Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Conqueror of Death

Part 3 of Christ the Conqueror 

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-58




The last enemy to be destroyed is death (v. 26). 


Taunting Death

Death did all it could to keep Jesus in the tomb, but it failed. Death lost the battle. The tomb was empty. Jesus had risen. And the apostle Paul taunts death, saying, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (v. 55). Jesus is the conqueror of death.


The Destruction of Death

The consequence of humanity’s first sin was death. God had warned Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Their physical death, unless God intervened, would bring eternal separation from God.

Since that first sin, “death reigned” (Rom. 5:14, 17) over the human race. But when Jesus came into this world, he came to put death’s reign to an end. Death could not destroy Jesus. Only one person ever died and then was raised to life, never to die again. And one day he will return to destroy death forever. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (v. 26). Christ’s victory is our victory: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 57).

When a believer dies, his or her spirit goes to heaven. To be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Then when Jesus returns—if we don’t live until that day—our bodies will be raised. “The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (v. 52). Our new bodies will never die. “Death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4).

But why do we need new bodies? Couldn’t we exist in eternity as spirits? If there is no future resurrection, then God will not have absolute victory over death. God is in the process of undoing the damage that sin has done to the world (“Behold, I am making all things new,” Rev. 21:5).

Alan Johnson, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, writes,
My wife’s first experience of meeting Christians who had this hope was as a nurse working in hospital wards where some believers and some nonbelievers were dying every day. “There was such a peace with some patients, I wanted to know why.” Her first interest in the Bible came as a result of this experience. [1]
Do you have this peace?


An Unbelievable Story

Many of us are so familiar with the story of the resurrection that we don’t appreciate how unbelievable it is. “Unbelievable” is an overused word. According to one dictionary, “unbelievable” means “difficult or impossible to believe.” For the person who hears the story of the resurrection for the first time, it really is unbelievable. We must acknowledge that the resurrection of Jesus is a story that’s hard to believe. How could a crucified man rise from the dead? If you were told that [dead celebrity] had risen from the dead, you wouldn’t believe it. Dead people stay dead. What makes the death of Jesus any different?

If you believe that the story of the resurrection is true, why do you believe it’s true? If a non-Christian friend asked you that question, what would be your answer? You could say, “My parents taught me that it’s true.” But your friend would say, “How do you know that your parents weren’t wrong?” You could say, “The Bible says it’s true.” But your friends would say, “How do you know that the Bible is right about the resurrection?” [2]

It’s reasonable to believe that the resurrection is true because it’s the best explanation of the “minimal facts”—facts that are accepted by the majority of scholars, both Christian and secular.

1. Jesus was crucified. 

The crucifixion of Jesus was a public even and is mentioned in secular history books. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that Christ “suffered the extreme penalty [i.e., crucifixion] during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [3]

2. The tomb was empty. [4]

If the tomb of Jesus had not been empty, the story of his resurrection would have been easily disproved. The enemies didn’t dispute the fact that the tomb was empty. Instead they invented a lie to explain why the tomb was empty: “[Jesus’] disciples came by night and stole him away while [the guards] were asleep” (Matt. 28:3). [5]

3. The disciples really believed that they had seen the risen Jesus. 

The followers of Jesus didn’t act like people who had stolen his body. They were willing to endure persecution and even martyrdom to spread the story of the resurrection. Liars make poor martyrs.

4. A notorious enemy of Christianity was converted. 

The apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church, but something changed the course of his life. Paul claimed that the risen Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8). Skeptics will argue that the disciples could have thought they saw the risen Jesus because they wanted to believe that he was alive. But the same can’t be said of Paul.

Yes, the story of the resurrection of a crucified man is an unbelievable story. But what about the fact that the tomb was empty? What about the fact that the disciples really believed they had seen the risen Jesus? What about the fact that a man who had been an enemy of Christianity claimed to have seen the risen Jesus? How do we explain these facts if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?


Happily Every After

Life is short, and then death comes. “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14, NKJV). One popular view of death is that it is simply a natural part of life that we must embrace. But no matter how we tell this to themselves, death never becomes easy for us to accept. Death is an unhappy ending to life, and we crave happy endings.

When our favourite baseball team’s season begins, we long for a happy ending to the season. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we want the story’s main characters to live “happily ever after.” Years ago, instead of “happily ever after,” stories ended with the words “happily until they died,” which does not sound quite as happy. But it’s true that every life ends in death. And death is sad. It’s not a happy ending.

Thankfully, God did not accept death but sent Jesus into the world to defeat it. Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection began the countdown to when God would rid his creation of death. And if we are a part of the future resurrection, it will be said of us, “And they lived happily ever after.”

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[1] Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, pp. 29-290.
[2] I am not casting doubt on the truthfulness of the Bible. However, we should not be under no illusion that a non-Christian will accept what the Bible says as fact.
[3] Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (c. A.D. 115).
[4] It’s significant that the Gospels say that women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb. This detail adds to the genuineness of the account since in that culture the testimony of women wasn’t valued.
[5] In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote that this lie was still being circulated in his day (Dialogue with Trypho).