What is the Gospel?
By Dr. Harry Ironside
"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
It might seem almost a work of supererogation to answer a question like this. We hear the word, "Gospel" used so many times. People talk of this and of that as being "as true as the Gospel," and I often wonder what they really mean by it.
First I should like to indicate what it is not.
THE GOSPEL IS:
Not The Bible
In the first place, the Gospel is not the Bible. Often when I inquire, "What do you think the Gospel is?" people reply, "Why, it is the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God." Undoubtedly the Bible is the Word of God, but there is a great deal in that Book that is not Gospel.
"The wicked shall be turned into Hell with all the nations that forget God." That is in the Bible, and it is terribly true; but it is not Gospel.
"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." That is in the Bible, but it is not the Gospel.
Our English word, "gospel" just means the "good spell," and the word "spell," is the old Anglo-Saxon word for, "tidings", the good tidings, the good news. The original word translated. "Gospel," which we have taken over into the English with little alteration is the word, "evangel," and it has the same meaning, the good news. The Gospel is God's good news for sinners. The Bible contains the Gospel, but there is a great deal in the Bible which is not Gospel.
Not The Commandments
The Gospel is not just any message from God telling man how he should behave. "What is the Gospel?" I asked a man this question some time ago, and he answered, "Why I should say it is the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, and I think if a man lives up to them he is all right." Well, I fancy he would be; but did you ever know anybody who lived up to them? The Sermon on the Mount demands a righteousness which no unregenerate man has been able to produce. The law is not the Gospel; it is the very antitheses of the Gospel. In fact, the law was given by God to show men their need of the Gospel .
"The law," says the Apostle Paul, speaking as a Jewish convert, "was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. But after that Christ is come we are no longer under the schoolmaster."
The Gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are proper in their place, but they do not constitute the Gospel; for the Gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the Gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past.
Not Giving Up The World
Nor is the Gospel a demand that you give up the world, that you give up your sins, that you break off bad habits, and try to cultivate good ones. You may do all these things, and yet never believe the Gospel and consequently never be saved at all.
THERE ARE SEVEN DESIGNATIONS OF THE GOSPEL in the New Testament, but over and above all these, let me draw your attention to the fact that when this blessed message is mentioned, it is invariably accompanied by the definite article. Over and over and over again in the New Testament we read of the Gospel. It is the Gospel not a Gospel. People tell us there are a great many different Gospels; but there is only ONE. When certain teachers came to the Galatians and tried to turn them away from the simplicity that was in Christ Jesus by teaching "another Gospel, "the apostle said that it was a different gospel, but not another; for there is none other than the Gospel. It is downright exclusive; it is God's revelation to sinful man.
Not Comparative Religion
The scholars of this world talk of the Science of Comparative Religions, and it is very popular now-a-days to say, "We cannot any longer go to heathen nations and preach to them as in the days gone by, because we are learning that their religions are just as good as ours, and the thing to do now is to share with them, to study the different religions, take the good out of them all, and in this way lead the world into a sense of brotherhood and unity."
So in our great universities and colleges men study this Science of Comparative Religions, and they compare all these different religious systems one with another. There is a Science of Comparative Religions, but the Gospel is not one of them. All the different religions in the world may well be studied comparatively, for at rock bottom they are all alike; they all set men at trying to earn his own salvation. They may be called by different names, and the things that men are called to do maybe different in each case, but they all set men trying to save their own souls and earn their way into the favor of God. In this they stand in vivid contrast with the Gospel, for the Gospel is that glorious message that tells us what God has done for us in order that guilty sinners maybe saved.
THE SEVEN DESIGNATIONS OF THIS GOSPEL are called
1. The Gospel Of The Kingdom,
and when I use that term I am not thinking particularly of any dispensational application, but of this blessed truth that it is only through believing the Gospel that men are born into the Kingdom of God; We sing: "A ruler once came to Jesus by night, To ask Him the way of salvation and light; The Master made answer in words true and plain, 'ye must be born again.' " But neither Nicodemus, nor you, nor I, could ever bring this about ourselves. We had nothing to with our first birth, and can have nothing to do with our second birth. It must be the work of God, and it is wrought through the Gospel. That is why the Gospel is called the Gospel of the Kingdom, for, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3,7). "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. . . And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:23-25. Every where that Paul and his companion apostles went they preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and they showed that the only way to get into that Kingdom was by a second birth, and that the only way whereby the second birth could be brought about was through believing the Gospel. It is the Gospel of the Kingdom. It also called
2. The Gospel Of God,
because God is the source of it, and it is altogether of Himself. No man ever thought of a Gospel like this. The very fact that all the religions of the world set man to try to work for his own salvation indicates the fact that no man would ever have dreamed of such a Gospel as that which is revealed in this Book. It came from the heart of God; it was God who "so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He first loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9,10). And because it is the Gospel of God, God is very jealous of it. He wants it kept pure. He does not want it mixed with any of man's theories or laws; He does not want it mixed up with religious ordinances or anything of that kind. The Gospel is God's own pure message to sinful man. God grant that you and I may receive it as in very truth the Gospel of God. And then it is called
3. The Gospel Of His Son
Not merely because the Son went everywhere preaching the Gospel, but because He is the theme of it. "When it pleased God," says the apostle, "who called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the nations; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood" (Galatians 1:15,16). "We preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23,24). No man preaches the Gospel who is not exalting the Lord Jesus. It is God's wonderful message about His Son. How often I have gone to meetings where they told me I would hear the Gospel, and instead of that I have heard some bewildered preacher talk to a bewildered audience about everything and anything, but the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel has to do with nothing else but Christ. It is the Gospel of God's Son. And so, linked with this it is called
4. The Gospel Of Christ
The Apostle Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost of the risen Savior, says, "God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." And He speaks of Him as the anointed One, exalted at God's right hand. The Gospel is the Gospel of the Risen Christ. There would be no Gospel for sinners if Christ had not been raised. So the apostle says, "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). A great New York preacher, great in his impertinence, at least, said some years ago, preaching a so-called Easter sermon, "The body of Jesus still sleeps in a Syrian tomb, but His soul goes marching on.: That is not the Gospel of Christ. We are not preaching the Gospel of a dead Christ, but of a living Christ who sits exalted at the Father's right hand, and is living to save all who put their trust in Him. That is why those of us who really know the Gospel never have any crucifixes around our churches or in our homes. The crucifix represents a dead Christ hanging languid on a cross of shame. But we are not pointing men to a dead Christ; we are preaching a living Christ. He lives exalted at God's right had, and He "saves to the uttermost all who come to God by Him." The Gospel is also called
5. The Gospel Of The Grace Of God,
because it leaves no room whatever for human merit. It just brushes away all man's pretension to any goodness, to any desert excepting judgment. It is the Gospel of grace, and grace is God's free unmerited favor to those who have merited the very opposite. It is as opposite to works as oil is to water." If by grace," says the Spirit of God, "then it is no more works. . . but if it be of works, then is it no more grace" (Romans 11:6). People say, :But you must have both." I have heard it put like this: there was a boatman and two theologians in a boat, and one was arguing that salvation was by faith and the other by works. The boatman listened, and then said, "Let me tell you how it looks to me. Suppose I call this oar Faith and this one Works. If I pull on this one, the boat goes around; if I pull on this other one, it goes around the other way, but if I pull on both oars, I get you across the river." I have heard many preachers use that illustration to prove that we are saved by faith and works. That might do if we were going to Heaven in a rowboat, but we are not. We are carried on the shoulders of the Shepherd, who came seeking lost sheep When He finds them He carries them home on His shoulders. But there are some other names used. It is called
6. The Gospel Of The Glory Of God
I love that name. It is the Gospel of the Glory of God because it comes from the place where our Lord Jesus has entered. The veil has been rent, and now the glory shines out; and whenever this Gospel is proclaimed, it tells of a way into the glory for sinful man, a way to come before the Mercy Seat purged from every stain. It is the Gospel of the Glory of God, because, until Christ had entered into the Glory, it could not be preached in its fullness, but, after the glory received Him, then the message went out to a lost world.
It is also called
7. The Everlasting Gospel
because it will never be superseded by another. No other ever went before it, and no other shall ever come after it. One of the professors of the University of Chicago wrote a book a few years ago in which he tried to point out that some of these days Jesus would be superseded by a greater teacher; then He and the Gospel that He taught would have to give way to a message which would be more suited to the intelligence of the cultivated men of the later centuries. No, no, were it possible for this world to go on a million years, it would never need any other Gospel than this preached by the Apostle Paul and confirmed with signs following; the Gospel which, throughout the centuries has been saving guilty sinners.
THE GOSPEL DECLARED
What then is the content of this Gospel? We are told right here, "I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain." There is such a thing as merely believing with the intelligence and crediting some doctrine with the mind when the heart has not been reached. But wherever men believe this Gospel in real faith, they are saved through the message. What is it that brings this wonderful result? It is a simple story, and yet how rich, how full. "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received." I think his heart must have been stirred as he wrote those words, for he went back in memory to nearly thirty years before, and thought of that day when hurrying down the Damascus turnpike, with his heart filled with hatred toward the Lord Jesus Christ and His people, he was thrown to the ground, and a light shone, and he heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" And he cried, "Who art thou Lord?" And the voice said, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." And that day Saul learned the Gospel; he learned that He who died on the Cross had been raised from the dead, and that He was living in the Glory. At that moment his soul was saved, and Saul of Tarsus was changed to Paul the Apostle. And now he says, "I am going to tell you what I have received; it is a real thing with me, and I know it will work the same wonderful change in you. If you will believe it. "First of all, "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Then, "that He was buried." Then, "that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." The Gospel was no new thing in God's mind. It had been predicted throughout the Old Testament times. Every time the coming Savior was mentioned, there was proclamation of the Gospel. It began in Eden when the Lord said, "The seed of the woman shall bruise thy head." It was typified in every sacrifice that was offered. It was portrayed in the wonderful Tabernacle, and later in the Temple. We have it in the proclamation of Isaiah, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him: and with His stripes we are healed." It was preached by Jeremiah when he said, "This is His Name whereby He shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). It was declared by Zechariah when he exclaimed, "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones: (Zechariah 13:7) All through those Old Testament dispensations, the Gospel was predicted, and when Jesus came, the Gospel came with Him. When He died, when He was buried, and when He rose again, the Gospel could be fully told out to a poor lost world. Observe, it says, "that Christ died for our sins." No man preaches the Gospel, no matter what nice things he may say about Jesus, if he leaves out His vicarious death on Calvary's cross.
CHRIST'S DEATH - NOT HIS LIFE
I was preaching in a church in Virginia, and a minister prayed, "Lord, grant Thy blessing as the Word is preached tonight. May it be the means of causing people to fall in love with the Christ-life, that they may begin to live the Christ-life." I felt like saying, "Brother, sit down; don't insult God like that;" but then I felt I had to be courteous, and I knew that my turn would come, when I could get up and give them the truth. The Gospel is not asking men to live the Christ-life. If your salvation depends upon your doing that, your are just as good as checked for Hell, for you never can live it in yourself. It is utterly impossible. But the very first message of the Gospel is the story of the vicarious atonement of Christ. He did not come to tell men how to live in order that they might save themselves; He did not come to save men by living His beautiful life. That, apart from His death, would never have saved one poor sinner. He came to die; He "was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death." Christ Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all. When He instituted the Lord's Supper He said, "Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. . . This cup is the new covenant in My Blood" (1 Corinthians 11:24,25) There is no Gospel if the vicarious death of Jesus is left out, and there is no other way whereby you can be saved than through the death of the blessed spotless Son of God.
Someone says, "But I do not understand it." That is a terrible confession to make, for "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: (2 Corinthians 4:3). If you do not see that there is no other way of salvation for you, save through the death of the Lord Jesus, then that just tells the sad story that you are among the lost. You are not merely in danger of being lost in the Day of Judgment; but you are lost now. But, thank God, "the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost," and seeking the lost He went to the cross. "None of the ransomed ever know How deep were the waters crossed; Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through, Ere He found the sheep that was lost."
THE NECESSITY OF DEATH
HE HAD TO DIE, to go down into the dark waters of death, that you might be saved. Can you think of any ingratitude more base than that of a man or woman who passes by the life offered by the Savior who died on the Cross for them? Jesus died for you, and can it be that you have never even trusted Him, never even come to Him and told Him you were a poor, lost, ruined, guilty sinner; but since He died for you, you would take Him as your Savior? HIS DEATH WAS REAL. He was buried three days in the tomb. He died, He was buried, and that was God's witness that it was not a merely pretended death, but He, the Lord of life, had to go down into death. He was held by the bars of death for those three days and nights, until God's appointed time had come. Then, "Death could not keep its prey, He tore the bars away." And so the third point of the Gospel is this, "He was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures. "That is the Gospel, and nothing can be added to that. Some people say, "Well, but must I repent?" Yes, you may well repent, but that is not the Gospel. "Must I not be baptized?" If you are a Christian, you ought to be baptized, but baptism is not the Gospel. Paul said, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel" (1 Cor. !:17) He did baptize people, but he did not consider that was the Gospel, and the Gospel was the great message that he was sent to carry to the world. This is all there is to it. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures."
THE GOSPEL ACCEPTED
Look at the result of believing the Gospel. Go back to verse two, "By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain." That is, if you believe the Gospel, you are saved; if you believe that Christ died for your sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again, God says you are saved. Do you believe it? No man ever believed that except by the Holy Ghost. It is the Spirit of God that overcomes the natural unbelief of the human heart and enables a man to put his trust in that message. And this is not mere intellectual credence, but it is that one comes to the place where he is ready to stake his whole eternity on the fact that Christ died, and was buried, and rose again. When Jesus said, "IT IS FINISHED" the work of salvation was completed. A dear saint was dying, and looking up he said, "It is finished; on that I can cast my eternity." Upon a life I did not live, Upon a death I did not die; Another's life, another's death, Is take my whole eternity." Can you say that, and say it in faith?
THE GOSPEL REJECTED
What about the man who does not believe the Gospel? The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15,16). He that believeth not shall be devoted to judgment, condemned, lost. So you see, God has shut us up to the Gospel. Have you believed it? Have you put your trust in it; is it the confidence of your soul? Or have you been trusting in something else? If you have been resting in anything short of the Christ who died, who was buried, who rose again, I plead with you, turn from every other fancied refuge, and flee to Christ today. Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.
"O, do not let the word depart, And close thine eyes against the light; Poor sinner, harden not thy heart, Be saved, O tonight."
The Gospel And The Witnesses To The Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. (vv. 1-11)
It is evident that there was a small party in the Corinthian assembly who had imbibed Sadducean notions and were seeking to foist them upon believers as the truth of God. They denied the reality of a physical resurrection. We need not suppose that they went so far as to deny spiritual survival after death, but they were like many today who refuse to accept the teaching of Scripture that the physical body of Christ came forth from the tomb in resurrection, and hence that the bodies of all men will eventually be raised.
Paul meets this serious error in this great resurrection section. As we ponder it and enter into its wonderful teaching, we are almost thankful that the error was permitted to arise so early in order that it might be met by the pen of inspiration. How much we would have lost had there been no occasion to write this magnificent chapter!
In preparing to combat, yes, to annihilate the false teaching, the apostle first gives a restatement of the evangel. He shows that there is no gospel to preach to dying men if the resurrection be denied. “Jesus and the resurrection,” we know, summarized the proclamation, not only of Paul, but of the Twelve. Festus wondered at the strange “superstition” about “one Jesus which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” Yes, Jesus-the One who died, lives again, and lives in a material body, though glorified, and so marvelously changed as compared with what it was before the cross. But it bears the print of the nails still. On the throne the risen Christ appears “as a Lamb that had been slain.”
In verses 1-11 we have the restatement of the gospel, and the witnesses of the resurrection, which alone give validity to that message of redeeming grace.
“Moreover, brethren,” he says, “I declare unto you the gospel.” This gospel, this good news for lost sinners, he had preached and they had received. It was the gospel of grace, and in this they stood; for we need to remember that our standing is in grace as truly as our salvation is by grace. Through this gospel they were saved, providing their faith was genuine. He is not intimating in verse 2 that some who had believed the gospel might be lost at last, but rather that continuance in the faith was the evidence of reality. This is important. It is always true that “he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” It is quite possible to give a mere mental assent to the truth of the gospel and by baptism and lip profession to take the place of a Christian, when actually there has been no work of grace in the soul. This is to “believe in vain.” It is a mere empty faith which accomplishes nothing so far as the salvation of the individual is concerned. Real faith will be emphasized by godly living, and “he who hath begun a good work” in the believer “will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
In verses 3-4 he gives us the basic truths of the gospel, as he had preached it in Corinth and elsewhere. First, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” There are three things to be noticed here: “Christ died.” That is a fact of history, and in itself might not mean anything more than the death of a martyr. But, second, “for our sins” is a definite doctrinal statement and explains the reason for that death. It was an expiatory sacrifice. “He gave himself a ransom for all.” He took the sinner’s place and bore the sinner’s judgment. He died that we might never die. Third, this was “according to the scriptures.” Throughout the Old Testament, in type and actual prophetic declaration, we find the sacrificial, atoning death of Christ everywhere before us. All the sacrifices of former dispensations pictured His one offering of Himself upon the cross. The prophets looked forward to that great event as the supreme fact of revelation. Psalms 22; 69; Isaiah 53; Zechariah 12-13, and many other Scriptures, set this forth. God had declared in Leviticus 17:11, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls.” Yet we know that it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should put away sin. Only through the propitiatory death of Christ could this be accomplished, and, thank God, it has indeed taken place, and all in accordance with the Scriptures.
Then, observe, “He was buried.” This suggests the reality of His death. It was not, as Mrs. Eddy has intimated in her blasphemous chapter on Atonement, His seeming death, but He was actually dead, and because He was dead they buried His precious body in Joseph’s new tomb. But, thank God,
Death could not keep its prey,
He tore the bars away.
And so we come to the last point of this declaration of the gospel: “He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” The resurrection of Christ was the Father’s expression of satisfaction in the work His Son so blessedly accomplished on the cross, when He gave Himself a ransom for our sins. The sin question settled, God raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand in the highest glory, exalted to be a Prince and a Savior.
We need to remember that apart from His physical resurrection there was no proof that God had accepted His work as an atonement for our sins. But having been delivered up to death for our offences, He has been raised again for our justification. Some prefer to render this, “Because of our justification.” His death so fully met all the righteous claims of God’s throne against our sins that now God has declared, by bringing Him back from the dead, that there is no longer a barrier to our complete justification.
The physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is fundamental. There is no room for human theories here. It is not merely a question of survival after death. It will not do to say, as one has done, that “the body of Jesus sleeps in a Syrian tomb, but His soul goes marching on.” This is to deny His resurrection altogether. His soul was never dead. His body died, and it was His body that was raised again.
Note that the resurrection of Christ is ascribed to each Person of the Trinity. All had part in that glorious work. The Lord Jesus said, “ Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…He spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:19, 21). He was “raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4; see also Hebrews 13:20). And His resurrection is attributed to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). There is no contradiction. All is blessed harmony. The entire Godhead was concerned in the resurrection.
And His resurrection, as His death, was also according to the Scriptures. In Leviticus 23 we see this pictured in the Feast of the Firstfruits on the morrow after the Passover Sabbath. In Psalms 16:10 and Isaiah 53:10 we see that for Him the path of life lay through death, but that after death He was to see His seed and prolong His days. In Psalm 110 we see Him as the Risen One taking His seat at God’s right hand in heaven.
We have the witnesses to the resurrection in verses 5-8. God would give positive testimony regarding this great fact to those who are appointed to go out and proclaim the message of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ throughout the world.
His many visible appearances to so large a number of reputable witnesses, the fact that His dead body could never be located anywhere, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power, and the confident assurance and new bravery of His apostles, together with the way God set His seal upon their ministry in miracles of healing and the salvation of thousands, all alike proved that Jesus had vanquished death and come forth from Joseph’s new rock-hewn tomb to die no more. That tomb is still empty and ever shall be. The body that once lay in that inner crypt, enswathed in the linen cloths, came out of its cerements like a butterly leaving the chrysalis shell when God’s appointed hour had struck (John 20:4-8).
It was not simply the survival of the spirit after the death of the body, for although that might prove immortality, it would not be resurrection. What Scripture plainly declares is that the body that hung on the cross is the body that was raised from the grave. It still bore the print of the nails and the wound in the side (John 20:27). Long years afterward, John the beloved saw in the midst of the throne “a Lamb as it had been slain.” The marks of His passion will be upon His body forever (Revelation 5:6).
Thy wounds, Thy wounds, Lord Jesus,
Those deep, dark wounds, they tell
The sacrifice that frees us
From sin and death and hell.
They bound Thee once forever
To all who own Thy grace;
No power those bonds shall sever,
No time those scars efface.
And He has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” He is “the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). His literal bodily resurrection is the pledge that eventually “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” (John 5:28-29), some to life eternal, and others, alas, to everlasting woe.
It is true that a great change had come over His body in resurrection. He could enter a room when all doors were locked. He could appear and disappear at will. And so we are told in regard to ourselves that what is sown in burial is not the body that shall be (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). Nevertheless, there is positive identity. “ It is sown … it is raised” (1 Corinthians 15:43-44). The body that died will live again, but under altogether new and wonderful conditions.
Paul speaks of himself as having seen the risen Lord, and as one born out of due time. We are apt to think that this means that he was born much later than others, but the word he uses precludes any such thought. It really means, one born before the time. He is thinking of that glorious day when the risen, glorified Christ is to appear on earth once more, and His people Israel will look upon Him whom they have pierced, and as they recognize Him as their Lord and Savior the nation will be born in a day. Paul had known that experience already. He first saw Christ in resurrection and, receiving Him as Savior, became one of the new creation company.
He could never forget that he had once been an opponent of Christ and a persecutor of His church. He felt that he was not fit to be called an apostle because of this, and yet he could rejoice in the infinite grace that had made him what he was-the messenger of that same Christ, whom he had once hated, to the Gentile world. As he went from country to country and from people to people, making known this glorious gospel, God wrought in him in a mighty way, so that he could say in all humility, “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” However, he would not stress the work of the servant, but rather the message that the servant carried to men. Whoever the preacher might have been, when people believed the message they were saved.
Let me remind you again that apart from His bodily resurrection we could have no proof that God had accepted His propitiatory work, but that the way into the holiest was now opened up for all who would draw nigh, trusting His precious blood as the only ground of redemption. In this great resurrection chapter the inspired writer insists on the absolute necessity of Christ’s rising again in order that there might be validity to His death as an atonement for sin. “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
It is useless to laud Jesus as a teacher while denying His bodily resurrection. He Himself predicted it. He declared that He must be rejected and go into death and rise from the dead the third day. His disciples could not understand it at the time, but that empty tomb and the subsequent appearance of their Lord in His resurrection body made all clear. Then they remembered His words. And after His ascension to heaven in that same body, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, they went everywhere declaring His resurrection from the dead. Apart from this they would have had no gospel to preach, and apart from this there is no message for sin-laden, condemned humanity today. The proclamation that has brought life and blessing to untold millions through all the Christian centuries is that embodied in Romans 10:9-10: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Believe what? Confess what? That He who died for our sins has been raised again for our justification, and now sits enthroned at God’s right hand in His literal, glorified body, exalted to be a Prince and a Savior. This is the basis of all gospel testimony and the only sure foundation upon which our salvation rests.
He has said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” We rest upon His Word and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Christ’s Resurrection, The Pledge Of Ours
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (vv. 12-20)
In these verses the Holy Spirit develops for us and vigorously defends one of the great fundamental truths of Christian testimony. As we have noticed already, there were some in the Corinthian assembly who were raising questions as to the bodily resurrection of the saints. I do not suppose that they thought for one moment that people cease to exist when they die. One can hardly think of any real Christian believing that, but they doubtless thought, being influenced largely by the pagan philosophies with which they were familiar before their conversion, that the spirit lived on in another world, but as far as the body was concerned, when death came and it was laid away in the tomb, that was the end of it. They never expected to meet their loved ones again in physical form or to take again a material body. The apostle meets that as a definite error and shows what serious consequences such a view would necessarily involve. He asks, “If Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” This is the very foundation of Christianity. Everywhere the apostles went they preached Jesus and the resurrection. Our faith rests upon that.
The two great truths that Scripture teaches are that He was delivered up to death because of our sins, and that He was raised again as the token of God the Father’s satisfaction in the work that His Son accomplished. Thus as the risen One He ever lives, “to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” (Hebrews 7:25). Some today have fallen into a similar error and teach that our Lord Jesus Christ never came out of the grave in His material body. They admit His existence in spirit, but deny His physical resurrection. But the great evidence that was given to the Christians of the earliest days that the Lord Jesus had actually settled the sin question, that redemption was completed, was the fact that He came out of the tomb in the very body that had gone into it, though changed in a most wonderful way. Nevertheless His was a real human body, and we know that it bore in the palms of the hands the print of the nails. There was still the mark where the Roman spear had pierced His side, and if I read my Bible correctly, I believe the raised body of the Lord Jesus will bear those marks for all eternity. In this it will differ from the bodies of all the saints.
I do not think there is any reason to believe that those who have been martyred for Christ’s sake will bear any evidence of suffering in their bodies; there will be no scar, neither spot nor blemish, nor any such thing. Our bodies will be absolutely perfect when raised and glorified. Why then should the body of our Lord Jesus bear those scars that speak of His sufferings and of His passion? Because these will be the visible evidences for all to contemplate throughout the ages to come that the very same Jesus who died for our sins upon the cross has been raised in the power of an endless life. The apostle John had a vision of heaven long years after the ascension of our Lord, and when he described the glorious central throne and other thrones surrounding it, he said, “I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the [living] ones, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). That is, the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ had upon it the evidences that He was the One who had once been slain, who had been sacrificed on Calvary for our redemption. One of our poets has written:
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
As redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.
Yes, He lives in heaven in the very body in which He once walked this earth, but that body is now changed and glorified. Christian testimony begins with this, and if one is seeking the way of life, if he inquires, “What must I do to be saved?” the answer comes in unmistakable clearness, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9 RV). Therefore, we have no right to think of any man as a Christian who denies the physical resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.” What if Christ be not raised? Some say, “If He is living in heaven, is that not sufficient?” No! “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” If our Lord Jesus Christ did not come forth triumphant from that tomb, then we have no gospel to preach to lost men. If the body of Jesus still sleeps in the tomb, then you and I are absolutely hopeless, there is no salvation for us. The fact that He rose from the dead is the proof that the offering-up of Himself upon the cross satisfied the claims of divine righteousness, and met every requirement of infinite holiness. God Himself raised Him from the dead in token of His satisfaction in His work, and now sets Him forth a Prince and a Savior. This was the message the apostles preached.
Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified,” and that should be true of every one of us. But that was not all that he preached, for he preached Christ raised from the dead and Christ exalted to God’s right hand, for he says: “Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.”
Somebody may ask, “Why do you say that if Christ be not risen there is no way of knowing that redemption is an accomplished fact?” You see, when our Lord was here on earth, He told His disciples that He was going to die. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). But He also told them, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7). If that last statement of the Lord Jesus Christ has never been fulfilled, then He stands convicted of false testimony. He either was Himself deluded in thinking that He was the Savior, the Redeemer who was to die for sinners and rise again, or else He was a deliberate deceiver. It is His resurrection, the fulfillment of His own prediction, that proves that He was the sacrifice for sin which He proclaimed Himself to be. Thank God, that testimony is true. We saw previously how God gave abundant witness to the resurrection of His beloved Son, how more than five hundred saw Him after He rose from the dead, and we remember the statement made by Horace Bushnell, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely the best attested fact in ancient history.” You cannot think of any other incident in ancient history that has anything like the number of witnesses to its truth as we have to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My sins nailed Him to the cross. He, the sinless One, took my place and died under the judgment of God, but after the sin question was settled, after He had poured out His life, having died for us, three days were permitted to elapse to prove the reality of His death, then God brought Him back from the dead to declare His acceptance of the work of His Son. The resurrection is the testimony that God is satisfied and now can open His arms in love to every poor sinner in all the world and proclaim a full, free and eternal salvation for all who believe, through the work that His Son has accomplished.
“If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” The only way that I know that my sins are gone is because He who made Himself responsible for them, who died for them, now sits enthroned at God’s right hand, and there are no sins on Him there.
I have often tried to illustrate it thus: Let my two hands speak of two persons. Let my left hand speak of my blessed Lord Jesus Christ and my right hand speak of myself, a sinful man. My Bible has a red cover; we will let it speak of my crimson sins, of my scarlet guilt, and as this red-covered Book lies on this right hand, let it be a picture of myself with those crimson sins all resting upon my soul. What am I going to do about it? I cannot cleanse my own heart. “If I wash myself with snow water and make [myself] never so clean,” says Job, “yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me” (Job 9:30-31). I cannot cleanse my heart, I cannot put away my sins. But see, here is the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, illustrated by this left hand of mine. There is no scarlet Book resting upon that hand because He was the sinless One, He knew no sin of thought or word or deed, He was absolutely the Holy One. But in grace He went to that cross of shame and was nailed upon the tree on Calvary’s hill, and when He hung there, “Jehovah laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I transfer this red Book to the hand that represents Jesus. That crimson load that rested on me was transferred to Him when He hung on the cross, for then He was bearing the load of our sins. That explains the darkness that enwrapped His soul, the cry of anguish, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The Holy One who knew no sin,
God made Him sin for us;
The Saviour died our souls to win,
Upon the shameful cross.
Having borne sin’s judgment He descended to the grave and lay there for three days and three nights. During that interval no one in all the world knew whether His work was satisfactory, no one knew whether He had really settled the sin question. “We thought,” said the troubled disciples, “‘that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel’” (Luke 24:21). They had no way of knowing whether it was true or not until, when the first day of the week came, He rose in triumph from the grave, and broke the bands of death asunder and now that hand, which represents Christ, has no red load upon it, for I have hidden that which stands for that load in this desk. There are no sins upon the risen Christ, for He has left them all behind in His open grave and has ascended to God’s right hand without them. The Irishman was right when he said, “What a wonderful salvation! If anybody will have to be kept out of heaven because of my sins, it will have to be Jesus; but, blessed be God, they cannot keep Him out, He is there already.” The resurrection is the proof that God is satisfied. I am not now in my sins, I know that Christ has put them all away, His resurrection tells me that since I have put my trust in Him I shall never again have to face that question.
The apostle concludes this section with these words, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” If Jesus has never been raised from the dead, then we are in a hopeless state, those who have trusted in Him are trusting in a bruised reed, we who are counting solely upon this risen Lord and upon the work He did have believed in vain. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men,” not exactly, “most miserable”-for I suppose there are other very miserable men living for the Devil-but what he really says, I believe, is, “We are of all men most to be pitied,” for we have staked everything on the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of our faith in Him we have given up the world and its pleasures and follies, we have become strangers and pilgrims in this scene, and now if there is no risen Christ, if this is all a mistake, we are going to lose both worlds. We gladly gave up this world because we thought we saw another above our heads, but that is only a dream, a fantasy, if Christ be not risen, and so “we are of all men most to be pitied.” The unconverted man can at least enjoy this present world, but the converted man says, “There is nothing here for my heart, it has been won by that One who has gone over yonder, and for His name’s sake I have surrendered the things that other men live for down here.” But what a blunder, what a mistake, if Christ be not risen! I am simply following a will-o’-th’-wisp that will land me at last in darkness and despair.
However, the apostle does not close this section with any such dreary suggestion. He says, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” There is no question about it. We know that He who died has been raised again. He Himself said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again.” He was put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit. “ The God of peace…brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). Christ is risen, and His resurrection is the earnest of ours. He has become “the firstfruits of them that slept.” Every Israelite understood that figure. The days of planting and the days of cultivation had gone by, the summer was ending, the harvest days just beginning, and the Israelite went out in his field and saw a fast ripening sheaf. He plucked it and presented it to the Lord in the temple or at the tabernacle gate as the firstfruits, the earnest of the coming harvest, and by-and-by when a few more days or weeks had gone by, he went back to that field and the ripened grain was everywhere, but the great harvest was like the sheaf of the firstfruits, it was the same in character, and so our Lord Jesus is the firstfruits of resurrection, “the firstfruits of them that slept.” By-and-by will come the day when all His own will be called forth from the tombs. That will be the glorious harvest and in that day every other one will be like the firstfruits. We shall be like Him, our blessed, glorious Lord; we too shall have resurrection bodies, we too shall be forever triumphant over death, and throughout an eternity of bliss we shall glorify the One who has redeemed us to Himself.
The Pageant Of Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:21-28
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (vv. 21-28)
Following the apostle’s argument that the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the basis of our hope for eternity, he makes it plain that this is not a debatable question, it is not something about which those professing the name of Christ may have different opinions. It is a fundamental fact, “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” He has come out of the grave as a sample of the great harvest which is yet coming forth from the tomb at His return.
“For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” It was Adam as federal head of the race who plunged our entire humanity into death and judgment by his sin. But the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, has gone down into death; He has triumphed over it; He has robbed it of all its terror; and He has come forth a victor. And now through Him comes the resurrection of the dead, whether of course the resurrection of the righteous dead or the wicked dead, all shall come forth from the tomb through Him. The emphasis here is upon the fact that it is the Man Christ Jesus who calls the dead to life, and that is what we should expect, for God sets the one over against the other. The first man plunged the race into ruin, the Second Man brings redemption. In our emphasis upon the deity of the Lord Jesus we must never belittle or in any way lose sight of the perfection of His humanity. He is as truly Man as if He had never been God, and He is as truly God as if He had never become Man.
“ There is…one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6); and it is the Son of Man whose voice shall eventually be heard by all the dead; first by the righteous dead, the saved dead, when He comes again to call His own to be with Himself, and then at last by the unsaved dead when they are summoned from the tomb to judgment, for Scripture knows nothing of a general resurrection. It distinctly teaches two resurrections. Our Lord speaks of those who shall be rewarded in “the resurrection of the just,” and we read that there “shall be a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust.” The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life.” That is the first resurrection. “They that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” That is the other one. In Revelation 20:6 we are told, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5).
In this chapter the apostle of course has specially in mind the resurrection of the righteous, because he began the chapter by saying, “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand.” And that gospel is 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,” and He is coming again to complete the work that He began. So we read in verse 22, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The term, “in Adam,” included all who received their natural life from Adam. As we have pointed out, he was the head of a race and we are all his children by natural birth. Every person in the world is in Adam by natural birth, and over all of Adam’s race hangs the death sentence. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Just as the term, “in Adam,” takes in an entire race, so the term, “in Christ,” takes in a race, but naturally a narrower, a smaller, group than is included “in Adam,” for we are all in Adam by nature, but only a limited number are in Christ by grace.
In speaking of some relatives of his Paul calls them his “kinsmen who also were in Christ before me.” They may not have been in Adam before him; I do not know whether they were older than he; but he says they were “in Christ” before he was. I often wonder if that was not one reason why Paul had that remarkable experience on the Damascus turnpike. They had probably been praying for him, and in answer to their prayers God broke him down and saved him. We are “in Christ” only through a second birth, through becoming members of a new creation. Just as we receive our natural life from Adam we received divine life from the risen glorified Christ, and we are then said to be “in Christ.” And so it is the resurrection of the just that Paul has in view.
“In Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order.” The word order was a military term in those days, and was used to describe the different companies of soldiers. We would say, “Every one after his own cohort.” “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” When He returns, when He descends in glory to the upper air, He will give that quickening shout of which we read both in the latter part of this chapter and in 1 Thessalonians 4: “And the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (vv. 16-17).
“Then cometh the end.” I do not know that we need that italicized word, cometh, for that does not represent anything in the original. It is, “Then the end.” “They that are Christ’ s at his coming…Then the end,” when the resurrection will be completed, when the glorious kingdom reign of our Lord Jesus will have come to an end, “when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is now sitting at the Father’s right hand until this earth shall be made His footstool, and when He descends, He will take the kingdom and will reign for a thousand wonderful years. He will bring in that age when righteousness shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD” (Habakkuk 2:14). During the thousand years the Lord will exercise righteous government and righteous judgment in this scene. It comes to a close with the passing away of the material universe as we know it.
Then comes the day of judgment, when the wicked, raised from their graves, will appear at the Great White Throne and sentence be given according to their works. When the mediatorial kingdom is ended all will be handed back to the Father, that God may be all in all. Christ may be likened to the receiver of this world. Suppose a business in San Francisco is owned by a firm of three persons in New York City. They send a manager out to take charge of the business, but this manager proves to be dishonest and incompetent, and the business is in inextricable difficulties. One member says, “You allow me to go out there and act as receiver, and I will try to straighten everything up and put the business on its feet.” He goes out there, takes charge of everything, goes over all the books, and finds out where the crookedness has been. It may take him months, perhaps years, before he straightens things out, but after everything is cleared, every bill paid, and there are no longer any liabilities, he goes back to New York, presents his account, and hands it all back to the firm. Does he cease to have an interest in it? No, for he is a member of the firm; but the firm takes complete charge and he no longer exercises administration mediatorially. This universe was put under the dominion of Adam. God created him in innocence and put him in charge, and said to him, “I have given you authority over it all.” But through his being deceived by Satan, through incompetency and dishonesty, the whole thing was thrown into turmoil. And so our blessed Lord Jesus, one of the Eternal Trinity, is coming back to this world and will take charge of things, and when everything has been subjected to God and all the wicked and utterly impenitent have been dealt with, He will hand it back to the Father that God may be all in all. Shall we lose our Savior then? No, He will remain the same blessed, loving Jesus that He has ever been since His incarnation, but the kingdom will be delivered up to the Father, and God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) will maintain it in righteousness for all eternity.
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Death will hold within its grasp all the wicked dead up to the end of the millennium, but God will not permit that condition to last forever. Death will be destroyed. Satan himself will be banished to the lake of fire, and the wicked will share his doom because they refused God’s grace. When the Lord Jesus has thus put all things under the feet of God the Father, He Himself voluntarily occupies the place of the Father’s beloved Son and the Servant of the redeemed. He will serve us through all the ages to come, for love delights to wait upon the objects of its affection.
There is a beautiful picture in the Old Testament. We read when a man who had been sold into slavery fulfilled his time, he could go out free. If his master had given him a wife, the wife and children would remain in bondage but he could go free. But if that servant should say, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go free,” then they were to put him through a peculiar ceremony. They were to place his ear against the door and pierce it through with an awl, and he would then serve his master forever. What a striking picture that is of the place our blessed Lord Jesus has taken voluntarily in order to be identified with us for eternity! He came into this world as the servant, He took a servant’s place, and having completed His service He could have gone back free at any time to the Father’s house, but He chose not to do so. There were those down here upon whom His love was set, “ Christ…loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25), and so we can think of Him saying to the Father, “I love my Master, my bride, my children; I will not go out free.” And so He could say, “Mine ear hast thou bored.” He bears the mark of eternal subjection because of His love to us. I have often pictured that Hebrew servant sitting in his little cabin home on his master’s plantation. Mother is getting the meal and the children are playing about. One little tot climbs up on his knee and says, “Father, what is that ugly hole in your ear? I do not like that.” And I think the wife hears it and says, “Oh, my darling, don’t speak that way; to me that is the most beautiful thing about your father. We were in bondage and he could have gone out free and left us behind, but he wouldn’t do it. He loved me and gave himself for me; he loved you, my dear children, and because of his love for us he chose to remain a perpetual servant. That mark tells of his undying love.” So will it be with our blessed Lord Jesus, the subject One for all eternity, and as we look upon those wounds which will never be effaced, we shall say, “There we have the evidence of His unchanging love.” What a Savior!
“Man of sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing,
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
We shall be the joy of His heart and He the joy of ours for an eternity of bliss. And mark how everything hangs upon the cross. That is why we delight to look back and remember His suffering there for us. Others may think of His beauty as a lowly Nazarene, or of His glorious transfiguration upon the mount, but to every redeemed soul He looks most beautiful as we think of Him wearing His crown of thorns, bleeding, suffering, dying for us.
Baptized For The Dead
1 Corinthians 15:29-34
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink: for tomorrow we die. Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame. (vv. 29-34)
The outstanding expression in this particular portion found nowhere else in Scripture is “baptized for the dead.” Exactly what does it mean? Down through the centuries a number of different interpretations have been suggested. One of the most common among orthodox believers is that we are to understand by the expression, “baptized for the dead,” that we as Christians are baptized for or in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ who died. He died, went down into death, and we have been identified with Him, and in our baptism we confess our death with Him, therefore, “baptized for the dead” really means, “bap- tized for Christ who died.” Certainly that interpretation is not repugnant to Christian consciences. It is absolutely true that intelligent believers are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, for that, in fact, is the exact meaning of the ordinance of baptism. But is this what is meant here?
In baptism we confess that we were sinners, that we deserved to die, that our Lord Jesus Christ died in our room and stead, and now we are saying, as it were, before the world, before all men, “I take my place with the Christ who died; I desire henceforth to be recognized as one identified with Him in His death, in His burial, and in His resurrection.” Looked at in this way the ordinance is wonderfully precious. I never can understand the state of soul of Christian men who would try in any way to belittle or set aside Christian baptism. I know many precious souls have been brought to Christ simply by witnessing the carrying out of this ordinance. There is something so solemn about it as it definitely sets before us Christ’s death on our behalf and our identification with Him, that it cannot but speak to every one who has ears to hear. So I fully accept that view, but do not believe that it explains the expression in the text, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all.”
Another suggested explanation that has found favor with many is that baptism for the dead means that we ourselves who are baptized confess that we are dead, that we have died with Christ, and that therefore our baptism is one for or of the dead as taking that place, although in this world we no longer belong to the world. We have died, and we bury the dead, and so we are buried because we have died to the old life. Undoubtedly baptism teaches that. We who were once living unto the world, we who were once living to the flesh, have now, in the cross of Christ, died to all that; as having died, the ordinance of baptism speaks of a burial. We are through with the old life. But I do not think that explains the expression in the text.
From the very earliest days there has been another suggested explanation, a rather grotesque one. It has been taken up in our own day and spread abroad as though it were the very gospel of God, by those commonly known as “‘Latter-day Saints,” or Mormons. Personally, I belong to the Former Day saints, I am not interested in any “Latter-day Saints” movement. It is my joy to be linked with the saints of all ages unto whom Christ Jesus has been made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. But the view held by these Mormons and a few others is that the apostle means that baptism in itself is a saving ordinance, that apart from it none will ever be saved, and since a great many have died without having the opportunity of being baptized, somebody else must be baptized for them if they are going to be saved. And so they say that the apostle is referring to living Christians being baptized vicariously on behalf of people who have died unbaptized. This is a very common thing among the so-called “Latter-day Saints.” In fact, they have many temples in which they carry out the ceremony of baptism for the dead, and people are urged to be baptized, some over and over and over again, for dead people who were never baptized in this life.
When in Salt Lake City some years ago, a young Mormon elder told me he believed that the members of the Mormon church were saving more souls through being baptized for the dead than Jesus Christ ever saved through dying on Calvary’s cross. He mentioned a very wealthy lady who had come out from the East a good many years ago and had been baptized in Salt Lake City over thirty thousand times. Every time she was baptized she paid a sum of money into the church, so you can see that baptism for the dead is rather a good thing from the financial standpoint. She was using her entire fortune redeeming people from death and destruction through being baptized for the dead! She had been baptized for all the friends and relatives about whom she knew anything at all who had died, and then she had gone into history and literature and sought out thousands of names and had been baptized for every one of them. She had been baptized for Alexander the Great, for Nebuchadnezzar, for Julius Caesar, for Napoleon Bonaparte, for Cleopatra, and thousands of other historical characters, in order that she might be the means of their salvation; and it was concerning this lady especially that this youthful elder said to me with a very solemn face, “I believe in the day of judgment it will be proven that this lady through being baptized for the dead has saved more souls than Jesus Christ!” That blasphemous theory finds no place whatever in the Word of God. In the first place the Word of God never teaches that baptism is essential to salvation. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that if people die unbaptized, they are lost.
It is quite true that it is perfectly right and proper that people who are saved should be baptized, and we find this ordinance linked with faith because it is the confession of the faith that we have. But when Scripture says, for instance, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” it never adds, “He that is not baptized shall be damned,” but, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” We have the remarkable example of the first soul ever saved after Christ was nailed to the cross, the thief who hung there beside Him, who was saved that day without any possibility of being baptized. With hands and feet nailed to the tree he could do nothing, he could not carry out any ordinance or do anything by which to earn salvation, but he was saved alone by the finished work of the One who hung on the central cross. And every man who is ever saved will be saved through what Jesus did when He died on that tree. So we put away the Mormon conception. There is a fourth view which certain Christians have held throughout the centuries, and that is that some of these Corinthians imagined that baptism was essential to salvation and therefore were being baptized vicariously for others who had died in heathenism, and so the apostle refers to it without saying whether it is true or not. But we can be sure that Paul would not refer to it in the way he does without telling them that it was contrary to the mind of God that living people should be baptized for the benefit of dead people.
I have spoken of four suggested interpretations of these words, and I come now to what I believe is the exact meaning of the text. First, let me say that the expression, “Baptized for the dead,” means literally in the Greek text, “Baptized in place of, or over, the dead ones, or those who have died.” The word dead is in the plural, it is not a singular noun; therefore it cannot refer to the Lord Jesus Christ; it is not, “Baptized because of Christ.” Neither the preposition nor the noun will permit of that interpretation, but the actual rendering would have to be, “Baptized in place of dead ones.” It is not, “baptized on behalf, or for the benefit, of dead ones.” The preposition does not suggest that. In the earlier part of the chapter the apostle reproves those who denied the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and says, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (v. 17). Everything for a believer depends upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was delivered up to death for our offenses, He was raised again for our justification, and if He be not raised, manifestly redemption has never been accomplished, the sin question has never been settled, they who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished, they have found that their profession has gone for nought, for there is no redemption if Christ be not raised, and it naturally follows that if that be the case, we are making a tremendous mistake for, “If the dead be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins,” and therefore Christ is powerless to save. Think of the millions of people who have been willing to stake everything for eternity upon this Christ who cannot save if the dead rise not, but if Christ be not risen, they have blundered terribly. We might better go on and enjoy this world, for death ends all if that theory be true.
Verses 20-28 form a parenthesis in which the apostle turns aside from his argument to give us an outline concerning the pageant of the resurrection, and then goes on and develops it. You will find that in verse 29 he picks up the thread of the argument again from verse 19, saying, “ If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most [to be pitied]….Else what shall they do which are baptized [in place of] the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” This may be translated, “What shall they do which are baptized in the place of the dead ones if no dead ever rise? Why are they then baptized in the place of the dead ones?” Do you not see that the argument is clear and luminous? Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished if Christ has not been raised again, and yet every day other people are being baptized in their places, others are professing faith in Christ, others are availing themselves of the ordinance of baptism, they are filling up the places made vacant on earth by those who have died professing Christ. But if Christ be not risen, then those who have died are lost, they have gained nothing by their profession. Why then should we go on filling up the ranks all down the centuries and putting other people in the place of danger if there is nothing to be gained by it? This is a military figure. A regiment of soldiers goes into battle, and after the battle is over they count the men and find perhaps that seventy-five have been slain. Immediately they begin to recruit others in place of the dead, not to do the dead any good, but to take their places. Seventy-five other men are drawn into that regiment, are recruited in place of the dead, they don the uniform and go forth to take part in other conflicts. But if they are fighting a losing battle, if there is no possibility of ever winning, if they are just wasting their lives, why are they then recruited for the dead? What is the use of their taking the places of those who have died? It is the height of folly if they know there is nothing but certain defeat and destruction awaiting them.
Think of Christian people as a mighty army. Down through the centuries, for nineteen hundred years, the church has been in conflict with the powers of sin and death and hell, and throughout the ages one generation of Christians has fallen and another has taken its place, and the public way of manifesting the fact that they have thus enlisted in the army of the Lord is through baptism. But what a foolish thing if Christ be not risen and if the dead rise not! What are they gaining by being baptized in place of the dead? Would it not have been better to have wound up the history of Christianity in the first centuries and said, “The whole movement is a failure, there is no risen Christ, there is no possibility for salvation here in this life”? A man may accept the philosophy of Christianity and keep it to himself. Possibly his neighbors would never suspect his belief and he would not be subject to martyrdom, but if he really believes in the Lord Jesus Christ he says, “I must make it known,” and the right way is through baptism, through confessing Christ in that way as the One who died and rose again. The moment a man was baptized in Paul’s day, and many centuries afterward, he put himself in the way of possible martyrdom. His neighbors said, “That man is a Christian.” “How do you know?” “He has been baptized, confessing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was risking his life every hour, for there were enemies of Christianity on every hand. But if Christ be not risen, why should he, why should I and my fellow laborers stand in the place of jeopardy? Paul says, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” I am putting myself in the place of death every day, I am exposed to death, and I am ready to die for Jesus Christ. Paul knew He had risen for he had seen Him in the glory as He appeared to him that day when he fell stricken on the Damascus road, and Paul became the outstanding defender of Christianity. He says, “I am set for the defence of the gospel,” and for the name of Christ he took his life in his hands and died daily.
“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” What does Paul mean? He is referring to that time when he was almost torn asunder by beast-like men in that riot at Ephesus. He saw that angry mob pressing upon him as they shouted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28) and he thought of that great throng ready to destroy him, and likened them unto beasts. But, he says, it is all right no matter what they do to me, Christ is real for He is risen again, and I know Him as the risen One and am ready to die for His name’s sake. “But what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?” Why should I live like this, why should any Christian give up the world and live a life of self-denial and devotion to the One whom this world has rejected, if the dead rise not? Why not accept the philosophy of the worldling? In Isaiah 22:12-13 God reproves the careless worldlings, “And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.” They did not respond to His call and humble themselves before Him, but went on in the ways of the world. “Eat and drink: for tomorrow we shall die.” Here are the words from which the apostle quotes. If Christ has not been raised, if there is no reality in Christianity, then get all the enjoyment out of the world that you can. The worldling says, “Let’s have a good time while we live, for we are going to be a long time dead.” If death ends everything, why not go on and get what you can out of this life? But there is a better world beyond the grave, there is a Savior who died to put away our sins and who lives triumphant in glory waiting to receive to Himself those who trust Him. So we say, “You can have your feasts, your fame, your frivolity, your wealth, Christ is more to me than all of these.” The Christian, you see, is a man who has heard the drumbeat of another country and so does not keep step with the drumbeat of this world.
“Be not deceived,” says the apostle, “evil communications corrupt good manners.” People say, “It does not make any difference whether Jesus died and rose; we can be just as good without this assurance.” But when they deny the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, you find that they will throw the reins upon their lusts and live for the world and please themselves. So to us the word comes home, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not.” You are linked with a risen Christ and you are in this world to glorify Him. Let that risen One control your heart and life, and yours will be a holy life devoted to the glory of God. “Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”
A number of years ago I was at the burial of an aged saint. For a great many years he had been a bright witness for Christ in the part of the city where he lived and had brought up his family in the fear of God. One of his children was a missionary in the Philippine Islands. He had grandchildren who attended the church services, but had not as yet confessed the Lord. As I closed the funeral service and we were about to take our last look at that face until the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering unto Him, I felt led to step to the casket and say, “Just wait a minute before we take our farewell look at the face of our beloved brother. He has been a witness for Christ in this city for many years, his place will not easily be filled, he will be greatly missed by Christians. I wonder whether anyone at this funeral service would like by the grace of God to seek to prepare to take his place. Is there anybody here who has heard the voice of God speaking to you and perhaps you have never yet come to Christ, but right here you will close with the Lord, you will take Him as your Savior and be ready to be baptized for the dead? This one has gone, there is a vacant place in the ranks; will you take his place?” I waited a moment, and then a fine, tall, young man, his grandson, arose from his seat and came forward. He faced the audience and said, “Today I accept my grandfather’s Savior, and I want you to pray that I may be able in some measure to take his place”; and then he knelt at that casket and gave himself to the Lord, and the next Sunday night I baptized him for the dead. It is simply the filling up of the ranks, taking the places of those who have gone before. Christian baptism always emphasizes that it is a public testimony, a testimony that one has turned from the world, trusted Christ, and will now seek to live for His glory. And so one generation has been baptized for the dead of the past generation, and that one for the past, and so on, clear back to the very beginning of Christianity.
How Are The Dead Raised Up?
1 Corinthians 15:35-50
But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (vv. 35-50)
We have come in our study to the latter part of this great chapter. Having settled the question of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle takes up another problem that has perplexed and exercised the minds of many. If there is to be a resurrection of the dead, in what body will they arise? In answering this he gives us a special divine revelation, and we should remember that apart from revelation this is a matter of which we can know nothing. We are just as ignorant today of what comes after death as those philosophers were five hundred years before Christ whose discussions and dialogues on life, death, and immortality have been embalmed for us in the dialogues of Plato. Men still read of Socrates, Glaucas, Plato, Aristotle, and all the rest of them, and know no more today than they did then, for if God has not spoken all is mere speculation at the best. But He has spoken, He has given us His sure Word, and we may have the certainty of the knowledge that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Let us hear then what God Himself, the Creator of all, the God of the resurrection, has to say on this subject.
In the eighth chapter of Romans the apostle Paul comes to the close of his wonderful exposition of our threefold salvation: salvation from the guilt of sin, salvation from the power of sin, and salvation from the presence of sin; and he looks on to the time when we who believe shall receive the redemption of the body. We have already received the redemption of our souls, we are already saved from the guilt of sin and the judgment due to sin, but we are still in poor failing human bodies. Christians get sick just as other people do, and Christians die just as other folk die. Every little while somebody rises up with a new gospel to tell us that we may have the redemption of the body in this life, and that no Christian need ever be sick if we will just claim the Lord as our healer. But no matter how fervently they believe it, no matter how faithfully they teach it, they all take cold if they sit in a draft, they all get indigestion when they eat things that do not agree with them, they all get sick and die eventually, unless they get run over by an automobile and die by accident. They are just as truly subject to sickness and death as other people are. All the great faith healers of the past are dead, and all of those of the present will die soon unless the Lord Jesus should come in our lifetime and we should be changed and caught up to meet Him without passing through death. Those under the Adamic sentence all die. But, thank God, there is redemption for the body. The hour is coming when our Lord Jesus Christ shall return from heaven and shall transform these bodies of our humiliation and make them like unto the body of His glory. And this is just as true of the decayed bodies of those who have died as it is of those who are living when our blessed Savior returns. But this at once presents a difficulty.
The natural mind says, “I can understand how He can touch this mortal body of mine and quicken it into immortality if I should be living when He returns, but if I should die before He comes, and my body go back to the dust from which it came, and that dust be scattered to the four winds of the heavens, I cannot understand how it could be raised again. I may have a body in resurrection, but it will surely be another body; I shall not actually be raised from the dead.” Scripture answers that objection in the passage we have just read, “Some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” In other words, in what way are they brought from the tomb, and what kind of a body will they have in the resurrection? The apostle says, Take a lesson from nature, “thou simple one.” The word fool here is rather strong; he is not insulting his readers by calling them fools in the sense in which we use the word, but the Greek word means, “unthinking one.” If you would only stop to think, you would realize that there are many analogies in nature to the resurrection. We can think of some apart from these given in Scripture. Take the caterpillar crawling along the leaves. Suddenly a strange alteration comes over it and it spins a cocoon around itself. Its whole appearance is changed and it dies to its old life altogether. It stays in that cocoon a while and eventually it emerges, and out comes, not a caterpillar but a beautiful butterfly, a lovely creature which is able to soar up into the air, and no longer crawls upon the ground, the grass or the leaves. It is a wonderful picture of what the resurrection may be.
The apostle uses the illustration of a farmer sowing grain. He sows it, to use the words that are so often used at funeral services, “in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” The bare grain is sown by the farmer who believes that when it falls in the ground and seems to rot away that will not be the end of it. It will come forth into a fuller life than it has known before. But when the resurrection of that grain takes place, he does not see grain such as he has sown coming up from the ground; he first sees a blade of green, and by-and-by quite a stalk arises and then a head of wheat, oats or barley. “Thou [simple one], that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” There is no mistake made. If wheat is sown, it is wheat that rises from that grain; if he sows oats then oats will rise; if barley is sown, barley arises from that grave. There is absolute identity and yet a wonderful change. That beautiful head of grain is much more lovely to look upon than the simple little seed that went into the ground. And so with the resurrection body; there will be absolute identification in some way to the body that died. How much of that grain is in the seed of wheat? Get down to the root of the wheat stalk and you will still find the little shell out of which this stalk has come. Just so will it be in the resurrection. God will not have to use every part of this body. I do not possess today a particle of the body that I had a few years ago. When I was a boy in school, they said that the body changes every seven years. Now they say it changes every three years. I am not conscious of that change except, of course, that I know that my nails and hair grow and have to be cut. In just the same way my entire body is changing continually. There is not a bit of this body today that I had three-and-a-half years ago, and yet I know that I am I. I say to you, “You are looking so much better than you were when I last saw you,” or maybe you are looking a little worse; and you do not say, “Well, that is because you never saw me before if you haven’t seen me for three-and-a-half years.” No, you are the same person, and the body is your body, and you know it is, and yet there is not a cell in it that was there three-and-a-half years ago. And so we say that there is identity but not necessarily the using of the entire body that is put into the grave when the Lord raises us in resurrection.
The next thing the apostle stresses is that there are different kinds of flesh. We do not understand the differences, and yet we know that they are there, and that we never pass from one to another.
“There is one kind of flesh of men.” Men are made to live upon the earth, and that is the only way they are comfortable There is another kind of flesh, that of beasts, and they can live even in the earth. Think, for instance, of the bear or the raccoon, who as winter approaches go into a burrow or a hollow tree and become dormant for the period of several months until spring comes again, and then they emerge. That would be impossible for a man, but it is not for beasts. The beast is adapted to this environment; its body is different to that of a human being.
And there is another flesh, that of fish, and it is adapted to an environment that neither beasts nor men can live in. They may enter into that kind of environment for a limited period, but would drown if they had to be kept under water continually The fish is at home there; he is so constituted by God that when he is taken out of the water, he dies. One of the great German writers has well said, “If fish are philosophers, if they are capable of thinking, I am absolutely certain that every philosophical fish is quite sure that it is impossible for any creature to live out of water.” It knows that when drawn out of the water it finds itself gasping and will soon die.
Then there is the flesh of birds, and the bird is suited to fly in the air, differing altogether from mankind or beasts or fish. And so, if there are differences here on earth, why need you wonder about the difference between bodies suited to heaven and bodies suited to this lower scene?
“There are also celestial bodies,” that is, heavenly bodies, “and bodies terrestrial,” earthly bodies. Our Lord Jesus came into this world and took a terrestrial body, but after having made satisfaction for our sins on the cross, He came forth in resurrection in a celestial body, and in that body He ascended through the heavens into the very presence of God where “he ever liveth to make intercession” for us. His celestial body is the pattern of what ours shall be; we shall have bodies in resurrection that are not subject to the laws that control us now. When we turn to Scripture and hear our blessed Lord talking with the Sadducees who denied that there was any resurrection, we get a little better understanding of this. They came and said, “Here was a woman who had a husband, and he died, and the brother of that man married the woman, and he died, and there were no children. Then another brother married her, and this went on until she had been married seven times, and they had all died. Last of all the woman died also. Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection?” They thought they had put a puzzling question. But the Lord Jesus simply said, “ You do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. They that are accounted worthy to attain to that age (that is, the coming glorious age of the kingdom and the resurrection) neither marry, nor are given in marriage…for they are like unto the angels, being children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:27-36). The angels are sexless. They do not propagate their kind. Each is an individual creation; and believers, in the resurrection, will be like unto the angels. That means that in resurrection we are not going to be men and women as we are now, but we will simply be redeemed people with no sex distinctions whatsoever, because the day will have gone by when the human race is to be propagated as now.
Then again in this epistle where the apostle is reproving believers for making a great fuss about questions of foods, some that are clean and some that are unclean, he says, “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them” (6:13). What is he telling us here? As long as we are in this world, our bodies have to be nourished by food, and so this body has a digestive tract by means of which we are able to take from our food those elements that repair the waste, and build up our physical constitutions. But in the resurrection that will not be so, and therefore the whole digestive tract as we now know it, is to be destroyed. It is not that you will not be able to eat, for Jesus took a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb after His resurrection, but it was not necessary that there should be any digestive tract to dispose of it. We shall have bodies that are unchanging. All the changes of time will have come to an end and our bodies will be like to the glorified body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But even when we have our celestial bodies there will be differences in the glories that we shall enjoy. So the apostle turns to contemplate the material celestial orbs, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Notice how they differ in glory. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” We read elsewhere, “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). And when we get our resurrected bodies, they will be bodies of light like that body in which our blessed Lord was manifested on the Mount of Transfiguration, and as Saul of Tarsus saw Him when he said, “ I saw…a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun” (Acts 26:13).
In that day there will be differences in glory according to the measure of our devotedness to Christ down here, for he says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” We are all saved by the same grace and through that same grace we will be raised and changed at the coming of the Lord. But we will not all be rewarded in the same way, for reward is for faithful service, and I am afraid many of us are going to lose a great deal at the judgment seat of Christ because we have not been more true and real in all our ways down here. The day is soon coming when you and I would give worlds, if we possessed them, if we had only let God have His way absolutely in our lives. The greatest joy, the greatest blessing that can come into any life is wholehearted surrender to the will of God, no matter what it may seem to mean, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time. The things that many of us have dreaded are the things that brought us the greatest blessing as we have sought to walk with our gracious God and Father. In that day when the Lord looks over our lives, when He goes over everything with us, when He says, “ Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” how we shall rejoice to have His approbation, and how we shall wish that we had been more devoted. There is not one soul with Christ today who looks back on his earthly life and says, “I wish I had not been quite so out-and-out for God; I wish I had been less self-denying; I wish I had been more concerned about my own comforts.” But I fancy there are many who say, “If I had my life to live over again, no matter what suffering, what rendings of the heartstrings it might mean, I would never hesitate a moment to let God have His will in everything in my life.” It is not a question of whether or not we get to heaven. All who are saved by grace will be there, but there will be a difference in our rewards.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” Observe the impersonal pronoun all through these verses. Thus you will see there is identification between the bodies that die and the bodies that rise, and yet there are differences in appearance. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. Could you have identification brought out more clearly than that? The body that is sown is the one that is raised, and yet it is changed. It will be incorruptible. Death occurs only a few hours before corruption begins; but the new body will be incorruptible; it will be a glorified body. Just what that means may be seen from what the disciples beheld on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw the blessed Lord Jesus shining in that glory and they beheld Moses and Elijah, we read, in the same glory with Jesus. Moses, a man who had died, and yet was there in the glorified body. Elijah, a man caught up to heaven without dying, and he was in the glorified body.
And then we read that “It is raised in power.” How weak this poor body is! The spirit often is willing, but the flesh is weak. We find ourselves hindered by the body, but the day is coming when instead of being a hindrance to the spirit the body will be like wings to that spirit, and we will be able to go to the uttermost parts of the universe on the business of the Lord easier than we could cross the street today.
“It is raised a spiritual body.” Do not misunderstand that. A spiritual body is not a body made of spirit. God is a Spirit and is not said to have a body. He took a body when the Lord Jesus Christ became incarnate. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”-or, “in a body” (Colossians 2:9). You and I are spirits each dwelling in a body.
But I am not all spirit; I am also soul. “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The soul is the seat of my emotional nature, the seat of all my natural instincts; as a man, it is my human self; but the spirit is the highest part of my nature to which God can make Himself known. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). As a Christian I ought to be constantly under the control of the spirit, I ought to live according to the highest part of my nature; but every little while I find that instead of being controlled by the spirit part of me, I am controlled by my soul, and I am more or less a creature of emotions. I am easily influenced this way or that emotionally, and often to my detriment and that of others. And this is called here “the natural body.” The word translated “natural” is simply the Greek adjective from the word soul, that is, a soulish body. This body is the suited vehicle for the expression of the emotions of my soul. The spirit is often willing to do certain things but the flesh is weak. The body being a soulish body is a hindrance to the spirit. But in resurrection I shall have a body that is spiritual, that is, a body suited to and dominated by the spirit. There will be nothing then to hinder the full expression of the spirit, and I shall be absolutely subject to God who is a Spirit.
And so it is written, “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” Adam was the head of the old creation; God formed him out of the dust of the ground. If you do not believe that, wait a while, and your body will go back to the dust and prove that Scripture is right. God breathed into this man Adam, and he became a living soul and he is the progenitor of the race. But the Last Adam is our Lord Jesus. He is the risen One and so has become a quickening Spirit. He breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” and we are linked with Him. He is the Last Adam, the Lord from heaven, and we are going to have bodies like He now has. As linked with Adam I have a body like his, but in resurrection I shall have a body like that of the blessed Lord Himself.
“Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” The first man was of the dust, dusty-or of the dirt, dirty. That is what man is by his relationship with Adam. The Second Man is the Lord from heaven, our blessed glorified Savior. The very word Adam means “red clay.” “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” As we have borne the image of the earthy, and as we have looked like our first father, and had the appearance of the natural man in this world, so we shall bear the image of the Savior. I think this helps to explain a passage which has bewildered people: “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
A lady said to me one day, “If we are all going to be like Him we will all look alike, and how are we ever going to know each other?” That is not what it says. We have borne the image of the earthy; we are like Adam, but we do not all look the same. The wonder of it is that if it were possible for the one billion eight hundred million men and women of the world to pass before you, you would never find two that are exactly alike. Sometimes we find two people so nearly alike that we can hardly tell them apart, but there is always some little difference. The infinite variety in creation is amazing when you think that there is so little to work with: only one nose, one mouth, two ears, two eyes, one chin, two cheeks, and one forehead! And yet the Creator has made over one billion eight hundred million different specimens in each generation, and each generation diverse from every other. I do not know much about music, but I am always dumbfounded when I think how much can be made from seven tones. I cannot understand it. I should have thought all the music would have been written years ago, and that nobody could by any possibility make up another air. But there are symphonies that can be written that men have never dreamed of. So with the human family, there is infinite variety and yet we are all like the first man Adam.
And now in the resurrection body there will be infinite variety too, and yet all shall be like Him in that we shall have incorruptible bodies and yet every one different. We shall know each other yonder as we have never known each other down here. What a wonderful hope is this that Scripture puts before believers!
The Rapture Of The Saints
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (vv. 51-58)
With these words the apostle Paul brings to a close his great treatise on the resurrection, first dealing with that of Christ and then with that of the saints. In this particular section he shows us that while all will have part in the glorious event at the resurrection of the saints, yet some will not pass through death, but will be changed instead of being raised. We noticed in the closing verses of the previous portion the statement that, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God refers, of course, to that future reign when the authority of God will be manifested in heaven and over all the earth. The kingdom of God will consist of two spheres. Our Lord Jesus says, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). Those are the heavenly saints in the kingdom day. Then we also read of people brought into this blessing here on earth during the kingdom. They, of course, will be in bodies of flesh and blood. The apostle is here considering the heavenly side of the kingdom when he says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” As we have remarked before, those that are “accounted worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: but are as the angels of God in heaven” because they are the children of the resurrection. That will be the heavenly aspect of the kingdom. Observe, the apostle does not say, “Neither flesh nor blood,” but says, “Flesh and blood.” That is, our bodies in their present condition as sustained by blood are not suited for heaven, for the coming glorious kingdom, and therefore we must be changed. How will this change take place?
“Behold, I show you a mystery.” We have often pointed out that a mystery in the New Testament is not something mysterious and difficult to understand. The Greek word is almost anglicized here, and does not mean something strange and hard to comprehend, but a mystery is something revealed only to the initiated. Some of you have been initiated into some secret society, and have not discovered anything very mysterious, but you have found that there are certain things on the inside that folk like myself on the outside do not know anything about. That is the real use of the word here. It is a secret not known to the generality of the people, but made known to the initiated, and all God’s beloved people are looked upon by Him as His initiated ones. The only lodge I have ever joined is “The Grand Army of the Redeemed.” I was initiated into that by being born again, and then the Holy Spirit conducted me from chair to chair and revealed the mysteries as you have them here in the Word of God.
There are a number of these sacred secrets which were kept from the people of God in past dispensations, but are made known now in the glorious dispensation of the Holy Spirit. One of them is this mystery of the first resurrection and the rapture of the living saints. “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” This is a very remarkable statement. We often hear it said that, “There is nothing more certain than death and taxes.” Taxes seem to be quite certain, but I am glad to say that death is not absolutely certain for the Christian. “Well,” someone says, “doesn’t the Word say, ‘It is appointed unto man once to die’?” That is the divine appointment for man as such, but there will be a generation of God’s redeemed people who will be exempt from that. “We shall not all sleep.” He uses the word sleep in place of die, for death to the believer is the putting of the tired, weary, worn body to sleep until the Lord Jesus comes to waken it again. It is only the body that sleeps. The real man, the spirit and soul, is absent from the body and present with the Lord, taken home to be with Christ, which is far better, so that the bodies of our friends in Christ who have died are sleeping, but they themselves are with Christ, wonderfully happy in His presence. The apostle Paul gives us an idea of their state and condition when he speaks of being “caught up to the third heaven.” That is the immediate dwelling place of God. The first heaven is the atmospheric heaven, the second is the stellar or the starry heaven, and the third is God’s dwelling place.
The apostle had the experience of being caught up into the third heaven, and he was so enraptured that he could not tell whether he was in the body or out of the body. That teaches us several things. First, if Paul was in the body, his body was no clog upon him, and when we are in the presence of the Lord in the body our bodies will be no hindrance to us as they often are now. But if Paul was taken out of the body, then he did not miss his body. He was just as conscious out of as he could be in it. Some say that it is impossible to live out of the body, but it is no more impossible than it is for the works of a watch to go on running without the case. The body dies, it is put to sleep, but the believer lives on, “ Absent from the body,…present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). In the first resurrection the body is raised in glory, and the spirit comes to dwell in the body again. That is the state of the believer when Christ calls us forth from the tomb.
How many have questioned these words, “We shall not all sleep.” It is a remarkable fact that in the Douay Version, which is read by a large section of the professed church of Christ, this passage reads, “We shall all rise again, but we shall not all be changed.” How it ever got into the text perplexes people, but that is exactly what is written in the Vatican manuscript. But older ones read like the translation we have here, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” The manuscript of the fourth century, from which the Douay Version was translated, shows how unbelievers had already come in; some scribe tampered with the text, and if it were not that we have older manuscripts giving it as here we might be perplexed about it. But “we shall not all sleep,” and there may be some of us in this generation who will be living when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. But whether living or dead we shall all be changed.
Every one of us must undergo the glorious change in order to have part in the heavenly side of the kingdom, and that shall take place instantly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. I cannot think of anything much faster than that. It does not say, “In the winking of an eye,” but “in the twinkling of an eye.” As quickly as a gleam of light shines in the eye, so quickly shall we be changed at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have often tried to think of what that would mean. There are dear children of God lying on hospital beds, weak and suffering, enduring days of pain and nights of anguish, and they are crying in the distress of their souls, “O Lord, how long?” One moment enduring excruciating pain, and the next rising to meet the Lord in the air in a body that can never suffer again. Then there are some of God’s people whose minds have failed because of the stress of things, perhaps shut away in some sanitarium, possibly melancholy and in gloom, maybe imagining that God has forsaken them and that there is no hope for them. The poor brain has given way completely, and yet the next moment with intelligence such as the angels have, as they find themselves in their glorified bodies looking into the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a marvelous hope it is! No wonder the apostle calls it this “blessed hope.” “We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
When will that be? “At the last trump.” How may we understand that? There are those who have attempted to link this trump with the trumpet of the seventh angel in Revelation. In that book you have a series of seven trumpets, and when they are blown, various judgments are poured out upon the earth, and when the seventh is blown, the kingdom of God is ushered in. Some have thought the apostle is referring to that trumpet, thus indicating that the church of God would be here on earth going through all the tribulation and distress, only to be saved out of it when the seventh trumpet is blown. But the book of Revelation was not written until approximately thirty years after the writing of this epistle, so that there is no possible way by which there could be a connection between these trumpets. And when we turn to 1 Thessalonians we find that this trumpet is called, “The trump of God” (4:16). It is not the trumpet of an angel. Why is the trump of God here called “the last trump?” That expression was very familiar to the people who lived in Paul’s day. It was in common use in connection with the Roman army.
When a Roman camp was about to be broken up, whether in the middle of the night or in the day, a trumpet was sounded. The first blast meant, “Strike tents and prepare to depart.” The second meant, “Fall into line,” and when what was called “the last trump” sounded it meant, “March away.” The apostle uses that figure, and says that when the last trump of this age of grace sounds, then we shall be called away to be forever with the Lord. We have heard the first. Many of you remember when you were just part and parcel of the world, you were living with the world and like the world, and you were settling down here, but you heard the gospel trumpet awakening you out of your sleep. And then I trust you have heard the second trumpet calling you to take your places in fellowship with God’s beloved people as soldiers in this scene. And now what wait we for? For the last trump, when we shall be summoned, not to march away nor yet to fly away, but when we “ shall be caught up together…to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). When will it take place? It is an undated event in the ways of God with men. It may take place today, it may be tonight; but whether at midnight or in the morning or in the daytime it will make no difference to us for we have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” I do not need to dwell on that.
“And we [who are living] shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” You will notice that you have the two groups. “This corruptible”-that refers to the dead-“must put on incorruption.” The dead whose bodies have corrupted away will be raised in incorruptible bodies. But the living, “this mortal,” those that are alive but subject to death if time goes on, “shall put on immortality.” This is the promise that we have in Romans 8:10, where we read, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead.” A little word is omitted there which may be added to make it more clear. “The body is [still] dead because of sin.” You may be a believer, but your body is still under the Adamic sentence, “Dying thou shalt die.” But the spirit is alive and is the pledge of the new life yet to be. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). I know that some have taught that the indwelling Spirit gives new life to the mortal body right here and now. But that is what the apostle denies in the tenth verse, “If Christ be in you, the body is [still] dead because of sin.” But if the Spirit-the Spirit of life-dwells in you, someday He shall quicken into newness of life your mortal body by the Spirit that dwelleth within you. When will that be? At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto Him.
Then we read, “This mortal must put on immortality.” Notice the terms mortal and immortal. These refer to the body; never to the spirit or soul. The everlasting existence of man is taught in Scripture, but immortality is a blessing that will be revealed when our Lord comes.
“When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” And now he goes back and quotes from the book of the prophet Hosea, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (13:14). Death comes in and takes from us our nearest and dearest, and our hearts are pained because of the separation. But if we know Christ, and if our loved ones were in Christ, the sting of death is gone, and we are looking on to a glorious reunion when Jesus comes again. What a wonderful event it will be when saints who have been separated here on earth will recognize one another as we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Then we can sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” That which makes death terrible to the unsaved is sin-“The sting of death is sin”-but if we know that sin has been put away, that sin has been purged by the precious atoning blood of Christ, then that sting of death is gone.
“The strength of sin is the law.” Do you believe that? I wonder whether some of you have not thought that the law is the strength of holiness. You have imagined that the way to be holy was to be under the law, and you have tried to obtain sanctification by keeping the law. It says here, “The strength of sin is the law,” not, “The strength of holiness is the law.” What does he mean? The law simply stirs up everything in the human heart that is opposed to God, and instead of producing holiness the result is greater transgression. That is what the apostle puts before the Galatians and the Romans. The law never produces holiness. It is the heart occupied with the Lord Jesus Christ that produces holiness. When you have seen that the law condemns, but that Christ has borne the condemnation for you, then you can look away to Him, and as you are occupied with Him you will be a holy man or woman. You cannot make yourself holy by rules and regulations. Not even God’s law given at Sinai has the ability to make men holy, but the living glorified Christ can change people into His image as they are taken up with Him, so that they become holy.
Paul concludes this section by saying, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Death may seem for the moment to triumph. It looked like triumph when death came into your home. I felt it was a triumph of death when it came years ago into our home and took one after another whom I loved most tenderly, but as I look on to the glorious future and realize that death is to be swallowed up in victory at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, I can already claim by faith that conquest over it and exclaim, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the verse with which the section closes comes home to every one of us, “Therefore”-because these things are true-“my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for asmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” They tell me that occupation with these precious truths that have to do with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ may have a tendency to make people heady and theoretical, and no longer useful in the church of God here on earth, but I do not know anything that should so grip the soul and put one to work for God as the knowledge of the truth we have just been considering.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter