Christianity was only one among many new and growing religions in the eastern world. Just like today, people of Greek society hungered for spiritual things and, just like today, they couldn’t seem to find just that right fit. That one thing that they knew could satisfy them in their heart of hearts.
One of the big trends of the day was secret societies. People wanted to belong (just like today), and the secret societies were open to rich or poor, male or female, slave or free. You didn’t have to “know somebody.” You just had to fit the particular society by sharing their beliefs and interests (and being willing to keep the secret handshake secret, of course.)
Gnosticism was one of these secret societies. And one of the secrets of gnosticism was that what a person did in the flesh didn’t matter because the flesh was evil. In fact, matter itself was evil. Paul has addressed this before–it turns up frequently in this letter. Some of the Corinthians believed in a spirit-only resurrection, which Paul sees as no resurrection at all. Hence, his insistence on the physical resurrection of Jesus (which they all presumably did believe in.)
In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Paul establishes and reminds the Corinthians of their belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus. It is the first point in his argument for the physical resurrection of all believers.
If Jesus is raised, then there is obviously a resurrection. Keep in mind that when Paul speaks of resurrection, he is talking about the resurrection of the body.
If Jesus’ body wasn’t raised, well, then it wasn’t. The empty tomb is a big thing with Christians, and presumably the Corinthian Christians did believe that Jesus’ body was raised with His spirit.
If this is not the case, then they have nothing to believe in, nor anything to preach about. If Jesus’ body is in the tomb, then it’s all over. We can all go home. Carry on with our lives, be good citizens (or not).
If the dead are not raised (bodily) then we’ve got no business preaching that Jesus was raised. We’re lying about God and about what He has done.
It was not only Jesus’ death, but His resurrection that sealed the victory over sin in our lives. We die to our old lives . . . fine. But if we cannot live unto God, we’re still dead in our sins, which we were doomed to die for in any case. Dying to sin is no help if that’s the end of the story. We’ve no place to go if Jesus is not raised.
Without a bodily resurrection, there is no resurrection. Man has never existed as a spirit being only. God first crafted a body, then breathed into it a spirit. If the dead are not raised, then they have been extinguished like a candle flame being snuffed out between a finger and thumb. They are gone.
If there is no resurrection, there is no hope. Christians weren’t especially well-treated in those days, besides the fact that most of them were poor, many enslaved, and to top it off, they couldn’t even do the things the flesh naturally wanted to do. And then some of them wanted to take the resurrection out of the picture? If that’s the case, Paul seems to say, Let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
The Greek Christians, particularly the Corinthians, were influenced by Plato’s philosophical ideas that matter was, in itself, evil. There was even speculation that matter had to have been created by some lesser god who hadn’t gotten the memo that matter was EVIL. Since matter was evil in any case, why bother not sinning in the flesh? The flesh, these philosophers asserted, was as evil as it could be and was not going to get any “eviler” just because you slept with your father’s wife. The Platonists were wrong in this, Paul says. Our bodies will be raised, and God does expect us to honor Him in our bodies. In fact, evil is a spiritual thing and hasn’t got anything to do with matter, except that we, being physical beings, express our evil in the physical world.
Even today, we find many Christians who believe that we will not possess bodies in the after life. This all sounds very spiritual, but it is vanity, and is based in ancient Greek pagan philosophy, not in the teachings of the Old or New Testaments.
God created the physical world (our God, not some lesser off-shoot god too foolish to know that matter was EVIL), and YHWH said that the physical world was good. This was before it became corrupted, before Adam fell. Matter is not intrinsically evil–it is good. God made it. We need it. He made us to live in a physical world, and this is not going to change. It does matter what we do in our bodies.
The physical resurrection from the dead was one of many things that set Christianity off from the Pagan mystery religions. Instead of trying to conform our Lord to the world, to make Him seem more acceptable, let’s dare to be what we are and to declare Him as He is. Radically different from anything else out there. Let’s lift Jesus up for all the world to see.
Grace and Peace to you,