The resurrection from the dead is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is the founding principle of Jesus ministry, and the quantifying truth of everything that Jesus affirmed.
- Jesus claimed that He had power over death.
- He claimed the ability to raise Himself from the dead.
- He said that He will raise from the dead, those who believe in Him.
- Jesus promised to destroy death forever.
As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, they had a plethora of problems within the church.
- Chapters 1-4, members fighting over who was the best teacher.
- Chapter 5, struggles with sexual morality issues.
- Chapter 6, Christians suing other Christians, instead of working out their differences together in love.
- Chapter 8, Christians using their freedom in a destructive way, causing others weaker christians to stumble in their faith.
- Chapters 10-11, during their love feasts, some were gorging themselves, so that when the poor came for their one good meal a week there was nothing left, and they went away hungry. Others in the church were getting drunk before partaking of communion.
- Chapters 12 and 14, incorrect usage of spiritual gifts, caused disruptions during the teaching of the word of God.
- Chapter 15, false teachers had apparently come into the church and began to tell the people that there was no resurrection from the dead.
As a result of false teaching that there was no resurrection, the members of the church at Corinth had begun to lose hope. The source of this incorrect doctrine, was secular, and material philosophies of the Roman culture. There were three of these ideologies that crept into the church, which countermanded the truth of the resurrection:
Stoicism: (New Age philosophy) at death, the soul merges into God. The personality is destroyed, the body is not raised again, only the spirit.1
Epicurean philosophy: (Atheism), there is no existence beyond death. Death is the end of all existence.2
Platonism: (Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age), only the soul is immortal. At the death of the body, the soul “migrates” into a new body. There is no physical resurrection. Many of the doctrines of Platonism were adopted by the Christian church by St. Augustine, the doctor of the Catholic Church. His early writings were greatly influenced by Plotinus’ Enneads, and became the foundation for the entire Christian thought.3
Paul is writing to the Christians at Corinth to correct these false doctrines, and to remind the church of the truth. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul writes that without the surety of a resurrection, “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (15:4).
The word “Resurrection” came from three Greek words:
Anastasis: “to stand up”.4
Nekro: a corpse.5
Histemi: “to cause to stand up”.6
If we put these three words together we get; “The Lord causes a dead corpse to stand up”. It is evident that the Bible teaches a physical resurrection from the dead, that includes the spirit, soul and body. The body will die, but the sprit is eternal. The moment that a believer in Jesus dies, their spirit departs their body and rises to meet the Lord in heaven.
2 Corinthians 5:1-8 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
“…to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
We can be thankful that the church at Corinth was such a mess. Because of their misunderstanding in many of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, we become great beneficiaries. As Paul writes to clear up the issue of “what happens after death”, we gain a clear understanding of the exactly what happens to us at the moment our body ceases to function.
Jesus promised those who place their trust in Him that although our body will die, He has the power to raise it to life. If we should perish before the Lord comes for us at the Rapture, when He arrives, He will resurrect our body and make it eternal as it rises to meet Him in the air.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
The church at Thessalonica has a similar misunderstanding of the resurrection and the doctrine of the Rapture. Paul writes to this church to clarify the important points of these two important doctrines:
- Those who have “fallen asleep”, a polite way of saying that someone had died, have been with the Lord since the moment of their death.
- When Jesus returns at the Rapture, He will be bringing their spirit with Him.
1 Thessalonians 4:15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
- At the moment of the Rapture, those who are alive, will not rise first to meet Jesus in the air, the dead will have first priority.
- Those who died believing in Jesus and the hope of the Rapture, will be raised first, their dead bodies transformed into eternal bodies, then united with their spirit which has been with the Lord in heaven since their death.
- Those on earth who are alive, will then rise to meet the Lord, their bodies also being transformed into a new eternal body.
We should notice that the spirit of the person who dies believing in Jesus goes immediately to be with the Lord. There is no intermediate place called “Purgatory”, and no dwelling of the spirit on the earth for a period of time before it rises to meet the Lord after death. The process of death immediately sets the spirit free to ascend to heaven. We see this illustrated by Paul in the New Testament.
Paul speaks of an event that happened fourteen years previous in which he was stoned to death by some of the men from Lystra. In Paul’s description, at the moment of his death, he was immediately in the presence of the Lord, without delay.
2 Corinthians 12:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
The term “I know a man”, is a common usage of the third person that often made use of to avoid the appearance of boasting. Some of the Greeks during this time suggested that when speaking of your own experiences, the writer should use the third person so as to appear humble.7 Paul often said that he would boast only in Christ, and his own weaknesses. It is certain that this experience of death by stoning, was Paul’s description of an event that took place in his own life.
The precise timing of when Paul was stoned to death and immediately was in the presence of the Lord, is not known. It is likely that the “fourteen years” that Paul speaks of, was only an estimation. During this time, years were not accounted for in the same manner that we use today. Part of a year was still counted as a full year. The recounting of fourteen years could have been as little as one month or two from the first year, plus twelve whole years, and then a portion of the fourteenth year.8 With this in mind, Paul could be referring to a period when he would have been in Tarsus, his home town, just prior to his first missionary journey.9
There is a reference in Acts 14:19 where Paul speak of being stoned to death by the men of Lystra after some who heard him speak believed that He was “a god”. Certain leaders believing that Paul was not a god, but instead a fraud, convinced the men of Lystra to stone Paul to death.
Acts 14:19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.
Whether or not this event in Acts 14:19 is the true account of Paul’s death and ascension into heaven that he spoke of in 2 Corinthians 12:2, no one is certain. Based on this description by Paul, and what we know in regards to the timing of these events, this verse from Acts 14 is certainly a reasonable estimation of the time and place that this occurred.
Paul describes his death by stoning, and that he was immediately taken to “the third heaven”. This is not a mystical description of heaven as the Later Day Saints imply, it is simply a simplistic description of the true location of heaven.
First Heaven: The atmosphere of the earth where the birds fly.
Second Heaven: The location of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars.
Third Heaven: The unseen location where God dwells.
From this example in the New Testament, we can substantiate that the person who has placed themselves under the protection of Jesus sacrifice, will be taken immediately to heaven upon their death.
More important, at the precise moment of death, the hope of a resurrected body is assured us by Jesus
When our body does die, our spirit will immediately depart this temporary dwelling, and be present with the Lord in heaven. There is no delay, whereby our spirit will remain here on earth. There will be no “soul sleep”, as our soul lies in a state of suspension. The spirit that lives inside our body is eternal. At the moment of death, the spirit leaves the body. If we have placed our life in Jesus Christ, and we die trusting in Him, then our spirit will immediately be “present with the Lord”, in heaven. If we rejected the salvation that Jesus has offered us all throughout our earthly life, then our spirit will depart our body to descend into hell, were it will remain until the final judgement of all things.
Armed with these truths, Paul writes to the church at Corinth, beginning with the basics:
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.
First Paul reminds the church, that he has formerly taught these principles to them.
Second, they had in the past, received these facts as truth.
Third, these facts about the resurrection are the certainty in which we “stand”.
Finally, because of Jesus death for our sins, and His resurrection, we know that He has to power to raise to life our dead bodies. These are the truths whereby we are saved, if we continue to believe them all throughout our life.
1 Corinthians 15:12-14 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.
The truth of the resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament, and the certainty of this eternal life, made possible by the coming of the Messiah. The Savior would offer up His life in exchange for all human lives. His death would pay the price owed for all sins, and make eternal life possible. Only those who personally accept what the Messiah has done, by His death on the cross, have this forgiveness of sins and eternal life appropriated to their account.
If we die without receiving Jesus, we have no hope after death. The Bible gives no indication that there is a possibility of salvation after the body ceases to function, and the spirit departs the body.
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…
The prophecy of Psalm 49:15, is the subject of this 109th Messianic prediction:
Psalms 49:15 “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me.”
The Messiah is promised resurrection after He makes His life an offering for the sins of the world. As a result of this, He has promised all those who place their complete trust in Him, a resurrection also.
John 11:26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
John 14:19 … Because I live, you will live also.
Paul closes chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, by emphatically stating that should we reject the principle that Jesus was raised from the dead, in fulfillment of this 109th prophecy, that our “faith is futile” (empty) and we are still in our sins.
1 Corinthians 15:17-20 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
From the new book by Robert Clifton Robinson, “365 Prophecies”, to be published the Fall of 2013
- 1 1. Stoicism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- 2. John Sellars. Stoicism, p. 32.
2 Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy, pp. 239-240
3 1. O’Connell SJ, RJ, The Enneads and St Augustine’s Vision of Happiness. Vigiliae Christianae 17 (1963) 129-164.
2. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition 100-600; Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol 3, The Growth of Mediaeval Theology 600-1300, section, “The Augustinian Synthesis”.
4 Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for Anastasis”. “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon”. . 1999
5 Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for “Nekro”. “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon”. . 1999
6 Thayer and Smith. “Greek Lexicon entry for ”Histemi”. “The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon”. . 1999
7 Levinson, Stephen C. “Deixis” in Pragmatics. pp. 54–96.
8 ESV Study Bible Acts 11:27-30 commentary