Furthermore there is 1 Corinthians 15, where a resurrection body of an entirely different kind is promised to us who have placed our hope in the day of the Lord’s coming. “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:43–44). That is the actual resurrection—the true rising from the dead.
But in which of these two categories should we place those who came out of their tombs? Were those bodies examples of the resurrection body described in 1 Corinthians 15—spiritual, incorruptible, and immortal? Or were they only the natural body restored to this present life, like Lazarus and the others we referred to? Does the Scripture provide the means for us to answer this question? In 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that all who are Christ’s shall be made alive in the resurrection body described there (v. 22). However, we read, “But each in turn” (v. 23), each one of the “all” who will be made alive will be made alive in his own order.
And what is that order? “Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (v. 23). Christ will rise first, and He did rise in that kind of final resurrected body—then afterward, at His coming, every one of the “all” who are His will be raised in that same way.
Paul referred to Jesus’s rising from the dead as “the firstfruits.” Jewish believers knew exactly what Paul had in mind when he used that concept . Just before gathering the main harvest, Jewish farmers would go out into their fields and harvest a small portion. They would then take that portion and present it in the temple as an expression of gratitude to God and an indication of their confidence that a full harvest of the same grain would soon be gathered in . The firstfruits were gathered in anticipation of the rest of the harvest.
Note it well. The apostle doesn’t say that only those who haven’t risen before will rise at Christ’s coming. His language is absolute and all-inclusive—“those who belong to him”—he says, without making any exceptions. All those who belong to Christ shall rise, every one who is His throughout the ages. Then he adds, “but each”—every last one—“in turn,” and their turn he explains as being “Christ, the firstfruits,” and then only “when he comes.”
Notice how careful he is to tell them that this order affects all, throughout all the ages, who were ever meant to take part in that kind of resurrection. Therefore, it is clear that none of Christ’s people have yet received the spiritual immortal body, and none shall receive it until His coming. Those saints at Calvary rose from their graves, but only in their natural revived bodies. They are still waiting for their true resurrection bodies until that moment when we are all raised up to Christ, from all the ages. No one shall precede another, no one will be perfected before another. God has provided something better for us, so that those saints who were raised at Calvary will not be made perfect without us.
What is God is teaching us here? He is teaching us the truth and certainty of the final resurrection. The teaching is symbolical. The revivals to life of the saints at Calvary foretell the greater coming glory. They were not the resurrection, but they were a resurrection; not the thing itself, but the shadow of it. Yet they were a substantial shadow, requiring nothing less than omnipotence. This was the greater meaning behind the revivals: they were a rehearsal of the more glorious scene to come.
God has assured us numerous times of that coming resurrection glory, but here He demonstrated it for us. When Christ was finished with His work and His time had come to leave the world, the great final resurrection was hinted at on a small scale, with an expenditure of power sufficient for us to trust what He can accomplish in the future. It was a farewell display of His purpose and power, a pledge and guarantee of the Savior’s return to be glorified in His risen saints.
We can’t know what other purposes God may have designed for them. At the least it was for this. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), and proved this truth by raising Lazarus from the dead, the proof didn’t lie in what kind of body Lazarus was raised with. Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians demonstrates the meaning of Jesus being the resurrection and the life. But the proof lay in the fact that restoring Lazarus to natural life—the shadow of the true resurrection—visibly displayed the omnipotent power necessary for both resurrections.
Indeed, seeing the historic and the symbolic together is a significant feature of the entire series of Calvary miracles. The three hours of darkness, though real, were likewise a symbol. The tearing of the curtain as though an artisan’s blade had cut it from top to bottom was a symbol. The earthquake that split the rocks was a symbol. The opened graves were a symbol. The grave clothes of Jesus, whose marvelous arrangement was a demonstration to John of his Lord’s resurrection, were a symbol. And here, these revivals from the dead—living realities yet still only symbolic—completed the harmonious arrangement of miracles.