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We discover in these verses why Paul wrote a summary of the gospel in the previous section; some in the church were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. This could have been because of a simple refusal to believe in what they had never seen – rather like most of Western society today – or it could have been because of a misguided doctrine of realized eschatology. That is, they believed that as Christians are living eternal life already, there is no more to come. Paul asserts in this section what is foundational to our faith: a firm belief in the resurrection.
The first reason for believing in the resurrection is that it is evidence based. The resurrection has already begun, in the person of Jesus Christ. To start, Paul showed conclusively in verses 5-7 that Jesus definitely rose from the dead; there were hundreds of witnesses, Paul among them, who saw it with their own eyes and could testify to what they had seen.
The second reason has to do with the logical conclusion of not believing in the resurrection: if Christ has not been raised, the gospel is worthless and faith is futile. Contrary to the idea that Christians follow Jesus because he was a good teacher and demonstrated the zenith of love, Paul argues that we trust in the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice to take away our sin, and that his resurrection demonstrates that we are now reconciled to our holy God and in an ongoing relationship with him. If Jesus was not raised, this faith has no power. United with Christ, we will also be raised from the dead. We hope in him not for this earthly life alone, but for life in the heavenly kingdom which has been promised to us.
The third reason is theologically complex, spanning the entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation. Paul asserts that Adam brought death to creation as a punishment for his sin, but that in Christ, who does away with sin and therefore death, all will be made alive. As Adam was the first to die, so Christ was the first to be resurrected. All die as descendants of Adam; all descendants of Christ (by faith) will be raised from death.
The last part of this section is about the supremacy of Christ. By ruling over death in resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that he reigns over all – every ruler, every power, every authority. Paul seems to be thinking about an end point, a time at which this current world order will be over. When Jesus rules over everything, by the authority of the Creator, he hands it all back to him, his Father God. Having brought all things in submission to himself, he then submits himself to his Father, so that all is brought to unity. This is in contrast to the stories of Roman and Greek gods, who fight against one another for authority and supremacy. The Father makes the Son the ruler of all, and then as ruler the Son submits himself to the Father.
It was for this reason that Paul could ‘face death every day’ in his ministry. He does not do it for his own gain in this world, but because he is submitted to the Lord God as his ruler, and because he believes there is a reward beyond this current life. If the dead are not raised, we all may as well suck all the marrow out of this life and enjoy ourselves – as some of the Corinthians were doing – but given the dead are raised to judgement, Paul urges us to sober up and stop sinning. Rather than being wise and intelligent, as the Corinthians were in their own eyes, Paul declares them ignorant of God.
How shall we apply all this to our own lives? Most importantly, Jesus is in charge, not us. He rules over every authority, every ruler, every power, even death. That means he rules over us. It also means we can trust him, no matter what crazy things are going on in the world. Secondly, but probably primarily within Paul’s intent for this passage, as Jesus rose from the dead, it means (1) our sins are paid for and we are reconciled to God; (2) our faith therefore has meaning for both this life and the life to come; (3) we will be raised from the dead and there is another life to look forward to. Therefore we should live with him as ruler of our lives even now.
Prayer: Jesus, you are the ruler of life and death. Forgive me for my self-seeking rebellion, and help me to live as your subject. Thank you for your promise to raise me from the dead and keep me as a subject in your heavenly kingdom.