The Hope of Life
The dead are not beyond hope, even though they cannot experience that hope in their death state. That hope is the hope of resurrection. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so will those who are faithful be raised from the dead.
"We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)
This passage promises that those who are in Christ will receive new life, just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. This is a part of the Kingdom of God. The sequence is explained for us in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
"For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:21-23)
The whole of this chapter is about resurrection. Here two resurrections are described. The first of these is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was raised from the dead and this is described as the "firstfruits", the symbolic first sheaf of corn cut in a harvest, a promise of the rest of the harvest to come. The second resurrection is the resurrection of those who belong to Christ - we can call this the “general resurrection”.
When the harvest was ripe, a first sheaf was taken and offered to God in thanks for the harvest. The rest of the harvest was then gathered in. This means that there was a gap between the firstfruits - the first sheaf of the harvest - and the main part of the harvest. Nevertheless the first sheaf was essentially the same as the rest of the harvest. In the same way, the resurrection of Jesus is the same as the resurrection of the rest of the dead, but has happened somewhat before the general resurrection.
The next resurrection mentioned in the chapter is the resurrection of those who belong to Christ. This resurrection is at the coming of Christ. We have already come across an account of this in the description of the resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4, but this passage concentrates on the resurrection of the dead rather than the return of Jesus.
The next phase of the Kingdom of God is described in the next few verses of 1 Corinthians.
"Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)
This passage speaks of some period after Jesus returns and the faithful are raised in which Jesus brings an end to all the evils of the world. During this period some will still die; death is not destroyed until the end of this period. This suggests that there will be another resurrection at the end of this period. The event is described in these words in 1 Corinthians:
"When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:28)
The period between the return of Jesus and the destruction of death is described in the Revelation as lasting for a thousand years, and is therefore known as the millennium.
The other point about the resurrection comes slightly earlier in the passage.
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?"
(1 Corinthians 15:12)
This passage shows that many in the ancient Greek world, of which Corinth was a representative city, were finding it difficult to believe in the resurrection. The idea that eternal life involved a bodily resurrection was in opposition to the thought of Greek philosophy. This is possibly why so many churches still find the biblical picture of eternal life through resurrection so difficult to accept. Nevertheless, Paul goes on to explain how this hope is linked to the resurrection of Christ Jesus:
"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." (1 Corinthians 15:13-18)
This passage points out that the guarantee of our future resurrection is the fact that Christ Jesus was raised from the dead. We have no other hope. The hope is of resurrection and if Jesus remained dead and there is no such thing as resurrection, we have no hope left.