Bombings, nuclear threats, and saber rattling have pushed many people toward their source for every answer to life—Google. By mid-week, the topic of World War III hit the search engine’s top spot. Fear of the unknown pushes multitudes to grab for shreds of hope that something will last beyond the madness of humanity.
Others hardly notice. Oblivious to news out of North Korea, Syria, or Russia, they live for the moment without thought to what might last beyond their next pursuit.
Not everything that we see will last. However, our reason for gathering today focuses on the certainty that some things do last. Despite the bravado of dictators and tyrants, everything that God intends to last will last. Jesus Christ’s resurrection makes it so.
We’re somewhat numbed to eternal things. Admittedly, when just a young fellow, aim in life was to get my driver’s license. I couldn’t see far beyond that goal that appeared almost an eternity away. Once achieved, the future took on broader stretches, looking toward a college degree, marriage, family, and a career. Now that I’m far enough down the road that the majority of my years have passed, I tend to take much longer looks at eternal things. The stuff that I’ve accumulated, the diplomas on the wall, and any accomplishments, seem far less important than earlier years. My grip on those things has loosened to hold tightly to the things that last.
Here’s where this matter squares with life. If we can think only about today or the satisfaction of holding a few things in our hands, we probably won’t think much about eternity. And if we don’t give thought to eternity, then all of the talk about the resurrection of Jesus this Easter Sunday may seem much ado about very little. Aside from traditional festivities, the message of Easter comes and goes on the calendar. Then it’s on to the next big event with Easter in the rearview mirror. Then what? Do you treasure what lasts? Some things we see do not last. But those who are in Christ do. And all that God intends us to enjoy forever will last, too.
Jesus rose from the dead so that everything that should last will last. That first includes those redeemed by Jesus from sin and death. It follows that the lasting things in creation will continue because Jesus rose from the dead. How does this happen?
1. Hear the decisive proclamation in the resurrection
No chapter in the Bible states more clearly the necessity of Christ’s resurrection than this one. Paul argues in verses 12–19 that if Christ was not bodily raised from the dead, then no one will live on in eternity. The exercise of faith is worthless without His resurrection. Yet Jesus’ resurrection makes certain the bodily resurrection of all whose faith is in Him (vv. 35–41). The mortal will put on immortality because Jesus conquered mortality.
But some in Corinth sneered at the idea of Christ’s bodily resurrection. Like the Athenians at Mars Hill, they denied that death could be conquered or that the body made in God’s image could last. They rejected the transformation by the power of Christ’s resurrection to so affect the body that we live on in eternity. Yet this truth remains central to the Bible’s message. What sin, Satan, and death robbed and marred in the fall, God restores forever through the death and resurrection of His Son.
(1) He is risen indeed!
“But now” makes sharp contrast from the argument against the bodily resurrection of Christ. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” The original language is more descriptive: ‘But now Christ has been raised from the dead first of those who have died.’ He presses two important truths that cannot be separated. Jesus has been raised from the dead. And His resurrection is the first of many. Death cannot hold those united to Christ. Those that should last because of what Christ has done on their behalf will last.
Why did some in Corinth reject Jesus’ resurrection? Many saw the body and anything material as corrupt, worthless, and perishing. Yet, because they had no clear understanding of God as Creator or of His creation of man in His image and His purpose in the entire created order, they put no value on the body or the creation order. That’s also why they could easily pursue and excuse sins in the body since it had no lasting value. But the resurrection of Christ declares the body and the creation redeemable. Jesus was not raised as a phantom spirit masquerading as a body. That’s the point that Paul makes. He conquered death, not by being raised in spirit but being bodily resurrected. That which should last does last, refitted by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That’s also why the creation groans and travails, as Paul expressed in Romans 8, waiting for that time when the mortal will put on immortality, since the creation itself is affected by that powerful work of Jesus in His death and resurrection. Jesus is risen indeed!
But what is the guarantee that those claimed by death can live again? Here the use of “first fruits” expressed the certainty. At the start of harvest, the ancient Jews would present the first sheaf from the harvest to God as a declaration of the rest to come (Lev 23:9–14). So Paul means, Jesus as the first to conquer death guarantees the rest united to Him will rise as well. Those whom Christ redeems to last will last. His resurrection stands forever as the guarantee. Death does not have the last word—the risen Christ does.
But to understand how this can happen, Paul takes us back to the first man. How did we get into the predicament of sin and death? “For since by a man came death,” he tells us. That’s shorthand for what happened in the Garden when Adam’s defiance of God’s law resulted in the death of Adam and his posterity. The curse of death doesn’t exempt any of us. Without another representative to lift us from the domain of the curse, death conquers us forever. But God gave us a representative in Christ. “By a man also came the resurrection of the dead,” declares our deliverance.
Then he makes it plain: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Who is “in Adam”?—the whole of humanity. He represented the entire human race. That’s why the Incarnation of Christ is so important. Only one from the fallen human race could represent us (like Adam did) and break the curse of the fall upon humanity. But sin has enslaved all of us but one—Jesus Christ the Lord. He alone had no sin, so He alone was not under the sentence of death. Yet He willingly gave Himself over to death to bear the penalty of the curse so that all united to Him by faith would be delivered from death. The evidence that He succeeded would be His bodily resurrection. How effective is His representation? Those “in Christ,” that is, those united to Him by faith, those in relationship to Him, “all will be made alive.” So those who should last because of Christ’s saving work will last. As He was raised so also will all who are in Him.
2. Follow the particular order established by the resurrection
How does this bodily continuation beyond the grave take place? Here’s where we find the apostle pressing us to rest in Jesus’ resurrection as the guarantee. Death has been called the great equalizer. Think of any powerful or famous person alive today. Death will one day claim that person. No fame or fortune or power or status exempts us from death, as evident this past year in Muhammad Ali, Prince, Fidel Castro, David Bowie, John Glenn, and Antonin Scalia. But is death the end? Some think so, which leads them to cast away restraints with the attitude, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32). That spirit was certainly evident in many that died in 2016. But the resurrection of Jesus declares life beyond the grave.
(1) Christ as guarantee
Paul returns to that same phrase, “Christ the first fruits” or “Christ first.” No person can last into eternity apart from Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. He’s first. Think of it like this: as the “first fruits,” Jesus’ resurrection means the full harvest will come. He’s the guarantee that death doesn’t have the last claim on those whom Christ redeemed by His bloody death. Just as He lived after death, walking and talking and eating and enjoying fellowship with His followers, never to be affected by death again, so too will those in Christ. He first had to conquer death so that after His resurrection, “those who are Christ’s at His coming” might be bodily resurrected to last forever.
A guarantee is only as good as the character of the one making it. So if we sought some agreement with an ISIS leader or drug cartel lord, then we rightly would be squeamish about ever seeing it happen. But our guarantee comes from eternal God the Son who is altogether righteous, good, and faithful. He demonstrated His dependability when He fully obeyed the Father’s will and went to the cross for sinners like us. The One who suffered the judgment of God on your behalf at the cross is the same one that guarantees that He will one day resurrect you from the dead. When He comes again, the decayed bodies of those in the grave united to Christ will come together in glorious fashion; those alive will be transformed by His glorious power to make us like Himself (1 Thess 4:13–18; Phil 3:20–21; 1 John 3:1–3). His resurrection guarantees it.
(2) Prelude to final triumph
That which should last will last because Jesus has been raised from the dead. So Paul can write, “Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.” Christ’s resurrection foreshadowed the day when every power—seen and unseen—that stands against Him and His rule will be destroyed. What does that mean? The full measure of what He did in His death and resurrection will come to bear upon everything that should not last into the joys of eternity. They persist now. So we see the effects of evil power standing in opposition to the rule of Christ in everything from the entertainment world to governments to agencies to clubs to families. Whether political structure or tyrannical rule or demonic power or worldly force or the vain individual that thinks he rules his own life, Jesus’ resurrection preludes their end. They should not last into the joys of eternity in His presence and they won’t. The resurrection declares it so.
Notice that “the end” is not the end of existence, so that the souls of humanity are morphed into the cosmic soul of the universe, as some dreamily think, rather it’s the end of what should not last. No sinful, evil, rebellious, hateful, anarchistic, and godless power or person or institution or idea will continue. Jesus abolishes them. Eternal judgment falls without partiality. That which should not last will not last. Hell will be the final place of eternal destruction. However, Jesus’ “It is finished,” at the cross for believers is seen for its total, absolute, unchanging finality (John 19:30). The resurrection declares it so.
Until that day, Jesus continues to reign by discharging His office as King of the Kingdom of God, accomplishing by His wise providence and rule the eternal purposes related to His kingdom. Some things we see, some we don’t. Some purposes we now understand, others we’ll grasp in fullness in that great day. The resurrection informs us that He will faithfully rule until “He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father.” His kingdom includes the visible and invisible, the vastness of the universe and the minuteness of an atom. His rule is tangible over the universe not ceremonial. That’s part of the guarantee and the order of God’s unfolding plans for His creation. Jesus keeps ruling, as Psalm 2 explains, unaffected by the schemes of godless rebels and haughty kings. He rules until He finishes when He hands over the kingdom to the Father. The resurrection declares it so.
3. Realize the ultimate certainties declared by the resurrection
We know that the resurrection of Jesus is the certainty of the bodily resurrection of all who put their trust in Him. But it declares even more that affects us forever.
(1) Death abolished
“For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” We’ve made that slow walk in a cemetery, passing stones marking the dark enemy of death that continues afflicting humanity. We cannot stop death. But Jesus’ resurrection did. He continues applying the power of His death and resurrection in conquering every enemy of God and His people. One day, “the last enemy” will be destroyed. Oddly, the last enemy is the enemy of even those whom we think to be enemies. We share in common with friend and foe the great enemy of death. The resurrection has put death on notice. Jesus is coming for it to end its reign.
(2) Every knee will bow
What Adam failed to do as the first of God’s creation, to rule as God’s vice-regent over creation, Jesus has done (Psalm 8:5–6). “For He has put all things in subjection under His feet.” Representing the redeemed, Jesus wisely rules over the creation. One day, everyone in the creation will recognize His reign, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10–11). The resurrection of Jesus puts humanity on notice. The One who conquered sin, Satan, and death reigns as Lord. So gladly submit to Him as Lord now or the day will hasten when you bow to Him as the Lord who judges you forever.
(3) God all in all
Paul explains that Jesus doesn’t reign over the Father but rather, “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” The 4th century pastor at the Hagia Sophia, John Chrysostom said this means, “. . . that nothing may exist independent of him” [NPNE, 12.240]. But how do many live at present? They try to live independent of Jesus as Lord. They make plans, follow their desires, and think that all will be well forever. But the resurrection of Jesus declares, ‘Not so!’ The One who rose from the dead has rightful claim to the rule of the universe and to your obedient submission. Resist Him, deny Him, and face Him as Judge. “Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,” wrote the Psalmist (2:12). For the Triune God is bringing everything in the universe into a grand crescendo through Christ, summing up everything in Him (Eph 1:10), so that “God may be all in all.”
The resurrection declares it so.
Everything that should last because of the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection will last. Have you humbly trusted in the Lord of the empty tomb? You will not last to know the joys of eternity apart from Him