Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Mediatorial Kingship of Jesus Christ Pt.1 (1Corinthians 15:24-28)



1Corinthians 15 is one of the most rich and challenging passages in all of the Pauline literature. At the outset of the chapter Paul exercises the Corinthian's collective memory by reminding them of the fundamental principles of the gospel (vv.1-11). According to Paul the gospel is that which: he preacehd to them, it is what they received, what they stand upon, and is what saves them. Recounting gospel truths moves from catechesis to admonition as Paul commands the Corinthians to CONTINUE embracing the gospel unto the end in order to be saved (v2).

That pastoral note of admonition is an important rhetorical frame which contextualizes the proclamation of the bodily resurrection of Christ, which forms the central core of Paul's gospel. In unfolding the evidentiary basis of the bodily resurrection of Christ, it is apparent that Paul is doing more than ticking off a series of "facts" about Christ's resurrection. Rather than forming mere talking points in an apologetic encounter, these "facts" are both polemical and pastoral. On the one hand they are designed to provide objective proof of Christ's resurrection and on the other they are designed to innoculate the Corinthian believers against the spiritually corrosive effects of a false spirituality that seems to be within ear shot of some of the Corinthian believers. If the Corinthian Christians fail to heed Paul's admonition to continue embracing by faith the gospel he delivered to them, they are in danger of making shipwreck of their faith.

The double-edged nature of Paul's proclamation of Christ's bodily resurrection, already indicated in the admonition of verse 2, emerges in verse 12 and following. After placing the bodily resurrection of Christ on a firm factual footing, Paul discloses the driving concern of chapter 15 when he says, "12 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? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised." It turns out, that the real issue in chapter 15 is not so much the apologetic need to defend the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Christ as it is to show its foundational significance both for the gospel and for believers. Specifically Paul's concern is to show the inseparable connection between Christ's resurrection and the future bodily resurrection of believers. As the logic of the argument unfolds it is clear you cannot have one without the other: either Christ rose from the dead therefore ensuring the bodily resurrection of believers, or believers don't rise bodily from the dead therefore implying Christ did not rise. The enormous danger of the novel and false spirituality circulating within hearing range of some Corinthian believers is now exposed as an ideology which is antithetical to the Christian gospel.

In verses 14-19 Paul attacks the false ideology by drawing out 1 overarching consequence of this false doctrine and then develops 4 spiritually devastating implications from it. The 1 giant overarching logical consequence of this false teaching is found in v13: if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised. Paul makes it unmistakeably plain here that the believer's resurrection is so intertwined with Christ's resurrection that if you reject a bodily resurrection of believers, you must also reject the historical fact of Christ's bodily resurrection. The rest of what Paul has to say in vv.14-19 is an UNFOLDING of the implications of that false idea:
-1- apostolic preaching is VAIN(that is, lacking in content or truth---and that the apostles are false witnesses)- v14
-2- faith is vain - v17
-3- Dead believers have perished forever – v18
-4- Christians are the most miserable of all people – v19

Fortunately for believers, the signal that these dreadful implications of the false ideology are all wrong is found in those 2 soul thrilling words at the outset of v20, "BUT NOW."

Coming to v20 it is clear that Paul is taking up a new line of thought. On the one hand those 2 words, "but now" speak a thousand words of relief for the believer. What they express is that you can come back to all those dreadful implications of vv13-19(no bodily resurrection, apostolic preaching is empty, faith is vain, hope is lost, Christianity is miserable) and turn them all INSIDE OUT so they read BUT NOW:
-there is a resurrection of the body
-apostolic preaching is fruitful
-faith is the instrument of justification
-deceased believers-are in Christ—and we will see them again
-Christianity is the only faith that makes life meaningful & brings real joy.

All these things are indisputably true because the apostles testified to a real historical FACT when they said Christ rose from the dead bodily. Because that was true, so it is true that believers will rise bodily from the dead.

On the other hand, these 2 words, "but now" move us into an argument for the GUARANTEE of the bodily resurrection of believers. In verses 20-28 Paul develops 2 lines of argument guaranteeing the resurrection of believers. The first is that the covenantal headship of Christ ensures that Christ really is the firstfruits of the resurrection (v20) and that just as certainly as all sin and die in Adam, so also, all who Christ's represents as covenant head will be raised bodily from the dead. All by itself, that is powerful and rich theological idea, but what we want to focus on here is the second argument to be developed in our next post, which is how the mediatorial kingship of Christ guarantees the bodily resurrection of believers.

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