It has been about 30 years since the Worldwide Church of God, an institution many of us came out of, rejected God’s truth and replaced it with old heathen doctrines. It was shocking then, and it remains shocking today how quickly the organization transitioned into doctrinal apostasy. There is a lesson for us today—to be diligent in holding onto the truth God has given us.
The error of the leaders who took Worldwide in a wrong direction involved an attitude of rebellion, as clearly defined in Romans 8:7. Their separation of law from grace was at the heart of the doctrinal confusion, as was their misunderstanding of what Christ’s Gospel actually entails. Mr. Herbert Armstrong recognized that among professing Christian churches, there was a total lack of understanding of Christ’s Gospel—His three-and-a-half-year proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God—which is why Mr. Armstrong focused so much on that forgotten aspect of the Gospel in his writings. The Bible is abundantly clear that Jesus’ message during His ministry was about the soon-coming Kingdom of God.
Two Opposite Ditches
However, even some of our members sometimes do not recognize that the good news the Apostles proclaimed also included the death and resurrection of the soon-coming King of the Kingdom—without which we cannot be born into it. If people leave out the King of—and the way to—the Kingdom of God, how can they understand that kingdom? As Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). 1 Corinthians 15 makes the point clearly:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved…. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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 (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).
Paul makes clear that the Gospel includes the death and resurrection of Christ. Worldwide leaders misused this passage to dismiss the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and focus solely on the person of Christ, rather than on His message. They accused faithful brethren, who held on to the full truth about our Savior, of not knowing Christ. But it was the apostate leaders who did not understand the purpose for His coming, nor His message—especially that He will set up a very real kingdom on this earth. They even rejected Christ’s words about the law, and so much more (Matthew 5:17–19; 19:17; Luke 6:46). Sadly, many bought into that heresy.
On the other hand, we don’t want to go to the other extreme—leaving out the very King of the Kingdom and the means by which we can be part of that kingdom. Christ’s human life, His death, and His resurrection are essential to the Gospel. The Apostle Paul was not wrong when he described the Gospel as including Christ dying for our sins and being resurrected three days later.
The Full Gospel
Does 1 Corinthians 15 dismiss Jesus’ three-and-a-half-year message and limit the Gospel to what happened over just a few days? Not at all, if we read the whole chapter! Paul followed his initial words about the Gospel with a list of some of the people who saw the resurrected Christ after His death. Since Paul wrote within about 20 years of Christ’s crucifixion, most of those witnesses were still alive to confirm the facts (vv. 6–8). He points out in verse 11, “Therefore, whether it was I or they [the other Apostles], so we preach [the resurrection] and so you believed.”
Next, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the fact and importance of the resurrection (vv. 12–19). I’m summarizing here for the sake of space, but please read this for yourself. Paul continues by challenging them, “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (vv. 12–14).
Paul’s subject is the resurrection of the dead. He first begins with Jesus Christ’s resurrection, but transitions to the importance of the resurrection for us. “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!... If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (vv. 17–19).
He next points out that Jesus became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. It is through Christ that we have hope in life after death. We must all die, but “in Christ all shall be made alive”—but it will be in the proper order (vv. 20–24). In other words, there is a plan that must be worked out and a specific order of events (vv. 25–31). There is no meaning to our existence if there is no life after death. “If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (v. 32).
Why did Paul write these things? What was his purpose? It is obvious that he was dealing with those who denied the resurrection. He therefore knocks down one argument after another. “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies” (vv. 35–36). He then explains his point with examples from the natural world.
Then comes the good news with which he began this chapter—we can live again!
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 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. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit (vv. 42–45).
We rightfully call 1 Corinthians 15 the Resurrection Chapter, but we might also call it the Gospel Chapter, since that’s what it is. Paul begins by describing the Gospel he preached. Some have neglected the remainder of the chapter, as if the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ were the whole Gospel message. Paul does not do so. Read the whole chapter. The Gospel Paul preached included the good news that we can be born into the Kingdom of God, and the first 49 verses lead to that truth. Notice how the theme of the Kingdom of God then becomes plain:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (vv. 50–53).
Just as some choose grace while others choose law—as if they were mutually exclusive—so too do some claim that Christ’s Gospel is only about the sacrifice He made in the past, while others see only the news of His kingdom. But the complete truth is truly wonderful news: Through Christ’s sacrifice, we can be born into the Kingdom of God through a resurrection from the dead!