“Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it” (1 Corinthians 15:1 NLT).
Just as each of the three preceding chapters of 1 Corinthians are dedicated to a single subject, 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen is also devoted to one specific topic: the resurrection of Christ. A brief look at the cultural climate of Biblical Corinth may serve to explain why the subject of Jesus’ resurrection forms the entirety of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen, the single longest chapter within this epistle.
You see, the first-century city of Corinth was known in part for its emphasis on philosophical thought. Two of the more prominent philosophical movements of that time were Stoicism and Epicureanism.
The Epicureans believed that pleasure and happiness represented the highest achievements in life and did not believe in the concept of life after death. On the other hand, a Stoic was someone who sought to maintain a mental outlook that was unaffected by external events. While Stoicism affirmed the idea that the soul was eternal, it did not accept the idea of a bodily resurrection.
Judging from the tone of this chapter, it’s likely that one or both of these philosophies had begun to exert some influence upon the Corinthian church. Yet even though the number of people who self-identify as Stoics or Epicureans is relatively modest today, we can still find remnants of these philosophical beliefs in the lives of those who believe that humans become immaterial “spirit beings” when they pass from this life or are simply just annihilated when they die.
In seeking to counter these erroneous teachings, Paul the Apostle will turn to the historical reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection as both a prophetic fulfillment and a preview of what is to come. To make his case, Paul will present two pieces of supporting evidence: the eyewitness testimony of those who saw and interacted with Jesus as a physical, material person following His death, and the implications of His resurrection upon the question of life beyond the grave.
Finally, one source provides us with a convenient outline of this chapter…
“Ch. 15 has three major divisions and a conclusion. Vv. 1-11 introduce the first division and present the resurrection of Christ as the heart of the Gospel message. Both second and third parts conclude with exhortations to proper behavior. Part two (vv. 12-34) makes the case for the fact of the Resurrection as essential for the achievement of God’s redemptive purposes, and calls for the Corinthians to stop sinning (vv. 33-34). Part three (vv. 35-58) concerns the mode of the Resurrection and calls them to positive Christian activity in the light of Christ’s victory over death (v. 58).” (1)
(1) Lyons, George. “H. The Future Resurrection of the Dead (15:1-58)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1016. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
“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, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
While the subject of Jesus’ resurrection encompasses all of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen, we can also view this portion of Scripture as a continuation of a theme that Paul the Apostle established in the very first chapter of this epistle: “…when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 NLT).
Paul had first instructed the Corinthians in the subject of Jesus’ death and resurrection when the church was initially established at the time of his second missionary journey (see Acts 18:1-8). Unfortunately, it appears that there were some within the church who already had begun to pivot away from this essential pillar of the Christian faith. As one commentator tersely paraphrases Paul’s statement in the opening verses of this chapter, “Since some of you destroy the Good News by saying the dead are not raised to life, I repeat to you some things which I told you when I was at Corinth.” (1)
To assist in getting the Corinthian believers back on course in this regard, Paul began with the word “gospel,” a word that is well known but not necessarily well defined. You see, the word “gospel” finds it’s origin in the ancient Greek word euaggelion, a word that refers to “glad tidings” or “good news.” Over time, this word began to be associated with the “good news” that human beings can escape an eternal death sentence and enter a relationship with God through faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Paul will go on to identify the essential features of the authentic gospel message for us in the following verses, elements that would have been “in vain” if Jesus’ resurrection had not been a historical reality.
Nevertheless, the fact that the members of the Corinthian church required a “refresher course” in the subject of Jesus’ resurrection so quickly following Paul’s departure from Corinth illustrates just how easy it can be to deviate from the key components of the faith if we are not diligent to internalize the truth of God’s Word on a daily basis.
(1) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:1”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-corinthians-15.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
“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 15:3-4).
“My high school science teacher once told me that much of Genesis is false. But since my high school science teacher did not prove he was God by rising from the dead, I’m going to believe Jesus instead.” (1)
Is there anything about Christianity that truly makes it different or better in comparison to other spiritual beliefs? Well, the answer to that question can be addressed in two words: the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity, for without the resurrection, there really is no “Christianity.” For instance, the New Testament book of Romans tells us, “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV, emphasis added). Romans 4:5 also tells us that Jesus was “…delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification…” (NIV).
So in light of these things, we can say that a proper understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection is at least as important as a proper understanding of His life and teachings. This makes 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen extremely valuable in helping to establish a solid foundation for this important Biblical doctrine. The truths contained within this chapter can also assist us in addressing any misunderstandings and/or misinterpretations regarding Jesus’ resurrection and engage with those who are opposed or indifferent to the Christian faith.
Paul the Apostle began this portion of Scripture by establishing the source of his information: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…” (ESV). In other words, the information that Paul was about to share in regard to Jesus’ death and resurrection did not originate with him. Instead, he simply passed on what he had been given.
So what was the source of Paul’s information? Well, Paul identifies his source in his Biblical letter to the church in Galatia…
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).
This does not preclude the possibility that Paul received other reports from those who were on hand to witness the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, it would serve to reassure Paul’s audience that their beliefs were based upon a teaching that originated with the highest possible source.
(1) Andy Stanley, quoted in I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist p. 355
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).
Three essential truths regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection are established here within this brief portion of Scripture. Each of these truths can be easily distinguished from one another for each begins with the word “that”…
- that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
- that he was buried.
- that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
It is important to note that Paul the Apostle (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) also sought to emphasize one particular aspect of Jesus’ death and resurrection within this passage: it took place “in accordance with the Scriptures.” This key element is repeated twice within these verses and serves to highlight the fulfillment of a number of Biblical prophecies in regard to Jesus’ sacrificial death.
For instance, compare the following excerpts from Psalm twenty-two (written around 1000 B.C.) and contrast them with the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ death…
- “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1, compare with Mark 15:34)
- “All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!'” (Psalm 22:7-8, compare with Luke 23:35-37)
- “They pierced My hands and My feet…” (Psalm 22:16, compare with Luke 23:33, John 19:37)
- “They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18, compare with John 19:23-24)
Or consider these portions of Scripture from the fifty-third chapter of the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah written around 700 B.C. …
- “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, compare with Matthew 27:12-14).
- “And He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12, compare with Matthew 27:38).
- “And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death” (Isaiah 53:9, compare with Matthew 27:57-60).
There are a number of other predictive prophecies that were fulfilled in regard to Jesus’ death as well, and we will go on to examine a few of those examples next.
“For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 HCSB).
Paul the Apostle will make use of a foundational element in building his defense of Jesus’ resurrection in the passage quoted above: Jesus’ death and resurrection took place “…according to the Scriptures.”
While Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 probably represent the two portions of Old Testament Scripture that are most closely identified with Jesus’ death and resurrection, there are a significant number of other Biblical prophecies that were fulfilled in regard to Jesus’ life and death as well.
Among these predictive prophecies are the following…
- Jesus’ virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14 – Matthew 1:18-24).
- His ancestral link to Israel’s king David (2 Samuel 7:8-16 – Matthew 1:1-17).
- His birthplace in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2 – Matthew 2:1-6).
- The announcement of His arrival through God’s messenger (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1 – Matthew 3:1-3).
- His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13 – Matthew 26:14-16, Matthew 27:3-9).
- The physical punishment He would receive (Isaiah 50:6 – John 19:1-3).
- How His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16 – John 20:25).
- That His side was pierced (Zechariah 12:10 – John 19:34).
- And finally how Jesus rose from the dead (Psalm 16:10 – Matthew 28:5-7).
In commenting on a similar (but much more extensive) list of fulfilled Old Testament prophecies related to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, one scholar makes the following observation…
“It is important to understand that these prophecies were written hundreds of years before Christ was born. No one could have been reading the signs of the times or just making intelligent guesses, like the “prophecies” we see in the check-out line at the supermarket. Even the most liberal critics admit that the prophetic books were completed some 400 years before Christ, and the Book of Daniel by about 167 B.C.
Though there is good evidence to date most of these books much earlier (some of the psalms and earlier prophets were in the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.), what difference would it make? It is just as hard to predict an event 200 years in the future as it is to predict one that is 800 years in the future. Both feats would require nothing less than divine knowledge. Even using the later dates, the fulfillment of these prophecies is just as miraculous and points to the divine confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah.” (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. 1990. When Skeptics Ask (p. 116) Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.
“For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received — that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NET).
The Biblical account of Jesus’ crucifixion tells us that a man known as Joseph of Arimathea recovered Jesus’ body following His death on the cross, The Scriptures identify Joseph as a prominent spiritual leader who had secretly become a follower of Jesus out of fear of the local religious officials (John 19:38). The reason for Joseph’s concern might be explained by the fact that while he was a “…highly respected member of the Jewish council” (Mark 15:43 CEV) he “…had not been in agreement with either the Sanhedrin’s motivation or their action” (Luke 23:51 CJB) in sentencing Jesus to death.
We’re told that Joseph (assisted by another man named Nicodemus), took Jesus’ body, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in his own newly constructed, rock-hewn burial tomb. When their work was complete, Joseph and Nicodemus sealed the tomb by rolling a large stone across the entrance. While this stone was primarily designed to prevent unauthorized access by others, its presence would later help to validate the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
The four gospel accounts of Jesus’ death each attest to this burial (see Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:43-46. Luke 23:50-53, and John 19:38-42). In addition to Joseph and Nicodemus’ direct involvement in this process, three of the four Gospels tell us that there were at least two other individuals who were present to observe Jesus’ burial as well (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47, and Luke 23:55).
Equally significant is the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus participated in the fulfillment of an important Messianic prophecy as a result of their actions…
“…For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:8-9).
Taken together, these narratives leave no room for speculation by anyone who seeks to consider the evidence regarding Jesus’ death in an objective manner- Jesus was dead and buried beyond any reasonable doubt. Therefore, those who accept the reality of Jesus’ death but deny the possibility of a resurrection (like some among the members of the Corinthian church as we’ll later see) must account for the fact that “…that he was raised on the third day” as a physical, material person.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 RV).
In addition to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, there are three other references to those events in the New Testament Scriptures. The first can be found in Acts 2:22-32 where the Apostle Peter linked Jesus’ death and resurrection to the fulfillment of a prophetic message authored by Israel’s king David.
The second took place in a town named Antioch where Paul the Apostle referenced the account of Jesus’ resurrection in a sermon to the local Jewish community there (Acts 13:26-33). The final example can be found in the discussion of Jesus’ resurrection that takes place here in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen. Each of these passages serve to emphasize the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the physical, one-to-one correlation between the person who was put to death on the cross and the one who appeared three days later.
One scholar summarizes the importance of these various New Testament references in the following manner…
“On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of His women followers. Among the reasons that have led most scholars to this conclusion are the following:
1. In stating that Jesus “was buried, that He was raised on the third day,” the old information transmitted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 implies the empty tomb.
2. The empty tomb story also has multiple and independent attestation in Mark, Matthew, and John’s source material, some of which is very early.
3. The empty tomb story as related in Mark, our earliest account, is simple and lacks signs of having been embellished as a legend.
4. Given that in Jewish patriarchal culture the testimony of women was regarded as unreliable, the fact that women, rather than men, were the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the narrative’s being true.
5. The earliest known Jewish response to the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, namely, the “disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping” (Mt 28:12–15), was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing and thus presupposes the empty tomb. For these and other reasons, a majority of scholars hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical testimony to Jesus’ empty tomb.” (1)
(1) Craig, W. L. (2007). Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? In T. Cabal, C. O. Brand, E. R. Clendenen, P. Copan, & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (pp. 1728–1730). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as unto one born out of due time, he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
In the manner of a legal attorney presenting the facts of a case, Paul the Apostle will call forth a diverse group of eyewitnesses to verify the reality of Jesus’ resurrection here in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. To support this affirmation, Paul will establish the firsthand, evidential nature of his case with the repeated phrase, “he appeared…”, “he appeared…”, “he appeared…”, “he appeared…”
Paul began this presentation of eyewitnesses with the apostle Peter. Peter is referred to here by his Aramaic name Cephas and since it appears that the Corinthians held Peter in particularly high regard, this post-resurrection appearance was likely to carry a great deal of influence.
Jesus’ appearance to Peter was foreshadowed by an angel who appeared at the empty tomb with the following announcement: “But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7).
The fact that this angelic messenger specifically mentioned Peter becomes important when we consider how Peter must have felt during the period following Jesus’ death. After all, Peter was the disciple who denied that he knew Jesus on three occasions (Luke 22:54-62) following His arrest, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 26:33-34). But even though Peter may have rejected Jesus, its equally clear that Jesus had not rejected Peter.
This post-resurrection appearance to Peter serves to illustrate Jesus’ unsurpassed patience, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. It should also serve to reassure anyone who may feel as if he or she has caused irreparable damage in their relationship with God. Remember that Jesus reached out to Peter despite what he had done- and it is highly unlikely that any of us have failed worse than Peter.
So while Paul mentions Jesus’ appearance to Peter only briefly within this passage, a closer look at his encounter with Christ should serve as a source of comfort for every generation. As we’re reminded in the New Testament epistle of 1 John, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV).
“and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NIV).
The next set of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection are collectively identified as “the Twelve” here in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. This is a shorthand method of referring to the principal group of disciples who were personally selected by Jesus during His earthly ministry (see Luke 6:12-16). While “the Twelve” actually numbered eleven following the defection of Judas Iscariot, this designation was still useful in identifying the specific group of Jesus’ followers that consisted of Peter, James, John, etc.
The gospels record four different instances where Jesus interacted with this core group of disciples following His death and resurrection. Three of these accounts can be found in Matthew 28:16-20, Luke 24:36-49, and John 21:1-25. But for many, Jesus’ best-known appearance following His resurrection may have taken place with the disciple who is widely known to us today as “Doubting Thomas”…
“Then, the same day 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 came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
…Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ So he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed'” (John 20:19-20, 24-25).
“and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NET).
Perhaps the most remarkable account among Jesus’ many post-resurrection appearances is found here in 1 Corinthians 15:6: “…He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died” (NLT). Its likely that this forms a portion of the “many convincing proofs” spoken of in the New Testament book of Acts where we read, “After His great suffering and vindication, (Jesus) showed His apostles that He was alive—appearing to them repeatedly over a period of 40 days, giving them many convincing proofs of His resurrection” (Acts 1:3 Voice).
Given the fact that this letter to the Corinthian church was written more than two decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, its understandable that some of these witnesses had passed away (or “ fallen asleep“) in the intervening period. However, the fact that the majority of these eyewitnesses were still alive at the time of this letter to the Corinthians held great corroborative value. You see, anyone who wished to verify the genuine nature of Jesus’ resurrection during that time had the option to approach these remaining individuals- and any one of them could have contradicted Paul’s assertion if it were not true.
This passage also creates difficulty for anyone who might seek to attribute the reports of Jesus’ resurrection to a case of mass hallucination or some other type of shared delusion. For instance, Jesus’ encounter with more than five hundred people after His death and burial should prompt us to ask the following question: is it reasonable to think that all of those people had the exact same hallucination at the exact same time?
As one scholar points out, “…Jesus did not appear to only a few people. He appeared to over 500 people (1 Cor. 15:6), including many women, His own apostles, His brother James, and to Saul of Tarsus (the chief anti-Christian of the day). Second, Jesus did not simply appear on a few occasions. He appeared on at least 12 different occasions. These were spread over a 40-day period of time (Acts 1:3) and in many different geographical locations” (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 461–462). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw Him” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT).
While there are a number of “James” mentioned within the New Testament Scriptures, the one spoken of here in 1 Corinthians 15:7 is most assuredly James, the half-brother of Jesus. This particular James is first mentioned by name in Matthew 13:55 but his initial attitude towards Jesus was revealed long before we learned his identity…
“…when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:2-5 NIV).
Nevertheless, Paul the Apostle’s letter to the Galatians goes on to list “James, the Lord’s brother” among the “other apostles” in Galatians 1:19 and even identifies him as someone who held a reputation as a pillar of the church (Galatians 2:9). So how can we account for this change in James’ attitude? Well, it seems that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to James (documented here in 1 Corinthians 15:7) must have constituted a significant turning point in his life and led to his acceptance of Jesus as Savior.
James’ conversion to Christianity is especially important for those who doubt the validity of Jesus’ resurrection on the basis that He exclusively appeared to His followers. As one scholar (1) observes, it is incorrect to claim that Jesus did not appear to unbelievers for He appeared to His half-brother James, a person who clearly did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah prior to His resurrection. (2)
In addition, Jesus appeared to the most hostile unbeliever of all: Saul of Tarsus. Saul is better known to us today as Paul the Apostle, the human author of this letter to the Corinthians and roughly two-thirds of the other New Testament epistles. Even Jesus’ own followers were slow to accept the reality of His resurrection (3) even though He told them to expect it on more than one occasion (see Matthew 16:21 and Matthew 20:17-19).
In light of these realities, it would be inaccurate to claim that Jesus only appeared to His disciples following His death and resurrection.
(1) See Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 461–462). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
(2) See also 1 Corinthians 9:5. This passage mentions “the brothers of the Lord” who attended missionary journeys along with their wives, thus providing indirect evidence that Jesus’ other half-brothers eventually accepted Him as Savior after their initial rejection of Him.
“Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. After this, he appeared to more than five hundred other followers. Most of them are still alive, but some have died. He also appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles. Finally, he appeared to me, even though I am like someone who was born at the wrong time” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 CEV).
In the New Testament book of Acts we read of a man named Saul of Tarsus, a person who is better known to us today as Paul the Apostle. Prior to his conversion to Christianity, we’re told that Saul was someone who was violently opposed to those who followed Jesus. In fact, Saul was so exceedingly hostile towards Jesus and his followers that he went from home to home in order to find and imprison those who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah (Acts 8:1-3).
As mentioned previously, Saul began a journey to the town of Damascus with letters of recommendation from the religious leadership to aid in his attempt to eradicate the fledgling church (Acts 9:1-2). But while he was on the way, Saul had an encounter that changed his life…
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'” (Acts 9:3-6 NIV).
After this experience, we’re told that Paul continued on to Damascus, regained the eyesight that he had lost to the blinding light on the road, and immediately began to tell people that Jesus was the Savior. From that point until the end of his life, Paul demonstrated the effect of this encounter with Jesus as he worked to fulfill the call to ministry that God had placed upon his life.
For Paul, a man who was not among the group of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, this call to apostolic leadership must have seemed out of synch with those who had walked with Jesus prior to His death and resurrection. Unlike others like Phillip, Bartholomew, Simon, Andrew, Thomas, and the remaining Apostles, Paul did not have the opportunity to watch, learn, and interact with Jesus during His earthly ministry.
Because of this, Paul shared a deeply personal admission with the members of the Corinthian church: he sometimes felt as if he was “…someone who was born at the wrong time” (CEV).
“For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11).
One of the great causes of grief, anguish, and despondency in life has little to do with any type of physical ailment. You see, the existence of such things can often be attributed to one thing: regret.
When presented with the opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, some may regretfully object by saying, “You don’t know the things I’ve said and done in life. How could God accept me?” For some, its not unusual to feel as if there is no possibility of a reconciliation with God in light of their past actions.
But let’s stop for a moment and consider what we read here in 1 Corinthians 15:9-11. For instance, how many of us have hunted God’s people from town to town as Paul the Apostle once did? How many of us have been an accessory to murder as Paul (then known as Saul) once was? How many of us have attempted to “…destroy the church” (Acts 8:3) as Paul had once done?
Yet despite these things, Paul was able to find reconcilliation with God through the grace of Christ. Notice that Paul fully acknowledged his past actions in life by saying, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” However, we should also notice that Paul didn’t stop there, for he went on to say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”
Much like Paul the Apostle, we are what we are by the grace of God, You see, Paul knew that he was a man who once persecuted the people of God. But Paul also knew that he was not that same man any more in light of what Jesus had done for him.
Paul’s example tells us that it’s never too late to accept Christ and begin living the kind of life that honors God, regardless of what we may have done in the past. Even if we (like Paul) have done things that we now regret, God’s grace can allow us to move forward and become everything that He created us to be.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not ineffective. However, I worked more than any of them, yet not I, but God’s grace that was with me. Therefore, whether it is I or they, so we proclaim and so you have believed” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11 HCSB).
It has often been said that a person is shaped by the sum of his or her experiences. Unfortunately, it has also been observed that “to err is human” as well. Whenever we come to the point when we realize that we have been responsible for making a mistake, an error, or an inappropriate choice (as all of us eventually do), we are always faced with a decision: “Am I going to press on and learn from this mistake or am I going to carry it forward and allow it to negatively impact my future?”
One person who refused to allow the mistakes of his past to negatively influence the future that God had prepared for him was the Apostle Paul. For instance, Paul once made the following admission that can be found within the Biblical letter of 1 Timothy: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13-14 NIV).
Paul was someone who could have allowed those past experiences to prevent him from pursuing the future that God had planned for him. However, God also inspired Paul to record an important spiritual truth in his second letter to the Corinthian church when he said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
These passages (along with the portion of Scripture found here in 1 Corinthians 15:9-11) tell us that we do not have to allow the mistakes, poor decisions, or shameful things of the past to undermine God’s plan for our future. For those who are in Christ, such things have passed away and all things have become new. Keeping these Scriptural examples in mind can help prevent us from allowing something in our past from enjoying God’s best in the present.
“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11 ESV).
“When sinners are, by Divine grace, turned into saints, God causes the remembrance of former sins to make them humble, diligent, and faithful.” (1)
We can complete this portion of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen with one final observation from the life of Paul the Apostle. While it is possible to allow the mistakes of the past to negatively impact the future, it is also possible to allow such things to serve as a positive catalyst for spiritual growth and a renewed sense of commitment to the work that God has called us to do. Such was the case with the Apostle Paul.
You see, Paul’s vendetta against the church in the days prior to his conversion was probably greater than his admission here in 1 Corinthians 15:9 might lead us to believe. For instance, one Biblical translation tells us that Pail was responsible for “…spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (CEB) during that period, Yet Paul responded to God’s graciousness towards him by saying, “I have worked harder than any of the other apostles, although it was not really my own doing, but God’s grace working with me” (GNB).
In commenting on this passage, one source observes that Paul “…did not accept this grace as a matter of fact. Rather it put him under the deepest obligation, and he labored tirelessly to serve the Christ who saved him. Yet in a very real sense it was not Paul himself, but the grace of God which was working with him.” (2)
Paul expressed a similar idea in a well-known passage from his Biblical letter to the Galatian church when he said, “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).
In the words of another commentator, “Having freely admitted the abnormal and undeserving character of his experience, Paul moves on to stress that his past life is no reason to reject his message. Divine grace did not make Paul lazy, but caused him to labor ‘harder’ than anyone else.” (3)
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible [1 Corinthians 15:1-11]
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (1 Corinthians 15:10) p.1084
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2039). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“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?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
To help the Corinthians examine their beliefs and come to the right conclusion regarding the resurrection of the dead, Paul the Apostle will engage in a series of “if-then” statements here in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. These brief statements will serve to illustrate the mistakes that some in the Corinthian church had made in their thinking about this important doctrine.
In general, the cultural philosophy of first century Corinth dismissed the possibility that someone could actually rise from the dead. But that wasn’t only true of Corinth, for Paul encountered a similar response in the city of Athens as well…
“Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection…. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter'” (Acts 17:18, 32).
Judging from Paul’s statement here in 1 Corinthians 15:12, it seems that a similar attitude had worked its way into the Corinthian church. One source provides us with some additional background information on this portion of Scripture…
“Most Greeks did not believe that people’s bodies would be resurrected after death. They saw the afterlife as something that happened only to the soul. According to Greek philosophers, the soul was the real person, imprisoned in a physical body, and at death the soul was released. There was no immortality for the body, but the soul entered an eternal state. Christianity, by contrast, affirms that the body and soul will be united after resurrection. The church at Corinth was in the heart of Greek culture. Thus, many believers had a difficult time believing in a bodily resurrection.” (1)
So in response, Paul turned to the historical reality of Jesus’ empty tomb and countered with a logical assertion: If there is no resurrection of the dead then it means that Jesus has not risen from the dead. Since there were hundreds of eyewitnesses who were still available to verify the reality of Jesus’ resurrection at the time of this letter to the Corinthians, this was probably not an argument that those who denied the possibility of a resurrection wanted to make.
(1) Life Application Study Bible [15:12-58] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“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” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
Much like the proverbial tree-trimmer who saws away the limb that he is sitting upon, it appears that those who denied the possibility of bodily resurrection within the church at Corinth had not fully considered the consequences of their position. The first consequence was this: “…if Christ wasn’t raised to life, our message is worthless” (CEV).
In other words, there was no value in the good news of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice if the Apostles’ message turned out to be untrue. Nor was there any value in their efforts to spread the gospel if Jesus’ resurrection has not actually taken place.
For instance, consider Paul’s heartfelt admission from earlier within this letter…
“…We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike. Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools…
Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm. We are often beaten and have no home. We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13 NLT).
It would have been absurd for Paul and his fellow Apostles endure such things if they had not been personally acquainted with the resurrected Christ. But the denial of Jesus’ resurrection also meant something for the members of the Corinthian church as well: “…your faith is devoid of truth and is fruitless (without effect, empty, imaginary, and unfounded)” (AMPC).
One commentary offers the following observation in this regard…
“…the Lord Jesus had promised that He would rise from the dead on the third day. If He did not rise at that time, then He was either an imposter or mistaken. In either case, He would not be worthy of trust. Secondly, apart from the resurrection of Christ, there could be no salvation. If the Lord Jesus did not rise from the dead, then there would be no way of knowing that His death had been of any greater value than any other person’s. But in raising Him from the dead, God testified to the fact that He was completely satisfied with the redemptive work of Christ.” (1)
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William Macdonald, Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers [1 Corinthians 15:14]
“Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise” (1 Corinthians 15:15).
If we were to paraphrase Paul the Apostle’s statement here in 1 Corinthians 15:15, we might do so in the following manner: “If Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead then it means that a lot of people are telling a lot of lies.”
First among these liars would be Jesus Himself. If we were to dismiss the possibility of a literal, bodily resurrection, then it would mean that Jesus was not being truthful when He said, “…’All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee‘” (Matthew 26:31-32, emphasis added).
Next in line would be the Apostles, Jesus’ own commissioned representatives. If there is no possibility of a resurrection, then it meant that Paul and the Apostle Peter (along with other God-honoring teachers like Apollos [1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-6) had perpetrated a deceptive fraud upon the members of the Corinthian church. But even more alarmingly, their deception is one that has continued to be perpetuated upon untold numbers of people throughout the centuries via the New Testament writings of these Biblical authors.
“For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen” (1 Corinthians 15:16).
Just as he had done a few sentences earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:13, Paul reasoned backward to illustrate the damaging implications that were sure to arise from the rejection of a bodily resurrection: if there is no possibility of a resurrection, then Jesus could not have been raised from the dead. This, in turn, led to a number of other negative implications as well…
“And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
In addition to a worthless faith, those who had accepted Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection as the basis for the forgiveness of their sins had no such forgiveness if Jesus had not risen from the dead. If that was the case, then Jesus was someone who ultimately fulfilled the expectation of those who helped put Him to death: “‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!'” (Mark 15:31 NIV).
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:16-18 ESV).
In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Paul the Apostle continued to build upon the logical conclusions that flowed from the belief that a resurrection of the dead was impossible. One such consequence can be found within the passage quoted above. You see, a person who died under the mistaken belief that Jesus had forgiven his or her sins on the basis of His substitutionary death and resurrection was someone who had actually perished if the dead are not raised.
In the original language of this passage, the word “perished” is used to identify something that is lost, ruined, or destroyed. (1) So a person who chose to reject the idea of a future resurrection was left to face a number of eternal implications, not the least of which meant eternal ruin for those who denied that such a thing was possible.
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
There are some who recognize Jesus to be an influential historical figure. Others admire His teachings. There are some who accept Him as one of many spiritual mentors. Then there those who view Jesus as a great social reformer. For many, Jesus is viewed as someone who can help people find enlightenment, wisdom, success, and/or fulfillment in life.
However, it is important to remember that Jesus validated everything He taught by rising from the dead (John 20). Thus, Jesus is not just another spiritual leader among many- He is the final, authoritative source for every spiritual belief and practice. If Jesus’ resurrection did not really take place, then everything else He taught might also be called into question as well, no matter how personally beneficial some of His teachings may be.
In addition, we should keep in mind that a decision to accept Jesus often brought very little material benefit in Paul’s day. On the contrary, a person who self-identified as a Christian during that period typically faced rejection, persecution, poverty, and death. If there was no such thing as a resurrection of the dead, then those hardships would ultimately prove to be futile and pointless.
Therefore, a person who chose to endure such sufferings on the basis of something that didn’t really occur was someone who “…should be pitied more than anyone” (HCSB).
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Here in 1 Corinthians 15:20, the Apostle Paul makes use of a word that would have been familiar to those of Jewish descent within the Corinthian church. That word is firstfruits, a type of sacrificial offering that is found within the Old Testament book of Leviticus…
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest'” (Leviticuas 23:9-10).
It is probably safe to say that anyone who truly seeks to honor God will be someone who recognizes the importance of offering Him their first and best in every area of life. One Old Testament expression of that commitment involved submitting the initial portion of an agricultural crop (or the firstborn of a flock or herd) as an offering to God. Much as the name implies, these “firstfruits” represented the first and best portion of a flock or harvest.
God’s people continue to acknowledge this general principle today whenever they give the first and best of their time, talent, and financial resources to God in appreciation and recognition of the blessings that He has provided. As we’re reminded in Proverbs 3:9-10, “Honor the Lord with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine.”
For illustration purposes however, the firstfruit offering also served to represent the remainder of the harvest that was to follow. Thus, this offering proved to be an excellent illustration of Jesus’ resurrection as well. He was the first of those who would be raised from the dead, never to die again. In this sense, Jesus’ resurrection served as the prototype or model of the future prepared for God’s people, one that would not be possible if there was no such thing as a resurrection of the dead.
As one commentator explains…
“Jesus is the “firstfruits” because His resurrection and the resurrection of believers are closely related events. Jesus was ‘the first to rise from the dead’ incorruptible (Acts 26:23), rising as our representative. His resurrection caused us to be raised with Him by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:6), and at the same time guarantees that we will be raised bodily.” (1)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2040). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20 NLT).
One question that arises in regard to Jesus’ resurrection involves the number of other individuals who were resurrected from the dead within the Scriptures. For instance, the Biblical accounts of those who were raised from the dead can be found in both the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 13:21) as well as the New Testament (Luke 7:11-16, Luke 8:49-56).
Perhaps the most famous Biblical example of a human resurrection (other than Jesus Himself) can be found in the account of Lazarus as detailed within John 11:1-44. There was no question that Lazarus was truly dead prior to his resurrection for even his own sister said of him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).
So how are we to understand 1 Corinthians 15:20, a portion of Scripture that tells us, “…Christ really has been raised from death–the first one of all those who will be raised” (ERV). Well, one scholar addresses this puzzling question in the following manner…
“When Jesus returned from the dead, it was the first real resurrection. Every other raising from the dead was merely a resuscitation or revivification of a dead body. There are some crucial differences between a true resurrection and a mere resuscitation. First of all, a resurrection is to an immortal body, whereas a resuscitation is merely back to a mortal body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:53). That is to say, Lazarus and everyone else who was raised from the dead before Christ eventually died again. Christ’s resurrection was the first to declare anyone ‘alive forevermore’ (Rev. 1:18).
Further, resurrection bodies manifest some supernatural qualities, not inherent in mortal bodies, such as, the ability to appear and disappear from sight immediately (Luke 24:31) or to get inside a closed room (John 20:19). Finally, while a resurrection is more than a resuscitation, it was not less than one. Resuscitated corpses die again, but Jesus’ resurrection body was immortal. He conquered death (Heb. 2:14; 1 Cor. 15:54–55), whereas merely resuscitated bodies will eventually be conquered by death.
However, that Jesus was the first to be raised in an immortal body does not mean it was an immaterial body. It was more than a reanimation of a material corpse, but it was not less than that. It was His same body of ‘flesh and bones'” (Luke 24:39). (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 463). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
Earlier in this chapter, Paul the Apostle called upon a number of witnesses to support the historical validity of Jesus’ resurrection. Here now in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, Paul will call upon a very different witness, one whose example stands in stark contrast to Jesus Himself. That witness is Adam, the very first man. Just as Adam’s conduct initiated a chain reaction of negative consequences, Jesus’ act of sacrificial obedience served to initiate a decidedly different set of consequences.
Paul made a similar reference to Adam and the effect of his choices upon us in the Biblical book of Romans when he said, “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…” (Romans 5:12 NIV). In order to fully appreciate this contrast, it may be helpful to start at the beginning of Adam’s account and work our way toward Paul’s application.
You see, the first chapter of the first book of the Bible chronicles the beginning of humanity: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
A few verses later we’re told, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good…” (Genesis 1:31 NIV). The important thing to note from these passages is that God pronounced the entirety of His creation -including humanity- to be “very good.” In the following chapter we find that God spoke the man He created and said, “…’You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die'” (Genesis 2:16-17 NIV).
Unfortunately as most of us are aware, the first human couple chose to disobey these instructions. When Adam made the conscious decision to disobey God, he severed the relationship with God that he previously enjoyed- and things were no longer very good. We’ll see how the effect of this decision has gone on to impact every subsequent member of the human family next.
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” ( Corinthians 15:21-22).
When Adam made the willful decision to disobey his Creator as detailed within in Genesis chapter three, he terminated the relationship with God that he previously enjoyed. The Scriptures refer to this state as a kind of death. This was not the type of immediate physical death that we might associate with those who pass from this life (although that did come later), but spiritual death or separation from God.
Now at this point someone might raise a legitimate question: “Why should the fact that Adam did something wrong have any impact or effect on me?” Well, there are a number of reasons to explain why Adam’s sin continue to affect us today. First, Adam is what theologians refer to as the “federal representative” of the human race. In other words, Adam represents everyone who follows him and every subsequent member of the human family is associated with him by virtue of the fact that he was the first human being.
The International Olympic Games can help to illustrate this idea. For instance, every athlete who participates in the Olympic Games serves as a representative of his or her nation. Thus, if the Canadian ice hockey team wins the Olympic gold medal, we say that “Canada” has won even though a relatively small number of Canadians actually participated in the event.
Just as an individual team or athlete represents his or her country in the Olympic Games, Adam also served as a representative of the human race. Because of this, every human being who follows him is associated with the effects of his sin. Of course, 1 Corinthians 15:22 also tells us that Jesus is a federal representative of a very different sort and we’ll examine that aspect of His ministry next.
However, Adam’s disobedience affects us in another way as well. You see, just as a parent sets an example for his or her children, Adam also set an example for his descendants through his sin and disobedience. Having only had the example of Adam’s sin to emulate, his descendants have continued to follow that example even to this day. This is one reason why Paul the Apostle can say in Romans 5:12: “Just as through one human being sin came into the world, and death came through sin, so death has come to everyone, since everyone has sinned” (CEB).
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
Regardless of our ethnicity, culture, or environmental background, every human being is related to Adam, the very first human being. Because of this, every human being will eventually perish from this life, just as he did. But as the passage quoted above tells us, those who fully trust in Christ to atone for their sins are also related to Him as well.
Thus, as one Biblical paraphrase renders 1 Corinthians 15:22, “Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, being members of his sinful race, and wherever there is sin, death results. But all who are related to Christ shall be made alive” (TLB). This is a truth should bring great comfort to those in Christ who live in fear of death.
As much as we may not wish to think about about it, there is a 100% certainty that every human being will eventually pass from this life. But just as our physical death is a certainty by way of our relationship with Adam, our everlasting life through Christ is just as certain by way of His atoning death on the cross. If we are related to Jesus as well as Adam, our life in Christ is just as certain as our death through Adam.
This explains why Jesus is sometimes referred to as “the second Adam.” His sacrificial work effectively reverses the consequences that were brought about by the actions of the first Adam. Paul the Apostle summarized this idea in the New Testament book of Romans when he wrote, “…Adam’s sin brought punishment to all, but Christ’s righteousness makes men right with God, so that they can live. Adam caused many to be sinners because he disobeyed God, and Christ caused many to be made acceptable to God because he obeyed” (Romans 5:18-19 TLB).
So Adam’s heritage is disobedience leading to death but Jesus’ heritage is obedience leading to life for all who accept Him. As we’re told in the New Testament Gospel of John…
” But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
“But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when He comes back. After that the end will come, when He will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:23-24 NLT).
Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul the Apostle introduced the concept of “firstfruits,” a reference to the first and best portion of a flock or harvest. Here now in the following verses, Paul will build upon that idea using Jesus’ resurrection as the model or prototype for those who follow Him. One source provides us with some background information regarding the concept that Paul presents to us within this passage…
“Each one in his own order indicates that God has a certain design for the resurrection. The word order is a Greek military term that might also be translated ‘rank.’ The Commander is raised first; His troops afterward.” (1)
So the idea is that Jesus is “first in rank” with regard to those who will be physically raised to eternal life. Another commentator expands on these verses with the following observation…
“Paul’s idea was that Christ was the ‘first’ rank and experienced resurrection. Christians are in a different rank and will experience resurrection together at a different time, namely, at the Lord’s coming… The apostle did not go on to give a complete explanation of the various resurrections here. There will be other ranks of people who will rise at other times, including Tribulation saints, Old Testament believers, and the unsaved…
Paul’s point here was that the resurrection of Christians is just as certain to take place as the fact that Christ’s already took place. He did not mean that our resurrection will be of a different type than Christ’s (i.e., ‘spiritual’ rather than physical).” (2)
As Jesus Himself once said…
“I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
…Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good things, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:24-25, 28-29 HCSB).
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1486). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
(2) The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Dr. Constable’s Bible Study Notes). Copyright 2012 by Dr. Thomas L. Constable. All Rights Reserved. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/1corinthians.pdf (15:23)
“Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end” (1 Corinthians 15:23-24 CEB).
While this portion of Scripture focuses primarily upon Jesus’ resurrection (along with those who belong to Him), it may be easy to overlook another important aspect of this passage: there will come a time when Christ will abolish “….all rule and all authority and power” (HCSB). This future reality is one that should have a definite impact upon the way we live in the present.
For instance, consider the person who holds a position of leadership and authority in today’s world. This individual may be a person of significance and influence within a home, a corporation, a governmental entity, or other area of responsibility. Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 15:23-24 tells us that all such positions of leadership will eventually be terminated when Jesus “…brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end” (CEB).
In other words, there will come a time when these positions of rule, power, and/or authority will no longer matter. What will matter is how we conducted ourselves within those areas of responsibility that God entrusted to us. In the end, it won’t matter how important or influential or wealthy or powerful we once were, for the critical thing will not be who we were but what we were.
Although he was speaking in a different context, the Apostle Peter asked a question that is related to this discussion: “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, you should think about the kind of life you are living. It should be holy and God-like” (2 Peter 3:11 NLV).
So in light of these future realities, we would be well advised to live, work, and plan our lives with the recognition that the choices and decisions we make in our individual positions of leadership will count for eternity.
This type of mindset is summarized by the Latin term Coram Deo, a phrase that means “in the presence of God.” Those who act with the understanding that our choices and decisions are made in the presence of God are those who are likely to discharge their responsibilities in a way that will reflect well upon them long after every area of rule, authority, and/or power has come to an end.
“For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
A long-tenured corporate employee was once asked to name the greatest thing he had achieved throughout his many years with the company. Instead of choosing to list his professional accomplishments or business awards (of which there were many), the employee simply responded, “My greatest achievement is that I have managed to outlast all of my enemies.”
This anecdote serves to illustrate an important spiritual point contained within the passage quoted above: death is an enemy that cannot outlast the eternal Author of Life. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 illustrates the future defeat of death by way of an ancient illustration: “…He has put all enemies under His feet.” Even those who have never had the experience of living within a monarchy should be able to appreciate the image of complete and utter subjection that flows from the use of this phrase.
One commentator offers a fuller explanation behind this concept as it is used convey the authority that Jesus will ultimately exert over death…
“This figure comes from the common practice of kings always sitting enthroned above their subjects, so that when the subjects bowed or kneeled, they were lower than the sovereign’s feet.
With enemies, the monarch might put his foot on the neck of a conquered ruler, symbolizing that enemy’s total subjugation. In the millennial kingdom, Christ’s foes will be in subjection to Him.” (1)
This is more than just an interesting aside, for it speaks directly to the future that has been prepared for those in Christ who will be resurrected to eternal life with Him. You see, death can no longer touch anyone who possesses a body that cannot die. On the other hand, the Biblical book of Revelation tells us that the ultimate destination for death is death itself within an everlasting lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).
But more sobering is the report of those who will accompany death to this final destination…
“But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable [who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality], and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-9 AMP).
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Co 15:25). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“The last enemy to be abolished and put to an end is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26 AMP).
While most of us probably do not like to think very much about the idea of death, there are likely to be far fewer of us who can actually define it. Although we may be inclined to associate death with the simple cessation of life, there is really much more to it than that.
In general terms, “death” can be defined as separation. You see, the Scriptures tell us that there are two kinds of death; one is physical and the other is spiritual. Physical death results from the separation of a person’s spirit from his or her mortal body. Another kind of death is described for us in the New Testament book of Revelation, for there we find multiple references to a “second death” or separation from God. (1)
So the first type of death occurs when we pass from this earthly life, The second takes place when someone is eternally separated from God. But this raises an important question: how can anyone truly know what happens when we pass the threshold of this physical life? The answer is found in Jesus Himself, for Jesus is someone who has been to the other side of death and has returned to tell us about it.
For instance, Jesus has assured His people about what they can expect when they pass from this life…
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
So those who accept Christ need never fear the specter of physical death for Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Instead, death represents a transition from an old life to a new life for the man or woman of God. But those who wish to have nothing to do with God should take note of a different assurance from Jesus…
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot afterward do anything worse. I will show you whom to fear: fear God, who, after killing, has the authority to throw into hell. Believe me, he is the one you must fear!” (Luke 12:4-5 GNB).
“For ‘He has put all things under His feet.’ But when He says ‘all things are put under Him,’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:27-28).
Much like the turbulent whitewater faced by a kayaker, 1 Corinthians 15:26-29 represents a portion of Scripture that has proven to be very difficult to navigate. You see, these verses present two interpretive challenges. The f1rst can be found here in verses 27-28, a passage that has often been misappropriated by cultic organizations in an attempt to deny Jesus’ deity.
Part of the issue derives from the undefined use of the words He, His, and Him within these verses. Unlike the typical software “terms and conditions” section that exhaustively defines these kinds of terms, this passage features no such legalese. Therefore, it may be difficult to follow how these words are used in regard to each Person of the Trinity.
Nevertheless, we can say that “…He who put all things under Him is excepted…” serves to to clarify the relationship between the Son and the Father when death, the final enemy, has been conquered. This should not be understood to imply that Jesus is somehow inferior in essence to God the Father; instead, the idea is that all things will ultimately be returned to the administrative oversight of the triune Godhead so “…that God may be all in all.”
In light of this, one commentary provides us with a useful paraphrase of these verses: “For God has put all things under Christ’s feet. But when God says, all things are put under Christ, it is obvious that God is excluded, who put all things under Christ.” (1)
Another source offers a more extensive explanation of this challenging passage…
“This is a difficult expression and has often been misunderstood to suggest that the apostle subordinated the Son to the Father. However, two facts must be accounted for here. First, when Paul says that the Son is subject to the Father he is not speaking of the Son in terms of his essence, but in terms of his function, or ministry, as the incarnate Son. Second, the force of Paul’s statement is best understood dispensationally.
At this present time the administration of the messianic kingdom is given to the Son (cf. Mt 28:18). However, at the conclusion of the messianic kingdom this function will be returned to the triune God that God may be all in all.” (2)
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William Macdonald, Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (1 Corinthians 15:27)
(2) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2328). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).
This passage, along with its reference to those who are “baptized for the dead” presents another interpretive challenge for anyone who is seeking to understand and apply God’s Word. However, one approach that can help to uncover the meaning of this verse is to first identify what it does not mean.
For instance, this verse cannot be understood to mean that a dead person can benefit from a kind of “retroactive salvation” through the baptism of a living person. Since Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “…by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works…” there is no one, dead or living, who can be saved through the act of baptism.
Furthermore, we can say that one person cannot stand in proxy for a another human being in matters of salvation. Every individual must make a personal commitment to Christ in this regard. As Paul the Apostle himself said, “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 GNB, emphasis added).
So what are we to make of this enigmatic verse? Well, we should note that Paul does not say “we who are baptized for the dead” but “they.” This indicates that Paul did not necessarily follow or endorse this practice but simply appropriated it for illustration purposes. Since others were engaging in this practice, Paul used it as a means of demonstrating the inconsistencies in the Corinthians’ thinking on this subject.
Therefore, we might understand the meaning of this verse in the following manner: “Even those who mistakenly follow the practice of baptizing for the dead acknowledge the reality of a future resurrection by virtue of their actions. In light of this, how is it that some among you (who are supposed to represent the one true God) say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (see 1 Corinthians 15:12). This may also help to explain the strong reprimand that Paul will go on to deliver in verse thirty-four.
Finally, it helps to remember that this practice is just one in a series of examples and illustrations on the subject of the resurrection and we would be ill-advised to base an entire doctrinal belief on a simple illustration. (1)
(1) See Dr. Bob Utley, 1 Corinthians 15 [15:29] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL06/VOL06A_15.html
(2) For a more extensive analysis of this passage, see Archer, G. L. (1982). New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (pp. 401–402). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. and Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties (pp. 464–465). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 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!'” (1 Corinthians 15:30-32).
In continuing his series of illustrations in support of the future resurrection of the dead, the Apostle Paul turned to his own experience as representative example in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32. Within this passage, Paul essentially asked the following question of those who denied the possibility of a resurrection: “Why would I stand in constant jeopardy and face death on a continual basis for something I know to be untrue?”
This was no mere exaggeration on Paul’s part. You see, Paul lived with the daily acknowledgment that there were many who were seeking to kill him and had the ability to do so. For example, the New Testament book of Acts records five different plots to end Paul’s life or attempts to murder him. (1) In addition to the hardships that Paul described earlier in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, he also made the following admission in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28…
“Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.”
These acknowledgments certainly lend additional weight to what we read here in 1 Corinthians 15:30:-31: “…why should I live a life of such hourly danger? …I face death every day of my life!” (Phillips), Paul had no legitimate reason to take such risks and live in daily peril without an unshakeable confidence in Christ, the reality of His resurrection, and the future resurrection of the dead.
“And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day–yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:30-32, NIV).
Paul the Apostle’s reference to the “wild beasts in Ephesus” here in 1 Corinthians 15:32 likely refers to an incident that is recorded in Acts 19:23-28…
“About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:
‘Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!’
At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater.
Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there” (Acts 19:23-28, NLT).
The theatre at Ephesus is believed to have had a seating capacity that numbered into the thousands- and whether they realized it or not, these rioters were there on account of one man: Paul. This represents the kind of opposition Paul faced in light of his belief in Christ and His resurrection. As one source observes…
“Why else should Paul have endured difficulties like fighting beasts at Ephesus? It would have been better for him to take the position of the Epicureans, who sought pleasure and avoided pain.” (1)
(1) Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1487). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
“And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!'” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT).
If physical death truly represents the end of our existence and there is no possibility of life after death, then we have no other logical alternative than to agree with the sentiment expressed here in 1 Corinthians 15:32: “If we will never live again after we die, then we might as well go and have ourselves a good time: let us eat, drink, and be merry. What’s the difference? For tomorrow we die, and that ends everything!” (TLB).
However, the corresponding danger associated with that short-sighted attitude can be illustrated through one of Jesus’ parables…
“…The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'”
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21, NIV).
You see, the farmer in this parable did not expect to be called to account for the way that he had invested his earthly resources. Therefore, his attitude mirrored the beliefs of those who assume that physical death represents the end of human existence. Although this man may have believed in “God” as a concept or idea, that belief seemingly did little to influence his decisions. Instead, his choices were focused solely upon his own personal agenda without regard for the eternal significance of those possessions that God had entrusted to him.
This should not be understood to imply that its wrong to save for the future but it does mean that our choices and decisions should be made with eternal investments in mind. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection assures us of life beyond the grave- and whether or not we really believe this to be true will be revealed by the choices and decisions we make in the present.
“Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits'” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Its often been said that a person can be known by the company that he or she keeps. That saying has some relation to the idea found here in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company corrupts good morals” (HCSB). In fact, the truth behind this principle is so readily apparent that even the secular culture of first-century Corinth recognized it. (1)
To fully understand the implications of this idea, we should first remember that the term “morality” refers to a standard of right conduct. In other words, our moral standards tells us what is right and wrong in life. Those standards are subsequently expressed through the choices and decisions we make on a daily basis. So to put it in briefest terms, our morals tell us what we ought to do.
Since our friendships and relationships tend to influence our attitudes and moral beliefs over time, its important to exercise wisdom in regard to these things. You see, we often begin to take on the habits, mannerisms, and convictions of the people we spend the most time with- and it appears that the members of the Corinthian church served to illustrate the truth of this principle in a negative sense.
Consider some of the issues that the Apostle Paul has addressed throughout this letter to the Corinthians. For instance, Paul has already spoken on the subjects of divisions within the church (chapter one), immorality (chapter five), lawsuits among the members of the congregation (chapter six), and irreverence towards the things of God (chapter eleven), just to name a few. These are all in addition to the erroneous view of Jesus’ resurrection discussed here in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen.
Since Paul was the man that God used to found the church at Corinth, the question is this: how did the members of the Corinthian church come to acquire such misguided views on these topics? They certainly didn’t acquire them from Paul or other God-honoring teachers like Peter or Apollos. The answer is that the most likely sources for these erroneous beliefs were those who dismissed the teachings of Christianity or others who claimed to follow Christ but were really something other than what they claimed to be.
In today’s media and information age, it is perhaps even more critical to remember that our attitudes and beliefs can be profoundly influenced by those who occupy our time. As we’re reminded in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).
(1) This quotation can actually be found in the work of the Greek poet and playwright Menander (Thais 218). It seems to have become something of a proverbial statement in Paul’s time and thus represented an easily recognizable idea for the Corinthians to grasp. Nevertheless, this general idea actually has its origin in the Biblical book of Proverbs- see Proverbs 1:10-19, 13:20, 14:7, and 28:7.
“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals'” ( Corinthians 15:33 NET).
In commenting on the verse quoted above, one source makes the following observation: “Those Christians in Corinth with a defective view of the resurrection not only had been influenced by the bad company they kept, but in their turn they were corrupting others in the congregation.” (1) To further illustrate the need to exercise wisdom in our relationships, we should take a moment to consider what the following Scriptures have to say on this subject…
“Happy are those who don’t listen to the wicked, who don’t go where sinners go, who don’t do what evil people do. They love the Lord’s teachings, and they think about those teachings day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2 NCV).
“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25 NIV).
“And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people” (Romans 16:17-18 NLT).
“You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do” (Ephesians 5:5-7 NLT).
“Stop forming inappropriate relationships with unbelievers. Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness? Can Christ agree with the devil? Can a believer share life with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15 GW).
These verses serve to reinforce the principle found here in 1 Corinthians 15:33: our relationships tend to influence our behavior through their impact upon our attitudes and beliefs. This does not mean that it is wrong to engage with those who hold different views or ideas. However, the Scriptures quoted above (as well as the experience of those within the Corinthian church) illustrate the way in which such relationships can serve to negatively subvert the truth.
As one source puts it, “Do not let the false logic of the wicked fool you, especially about the raising from death. Your good character can be ruined by the unbelief that is hidden in what they say.” (2)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2041). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:33”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-corinthians-15.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
“Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:34)
We’ve already seen a number of admonitions from the Apostle Paul within this letter to the Corinthian church. However, none may be quite so shocking as the charge leveled here in 1 Corinthians 15:34: “I declare to your shame that some of you do not know God” (GNB). This admonition reveals something quite alarming: not only were there members of the church who were less spiritually knowledgeable than they believed, there were actually some within the congregation who had no knowledge of God at all.
You see, there were people within congregation at Corinth who rejected the possibility that the dead would be resurrected despite of the resurrection of the One they presumably claimed to follow. One commentator makes a pointed observation in this regard: “It is both incredible and shameful that such a church so gifted to God could have allowed persons in their assembly to have called such a cardinal truth into question.” (1)
This unfortunate reality should prompt us to consider the following questions: How is it possible that there were some within this church who had no knowledge of God and what does that mean for us today? The answer serves to remind us again of a difficult but important truth: spiritual giftedness may not always serve as an accurate indicator of knowledge or maturity.
Even though the Corinthian church possessed a great number of spiritual gifts, there was an alarming deficiency in their doctrinal beliefs. One question that we can use to help determine whether a similar condition exists within our lives today is this: “What makes Christianity better or different than other spiritual beliefs?” If we cannot offer a valid response to that question, then we would do well to consider the possibility that our knowledge of God may also be lacking, at least in some areas.
In light of this, it helps to remember that our understand of God comes primarily through His Word- and it is easy to drift into position of negligence and disregard for some important spiritual truths if we are not diligent to internalize God’s Word on a daily basis. If our only exposure to the Scriptures consists of a few verses mentioned within a weekly sermon, we may eventually fall into a position of ignorance regarding some important tenets of the faith no matter how gifted we may be. The experience of the Corinthian church in this regard should serve as an important warning for God’s people today.
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2329). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:35-36).
Judging from the passage quoted above, it seems clear that the Apostle Paul had a great deal of rhetorical experience in addressing the subject of the resurrection of the dead, One benefit of that experience would have included the ability to anticipate certain questions on that topic and respond to them in advance. Here, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul will begin to touch upon two important questions that were sure to be raised in any discussion on this subject: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (NIV).
These were questions that Paul had undoubtedly heard before and his response is reminiscent of a public speaker who had been presented with a mocking, insincere request for additional information: “Look, fool!” (CEB). In Biblical terms, a “fool” is descriptive of someone who chooses to live as if God did not exist or a person who fails to factor his or her Creator into the daily equation of life- and its easy to see how those attitudes might serve as the basis for questions such as these.
Although these questions are not necessarily foolish in and of themselves, Paul’s use of this term indicates that there is something amiss with the questioner. As one source comments, “‘Fool!’ was a standard rhetorical insult, Jewish as well as Greek, for someone who raised an ignorant or immoral objection.” (1)
In any event, the underlying (but unspoken) concern behind these questions seems to be two-fold. First, how could it be possible for a human being to be resurrected in the future when his or her body had returned to its constituent elements following death? The second question was this: how could there be a correlation between the body that had passed away and the one that is to be resurrected?
In answering theses questions, Paul will go on to provide four illustrations in the following verses…
- He will offer an analogy from the agricultural world in verses 36-38.
- He will call our attention to the differences in the animal and celestial kingdoms in verses 39-42.
- He will contrast the future resurrection body with the bodies we possess today in verses 42-44.
- Finally, Paul will again present Jesus’ resurrection as the model or prototype for those who follow Him in verses 45-49.
We’ll go on to consider Paul’s first example from the agricultural world next.
(1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament [15:35-38] (p. 494)
“And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body” (1 Corinthians 15:37-38).
Two questions that were sure to be asked in any discussion on the topic of the resurrection of the dead were these: “How can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have?” (1 Corinthians 15:35 GNB). In answering these questions, the Apostle Paul will turn to the literary device of comparison, a technique that utilizes a familiar item or process to illustrate something that is less familiar.
The illustration provided for us here in 1 Corinthians 15:37-38 is one that is sure to be recognized by anyone who has even grown an indoor plant, kept a garden, or worked to produce a crop of fruits, grains, or vegetables. That illustration is the humble seed.
In general, a seed of any type is not very impressive, especially when it is compared to what it will eventually become in its final stage of growth. This makes it an excellent illustration for the resurrection of the dead on a number of different levels. For instance…
- A seed will not reach the final stage of its development unless it is buried. Human beings generally experience a similar burial process in advance of receiving a resurrected body.
- A seed that is planted in the ground will eventually produce something far different from itself. So it is with the resurrection of the dead: “…you are not planting the body which it will become” (NLV).
- A seed and it’s resulting plant are not the same, but there is a correlation between the two. In a similar manner, there is a one-to-one correlation between a physical body that dies and the body that will be resurrected.
- Various seeds may appear to be similar before they are planted but go on to produce very different results once they reach fruition. This is true of the resurrected body as well: “…God gives it the new body He wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed” (NLT).
As one source observes in commenting on this passage…
“If we had never seen the seed-to-earth-to-death-to-different-life process before, and someone said it happens, we would have our doubts. But since God has made it possible for us to see it over, and over, and over again, for us to say we do not believe a resurrection after death is manageable is foolish.” (1)
(1) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 340] Copyright © 1985 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“What you plant, whether it’s wheat or something else, is only a seed. It doesn’t have the form that the plant will have” (1 Corinthians 15:37 GW).
Does 1 Corinthians 15:37 teach that we will experience a change in form to a non-material body after death? Well, here is how one source addresses that question…
“There are real changes in the resurrection body, but it is not changed into a nonphysical body—one substantially different from the one we possess now. The seed that goes into the ground brings forth more seeds that are the same kind, not immaterial seeds. It is in this sense that Paul can say ‘you do not sow [cause to die] the body that shall be,’ since it is immortal and cannot die. The body that is raised is different in that it is immortal (1 Cor. 15:53), not in that it is immaterial. Of His resurrection body Jesus said, ‘It is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have’ (Luke 24:39).
There are many reasons for holding that the resurrection body, though transformed and glorified, is the numerically same body of flesh and bones Jesus possessed before His resurrection. And since our resurrection bodies will be like His (Phil. 3:21), the same is true of the believer’s resurrection body. Notice these characteristics of Jesus’ resurrection body:
(1) It was the same body with the crucifixion scars it had from before the resurrection (Luke 24:39; John 20:27).
(2) It was the same body that left the empty tomb behind (Matt. 28:6; John 20:5–7; cf. John 5:28–29).
(3) The physical body of Jesus did not corrupt in the tomb (Acts 2:31).
(4) Jesus said the same body that is destroyed will be built up again (John 2:21–22).
(5) The immortal body is “put on” over, but does not replace, the mortal body (1 Cor. 15:53).
(6) The plant that springs forth from the seed is both genetically and physically connected with the seed. What is sown is what is reaped (1 Cor. 15:37–38).
(7) It is the same body of “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39) that could be touched (Matt. 28:9; John 20:27) and could eat physical food (Luke 24:41–42).
The “change” (1 Cor. 15:51) Paul referred to at the resurrection is a change in the body, not a change of the body. The changes in the resurrection are accidental, not substantial. They are changes in secondary qualities, not changes in primary qualities.
It is changed from a corruptible physical body to an incorruptible physical body. It is not changed from a physical body into a nonphysical body. It is changed from a mortal to an immortal physical body. But it is not changed from a material to an immaterial body.” (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (pp. 465–466). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds” (1 Corinthians 15:39).
While it may seem to unusual to introduce these various members of the animal kingdom into a discussion on the subject of the resurrection, these examples are more relevant to this topic than they may initially appear.
You see, each of these beings possess bodies that are suited to the environments in which they live. For instance, land animals are individually suited to live within their surroundings. Fish possess bodies that are appropriate for life underwater. Birds have bodies that are equipped with the capability of flight.
Even though some species of fish can survive on land and there are a few types of birds that cannot fly, these examples are still useful for illustration purposes. The idea is that God has enabled the individual members of these groups to live within their various environments. In a similar manner, God will also provide His people with bodies that are best suited for eternity when we pass from this life.
However, such examples are not only limited to life on earth…
“There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:40-41).
While “terrestrial bodies” serves to identify the life forms that exist here on earth, “celestial bodies” makes reference to the stars, planets, and other stellar objects that inhabit our universe. These are also suited to their place within the Creation as well, so much so that scientists have discovered some aspects of the universe that appear to be “fine-tuned” to an astounding degree.
We should also note that this passage tells us “…one star differs from another in glory and brilliance” (AMP). At the time of this first-century letter to the Corinthian church, stars were little more than twinkling pinpoints of light in the night-time sky. But today we know that there are a great variety of stars, each differing in size, temperature, luminosity, and other factors.
While the human author of 1 Corinthians lacked the technology to verify such discoveries, the Author behind the author had already inspired another Biblical writer to express a similar sentiment: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
“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” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
The preceding verses of 1 Corinthians 15 have offered a number of different examples that serve to clarify the primary subject of this chapter: the future resurrection of the dead. Here in verses forty-two to forty-four, the Apostle Paul will return again to an agricultural analogy in order to illustrate how this resurrected body will differ from the physical bodies we now possess.
First, “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.” Here the act of sowing is identified with the burial process that typically follows death while the resurrection is associated with the germinating process that raises a plant from it’s corresponding seed. Unlike our present bodies, there will be no form of corruption or decay associated with these resurrected bodies.
Next we read, “It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.” Physical death is the final dishonor that can be inflicted upon a human being who who has been created in God’s image. But the resurrected body will be raised in glory, a word that refers to excellence, preeminence, and dignity when used in this context. (1)
Following this, we are told, “It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” The mental and physical weaknesses that naturally accompany the aging process will no longer have a place within these resurrected bodies. Instead, these bodies will possess abilities that only exist within the realm of fictional super heroes today. (2)
Finally, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” We’ll talk further about the differences between the natural and spiritual bodies but for now we can say that terms like “natural” and “spiritual” refer to the qualities of direction and control. Unlike our current physical bodies that are naturally directed by our physical impulses, the resurrected body will be directed by God’s Spirit.
As Paul remarked to another New Testament-era church…
“…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21 NIV).
(1) G1391 doxa Vine’s Expository Dictionary https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1391&t=NKJV
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NIV).
The startling differences between the natural bodies we now possess and the resurrected bodies that God will raise up for us are contrasted by the adjectives used to describe each in the passage quoted above.
For instance, the natural body is perishable, dishonored, and weak in many respects while the resurrected body will be imperishable, glorious, and powerful. For those who must live with a reminder of the frailties of life today, this indeed is something to look forward to.
However, we should note that this passage focuses upon the internal differences between these natural and resurrected bodies as much as the external differences that exist between them. You see, the physical bodies we possess today would be completely under the direction of our natural impulses if left alone. These impulses make no judgments in regard to proper or improper behavior. They do not recognize the concept of morality nor do they consider the consequences that might be associated with a particular course of action.
This helps to explain why we often struggle to do what we know we should do, for the things we should do are often in conflict with the things we naturally want to do. The Apostle Paul explained this issue in the Biblical book of Romans…
“Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants. To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace. And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God’s law, and in fact they cannot obey it. Those who obey their human nature cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8 GNB).
One key difference between the physical bodies we now possess and the resurrected bodies that God will raise up for us is this: these resurrected bodies will be internally aligned with God’s Spirit as opposed to our current-day bodies that are internally motivated by the flesh. Thus they will be perfectly suited for eternal life with a holy God.
“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 ESV).
As mentioned earlier, the reference to the “spiritual body” contained within this passage does not mean one that is immaterial or lacking in substance. One scholar explains the difference by saying, “The complete context indicates that “spiritual” (pneumatikos) could be translated ‘supernatural’ in contrast to ‘natural.’ This is made clear by the parallels of perishable and imperishable and corruptible and incorruptible.” (1)
While we can learn some things about these resurrected bodies by looking at Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the New Testament, there is much that we don’t know. For instance, John the Apostle wrote the following in the New Testament letter of 1 John: “We proclaim to you the One who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is the Word of life” (1 John 1:1 NLT).
Yet despite the fact that John actually saw, heard, and came into physical contact with Jesus following His resurrection, he also went on to make the following comment: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).
So while God has yet to fully detail the capabilities that we will eventually possess, we can say that we will be like Jesus. They may be no greater honor that can be bestowed upon a person than to say that he or she is like Jesus- yet this is the future prepared for God’s people. This brings to mind a passage from the New Testament book of Romans…
“…those whom he knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those whom he thus determined in advance, he also called; and those whom he called, he also caused to be considered righteous; and those whom he caused to be considered righteous he also glorified!” (Romans 8:29-30 CJB).
(1) Norman L. Geisler A Popular Survey of the New Testament Copyright [1 Corinthians 15:44] © 1985 Norman L. Geisler
“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:45-46).
There are some who consider the Bible to be a work that is filled with fictional stories, fables, and legends. Many such critics point to the account of creation contained within the Biblical book of Genesis as an example. For some, the opening chapters of Genesis contain nothing more than a mythical story of how the universe and humanity came to be.
Yet Paul the Apostle writing here in 1 Corinthians 15:45 clearly accepted the historical nature of the Genesis creation account. For instance, Paul referenced Adam’s creation to illustrate and contrast the future state of those who will spend eternity with God.
Of course, this is not the only such example to be found within the New Testament Scriptures for Jesus Himself affirmed the historical validity of the following people and events as well…
- Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4)
- Abraham (John 8:56)
- Moses (John 5:46)
- Noah and the flood (Luke 17:27)
- Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29)
- Jonah and the great fish (Matthew 12:40)
These examples are important for if Adam did not exist as a literal, historical figure then Paul’s comparison here in 1 Corinthians 15 has no basis in reality. Furthermore, if the first Adam is really nothing more than a myth or legend, then what are we to make of the last Adam who is said to offer eternal life? The point is that Adam must have existed as a real person for this passage to make sense. As one commentator observes…
“The apostle now sets forth a fundamental law in God’s universe, namely, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. This can be understood in several ways. Adam, the natural man, came first on the stage of human history; then Jesus, the spiritual Man.
Second, we are born into the world as natural beings; then when we are born again, we become spiritual beings. Finally, we first receive natural bodies, then in resurrection we will receive spiritual bodies” (1)
Another source offers a more somber observation in regard to this passage…
“Do not fail to notice that Paul calls Jesus the last (Gr. eschatos) Adam. There is no redeemer of mankind yet to come. Those who do not join the ‘race’ fathered by Jesus Christ, by being born again, will not see eternal life. They will be resurrected to eternal death as offspring only of the first Adam.” (2)
(1) Believer’s Bible Commentary William Macdonald Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers [pg.1810]
(2) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 343] Copyright © 1985 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50).
While it may be difficult to grasp the full impact of 1 Corinthians 15:50, a true, Biblical understanding of the resurrection involves a transformation of those who have passed from this physical life as opposed to a mere resuscitation or reanimation of a person who was once alive. This transformative process will result in bodies that are impervious to the diseases, injuries, and physical afflictions that we often experience today.
Yet how could such a thing be possible if “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God“? To answer this question, we can return to the analogies that Paul the Apostle established earlier within this chapter. For instance, Paul referenced the various members of the animal kingdom in 1 Corinthians 15:39 and followed with an observation regarding the differences between the various cosmic and terrestrial bodies in the following verses. The idea is that everything is individually suited to it’s place within creation.
In like manner, the post-resurrection body will not be a perishable body of flesh and blood such as we now possess but will be physically imperishable and incorruptible. In other words, it will be perfectly suited for eternal life with a similarly imperishable and incorruptible Creator. This does not mean that a glorified, resurrected body will not be a physical, material body consisting of flesh and bones, but that it will not be subject to the breakdown and eventual decay associated with the physical human body today.
The most tangible example of this future reality can be found in one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to His disciples…
“Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’
When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence” (Luke 24:36-43).
“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” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
1 Corinthians 15:51 initiates a change in topic from the resurrection of the dead to a different (but related) subject- and much like a teacher who seeks to capture a student’s attention, this portion of Scripture opens with an exhortation to “Look” (CJB), “Listen!” (HCSB), and “Take notice!” (AMPC) to a mystery that is about to be revealed.
Now before we continue, we should take a moment to recall Paul the Apostle’s counsel from earlier within this letter: “You should look upon us as ministers of Christ, as trustees of the secrets of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1 Phillips). When used in this context, the Biblical idea of a secret (or “mystery”) refers to a spiritual truth that was previously concealed but has now been (or will be) revealed.
Paul was a steward of one such Biblical mystery that is disclosed in the verses quoted above: “We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!” (NLT). One commentator makes the following observation regarding this passage…
“For Paul, ‘mystery’ is not an impenetrable paradox but a truth once partially hidden by God and now revealed in the gospel of Christ (Rom. 16:25–26; Eph. 3:3–9). The fuller truth revealed here in vv. 51–55 is about what will happen to living believers (those who do not ‘sleep,’ v. 51) when the resurrection of the dead occurs. Nowhere in the OT was it made clear that at this time living believers will be transformed along with dead ones, so that all will be changed into imperishable and immortal resurrection bodies.” (1)
Despite the fact that this doctrine was unknown to Old Testament readers, it was not completely foreign to Jesus’ first disciples. You see, just prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus confided the following to His disciples…
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
While this promise offers encouragement for eternity, we can also look upon it as a reference to a specific event. We’ll examine that event in greater detail next.
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2042). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NIV).
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 references an event that has come to be known as the “rapture of the church.” The New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians provides us with some additional detail regarding what will take place when this event occurs…
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 NIV).
One thing to notice from these verses is the fact that the word “rapture” does not appear within them. In fact, this word cannot be found anywhere within the Scriptures. Instead, we derive this term from an ancient translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 known as the Vulgate. That translation renders the term “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 as raptus, the word from which we derive the word “rapture” and the subsequent doctrine of the rapture of the church.
With regard to the rapture, we can first say that it will take place instantaneously or “quicker than the blink of an eye” (CEV). Its interesting to note that the word used to express this idea in the original language is atomos, a word that serves as the basis for our modern-day word “atom.” It refers to the smallest possible measurement of something and here it communicates the idea that this event will take place in the briefest amount of time possible. (1)
While modern high-speed video cameras possess the ability to document events that occur faster than the eye can follow, the technology necessary to successfully record the speed at which the rapture will take place may never be invented. For those Christians who are alive at the time of Jesus’ return, this event will effectively bypass the physical death process and usher an immediate entrance into eternal life with a glorified body.
“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 imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV).
A comparison of 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 yields a number of important insights into what has come to be known as “the rapture of the church.” We can start by observing that Jesus will personally orchestrate this event for we are told “…the Lord Himself will descend from heaven” in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
While those who are following Christ at the time of His return may not perceive this event before it takes place, this does not mean that there will not be a definitive signal in advance. You see, the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians also tells us that the Lord will descend “…with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (4:16). In fact, the word-picture behind that passage communicates the idea of a warrior or military commander who is leading an armed force into battle. (1)
This fact that the voice of an archangel will accompany this event is also significant. Since the word arche‘ means “first” within the original language of this verse, this has led some to speculate that the archangel Michael will be involved in the events that accompany the rapture. According to one source, Michael was held to be the guardian angel for the nation of Israel (2) and may perhaps be involved on behalf of all God’s people when the rapture of the church takes place.
Finally, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 references “…the trumpet call of God” which 1 Corinthians 15:51 further identifies as “…the last trumpet.” This should represent a familiar image to contemporary readers of this passage for modern-day societies still utilize horns to direct our attention to an emergency, an alert condition, or a call to action.
As one commentator tells us, “Trumpets had a couple of uses in Bible times, but mainly as a means of sending signals to large groups of people, such as armies or the Israelites in the wilderness. One of the signals that a trumpet was often used for was to gather the people, or to gather an army together.” (3) This signal is identified as the last trumpet for it will summon all God’s people to ascend to meet their Savior and thus serve to represent the end of God’s church on earth.
(2) See JewishEncyclopedia.com Angelology http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1521-angelology
(3) Rich Cathers, 1Thessalonians 4-5 [4:16] http://www.calvaryfullerton.org/Bstudy/52%201Th/2000/521Th04-05.htm
“Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 HCSB).
It seems that each new year brings fresh speculation as to whether it might be the year that ultimately ends in a cataclysmic world event. When evaluating the teachings of those who suggest such possibilities today, it may be wise to consider the fact that these conjectures are not new- especially in regard to the rapture of the church.
For instance, a man named Edgar C. Whisenant once published a book entitled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 – The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh-Hash-Ana) September 11-12-13. As the name implies, this book (which can be read online) documented the author’s belief that the rapture of the church would occur between September 11th and September 13th, 1988. Among the propositions given to support this conclusion were the following…
- Although no one knows the day or hour of Jesus’ return (1) it is possible to know the year, month, and week (reason #1).
- When Jesus said “No one knows…” the timing of His return, He did not mean that such information was unattainable. Instead, it required effort to uncover it (#2).
- The Seven Feasts of Old Testament Israel and Daniel’s 70th week prophecy (2) served to indicate Jesus’ return in 1988 (#4-#5, #71).
- The Old Testament Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles predicted Jesus’ return in 1988 (#15-#25, #30-#36, #45-#53, #74). (3)
- “The Jew believes that the Messiah will come on the first day of the Sabbatical year, that is on the first day of the Shemittah. Thus Rosh-Hash-Ana 1988 is the first day of the Jewish year whose numerical date spells out ‘Shemittah’ for Sabbatical, and if Jesus comes on Rosh-Hash-Ana 1988, He will have fulfilled coming on the first day of the Shemittah year” (#37). (4)
- The solar eclipse of 11 September that coincided with the beginning of Rosh-Hash-Ana foreshadowed the rapture of the church in 1988 (#42).
- Thirteen different mathematical date calculations assured the certainty of the rapture in 1988 (#44).
- The lunar dates associated with the Jewish feast days indicated a rapture date of 1988 (#55, #84).
- “End-time events are now coming together so rapidly that they boggle the mind in thinking about them” (#59).
Unfortunately for Mr. Whisenant, Jesus did not adhere to this meticulously researched timetable in 1988. However, Mr. Whisenant is not alone, for Jesus has also missed every other timetable for His return that has ever been suggested or proposed by every human being for almost 2000 years.
While Jesus’ return is absolutely guaranteed to occur, we’ll consider how similar theories regarding the timing of His return may actually serve to produce more harm than good over the next few studies.
(1) Matthew 24:36-44
(2) See Daniel 9:24-27
(3) See here for additional information regarding the Old Testament Jubilee period
(4) See here for additional information regarding this reference to the Shemmitah
“Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NET).
When it comes to modern-day speculation regarding Jesus’ return (either in regard to the rapture of the church or His second advent), it is worth our time to consider two discomforting realities…
- Every person who has ever tried to suggest, predict, or associate a date or event with Jesus’ return has been wrong for almost two thousand years. The failure rate is 100% without exception.
- Every attempt to associate a date, time, or event with Jesus’ return must find some means of explaining away Jesus’ statement from Matthew 24:36: “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows–neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son–except the Father only” (HCSB). (1)
Now to be clear, we can say that many attempts to predict Jesus’ return have undoubtedly been sincere and well-meaning. We can also say such efforts have often been prompted by a genuine desire to bring others to salvation in Christ. However, we may wish to consider the possibility that this kind of speculation may actually serve to produce more harm than good.
You see, a Christian who seeks to attach a specific date or event to Jesus’ return is likely to be viewed by those outside the church as someone who represents another example in a long line of others who have sought to predict “the end of the world.” If the person involved has a significant group of followers, then his or her theories regarding the timing of Jesus’ return might eventually find their way to various forms of social media or mainstream internet news sites.
These kinds of provocative headlines are highly attractive for secular media outlets for they are often effective in helping to build an audience. The problem is that they are sure to be followed by unceasing mockery if the “end” subsequently fails to materialize on schedule. Thus, the sobering reality behind Jesus’ final recorded words, “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20) is effectively diluted by those who persist in attempting to synchronize a date or event with His return.
Its also possible that such theories may actually contribute to the kind of derisive attitude mentioned in the New Testament book of 2 Peter: “…scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation'” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Perhaps some will adopt this attitude (at least in part) because they were innoculated to the Biblical reality of Jesus’ return by way of those who failed to accurately predict it.
(1) See also Acts 1:6-7: “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.'”
“Behold, I speak a mystery to you; we shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in a glance of an eye, at the last trumpet. For a trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 MKJV).
A brief perusal of any internet search engine will quickly uncover a multitude of Biblical prophecy-oriented websites that are devoted to some aspect of end-time events. On the one hand, the fulfillment of predictive prophecy is a legitimate and authoritative means of determining that the Scriptures are what they claim to be- the Word of God. On the other hand, there is a potential danger involved when a valid subject of interest (such as eschatology) (1) is pressed to an extreme.
For instance, here are a few questions that may collectively serve to determine whether our interest in end-time related events might be approaching an unhealthy level…
- Does the study of prophecy and eschatology occupy a significant portion of my time in God’s Word?
- Do I regularly peruse websites, video presentations, and print resources that are principally associated with the rapture, the last days, or other prophetic elements?
- Do I often engage with information sources that filter news, politics, and current events through the lens of end-times theology?
- Do my conversations with others often turn to a discussion of prophecy or the latest information gleaned from sources that specialize in end-times events?
- Am I more interested in someone’s interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures than the Scriptures themselves?
- Am I expectantly looking forward to Jesus’ return as a means of escape from the trials, difficulties, and challenges of life or can I say along with the Apostle Paul, “…I desire to depart and be with Christ…” (Philippians 1:23 NIV, emphasis added).
These questions should not be taken to imply that we ought to devalue the prophetic Scriptures or ignore current events. In fact, Jesus consistently warns us to be watchful in regard to His return. However, they should remind us of the need to focus upon the entire counsel of God as found within the Scriptures. In addition, the imprecise timing of the events associated with Jesus’ return should prompt us to be discerning, especially when interacting with those media outlets that primarily focus upon end-times theology.
For instance, we should be cautious in evaluating unconventional interpretations of Biblical passages or explanations that feature hidden or exotic meanings. This might also include a disproportionate emphasis on current events and their potential relationship to Biblical prophecy or the act of taking Biblical numerology to an extreme. Remember the wise old general rule of Biblical interpretation: if a Biblical passage makes good sense, we should accept it as it is lest we end up with nonsense.
(1) Eschatology is “1: a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind 2: a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically :any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment” “Eschatology.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eschatology
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 MKJV).
As we conclude this portion of our look at the rapture of the church, we should take a moment to consider the use of various qualifiers that are sometimes employed by those who seek to associate a date or event with Jesus’ return.
You see, it’s one thing to recognize that current events are generally moving in a direction that seems to indicate that Jesus will return soon. However, it’s another thing to offer a lengthy and comprehensive list of reasons to support the conjecture that Jesus’ return will coincide with a particular date or event only to qualify it at the end with a statement such as “we can’t be sure…”
While such statements offer protection for the speaker if Jesus fails to meet his or her proposed timetable, there is a sizable difference between the general conditions that signal Jesus’ imminent return (1) and an effort to associate His return with a particular date or event.
For instance, consider Jesus’ message from the Gospel of Luke…
“Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place'” (Luke 21:29-32).
A tree will never be mistaken for a precision timepiece but it can be useful in providing an accurate measurement of seasonal time. In a similar manner, this illustration tells us that we should be alert to the cumulative (or seasonal) elements that point to Jesus’ imminent return rather than seek to define a specific “trigger event” that definitively signals the rapture of the church or His second advent. Keeping these “seasonal conditions” in mind will help put us in the best position to responsibly interpret current events.
In light of this, we would do well to live with the daily anticipation of Christ’s return while attending to the duties and responsibilities of everyday life in a God-honoring manner. One principle that can help ensure that we approach the rapture of the church in a responsible manner is this: “Live as if Jesus is certain to return soon and plan with the prayerful anticipation that God will bless us with a long, good life.”
A person who abides by this simple precept is someone who will be well-positioned for Jesus’ return whenever it may take place. Remember, the key is not to be ready when, but to be ready whenever.
“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:53-56).
While there are any number of athletes, entertainers, and others who possess amazing physical attributes, even the most talented and gifted among us are still subject to the mortality of life today. This concept of “mortality” is closely associated with physical death, the ultimate expression of human mortality. However, the common frailties of human life can also provide us with a daily reminder of our mortal limitations.
For instance, most people know what its like to experience a stomach ache, a backache, or a headache. Many of us know what its like to pull a muscle, break a bone, or catch a cold. And even if we are not familiar with any of those misfortunes, every human being certainly knows how it feels to become weary, thirsty, or hungry.
But these physical expressions of human mortality only represent half the story, for we are all subject to a number of other limitations as well. You see, everyone has dreams of what they would like to accomplish if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, very few of us ever achieve those dreams for we are all subject to various restrictions in life.
For example, there are physical limitations, financial limitations, time limitations, and other restraints that often prevent us from achieving our dreams. Another problem is that most people probably lack the talent, skill, and ability to do what they’d really like to do if they could. And if that wasn’t enough, we also must deal with the human propensity to sin. Given the current state of human nature, a human being with no inherent limitation on the ability to fulfill his or her dreams would likely act in a manner that is self-destructive and/or destructive to others as well.
However 1 Corinthians 15:53-56 looks forward to a time when God’s people will no longer be subject to such limitations, At that time, each person will be free to express him or herself fully without sin or restriction to the glory of God- and that is what those who are in Christ have to look forward to.
“The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the Scriptures will come true, ‘Death has lost the battle! Where is its victory? Where is its sting?’ Sin is what gives death its sting, and the Law is the power behind sin” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).
At first glance, the message found here in 1 Corinthians 15:56 may seem difficult to reconcile: “…the Law is the power behind sin.” If the Old Testament Law originated with God but serves as the power behind sin, then what are we to make of that relationship? Well to answer that question, we can turn to the New Testament book of Romans where Paul the Apostle details this relationship between sin and the Law.
Consider what we read in Romans 7:7-8…
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire…”
This passage utilizes “covetousness” as a representative example. This word encompasses a wide variety of wrong desires and is probably best known from its appearance in within the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
So Paul said in effect, “I would not have known such things were wrong unless the Law told me they were wrong.” He then went on to observe how sin used the Law of God against him by inciting a desire to disobey it in the following verses. One Biblical translation paraphrases this concept from the book of Romans in the following manner: “…I felt fine so long as I did not understand what the law really demanded. But when I learned the truth, I realized that I had broken the law and was a sinner, doomed to die” (Romans 7:9 TLB).
So while “…the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” the reality is that “…sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death” (Romans 7:12, 11 NIV). It is in this manner that “…the Law is the power behind sin” for “…apart from the Law, sin is dead” (Romans 7:8 ASV).
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)
Whenever we encounter the word “therefore” within the Bible, we can benefit by paying close attention to the portion of Scripture that follows. You see, this word usually indicates that the Biblical author is about to summarize a teaching contained within a preceding section and conclude with a plan of action for implementing it.
In this instance, Paul the Apostle closed this portion of his letter to the Corinthians by encouraging the members of his audience to lead God-honoring lives in light of their future resurrection. This encouragement came by way of three exhortations: be steadfast (or “firm”), (1) (be) immovable (or “persistent”), (2) and “…(abound) in the work of the Lord,” a phrase that carries the idea of excelling, overflowing, or exceeding in the work that God has given us to do. (3)
These exhortations remind us that a life invested in God’s service is something that will endure beyond our temporal, physical existence. This becomes especially important when we stop to consider the sense of futility that many experience today.
For example, there are many who see the world as a place without reason, purpose, or hope for the future. This underlying sense of futility is the inevitable product of a worldview that says, “if there is no Creator and our own existence is just a product of chance, then human beings ultimately came from ‘nothing’ and return to ‘nothing’ when they die.”
Of course, a person who adopts such a worldview must also come to terms with an important question: “If I came from nothing and then return to nothing when I die, then what does everything I do in-between ultimately amount to?” The inescapable answer to that question must be nothing. This creates a sense of tension for anyone who possesses a desire for real meaning and purpose in life.
On the other hand, a life lived for Christ has great value even if our efforts may seem to produce little or no apparent result. This serves to illustrate the importance of the exhortation given to us here in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “…nothing you do for the Lord is ever wasted as it would be if there were no resurrection” (TLB).
(1) G1476 hedraios https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1476
(2) G277 ametakinetos https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g277
(3) G4052 perisseuo https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4052
“So my dear brothers and sisters, stand strong. Do not let anything move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your work in the Lord is never wasted” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NCV).
While it can often be difficult to work with enthusiasm when faced with some of the more tedious responsibilities of life, the encouragement found here in 1 Corinthians 15:58 can help infuse even the most mundane tasks with genuine meaning and significance if we seek to honor God with our efforts.
Of course, the idea that “… your work in the Lord is never wasted” is something that may seem counter-intuitive since we live in a world that generally values those who produce results rather than those who simply toil and labor at a particular task. But unlike the measure of reward that generally exists within our world today, we should note that it is our effort in God’s service that will ultimately be rewarded and not necessarily the success we experience as a result of our efforts.
You see, it is important to recognize that labor and achievement are two different things- and it is possible to expend a great deal of labor in God’s service with little or no apparent result. While there may be any number of potential explanations for a lack of success in this regard, this passage reminds us that “our work in the Lord” is what is ultimately in view; God is responsible to produce results as He sees fit.
Therefore, the fact that our “…work in the Lord is never wasted” (ERV) should help to provide us with the encouragement and motivation to do our very best with the opportunities that God extends to us today even if those efforts may seem to result in little or no visible success. As we’re reminded in the New Testament book of Hebrews, “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
Finally, as one commentary observes…
“Paul says that because of the resurrection, nothing we do is useless. Sometimes we become apathetic about serving the Lord because we don’t see any results. Knowing that Christ has won the ultimate victory should affect the way we live right now. Don’t let discouragement over an apparent lack of results keep you from doing the work of the Lord enthusiastically as you have opportunity.” (1)
(1) 1 Corinthians: A Life Application Bible Study, Editor Michael R. Marcey (p. 32) [15:58] Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998