The Resurrection

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This entry is part 10 of 22 in the series The Thread: God's Appointments with History

For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22

Even if you are not Jewish, you are probably aware of the two main Jewish holidays in the autumn of every year: The Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur. By now, you are beginning to suspect that these may also be Christian holidays.

The end of the first century saw a time of severe persecution of the Jews in and around Rome. It was no wonder that the Roman Christians began to differentiate themselves from the Jews in every way they could. Many practices that were very common in the early church disappeared in the smoke of the persecution of the Jews. But why would the early church have paid any attention to what we know as Jewish holidays in the first place? For one thing, Christians and Jews shared the same God. In its earliest years, Christianity was viewed by the world, not as a separate religion, but as a sect of Judaism. The earliest Christians were Jewish, and they had no consciousness of starting a new religion. Many saw what they were doing as a restoration of a purer faith. Judaism, in their view, had gone astray from the faith of Abraham and Moses.

There is nothing strange about that. Every new sect of religion sees itself as a restorer of lost paths. And so the first Christians, who were Jewish, continued to observe the holidays they had observed all their lives, and they taught the Gentile converts to do the same. But it was inevitable that they should begin to see new significance in these days, a significance that transcended the Jewish/historical meaning of the days. The early Christians saw Christ in the “Jewish holidays.” And now, 2000 years later, you and I come along and wonder, “What did they see that led them to this conclusion?” When you look at the law on the question of the Jewish New Year, you don’t get a lot of help.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:23-25).

There are two curious items here. First, why have your new year in the seventh month? That’s easy enough. Israel had a religious year and a civil year. The civil year began in the seventh month of the religious year. It is not unlike a company that has a fiscal year that starts in July of a calendar year. But the other item runs a little deeper. This day is called “a memorial of blowing of trumpets,” and there is nothing in the Bible to tell us what is memorialized. It is a memorial of what? In Christian thought, a memorial can be in terms of the future. In Jewish thought, memorials had to do with the past. There is a short aside in one of Paul’s letters to the church in Colosse that illustrates this.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

Strangely, some use this passage to argue against the observance of the holydays. The truth is, this passage assumes the observance of the days by the Colossians and tells them not to let anyone condemn them for doing so. But more important than that, it shows that Christians thought of these days as shadows of things yet to come – a future memorial, as it were.

Now there is a curious ambiguity relative to the Feast of Trumpets, also known as the Jewish New Year.

Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24).

The word “trumpet” is absent from the text and is assumed by the translators. That assumption is correct, but still there is a point to be taken from it. The Hebrew says literally that this is a day of shouting or blasting. The term is used elsewhere of a trumpet blast, so the translation is appropriate enough. But the word “shouting” here is also commonly used of the shouting of a crowd. And if you trace the word through the Old Testament, you will gradually see that the sense of the word is better rendered, in modern terms, by the word “cheering.”

A day of shouting is not a day we go around yelling at one another, it is a day of cheering. So what do we have to cheer about? In the Old Testament, the trumpet was used as a signal. Just as the military has used trumpets for reveille, taps, chow call, officers call, or to the colors, trumpets were used in the Old Testament in much the same way. They would use a distinct blast on the trumpet to call all the elders together for a meeting. They had yet another call to warn everyone that there was an enemy in sight. Still another sound was used to order the people to break camp and prepare to go on the march. And in the Scriptures, the shofari is called an alarm of war.

It is not clear how the trumpet passed into Christian theology, but it plainly did, in two significant places in Paul’s letters and in a major section of the book of Revelation. I am sure that when we get the chance someday, we will want to ask Paul why he didn’t say some of these things more clearly. But he would probably stare at us as much as to say, “You mean you didn’t get that? It’s as plain as day.” He would also want to know why we didn’t do our homework. Take the first letter to the Thessalonians as a case in point. If we have read that portion of the book of Acts dealing with this, we will realize that the poor Thessalonian brothers had been persecuted beyond measure. Even reading between the lines of Paul’s letter, we can see that in the very short time since Paul had left there, only a matter of weeks, some people had been killed. So in this first letter, he was at some pains to encourage everyone concerning their brothers who had died, who had “fallen asleep,” to use Paul’s euphemism.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).

As an interesting aside, this sounds very much as though Paul assumed the return of Christ was rather less than 2000 years in the future. But of course, he had not been told that, any more than had the rest of the disciples. We are not going to see Christ one moment before those who have died will see him.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (vv. 16-18).

The connection between the trumpet of God and the Resurrection of the Dead is firmly established. Not only is there a blast on the trumpet, there is the shout of the Archangel. Knowing what Paul knew about the Feast of Trumpets (or shouting) the connection becomes even more obvious. In any case, in Christian theology, the shout and the trumpet are tied to the resurrection. Then there is yet another definitive statement on the subject in Paul’s famous resurrection chapter – the first letter to the Corinthians. The first thing he does is to establish that the resurrection is heart and core of the Gospel, a message that he had delivered to the Corinthians right from the start.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you; unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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 by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

So Paul establishes the first important thing. Christ died, he was buried, and he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. Without this simple equation, there is no Gospel. The point had to be driven home, because the resurrection had been called into question by one or more heretics. Not only does he assert the truth of the resurrection, he cites the cloud of witnesses who could attest to the fact that Jesus was seen alive after he had died and been buried. It is easy to overlook the simple truth that all through these days, it was still fairly common to be able to sit down and talk with someone who was a witness of the resurrected Christ – there were 500 people who saw him on one occasion, and there may have been more. I strongly suspect that those people who could attest to Jesus’ resurrection were in great demand and moved around a great deal. Corinth being the center of commerce that it was, it is not at all unlikely that Paul was not the only witness they had heard.

Nevertheless, there were those who still did not believe. It is an age old problem of any faith, that no matter how well established it may be, there will be someone who will challenge it. In this case, it may well have been a believing Sadducee. We don’t hear very much about these people, but if there were Pharisees who believed, and there were, it seems likely there were Sadducees as well. And just as the Pharisees retained many of their core beliefs, so would the Sadducees who, from the start, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.ii

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up; if in fact the dead do not rise (vv. 12-15).

Paul leaves no middle ground. You could not argue that Paul and the others were merely mistaken. Either they told the truth on this important issue or all 500 of the people who claimed to have seen Jesus alive, and all the people Paul has named above, were bald-faced liars.

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (vv. 16-17).

Now there is a remarkable statement. I suspect most Christian believers think that it was the death of Christ that took care of everything, his shed blood that covered their sins. The nailing of Jesus to the cross, his blood running down the sword of the Roman soldier who pierced his side, these are the things that took away our sins. When Christ died, was taken down from the tree and placed in the tomb, then we were forgiven and all our sins were gone.

According to Paul, that common belief is not true. If Christ was not raised from the dead, you are still in your sins. Being forgiven of your sins depended on something happening after the resurrection of Jesus. That something was Jesus being presented to the Father on that morning after as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. It also depends on Jesus’ continual intercession for us in the Father’s presence.

The point is thus established that it is not merely the death of Christ, but his resurrection that makes all the difference. Paul goes on to drive this home.

Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive (vv. 18-22).

I don’t know if, today, I could quite say what Paul said then. Even in this life alone, it is better for me to have known Christ, to have followed his teachings, to have walked in his ways, than not to have known him at all. But it was different then. A person took his life in his hands if he openly confessed Christ. People lost jobs, careers, friends, family. It was a hard time to be a Christian, and thus pointless if there is no resurrection from the dead.

And here is the nexus between Jewish and Christian belief. The Feast of Trumpets is to Jews the memorial of creation, specifically the creation of man. It is also believed to be the day that Adam sinned. And so the Jewish New Year is the first of ten days of repentance leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement or reconciliation. It is a day of profound awareness of the first Adam, and of Adam’s sin. Paul seems to be tapping into this ancient Jewish belief.

In Christian thought, the ultimate reconciliation of Adam’s sin takes place at the resurrection from the dead, which is also a day of shouting and blowing of trumpets. So there is a Christian meaning to the Feast of Trumpets. There is naturally some uncertainty reading this some 2000 years later. It seems apparent that this Jewish belief prevailed as early as the first century and that Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, was well schooled in the first Adam and the Jewish doctrine of reconciliation. It is hard to imagine, knowing all this, that Paul was not drawing the Jewish doctrine of reconciliation into the picture of the resurrection.

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 (vv. 22-23).

So the resurrection takes place at the coming of Christ. Our thread emerges here again in that Christ is called the firstfruits, looking back to Pentecost, the Feast of Firstfruits.

Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (vv. 24-26).

It is the resurrection that finally destroys death and the power of the grave. Paul delivers quite a polemic about the resurrection and then comes to some of the niggling questions others had raised about the resurrection. He does not suffer fools gladly. It seems surprising to me that the debate about bodily resurrection has raged for centuries. It is true enough that Paul does not answer every question we may have, but it is also true that he shouldn’t have to.

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain; perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds (1 Corinthians 15:35-39).

It is clear enough that what we put into the ground and what we take out of the ground is both similar and different. We sow a seed and get a plant. We are all different, as varieties of grain are different. We are distinct going into the ground, and distinct coming out of it. From what Paul says here, I derive an answer to an old question: Will we recognize one another in the resurrection? Of course we will. Just as a good farmer can look at a plant and know what seed it came from. But there is another way we are different in the resurrection from the way we are now.

There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, 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 (vv. 40-44).

All this is said in response to the question, “How are the dead raised up and with what body do they come?” From what Paul says, I would conclude that they come with glorified bodies and they are different – in other words, they can be recognized as distinct persons in the resurrection. When you think about it, if you know who you are, you can make yourself known to others. We sometimes have to do this when we encounter an old friend we haven’t seen in many years. We do change with age.

Now Paul’s awareness of the Jewish connection of the Feast of Trumpets, the creation of Adam, and Adam’s sin, come back into play. It is almost as though the sin of Adam and the resurrection from the dead are the bookends of a very long story.

And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man (vv. 45-49).

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (vv. 50-52).

In saying “the last trump” is the time of the resurrection, Paul implies that there might be more trumpets, a veritable “feast” of trumpets. So where do we go to find the rest of them?

i. Jeremiah 4:19. The shofar, the ram’s horn “trumpet.”

ii. “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ {7} And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection; and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both (Acts 23:6-8).

Series Navigation<< Feast of Trumpets: Judgment DayTrumpets and the Resurrection >>


Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart (1934–2016) — People around the world have come to appreciate his easy style, non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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