The Resurrection is Technological
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lays out an argument that many believe is at the heart of the Christian faith—an argument for the ultimate resurrection of all people, and the eradication of death itself.
Paul’s explanation of this belief is often overlooked, but it is an explanation that ties into the deepest structures and suppositions of the biblical story: the biblical understanding of what it means to be human.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man… (1 Corinthians 15:21)
In the biblical account, humans were created to rule over all creation. That rule necessarily meant being free from the constraints of death, and so according to Genesis, humans were created with the tree of life planted at their front doorstep.
Physical immortality was within humanity’s reach.
But that didn’t last long. As the story has it, humans made a bad choice, and were subsequently barred from the tree of life. Instead of the possibility of physical immortality, human existence reverted to the natural order of things (“dust you are, and to dust you shall return”).
Somehow, the very possibility of physical immortality had hinged on human choices, and because those choices were bad, the possibility of escaping the normal cycle of life and death had vanished. Humans were now destined to die.
Death came through man.
But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, the story repeatedly insists that humanity will ultimately be triumphant, rising up from this defeat to take their intended place in the natural order of things.
The entire biblical story can be seen as humanity’s long path back to ruling over all creation.
We might be uncomfortable with this idea of humans reigning over creation. After all, isn’t this the attitude that has led to environmental destruction and catastrophe?
In the biblical story, this would be a misunderstanding. Humanity is intended to rule over the world as an imitation of the way God rules over the world—creating and cultivating life, taking joy in its appearance, calling forth its own creative potential.
Earth—indeed, the cosmos itself—is intended to flourish through humanity’s reign.
Thus, the very first thing that happens to humans in the Bible, is that they are placed in the Garden of Eden, and instructed to “tend it and keep it”.
These words directly imply the use of tools. For the Bible, humanity’s task and true purpose starts with learning to use tools for agriculture.
This isn’t limited to the Garden of Eden. Genesis 1 commissions humanity to go into all the Earth, exploring, gardening and bringing peace and order to a chaotic world. They are to get their start gardening in Eden, and then extend those skills to all creation, tending to and cultivating birds, fish, animals, Earth itself.
This is science and technology in their most embryonic forms. Humanity is not only commissioned to cultivate life, they are equipped to cultivate life. Unlike other creatures, humans are able to contemplate and understand natural processes, and then create new things—new technologies—to manage and use those processes.
This is part of what it means for humans to be made in the image of the creator. Our incredible ability to contemplate non-existent possibilities, and bring new things into existence, is what has given us unprecedented power on the Earth.
Psalm 8 reflects on this fact:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3-8)
The psalmist evokes Genesis 1, and reflects poetically on the mystery of the human condition. The cosmos is wondrous, complex, and beautiful—and humankind is small, weak, and frail.
And yet, somehow, humanity has been given this ability to rule over all things.
This passage comes up again and again in the New Testament, as the first Christians explain the meaning and significance of Christ.
As the New Testament sees it, humanity had been given dominion over all things, but through their bad choices, had compromised that dominion, and had brought death upon themselves.
Nevertheless, God had promised that humanity would rule over all things, and God wasn’t going to change his mind, or turn things over to someone else. Instead, God would become human, embodying and restoring his intentions for humanity.
Hebrews 2 explains that this is the reason Christ had to come as a human. Christ would be the “true human”, the first-fruits of a renewed humanity, living out its dominion as God intended.
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.
But we do see Jesus… (Hebrews 2:5-9)
As Hebrews puts it, quoting Psalm 8, there was nothing that had not been made subject to humanity. Yet, because of human error, that rule had never been clearly seen—until Jesus.
In Jesus, the one person who had triumphed over death, the rule that God had given to humanity was finally displayed.
That triumph was never intended to be limited to one person. Christ’s triumph was intended to usher in a restoration of humanity’s intended rule, “bringing many sons and daughters to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). That process started with the invitation to imitate Christ, and thus to participate in his reign.
…if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12)
For the New Testament, the reign of Christ is simply the reign that God had always intended for humanity. It’s a reign we are called to participate in at all levels, even up to and including the apocalypse itself (1 Corinthians 6:3; Revelation 2:26-27; Revelation 20:4).
This is how Paul understands the resurrection. The resurrection is not simply people being returned to life. It is humanity coming fully into its reign over all things.
Death is simply the last barrier to that reign.
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
Since humanity had ruined the possibility of physical immortality, it was necessary that humanity restore the possibility of physical immortality. And just as early humans had ushered in an era in which humanity was ruled by death, Christ would usher in an era in which humanity ruled over death.
But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (1 Corinthians 15:23)
Christ’s triumph over death would roll outwards, in a three-stage process. First, Christ himself was raised. Then, Christ’s followers would be raised. Finally, death itself would be completely destroyed:
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)
The unfolding of Christ’s reign—the reign of humanity as God intended—would extend until everything had been brought into it. The very last thing that would be brought under humanity’s dominion would be death itself, bringing the story to completion.
For he “has put everything under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:27)
This quote of Psalm 8 sums it all up, connecting everything back to God’s original purposes for humanity.
God had intended for humans to have dominion over all creation. Through the earliest humans, that dominion had been compromised. Through Christ, that dominion was being restored. The ultimate extent of that restored dominion would be the complete and utter defeat of death.
Notice that, for Paul, this isn’t just a matter of God waving his hands and making it so? Instead, it’s an unfolding process, a seeming battle with the forces of destruction in the universe.
God intends to renew humanity’s dominion through humanity’s dominion. The reign of Christ—the reign of true humanity, that we are called to participate in—is what ultimately defeats death, and ushers in the resurrection.
The resurrection is the ultimate expression of humanity’s original commission to create and cultivate life. It is the same commission that humanity was given in the Garden, the commission they were told to bring into all the world.
It is the commission we live out when we feed the hungry and heal the sick, the commission behind hospitals, and medical missions, and the pursuit of scientific cures.
It is the commission which gave us art, science, and technology.
And it is the commission which Paul says humanity—in Christ—will be fulfilling in the resurrection of the dead.
For Paul and the earliest Christians, there was no firm division between the advancement of good and the resurrection. They were both part of the unfolding reign of Christ, the restoration of humanity’s life-giving purpose, and would be expressed in everything from good deeds and acts of compassion, to the ultimate renewal of the entire cosmos, and the eradication of death itself.
And that means that nothing good that we do, no good part of human life—whether art, science, imagination, or technology—is left out of that process.