“Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8, NKJV)
Paul posed this challenging question to Herod Agrippa II during his defense before the king (Acts 26:1-29). It is a question that still drives to the heart of faith or faithlessness of each person (the word translated “incredible” means “without faith”). Either God has the power to raise the dead, or He does not. The God who created life and sustains life has the power to resurrect life from the dead. That was Paul’s premise. Paul was imprisoned and under the threat of death from the Jewish rulers for preaching the resurrection of Jesus (through which God fulfilled His promise to the Jewish fathers, Acts 26:6-7). The evidence of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead includes 1) The empty tomb (Lk. 24:1-3), 2) Eyewitness accounts of resurrection appearances of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:4-8), 3) The bribes and lies of the enemies of Jesus (Matt. 28:11-15), and 4) The Old Testament resurrection prophecies and their fulfillment (Lk. 24:44-48; Acts 2:24-31). It is not faithless to believe God raises the dead. He raised Jesus. One day, He will raise all of us, too (1 Cor. 15:20-23). The faithful will be raised to eternal life, and the faithless will be raised to eternal condemnation (Jno. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). This is our incentive to believe in Jesus, who is “the resurrection and the life” (Jno. 11:25-27).
3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:3–4, NKJV)
The sisters of Lazarus, the beloved friend of Jesus, sent Him word that their brother was seriously ill (Jno. 11:1-2). John’s narrative goes on to tell of Lazarus’ death, and that Jesus raised him from the dead (Jno. 11:17-44). Jesus knew the outcome of the sickness would not be death, it would be to the glory of the Father and the Son. Although Lazarus died physically, his resurrection affirmed Christ’s power over death (Jno. 11:25). Jesus also has power over the spiritual death caused by sin (“whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die,” Jno. 11:26). When sickness comes to us or to our loved ones, may we have the faith to see and use the opportunity it gives us to trust in God and to give Him glory. May we follow the example of Paul, whose physical ailment became an occasion for him to more fully trust the grace and power of the Lord (2 Cor. 12:8-10). Physical death awaits us all (Heb. 9:27). But, by living and believing in Christ we have spiritual life now, and eternal life beyond the grave (Jno. 5:28-29).
30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:30–32, NKJV)
Our hope in Christ transcends this life. His empty tomb forever declares Him to be the Son of God with power over death, assuring us that we will be raised by His power in the last day (Rom. 1:4; John 5:28-29). Lives lived without hope in Christ are pitiable. There would be absolutely no reason to suffer deprivation or sacrifice one’s safety for the sake of Christ if the dead are not raised. What a pitiful existence that would be (1 Cor. 15:19-20)! The hedonistic culture of Corinth indulged the desires of the flesh because, after all (as the unbelievers reasoned), “tomorrow we die.” Indeed, that philosophy would be appealing “if the dead do not rise” (v. 32). But, such a view of life cannot and will not satisfy the soul (Matt. 16:26; Psa. 42:1). Our longing for meaning in life is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jno. 14:6). So, be strengthened in your faith and do not give in to fleshly allurements. Neither yield to false doctrines that deny the resurrection of the dead. Jesus was raised, and we shall be, too. Suffer every danger and sacrifice every comfort necessary to gain Christ, and attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:7-11).
Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29, NKJV)
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use this verse to support their practice of baptizing for the dead. Was Paul referring to vicarious baptism of the living on behalf of the dead? If so, then some insurmountable problems arise. The Bible says there is one baptism, yet this would mean there are two baptisms – one for the living and one for the dead (Eph. 4:5). Personal faith in Christ and repentance are required before the great commission baptism (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). Yet, the LDS practice consigns faith and repentance to choices the dead person must make in the spirit world. (Why should we think a living person can be baptized for a dead person, but not also believe and repent for the same dead person?) The great commission baptism is personal, but baptism for the dead is by proxy. Paul was not teaching proxy baptism. His context was the resurrection of the dead. Here is his point: If the dead are not raised, why are people being baptized on account of them? Why were people allowing a hope of resurrection lead them to be baptized “if the dead do not rise at all” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-19)? If there is no resurrection of the dead, just “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). But, the dead will be raised, and our hope of eternal life in Christ is sure. This great truth was persuading people to be baptized. It ought to persuade you to baptized, too.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NKJV)
With clarity and authority the apostle affirms the events of the return of Jesus. Paul systematically explains what will happen on that great day. The return of Jesus will be personal (“the Lord Himself”). It will not be invisible. There will not be a representative standing in His place. Just as He ascended, so shall He “descend from heaven” (Acts 1:9-11). With a shout He will command the dead to arise (Jno. 5:28-29). The archangel will lead Christ’s angelic attendants in this moment of power and victory (2 Thess. 1:7). The trumpet of God will sound, signaling liberty from death and the gathering of God’s people (1 Cor. 15:52; cf. Lev. 25:9-10 and Num. 10:3). Then, the dead Christians will rise first (before the living Christians, v. 15). Remember, Paul’s context concerns informing and comforting Christians about the saints who die before Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:13-15). Truly, every person will be resurrected from the dead when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:21-22). But, this passage gives particular comfort to Christians, assuring us that death will not deter our hope in the eternal glory we will share in with the Lord on that day (Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:10). We do not sorrow without hope when death comes because we anticipate the coming glory of eternal reward (2 Tim. 4:8). Do you?
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14–15, NKJV)
Death and Hades will be overpowered and destroyed at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:26). At the resurrection and judgment day, Christ (who has “the keys of Hades and of Death,” Rev. 1:18) will destroy death and the grave, fulfilling the prediction that “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). The “lake of fire” is the “second death,” the place of eternal punishment where the devil and his cohorts “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). Death will never claim another body. Hades will never hold another departed spirit. On the judgment day they will “die” – forever separated from the power and fear they have exerted against humanity. The “second death” has no power over those who have part in the “first resurrection,” for they share in Christ’s victory over sin and death (Rev. 20:4-6; 6:9-11). However, those who are not saved in Christ are not in the Book of Life. Their judgment will be the lake of fire, the second death. Hell is real. Hell is forever punishment, eternal separation from God and all this is good. It is outer darkness, filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30; Mk. 9:43-48). Knowing these things beforehand should compel us by faith to repent and follow Jesus completely.
4 But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:4–6, NKJV)
Please do not be deceived into thinking the dead influence events on the earth. Inspiration informs us that as far as life on earth is concerned, the living have hope in participating in its events, but death removes us from active involvement in this realm. Those who claim to communicate with the dead on behalf of the living are deceived as they deceive others. Scripture identifies such practices as sinful and futile (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). We obtain our information about things beyond the grave from the living word of God, which gives ample insight into death and what comes after it (Luke 16:19-31; 1 Corinthians 15, et al.). Each of us must prepare for death. None of us knows when it will come, but when it does, our involvement in this world ends. Now is the time to prepare for death and the judgment of our lives while on earth (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15). Nothing will change that judgment once we die. Put your faith in the living Son of God, who redeems us and intercedes for the living, not in dead saints and relatives whose time on earth has past (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).
1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NKJV)
God alone brings to life the sinner who is spiritually dead (Colossians 2:12-13). Before we were saved in Christ (“made alive”) we were “by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” How were “the others” children of wrath? To answer that question is to answer how we were also children of wrath. The answer given is this: The world walks in disobedience to God. Their nature, their habit and course of conduct, is living in sin. The world is under the sway of Satan and, because of its sin, under God’s wrath. Like them, we also conducted ourselves in fleshly lusts, fulfilling sinful desires. We chose to sin, and sin caused our spiritual death. We are not born sinners – we choose to walk “according to the course of this world.” We come under God’s wrath when we sin. Only the sacrifice of Jesus appeases God’s wrath and saves us from eternal death (1 John 2:2; 4:10). God makes us alive – gives us “newness of life” – when we are baptized with Christ and die to sin (Romans 6:4). This is when God makes dead sinners alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5-6).
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20–22, NKJV)
The resurrection of Christ is the keystone of the gospel. Without it, the entire structure of human redemption from sin and death through Jesus Christ crumbles to the ground (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). With it, Christ is powerfully declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). His resurrection from the dead proves all the dead will be raised (1 Corinthians 15:12-13). (Please note that this passage addresses bodily death and bodily resurrection.) Christ’s resurrection from the dead is described as the firstfruits – the beginning – of the resurrection of all the dead (Acts 26:23). Under the Law of Moses, the firstfruits of harvest were dedicated to the Lord, indicating the full harvest was a blessing from His hand (Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 26:1-11). In like manner, Christ’s resurrection assures us that all who experience physical death as a result of Adam will be raised from the dead (Genesis 3:19). Jesus said the time will come when “all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29). Death will not end your existence. You will be raised from the dead to either eternal life or eternal condemnation (John 5:29). Get ready for your resurrection by always following Jesus Christ.
5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Peter 4:5–6, NKJV)
God’s assured judgment of sinners, including those practicing the immoral excesses named in this context (1 Peter 4:3), is the very reason the gospel is preached to the world. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). The world is dead in sin. The gospel of God gives the sinner life out of spiritual death (Rom. 1:16-17; 6:23). Sinners who believe the gospel will obey it by repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:37-41; 1 Pet. 3:21). The result of this is salvation – life “according to God in the spirit.” This new life necessarily compels the saved to “cease from sin” (1 Pet. 4:1). Although the saved sinner will be judged harshly by those who continue to practice sin (see 1 Pet. 4:4), God’s assured forgiveness and promised eternal life confirms our heart and lives in Him. Being reviled for good conduct is but one way we are willing to “suffer in the flesh” because we have “ceased from sin” (1 Pet. 4:1).