“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve.” (I Cor. 15:3-4).
One commentator has pointed out that the reason Paul wrote this statement to the Corinthian church, and all of chapter 15 for that matter, had to do with the fact that they were failing to work out the implications of the Gospel in regard to the Resurrection. Yes, they had believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but they were living as if that were a one time event that had no significance for their own lives. Their view of eternity had reverted back to a Greek and Roman pagan view of the afterlife. It’s the view that is commonly held by most Americans today and I believe that includes many in the church as well. It’s portrayed in much of our literature and in the movies that try to depict an afterlife. Perhaps the best portrayal of this view was in the movie “Gladiator.” The hero is a man of noble character, honest, loyal and brave. The evil emperor stabs him before their own battle and eventually the hero dies as a result of his wound. In the final scene we see a fuzzy hand passing through some fuzzy standing grain and then we see the hero walking a path to his home where he greets his wife and son and they embrace and then stand together gazing at the horizon. Everything is bright but kind of hazy. The cinematographers do a great job of making the characters look almost transparent. It’s as if the souls of the hero and his family are living on in tranquility. It looks very spiritual, very appealing, very comfortable.
But I have to wonder, what could my soul without a body actually do? What tangible experience can it actually have? Can a soul taste, touch or smell? Can it embrace or actually laugh? Can an unembodied soul run and dance and sing? In a sense, I’m not myself without my body so what does the existence of a soul without a body amount to? I’m not sure and I know I’ve probably raised a bunch of questions that I don’t have answers to, but that kind of existence doesn’t hold much appeal for me. The New Testament paints a picture of the life we will live in eternity that is much more exciting, glorious and full.
The Gospels describe the risen Jesus as being recognizable, but in the way you would recognize someone you hadn’t seen in thirty years. They tell us He was able to eat and drink and that He showed them His scars, but He would also disappear from one place and show up in another, in spite of the doors being locked. John says that they saw Him and held Him. They ate fish with Him around a campfire He had prepared. He was completely physical yet supernatural. Paul says that Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection. In other words, He is the indicator and promise of what is to come. Then Paul goes on to say that our natural bodies will be transformed into spiritual bodies like His. Notice Paul does not say we will become spirits or spiritual but he declares that we will be given spiritual bodies because an imperishable, glorious and powerful spiritual body is the only kind of body that will be fit for the eternal life that is to come (flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.)
It was this hope that motivated the early Christians and helped them change the world. This “hope of glory” as Paul termed it in Colossians, was the thing that caused them pick up abandoned infants and raise them as their own. It was this hope that caused them to enter the cities during the plagues to care for the sick and dying as everyone else was fleeing. It was this hope that caused them to sing as they were thrown to the lions or burned at the stake. It’s the same hope that keeps our brothers and sisters across the globe standing firm in their faith and enduring horrific persecutions. Like the early Christians, they are confident that the life to come will be so rich and glorious and full of joy that any hardship or persecution here will seem like a flea bite in comparison.
Jesus is raised from the dead. The day will soon come when we will be made like Him, sharing in His glory. It is beyond our imagination at the moment, but it is our great hope. May gratitude for the Cross and the hope of the resurrection become the driving force of our lives.