The resurrection. There is a progression of understanding through scripture with regard to the resurrection. Old Testament saints knew of a general resurrection, that is all (John 11:24). The resurrection was spoken of in the Old Testament, but not in great detail (see 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 19:25-27; Psalm 16:9,10; Psalm 17:15; and Daniel 12:2). When Christ came He presented something new, that there would be a "resurrection from among the dead" (Matt. 17:9); i.e. that not all would be raised together. Christ Himself was the one who first taught this distinction; having "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). He taught that the resurrection would have two parts; that those of faith would rise first, and then later those without faith would be raised for judgment (John 5:29). The "two resurrections" have several names:
- The resurrection of life and the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29)
- The resurrection of the just and the resurrection of the unjust (Acts 24:15)
- The first resurrection [and the second death] (Rev. 20:5)
Paul adds even more detail which he got by revelation
: Christ would rise first, and then those that are Christ’s at His coming would rise (1 Cor. 15:23). Paul explained that some will rise at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), but he did not explain that another phase will occur at the Appearing. We learn, by joining Rev. 20:4 and Rev. 14:13, that the tribulation martyrs will form the last phase of the first resurrection. In Rev. 20:5, a detail is added as to the space of time between the end of the first resurrection and that of the wicked dead; the space would be 1000 years, or a “millennium”. While details are successively added throughout scripture, the later details do not contradict
the earlier statements. Such is the perfection of scripture!
The resurrection of the body vs. immortality of the soul.
The Greek philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, etc.) believed, after a fashion in the immortality of the soul; but never in the resurrection of the body. There is something about the immortality of the soul in which man may exalt himself. He may think so highly of himself - his personality, his intellect, etc. - as to rule out any possibility that his soul could cease to exist. There were some who believed in trans-migration of the soul to other bodies (metempsychosis), where the consciousness lives on in another
body, but the resurrection of the dead is distinct. To think of dust raised again into a living person goes beyond his thoughts. Rather than compliment his pride, it strikes fear in his heart. Resurrection is a glory which belongs only to God (John 5:21). It means – terrifying thought to man – that nothing is hid from His power. W. Kelly put it this way, "the resurrection... displays the power of God in the scene of man's total nothingness and corruption." Even the wicked will be raised at the last day so they can be judged at the great white throne. Not only does the natural man fail to conceive of it, but his will immediately rejects the idea when proposed; "and when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked"
(Acts 17:32). The denial of bodily resurrection is really Sadducean error, for the Sadducees
were highly influenced by the Greeks. This is why it is important to see that one's raised body is not a different body, though it will be in a glorified condition; hence "it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility"
(1 Cor. 15:42). If it was a truly different body, then it wouldn't be bodily
resurrection. How will God bring all the atoms back together? We don't know. We must accept it by faith.
The Corinthian Error was the doubt or denial, not of the immortality of the soul, but of the resurrection of the body. This is even worse than the error of “Hymenaeus and Philetus” who taught that the resurrection was past (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Of all the errors taken up in this epistle, this is the most serious, because it touches the Person and Work of Christ. It touches the foundation of our faith. If it was inexcusable ignorance for the Corinthians, how much darker of an evil for men today to deny the resurrection, in light of Paul’s defense in 1 Cor. 15. This is essentially the “leaven of the Sadducees” (Matt. 16:5-12; Matt. 22:23; Acts 23:8). On account of the resurrection, the Sadducees really came forward as the leading enemy of Christ after the cross, while the Pharisees were the leading enemy before the cross. It would seem that these false teachers were not explicitly denying the resurrection of Christ, but resurrection generally. Paul shows that a denial of resurrection is a denial of Christ’s resurrection. The two are logically and vitally connected. But why does Paul leave this issue until the end of the epistle? Perhaps it is to show how moral evil has its roots in doctrinal evil (see v.33; 2 Tim. 2:16).
Principles Concerning Sound Doctrine. Several important principles can be gleaned from this chapter when it comes to the importance of sound doctrine.
- Firstly, we see that Paul establishes what is true (vv.1-15) before he addresses the error. So for us, we need to be established in the positive truth before we can defend against falsehood.
- Secondly, he goes back to the foundation (gospel truths, v.1), and founds his doctrine on the scriptures (vv.3-4). Evil is always changing, taking on new forms to challenge each generation; “her ways are changeable” (Prov. 5:6). There are a million lies, but only one truth. If we look to the scriptures, we will never need to invent new arguments.
- Thirdly, the apostle takes the error out to its logical conclusion, and thereby shows the folly of it. He goes all the way into the Millennium and the Eternal State to make his point! We can be helped greatly by understanding the principle of a thing, then working it out to see its conclusion.
- Fourthly, Paul draws from a variety of sources to establish his position; the scriptures, eyewitness testimony, sound reasoning, personal experience, and then the creation itself. When the time comes to defend against evil doctrine, we need to give it a solid blow that will clinch the case. This is important, because evil doctrine spreads like yeast in a lump of dough (Gal. 5:9); like cancer or gangrene in the human body (2 Tim. 2:17).
The Immutability of the Gospel (15:1-2)
¶ But I make known to you, brethren, the glad tidings which I announced to you, which also ye received, in which also ye stand, 2 by which also ye are saved, (if ye hold fast the word which I announced to you as the glad tidings,) unless indeed ye have believed in vain. vv.1-2 The Corinthians had no intention of denying the gospel, but Paul shows in this chapter that they were essentially doing that by denying the resurrection. There is some solemn irony in Paul’s words in the first two verses. As it were, Paul says that he needs to teach them the gospel all over again. This was very humbling. The gospel had not changed… the Corinthians had changed. This is always the case with the truth of God. Man is ever changing, but “for ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Psa. 119:89). The gospel was the same, whether – four times ‘which’ is repeated – it was:
- What Paul had originally declared to the Corinthians, “which I announced to you…”
- What the Corinthians had received, “which also ye received…”
- What established the Corinthians’ standing before God, “in which also ye stand…”
- The means of the Corinthians’ present salvation, “by which also ye are saved…”
All four of these things would be “in vain” if the Corinthians were not “holding fast”, believing something other than the truth of the gospel. This v.2 does not teach conditional security. Some try to say that if we have a moment of forgetfulness, we will lose our salvation. Their problem was not small or faltering faith, but the object of their faith was false. Remember, there was a mixed company in Corinth… some were not real (1 Cor. 10:1-16). It is good to go over the basics again and again; “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1).
The Four Integral Facts of the Gospel: Including Resurrection (15:3-11)
Christ is the Answer. Whenever problems arise, we can be sure that Christ is the answer to every difficulty. When worldly wisdom was the problem, Paul brought in the cross of Christ to show its folly. When the problem was doubting the resurrection, Paul brings in the resurrection of Christ to show its folly.
The Testimony of the Scriptures (vv.3-4)
3 For I delivered to you, in the first place, what also I had received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures; 4 and that he was buried; and that he was raised the third day, according to the scriptures; vv.3-4 The apostle now shows that the New Testament and Old Testament revelations of God agree on the basic facts of the gospel, and that the facts are integral to the gospel. The gospel was “received” by the apostle Paul by Divine revelation from the Lord Himself; he neither got it from man, nor was taught it (Gal 1:12). That same truth he “delivered” to the saints by Divine inspiration. These are two out of the three steps by which the word of God comes to us (see 1 Cor. 2:10-16); revelation, inspiration, and illumination. May God use 1 Cor. 15 by the Spirit to illuminate our souls with the truth of the resurrection! Not only is the gospel a New Testament revelation, but the basic facts are found in Old Testament prophecy, as he says twice, “according to the scriptures”. I believe this expression means that the whole of the Old Testament looks on to the death and resurrection of Christ, although there are many specific examples; Isaiah 53 would be one.
Four Facts. The four basic facts of the gospel are the death of Christ for our sins, the proof of death (His burial), the resurrection of Christ, and the proof of it by His appearances. These four facts are important. Telling someone “Jesus loves you” is not the gospel. The death and resurrection of Christ must be preached.
- Christ’s Death (v.3). He died “for our sins”. This brings out the vicarious aspect of atonement. Our sins were the cause of His death, and His death is what put our sins away. This was according to Old Testament scriptures, such as Isa. 53; “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, etc.” (Isa. 53:5).
- Christ’s Burial (v.4). The burial of Christ is the proof of His death. There was at least a full twenty-four hour period in which the Lord’s body lay in the grave. The Lord would not have been buried by His own disciples if He was not really dead. It does not say that the burial of Christ was “according to Old Testament scriptures”, because His burial was not the subject of prophecy. And yet the scriptures did speak of it in passing; e.g. Isa. 53:9; “And men appointed his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death” (Isa. 53:9).
- Christ’s Resurrection (v.4). The resurrection of Christ is essential to Christianity. Christ’s suffering and death was the payment of our debt, but His resurrection is the receipt that proves our debt was paid; “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Not only is the resurrection critical to justification, but Paul shows that it is also critical to the resurrection of believers, because Christ is “risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). How is Christ’s resurrection according to the scriptures? The scriptures say the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15); on “the third day” Isaac was received as from the dead in a figure (Gen. 22:4; Heb. 11:17-19); the Son of man who suffered death has been crowned with glory and honor (Psa. 8:5; Heb. 2:9); Jehovah would not suffer His Holy One to see corruption (Psa. 16:10); and Jehovah’s Servant would “see his seed” and “prolong his days” (Isa. 53:10). See also Psa. 22:21; 102:24.
- Christ’s Appearance after His Resurrection (vv.5-11). If the burial of Christ was the proof of His death, then the appearances of Christ are the proof of His resurrection! In the next seven verses, the Spirit lists out a number of eye-witnesses to whom Christ appeared after His resurrection.
There is some evidence that vv.3-4 are actually a poem or short hymn that would be sung or chanted by believers in the early Church. The structure of the verse follows poetic meter, with the refrain being, “according to the scriptures”. While I am not 100% sure of this, I pass it on because it seems plausible. If this were true, Paul is confirming by revelation what the believers of that day held dear, and it places these two verses as the earliest record of the resurrection; less than 25 yrs after the event!
The Testimony of Eye-Witnesses (15:5-11)
Eye-witnesses of the Risen Christ.
Next Paul lists out the abundant eye-witnesses of the risen Christ. God alone saw the resurrection, but He saw fit to provide witnesses who saw Christ after His resurrection. This is part of the “many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days”
mentioned in Acts 1:3. The matter could have been established “in the mouth of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19), but Paul here gives abundant witnesses! These witnesses include: Cephas (or Peter), the Twelve, a gathering of over five-hundred brethren, James (the Lord’s brother), all the apostles, and finally, the apostle Paul (vv.8-11). It is interesting that Paul only mentions the post-resurrection appearances of Christ
to the brethren (men). The women were the first ones to see the risen Lord, but Paul does not mention them. This could be because of the context of 1 Corinthians, which deals with the functioning of the local assembly. When it comes to public witness, that is committed to brothers. Accepting witness from women would run contrary to what Paul had just taught in 1 Cor. 14:34.
Early Eye-witnesses (vv.5-7)
5a and that he appeared to Cephas, v.5a Chronologically, the Lord appeared to Mary Magdalene first, but the disciples did not believe her story (Mark 16:9-11; John 20:17). Mary came to the sepulchre with the other woman, but evidently was separated from them, because she is singled out as the first to see the resurrected Jesus. Then, as all the women were running to tell the disciples, the Lord appeared again to all of them, saying “All hail” (Matt. 28:8-9). The next appearance was to Cleopas and his companion, the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35; Mark 16:12-13). When their eyes were opened, they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples. Upon arrival, they learned that the Lord had also had a personal meeting with Peter (Luke 24:34), which corresponds to the first appearance listed in 1 Cor. 15; an appearance to Cephas, or Peter. This is probably the private meeting where the Lord appeared to Peter, a wandering sheep who had denied the Lord just days earlier. Perhaps Peter’s soul was in deep need of reassurance. He had to be restored first individually. Then in John 21 the Lord spoke to him and restored him publicly. Peter is mentioned first here probably because of his important role in the early chapters of Acts, as the apostle to the circumcision, and the one who was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
5b then to the twelve. v.5b After the two disciples from the road to Emmaus had finished telling their story to “the eleven”, the Lord appeared to the whole group “at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews”. Jesus spoke words of comfort (John 20:19), and also words of rebuke (Mark 16:14). At the very first appearance to the group, we read that Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24). Why then does it say the two on the road told their story to “the eleven”, if there were only ten present when the Lord appeared? It could very well be that Thomas left during or after the two were speaking, and thus was absent when the Lord appeared. Alternatively, “the eleven” could be a euphemism for the group, similar to “the twelve”. When “the twelve” is referred to, it speaks of the administrative office of the twelve. Even though Judas was not present, it was still the twelve; e.g. “Thomas, one of the twelve” (John 20:24). By the time Paul wrote this letter, Matthias had replaced the betrayer (Acts 1:20-26). The eleven agreed that “there must be twelve” and that the replacement had to be a man who had been with them from the time of the Lord’s baptism until the day He ascended, so that he might be a witness to the resurrection. Another point is that in Christianity, God is not occupied with exact numbers (e.g. Acts 1:15; 2:41 5:7,36; 10:3,9; 19:7). Eight days later, the Lord appeared again to the twelve, at which time Thomas was present (John 20:26).
6 Then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain until now, but some also have fallen asleep. v.6
The next appearance was to a large company of believers at once. Probably, this took place in Galilee (Matt. 28:10; 16-17). This appearance is unsurpassed in greatness. W. Kelly said “never was a truth better attested.” How many great events in history have been attested by over 500 eyewitnesses? The majority of them were still alive
at the time of writing, although some had died. It was as if to say; “you can go out and ask them about what they saw”. Notice that Paul is using the word “sleep” as a metaphor for the death of saints, as it is often used in scripture; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 51; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 1 Thess. 5:10; 2 Pet. 3:4. It always refers to the state of the believer’s body… never their soul after death. That is because scripture teaches the consciousness of the soul even in the intermediate state
Sleep is often used to describe the death of a believer, although it is never used to describe the death of an unbeliever. The original word is ekoimethesan; "a sleep that is induced by another". In 1 Thess. 4 we learn who it is that has induced the sleep... the Lord Jesus. What a precious thought! Death is not an accident. Jesus puts His saints to sleep, and He will wake them up with His own voice (John 5:28-29)! Scripture does not teach "soul-sleep", that a person is unconscious in the intermediate state. Both the rich man and Lazarus were conscious in the intermediate state (Luke 16:19-31). Those who teach "soul-sleep" leverage scriptures like Ecc. 9:5 ("for the dead know nothing") which speaks of the ignorance of the dead. That really speaks of ignorance as to things on earth; that which is "under the sun". No! Unbelievers who have died are conscious in their suffering, and believers who have died are "present with the Lord".
During this time in Galilee, the Lord “shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias” (John 21:1).
7a Then he appeared to James; v.7a
The next appearance is to James, the Lord’s brother. He is often referred to as “James the Just”, perhaps on account of his close observance of the law. Initially, along with the other siblings – Joses, and Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55), James didn’t believe on the Lord Jesus (John 7:5). He must have been converted around the time of the cross, for we read here that the Lord had a personal interview with James before His ascension. He was found “continuing” with the apostles and brethren before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Very quickly he rose to prominence (Gal. 1:18-19; Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18). Most likely this James is the author of the Epistle of James, although there is much confusion between the three Jameses
. James is listed here most likely because of his prominence in the Jerusalem assembly.
7b then to all the apostles; v.7b What makes this appearance different from that to “the twelve” in v.5b? It would appear that this final appearance was when Jesus was taken up into heaven, after He had given them their great apostolic commission in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-end). The final appearance was to “the apostles” on mount Olivet, near Bethany (Luke 24:50; Acts. 1:2, Acts. 1:5-7). After this, the Lord was parted from them and taken up into heaven.
The Apostle Paul as an Eyewitness (vv.8-10)
The Appearance to Paul. This appearance was quite different from the others, for Paul saw not a risen Christ on earth (the Jewish hope), but a risen Christ in heaven! He gives more details on this in 2 Cor. 12, where he describes an experience, “whether in the body, or out of the body”, he could not tell. He was caught up “into paradise”, and there heard “unspeakable words”, which were not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor. 12:3-4). By comparing that account with Gal. 1-2, it would indicate that the event took place very soon after Paul’s conversion, if not at the very moment when he was stricken down on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). He brings it in here for a number of reasons. First, because it was an added eyewitness account of the risen Christ. But also, because the resurrection changed his life, from that moment on. The resurrection is testified in the transformation of Saul to Paul! To apply this to us, the same ought to be true; the truth of Christianity should have a transformative effect on our lives.
8 and last of all, as to an abortion [‘ektromati’ or, premature birth], he appeared to “me” also. v.8 The most extraordinary of all the appearances listed here: the Lord appeared to Paul also. He speaks of himself as “an abortion”, or premature birth. The word ‘ektromati’ is very similar to the word “pre-trusted” in Eph. 1:12. It would appear that Paul bringing out the unlikeliness and untimeliness of his conversion. The human gestational period can vary slightly, but for the most part it runs about nine months. For a baby to be born significantly early is quite unexpected. In a similar way, the nation of Israel has rejected Christ, and has become entrenched in unbelief, as we see in the book of Acts. In 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Paul explains that he was the embodiment of Jewish feeling toward Christ; he called himself “the chief of sinners”. But God surprised everyone by taking the very figurehead of false religion and abruptly turning him from darkness to light (Acts 9); “the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, etc.” (1 Tim. 1:14). Now, the scriptures predict that the nation of Israel in a future day will turn to the Lord (Isa. 59:20-21), but until that day comes, Israel now is judicially blinded; “God has given to them a spirit of slumber” (Isa. 29:10), “eyes not to see, and ears not to hear, unto this day” (Deut. 29:4). We could say the whole nation of Israel is like a baby that is expected to go to “full-term”. But the apostle Paul was like a “premature” birth, who, along with a remnant of Jews, “pre-trusted in Christ” (Eph. 1:12) long before the rest of the nation. This remarkable display of God’s grace is “to the praise of His glory”. God, in His infinite wisdom, took the chief of sinners (the embodiment of enmity), and turned him around, and instead made him the embodiment of grace; “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:16).
9 For “I” am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called apostle, because I have persecuted the assembly of God. 10a But by God’s grace I am what I am; vv.9-10a
Paul never lost the sense of God’s grace. He considered himself the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called one, because he had violently opposed the very assembly which he now loved and served (although he did not deny, but rather affirmed, that he was indeed an apostle). He did not take credit for his own apostleship, nor for the “abundance of the revelations”
given to him (2 Cor. 12); instead he credited the grace of God; “by God’s grace I am what I am”
(see also 1 Tim. 1:12).
Paul's sense of his own sin did not lessen with time. There can be a tendency to think higher ourselves as time passes in light of past wrongs. Not Paul. Writing in A.D. 54 he referred to himself as "not fit to be called apostle" (1 Cor. 15:9), in A.D. 64 as "less than the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8), and in A.D. 65 as "the chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). His humility only grew as time went on! Interestingly, his sense of the light of God's glory which shone about him on the Damascus road also increased each time the story is told (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26:13).
10b and his grace, which was towards me, has not been vain; but I have laboured more abundantly than they all, but not “I”, but the grace of God which was with me. v.10b He refused to let the grace of God be “in vain”. The sense of God’s grace stirred Paul into action! Legalists should take note of this, that grace is far more effective at raising up devoted servants than the law ever can be. Paul labored “more abundantly” than all the others (like the twelve), whose faith in Christ was, in a certain sense, more “expected”. We see this sometimes with premature babies, handicapped people, or those who have recovered from a serious illness. They are sometimes more energetic than the average person, because they appreciate what it means to be alive. Yet is was not Paul’s human will in the matter that made him a successful laborer, and he is careful to guard against that thought; “not I, but the grace of God which was with me”. Can we learn something from this? Yes. The more we appreciate the grace of God, the greater our motivation for service. This is precisely why worship must always precede service!
The Testimony of Eyewitnesses Sufficient for Faith (v.11)
11 Whether, therefore, I or they, thus we preach, and thus ye have believed. v.11 After digressing into his humble autobiography, Paul’s heart now unburdened, he returns to the subject: the eyewitness testimonies to the risen Christ. In reality, it didn’t matter whether it was Paul (heavenly appearance) or one of the others (earthly appearance); the testimony of the chosen “witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:22) had preached their truth, and the Corinthians had believed it. Next Paul unfolds their folly in giving up that very truth.
Seven Logical Consequences of Denying the Resurrection (15:12-19)
The Logical Consequences of denying the resurrection are very serious.
- Result #1: It Contradicts the New Testament Message (v.12)
- Result #2: It Means Christ is Not Risen (v.13)
- Result #3: Our Personal Faith is in Vain (v.14)
- Result #4: The Apostles are False Witnesses (v.15)
- Result #5: We Are Still in Our Sins (vv.16-17)
- Result #6: The Sleeping Saints Have Perished (v.18)
- Result #7: We Have No Hope Beyond this Life: Most Miserable (v.19)
Result #1: It Contradicts the New Testament Message (v.12)
12 Now if Christ is preached that he is raised from among the dead, how say some among you that there is not a resurrection of those that are dead? v.12 There were some among the Corinthians who had taken up this evil doctrine, although it had been actually brought in by unbelievers who were “ignorant of God” (v.35). The first point Paul makes with regard to denying the resurrection is that it runs contrary to what “is preached” in Christianity. We can read the book of Acts and see the place held by the resurrection in the preaching of Peter, Paul, and others. The resurrection was an essential truth of the Christian faith, for all the apostles preached it. The Corinthian error was heterodox; and they needed to realize it.
Result #2: Christ is Not Risen (v.13)
13 But if there is not a resurrection of those that are dead, neither is Christ raised: v.13 The second great result of denying the resurrection is that Christ could not be risen. The resurrection of Christ is proves that resurrection is indeed a reality. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ who had died could not be risen. What massive implications this has (v.14)! The “if” here is the “if” of argument, not the “if” of condition. Paul is showing the logical consequences if such and such a thing were true.
Result #3: Our Personal Faith is in Vain (v.14)
14 but if Christ is not raised, then, indeed, vain also is our preaching, and vain also your faith. v.14 The resurrection of Christ is God’s righteous answer to the work of the cross. Think of it; if we deny the resurrection we are essentially saying that Christ still lies under the judgment of our sins… that He was unsuccessful in bearing our sins. If Christ is not risen, then He cannot save us… we have no Savior. There is no salvation without the resurrection. All the apostles’ preaching, and the personal faith of Christians is vain. Christ predicted His resurrection time and time again (John 2:18-22; Matt. 16:21; 20:19; Luke 24:7; John 10:17-18), and staked the truth of His Person on it. There is no such thing as inconsequential divergence from the truth. The most seemingly unimportant details, when confused or corrupted, touch the person of Christ and shake the foundations of the gospel and our faith.
Result #4: The Apostles are False Witnesses (v.15)
15 And we are found also false witnesses of God; for we have witnessed concerning God that he raised the Christ, whom he has not raised if indeed those that are dead are not raised. v.15 Furthermore, if there is no resurrection, and Christ did not rise, then those who testified of it (vv.5-11) are false witnesses of God; i.e. not just liars, but liars about God! The apostles preached that God raised up Jesus, and that would be a lie if it were not true. Now, if the apostles and prophets are the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20), and they are false-witnesses, then the whole of Christianity is a farce. Notice how carefully this is worded; Paul does not even propose rhetorically that God had lied, but says “we” are false-witnesses. What carefulness!
Important note. Notice that the apostle repeatedly binds together the resurrection of Christ and of the dead (v.12, v.13, v.15, v.16). You cannot have one without the other. If no dead are raised, neither has Christ been raised. Christ was every bit as dead in the grave as those who have died in Christ. But since Christ has been raised, the dead will also rise. This is to give comfort to the believer that our destiny is linked to Christ’s. How blessed… that Christ would identify Himself thus with men! His life is our life, His home is our home, His portion is our portion.
Result #5: We Are Still in Our Sins (vv.16-17)
16 For if those that are dead are not raised, neither is Christ raised; 17 but if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. vv.16-17 The fifth result, if there was no resurrection, is that we are still in our sins. Why? Because the resurrection of Christ is God’s righteous answer to the work of the cross. If Christ is not raised then it means the work of atonement is not complete! Certainly, the atonement was accomplished the moment Christ’s blood was shed, the suffering being ended, and the Lord’s spirit yielded up to God in death. We are not saying that the resurrection of Christ is a part of the atoning work… but simply that the death and resurrection are inextricably linked together. And if the work of atonement is not complete, our most basic need is not met – awful thought; “ye are yet in your sins”.
Result #6: The Sleeping Saints Have Perished (v.18)
18 Then indeed also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. v.18 If the living believers are still in their sins, the consequences are no less serious for the believers who have already passed away. Those who have fallen asleep in Christ have “perished”, in the sense of eternal death. How awful! Paul is showing the folly of their doctrinal error.
Result #7: We Have No Hope Beyond this Life: Most Miserable (v.19)
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are the most miserable of all men. v.19 If the future is hopeless, then all we have is “this life”. What kind of a hope would that be? If this were true, Christians have reason to be “the most miserable of all men”. This is not simply because of a hopeless future, but because a life lived with “hope in Christ” brings many trials into our pathways that unbelievers do not have to deal with. Persecution is the constant portion of “all they who will live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:12). Yes, setting aside the governmental consequences of sin, which unbelievers do suffer greatly (broken marriages, diseases, etc.), the Christian pathway is more difficult. It is not an easy path, yet it is a path of joy. However, if we only have this life to live for, the path of persecution would be pointless, and therefore the Christian would be even more miserable than the heathen, who can at least enjoy the momentary pleasures of earth. Such are the results of denying the resurrection. When we lose sight of the resurrection we can become miserable too.
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
Parenthesis: The Final Results of Resurrection (15:20-28)
The Final Results. A parenthesis opens up in vv.20-28. The parenthesis comes in quickly to assure the soul, the possibility of misery having been suggested. Far from being miserable, the Christian has every reason to rejoice, on account of the resurrection. Here we have a revelation of God to the apostle Paul, which he announces at this juncture, and then returns to the thread of his argument in v.29. The subject of this parenthesis is the very opposite of the consequences of denying the resurrection, which we had before (vv.12-19). Because the resurrection is true, and Christ is risen from the dead, certain glorious consequences will follow. The resurrection of Christ “from among the dead” is but a foreshadow of:
- For us. The resurrection of those who are Christ’s at His coming from among the dead (vv.20-23).
- For Christ. The final and ultimate victory of the Second Man over all enemies (vv.24-28).
God will finally “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). All the “sin of the world” will be taken away by the Lamb of God (John 1:29). God will bring out of death something for His own glory. We get this in the riddle that Samson put forth to the Philistines; “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle” (Jdg. 14:14). It is something the flesh will never understand… it goes beyond the thoughts of the natural man. The “eater” (or, lion) is death; the “meat” is blessing. The “strong” is Satan, and the “sweetness” is glory.
The Final Results for Believers: Raised at the Rapture (vv.20-23)
¶ 20 (But now Christ is raised from among the dead, first-fruits of those fallen asleep. v.20 Christ is the first-fruits.
Here we get the wonderful expression “from among the dead”
, which is the character of the first resurrection. It is of utmost importance
to understand the first resurrection
. It is not merely a phenomena of the dead rising, but of God raising certain ones by His power, on whom His love has been set. It speaks of the power of God to work victory in the face of ultimate defeat. This is but a foreshadow of the resurrection from among the dead of the saints who have “fallen asleep”
. We, His loved ones, profit from the victory Christ has won. He is the first-fruits… but there is much more fruit to come!
21 For since by man came death, by man also resurrection of those that are dead. 22 For as in the Adam all die, thus also in the Christ all shall be made alive. vv.21-22 Christ as man has brought resurrection to His race.
What we have here is the subject of federal headship. The same principles are applied in Romans 5:12-21; but in Romans he applies the principles to establish the doctrine of deliverance, and in 1 Corinthians he applies them to establish the resurrection of the believer. Every human being is a member of one of two families: (1) Adam’s (the first man) which we all were born into, or (2) Christ’s (the second man) which Christians have been brought into. Each family is dependent on its head. Adam communicated death
to his descendants, and all of Adam’s race die. Christ communicated life
in the power of resurrection to all His descendants, and all of Christ’s race shall be made alive. We have been brought into a new creation
. So in John 12:24, the grains of wheat (individual Christians) have the same life as the risen stalk (Christ in resurrection). So, for believers, we will die if the Lord doesn’t come first, because we were born into Adam’s race. But we will be made alive because we have been transferred into Christ’s race! To clear up confusion on the “all’s” in v.22, I’ll quote for you W. Kelly:
It is impossible to sever “all” in either case from their representative head: only “all” in Adam’s case embraces the entire race, whereas “all” in the case of Christ as necessarily attaches to His family alone.
We see too that the resurrection here is looked at from the human side. It was “by man” that death came in to the world (Rom. 5:12), and it is “by man” that resurrection has come. This is a great truth. The power to give life is a glory that belongs to God, and He exercises that power according to His sovereign will. But in these verses we do not have the Son of God exercising His Divine power, as in John 5:21; 28-29; Rom. 1:4, but rather “a victory gained in human nature over death which held men captive”. There was a man in this world (a perfect man), who went down into the place which our sins brought us (death), defeated that power, and rose triumphant over all its claims! What assurance that gives us, as men, to know that “by man” came the resurrection of the dead.
23 But each in his own rank: the first-fruits, Christ; then those that are the Christ’s at his coming. v.23 Believers (second rank) will follow our federal Head. The subject of federal headship having been established, it is fitting then, according to God’s perfect order, that “each” should rise “in his own rank”. Christ the “first-fruits” rose, and then afterward the sleeping saints. The members of Christ’s family must follow in their rank. It is interesting that it says “they that are Christ’s” not “they that are in Christ.” Why? The expression “in Christ” denotes the Christian position in God’s sight. If it were “in Christ”, then it would mean that only the Church would be raised at “his coming”. But since it says “those that are Christ’s”, it includes all those who belong to Christ, including Old Testament saints. In 1 Thess. 4:17 it says that the dead “in Christ” will rise; therefore, the Church is in view in that chapter. But the Spirit is careful to shows that Old Testament saints will be raised simultaneously with the Church; so that “they without us shall not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:40).
The Millennium and the Eternal State (vv.24-28)
vv.24-28 The second result of Christ’s resurrection is that His victory over the grave will extend eventually to the farthest recesses of the universe. Every enemy will be put down… and Christ Himself will do it. Everywhere the first man has failed, the second man will succeed – then Christ will present all things unto God – in perfection – and in this God will be glorified as “all in all”.
24 Then the end, when he gives up the kingdom to him who is God and Father; when he shall have annulled all rule and all authority and power. v.24 The “end” here refers to the end of time, the end of the kingdom of the Son of man (though simply called “the kingdom” here), the end of all dispensations, the end of this world; the moment just before eternity begins. When the end comes, the Second Man will “deliver up” the kingdom to the Father after all enemies have been put down. He will deliver it up, as it were, on a silver platter. He will give back to God the universal power which had been committed to Him; as if to say, “see here, I have accomplished Your will perfectly, to Your Divine satisfaction”. Note that He delivers it up, it is never taken from Him, nor given to another, as happens with human kingdoms (e.g. 1 Kings 11:11). Why would the Son deliver up the kingdom? It could be because there are no more enemies to put down… nothing to rule over. Or, it could be so that the Son might enjoy His bride for all eternity. But I think the reason presented here, from the context of these verses, is that the Second Man might present the creation back to God – the eternal purpose accomplished – for the glory of God (God “all in all”, v.28)! Every institution of God committed to man has descended into ruin under man’s responsibility. From the very moment of the fall, the history of mankind has been one unending succession of failures, and the increasing reign of sin and death. But Christ is the accomplisher of the purposes of God, He is “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Rev. 1:8), He is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (Rev 3:14).
As I suggested earlier, Paul is referring to the kingdom of the Son of man, which is the earthly department of the kingdom of heaven in manifestation. In Matt. 13 we find that that the kingdom of heaven is divided into two compartments; a heavenly
side and an earthly
side. The heavenly side is called “the kingdom of their Father
” (Matt. 8:11; 13:43) and the earthly side is called “His kingdom”
or “the kingdom of the Son of Man
” (Matt. 13:41; 16:28, 24:30, 25:31). While it doesn’t explicitly say “kingdom of the Son of man” here in 1 Cor. 15, the connection is with the quotation from Psa. 8, where Jesus is the glorified Son of man.
The kingdom began when Christ ascended to heaven. It couldn't have started before that, because He had not yet taken His place in heaven. It says "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom…" (Luke 19:12). He will take the kingdom in power at the appearing (Rev. 11:15), and He will deliver up the kingdom to God at the end of the 1000 years (1 Cor. 15:24). To summarize: Christ received the kingdom at His ascension, He will take it at His appearing, and He will deliver it up at the end of time. Read more…
25 For he must reign until he put “all enemies under his feet” [Psalm 110:1]. 26 The last enemy that is annulled is death. 27a For “he has put all things in subjection under his feet” [Psalm 8:4-6]. vv.25-27a Why must He reign? Because Old Testament prophecy must be fulfilled, and because it is the only righteous answer to the cross. Many Christians deny the literal reign of Christ in the millennium. They either believe that His reign is going on now in the hearts of His people, or that it will never happen; i.e. that things will suddenly end with a final judgment and the day of God. But it is imperative that we see, in the ways of God, that Christ will literally reign here on this earth (Isa. 32). Beginning when Christ returns in His Davidic character, and then through His Solomonic character until the great white throne, all Christ’s enemies will eventually be annulled! Two Psalms are referenced, the first speaks of “all enemies” and the second speaks of “all things”:
- Psalm 110 speaks of Jehovah putting Messiah’s enemies under His feet, and that Christ is even now patiently waiting for that time. It refers to the beginning of the thousand years. In other words, Christ will be given (“take” in Rev. 11:16) His kingly power at the appearing, but He will at that time just begin to trample His enemies under His feet.
- Psalm 8 speaks of God putting all things under the feet of the glorified Son of man. This will happen at the beginning of the Millennium, but we can see by Spirit’s emphasis of “all things” (v.27a) that it comprehends more than the Tribulation judgments. Every rebel will be consumed, Satan and his host will be cast into the lake of fire, the wicked dead will be judged, and finally death itself will be annulled. This will be completed at the end of the thousand years.
Note: Psalm 8 is quoted in 1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1, and Hebrews 2. Hebrews 2 informs us that Psalm 8 hasn’t been completely fulfilled yet. Half the psalm is fulfilled now because He is crowned with glory and honor, but the other half is still future, for we do not see everything put under His feet. Psalm 8 is the cornerstone of Paul's doctrine concerning the glory of Christ.
Death Annulled. Death will be annulled at the great white throne (Rev. 20:11) when the wicked dead are raised, judged, and disposed of. In this manner, "death and hades" will be "cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14). Then in the eternal state, there will be "no more death" (Rev. 21:4). Death, which is the "last enemy" will be annulled. The Lord Jesus Himself will do this; He alone holds "the keys of death and of hades" (Rev. 1:17). We read in 2 Tim. 1:10 that "our Saviour Jesus Christ... has annulled death". This means that, even now, death's power has been defeated. This happened in the resurrection of Christ; "whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death" (Acts 2:24). The pains (or, "pangs") of death are gone... the believer has been delivered from "the fear of death" (Heb. 2:15). In the New Testament, death has not only been defeated, but turned around and detained as a servant, to do the bidding of God to call God's servants home. However, death has not yet been completely done away with. That will not take place until the great white throne. To summarize; death's pains were "loosed" at the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:24), death will be "swallowed" at the last trump (1 Cor. 15:54), and death will be finally "cast" into the lake of fire at the great white throne (Rev. 20:14).
27b But when he says that all things are put in subjection, it is evident that it is except him who put all things in subjection to him. v.27b It is evident that God, who put all things in subjection to Christ, will Himself not be subject to Christ, or under the rule of His kingdom. This is because Christ will reign as a man, and the Supreme God will never be under any rule. The Spirit of God saw fit to guard against any such thought. But Paul’s point is, there are no other exceptions. As another has said;
“Were there, for example, a blade of grass that was not subjected to His power in blessing, Satan would have got an advantage over Christ, over His rights, and over His inheritance”.
We don’t presently see all things put under Christ, but we do see Jesus by faith (Heb. 2:8-9) now crowned with glory and honor, and that is an assurance to us that one day we will see the whole universe under His blessed feet!
28 But when all things shall have been brought into subjection to him, then the Son also himself shall be placed in subjection to him who put all things in subjection to him, that God may be all in all.) v.28 When all enemies have been finally put down, and all creation placed under the feet of the Second Man, then the Son will subject Himself to God for eternity. Now, here in v.28 it refers to God in Godhead, carefully distinguished in v.24 from God in Fatherhood. It does not say the Father will be all in all. Why? Because the Son will never be inferior to the Father. The promotion of only one out of three Divine Persons would deny the equality of the Godhead. But as man, Christ takes a place of subjection to God. As man He will reign for 1000 years, but as God He will reign for ever and ever (1 Tim. 6:16). The true place and blessing of man is to honor God as supreme. As the perfect man, the Lord Jesus will subject Himself to God for all eternity. This is a stupendous truth! We get a picture of it with the Hebrew servant in Ex. 21:1-6, who served for six years, and had the option of going out “free”. But because he loved his master, his wife, and his children, he could chose to remain a slave forever… an irreversible decision. The Lord Jesus needed to become man to suffer death (Heb. 2:9), but He chose to remain a man forever. Christ, as a man, loved serving His God so much, and He loved His bride so much, and His children (the race of redeemed men) so much, that He has chosen to share our nature forever! Notice however, that the first and highest motive in the Perfect Servant is for the glory of God; that God might be all in all!
Though angels praise the heavenly King,
And worship Him as God alone,
We can with exultation sing,
“He wears our nature on the throne.”
The Eternal State. There are only three passages that describe the eternal state: Rev. 21:1-8, 2 Pet. 3:10-13, and 1 Cor. 15:24-28, although there are other minor references to it, such as "the eighth day" (Lev. 23:36, 39), possibly "the everlasting kingdom" (2 Pet. 1:11) would include it, and the "reconciliation of all things" (Col. 1:20). The eternal state is the end of all God’s purposes for the glory of Christ and the blessing of man. This is when God will have reconciled "all things" unto himself (Col. 1:20), and God will be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
There are really only three scriptural names for the eternal state:
- The "Age of Ages" (Rev. 20:10, Eph. 3:21)
- The "Day of God" (2 Cor. 15:28)
- The "Day of Eternity" (2 Pet. 3:18)
Truth about the Eternal State is only revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament does not mention the eternal state. Isa. 65:17 speaks of a new heavens and earth, but that is a reference to the Millennium.
Practical Effects of the Resurrection (15:29-34)
Practical Effects. Having discharged his revelation in the parenthesis (vv.20-28), Paul now returns to the thread of his argument in v.29. He had showed that, if the resurrection were false, the Christian pathway would be pointless, and “more miserable” than the life of an unbeliever. Now, in vv.29-32, he expands on that, and explains that all the energy exerted and suffering borne by believers would be a waste if there was no resurrection. But the very fact that the apostles were willing to suffer, etc. is proof that they had seen Christ risen, and that they were convinced on Divine authority that the resurrection is true.
¶ 29 Since what shall the baptised for the dead do if those that are dead rise not at all? why also are they baptised for them? v.29 This verse has been tortured by extreme scripture-twisting down through the years. It does NOT mean that a living person can be baptized vicariously on behalf of someone who has died; which is a key Mormon doctrine. The meaning is simple. “Baptism” means Christian baptism. The “dead” are the dead in Christ, per the context of this chapter. Those who are baptized in Christianity are baptized “for” or “in place of” those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. In other words, as some depart to be with Christ, the ranks of Christianity are filled in by those who are baptized. Especially, it speaks of taking the place of martyrs who have already fallen; e.g. Paul taking Stephen’s place. It is much like a battle formation. When men fall in battle, new men step forward to fill the holes in the line, that the formation might continue unbroken. There is the assumption here that it is a dangerous thing to step onto Christian ground by baptism. Therefore, such a risk would be pointless if there was no resurrection.
30 Why do “we” also endanger ourselves every hour? 31 Daily I die, by your boasting which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If, to speak after the manner of man, I have fought with beasts in Ephesus, what is the profit to me if those that are dead do not rise? “let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die” [Isaiah 22:13]. vv.30-32 Paul develops the futility of enduring persecution if there is no resurrection. He says “we” speaking on behalf of the apostles. The apostles were in danger every hour of their lives. Why live like that if this life is all we have? So frequently was Paul exposed to near-death circumstances that he could say, “I die daily”. This is similar to Romans 8:36; “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Why risk the one life you do have if there is no hope after death? The latter portion of v.31 could be translated, “by the boasting of you, brethren”. Paul is explaining that Paul was risking his life for the Corinthians, who were his boast in Christ Jesus our Lord. How tenderly this was said to reach the hearts of the erring Corinthians! Paul was writing from Ephesus, and he speaks of the violent opposition he faced there (1 Cor. 16:8-9). This violence was even before the great riot at the end of Acts 19. The riot, which closed the opened door in Ephesus, broke out after the first epistle was sent (Acts 19:23-41; 2 Cor. 1:8-9). He uses a figure of speech, which he prefaces by saying, “to speak after the manner of men”. He refers to the men of Ephesus and even the Jewish impostors that followed him as “beasts”. Paul often referred to natural brute men as animals (Tit. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:17), because like beasts, they live without reference to God (2 Pet. 2:12; Jude 10; Rev. 13:1; Psa. 73:22). It was not that Paul was actually fighting animals in the arena. Why live inches from death if this life is all we have to live for? The best course, if there is no resurrection, is to live for the moment, just like the unconverted world, whose mantra Paul lifts as a direct quotation from Isa. 22:13; “let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die”. The immortality of the soul did not prevent the pagans from descending into hedonism… but the resurrection of the body did motivate early Christians to live lives of self-denial.
“I die daily”. As we already mentioned, this expression shows that Paul risked his life every day. This verse has sometimes been taken to mean that Paul practiced some mystical self-mortification. It is helpful to see that scripture never exhorts the believer to actively die… we are always looked at as already dead positionally (Rom. 6:2, 8; Gal. 2:20; Col. 2:20; 3:3). However, we are exhorted to actively “mortify” or “put to death” our members (Col. 3:5), which means we are to practically live out what is positionally true of us.
Ephesus. Why such opposition in Ephesus? We get the highest Christian truth in the epistle to the Ephesians, and yet the opposition was strongest there! God purposed to cradle Christianity in the very stronghold of Satan. This is why Paul was so violently opposed in that city (Acts 19:23-41; 1 Cor. 15:30-32; 16:8-9; 2 Cor. 1:8-9).
33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. v.33 Now Paul turns and makes a very solemn statement. He gives a principle: that corrupt doctrine (“conversations” or “communications”) leads to a corrupt walk (“manners”). How often doctrine is dismissed as unimportant and impractical. The very opposite is true. Practice flows from doctrine. He says “be not deceived” because there is a human tendency to be deceived on this point. There is a subtle rebuke in this verse, made more apparent in v.34. He is saying that the Corinthians had declined morally, and it was because of evil doctrine.
34 Awake up righteously, and sin not; for some are ignorant of God: I speak to you as a matter of shame. v.34 The solution is to “awake up righteously, and sin not”, which means to be restored to the Lord and correct both their doctrine and practice. The middle phrase is spoken by Paul, “as a matter of shame”; i.e. to prick their consciences. He refers to some among the Corinthians who were actually unbelievers; “ignorant of God”… perhaps those who had brought the evil doctrine in. Some real believers had taken up with the evil (v.12), and they had been affected by the wolves. It was to the Corinthians’ shame that Paul should have to point this out, but they needed to hear it. Next, Paul answers the voice of ignorance as it protests against the truth of resurrection.
Ignorance of God leads to Moral Decadence. Look at how the unbelievers live. Look at the behavior of the “beasts” at Ephesus. Morality runs proportional to knowledge of God. The unbeliever is just the extreme case. We see this in history. Following a tremendous growth in philosophical skepticism and modern evolutionary theory in the 19th century, the western world saw a tremendous rise of atheism and agnosticism in the 20th century, while Christianity was more or less dismissed. The vacuum resulted in the increase of nihilism, the viewpoint that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. No one drew this conclusion more strongly than the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his Parable of the Madman (1882). What was the result of turning away from God? The 20th century turned out to be the bloodiest century of all, for we killed more people in the 20th century than in the previous nineteen combined. Truly, man in ignorance of God is capable of terrible things. In the measure that we give up the truth of God (evil doctrine), we will slip into moral decadence (evil practice).
The Glorious and Heavenly Order of Resurrection (15:35-50)
Skeptics of the Resurrection Answered (15:35-41)
¶ 35 But some one will say, (1) How are the dead raised? and (2) with what body do they come? v.35 Having touched on the natural man’s ignorance of God, and the serious character of the evil doctrine in circulation, Paul now addresses the standpoint of the skeptic. The skeptic reasons from his own ignorance. Reasoning from fact is sound reasoning. But reasoning from ignorance can only result in greater ignorance. The rationalist takes the position of, “if I can’t understand it, it doesn’t exist.” Such is the modern arguments for atheism. Rejecting the revelation of God, they become blind to the witness of creation. Human thinking cannot rise up to resurrection. How is it possible for God to raise bodies that have been in the grave for thousands of years; disintegrated into dust, etc.? What kind of body would they have? Paul deftly answers both these objections in the next two verses. Read closely the Sadducees attempt to trap the Lord in Matt. 22:23-33. They reasoned from their ignorance, that the concept of resurrection was foolish, because of the marriage complications that would arise. The Lord showed them that they didn’t understand marriage, and they didn’t understand resurrection. God is both too wise and too powerful for man to comprehend. The error of the skeptic is twofold: “Ye err, not knowing (1) the scriptures nor (2) the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
Use of Creation Evidence. The skeptic rejects the revealed Word of God. The Word of God can still convict the skeptic, but it will not silence his mouth. Creation can be appealed to, because it is the Word of God in a sense (Psa. 19). I said “creation”, I did not say “science”. I have no doubt that true science will only confirm the Word of God, but we have no pattern nor principle for using science to defend the truth of God. Natural phenomena are observable to every sensible person, and can serve to show the infidel his own irrationality. We get into trouble when we start hypothesizing about what God has not revealed; as we see in the Christian scientific community. Far from speculation, Paul reasons in the following verses from what is plainly observable to the eye of man. He gives four sources from creation that show God is capable of raising the dead, and of giving the raised a transformed body; (1) botanical evidence, (2) zoological evidence, (3), geological evidence, and (4) astronomical evidence.
Botanical: Seeds are Planted in the Ground, but Spring Up as Plants (vv.36-38)
36 Fool; what “thou” sowest is not quickened unless it die. v.36 To answer the objection “how are the dead raised up”, the first point Paul makes is that seeds die before they can be raised. This reflects the idea of resurrection. The skeptic takes death as the ultimate defeat of life, but we find in botany that the death of a seed is really just a temporary phase that leads to a fuller term of life! Jesus taught this is John 12:24; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” The germination of a seed must precede the growth of a seedling. The “fool” trusts this to happen every year in his garden, although he doesn’t give God the credit. The skeptic no more understands the mystery of physical life than he does God’s power in resurrection. Death is not a barrier to resurrection; it is only a prior phase.
37 And what thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain: it may be of wheat, or some one of the rest: 38 and God gives to it a body as he has pleased, and to each of the seeds its own body. vv.37-38 The next point is that what goes into the ground is a very different type of “body” than what springs up after germination. It is just a seed (“a bare grain”) when it goes into the ground. You don’t plant a wheat stalk… you plant a wheat seed. The plant is very different from the seed, and yet it belongs to that same species as the seed. Every seed has its own corresponding body. You expect a wheat seed to spring up as a wheat stalk, but don’t understand why. No matter how many wheat seeds you plant, you will never get soybeans. God is the one that turns a wheat seed into a wheat stalk “as it hath pleased him”. So with our bodies. They are put into the ground in a certain condition, then lay for a time in apparent lifelessness, and then will be raised by God in a new condition, although still in keeping with our species, according to His design. This answers the second objection raised by the fool in v.35. Incredible power and wisdom! Note: this destroys the Hindu model of reincarnation.
Zoological: God Created many different Types of Flesh (v.39)
39 Every flesh is not the same flesh, but one is of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes. v.39 Next, the wide ranging creativity of God is expanded on. Within the animal kingdom is a great taxonomy; phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, etc. At certain levels in that taxonomy, there is a striking difference between the flesh of (1) men, (2) large land animals, (3) birds, and (4) fish. For example, fish do not have feathers, and cattle do not have gills. They are radically different. A fish will never evolve into a bird, and vice versa. There may be small changes due to adaptation, etc., but the overarching theory of evolution is an elaborate scheme founded on man’s ignorance and rejection of God. The numerous similarities that exist between the species, far from proving evolution, reveal the brush-strokes of the Creator. The point here is that God’s creation is not homogeneous. God could have chosen to create all flesh the same… for example, there could have been only fish, no mammals, etc. But He demonstrated His power to create many different kinds. Why should we be surprised that our resurrection bodies will be a “different kind” of flesh than our natural bodies? How foolish to insist that resurrection bodies are the same as our mortal bodies?
Geological & Astronomical: God Created many different Terrestrial & Celestial Bodies (vv.40-41)
40 And there are heavenly bodies, and earthly bodies: but different is the glory of the heavenly, different that of the earthly: 41 one the sun’s glory, and another the moon’s glory, and another the stars’ glory; for star differs from star in glory. vv.40-41 Now Paul exchanges his microscope for a telescope, as it were. He points to the astronomical formations (“heavenly bodies” such as stars, plants, and galaxies), then to the geological formations on earth (“earthly bodies” such as oceans, rivers, canyons, mountains, etc.). Again, God’s wisdom in creation is seen in the variety of it. Creation is not limited to this earth, but it stretches to the extent of the universe, involving not only terrestrial formations, but celestial formations as well. Even within the celestial formations there is wonderful variety. God could have chosen to create all the planets and stars the same… for example, there could have been only stars, no planets or moons. But He demonstrated His power and wisdom to create many different bodies. There are about 10 billion galaxies in the observable universe, and the number of stars in a galaxy varies, but the average may be around 100 billion stars per galaxy. This means that there are about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that is one billion trillion) stars in just the part of the universe we can see! God knows the exact number, and all their names (Psa. 147:4). And every one of those stars differs from the others in glory. Why should we be surprised that our resurrection bodies will have a “different glory” than our natural bodies?
The Relative Glory of the Last Adam & Second Man and the Resurrection Body (vv.42-50)
42 Thus also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility. 43 It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body: if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. vv.42-44 The apostle uses the figure of “sowing” (planting seeds) for the death of a believer. Burial may be included, but John 12:24 would indicate that “sowing” refers to a body entering the state of death. This is helpful, because not all the dead are buried; e.g. some burned at the stake, or cremated. This is similar to the figure of “sleep” used to describe the state of death for a believer. In both cases, there is an expectation of rising up again. However, sowing goes farther than sleep, because in agriculture what springs up is of a different character and a higher order than what was sown. In all these verses the Spirit is careful to maintain that it is the same body that is raised up, though in a new condition; hence “It is sown… it is raised”. Four areas in which the resurrection body is different (superior) to the present body:
- It will never decay. Free from the effects of sin, our resurrection bodies will not be subject to deterioration. “It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility”.
- It has no shame. The shame of our nakedness causes us to need clothing today. But in that day, we will be fit for the very presence of God in all His glory. We will be glorified even before we stand at the judgment seat of Christ! “It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory”.
- It has no weakness. Our bodies of humiliation are subject to injury and sickness, as well as certain physical laws and limitations, but our resurrection bodies will be free of those things. This is how the resurrected Jesus could appear in their midst, the doors being shut. “It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power”.
- It is suited to heaven. Our present bodies are natural in that they are suited to natural things, but our resurrection bodies are suited to heaven. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body”.
Our present bodies are corruptible, dishonorable, weak, and natural… but not evil. The human body is never spoken of as a vile thing (Phil. 3:21 needs a critical translation).
A natural body and a spiritual body. Our bodies now are of an earthly, natural order. The life of our bodies is in our blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11), and in our breath (Gen. 2:7). That means it is literally in the flow of oxygen & nutrients, etc. in human blood. Stop breathing, and you die. Lose too much blood, and you die. Blood has value in the sight of God, because it represents the life it sustains (Gen. 9:5-6; 2 Sam. 23:17). We have a “living soul” which can never be killed (Gen. 2:7; Mark 9:44), but the life of that soul is only natural (1 Cor. 15:45). While Adam was given a never-dying soul, his body – though superior – was of the same order as the animals… capable of death, although exempt from death before the fall. It was a body suited to testing, but not to the glory of God. Christ was born with a body that was like Adam’s, but without sin (Heb. 2:16-18). Having taken on Him the seed of Abraham, Christ was capable of suffering death (Heb. 2:9), but it was “not possible” that death could hold Him (Acts 2:24), because “in Him was life” (John 1:4). But when Christ rose victorious over the grave, His transformed resurrection body was of a glorified character… sustained by that very life which conquered the grave! When we receive the gospel, we are given Christ’s resurrection life, which is a life beyond the reach of death (John 20:22). However, we will always have it in a derivative way (“in the Son”, 1 John 5:11). That spiritual life is capable of sustaining a resurrection body… as we see in the Lord Jesus. He could say, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). The risen Christ had a physical body made of flesh and bones, and He was very much a man. But the common expression “flesh and blood” is exchanged for “flesh and bone”… no mention of blood. The resurrection body is a body suited to, and sustained by, the resurrection life within it. Today we have Christ’s resurrection life, but we remain in a natural body. At the resurrection, we will have a spiritual (glorified) body! Only then will we enjoy eternal, abundant life to its full extent, though we have it now in kernel form. Note: Scripture doesn’t say the resurrected body of Jesus had no blood. His blood was poured out after the three hours of darkness, and we just don’t read of it again. He may very well have had blood, but the life-principle of His resurrection body was not in the blood.
45 Thus also it is written, “The first man Adam became a living soul” [Genesis 2:7]; the last Adam a quickening spirit. v.45
Paul now speaks of the heads of two creations; the old creation and the new creation
. He is expanding on the difference between the body we have now, and the resurrection body. The resurrection body will be suited to the new creation, and it beyond the power of death. Both Adam and Christ are “Adams”, because they are each the head of a race. The first man Adam became “a living soul”
, which means he had no existence before, no power in himself, and his life is “soulish” or merely natural. He was a “son”
or direct creation of God (Luke 3:38). He had a living soul, but a natural, animal life. The last Adam became “a quickening spirit”
, which means He had life intrinsically in Himself – He always existed – and was the source of life to a race that descended from Him! When did He become a quickening spirit? Clearly, when He rose from the dead and became head of a new creation race. This is why immediately after that, He breathed on the disciples, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost”
(John 20:17). The Last Adam did not rise a quickening spirit until He had suffered for the sin brought in by the First Adam.
The First and Last Adam. This tells us there will be no more human races after Christ’s new creation race. He is the “last Adam”… there are no more to come. Furthermore, the term “first man Adam” shows that there were no races of men before Adam 6000 years ago. There may have been apes before that, but no humans. The Bible says it.
46 But that which is spiritual was not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual: 47 the first man out of the earth, made of dust; the second man, out of heaven. vv.46-47 Two Orders of Manhood. In these verses we have the relative order of the first and second man. The first man and the second man are abstract terms that describe two different orders of manhood. The apostle traces their origins in v.47. The first man was made out of the dust (Gen. 1), and his order of manhood is earthly. The second man is from heaven (John 1), and His order of manhood is heavenly. Our hope cannot be in the natural order, but in the spiritual order… which will rise from among the dead (v.49). The order is very important; “that which is spiritual was not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual”. In the dispensational ways of God, the first man had to come before the second man, so that the utter ruin of one and the perfection of the other might be manifest.
- The first man was tested under a series of dispensations up to the cross, which was the final test. There the first man and all his worldly wisdom crucified the Lord of Glory, and thereby proved himself to be an irrecoverable failure. All those in Adam’s fallen race take their character from the head of that race. The only way to escape that order is to be transferred into another race! Read Rom. 5:12-21.
- The Second Man is a person… our Lord Jesus Christ! He is of a heavenly order and origin; and there is no failure with Him. In the fulfillment of God’s purposes, God will show how Christ, as Second Man, will succeed in all of those principles under which the First Man has utterly failed. Read more…
This verse has been twisted to say that we need to give the first man the first place in Christianity. That is to totally misunderstand what the apostle is saying here. Note
: To distinguish the Second Man and the Last Adam; the Lord became “the second man”
when He came down “from heaven” at the incarnation. But He became “the last Adam”
when He rose from the dead. To distinguish the first man from the old man
, the first man is never said to be sinful, but the old man is. The first man is a failure, the old man is depraved.
48 Such as he made of dust, such also those made of dust; and such as the heavenly one, such also the heavenly ones. v.48 Here we find that the character of the head of each respective head is passed on to the members of his race. Adam is called here, literally “the dusty one” (see W. Kelly translation), and those of his race are “the dusty ones”. By contrast, Christ is “the heavenly One” and those in his race are “the heavenly ones”.
49 And as we have borne the image of the one made of dust, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly one. v.49 Now it is all brought down to a single point. What has been Paul’s purpose in unfolding the two orders of manhood? Because our association with the Second Man means that we will be transformed into His image, morally and physically. We must certainly admit that “we have borne the image of the dusty one”, just look at our decaying bodies. Morally, we are of the same character as Christ even now (v.48), because we have His life… but that transformation is not yet complete. Still, day by day, moment by moment, the Spirit of the Lord is transforming us as we are occupied with the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). One day, at the rapture, we are going to be fully conformed – morally and physically – to “the image of the Heavenly One”. This is what it means, that we will be glorified; see Rom. 8:17, 30; 1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:21. The sureness of it is beautiful. Are you sure you have borne the image of the earthy one? Healthy young people sometimes can’t see that. But talk to someone over sixty.. they’ll tell you, “I’ve borne it”. You can be just as sure that you “shall” bear the image of the Heavenly One.
50 But this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, nor does corruption inherit incorruptibility. v.50 Finally, the reason is given for why this transformation must take place. Our Adam-bodies are not suited to heaven. The “kingdom of God” is a moral kingdom where all is subject to the authority of God. We are in the kingdom of God now having entered it by new birth (John 3:5), but in this verse it is looked at as future; i.e. our heavenly portion. Man in his very best state is not compatible with heaven. Sin is not in question here, but compatibility. Our bodies today are in an earthy and corruptible condition… they cannot inherit incorruptibility in that condition. A change is required before we can “inherit the kingdom of God”.
And is it so! I shall be like Thy Son?
Is this the grace which He for me has won?
Father of glory—thought beyond all thought!
In glory, to His own blest likeness brought!
The Event of Resurrection and Notes of Victory (15:51-58)
¶ 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and “we” shall be changed. v.52 Paul gives us a “mystery”, or a secret previously not disclosed or understood. Not all believers will “fall asleep” or die; some will live until the rapture! Resurrection was known in the Old Testament (Job 14:14, Job 19:25-27, Psa. 17:15), but it was always expected that death was inevitable. Now we learn something new. It is the result of death having been conquered; that death will not necessarily come upon all, nor will all undergo actual corruption. But “all” – the living and sleeping saints – will be changed instantaneously, “in the twinkling of an eye”. The dead will be raised in an incorruptible state, and the bodies of the living saints will be instantly changed. When will it happen? At the “last trump”. While the rapture itself is not mentioned in 1 Cor. 15, we know from 1 Thess. 4 that the moment of the resurrection correlates with the rapture (actually, it closely precedes it), because of this trumpet blast. This “last trumpet” has nothing to do with the seven trumpets of Revelation. It has to do with the Church period, not with the tribulation. Perhaps it is an allusion to the trumpet that would signal the camp of Israel to march (Num. 10). Most likely it is a reference to the trumpets used in the Roman army; at the first trump they would pull down their tents, at the second trump they would put themselves in order, and at the last trump they would start marching. The last trump signals the last act of this dispensation… the rapture. We need to “rightly divide the Word of Truth”, or we will get these things mixed up, and think that the rapture will occur at the seventh trumpet of Rev. 11, which is really the appearing of Christ. The 24 elders are seated on thrones before the seven trumpets are blown. To summarize, the transformation is given in 1 Cor. 15, and the translation is given in 1 Thess. 4.
53 For this corruptible must needs put on incorruptibility, and this mortal put on immortality. v.53 There are two classes of saints that experience this change: the mortal and the corruptible. The mortal are the living saints, who are subject to death in the process of time. The corruptible are the dead saints, whose bodies are corrupting in the grave. Putting on incorruptibility and immortality are not resurrection, but the twofold character of our glorified bodies when the great change occurs.
Mortality. Was Christ mortal? No. Mortality is the result of sin (Gen. 2:17), and Jesus never sinned, nor was He capable of sin. Now, the Son in incarnation took a body that was capable of death, because He must die to accomplish the will of God. But Jesus was never subject to death. Likewise, Jesus never got sick because sickness is also the result of sin. However, He did bear our sicknesses in His own person (Isa. 53:4, Matt. 8:17), and He did suffer physical abuse from man.
54 But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the word written: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” [Isaiah 25:8] 55 “Where, O death, is thy sting? where, O death, thy victory?” [Hosea 13:14] vv.54-55 Death will be “swallowed up” the moment the dead are raised in incorruptibility and the living are transformed in immortality. The original word for “is swallowed up” in is the aorist present, which means ‘utterly and completely’. In Isa. 25 where this quotation is taken from, the interpretation is that the blessing of the earth will begin when Christ returns. The creation will be liberated from the effects of the curse when the kingdom is established, 1000 years before the end of the world! The apostle adapts the principle of this to show that we will be liberated from the effects of sin before sin itself is erased. There are really two things that are awful about death; (1) the corruption of our bodies, and (2) the separation of the soul. As we see in this verse, both of those things will be eliminated in that supreme moment; (1) the bodies subject now to corruption will then put on a condition of incorruptibility, and (2) the spirit, soul and body will be united forever when we put on a condition of immortality! “Then” and only “then shall come to pass” the believer’s final victory over death. However, even now we can chant the notes of victory (v.55), because we see the ultimate defeat of death by the eye of faith. Death’s pains are already “loosed” (Acts 2:24), death will be “swallowed” shortly (1 Cor. 15:54), and one day death will finally be “cast” into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin the law; v.56 What is it that gives death its “sting”? It is sin… death is that solemn reminder to man that he has a sin nature. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). When a man faces death, he comes face to face with the wages of his sin. But Christ went into death under the sentence of our sins, and rose victorious over death; therefore, the sting is gone! Death no longer holds that meaning for the Christian. Death is but the servant that brings us to Jesus. What is the “strength” of sin? The law… because the law – while it is “holy, just, and good” – only provokes the flesh to rebel against the commandments of God (Rom. 7:7-13). Why bring up the law at this point in the epistle? Is it because the Sadducean error infecting Corinth was coupled with Judaizing doctrine? Compare “the power of sin is the law” with “Christ the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
57 but thanks to God, who gives us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ. v.57 The two practical effects of Christ’s victory over death in the lives of believers are: thanksgiving (v.57) and energy in serving the Lord (v.58). Even though the transformation is future, we can give thanks now because the sting of death is gone. The full title of Christ is used, showing that in resurrection all power has been given into His hand. Our victory is through Him!
58 So then, my beloved brethren, be firm, immovable, abounding always in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. v.58 It is wonderful that Paul leaves the Corinthians on solid footing. Some among them had imbibed error, but he addresses the gathering as a whole, his “beloved brethren”, as those who believed in the resurrection, and knew that their toil was not in vain in the Lord. Yet there is an exhortation to “be firm, immovable”, in lieu of the winds of doctrine that had rocked them. On the basis of what has been established in this chapter, on the ultimate victory of Christ over all His enemies, we are encouraged to press on laboring steadily for the Lord, knowing that we have a bright and sure future! What greater incentive could we have for living and serving Christ?