But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 ESV
Whether or not some of the Corinthians wanted to believe in the possibility of the resurrection of the dead, Paul was unequivocally certain that Jesus had done just that. As far as he was concerned, it was a non-contestable fact and he had firsthand knowledge of its reality. Paul had personally encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and it had radically changed his life (Acts 9:1-7). As Paul stated earlier, after Jesus was resurrected he appeared to hundreds of individuals and, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9 ESV. This was not a point that was up for discussion or debate. It was a fact, and one for which Paul was willing to give his life.
It was the resurrection of Jesus that made it possible for sinful men and women to be restored to a right relationship with a holy God. His resurrection was proof that His sacrifice had been accepted by God, and because God was satisfied with His Son’s payment, He was able to justify sinful men and women, forgiving their sins and declaring them as righteous in His eyes. The resurrection of Jesus is essential the gospel message. The first Adam, through his sin, brought death into the world. Paul clarifies the difference between Adam and Jesus in his letter to the Romans.
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. – Romans 5:17-19 ESV
Adam brought sin and condemnation to mankind. His transgression resulted in death for all men. But Jesus, through His death, made possible new life and forgiveness of sins. But had He not risen from the dead, none of that would have been possible. He would have been nothing more than a martyr, rather than the Messiah and Savior of the world. But Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead. The tomb was empty. He had a physical body and was seen by many who recognized Him, talked with Him and even enjoyed a meal with Him. He was not a spirit without a body. There is no doubt that His body, in its resurrected state, was different than before. But He ate with the disciples and could be touched by them. His was a tangible, corporeal body. And Paul’s point is that we will one day experience the very same thing. We will receive new, resurrected bodies. Will our body appear just as it did at the point of our death? If I die at 80, will I be eternally an octogenarian in heaven? If a child dies at seven, will he or she be a child throughout eternity? The Scriptures don’t answer these questions. But we are told that we will receive new bodies.
Later on in this same chapter, Paul elaborates on this idea of our new resurrected bodies. He wants to address the confusion and concerns of the Corinthians over the whole idea of dead bodies being given new life.
But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. – 1 Corinthians 15:35-37 NLT
The point is that there is a body made for this earth and a body intended by God for heaven. Our earthly bodies are designed to wear out, die and decompose. But our heavenly bodies will be eternal and indestructible. He goes on to explain:
Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 NLT
The designated day on which we will receive our heavenly bodies is at the resurrection of the dead, an event that has yet to take place. It is on that occasion that God will consummate His redemptive plan. Paul states that the “last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26 ESV). With the resurrection of our bodies, we will no longer be susceptible to death. We will experience eternal life, free from all fear of death – physical or spiritual.
In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul provided them with hope regarding the reality of the coming resurrection of the dead.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. –
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NLT
When Paul refers to the dead believers rising from their graves, he is talking about their newly resurrected bodies, not their souls. Their souls will have been with God in heaven during the interim time period since their death. But they, along with all those who are alive when the Lord returns, will be given their newly glorified bodies – imperishable and incorruptible. “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT). The truth is, there is a resurrection from the dead. And Jesus was the firstfruits – the initial representation of more to come. We will experience resurrection just as He did. And that will take place when He return for His church at the rapture. As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “we will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.” Then the millennial Kingdom of Christ will begin. He will rule for a thousand years on earth, bringing everyone and everything under His subjection. At the end of that period of time, He will turn over all power and authority to God the Father. Satan will be defeated once and for all, and the reign of sin and death will end. That is the truth, and it should bring us hope, joy and confidence in the future. God’s will will be done. Christ’s mission will be complete.