Paul, after handling a whole host of church troubles, admonishes the believers in Corinth to “hold fast that word which I preached to you” (vs. 2). At the center of his message was the fact “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (vs. 3-4). The early Apostles collectively testified to the authenticity of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Yet the believers in Corinth were troubled about the nature of the resurrection of the dead (vs. 12-19). “How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (vs. 12). In other words, if Christ was not resurrected, then his death would have no meaning (vs. 14). The message about the state of the dead is clear: when a person dies in Christ they fall asleep until the resurrection of the righteous at the return of Christ (vs. 18).
As a missionary in Asia, one of the areas of greatest conflict in world views concerns death. The recent death of a young man, the son of two of our faculty, reminded me of this fact just this week as I write this brief devotional. In moments of crisis we tend to revert to what we are familiar. And many young people have asked me as I prepared for the funeral: what really happens when a person dies? Many other religions, such as Buddhist, Hindu, or even Roman Catholics, portray the souls of loved ones hovering around the dead body. Yet the message of the Bible is unequivocal: when a person dies, they sleep until Jesus comes again. Only Jesus has the power to give life again. Any other teachings are wrong, and believing that spirits hover of dead bodies is demonic.
In the end, “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (vs. 26). This is the blessed hope that we all cling to as we look forward to the grand reunion when Jesus Christ comes again. “I tell you a mystery,” Paul says, “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (vs. 51, 52). Death and sin were never a part of God’s plan for the human race. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 57).
Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Historical/Theological Studies
Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies