The apostle who later called himself the least worthy of the apostles was a man who originally was named Saul. Paul believed that the Christians were the greatest threat to Judaism there had ever been.
He was therefore determined to fight for the Jewish faith and, if possible, to remove this new sect. When Stephen was dying and who became the very first man to die for his faith in Jesus, after his sermon to the Sanhedrin (see Acts 7), Paul agreed to his execution.
He even looked after the coats of the men who threw the stones for his ‘blasphemous’ views.
But on his way to Damascus in pursuit of more Christians, a bright light from heaven literally struck him blind, and he fell to the ground. Accompanying the light, a voice said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?
When Saul asked, “Who are you Lord?” the reply was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Upon asking what he was to do, the voice directed him to go to Damascus and meet Ananias, who was a disciple of the Way, the name for Christians at that time.
Ananias was told that Paul would be sent to the Gentiles, kings and the descendants of Israel (see acts 9).
Paul’s most important credential of his apostleship was that he was an eyewitness of the risen Christ. The other apostles saw Christ in the flesh, but Paul was in the next generation of believers—yet Christ appeared to him.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth probably around A.D. 55, Paul deals with the resurrection which is fundamental to the Christian faith. As Greeks, they would have believed in the immortality of the soul and would not have seen any value in the resurrection of the body.
Paul has to correct their thinking and help them to perceive the future in bodily terms. Just as Jesus had a new body after the resurrection that could eat fish and cook breakfast, so Christians will have a bodily existence in the future.
Paul emphasizes that the Gospel centres in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For I passed on to you first of all what I also had received, that Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for our sins in accordance with [what] the Scriptures foretold (Isaiah 53:5-12).
That He was buried, that He arose on the third day as the Scriptures foretold, And also that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the Twelve.
Then later He showed Himself to more than five hundred brethren at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep in death Afterward He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one prematurely and born dead [no better than an unperfected fetus among living men (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
Again, in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he offers guidance to Timothy in his pastoral responsibilities, making him conscious of his duties and obligations as a man of God. He says,
Constantly keep in mind Jesus Christ (the Messiah) as risen from the dead, as the prophesied King descended from David, according to the good news (the Gospel) that I preach.
For that Gospel I am suffering affliction and even wearing chains like a criminal. But the Word of God is not chained or imprisoned! (2 Timothy 2:8-9 AMP).
Paul then stresses that the bodily resurrection of Christ is the centre of the Christian faith and is essential to salvation:
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. 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! 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 first fruits 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. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:13-23).
Our Final Victory
Paul goes on to tell us:
Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.
What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.
But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever.
And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:47:58 NLT)
Paul summarizes the central theme of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.
- Christ died for our sins just as the Scriptures foretold. Without the truth of this message, Christ’ death was worthless and those who believe in Him are still in their sins and without hope. However, Christ as the sinless Son of God took the punishment of sin so that those who believe can have their sins removed. The Scriptures refer to Old Testament prophecies such as Psalm 16:8-11 and Isaiah 53:5-6. Christ’s death on the cross was no accident or afterthought. It had been part of all eternity in order to bring about the salvation of all who believe.
- He was buried. The fact of Christ’s death is revealed in the fact of his burial. Many have tried to discount the actual death of Christ, but Jesus did in fact die and was buried in a tomb.
- He was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures foretold. Christ was raised permanently, forever; His Father raised Him from the dead “on the third day” as noted in Gospels. This also occurred “as the Scriptures foretold.” Jesus quoted the prophet Johan in Matthew 12:40 (see Jonah 1:17) to show the connection to the “three days” as prophesied in the Old Testament.
Assurance of the Resurrection
When writing his second epistle to the Corinthians, a few months after the first letter, Paul again reiterates the same message, because the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection, and the church was surrounded by Greek culture, and many believers had difficulty with the concept of bodily resurrection.
The Greeks believed that at death the soul was released; there was no immortality for the body, and the soul enters an eternal state. But the Bible teaches that the body and soul are not permanently separated.
He contrasts our earthly body and our future resurrection body by stating that our present body makes us groan, but when we die we will not be spirits without bodies. Instead, we shall have new bodies that will be perfect for our eternal life.
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.
For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.
We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him (see 2 Corinthians 5: 1-15).
According to the preacher and writer of Ecclesiastes, “God has planted eternity in men’s hearts and minds, a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy…..(Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Because we are created in God’s image, we have eternal value and a spiritual thirst, and nothing but the eternal God can satisfy us. Our hearts are restless till we find rest in Him.
Just like the disciples, Paul never feared death because he was confident of spending eternity with Christ. Of course, facing the unknown may cause anxiety, but if we believe in Jesus Christ, death is only a prelude to eternal life with God. This hope of eternal life is what motivates us to pursuade men to be reconciled to God:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us, because we are of the opinion and conviction that if One died for all, then all died; And He died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves, but to and for Him Who died and was raised again for their sake (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15).