In the previous article, ‘SALVATION’: “God’s Purpose of the Ages” what was covered was the concept that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation refers to the process of redemptive history. The first 39 books of the Bible (OT) contain the inspired historical narrative of the time of promise and prophecy. The last 27 books of the Bible (NT) contain the historical narrative of the time of fulfillment and the realization of what had been promised and prophesied.The Bible refers to the “resurrection of the dead” as the “hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). The apostle Paul was arrested and was being persecuted over the issue of the “resurrection of the dead”: “…Men! Brothers! I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee! I am being judged because of the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).Without an examination of the background comes the danger of reading the text through 21st-century eyes rather than the immediate context of the fulfillment of God’s “purpose of the ages” (Eph. 3:11).
THE ISSUE OF JEW/GENTILE INCLUSION AND SOLIDARITY
In order to understand the presentation of the apostle in his letter to the church in Corinth and their denial of the “resurrection of the dead” (I Cor. 15) it is vital that consideration be given to the primary issue of Jew/Gentile solidarity (the attainment of becoming “one body” in Christ).Paul is identified as the “apostle of the nations (Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13; I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 1:11). Ananias was told at the time of Paul’s conversion, “…this one is a chosen vessel to Me, to bear My name before nations and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). In his letter to the Romans, the “gospel of Christ” was taken to both the Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 1:16). He preached “to the Jew first” and also to people of the “nations” (Acts 9:20-22; 13:46; 28:17).When reading through Romans and Ephesians the “purpose of the ages” (Eph. 3:11) becomes evident in the bringing of Jews/Gentiles together into one “community” of faith. This solidarity of Jews/Gentiles as “one body” in Christ (Eph. 4:4) through the “gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) had previously been kept a “mystery” or ‘sacred secret.” Paul writes:“which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the nations should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partaker of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:5, 6).During the “last days” (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21), the progressive nature of preaching of the “gospel of Christ” is outlined in the book of Acts. Speaking to the apostles, Jesus said: “But you shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you. And you shall be witnesses to Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth“ (Acts 1:8 emphasis added).Beginning on the Day of Pentecost 30 CE, the gospel was preached to those in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas of Judea (Acts 2:14-47; 3:12-26; 4:1-33; 5:29-42; 6:8-7:54). The gospel spread into Samaria (Acts 8:4-40). Those of the region of Samaria or “Samaritans” (II Kings 17:29) were identified as: “the Israelite inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom. In subsequent history, it denotes a people of mixed origin, composed of the peoples brought by the conqueror from Babylon and elsewhere to take the places of the expatriated Israelites and those who were left in the land” (ISBE). “The descendants of the Cuthites, Avvites, Sepharvites, and Hamathites, established by Sargon in Samaria after he had put an end to the Israelite kingdom” (Hastings). “Such were the Samaritans of our Lord’s day; a people distinct from the Jews, though lying in the very midst of the Jews; a people preserving their identity, though seven centuries had rolled away since they had been brought from Assyria by Esar-haddon…” (Smith).Among the inhabitants of the region of Samaria were those upon whom Jehovah had foretold (Lev. 26:38; Deut. 28:64) would face Divine Judgment because of their apostasy:“And I scattered them among the nations, and they were scattered through the lands. I judged them according to their way and according to their doings” (Ezek. 36:19).Those of the ten northern tribes (Israel) were carried away from their land as captives by Assyria in 721 BCE. The two southern tribes (Judah) were taken into Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE at the time when the city of Jerusalem and the temple built by Solomon were destroyed. The “gospel of Christ” was spreading from Jerusalem and Judea (to the Jews) into the region of the people of “mixed origin” (Samaritans) who had been from among the people of the “scattered” northern tribes of Israel, but who were considered unclean by the Jews.The Samaritans “…believed Philip preaching the gospel, the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). Even as the apostle Peter had used the “keys of the Kingdom” (Matt. 16:19) to open the door of salvation to those on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-47), he and the apostle John were also sent to use the “keys of the Kingdom” (Matt. 16:19) to open the door for the preaching of the “gospel of Christ” to the Samaritans and for them to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 814-17).In preparation for his ministry to the “nations” (Gentiles), the conversion account of Saul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) is recorded in Acts 9. It was with the conversion of “Cornelius…in Caesarea, a centurion of the Italian cohort” (Acts 10:1) that the inclusion of non-covenant, people of the “nations” began as the “gospel of Christ” was now spreading to the “uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ASV) as Jesus had foretold.It was from the time of the conversation of Cornelius that the quest for Jew/Gentile solidarity into “one body” (Eph. 4:4) was underway. At the heart of Pauline theology is the controversy that had arisen between those Jewish believers and those who had entered “into Christ” (Gal. 3:26-29) consisting of people from the Gentile “nations” (non-covenant people).The apostle Paul, throughout Romans, addresses the issue and the pride that had arisen among the Gentiles over against the Jewish believers. The vast increase in the numbers of these Gentiles led to some believing that God had “cast aside” (Rom. 11:1, 2) Israel and abandoned the “promises made to the fathers” (Rom. 15:8). The apostle Paul addresses the prideful attitude of the Gentiles and the consequences of it. The inclusion of the people from the “nations” was to provoke Israel to jealousy: “I say then, Did they not stumble that they fall? Let it not be! But by their slipping away came salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy” (Rom. 11:11).Jesus said, “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), and since the promise given long before to Abraham was to his “seed” (Israel), the blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen. 12:1-3) was related to the eventual solidarity of Jews/Gentiles to whom the “gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) was being taken. It is clear that, through the Cross, Israel had been ‘set aside’ as a nation in covenant with God because of their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.The “last days” between the Cross and 70 CE was, for Israel, a time of where God’s grace through the “gospel of Christ” was extended to them before the time of Divine Judgment and the “end of the age” would take place (Matt. 24:3). God opened the door to people of the “nations” because of the Jewish rejection of the preaching of the gospel:“It was necessary for the Word of God to be spoken to you first. But since indeed you put it far from you and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the nations” (Acts 13:46).As it pertains to those issues related to the “resurrection of the dead” of I Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul discusses in Romans the symbiotic relationship or interconnectedness that was essential between Jews and Gentiles. On the one hand, was the seeming rejection or casting away of Israel for the reconciliation that God was accomplishing through Jesus, but also that through Israel’s reception would also come the hoped for “resurrection”:“For if their casting away is the reconciling of the world, what is the reception except life from the dead? (Rom. 11:15)Regarding this discussion of the apostle Paul in Romans 11, John E. Toews, in the Believers Church Bible Commentary, writes:“Paul’s passion for the Jews is critical because the salvation of the Gentiles and the world ultimately depends upon the salvation of Israel. While the structure of v. 15 is the same as v. 12, the language in v. 15 is more positive and defining. If Israel’s current “rejection” of the gospel already means reconciliation for the world, which it does as demonstrated in the Gentile mission and churches, then the acceptance of the gospel by Israel as a people will mean the eschatological resurrection from the dead. The redemption of the world depends on the salvation of Israel.”  There was no separate ‘plan of salvation’ for people of the “nations” apart from the “promises made to the fathers” (Rom. 15:8) that was realized through Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. The connection between the promises and the fulfillment was inseparable. The prideful attitude of the Jews, earlier rebuked by Paul in Romans requires the same sort of rebuke for these Gentiles in believing they have somehow ‘displaced’ Israel altogether. Toews continues in his thoughts: “The Gentile believers are looking down on the Jews in their hardened state and saying that God has turned away from them once and for all. The Gentile Christians have displaced the Jews; the salvation of the Gentiles is now the crowning work of God. The problem created by Gentile boasting is just as serious as Jewish boasting in ethnic righteousness. In both cases, one group within God’s inclusive people is saying we are “the elect,” “the saved,” and “what we have you cannot have.” 
This short article is introductory material in order to ascertain the issues that were facing the apostle Paul and the church during the first century CE. Out of the controversy that existed over Jew/Gentile inclusion and solidarity into “one body” arose the issue of the “resurrection of the dead”–the very “dead” to which Romans 11 alludes. The seeming abandonment of Israel in favor of Gentile inclusion had generated a question in the minds of those Corinthians related to “the dead” and whether or not their resurrection was now in jeopardy.By calling into question the resurrection of “the dead” the Corinthians were also calling into question the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah of Israel.It will be shown that the identity of those to whom the apostle Paul refers as “the dead” differs from his distinct and separate reference in the context of I Corinthians 15 as “those that fell asleep in Christ” (I Cor. 15:18; I Thess. 4:14).[Please take the time to examine the Scriptures to confirm the points made in this article are true and valid. The next installment will be very soon]
- John E. Toews, Romans, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2004), 278.
- ibid, 279
Written by: Larry Siegle/ Fulfilled Dynamics