it, and it will, and must, and does do good. You are engaged in a cause which cannot fall -- which is destined to success. Your King must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. And it is not in vain, because you shall not fail of eternal reward. There is a resurrection -- a future life --- and in that future life will God recompense for all sacrifices and all toil in the Saviour's service. Brother, don't talk about the sacrifices you have made for Christ; but think only of what you may do in the future. Ah, if there be sorrow in the home of the glorified, methinks the keenest sorrow with which we shall look back upon our earthly life will spring from remembering that we did not make more sacrifices and engage in greater toils for the good of men and for the glory of Christ.


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