Death Swallowed Up in Victory – Part Two

1 Corinthians 15:35-38 This week’s lessons teach us that death is not an end, but a beginning.
The last enemy conquered.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

Here in this portion of 1 Corinthians, Paul deals primarily with this matter of the resurrection body, that is, the nature of the kind of body that we are going to have in the resurrection. He did that, presumably, because that was the chief question in the minds of the Greek people here to whom he was writing. I mentioned in an earlier study of Paul’s epistle how this difficulty with the resurrection grew naturally out of Greek philosophical thought. Every culture has its own way of thinking about ultimate things, though not always articulately. Sometimes people in a culture simply absorb a certain set of values and assumptions without thinking in a very careful way about them. But to whatever degree this existed, Greek philosophy upheld a great difference between mind and matter.

In Greek thought everything that was of the spirit or the mind was good, whereas everything composed of matter was evil. Those Greeks did not believe that their biggest problem was sin–that their minds and spirits were corrupt. Rather, they thought that their problems were bound up in the fact that they were trapped inside a human body. They believed that within each person there is that which aspires to go upward to God–the mind and the spirit. But we’re held down in this body of flesh so that all our evil desires, all those bad things that we do, and the bad dispositions that we have, come not because there’s anything wrong with our minds or spirits, but because we have bodies.

So the Greeks thought that the way to be saved was to escape the body. One cannot do that in this life except through philosophy so that salvation is something that occurs as a result of the right thought process. The stoics, in particular, said, “Regardless of what happens to you, no matter how you suffer, you simply have to rise above it. You have to say, ‘The mind and the spirit are what’s important. So, even if I’m in chains, even if I’m suffering, even if very horrible things happen to me physically, this really doesn’t tie me down because salvation is what I think and what I experience in a spiritual way.’ ”

It followed from that, as you can well understand, that you could not have anything like the incarnation–God taking on the form of man through his Son Jesus Christ–which is the essence of Christianity. They could not allow for that because to do so would be the equivalent of saying that God became sinful. As a result, this particular philosophy introduced one of the first heresies into the church. The heresy stated that Jesus was not really a human being; rather, he only seemed to be one.

Another heresy had to do expressly with the resurrection. The resurrection of the body was seen as a negative thing, because it would entail bringing our sinful bodies with us into heaven. So, if getting rid of the body was seen as the ultimate good, what use was a resurrection? So, when the Christians came preaching the resurrection of the body, there was that natural tendency in the thinking and conscience of the Greek people to disagree with it.

Now, in the first half of this letter, Paul addressed that in terms of history. Paul taught about the factual nature of the Resurrection and its importance. He explained that the Resurrection lies within the very nature of the Gospel. It is not something that somebody thought up, something that the apostles invented. It is something that grows out of history. Whether you like it or not, whether it fits your philosophy or not, Jesus came, Jesus died, and Jesus rose again. You can dismiss it all. You can say, “It did not happen. I don’t believe that.” But if you are willing to accept the testimony of the eyewitnesses, and, by the grace of God, come within the framework of the Christian worldview, you have to acknowledge that it happened. Paul spells that all out in the first half of this chapter.

Study Questions
  1. What did the Greeks believe concerning mind and matter?
  2. What were the theological implications of this Greek philosophy?

Prayerfully consider whether you have fallen prey to the belief that the physical realm is more or less important than the spiritual realm. Ask God to deepen your understanding of his purposes in both of these areas of your life.

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