The Church Could Not Exist Prior to the Resurrection (Part 2)


Read Part 1.

Union with Christ

The truth that the existence of the Church presupposes Christ’s resurrection can be supported tangentially by other doctrines, such as our union with Christ. As we have already seen, the phrase “in Christ” and its variations, although it can have a number of meanings depending on context, always signifies the close bond between the justified sinner and their Savior. This is seen in the Epistle to the Philippians (e.g., Phil. 1:1:1, 14; 3:9-10; 4:21). Marshall notes that in Philippians 3:10 that “there is a great emphasis on the powerful effects of this union with Christ, in which the resurrection life of Christ is shared with Paul, now and after physical death.”1

The book of Colossians also speaks to this:

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

This crucial text states the reality of Christians being “raised with Christ” (Col. 3:1) who is referred to as “our life” (Col. 3:4) and looks forward to our glorification. How could a believer be raised with Christ and be given His life before Christ had come to earth and lived and died and risen? Ephesians says,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

Our spiritual blessings are said to be in the heavenly places (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4) “in Christ.” The prepositional phrase en Christo here refers to the sphere of those blessings (I allow for that inasmuch as the spiritual dimension is not delimited by spatial considerations2) as well as it is the source of blessings.3

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

This passage is valuable not only as a summation of our new life in Christ but of our participation in His death (“crucified with Christ”). It also tells us that Christ lives in us; hence this reflects the “Christ our life’ language in Colossians 3:4. Paul’s life is joined by faith to Christ’s resurrected life. As George Beasley-Murray observes,

For Paul, the former Pharisee who sought to live in total obedience to the Law and experienced it as a tyranny that held him in thrall, it was an inexpressible relief to know that in Christ’s death and resurrection he was released for life in the new age. That element of the theology of redemption became for him an existential reality: his life under the domination of Law had ended, and life henceforth was a fellowship with the risen Christ; or, otherwise expressed, the risen Christ was the continuing source of his life.4

Again, how could all this be possible before the resurrection of the Son of God? This subject seems not to have been given the attention it deserves, perhaps because it fits very awkwardly into a one-people-of-God scenario?

After stating that Gentile believers have been “brought near” by Christ’s blood (Eph. 2:13), Paul asserts that “the middle wall of separation” between Jews and Gentiles has been “broken down” at the cross so that Christ has created “in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” (See Eph. 2:14-15.) The context is unescapable. The Body of Christ is “post-resurrectional,” and therefore the “new man,” the Church, cannot be in existence prior to the cross and resurrection.

Although there might be some wiggle-room in Paul’s language about the Church as a “mystery” not previously revealed (in Ephesians 3:3-6), there is no ambiguity at all in Colossians 1:26, – unless one wishes to dispute the fact that “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27) does not require us to be “in Christ.” But that would in any case defang the contrary argument and would fly in the face of Paul’s mention of “His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). Also, the Church is connected through the Spirit to Christ’s resurrection life. This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:4-11. It is augmented in Ephesians 1:15-23 and 2:4-6, 10.5

The only way around the conclusion that the Church is a post-resurrection “body” is to claim that OT saints somehow get freighted into the Church once it is established (thus preserving the one-people-of-God idea). But this means employing fictive exegesis of the pertinent texts and cannot stand on its own two feet without a theological “just-so” story to support it. No, the Christian’s life comes through the Spirit who connects us with the resurrected Jesus and baptizes us into His body, the Church (1 Cor. 12:13). The propitiation of our sins is dependent upon Christ’s resurrection: “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:13). And since the Church is a new thing not revealed in the OT it cannot be read into the OT as if it comprised pre-resurrection saints as well as post-resurrection saints.


1 I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology, 354.

2 Of course, the one does not exclude the other. 1 Corinthians 15:22 is crucial here. See Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 60-64, although I do not espouse federal theology since I reject the theological covenants.

3 It is not a metaphor but a reality. Cf. James P. Ware, Paul’s Theology in Context, 80-82.

4 G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Dying and Rising with Christ,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, et al, 221. The author takes a universalist approach to some NT passages (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:14-17) which I cannot endorse. However, the above quote makes our point well.

5 OT saints are not said to be linked to the resurrection of Christ in this way.