1 Corinthians 15:20—Was Jesus the first one ever to be resurrected from the dead?
Problem: The Bible seems to claim here that Christ was the first one ever to rise from the dead, calling Him “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” However, there are many other resurrections recorded in the Bible before Jesus’ resurrection, both in the OT (cf. 1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 13:21) and in the NT (cf. John 11:43–44; Acts 20:9). How then could Jesus’ resurrection be the first one.
Solution: When Jesus returned from the dead, it was the first real resurrection. Every other raising from the dead was merely a resuscitation or revivification of a dead body. There are some crucial differences between a true resurrection and a mere resuscitation.
First of all, a resurrection is to an immortal body, whereas a resuscitation is merely back to a mortal body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53). That is to say, Lazarus and everyone else who was raised from the dead before Christ eventually died again. Christ’s resurrection was the first to declare anyone “alive forevermore” (Rev. 1:18).
Further, resurrection bodies manifest some supernatural qualities, not inherent in mortal bodies, such as, the ability to appear and disappear from sight immediately (Luke 24:31) or to get inside a closed room (John 20:19).
Finally, while a resurrection is more than a resuscitation, it was not less than one. Resuscitated corpses die again, but Jesus’ resurrection body was immortal. He conquered death (Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15:54–55), whereas merely resuscitated bodies will eventually be conquered by death. However, that Jesus was the first to be raised in an immortal body does not mean it was an immaterial body. It was more than a reanimation of a material corpse, but it was not less than that. It was His same body of “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.