Follow the Leader: A lesson on Holiness – John 13:6-11

     “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Do You Wash Dirty Feet? John 13:12-20

Robert Service begins his well-known poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”: “There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold….”

If I may take off on that line, there are strange things done under the sun by the men who claim to be Christians. And one of the strangest was the story of Simeon the Stylite.

Simeon was born about 390 A.D. He lived in a monastery in northern Syria. Then around 423 he started to live on top of a platform on top of a pillar. Gradually he increased the height of the pillar until it was about 60 feet off the ground. Simeon lived up there by himself as an ascetic for 36 years! Don’t ask how he took care of basic bodily functions! I’m reasonably certain that the pillar was not equipped with modern plumbing! But he thought that he was being holy by being separate from the world. People flocked from miles around to listen to him preach from the top of his pillar. His example led to a movement that lasted for centuries, where others dwelled on top of their own pillars.

Strange! But, maybe Simeon was onto something! Think how much less conflict there would be in the local church if we all built our own pillars out of shouting distance from each other (with no phone or email)!

Yet, while we aren’t living on top of our own respective pillars, sometimes Christians, at least here in America, are an independent, isolated bunch. We view the Christian life as each of us having our own relationship with God, which is essential. But then often we isolate ourselves from other believers.

We go to church on Sundays like we go to the movies. We walk in, nod to others we don’t really know, sit through the program, and go home. Except on a superficial level, we have little personal contact with other believers throughout the week.

It’s not unusual for me to counsel someone about a personal problem. After listening, I’ll ask, “Do you know any other believers closely enough with whom you can share these things and pray?” Often the answer is, “No.”

But if we’re not close to one another, we can’t obey Jesus’ command (John 13:14-15), “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”

To wash someone’s feet requires pretty close personal contact!

Now right away my thought is, “Foot washing is something I can do quite well by myself, thank you.” In fact, I’d rather do it myself! It’s kind of personal, especially if my feet are really dirty! So, please, just let me do it myself. And, I’d really prefer not to wash your dirty feet either. I’ll give you the basin, the water and the towel and let you do it. But I’d rather not wash your dirty feet, either.

But that’s not what Jesus said. He didn’t say, “Provide the basin, the water, and the towel so that everyone can wash their own feet.” He said, “You wash one another’s feet.”

But that’s asking us to get a bit too close for comfort, isn’t it? Yet, down in verse 35, Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples”—not by you all living sanctified lives by yourselves on top of your own pillars. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And so this act of washing one another’s feet is certainly a picture of the love that we should have for one another in the body of Christ. The main idea is: Jesus commands us all to wash one another’s feet.

But that raises some questions: What do you mean, “wash one another’s feet”? How do we do it? And, why should we do it?

What does it mean to wash one another’s feet?

He was pointing to a symbolic meaning behind what He had just done. Paul commends widows who have washed the saints’ feet (1 Tim. 5:10).

Peter is silent on this in his letters, but he does instruct us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (1 Pet. 5:5). I believe that that is the overall idea here, which we can view in four parts:

1. Washing one another’s feet is a ministry of forgiveness, cleansing, refreshment, and humble service.

A. Washing one another’s feet is a ministry of forgiveness.

As we saw in our last study, Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet pictured the relational forgiveness between each of them and Himself. It is paralleled by 1 John 1:7, “… the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

This refers to a repeated application of God’s once-and-for-all forgiveness to our ongoing sins. We confess our sins to God and ask His forgiveness, not to secure our position with Him as His children, but to restore our relationship with Him as our Father.

Ephesians 4:32 commands, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

We are to extend the forgiveness that we have received from God through Christ to those who have wronged us. In that way we symbolically “wash their feet.”

It makes me sad when I see believers who do not forgive other believers who have wronged them. Granted, the other person needs to ask for forgiveness before you extend it verbally. But we are required to root out all bitterness and forgive the offender in our hearts so that we are ready to extend forgiveness verbally the instant the offender repents.

When you forgive, you wash the offender’s dirty feet.

B. Washing one another’s feet is a ministry of cleansing.

In Ephesians 5:26, Paul talks about Christ cleansing the church “by the washing of water with the word.”

When we share the Word with one another, we wash off the sin and filth of this world.

Sometimes a brother has fallen into some sin. When that happens, Paul instructs (Gal. 6:1), “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

One of the most effective ways to restore a sinning brother is to use God’s Word.

At other times, maybe a brother has dirty feet not because of sin, but just because he’s been walking in this dirty world. To share a verse that God has used in your life or a verse that you’ve memorized and applied to some problem can be a source of cleansing.

But as someone has pointed out, when you wash someone’s feet with the water of the Word, make sure that the temperature is right!

Some sanctimonious believers love to wash their brothers’ feet with scalding water! “Here, brother, stick your feet in this basin!” “Yeoww!” That’s why Paul says that we are to restore in a spirit of gentleness. Don’t blast someone with the Word. Restore him so that he will feel cleansed, not scalded! That leads to…

C. Washing one another’s feet is a ministry of refreshment.

When you came in off the dusty roads with dirty feet, it was refreshing to get them washed.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions three men who had come to him from the Corinthian church. He adds (1 Cor. 16:18), “For they have refreshed my spirit and yours.” He tells Philemon (1:7), “… the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”

Have you ever known someone like that? A person who is always fresh with the Lord, so that when you get around him, you feel refreshed.

Do you do that with others? Do they feel refreshed in the Lord after being with you? What about at home? That’s the test!

D. Washing one another’s feet is a ministry of humble service in ways that may be unpleasant to you.

Having a foot-washing ceremony where you wash already clean feet is relatively easy. But Jesus’ command here to wash one another’s dirty, smelly feet is not so easy. He meant that we should do unpleasant tasks that serve others in their area of need. As I said last week, this means that no task should be beneath us as we serve others for Christ’s sake.

One practical way that we all can serve here on Sundays is to pick up litter that you see around the building. Maybe you’re thinking, “Doesn’t our custodian do that?” Yes, he works hard at it. But it shouldn’t be his job only. He’s got a lot to do.

You can serve the Lord and that visitor by picking up the trash that you see…Mark Mathews was here early last week painting over some graffiti on the wall in the parking lot.

Another way you can humbly serve others is, if you’re healthy, don’t grab the closest parking spot unless you have a lot of stuff to carry inside. Leave the closest spots for visitors and get some exercise!

We wash one another’s feet by being humble servants of Christ and by being in close relationships with others.

Being humble servants of Christ deals with our focus and motivation; being in close relationships looks at the practical requirement for obeying Christ’s command.

In verse 16, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”

Clearly, Jesus is the master (“Lord,” John 13:13, 14) and we are His slaves. He gives the commands and we are to obey without questioning or grumbling. No task was beneath a slave’s dignity to do.

As Jesus taught (Luke 17:7-10): “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

So here He states (John 13:17), “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

“These things” refers back to the example and commandment that He has just given, that we are to wash one another’s feet. We are humbly to serve one another in ways that may be unpleasant to us.

But obedience requires more than just doing it while you grumble under your breath.

Obedience requires doing it cheerfully and thankfully, out of love for Christ, who gave Himself on the cross for you. It’s all about your mindset and your motivation.

One other thing that Jesus’ example shows us is that we need to wash one another’s feet without looking for or expecting a favorable response from others. In other words, we don’t serve others hoping that they will reciprocate or express their deep gratitude. Often they don’t.

Jesus washed Judas’ feet, but he went out and betrayed Jesus. He washed Peter’s feet, but he denied Him that night. He washed Thomas’ feet, but he doubted Jesus’ resurrection. He washed all the disciples’ feet, but they all deserted Him and ran when He got arrested.

If you humbly serve Christ in any capacity, I can guarantee that you will not receive the appreciation you deserve from those you serve. You’ll probably get some appreciation, but you’ll also catch some undeserved criticism. And it won’t come from those outside the church. It will come from believers.

So you have to keep your focus on your Master. You are His slave because He bought you with His blood. You serve others for His sake.

We wash one another’s feet by being in close relationships with one another.

As I mentioned earlier, foot washing can’t be done if we’re all sitting on top of our individual pillars, with no contact with one another. It can’t be done by sending a robot across the room to wash others’ feet.

It requires a rather uncomfortable closeness to wash someone’s feet and to allow them to wash your feet. It requires being vulnerable and honest. You have to let the other person see just how dirty your feet really are.

It’s easy to come to church, smile at everyone and say hello, and go home without ever divulging to anyone that your feet are dirty. I’m not suggesting that you share your innermost struggles with everyone you meet. There needs to be an appropriate relationship of trust before you share where you’re hurting.

But the point is, we need to be developing some close, trusting relationships so that we can serve one another by washing each other’s feet. Get involved in a home fellowship or small group. Ask God for a godly brother or sister in Christ that you can get to know well. You can’t wash others’ feet or have your feet washed from a distance.

But then, once you’ve grown close to someone, you’ve still got to do it. You’re blessed not just by knowing that you should wash one another’s feet, but by doing it (John 13:17). It’s not enough to find out that the other person is hurting, and then to say, “I’ll pray for you,” and walk away. You’ve got to get your hands dirty by trying to help. Do it gently, not with boiling water, as I said. But, do it!

You can ask, “May I share from God’s Word some ways that I’ve been helped?” Pray with the person. Don’t judge or condemn. Remember, you’ve got dirty feet, too! But the point is to grow close enough in relationships so that we can offer genuine encouragement, help, and refreshment through God’s Word.

So washing one another’s feet is a ministry of forgiveness, cleansing, refreshment, and humble service. We do it by being humble servants of Christ and by being in close relationships with one another.

Why should we wash one another’s feet?

We should wash one another’s feet because the Lord and Teacher has washed our feet.

Jesus said (John 13:14), “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

In other words, because Jesus has cleansed your sins by His death on the cross, because He is the Lord of all, and because He is the Teacher from whom you learn how to live, you serve others in love because He commanded you to do so.

Or, more succinctly, your salvation is the reason why you serve Jesus Christ. He bought you with His blood. Now you’re His slave.

“From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”

Jesus is saying, “Don’t despair when Judas betrays Me and I am crucified. Remember that I told you this in advance. Keep believing that I am He (John 14:19). You will be My ambassadors and whoever receives you receives Me; and “he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20).


I heard about a successful doctor in Southern California who met Jesus Christ and left his lucrative practice to serve in a primitive country. His non-Christian partner couldn’t believe that he would do this. On one of his trips around the world, he stopped by to see his former partner. The Christian doctor was performing surgery on a poor woman in very primitive circumstances. The non-Christian said, “Don’t you remember how much you would have made doing this surgery in Southern California?”

“Yes, many thousands.” “Then why are you doing it?”

“Several reasons: See her clenched fist? In it are several coins that she will give to our mission. See those kids in the other room? They will be forever grateful if I can save their mother’s life. But there’s one more thing: I hope to receive from my Lord someday the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

That’s why you should wash others’ dirty feet. You do it because the Lord and Teacher washed your feet. You do it for Him.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 25, 2023 in Upper Room Discourse


A lesson on humility – John 13:1-5

We all can relate to Linus in the “Peanuts” cartoon strip when he shouts in frustration, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand!” It’s easy to love the human race in the abstract, but when it comes to loving specific irritating people that we can’t avoid, the process becomes a lot more difficult!

In our text we see the Lord Jesus loving men who did not deserve it. Luke 22:24 tells us that at the Lord’s Supper, just after Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him, the disciples got into a dispute about which of them was the greatest.

But sometime during the supper, Jesus got up and performed a task, which normally was the job of servant-slaves.

Not only were the disciples bickering; also Jesus knew that Judas was about to betray Him, Peter was about to deny Him, and all the disciples would desert Him (John 13:2, 38; 16:32). All of these show that the disciples did not deserve Jesus’ love.

They dirty feet reminds us of their need for cleansing from sin. And, we’re just like them. We all have dirty feet that Jesus needs to wash. In fact, the very reason Jesus came was to die in the place of dirty sinners so that they can be cleansed.

Also, His example of humility in washing the disciples’ feet gives us a practical example of how we can love those who do not deserve it, even as He has loved us.

From time to time, we are faced with the task of “saying goodbye” to a congregation, some employees, or even our employee of many years. It is never easy.

All of us have had our share of “dirty work,” and I doubt that we have really enjoyed it. Some of those “dirty work” experiences could range from “changing dirty diapers” to “cleaning grease traps” while in the military.

John’s mention of the Passover draws attention to the fact that Jesus is our Passover lamb. Just as the Jews put the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts and lintel to protect them from the angel of death, so Christ’s blood protects us from the wrath of God. The mention that Jesus knew that His hour had come reminds us that God ordained the cross.

While the sinful men who crucified Jesus were responsible for their awful deed, at the same time the cross was predestined by God (Acts 4:27-28).

It didn’t take Jesus by surprise. He deliberately laid aside His glory, just as here He laid aside His garments. He took on the form of a slave and became obedient to death on the cross.

Then, after His resurrection from the dead, He returned to the Father in glory. But don’t miss the point: Unless Jesus is your Passover lamb, unless you have applied His shed blood to your heart by faith, then you are under the curse of death, which means, eternal separation from God.

John also emphasizes that Jesus’ disciples were “in the world.” Jesus was about to depart from this world, but His disciples were still in it.

As Jesus will pray (John 17:15-18), He doesn’t ask the Father to take these men out of the world. That is the sphere of ministry to which He sends them. But they are to be distinct from the world. But walking in this world means that you get your feet dirty. Thus the need for cleansing.


Two verses out of five focus on the actual washing of the disciples’ feet by our Lord. Three of the five verses provide us with background information, which John believes his readers need to know in order to properly understand the Lord’s actions.

Verses 1-3 provide us with information that gives us insight into all of their “state of mind.”

John emphasizes that Jesus knew His earthly mission was nearly complete, and that He was returning to the Father in heaven. He knew that everything had been given over to Him by the Father.

In other words, He knew that everything was as it should be, and that He was in complete control. It is our Lord’s sovereignty that is being stressed here, and not His suffering.

When John the Baptist desired to give expression to his feeling of unworthiness in comparison to Christ, he could think of no better way to express this than to say that he deemed himself unworthy of kneeling down in front of Jesus in order to unloose his sandal straps and remove the sandals (with a view to washing the Master’s feet).”

Apparently, they were so shocked that they sat in stunned silence, until Jesus came to Peter.

He probably verbalized the thoughts that the others had been afraid to say when he protested (John 13:8), “Never shall You wash my feet!” But as Jesus will go on to explain (John 13:14-15), He did this to give us an example of how we should humbly serve one another.

When men find themselves in this position, they are tempted to behave very differently: “Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions exercise authority over them’” (Mark 10:42).

In spite of who He was; in spite of the fact that all authority had been given to Him, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.

In spite of the fact that He could have required men to minister to Him, catering to His every whim, Jesus humbled Himself by washing the feet of His disciples.

Humility requires thinking of others more highly than of yourself. The disciples hadn’t washed one another’s feet because they were arguing about who was the greatest.

Two women in the church in Philippi were having a dispute. Paul wrote to that church (Phil. 2:3-4), “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

He went on to cite the example of Christ, who willingly took on the form of a servant and went to the cross for our sakes. So many quarrels in the church and in our homes would evaporate if we would, with humility of mind, regard the other person as more important than ourselves!

It is Christ’s example of humility that Paul appeals to in his exhortation to serve one another: Philippians 2:3-8: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  {5} Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: {6} Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, {7} but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. {8} And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

* He got up from the meal–just as He’d left the throne of heaven

* He took off His outer garments–just as He’d divested Himself of heaven’s robes

* He wrapped a towel about His waist–just as He’d clothed Himself with humanity

* He poured water in a bowl, got on His knees and began to wash feet–just as he would pour out His life on the cross.

Jesus in effect said: “I’m God. I spoke the universe into existence. I have all power and glory, yet I came to serve! And if you’re to follow me, you must emulate my example.”

Humility requires getting your focus off your rights and your needs and onto others’ needs.

He wasn’t focused on His needs or His rights, but rather on their needs. They not only needed their dirty feet washed, but they also needed this lesson in humble service.

How many quarrels at church and in our homes would stop before they started if we would take our eyes off ourselves, our rights, and our needs, and instead think about the other person’s needs!

A husband thinks, “I’ve worked hard all day, putting up with hassles at work so that I can provide for my family. Don’t I have a right to some peace and quiet when I come home at night?”

Maybe, but that’s the wrong focus. Your focus should be on how you can serve your wife and children.

The wife thinks, “I’ve been changing diapers, shopping for groceries with screaming kids, cleaning up messes all over the house, and trying to get dinner in time. Don’t I have a right for a little time by myself?” Maybe, but that’s the wrong focus. Humble service requires getting your focus off yourself and onto others’ needs.

Jesus knew that “His hour was come.”

It was the time when He would be glorified through His death, resurrection, and ascension.

* Jesus also knew that Judas would betray Him.

Judas is mentioned eight times in this gospel, more than in any of the other gospels. Satan had entered into Judas (Luke 22:3), and now he would give him the necessary thought to bring about the arrest and crucifixion of the Son of God.

* Jesus knew that the Father had given Him all things.

There are at least two reasons why Jesus chose this activity:

  • Their feet were dirty.
  • Their hearts were proud.

Jesus’ disciples were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel. He gave them an unforgettable lesson in humility, and by His actions rebuked their selfishness and pride.

The more you think about this scene, the more profound it becomes. Confucius called humility “the solid foundation of all the virtues.” The Greek word means “low” or “to stoop low,” and it carries the idea of serving another person.

It might be explain by a Malay proverb: “the fuller the ear is of rice-grain, the lower it bends.”

It has well been said that humility is not thinking meanly of yourself; it is simply not thinking of yourself at all! We need to be careful that we’re not filled with a worldly spirit of competition or criticism.

Humility is unannounced.  It is also willing to receive without embarrassment. It is not a sign of weakness and it does not play favorites (in the example of Judas).

Humility requires receiving, not just giving.

It’s easy to serve or to give to those in need out of pride. Peter’s unwillingness at first to let Jesus serve him did not stem from humility, but from pride. It embarrassed him to think of Jesus washing his feet.

That implied that his feet were dirty and in need of washing! It would have served Peter’s pride much more if he had washed Jesus’ feet. But Jesus explained that if He didn’t wash Peter’s feet, then he had no part with Him.

Many people are offended by the gospel or don’t see their need for it because they’re proud of their good works. They’re proud of all that they do for others. They view themselves as having clean feet.

It would embarrass them to admit that their feet are dirty and that Jesus needs to wash them.

But to receive the gospel, you’ve got to recognize that your feet are filthy and that no one gets to heaven by washing his own feet or by washing others’ feet. You only get to heaven when you let Jesus wash your feet.

Cleansing is necessary because of who Jesus is.

Limiting ourselves to our text, we see that Jesus is the eternal, omniscient one. He knew that His hour had come and that He would shortly be returning to the Father, with whom He had dwelled before the foundation of the world (John 13:1). He knew that Judas would betray Him (John 13:11). He knows each of us thoroughly.

Also, Jesus is the loving one. In spite of our failures and sins, which He knows in advance, He loves us as His own children.

Further, Jesus is the sovereign one. The Father has given all things into Jesus’ hands. He was in complete control of His own death. Neither Satan nor Judas could thwart God’s sovereign plan through the cross, but rather inadvertently fulfilled it.

Lastly, Jesus is the suffering servant who died for our sins. When you come into the presence of the Holy One of God, you instantly recognize your need for cleansing. With Peter, you fall down at His feet and cry out (Luke 5:8), “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

Cleansing is necessary because of who we are.

We all are guilty sinners in need of cleansing: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Jesus is saying, “I must wash away your sins by My atoning death or you have no part with Me.”

Cleansing is necessary because of where we walk.

We walk in this sinful world, so our feet get dirty. Again, if you have trusted in Christ through being immersed in water so your sins can be forgiven, you are never so dirty that you need a complete bath again.

But at the same time, although you have trusted in Christ, you are never so pure that you don’t need to get your feet washed again. It’s an ongoing process to maintain your relationship with the Lord.

Sometimes, your feet get dirty because of deliberate sin. You choose to do what you know God’s Word forbids you to do. At those times, you need to confess your sin and appropriate the forgiveness that Christ secured for you by His death.

At other times, you just feel defiled because of contact with this dirty world. Maybe you’ve been bombarded with sensual advertisements or just the magazine covers at the supermarket checkout.

Perhaps you’ve had to deal with worldly people at work, so the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16) have left you feeling defiled. Those are the times to open your Bible and let “the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26) cleanse and refresh your soul. Let Jesus wash your feet!

Conclusion. So ask yourself three questions:

(1) Do I consistently experience Christ’s undeserved love? If not, you need to figure out why not and get that problem resolved.

(2) Do I consistently follow Christ’s example of humble service? If not, jot down some specific ways that you can begin this week.

(3) Do I consistently come to Christ for cleansing from my sins and from the filth of this dirty world? If not, He’s waiting with the basin and the water of His word to wash your feet!

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 22, 2023 in Upper Room Discourse


The Badge of Discipleship – John 13:1, 34-35

For many of my 44+ years of ministry, I have chosen to “spend time with Jesus” as we would enter the fall and begin pointing to the end of another calendar year. I wanted this special time so we’d “fall in love with Jesus all over again.”

I want us to spend time with Jesus in two ways: in our Sunday morning class, we’ll study many of the miracles of Jesus, and in our time through lessons here during our worship time, we’ll study John 13-17, which is our Lord’s “farewell message” to His beloved disciples [climaxing with His intercessory prayer for them and for us. (Other farewell addresses in Scripture were delivered by Moses (Deut. 31-33), Joshua (Josh. 23-24), and Paul (Acts 20)].

However, Jesus added a significant “action section” to His message when He washed His disciples’ feet. It was an object lesson they would never forget…we’ll spend time there next week.

I’d like us to see the long-view today, especially since we begin a reorganization of Life Groups here with a group that will meet on the first Sunday of each month and another group that will meet on the 3rd Sunday of each month.

We’re asking all members here to choose to be part of one of these groups, and fully expect the need to add a 2nd Sunday group and even a 4th Sunday group because of your willingness to be part of this effort.

I quoted Charles Hodge a few weeks go in another lesson…remember? He once said “we should stick with those we’re stuck with.” We smiled when we heard it and some of us have thought of it since.

Today? “A fellow observed: “Christians don’t drink, don’t cuss, don’t smoke, and some Christians don’t like each other.” This is sad but true.

Jesus summed up Christianity in 13:34, 35 (it’s been called “the badge of discipleship”): A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, and you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

The badge? The badge is not the building, it’s not projects, it’s not doctrine, it’s not attendance, it’s not even good morals…it’s “love as Jesus loved.”

This can demoralize us. It is not “Were you baptized?”; “Can you pass our religious test?”; “Do you attend?”; “Do you give?”; “Do you teach a class?”; “Do you serve as a church officer?” No! It is, “Do you love your brother?”

It begins with servanthood.

John 13:3-5 (ESV) Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4  rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus taught others through the towel and equally reminded Himself. “The hour” had come.”

The emphasis in John 13:1–3 is on what our Lord knew, and in John 13:4–5 on what our Lord did.

Jesus knew that “His hour was come.” More than any of the Gospel writers, John emphasized the fact that Jesus lived on a “heavenly timetable” as He did the Father’s will. Note the development of this theme:

2:4—“Mine hour is not yet come.”

7:30—“His hour was not yet come.”

8:20—“His hour was not yet come.”

12:23—“The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified.”

13:1—“Jesus knew that His hour was come.”

17:1—“Father, the hour is come.”

What was this divinely appointed “hour”? It was the time when He would be glorified through His death, resurrection, and ascension. From the human point of view, it meant suffering; but from the divine point of view, it meant glory.

He would soon leave this world and return to the Father who sent Him, Jesus having finished His work on earth (John 17:4). When the servant of God is in the will of God, he is immortal until his work is done. They could not even arrest Jesus, let alone kill Him, until the right hour had arrived.

In the Garden, His sweat had dropped like blood. Only the attitude of the towel would have the ultimate representation of a cross. Only with the attitude of the towel in Christians is Christ relived in the church. An unhappy church will not wash feet.

What Jesus knew helped determine what Jesus did. Jesus went into action. Action, many times, precedes attitude. “The right attitude is doing a thing even though you have the wrong attitude.” If you wait until your attitude is right, little will be done.

Take, for example, “Love your brother.” Jesus did not use the word “like.” This would be a burden no man could bear. We tend to confuse “like” and “love.” Many say, “Since I don’t like him, I will be a hypocrite if I am nice to him!”

That is wrong. Agape (love) says otherwise! “It is in the will, not the glands.”

I will serve the best interests of that person I do not like, regardless. God wants a servant church, not a success church. We are most like Jesus when serving.

Peter heard verses 32 and 33: “If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You shall seek me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ now I say to you also.”

He never heard verses 34 and 35: “. . . love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We need to be patient with Peter. For 3.5 years, Jesus had been his entire life. He thinks, “Jesus is leaving?” Listen to verses 36 through 38: Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a cock shall not crow, until you deny Me three times.”

Peter was shattered.  Love Like Jesus “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You shall seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, I now say to you also, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new command-ment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, . . .” (13:33–35).

There was nothing new about love. Jesus talked about it often. But because of the example and emphasis of Jesus, there is now a new dimension: love “as Jesus loved.”

He loved the apostles to the end: Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

He washed their dirty feet. If you are not growing spiritually, you are not developing relationships. Nothing is more profound than knowing you are known, yet still loved. To be loved as a celebrity in distant places is not reality. This is why the early church practiced the holy kiss and hospitality.

The key to the early church was fellowship. “I sought my God, but my God I would not see. I sought my soul, but my soul eluded me. I sought my brother, and I found all three.”

Family Relationship Love.

The church is a family. There are no “Lone Ranger” Christians. We are members in a body. We are “one of another.” In a family you do not get to pick your brothers or sisters. In a family you are stuck! The difference in an institution and a family is love.

Most congregations all basically say and do the same things; some grow and others die. What is the difference? Love! Some love; some do not. Without love churches die.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10).

Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 10:24).

Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:8, 9).

And hope does not disappoint; because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).

There are two John 3:16’s in Scripture: John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16! Because Jesus died for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren!

Some people I cannot love, but Jesus can, and the Holy Spirit can (Romans 5:5 (ESV) and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us). Jesus can love through me.

A place where many are doing great church work does not mean there is family life. It requires two years for new members to become part of the family. This is why meals are so important. John 13 is in the middle of two meals! The church in Acts ate together. We’re pretty good at eating, aren’t we? We don’t often miss a meal, and we especially enjoy them with our physical family.

Tragically, we are not very good with love! We need to share meals with our spiritual family!

“We are foolish, yea, fakes with love.” We are scared of love. We will always be amateurs at love.

Paul wanted to cry in 1 Corinthians 3. The carnal, little brethren could not act like men. Some pout and refuse to speak. You speak to them and force them to grunt! Jesus even spoke to Judas during the betrayal.

Why do we encourage this? Self-seeking is a relationship killer. We must love or be lost! The only cell that lives for itself is a cancer cell.

I believe strongly that we as a congregation will never be what we could be unless we spend more time together in smaller groups…that is accomplished in Sunday, Monday and Wednesday classes…in monthly men’s and women’s devotionals, in attending a baby shower, as some will do this afternoon in the fellowship hall…eating together, listening to one another, laughing together, talking to someone I’ve never really talked with before (or at least in a long time)…you get my point.

George Gallup has said, “Americans are among the loneliest people in the world.” In the midst of busy lives, overcommitted schedules, and congested cities, we feel alone. Yet we are a culture craving relationship. In the midst of our crowded existence, many of us are living lonely lives. We live and work in a sea of humanity, but we end up missing out on benefits of regular, meaningful relationships.

That is not God’s intention! We were never meant to live in a state of functional isolation. We were created to be relational beings. None of us was meant to live alone, away from meaningful connection.

It seems God creates inside this man a kind of “human-shaped-void” that God himself will not fill. Living life alone does not accurately reflect the One whose image we bear. Alone and isolated were never to be used to describe His children.

Henry Cloud says it well: God created us with a hunger for relationship – for relationship with Him and with our fellow people. At our core we are relational beings.” He goes on to say, “The soul cannot prosper without being connected to others.” I believe one of God’s biggest dreams for us is authentic community – the kind of meaningful relationships that are best characterized by oneness with Him and with one another.

As important as it is for each follower of Christ to give and experience this unique kind of relational life, the benefits go beyond ourselves. They influence a watching world. Notice Jesus’ concluding words: “…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Do you feel the weight of that statement? Jesus is saying that  the  credibility  of  His  life  and  message  in  the  eyes  of unbelievers is dependent upon the way we as His followers relate with one another.

I believe that life change happens within the context of intentional relationships.


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 18, 2023 in Upper Room Discourse


“A Woman Worthy of Praise” – Proverbs 31:10-31

Pin on { Top Bloggers to Follow Today }

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me, and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I knew there is a God I could always talk to and I learned to trust in God.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing, and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it, and I learned we have to take care of what we are given.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel good, and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I learned most of life’s lessons that I need to know to be a good, and productive person when I grow up.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say, “Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.”

It was early one Friday morning; a husband was busily getting ready for work and just before heading out for the day he looked over at his beautiful wife who was just waking up and she had a big smile on her face.

She said, ”Honey, I’ll bet you don’t know what day this is!” Her husband, who had a horrible time keeping dates straight in his head and was notorious for confusing or forgetting special days, smiled back, brain momentarily paralyzed, said, ”Sweetheart, how could I ever forget. This is a special day for us!” Then, he quickly walked out the door to work.

He was in mental fog all day. He couldn’t focus on his work because he kept trying to figure out what was so special about that day. For the life of him, which may very well have been at stake, he could not remember his wife’s birthday or their anniversary. As the day wore on, he became more and more nervous. He did not want to go home and face his wife. He didn’t want to disappoint his wife.

He devised a plan. On the way home, he stopped by the florist and picked out an expensive and beautiful bouquet of flowers. He called the fanciest restaurant in town and made a reservation for two. Then, he called and managed to get tickets to the Broadway musical that was in town. He pulled in the driveway, rushed in the house, gave his wife a big kiss and told her to put her favorite dress on because they were going out for a night on the town to celebrate.

On the way home, his wife leaned over, put her head on his shoulder and said, ”This was a great evening.” And, it was. They had a wonderful evening. They had an expensive evening. He’d spent $500 to celebrate this special day even though he still didn’t know what they were celebrating. Then his wife said, ”Best Ground Hog Day ever!”

Well, we know what today is. It’s not Ground Hog Day. It’s Mother’s Day. I want to challenge and encourage our wives and mothers. We’re calling upon a man whose name is mentioned only once in scripture, yet this choice portion of literature seems to last forever in our minds as we look for a godly woman.

His name was King Lemuel, and he had a good mother.  In verse 10, King Lemuel offers both a question and a declaration:

Question: a wife of noble character, who can find? Answer: she is worth far more than rubies!

Verse 30 sums it all up: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Many times these verses are presented in such a way that a great deal of guilt is brought forth on the part of the woman and mothers listening. If you do not get up early and buy-and-sell land or provide your family with hand-sewn clothing…these verses are still for your encouragement.

Instead of listing items of activity which should be part of the Christian woman, it is listing characteristics which are then applied to the culture in which we walk and work. The idea: be this kind of woman in your character and your activities will be determined by the particular circumstances which do apply to your life.

  1. She is diligent (vs. 13, 17-18, 27)

Proverbs 31:13: “She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.”

Proverbs 31:17-18: “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. {18} She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.”

Proverbs 31:27: “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

This trait seems to be mixed with a pleasant spirit and a good attitude. She seems to possess pride in what she does…she’s not happy just to “get by” but in doing a good job. She looks for the best buys, she realizes a profit, and works even into the night.

  1. She’s industrious and efficient (vs. 14, 16, 24)

Proverbs 31:14: “She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.”

Proverbs 31:16: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”

Proverbs 31:24: “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.”

She’s a thinking individual. In the investment of her time, she looks for dividends and returns. Instead of focusing on the grind, she looks to the benefits her work will bring.

  1. She’s compassionate (vs. 20, 26).

Proverbs 31:20: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”

Proverbs 31:26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

She has a soft heart that can be touched. And this makes her unique and distinct when contrasted to the man: an illustration….a child is hurt and the two responses:

Mother: How are YOU doing? What can I do? (the caring one)

Dad: Why were you running? You scratched the wall! Who’s fault was it? (the investigator).

  1. She has inner beauty (vs. 22, 25).

Proverbs 31:22: “She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.”

Proverbs 31:25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”

IF MARRIED: She’s a devoted wife:

  1. She maintains her husband’s confidence (vs. 11a)

Proverbs 31:11a: “Her husband has full confidence in her….”

He’s comfortable in being transparent with her. He can share his feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and disappointment and know she will keep them to herself.

  1. She meets his needs (vs. 11b).

Proverbs 31:11b: “…and lacks nothing of value.”

She’s supportive and affectionate. She encourages his pursuits, and is committed to him and his efforts.

Remember when God looked at Adam and said: “It is not good that man should be alone.” He made a help-meet that would make him complete. Woman was a special creation of God but also a “corresponding part.”

  1. She seeks his good (vs. 12)

Proverbs 31:12: “She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

  1. She adds to his influence (vs. 23)

Proverbs 31:23: “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.”

IF A PARENT: she’s a dependable mother.

  1. She is disciplined (vs. 15, 18-19).

Proverbs 31:15: “She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.”

Proverbs 31:18-19: “She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. {19} In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”

  1. She’s organized (vs. 21).

Proverbs 31:21: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.”

This verse presents a sense of planning. She takes the challenge of a family as just that, a challenge, and seeks to meet it. It’s not just “a cross to bear.”

  1. She’s dedicated (vs. 27).

Proverbs 31:27: “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

What will be the results of this kind of woman (28-31).

Proverbs 31:28-31“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: {29} “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” {30} Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. {31} Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

* Her children will bless her! * Her husband will praise her!

* Her peers will be challenged by her! * Her works will bring their own praise!

* Her Lord will be honored by her life!

A husband’s relationship to his excellent wife: (vs. 11-12, 28-29)

Proverbs 31:11-12: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. {12} She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

Proverbs 31:28-29: “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: {29} “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.””

  1. He trusts her (vs. 11). He has no cause for suspicion for her. Deep within, he holds confidence in her.
  2. He benefits from her (vs.11).
  3. He’s affirmed by her (vs. 12).
  4. He’s impressed with her and sings her praises (vs. 28-29).

Young men – look for this kind of woman!

Young ladies – strive with God’s help to be this kind of woman!

Fathers and married men – Thank God if you have this kind of woman!


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 15, 2023 in Special days


‘Step out of the boat:’ entered full-time ministry May 13, 1979

On May 13, 1979, Terry and I ‘stepped out of the boat’ and entered full-time ministry. I had been a sports writer since graduating from MTSU for over seven years, but took the opportunity to return to our alma-mater to be the campus minister at the Middle Tennessee Christian Center. Even though there have been many ‘ups and downs,’ it is a decision I have never regretted, and I now enter my 44th year.

Certainly the blessings of ministry far outweigh the realities listed below, yet ministry is definitely not easy. That is why ministry must be a calling and not simply a “job”. If you can’t reconcile with these difficult realities and challenges concerning ministry, then perhaps you should avoid it all together (some apply, others not so much).

My dad told me plenty of things as we discussed this crucial decision, but both he and Mom were full of encouragement, though Mom acknowledged after a few years that she felt I should have followed my dad’s example and kept my “full-time job” and been a part-time minister/teacher. He did say one thing that I have always laughed about: “Gary, Sundays come around really fast when you are preparing two lessons and two Bible class studies per week.” I have found that to be absolutely true, though I usually cannot wait for Monday morning to come around so I can ‘begin again.’

I have learned much from some special people in my life, Lately, one of those dear friends asked me “why would you accept criticism from someone you would never go to for advise?” Amen! And often people find it ‘convenient’ to agree with you only when you follow their advise, when, in actuality, they are accepting you only for what they see in you that duplicates/mirrors them. Impossible! A most recent lesson? I try daily not to micro-manage someone else’s personality…wishing that others would follow that idea in regard to me.

I was both a preacher’s kid (PK) and an elder’s kid (EK), so I’ve felt ‘eyes on me’ throughout most of my life. I also was (am) concerned that my five children (and seven grand children) must have ‘felt those eyes on them’ as well. It is a shame that has to be the case, and I understand some of the reasoning…but others should have no right to expect a higher standard for me or Terry and my children/grandchildren than the one they have for themselves. Jesus Christ puts a high standard on ALL of us. On my desk are two statements: (1) To err is human; to blame it on the other guy is even more human. And, (2) thank you for not minding my business.

I am still negotiating this thing we call ‘ministry.’


I find these timely reminders to be useful when one decides to enter ministry…wishing I had learned some of these sooner in my life (MANY have NOT applied to me, thankfully, but presented here as ‘food for thought’):

  1. You will probably begin by ministering to a church that is barely growing (if at all), is opposed to change, doesn’t pay well, has seen ministers come and go, doesn’t respect the position as Biblically as they should, doesn’t understand what the Bible says a minister’s or a church’s jobs are, and will only follow you when they agree with you (thus, they’ll really only follow themselves).
  2. You will feel very lonely on a consistent basis, feeling like no one truly knows you or cares how you feel, because you do not want to burden your family, and trust-worthy peers are few and far in-between. Because of the ”super-Christian” myth accredited to ministers literally, you will find it extremely difficult to disclose your deep thoughts and feelings to others. Thus, you will struggle with loneliness.
  3. You will be persecuted for preaching the truth, mostly from your brothers and sisters in the pews. You shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of your own blood. You’re a Christian, after all (Matt. 16:24).
  4. You will think about quitting yearly or monthly, if not weekly or even daily…do not make important decisions on Mondays, since they are a day with ‘let downs’ after the ‘high’ of Sunday worship.
  5. You will be criticized, rarely to your face, and frequently behind your back. This criticism will come from those that love you, those that obviously do not like you, and often from shepherds and Christians that barely know you.
  6. Not everyone will respond positively to your preaching, teaching, or leadership. You will bring people to tears with the same sermon: one in joy, another in anger (I have done this).
  7. You will fight legalism and liberalism, along with laziness, ignorance, tradition, and opposition. Yet, your greatest enemy will be your own heart (Jere. 17:9).
  8. You will feel like a failure often, and when you do appear to succeed, the fruit that is produced cannot be accredited to you. God alone gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). Thus, there is little “sense of accomplishment in ministry” that you may be accustomed to in other vocations. I have always mowing my yard, since it gives me ‘a beginning and an end.’
  9. You will make people angry regardless how godly you handle yourself; it comes with the position.
  10. Not everyone will like you.


I worked as a copy boy on weekends at the News-Free Press as a junior in high school and a sports writer during my senior year of high school and then was the sports editor of the MTSU Sidelines school newspaper seven semesters.

During my freshman year, I also wrote a weekly article on MTSU football for the Nashville Banner. After my freshman year, I worked during the summer in sports department at the Chattanooga Times.

I was the Christian Center student president my junior year…we got married on July 2, 1971 and worked our senior years before graduating (1972) and moving to Chattanooga to work with the Chattanooga News-Free Press for seven years.





2016-05-11 16.34.03

Eric and Tonia would often go over to the Main House on Friday/Saturday evenings and just see who was around before it was bedtime


2016-05-11 16.34.20

Board members with Dr. Wiser (front right) when we introduced a plaque honoring past leaders at an annual fund-raising banquet. To this day, I am the only person who was a student, student president, and director at the Christian Center.

2016-05-11 16.34.38

A picture of the Main House when they renovated it several years later (it is no longer there, being replaced with a new Christian Center)

2016-05-11 16.34.48

Gary King was the student president during my first year as director. The students were always so friendly/nice to our children…I think they enjoyed having a family around since they were away from home in college


2016-05-11 16.36.36

I did the publications while the director and we had some successful fund-raising efforts

2016-05-11 16.38.50

During my photography class, I super-imposed this shot of Terry over one of the campus buildings

2016-05-11 16.40.42

After a busy week, I would often sit under a shade tree in our front yard to read/enjoy the time (the backyard was usually muddy and not inviting at all)

2016-05-11 16.40.47

This was the ‘doll house,’ where Terry lived with other girls while we were students and we lived in it while there as director

2016-05-11 16.41.03

2016-05-11 16.32.38

Terry was again a great model for me during my photography class

2016-05-11 16.42.49

This was taken in April 1980 when Gregory joined our happy family

2016-05-11 16.42.23 2016-05-11 16.42.43  2016-05-11 16.43.48

2016-05-11 16.34.07

Ray Bevans enjoying time with Tonia (I think Ray was the first ‘crush’ she had on a boy)

2016-05-11 16.44.24

The students loved coming by our house on their way to/from classes to see Eric and Tonia ‘hanging out’

2016-05-11 16.44.55 2016-05-11 16.45.03


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 12, 2023 in Family


The Cities of Refuge Deuteronomy 4:41–43; 19:1–13

The people of Israel were greatly blessed. They had the Lord God for their King, a wonderful land for their home, and a holy law for their guide, and yet they faced some of the same problems that society faces today. But human nature being what it is, nations will always have to deal with “man’s inhumanity to man,” because the heart of every problem is still the problem of the heart.

Laws are necessary to bring order to society, to restrain evil, and to help control behavior, but laws can never change the human heart. Only the grace of God can do that.

If this section of Scripture emphasizes anything, it’s that God holds human life precious and wants us to treat people fairly, for they are made in the image of God (Gen. 9:1-7).

God’s concept of justice and the value of life is illustrated by the provisions made for six cities of refuge to be designated after the conquest of Canaan.

Deuteronomy 4:41-43 (ESV)
41  Then Moses set apart three cities in the east beyond the Jordan,
42  that the manslayer might flee there, anyone who kills his neighbor unintentionally, without being at enmity with him in time past; he may flee to one of these cities and save his life:
43  Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland for the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.

In the nomadic societies of Moses’ day, the possibility of an immediate blood revenge, carried out by the next of kin, sometimes prevented a proper trial. Jehovah’s concept of justice is first introduced in Exodus 21:12, 13: “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.”

God’s wisdom is seen in His provisions for His creation. His provisions are realistic, for He knew offenses would come. He provided a way of escape for the innocent. The cities of refuge were provisions for justice. A regard for human life is far more important than a regard for private property.

God’s thoughtfulness for human life is impressive. No life was to be impatiently wasted. The entire nineteenth chapter deals with justice for the defenseless: justice for the unintentional killer (19:1–13), justice for the landowner (19:14), and justice for the accused (19:15–21).


Deuteronomy 19:1-13 (ESV)
1  “When the LORD your God cuts off the nations whose land the LORD your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses,
2  you shall set apart three cities for yourselves in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.
3  You shall measure the distances and divide into three parts the area of the land that the LORD your God gives you as a possession, so that any manslayer can flee to them.


The Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier called justice “the hope of all who suffer, the dread of all who wrong.” That’s the ideal, but it isn’t always achieved in real life. Without justice, society would fall apart, anarchy would take over, and it wouldn’t be safe for people to leave their homes. Israel didn’t have the elaborate police system we have today, so locating and punishing guilty criminals depended primarily on the elders and the judges. By singling out the “cities of refuge,” the Lord promoted justice in the land.

The cities of refuge were part of the distribution of the Promised Land among the twelve tribes of Israel. Only one tribe, the Levites, was not given land to develop. Instead, they were to be the priests of the Lord and the overseers of the tabernacle and all its rites and furnishings. Only the Levites could carry and set up the tabernacle (Numbers 2:5-13).

As the Levites were to have no territorial domain allocated to them like the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan, they were to be distributed throughout the land in certain cities appropriated to their use. Part of their inheritance consisted of forty-eight cities spread throughout the land (Numbers 35:6-7). Of these forty-eight cities, six were designated as cities of refuge. The cities were Kedesh, Shechem, Hebron, Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan (Joshua 20:7-8).

The Mosaic Law stated that anyone who committed a murder was to be put to death (Exodus 21:14). But for unintentional deaths, God set aside these cities to which the murderer could flee for refuge (Exodus 21:13). He would be safe from the avenger—the family member charged with avenging the victim’s death (Numbers 35:19)—until the case could go to trial.

The congregation would judge to find if the attacker acted unintentionally. If he did, he would return to the city of refuge and live there safely until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the trial, at which point he could return to his property. If the attacker left the city of refuge before the death of the high priest, however, the avenger would have the right to kill him (Numbers 35:24-28).

After Jehovah had cut off the enemies of Israel in Canaan and Israel was living in the cities and houses of the former inhabitants, Moses stipulated: You shall set aside three cities for yourself in the midst of your land, which the Lord your God gives you to possess. You shall prepare the roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land, which the Lord your God will give you as a possession, so that any manslayer may flee there (19:2, 3).

The first three cities were to be set apart in the midst of the land. They were to be within easy reach so that anyone who killed a man would be able to flee to them for temporary protection. Moses specified that these cities were to be equally spaced geographically. The land was to be divided into three parts, and the cities were to be placed in each area.

No part of the land would be more than thirty miles from one of these cities. They were to build roads to make them accessible for those in need of immediate sanctuary. It is emphasized that the Israelites should take care that a slayer who killed ignorantly was within easy reach of a city of refuge (19:3, 6).

Kedesh in Naphtali, Shechem in Ephraim, and Hebron in Judah were set apart in Canaan as the first cities of refuge (Joshua 20:7). Provision was made in the law for more cities of refuge as Israel acquired more territory.

4  “This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past—
5  as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live,
6  lest the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and strike him fatally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he had not hated his neighbor in the past.
7  Therefore I command you, You shall set apart three cities.
8  And if the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land that he promised to give to your fathers—
9  provided you are careful to keep all this commandment, which I command you today, by loving the LORD your God and by walking ever in his ways—then you shall add three other cities to these three,
As Israel’s territory was enlarged with the destruction of the two Amorite kings, three other cities were to be added to those found in Canaan. In 4:41–43, in a parenthetical statement, Moses, while Israel was on the plains of Moab, set apart three cities of refuge on the east side: “Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau for the Reubenites, and Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.”


Moses revealed the primary purpose for the cities of refuge in these words: lest innocent blood be shed in your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, and so the guilt of bloodshed be upon you.
11  “But if anyone hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and attacks him and strikes him fatally so that he dies, and he flees into one of these cities,
12  then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there, and hand him over to the avenger of blood, so that he may die.
13  Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, so that it may be well with you.

These sanctuaries were in no way to be an interference with the proper procedure of justice. The word “manslayer” or “slayer,” in 19:3, refers to intentional or unintentional killings. The term “manslayer” is the participle of the verb rasah, which seems to denote anti-social killing rather than killing in war or in the administration of justice.

The word “murder” does not seem to be an accurate translation, since rasah covers both cases of murder and of accidental killing. The cities of refuge would be open to either for temporary safety. They were not appointed to provide permanent asylum for the intentional manslayer, but they did assure that every man who killed his neighbor might find protection until the time of his trial.

The manslayer who fled to the city would live as one who killed his neighbor unintentionally or ignorantly and without any previous feelings of hatred toward his neighbor. To illustrate the difference between a willful murder and an unintentional murder, Moses gives an example in 19:5: As when a man goes into the forest with his friend to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down the tree, and the iron head slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live.


Murder was one of several capital crimes in Israel. Others were idolatry and sorcery (Lev. 20:1-6), blasphemy (24:10-16), violating the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36), willful and repeated disobedience to parents (Deut. 21:18-21; Ex. 21:15, 17), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), bestiality (22:19), homosexuality (Lev. 20:13), adultery, and the rape of an engaged maiden (Deut. 22:22-27).

Israel was a theocracy and her laws were God’s laws. To break the law was to sin against the Lord and defile the land, and the people needed to understand the seriousness of such actions. In 1972, the United States Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional but then reinstated it in 1976. Capital punishment may not restrain every would-be murderer from taking a life, but it does magnify the preciousness of human life as well as honor the law.

The cities of refuge offered protection “lest the avenger of blood pursue the manslayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, . . .” (19:6).

The avenger was the nearest male relative, the one responsible for redeeming a relative’s property (Leviticus 25:25), for marrying a relative’s widow and rearing children in the name of the deceased (Ruth 3:12, 13; 4:5–10), and for avenging the death of a relative (Numbers 35:19).

The kinsman was directed by law to pursue the manslayer and to seek the payment of life for life. It was not a feat which would be lightly undertaken. In fact, it was one of those duties which a person would shirk if he could.

It would take an individual who had courage and self-denial to fulfill this part of the Mosaic code.

This rough ministry of justice which was fulfilled by the avenger was needed in the early days. It strengthened the family ties. It fostered a spirit of brotherhood. It was a shield for the weak and defenseless.

Vengeance under the law seems dreadful to many of us because we live in an organized system of public justice. But if we were translated to some uncivilized country where each one is forced to fight for his own family, we would regard it less painfully. We must recognize it as a necessary assertion of judgment. “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19) seems dreadful only to those who have not appreciated the need of a good and somewhat reliable civil justice.

This divine law of vengeance, through the avenger, was perfect in the sense that there was and could be no appeal. If one man had slain another, the presumption was that it had been maliciously done, and prompt vengeance was prepared for him. He needed to make a serious flight from the sudden reprisal that could come even “though he was not deserving of death” (19:6).

Immediately after the death of the friend, the slayer could be killed in a hasty decision while “the avenger of blood pursue[d] . . . in the heat of his anger” (19:6).

He had to bid a hasty adieu to his family and travel quickly for the nearest refuge city. He had to constantly be on guard because behind every bush and rock the avenger might be lurking in ambush.

The cities of refuge were Levitical cities which would give further security for the manslayer (Numbers 35:6). There would be men who knew the law and could apply it objectively.

The manslayer was able to come to the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. If the elders were satisfied that the death was unintentional, he would be provided with lodging, and they would not turn him over to the avenger of blood. There he would be protected from the relatives of the deceased who would otherwise seek revenge. If granted asylum, he would be expected to stay there.

If he were found elsewhere, the avenger of blood would be allowed to kill him. The manslayer lived in lonely exile until the death of the high priest. Upon the death of the high priest he could, if he chose, return to his own home (Numbers 35:25–28). The milder sentence, however, was preferable to a violent death. The opportunity was afforded of examining himself and of being penitent for his sins.


The fugitive might yet be handed over to the executioner even though he arrived at the city. What the city of refuge gave was an opportunity for full investigation. It safeguarded a suspected man if he was innocent of a greater crime. It taught men to draw a clear line between unintentional injury and premeditated murder. It shielded the innocent from useless and needless death.

Trial of the escaped manslayer was provided, and the guilty were turned over to the avenger. God did not intend to provide protection for the one who killed out of greed, hate, or jealousy. A willful murderer was not granted asylum, but was surrendered to the elders of the slain man’s hometown. They were responsible for the final decision (9:12). The elders were in a position to decide the guilt of the man without being emotionally involved or influenced by a sense of loss. If the elders found him guilty, they delivered him to the kinsman who would exact blood revenge. The avenger of blood was the divine instrument designated by the law to carry out the death penalty.


The sojourn in the city of refuge corresponds spiritually to those who have taken themselves to Jesus under a sense of their sin and blood guiltiness to find under His wings protection from condemnation (Romans 8:1). If the manslayer had left the city of refuge, he would have still been liable to the avenger.

Likewise, one must abide in Christ or still be liable for his transgressions. “Life in Christ” is indicated by the sojourn in the city of refuge. But liberty through the death of Christ is indicated by the release at the death of the high priest (Hebrews 4:14–16; 6:18–20).

It takes many relations to bring out the truth as it is in Jesus. He is our avenger, as we have seen: “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

He is our city of refuge. He is our high priest whose death secures the return from exile. While cities of refuge protected only the innocent or unintentional killer, Christ provides salvation for the penitent, even though guilty. Judgment is not removed.

There will be a day of reckoning and destruction of the wicked. There is a way of escape in Christ, to whom we flee in refuge. He is within reach of us all. As there was an equal number of cities on each side of the Jordan, so there is equal salvation to Jew and Gentile, bound and free. Each must avail himself of this escape. “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40).

The cities of refuge can be seen as types of Christ, in whom sinners find a refuge from the destroyer of our souls. Just as a person could seek refuge in the cities set up for that purpose, we flee to Christ for refuge:

Hebrews 6:18 (ESV) so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.

God confirmed his promise with an oath (6:17), because these two things are unchangeable. Why are they unchangeable? Because it is impossible for God to lie. God provides us security because of his own character. Patience is our part whereby we hold on to his promise with confidence.

The phrase “we who have fled to him for refuge” pictures a person who fled to one of the cities of refuge that provided protection for someone who accidentally killed another (Numbers 35). Christians also have fled for safety to the place of security and protection from the punishment against them. Christ provides the safest place, the hope we count on, the encouragement we need.

6:19-20 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

We run to Christ to escape the danger we are in from the curse and condemnation of the law, from the wrath of God, and from an eternity in hell. Only Christ provides refuge from these things, and it is to Him alone that we must run. Just as the cities were open to all who fled to them for safety, it is Christ who provides safety to all who come to Him for refuge from sin and its punishment.

For the Christian, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1). The first word in the verse directs us to the infinite, all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving, all holy, and just being. It is emphatically declared that, for troubled times, God is our refuge, our strength, and our help.

Who else can always be called on to understand and sustain in times of trouble? Is God a source of comfort for your troubles? Can you, with confidence, call Him to your aid? Or, due to your present state of rebellion and disobedience, is He your enemy?

What must you do to enlist Him on your side in order to assist you with your troubles? The Son of God said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavyladen, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light”


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 11, 2023 in Sermon


The Necessity of a New Body – 1 Corinthians 15:50-53

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 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?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

I like the way the New Revised Standard Version begins verse 50: “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: … .” In other words, Paul is now getting to the bottom line. All of what Paul has been saying boils down to this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The expression, “flesh and blood,” is found only five times in the New Testament (the expression is not found in the Old).[1] It consistently refers to men (mankind), and in the context of our passage, it refers to the natural human body. The last half of verse 50 simply repeats the same truth in different words: “Perishable bodies cannot dwell in an eternally imperishable environment, where perishing is not permitted.”

Many restaurants have a sign in the front window, which reads something like this: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This means that one’s appearance and attire has to meet certain standards, or they are not welcome. That is the way heaven is. Heaven is a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, or death. These mortal bodies which we possess here on earth are not suited for heaven. The death and burial of our earthly bodies is not an unfortunate circumstance; it is a necessity. Recently, we watched the movie “Apollo 13.” The lunar module (LM), Aquarius, which helped keep the astronauts alive in outer space, had to be abandoned before the astronauts could reenter the earth’s atmosphere. The Aquarius was simply not designed for reentry. It was designed for outer space and specifically for a lunar landing. Our earthly bodies were not designed for the kingdom of God. They have to be left behind, because they are not suited for eternal habitation.

For us to dwell eternally in the presence of God, we must have different bodies. As Paul repeats in verse 53, “this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (NRSV). We cannot dwell in heaven in these bodies. It is just that simple. If we are to dwell in God’s presence for all eternity, we must have imperishable, incorruptible bodies, and that means we must trade in these earthly, perishable bodies.

For those who have died, this will happen at the resurrection of the dead. That is what Paul has been saying in verses 35-49. At the resurrection of the dead, our natural bodies are exchanged for spiritual bodies; our earthly bodies are transformed into heavenly bodies; our perishable bodies are transformed into imperishable bodies. The resurrection of the dead is the means by which bodies unfit for heaven are miraculously transformed into bodies which are perfectly suited for heaven.

But what of those who are alive at the time of our Lord’s return? In verses 51 and 52, Paul adds yet another category, those who are alive at the time of Christ’s coming. The resurrection of the dead is a truth which was revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures (see Job 19:25-27; Psalm 73:23-24; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:1-2). What was not so clearly revealed was the transformation of those who are alive at the time of our Lord’s return. This is what the Bible calls a mystery. A mystery is not a secret which no one has ever heard about before, but something about which some information has been given without being understood.[2] If our earthly bodies are not suited for the kingdom of God, then it is not just dead bodies that need to be raised. We need a transformation of our earthly bodies, whether living or dead.

This is the mystery which Paul now reveals. We shall not all “sleep” (die). Paul uses the term “sleep” just as our Lord did (see John 11:11, 13) because death is not a permanent state. Just as those who sleep “wake up,” so those who die will rise again. But not all men will die. The kingdom of God begins with the return of our Lord to this earth. Those alive at the time of His return will not “sleep,” Paul says, but we shall all be changed. This word is not the word usually rendered “transformed,” but it is a fascinating word. In Romans 1:23 and Psalm 106:20 (105:20 in the Greek Septuagint), the word is rendered “exchanged.” I believe it could be thus rendered in Psalm 102:26 (101:26 in the Septuagint) and Hebrews 1:12. Our bodies will be “changed,” and in fact they will be “exchanged.” Those who are alive get an instant trade-up.

Paul employs two expressions to describe the speed of this change which those living at the time of our Lord’s coming will experience. The second is one with which we are all familiar, the “twinkling of an eye.” The first expression is even more graphic and dramatic. Those of us who are fascinated with computers compare various pieces of hardware in terms of their speed. My first hard drive had an access time of something like 70 milliseconds. The one I now use is right around 10 milliseconds (thousandths of a second). The speed of memory is measured in nanoseconds, billionths of a second. Now that is a very small piece of time. But the word Paul employs is that word which we would transliterate “atom,” and my lexicon defines it as an indivisible moment of time. That’s so small it cannot get any smaller. And that’s how fast the change will occur for those living at the time of our Lord’s return. There will be no one waiting in line for this change!

The sequence of events is spelled out in verse 52. It will begin with the sounding of a trumpet, the “last trumpet.” There is a great deal of discussion about which “trumpet” this is. Dispensationalists think it is a very different trumpet than do the non-dispensationalists. For the moment, let us agree that there is to be a trumpet blast. This blast is something like the starting gun at a race. When the trumpet sounds, things begin to happen. Our Lord returns to the earth (although this is not specifically mentioned here). The dead in Christ are first raised from the grave, the old body being transformed as it is raised so that what was sown as a natural body rises as a spiritual body. After the dead in Christ are raised, those alive at this time are instantaneously changed in body so that their perishable bodies are now imperishable, their natural bodies are now spiritual bodies. In but the twinkling of an eye, Paul says, we become just like those whose bodies have been raised from the dead.[3]

15:50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These perishable bodies of ours are not able to live forever.NLT After describing the different natures of the two types of bodies—those before resurrection and those after—Paul explained his point. The resurrected bodies have to be different from these present, physical bodies because flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These bodies cannot go into God’s eternal kingdom because these present bodies were not made to live forever—otherwise they would. So God has prepared new bodies that will live forever. The resurrection is a fact; new bodies ready for life in eternity is also a fact.

Everyone faces limitations. Those who have physical, mental, or emotional disabilities are especially aware of this fact. Some may be blind, but they can see a new way to live. Some may be deaf, but they can hear God’s Good News. Some may be lame, but they can walk in God’s love. In addition, they have the encouragement that those disabilities are only temporary. All believers will be given new bodies when Christ returns. And these bodies will be without disabilities, never to die or become sick. Let this truth give you hope in your suffering.

15:51-52 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.NIV With great emphasis Paul passed on to these Corinthians a mystery—knowledge given to him by divine revelation from Christ. This information should transform their lives as they look forward to what God had promised them. If flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom (15:50), then what about those who are still alive at the return of Christ? Paul answered the implicit question. The phrase “we will not all sleep” means that some Christians will still be alive at the time of Christ’s return. They will not have to die before they get their new resurrection bodies. (For further discussion of these new bodies, see 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.) Instead, they will all be changed, transformed immediately, in the twinkling of an eye (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). A trumpet blast will usher in the new heaven and earth (Revelation 11:15). The Jews would understand the significance of this because trumpets were always blown to signal the start of great festivals and other extraordinary events (Numbers 10:10). At that time, when the trumpet sounds and Christ returns, the dead will be raised imperishable, out of the graves with their new bodies. Those still alive will be changed, also receiving their new bodies. This change will happen instantly for all Christians, whether they are dead or alive. All will be made ready to go with Christ.

15:53 For our perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die.NLT Because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (15:50 nlt), and because Christians are promised eternal life in God’s kingdom, then their present perishable earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die. The perishable bodies will not be thrown away or abandoned; instead, they will be “transformed.” Each person will still be recognizable, will still be the person God created him or her to be, but each will be made perfect with a body that will be able to live forever in the kingdom.

Christ’s Triumph (and Ours) Over Death (15:54-57)

54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

When these transformations take place, Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled. Paul turns to the prophecy of Isaiah to show that the resurrection of the dead and transformation of the living is, indeed, the same victory over death which he spoke of in verses 20-28. The last enemy to be defeated and abolished by our Lord is death (15:26). This is accomplished by the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of the living. And thus Paul sees this as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 25:

6 And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.  7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples, Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.  8 He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 25:6-8).[4]

Isaiah 25 is about the coming of the kingdom of God. What refreshing and welcome news this would be to those who were about to be sent into captivity in a foreign land. The first 5 verses of chapter 25 describe the defeat and judgment of those nations who have rejected God and persecuted His people. Beginning at verse 6, Isaiah begins to describe the restoration of the nation Israel at the commencement of the kingdom of God, brought about by the return of Messiah. The kingdom is described as a lavish banquet set before the people of God. On the mountain (which looks like Jerusalem) where this banquet is served, God will “swallow up the covering which is over all peoples” (verse 7). This covering may well be a shroud like that which is put over a dead body. If so, this is a symbolic way of saying what will be clearly stated in verse 8, that God is going to swallow up death by His victory. No wonder Paul speaks of death being swallowed up in victory; this is just as Isaiah prophesied.

The distinctive of the prophecy to which Paul refers is that in this text, Isaiah not only speaks of the resurrection of the dead (as we see in 26:19), he speaks of the end of death. Death is done away with. Death is exterminated. Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in the events Paul describes.

But wait, there’s more (as the television commercial goes). Paul now turns our attention to the words of the prophet Hosea: “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death. O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight” (Hosea 13:14).[5] Isaiah’s words indicate that the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the dead (including as well the transformation of those who are alive at the time of our Lord’s appearing) is the final defeat of death itself. Paul then uses Hosea’s words to convey the believer’s triumph due to this victory our Lord has won.

This victory will not be understood until we first grasp the grip which death has over men. That death grip is depicted in the second chapter of Hebrews:

14 Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).

Of all the obsessions and fears named these days, one almost never hears of the fear of death. Yet it is this fear which makes virtual slaves of all men. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the devil has a grip on men through their fear of death. Death is the destiny of all men. The Son of God took on humanity, flesh and blood, at His incarnation, and then by His death and resurrection rendered death and the devil powerless. Those who have trusted in Christ need no longer live in fear of death. Death and the fear of death have been swallowed up by the triumph of our Lord over them.

Paul’s taunt seems to reverse matters. Paul asks death where its victory is and where its sting is. Isn’t it just the opposite? Doesn’t Paul elsewhere write that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)? Yes, this is true, but this is not Paul’s point here. Death is the final enemy of our Lord, and ultimately for us. Does death have the last word? For the Christian, the answer is a resounding “No!” Death has lost its sting and its victory. Death is as frightening for the Christian as a scorpion whose stinger has been plucked out or a deadly viper whose fangs have been removed. This is because our Lord “de-fanged” death in at least three ways.

First, Christ died for our sins.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

We need not suffer the penalty of death which our sins deserve because Christ suffered that penalty in our place. He died for us, paying the death penalty for our sins. Death has no claim on us because our debt has been paid, by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, Christ died to sin. Christ died for our sins, taking our sins, their guilt and punishment, upon Himself and thus freeing us from the penalty for sin—death. Christ also died to sin, so that all who are in Him by faith have been freed from sin’s power:

3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:3-14).

Sin has no power over a corpse. Sin overpowers those who are alive (see Romans 7). By dying to sin in Christ, we are delivered from sin’s power over us. Death owned us through sin, our sin. But by faith in Jesus Christ, we have died to sin in Him. Death has no power over us. Death has no claim on us. Death has no victory over us. Death has no sting for us. Think of it. Death no longer owns us; in fact, we own death:

22 Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you (1 Corinthians 3:22).

Death cannot keep us from the love of God (see Romans 8:31-39). The only thing death can now do is to hasten the day when we are forever in His presence. Death actually does us a favor:

1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-6).

21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better (Philippians 1:21-23).

Third, Christ died to the law. If a police officer pulls us over, he cannot write us a ticket for breathing or for humming along with our radio. This is because there is no law against breathing or humming. The only power a police officer has is that power which is given to him by the law. Death’s power likewise comes from the law. The wages of sin is death, and the law defines sin. Thus, to break the law is to be in death’s power. But if there is no law, there is no crime, no sin.

The power of sin is the law,” Paul has said (verse 56). The law is “holy, and righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12). Nevertheless, sin abuses the law in such a way that it is used to condemn us to death. The good news is that Christ died to the law, and thus those who are in Christ have died to the law in Him—and to its power to condemn us: “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).

I must remind you that this freedom from death, sin, and the condemnation of the law is only true for the Christian. Death does own the one who is outside Christ, who has never acknowledged his sin and trusted in the work of Christ on Calvary. Think of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. While death ended the earthly suffering of Lazarus and brought him into eternal blessings, death ended the earthly bliss of the rich man and brought him into eternal torment. Death now made this man an eternal captive, whose plight could not be reversed (see also Hebrews 9:27). And even resurrection was of no use to this man or to his lost family members (Luke 16:27-31). Death had a sting for this rich man; death had a victory. It is only those who are in Christ by faith who can taunt death as Paul does, for it is a defeated enemy.

Once again we must remember that Paul is dealing with things which defy language and baffle expression. We must read this as we would read great poetry, rather than as we would dissect a scientific treatise. The argument follows a series of steps until it reaches its climax.

(i) Paul insists that, as we are, we are not fit to inherit the Kingdom of God. We may be well enough equipped to get on with the life of this world, but for the life of the world to come we will not do. A man may be able to run enough to catch his morning train and yet need to be very different to be able to run enough for the Olympic games. A man may write well enough to amuse his friends and yet need to be very different to write something which men will not willingly let die. A man may talk well enough in the circle of his club and yet need to be very different to hold his own in a circle of real experts. A man always needs to be changed to enter into a higher grade of life; and Paul insists that before we can enter the Kingdom of God we must be changed.

(ii) Further he insists that this shattering change is going to come in his own lifetime. In this he was in error; but he looked to that change coming when Jesus Christ came again.

(iii) Then Paul goes on triumphantly to declare that no man need fear that change. The fear of death has always haunted men. It haunted Dr. Johnson, one of the greatest and best men who ever lived. Once Boswell said to him that there had been times when he had not feared death. Johnson answered that “he never had a moment in which death was not terrible to him.” Once Mrs. Knowles told him that he should not have a horror for that which is the gate of life. Johnson answered, “No rational man can die without uneasy apprehension.” He declared that the fear of death was so natural to man that all life was one long effort not to think about it.

Wherein lies the fear of death? Partly it comes from fear of the unknown. But still more it comes from the sense of sin. If a man felt that he could meet God easily then to die would be only, as Peter Pan said, a great adventure. But where does that sense of sin come from? It comes from a sense of being under the law. So long as a man sees in God only the law of righteousness, he must ever be in the position of a criminal before the bar with no hope of acquittal. But this is precisely what Jesus came to abolish. He came to tell us that God is not law, but love, that the centre of God’s being is not legalism but grace, that we go out, not to a judge, but to a Father who awaits his children coming home. Because of that Jesus gave us the victory over death, its fear banished in the wonder of God’s love.

(iv) Finally, at the end of the chapter, Paul does what he always does. Suddenly the theology becomes a challenge; suddenly the speculations become intensely practical; suddenly the sweep of the mind becomes the demand for action. he ends by saying, “If you have all that glory to look forward to, then keep yourself steadfast in God’s faith and service, for if you do, all your effort will not be in vain.” The Christian life may be difficult, but the goal is infinitely worth the struggle.

“A hope so great and so divine, May trials well endure; And purge the soul from sense and sin, As Christ himself is pure.” Practical Plans[6]

Conclusion (15:58)

58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Paul’s concluding sentence contains some very important applications. Let us briefly consider them.

First, the comfort which Paul communicates on the basis of our Lord’s death and resurrection is intended to comfort only Christians. Paul’s sentence begins, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, …” And then he says that their toil is not in vain “in the Lord.” One of the saddest things to observe at a funeral is a preacher giving comfort to non-Christians by using Bible texts addressed to Christians. These words are addressed to Christians, and the hope which Paul speaks of is for Christians only. Death has no power, no sting, to those who are “in Christ.” I must ask you, my friend, do you know for certain that you are “in Christ,” and that you will spend eternity in the presence of God? If not, then receive God’s gift of salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and rose again in your place.

Second, true doctrine (the doctrine of the gospel, of the resurrection of Christ, of the resurrection of the dead) gives us stability, even in the midst of troubled times and in the face of false teaching. False teaching destabilizes Christians; true doctrine stabilizes us:

3 A man will not be established by wickedness, But the root of the righteous will not be moved (Proverbs 12:3).

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).

1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14).

Third, true doctrine inspires diligent service, while false doctrine leads to passivity. The teachings of Scripture related to the second coming (not to mention the remainder of biblical truth) are intended to stimulate our service. There are those who abuse doctrines (such as the sovereignty of God and the second coming) by making them an excuse for passivity. Paul concludes this chapter, devoted to prophecy, by encouraging diligent and persistent service. Let us take these verses in the spirit in which they were intended, which is to motivate us to diligence.

Fourth, the certainty of the coming of the kingdom of God in the future assures us that what we do “in the Lord” in this life is not in vain. The reason we can diligently serve God in this life is that we know that in so doing we are “laying up treasure in heaven.” To die is not vain, but gain. To live is not vain, but gain. If we are “in Christ,” we are willing to suffer any earthly loss, because of the heavenly gain which awaits us:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

Several other applications of this chapter come to mind, which I would like to share with you in conclusion.

Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from the fear of death and thus from our slavery to the devil. This truth comes to us from our text in 1 Corinthians 15, as well as from the second chapter of Hebrews. We need no longer be held hostage by the fear of death. Death is a defeated foe.

Death is the way to life, and it is to be the way of life for the Christian. I was initially inclined to think that Paul’s words in this chapter gave us permission to put death out of our minds. We should certainly not worry about death or fear it, but we should not cease thinking about it. Death really is the way of life, both for the apostle Paul and for our Lord.

Let us begin with Paul. Notice how much death and dying is imbedded in his thinking, motivation, and ministry:

9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men (1 Corinthians 4:9).

31 I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31).

9 Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us (2 Corinthians 1:9-10).

10 Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

9 As unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death (2 Corinthians 6:9).

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death (2 Corinthians 11:23).

20 According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21).

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

9 The great multitude therefore of the Jews learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also; 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away, and were believing in Jesus.

12 On the next day the great multitude who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and began to cry out, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” 14 And Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. 17 And so the multitude who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, were bearing Him witness. 18 For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. 19 The Pharisees therefore said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.”

20 Now there were certain Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these therefore came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came, and they told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Thy name.” There came therefore a voice out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. 32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:9-32).

This passage is worth a great deal more consideration than given in this lesson, but it illustrates very beautifully how our Lord saw death as the means to the completion of His calling, and to the completion of the calling of those who would be His disciples. In chapter 11, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Many had witnessed this miracle, and many others had heard of it. This caused the enemies of our Lord to seek to solve the problem He posed for them by putting both Lazarus and Jesus to death! But when Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, many of those who hailed Him as Messiah did so because of the raising of Lazarus (see 12:9, 17-18). Jesus was, at that moment, at the peak of His popularity.

It was at this point in time that some Greeks approached Philip wanting an audience with Jesus. No doubt these Greeks were God-fearers, those who believed that “salvation was of the Jews.” They sensed that Jesus might be the Messiah, and they wanted to meet with Him. Philip and Andrew didn’t know what to do when these Greeks asked to see Jesus. They did not yet understand the role that death would play in our Lord’s earthly ministry. And so they went to Jesus with this request. I wonder if they thought to themselves, “Wow, this may be our big chance to go international!”

Our Lord’s answer is fascinating, all the more so because of its similarity to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:36-38. In answer to the Greek’s request for an interview, Jesus replies that it is time for Him to be glorified. And then He goes on to say that a grain of wheat cannot bear fruit until it falls into the earth and dies. Afterward, it will bear much fruit. Jesus then applies this principle to His disciples. “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If any one serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if any one serves Me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:25-26). After God speaks from heaven, Jesus goes on to say, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).

Do you see it? It looked as though Jesus would draw the Greeks to Himself by meeting with them in Jerusalem. Jesus refused to do so. Jesus indicated that the way for Him to bear fruit was to die. And then He applied this same truth to His disciples. Those who love their lives will lose their lives; those who hate their lives in this world will keep them eternally. The way Jesus would “draw all men to Himself” was by being lifted up on the cross of Calvary. Jesus taught that the way to life was the way of the cross. By means of His death, burial, and resurrection, we have been given life by faith in Him. Now, as Christians, we are to apply the same principle to our earthly life. We are to take up our cross, to hate our life, to die to self, and in this way, we will obtain life eternal. Here is an entirely unique approach to life. It is one you will never find originating from unbelievers, but you will find it repeatedly taught in the Word of God. Death is a defeated enemy; indeed death is our friend, and our way of life. To God be the glory!

 [1] See also Matthew 16:17; Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 2:14.

[2] See Daniel 2:18, 19; Romans 11:25; 16:25; Ephesians 1:9; 3:3, 9; 5:32; Colossians 1:26; 4:3; 1 Timothy 3:9; Revelation 1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7.  Daniel 2 is a good illustration of a mystery because the “mystery” was Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.  He knew what his dream was, but he did not know what it meant.  This revelation was a “mystery,” which Daniel revealed to him.

[3] Paul uses the term “we,” which certainly allows for the possibility of Paul and those living in his day being those who were alive at our Lord’s return.  Allowing for this possibility does not mean that this was a necessity and that Paul wrongly assumed he would be alive at our Lord’s return.  Our Lord had made it clear to His disciples that it would be some time before the kingdom of God was established (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; John 21:15-23).

[4] Notice also the prophecy concerning resurrection which follows in chapter 26: “Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits” (Isaiah 26:19).

[5] Translators differ as to how this verse should be translated.  A later edition of the NASB translates Hosea 13:14 this way: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight” (Hosea 13:14). Paul employs these words as a triumphant taunt.  Death is mocked, because it has lost its grip.

[6] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 159–161.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 8, 2023 in Resurrection


The Reasoning of Unbelief – 1 Cor. 15:35-49

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Our present bodies have been wonderfully designed for life in this world, but they are perishable and prone to decay. In a sense, each person lives as a prototype of his or her final body version. Our resurrection bodies will be transformed versions of our present bodies. Those spiritual bodies will not be limited by the laws of nature. This does not necessarily mean we will be super people, but our bodies will be different from and more capable than our present, earthly bodies. Our spiritual bodies will not be weak, will never get sick, and will never die. The very possibilities inspire anticipation, excitement, and praise to the God who can do all things!

15:35-37 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And what you put into the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a dry little seed of wheat or whatever it is you are planting.NLT Paul had already argued for the truth of the resurrection. Those who might still be skeptical may have further questions about this resurrection, so Paul asked two such questions himself in order to answer them: (1) How will the dead be raised? (2) What kind of bodies will they have? How could it be possible for a dead body to come back to life; and if it could do so, then what kind of body would it be?

To Paul, these were foolish questions. The answers should have been obvious from nature itself. Paul compared the resurrection of believers’ bodies with the growth in a garden. A seed placed into the ground doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. The plant that grows looks very different from the seed because God gives it a new “body.” Jesus had given the same metaphor for his own death in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (nrsv). Jesus was referring to what his death would accomplish, but his analogy was the same as Paul’s. Both show the necessity of death before new life. Just as a dry little seed, such as a seed of wheat, doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first, so new bodies will not be obtained until the earthly bodies have died. And those new bodies will be different from the present bodies.

Paul launched into a discussion about what believers’ resurrected bodies would be like. If you could select your own body, what kind would you choose—strong, athletic, beautiful? Paul explained that believers will be recognized in their resurrected bodies, yet they will be better than ever imagined, for they will be made to live forever. People will still have personalities and individualities, but these will be perfected through Christ’s work. The Bible does not reveal everything that resurrected bodies will be able to do, but they will be perfect, without sickness or disease (see Philippians 3:21). Every guess on our part must be tempered by the knowledge that God will do better than we can imagine!

15:38-39 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.NRSV There are different kinds of bodies—for people, animals, fish, birds. Paul was preparing the foundation for his point that bodies before the resurrection can be different from bodies after the resurrection.

15:40-41 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.NIV Furthermore, the heavenly bodies (the sun, moon, and stars) differ greatly from earthly bodies. Each kind of body has its own kind of substance created and controlled by God. Each is appropriate to its sphere of existence, and each has its own kind of splendor or radiance. God made many different types of bodies; certainly he can arrange and govern the existence of the resurrection body.

In verse 35, Paul asks two questions which the opponents of the resurrection of the dead apparently employed to justify their error.[1] These two questions appear to be two parts of a whole. They are not two independent questions then, but two intertwined questions. The second question merely repeats the first in different words, words which more clearly expose the doubts of the questioner. The first question, “How are the dead raised?” is followed up by the second, “With what kind of body do they come (back to life)?” The first expresses doubt about the resurrection of the dead; the second indicates why.

Suppose for a moment that our house burns to the ground, and all that is left is rubble and ashes. Suppose also that we have absolutely no insurance, no means, and no materials with which to rebuild our house, other than the remains that are left. If I attempted to assure my wife Jeannette by saying to her, “Honey, using what remains, I am going to build you an even better house than we had before,” she might very well say to me, “Bob, how are you going to rebuild this house? What do you think a new house will look like built out of this rubble?” She’s really asking the same question, isn’t she?

So it is, I believe, with the resurrection of the dead. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is the truth that God will take the decaying and disintegrating remains of those who have died and create from them a new body, one fit for the kingdom of God. The objector might well ask, “How can the dead be resurrected when the remains are in a constant process of deterioration? What kind of monstrosity do you think this ‘resurrected body’ would amount to?” I am reminded of Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the parts of various corpses are brought back to “life” in a grotesque and horrifying way. With these two questions, Paul expresses the unbelief of some Corinthians in any resurrection of dead bodies.

“You fool!”

No wonder we find Paul’s words in verse 36 harsh—they are! A number of translations attempt to soften Paul’s indictment in verse 36:

“How foolish!” (NIV)

“A senseless question!” (NEB)

“Now that is talking without using your minds!” (Phillips)

You will remember that our Lord had a strong word of warning for those who would call another a fool: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:22).

It should be pointed out that the word used by our Lord in Matthew 5:22 is not the same word that Paul employs in our text. The difference in meaning between these words is not that great. Our Lord Himself uses the same word Paul employs in our text to rebuke the Pharisees for their foolish fetish with ceremonial washings (Luke 11:40). He uses it again in Luke 12:20 to describe the “rich fool,” who presumed his life would continue on as usual and as he built bigger barns to warehouse his wealth. The word Paul uses is also found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).[2]

Other texts are very helpful in further defining the characteristics of a “fool,” and unfortunately they rather accurately depict some of the characteristics of the Corinthians.[3] Suffice it to say that the term “fool” is often employed to refer to the folly of an unbeliever. This is the case in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1. It is also the implication in Ephesians 5:17 and 1 Peter 2:15. I believe that when Paul uses this strong rebuke, it is because anyone who rejects the resurrection of the dead must also reject the resurrection of Christ. To do this, one must reject the gospel and thus place himself in the company of those who deny God. Do the Corinthians take this heresy casually, embracing those who hold it as they proudly embraced the immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5? I think it is likely, especially in the light of these words from the pen of Paul in his second Epistle to the Corinthians:

1 I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. 2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. 3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).

Paul uses strong words (“you fool”) to shock the Corinthians because they are necessary and appropriate.

[1] The two questions raised in verse 35 may well be hypocritical, something like the question the Sadducees put to the Lord Jesus in Mark 12:18-23.  The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead; nevertheless, they asked a question concerning the marital status of a woman in the resurrection.  The error of the Sadducees, as exposed by Jesus, is virtually the same as the error which Paul now seeks to correct at Corinth.  First, the resurrection of the dead is rejected because men do not understand the power of God.  Second, people have problems with the way things will be in the resurrection because they do not understand the nature of the resurrection body.

A Lesson From Nature (15:36-41)

Paul responds to the questions which have been raised, turning first to nature, to God’s creation, to make several very powerful points.

(1) Death and physical decay are not an insurmountable barrier to resurrection life, but rather the means to it. Would we suppose that death and decay are some kind of insurmountable problem for God, rendering Him incapable of resurrecting our bodies from the natural processes of corruption and decay? We need only to look at the realm of nature to see the folly of such logic. If we reason that death and decay renders resurrection impossible, all we need do is trace the steps of the farmer, who every year sows seeds in the soil to undergo the process of “dying” so that a new plant can be produced through its “death.”

(2) There is a transformation process which occurs in nature so that the seed which dies comes to life in a different and vastly better form. This is a most important point. There is a direct connection between the seed that is “buried” and the plant which results from the “resurrection” of that seed. Wheat seeds produce wheat plants; rye seed produces rye plants, and so on. But in the process of dying and being “resurrected” as a plant, the once “naked” or “bare” (verse 37) seed becomes something much more beautiful. There is nothing particularly beautiful about a grain bin filled with wheat seed, but there is great beauty in a wheat field!

(3) God is the giver of bodies. The grain of wheat which “dies” in the ground and comes to life in a new resurrected “body” comes to life in a body which God Himself has given (verse 38). It is important to notice that in the question raised in verse 38, God is not mentioned: “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” I do not think the Corinthians dared to ask the question the way they should have: “How can God raise the dead? And what kind of body does God give those He raises?”

It is better for the skeptic to reject the resurrection of the dead as a natural phenomenon. And yet Paul uses “nature” as an example of just such resurrection. But when he does so, he specifies that the body which is given is the body God has given. Paul goes even further, indicating that the body God gives is just exactly the body He wishes to give. Would anyone dare to deny the resurrection? Then let them dare to deny that God raises the dead. Would anyone dare to question the quality of the body God gives those whose corpses He raises? Then let them hear that God gives them just the body He wants!

(4) God is the Creator, the giver of all life. God created not only the plant world, but the animal kingdom as well, and beyond this, the heavens above. Does the mention of plants, each containing their own seed, of mankind, of beasts, of birds, of fish, and of heavenly bodies not take us back to the first two chapters of Genesis? Surely Paul has the first creation in mind. The God who called creation into existence is surely the God who can cause a decaying corpse to come to life. To put it a little differently, God created man from the dust of the earth. Death turns man back to dust. And out of this “dust,” God can create anything He purposes and promises to fashion.

(5) God, the Creator, is the One who gives each form of life its own distinct and unique body, and each body is perfectly suited for its function and environment. Think back on the creation account in Genesis. God created the heavens and the earth. He created man. He created birds and fish and beasts. Each of God’s creatures has its own beauty and its own glory. Birds fly, and so a part of their “glory” is that they have a lightweight structure with hollow bones. Whales live deep beneath the sea. Their glory does not come from their light weight, but from their design which allows them to endure the pressures of the depths. Each member of the animal kingdom has a body whose glory is found in relationship to its domain and function. Seeing this glorious design in the bodies God made in the first creation, do we dare to doubt the glory of the bodies God will create in the new creation? We can be assured that our resurrection body will be the perfect body, the glorious body which ideally suits us for heaven.

The Application to Man’s Resurrection From the Dead (15:42-49)

15:42-44 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.NIV God’s creation power will continue as dead bodies are resurrected and transformed into new bodies. Paul’s continued use of the term “is sown” shows that he still has the seed from 15:36-37 in mind. Like a seed that is sown and then grows into a glorious new plant, so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. Believers’ present physical bodies will be different from their resurrection bodies.

First, physical bodies are perishable, but raised bodies will be imperishable. Every human’s physical body is going to “perish” (die). Death eventually takes everyone. Those raised with Christ, however, will have bodies that will never die. These eternal bodies will live forever.

Physical bodies are sown in dishonor but raised in glory. A dead body, by its very nature, has nothing honorable about it. But the raised body will have a “glory” that far surpasses the beauty of a flower (as compared to its seed). It will not be a raised corpse like what one might see in horror movies; it will be a remade body, far more glorious than the physical body had ever been.

Physical bodies are sown in weakness but raised in power. While the Greeks might have honored those with perfectly trained, muscular bodies, when death strikes, every body is rendered completely weak and powerless. But the raised body will be raised by the power of God himself and will have power given to it by God.

Every physical body is sown a natural body but raised a spiritual body. The “natural” body (soma psuchikon) is suited to life in the present world; however, such a body is not fit for the world to come. That future world, where Christ will reign in his kingdom, will require a “spiritual” body (soma pneumatikon). Paul did not mean that this will be “spiritual” as opposed to physical or material, for that would contradict all that Paul has just written about resurrected bodies. Believers will not become “spirits.” Instead, “spiritual” refers to a body that suits a new, spiritual life, just as our present bodies (Greek psuchikon) suit our lives as “souls” (psuche). Each believer will no longer have a natural body, like Adam, designed to live on this earth; instead, each will have a spiritual body, like Christ had after his resurrection (15:48-49).

15:45 The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit.NLT Paul quoted the Scriptures to point out the difference between these two kinds of bodies. Genesis 2:7 speaks of the first man, Adam, becoming a living person. Adam was made from the dust of the ground and given the breath of life from God. Every human being since that time shares the same characteristics. However, the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. Just as Adam was the first of the human race, so Christ is the first of those who will be raised from the dead to eternal life. Because Christ rose from the dead, he is “a life-giving spirit” who entered into a new form of existence. He is the source of the spiritual life that will result in believers’ resurrection. Christ’s new glorified human body now suits his new, glorified, spiritual life—just as Adam’s human body was suitable to his natural life. When believers are resurrected, God will give them transformed, eternal bodies suited to eternal life.

15:46-47 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.NIV People have natural life first; that is, they are born into this earth and live here. Only from there do they then obtain spiritual life. Paul may have been contradicting a particular false teaching by this statement. He illustrated this point by continuing: Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven.NLT The natural man, Adam, came first on this earth and was made from the dust of the earth. While it is true that Christ has existed from eternity past, he is here called the second man because he came from heaven to earth many years after Adam. Christ came as a human baby with a body like all other humans, but he did not originate from the dust of the earth as had Adam. He “came from heaven.”

15:48-49 Every human being has an earthly body just like Adam’s, but our heavenly bodies will be just like Christ’s. Just as we are now like Adam, the man of the earth, so we will someday be like Christ, the man from heaven.NLT Because all humanity is bound up with Adam, so every human being has an earthly body just like Adam’s. Earthly bodies are fitted for life on this earth, yet they have the characteristics of being limited by death, disease, and weakness (15:42-44). Believers can know with certainty, however, that their heavenly bodies will be just like Christ’s—imperishable, eternal, glorious, and filled with power (15:42-44). At this time, all are like Adam; one day, all believers will be like Christ (Philippians 3:21). The apostle John wrote to the believers, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 niv).


All people have bodies—each looks different; each has different strengths and weaknesses. But as physical, earthly bodies, they are all alike. All believers are promised life after death and bodies like Christ’s (15:45-49)—resurrection bodies.

Physical Bodies Resurrection Bodies
Perishable Imperishable
Sown in dishonor Raised in glory
Sown in weakness Raised in power
Natural Spiritual

Paul applies the principles he has established from nature in verses 36-41 to the issue at hand, the resurrection of the dead, in verses 42-44. The resurrection of the dead is like the death of the seed and the new, resurrected life of the plant which springs forth from the earth due to the germination of that seed. Thus, Paul speaks of the “sowing” of our earthly bodies, linking verses 42-49 to verses 36-41. There is a direct link between the earthly body that dies and decays in the earth and the new, resurrected body. The resurrected body comes forth from the body that died. The resurrection body is superior to the old body in several important ways, which Paul indicates:

(1) The former body is “sown” in a perishable state; the resurrected body is raised as an imperishable body. Our physical bodies are “perishable,” which is why they are subject to aging, disease, and death. Our resurrected bodies are imperishable. They are not subject to corruption or death.

(2) The physical, earthly body is “sown” in dishonor; the resurrected body is raised in glory. There is nothing very noble about the process of dying or about death itself. With few exceptions, we put dead bodies away from us, out of sight. For the Old Testament Israelites, contact with a dead body made one unclean. Death was defiling. The resurrected body is characterized by glory, not dishonor.

(3) The physical body is “sown” in weakness; it is raised in power. The frailty of the human body may be concealed for a time, but as we age it becomes harder and harder to hide. Our body dies because it succumbs to deterioration and disease. It is weak. Our resurrection bodies are characterized by power. The resurrection of our bodies testifies to the greatness of that power. The more impossible resurrection appears to be, the greater the evidence of God’s power in raising us from the dead.

(4) The physical body is “sown” a natural body; the resurrection body is raised a spiritual body. The physical body is a natural body, while the resurrected body is spiritual. The physical body is an “earthy” body. As such, it is an earth-bound body. Our present bodies suit us well for living on this earth. Our earthly bodies do not suit us for heaven, as Paul will soon point out. Our resurrected body is a “spiritual” body. Neither the meaning nor the implications of this fact are immediately clear, but they are very important.

(5) The origin, nature, and destiny of both the natural body and the spiritual body can only be understood in terms of their relationship to the “first Adam” and the “last Adam,” Jesus Christ. Verses 42-44 contrast the nature of our earthly, physical bodies with that of our heavenly, spiritual bodies. Verses 45-49 link our earthly bodies with the “first Adam,” and our heavenly resurrection bodies with Jesus Christ, the “last Adam.” This connection which we have with Adam and with Christ is a crucial one.

Both the “first Adam” (the Adam of Genesis) and the “last Adam” were men (this is the meaning of the word Adam) who were prototypes. The actions of both men impact all men. How can the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ affect all men? The answer: The same way Adam’s sin and death affected all men. The “first Adam” became a living soul; the “last Adam” became a life-giving spirit. The “first Adam” was a natural man; the “last Adam” became a spiritual man. The “first Adam,” through his sin and death, brought sin into the world and caused all men to be under the sentence of death. Jesus Christ, the “last Adam,” through His righteousness, death, burial and resurrection, has brought about resurrection for all men.[1]

Salvation is all about our identity or our identification. By virtue of being human, we are identified with Adam in his fallen humanity, in his condemnation, and thus in his death. Jesus Christ came to the earth as the “last Adam” so that men might be saved by identifying with Him in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. By acknowledging our sin and the condemnation we rightly deserve, and by trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our place, we enter into a new identity. The gospel is the good news that we can change our identity by faith in Jesus Christ. It is by identifying with Him by faith that we are saved from our sins and enter into eternal life.

In noting the contrast between the “first Adam” and the “last Adam,” we should not overlook the comparison. Both Adam and Christ are alike in that they are both “Adams.” In order for our Lord to reverse the effects of the fall, brought about by Adam, the Lord Jesus had to identify with Adam. The Son of God took on human flesh, a natural body. In His life and in His death, our Lord revealed His identification with man in his humanity. Did Adam have a natural, fleshly body? So did Jesus Christ. Did Adam have a perishable body? So did our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why He was able to die on the cross of Calvary. Is the natural body of Adam characterized by weakness? So was the earthly body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord knew hunger (Matthew 4:2; 21:18) and fatigue (John 4:6). He was so weakened by His torture that another had to carry His cross (Luke 23:26). Does the natural body die in dishonor? There is no more dishonorable way to die than crucifixion. Our Lord identified with our dishonor in death.

In reflecting on these characteristics of the natural body, it suddenly dawned on me that these same characteristics of the natural body with which our Lord identified are those which characterized Paul’s ministry as well:

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

9 For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).

4 But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, 8 by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; 9 as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

8 Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

When one stops to ponder this, these “weaknesses” of Paul are the very thing which cause the Corinthians to disdain him. They are so wise; he is foolish. They are so strong; he is so weak. They are already reigning; he is the dregs of humanity. What is wrong with the Corinthians?

If Christ identified with man in his natural, weak and dishonorable condition, and Paul is similarly characterized, what does this tell us about the Corinthians and their denial of the resurrection of the dead? I think it tells us a great deal. The Corinthians are trying to be “spiritual” in the present with what Paul and the apostles tell us is a future “spirituality.” True future spirituality means a new, “spiritual” body that is incorruptible and imperishable. That comes at the resurrection of the dead, which takes place when our Lord returns to the earth to establish His kingdom. At that time, we will be able to identify with the risen Christ by the possession of our new, resurrected bodies that are free from sin, corruption, sickness, and death.

True spirituality in the present is our identification with our Lord’s earthly body. We must identify with Him in His weakness, in His dishonor, in His death, and (partly) in His resurrection. This is why Paul speaks of his ministry in terms of dishonor and weakness. This is the calling of the Christian: to identify in body, soul, and spirit with the Lord in His earthly coming, in His rejection, weakness, shame and death. Spirituality cannot be separated from what we do in and with our bodies:

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

We are to identify with our Lord in His sufferings:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:1-11).

9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (Romans 8:9-11).

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25).

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).

Some of the Corinthians wanted to reject the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead because they wanted to deceive themselves into thinking they could be spiritual by entering into our Lord’s future blessings by identifying with the glories of our Lord now, rather than His sufferings now. They did not want to identify with His weakness and dishonor but with His power and glory. To reject a future resurrection, with a spiritual and glorified body was (in the minds of some) to open the door to a spiritual existence now which permitted bodily indulgences and which assured them of peace and prosperity, health and wealth now, without having to endure the sufferings and shame of our Lord in this life. For those who wish to avoid pain and suffering and shame for Christ’s sake and to label self-indulgence as spirituality, the rejection of the resurrection of the dead was a great pretext. But Paul has shown it up for what it is, a denial of the gospel by which we are saved and by which we are to live (see Colossians 2:6).

Before we begin to try to interpret this section we would do well to remember one thing—all through it Paul is talking about things that no one really knows anything about. He is talking not about verifiable matters of fact, but about matters of faith. Trying to express the inexpressible and to describe the indescribable, he is doing the best he can with the human ideas and human words that are all that he has to work with. If we remember that, it will save us from a crudely literalistic interpretation and make us fasten our thoughts on the underlying principles in Paul’s mind. In this section he is dealing with people who say, “Granted that there is a resurrection of the body, with what kind of body do people rise again?” His answer has three basic principles in it.

(i) He takes the analogy of a seed. The seed is put in the ground and dies, but in due time it rises again; and does so with a very different kind of body from that with which it was sown. Paul is showing that, at one and the same time, there can be dissolution, difference and yet continuity. The seed is dissolved; when it rises again, there is a vast difference in its body; and yet, in spite of the dissolution and the difference, it is the same seed. So our earthly bodies will dissolve; they will rise again in very different form; but it is the same person who rises. Dissolved by death, changed by resurrection, it is still we who exist.

(ii) In the world, even as we know it, there is not one kind of body; each separate part of creation has its own. God gives to each created thing a body suitable for its part in creation. If that be so, it is only reasonable to expect that he will give us a body fitted for the resurrection life.

(iii) In life there is a development. Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). But Jesus is far more than a man made from the dust of the earth. He is the incarnation of the very Spirit of God. Now, under the old way of life, we were one with Adam, sharing his sin, inheriting his death and having his body; but, under the new way of life, we are one with Christ and we shall therefore share his life and his being. It is true that we have a physical body to begin with, but it is also true that one day we shall have a spiritual body.

All through this section Paul has maintained a reverent and wise reticence as to what that body will be like; it will be spiritual, it will be such as God knows that we need and we will be like Christ. But in verses 42–44 he draws four contrasts which shed light on our future state.

(i) The present body is corruptible; the future body will be incorruptible. In this world everything is subject to change and decay. “Youth’s beauty fades, and manhood’s glory fades,” as Sophocles had it. But in the life to come there will be a permanence in which beauty will never lose its sheen.

(ii) The present body is in dishonour; the future body will be in glory. It may be that Paul means that in this life it is through our bodily feelings and passions that dishonour can so easily come; but in the life to come our bodies will no longer be the servants of passion and of impulse but the instruments of the pure service of God, than which there can be no greater honour.

(iii) The present body is in weakness; the future body will be in power. It is nowadays fashionable to talk of man’s power, but the really remarkable thing is his weakness. A draught of air or a drop of water can kill him. We are limited in this life so often simply because of the necessary limitations of the body. Time and time again our physical constitution says to our visions and our plans, “Thus far and no farther.” We are so often frustrated because we are what we are. But in the life to come the limitations will be gone. Here we are compassed about with weakness; there we will be clad with power.

“All we have hoped or willed or dreamed of good shall exist;

The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard.”

On earth we have the “broken arcs”; in the life to come “the perfect round.”

(iv) The present body is a natural body; the future body will be a spiritual body. By that, it may be, Paul meant that here we are but imperfect vessels and imperfect instruments for the Spirit; but in the life to come we will be such that the Spirit can truly fill us, as can never happen here, and the Spirit can truly use us, as is never possible now. Then we will be able to render the perfect worship, the perfect service, the perfect love that now can only be a vision and a dream. [2]

[1] I believe the atoning work of our Lord was both “limited” and “unlimited” in its scope.  While our Lord died as an atonement for our sins, only those who receive the gift of eternal life by faith will obtain this forgiveness.  In this sense, the benefit of His atoning work is limited to the elect.  But our Lord’s resurrection from the dead is also the basis for the resurrection of all men from the dead.  Some will be raised for eternal condemnation, while believers will be raised for eternal blessing.  Thus, the work of our Lord has both a limited effect (salvation and blessing for only the elect) and an unlimited effect (the resurrection of all men from the dead).

[2] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 157–159.

[2] To be technically accurate, in the Septuagint, it is Psalm 13:1 and 52:1.

[3] See, for example, Proverbs 14:16; 15:5; 18:2; 20:3; Isaiah 32:5-6; Hosea 9:7.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 4, 2023 in Resurrection


Connectivity: The Relationship Between Belief and Behavior – 1 Cor. 15:29-34

Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? 30 Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

15:29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?NIV

I do not know for certain how many different interpretations have been offered for verse 29, but I know they are numerous. Before trying to interpret this text, we should attempt to set the stage.

First, there is no other passage in the Bible which indicates that Christians should be baptized for the dead. It is never commanded. We never see this practiced in the Book of Acts or elsewhere in the New Testament. This is a unique occurrence in Scripture.

Second, we would surely be foolish to build a doctrine on this one obscure reference, when it is not clear who is being baptized, by whom, or for what purpose. We do know from Peter’s own words that the false teachers were those who seemed to major on twisting the obscure elements of Paul’s teaching (2 Peter 3:14-18).

Third, Paul speaks of “those who are baptized for the dead.” He speaks in the third person. Contrast this with the first person pronouns employed in verses 30-32. We are not told that Paul has ever been baptized for the dead or that anyone in particular in the church has done so. Somebody is being baptized for the dead, but we do not know who. It seems safe to say it is somebody other than the apostles.

Fourth, we are told by Luke that many in Corinth believed as a result of Paul’s teaching and that many were baptized (Acts 18:8). We also know that very few were actually baptized by Paul (1 Corinthians 1:16), a fact which pleased Paul in retrospect. In this same passage at the outset of this epistle, it does seem evident that baptism was one of the things in which some took pride and over which some took sides. Baptism then did seem to be a problem at Corinth. It seems to have played too important a role to some. It may have been more than a symbol and thus became a “work” in which some took pride.

Given all of these observations, I am inclined to understand verse 29 as follows. Baptism had taken on too much meaning for some at Corinth. Some looked upon baptism as the Judaisers looked upon circumcision, as a “work” performed by men which was necessary to salvation. If baptism was considered necessary for salvation, then surely those now dead, who may not have been baptized when they were saved, would be thought to be in trouble.

How could this problem be remedied? By a vicarious baptism, a baptism enacted on behalf of the one who had already died without being baptized. Paul is not advocating this kind of baptism; he is showing the inconsistency of this behavior apart from a belief in the resurrection of the dead. If those who were being baptized for the dead were also those who rejected the resurrection of the dead, Paul is showing how inconsistent their practice is with their doctrine. If those being baptized for the dead believe that the dead are not raised, what value is there in (wrongly) being baptized for one who has already died? Their behavior (baptism for the dead) is not consistent with their belief (there is no resurrection of the dead).

To further emphasize his point about the fact of the resurrection, Paul returned to his conditional “if” clauses. If there is no resurrection, he asked, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? Apparently, some believers had been baptized on behalf of others who had died unbaptized. Nothing more is known about this practice, but it obviously affirms a belief in resurrection. Corinthian believers may have been practicing a sort of vicarious baptism for the sake of believers who had died before being baptized.

The “dead” certainly referred to those who had come to faith, not to unbelievers who had died, or Paul would have condemned the practice. Paul was not promoting baptism for the dead; he was continuing to illustrate his argument that the resurrection is a reality. (Certain groups, such as Mormons, who encourage baptism for the dead today, do so on very flimsy biblical grounds.) Paul’s apparent lack of concern over this situation probably means that, though theologically incorrect, the practice was basically harmless. Paul could have written disapprovingly of this practice, but pointing out the glaring inconsistency of their rejecting the afterlife while baptizing for the dead was sufficient. Paul had deeper theological issues to straighten out—at this point, the fact of the resurrection. If there is a resurrection, then all believers will be raised (and all who truly believed will be saved whether they have been baptized or not). If there is no resurrection, however, as some had contended, then why bother with this ritual?

If death ends it all, enjoying the moment would be all that matters. But Christians know that life continues beyond the grave and that life on earth is only a preparation for our life that will never end. What you do today matters for eternity. In light of eternity, sin is a foolish gamble. Your belief in the resurrection will affect your view of the future. It ought to also affect how you live today.

15:30-31 And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord.NRSV If there is no resurrection, believers are indeed the “most miserable people in the world” (15:19 nlt). Why should the apostles bother to put themselves in danger every hour, dying every day for the sake of the gospel message. To suffer and face danger for the sake of a message that only has “benefits” for this life would be foolish indeed. “I die every day” refers to Paul’s daily exposure to danger. Why would any sane person do this for the sake of a gospel that only ends in death, just like anything else? This constant danger is as certain . . . as [Paul’s] boasting about the Corinthians. Despite all that Paul had to correct and rebuke in them, he genuinely loved the Corinthian believers and boasted of their faith. He could make that boast in Christ Jesus our Lord, knowing that Christ had saved them and that Paul had been their spiritual father (4:15). See also 2 Corinthians 11:23-27.

15:32 And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those men of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? If there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and get drunk, for tomorrow we die!”NLT Some have taken the reference to fighting wild beasts to literally mean that Paul had been placed in the arena—a vicious form of entertainment where prisoners would be placed in a stadium and wild beasts sent in to tear them apart. Paul probably meant this metaphorically, however, as noted in the translation above, referring, instead, to those men of Ephesus. The human enemies that Paul had faced in Ephesus had been as vicious as wild beasts (see Acts 19). When Paul was in Ephesus, Demetrius stirred up people against Paul. Paul preached against Artemis, the goddess of fertility, and was disrupting Demetrius’s silver business (he made idols). Demetrius caused a furious riot against Paul.

Paul repeated the question, If there will be no resurrection from the dead, then what value was there in standing up for his faith against those in Ephesus who wanted to kill him (Acts 19:31)? Why bother standing for anything at all? If there is nothing more to look forward to than simply to one day die and return to dust, then why deny oneself? Instead, it would make far more sense for everyone to feast and get drunk (see also Isaiah 22:13). Life with no meaning leaves one with the need to simply indulge oneself and get all one can for enjoyment here and now.

15:33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.”NLT Those who denied the resurrection could not possibly be true believers, for this entire chapter explains why the resurrection is central to the Christian faith. Paul told the Corinthian believers not to be fooled by those who say such things—those who denied the resurrection and told the believers to “feast and get drunk” (15:32). This is quoted from a proverb in a comedy by the Greek playwright Menander, titled Thais; it was used by Paul to make a point to his Greek audience. The bit of worldly wisdom, “bad company corrupts good character,” means that keeping company with those who deny the resurrection will corrupt true believers and hurt the testimony of the church.

15:34 Come to your senses and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t even know God.NLT Paul’s final words about this issue were simply that the Corinthians should come to [their] senses (literally, “to wake up out of a drunken stupor”). If they would take the time to think about it, they would realize, as Paul had argued earlier, that it would be senseless to live for a faith that offered nothing after death. To deny the resurrection amounted to sinning, for it denied the truth of the claims of Christ and the promises of God. It was to their shame that some among them did not even know God. To not understand and believe the doctrine of the resurrection meant to not understand anything about God, for the doctrine is central to all that God has done for sinful humanity.

In verses 30-32, Paul turns our attention to his own example, showing that his behavior is consistent with his belief in the resurrection of the dead. Paul’s conduct makes no sense, unless there is a resurrection of the dead. No one can dispute the fact that Paul lived dangerously. Almost from the moment of his conversion, his enemies were trying to kill him (Acts 9:23-25; 14:19; 21:31; 22:22; 23:12). And some of those who may not have wished Paul dead certainly did want to do bodily harm to him (see Acts 16:22-23; 19:23ff.; 22:25). Wherever Paul went, he risked his life for the sake of the gospel. This would be a most foolish thing to do, unless of course there is such a thing as the resurrection of the dead. Suffering for Christ, and taking up our cross in this life, makes perfect sense if there is a crown awaiting us after the resurrection. His belief in the resurrection inspired and enabled Paul to live as he did (see Philippians 1:12-26; 3:7-14).

On the other hand, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then a very different lifestyle would be justified: “If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE” (verse 32b). Hedonism is the logical outcome of denying the resurrection of the dead. We all know the contemporary beer commercial, which goes: “You only go around once, so you’d better grab all the gusto you can get.” Once one denies the resurrection of the dead, this slogan seems entirely logical. But since Christ was raised from the dead, and since His kingdom culminates in the defeat of death, we actually “go around twice.” And knowing this, Paul’s lifestyle is the only way to go.

Verses 33 and 34 link behavior and belief in yet another way. Just how could some of the Corinthians come to the place where they denied the resurrection of the dead? How could such an unbiblical and illogical conclusion be reached by Christians? Paul gives us the answer in verses 33 and 34. Normally helpful to us in his paraphrase of the New Testament text, J. B. Phillips seems to miss Paul’s point entirely:

Don’t let yourselves be deceived. Talking about things that are not true is bound to be reflected in practical conduct. Come back to your senses, and don’t dabble in sinful doubts. Remember that there are men who have plenty to say but have no knowledge of God. You should be ashamed that I have to write like this at all!

I think Phillips reverses Paul’s meaning. His paraphrase indicates that entertaining discussions of doubtful things is the cause of immorality and sin. I think it is just the reverse. I grant that our doctrine should work itself out in our behavior. We see this taught throughout the Bible. Many of the New Testament epistles begin with doctrine and conclude with our conduct. But the sad truth is that for most of us, our morality determines our theology. Proverbs says it this way: “An evil doer listens to wicked lips, A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). We listen to those who tell us what we want to hear, and what we want to hear is that which justifies what we are doing (or want to do). Elsewhere, Paul puts it this way:

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

This is the very thing about which Paul had warned the Ephesian elders:

25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:25-32).

The Corinthians, so wise as they are (1 Corinthians 4:7-10), have really been deceived. This is the reason they came to reject the resurrection of the dead. The Corinthians had entered into fellowship with those who were rotten apples, spiritually speaking. They had failed to separate themselves from the pagan culture in which they lived. They began to esteem and emulate those who spoke with worldly wisdom (chapters 1-3). They looked down on Paul and other apostles (chapter 4). They not only tolerated those who lived in immorality, they proudly embraced a man whose conduct shocked the pagans (chapter 5). They looked to worldly courts to settle their disputes (chapter 6), and they felt so spiritually invincible that they did not hesitate to participate in heathen idol worship (chapters 8-10). They embraced the feminist thinking of their day (1 Corinthians 11:1-16), and they had no reservations about hastening on with the Lord’s Supper so as to exclude some members of their fellowship, in the process conducting themselves as heathen (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The exercise of their spiritual gifts is such that it appears dangerously similar to their “spiritual rituals” as unbelievers (12:1ff.). Are we surprised, then, if the Corinthians have come to embrace sinners as saints, that their doctrine suffers in the process?

Paul challenges the Corinthians to “sober up” and face up to their folly. They need to straighten up in their thinking and then stop sinning. They need to get their doctrine straight and then consistently apply their beliefs in godly behavior. They need to realize that some among them have no knowledge of God. These are those whom Paul will later expose as false apostles, as messengers of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Those who have been led astray by such false teachers must also admit their lack of knowledge, repent, and return to the doctrine of the apostles.

Once again this passage begins with a very difficult section. People have always been puzzled about what being baptized for the dead means, and even yet the problem is not definitely settled. The preposition for in the phrase for the dead is the Greek huper. In general this word can have two main meanings. When used of place, it can mean above or over. Far more commonly it is used of persons or things and means instead of or on behalf of. Remembering these two meanings, let us look at some of the ways this phrase has been understood.

(i) Beginning from the meaning of over or above, some scholars have suggested that it refers to those who get themselves baptized over the graves of the martyrs. The idea is that there would be something specially moving in being baptized on sacred ground with the thought of the unseen cloud of witnesses all around. It is an attractive and rather lovely idea, but at the time Paul was writing to the Corinthians persecution had not yet broken out in anything like a big way. Christians might suffer ostracism and social persecution, but the time of the martyrs had not yet come.

(ii) It is in any event much more natural to take huper in the sense of instead of or on behalf of. If we take it that way there are three possibilities. It is suggested that the phrase refers to those who get themselves baptized in order to fill up the vacant places in the Church which the dead have left. The idea is that the new believer, the young Christian, comes into the Church like a new recruit to take the place of the veterans who have served their campaign and earned their release. There is a great thought there. The Church ever needs its replacements and the new member is like the volunteer who fills up the depleted ranks.

(iii) It is suggested that the phrase means those who get themselves baptized out of respect for and affection for the dead. Again there is a precious truth here. Many of us came into the Church because we knew and remembered that some loved one had died praying and hoping for us. Many have in the end given their lives to Christ because of the unseen influence of one who has passed over to the other side.

(iv) All these are lovely thoughts, but in the end we think that this phrase can refer to only one custom, which has quite correctly passed out of Church practice altogether. In the early Church there was vicarious baptism. If a person died who had intended to become a member of the Church and was actually under instruction, sometimes someone else underwent baptism for him. The custom sprang from a superstitious view of baptism, that, without it, a person was necessarily excluded from the bliss of heaven. It was to safeguard against this exclusion that sometimes people volunteered to be baptized literally on behalf of those who had died. Here Paul neither approves nor disapproves that practice. He merely asks if there can be any point in it if there is no resurrection and the dead never rise again.

From that he passes on to one of the great motives of the Christian life. In effect he asks, “Why should a Christian accept the perils of the Christian life if it is all to go for nothing?” He quotes his own experience. Every day he is in jeopardy of his life. Something terrible of which the New Testament has no record happened to Paul at Ephesus. He refers to it again in 2 Corinthians 1:8–10: he says that in Asia, that is in Ephesus, he was in such dire peril that he despaired of life and had the sentence of death passed upon him. To this day in Ephesus there is a building known as Paul’s prison. Here he calls his peril fighting with beasts. The word he uses is that used of a gladiator in the arena. The later legends tell us that he actually did so fight and that he was wondrously preserved because the beasts would not attack him. But Paul was a Roman citizen and no Roman citizen could be compelled to fight in the arena. Much more likely he used the phrase as a vivid picture of being threatened by men who were as savage for his life as a wild beast might have been. In any event he demands, “To what end is all the peril and the suffering if there is no life beyond?”

The man who thinks that this life is all, and that there is nothing to follow it, may well say, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” The Bible itself quotes those who speak like that. “Come,” they say, “let us get wine, let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.” (Isaiah 56:12). The preacher, who held that death was extinction, wrote, “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment from his toil.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24, cp. 3:12; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7). Jesus himself told about the rich fool who forgot eternity and took as his motto, “Eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:19).

Classical literature is full of this spirit. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells of a custom of the Egyptians. “In social meetings among the rich, when the banquet is ended, a servant carries round to the several guests a coffin, in which there is a wooden image of a corpse, carved and painted to resemble nature as nearly as possible, about a cubit or two cubits in length. As he shows it to each guest in turn, the servant says, ‘Gaze here, and drink and be merry, for when you die, such will you be.’” Euripides writes in the Alcestis (781–789, A. S. Way’s translation):

“From all mankind the debt of death is due, For of all mortals is there one that knows

If through the coming morrow he shall live? For trackless is the way of fortune’s feet,

Not to be taught nor won by art of man. This hearing then, and learning it of me,

Make merry, drink; the life from day to day Account thine own, all else in fortune’s power.”

Thucydides (2:53) tells how, when the mortal plague came to Athens, people committed every shameful crime and eagerly snatched at every lustful pleasure because they believed that life was short and they would never have to pay the penalty. Horace (Odes 2:13; 13) gives as his philosophy, “Tell them to bring wines and perfumes and the too-short-lived blossoms of the lovely rose while circumstances and age and the black threads of the three sisters (the Fates) still allow us to do so.” In one of the most famous poems in the world the Latin poet Catullus wrote, “Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, and let us value the tales of austere old men at a single halfpenny. Suns can set and then return again, but for us, when once our brief light sets, there is but one perpetual night through which we must sleep.”

Take away the thought of a life to come and this life loses its values. Take away the idea that this life is a preparation for a greater life to follow and the bonds of honour and morality are loosened. It is useless to argue that this should not be so and that men should not be good and honourable simply for the sake of some reward. The fact remains that the man who believes that this is the only world tends to live as if the things of this world are all that matter.

So Paul insists that the Corinthians must not associate with those who say that there is no resurrection; for this would be to risk an infection which can pollute life. To say that there is no resurrection is not a sign of superior knowledge; it is a sign of utter ignorance of God. Paul is unleashing the lash that very shame may bring these wanderers back into the right way.[1]

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 152–156.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 27, 2023 in Resurrection


But Christ Has Been Raised: Implications of His Resurrection – 1 Cor. 15:20-28

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.

The argument Paul plays out in verses 12-19 is a purely theoretical one. His “If … then …” argument was simply to show the folly of rejecting the resurrection of the dead, a claim which directly contradicts the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Now in verses 20-28, Paul takes up the truth of Christ’s resurrection, a truth he has already set down in verses 1-11. Verses 1-11 point out the historical authentication of the resurrection of Christ. Now, Paul sets down the logical implications of His resurrection. The resurrection of the dead is not only consistent with Christ’s resurrection, it is a certainty which flows out of His resurrection. There are no “ifs” here, but only the much stronger term “since” (verse 21).

Christ has been raised from the dead” (verse 20) is the premise of Paul’s argument in these verses. As the risen Christ, He is the “first fruits of those who are asleep.” In other words, whatever happened to our Lord is sure to happen to those who have fallen asleep, those who have died trusting in Him. In the Old Testament, the “first fruits” are the first offspring or crop to be obtained by the farmer. It was proof that there was more to come. Christ’s resurrection is our proof that more resurrections will follow.

How do we know that Christ’s resurrection guarantees a resurrection for others? The answer to this can be seen when one understands the unique relationship which exists between Adam and our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom Paul later refers as the “first Adam” and the “last Adam” (15:45). By his sin, Adam brought about death for himself and the whole human race. Christ, by His righteous life, substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection, brings about life for mankind.[1] Adam brought death upon all men; Christ will make men alive.

As some falsely taught (2 Timothy 2:18), this resurrection of men from the dead has not already occurred but is yet to come. Christ’s resurrection will actually bring about a sequence of resurrections, with the last and final resurrection abolishing death altogether (verse 26). Everything must occur in its proper order, as ordained by God (verse 23). Christ has already risen from the dead, and His resurrection is but the first fruits of the other resurrections yet to occur. The next resurrection mentioned is that of those who have trusted in our Lord for salvation, which occurs when He returns to this earth to defeat all His enemies and to establish His rule over all the earth (verse 23). Then, finally, the last resurrection will take place, the resurrection of the unbelieving dead.[2]

Paul speaks here of two “reigns”, the “reign” of Christ, during which time all of His enemies are defeated, and the “reign of the Father,” when Christ hands the kingdom over to the Father, in submission to Him. The reign of Christ is, I believe, the millennium, described in Revelation 20. The reign of the Father is the eternal kingdom of God, forever and ever, described in Revelation 21 and 22.

Are there those who deny the resurrection of the dead and thus also (by implication) the resurrection of our Lord? They cannot be those who look for the coming kingdom of God, for the last and final victory of Christ is His victory over death, a victory achieved by the resurrection of the unbelieving dead and the banishing of death to the lake of fire. The kingdom cannot come until all of our Lord’s enemies are defeated, and His last and final enemy is death itself. The final stage of resurrection, the last fruit of our Lord’s resurrection, is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead. When this final enemy is defeated, the kingdom of our Lord is secured, and it is at this time that our Lord subjects the final “thing” to God—Himself—by handing the kingdom over to the Father. The resurrection of the dead is not only a vital part of the gospel, it plays a crucial role in the establishment of the kingdom of God. Who would dare to deny it?

15:20 But the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.NLT However, the above argument is moot because the fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. The hypothetical “if” statements in the previous verses concede to the certain facts of history. Christians may indeed face difficulty, but the fact of the Resurrection changes everything. Because Christ was raised from the dead, he has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again. The “first of a great harvest” (also called the firstfruits) was the first part of the harvest that faithful Jews would bring to the temple as an offering (Leviticus 23:10). Although Christ was not the first to rise from the dead (he raised Lazarus and others), he was the first to be raised to never die again. He is the forerunner for those who believe in him, the proof of their eventual resurrection to eternal life.


This evidence demonstrates Jesus’ uniqueness in history and proves that he is God’s Son. No one else was able to predict his own resurrection and then accomplish it.

Erroneous Explanations for the Empty Tomb


Evidence against These Explanations




Jesus was only unconscious and later revived.


A Roman soldier told Pilate that Jesus was dead.


Mark 15:44-45


The Roman soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because he had already died, and one of them pierced Jesus’ side with a spear.


John 19:32-34


Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb.


John 19:38-42


The women made a mistake and went to the wrong tomb.


Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw Jesus placed in the tomb.


Matthew 27:59-61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55


  On Sunday morning, Peter and John also went to the same tomb.


John 20:3-9


Unknown thieves stole Jesus’ body.


The tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers.


Matthew 27:65-66


The disciples stole Jesus’ body.


The disciples were ready to die for their faith. Stealing Jesus’ body would have been admitting that their faith was meaningless.


Acts 12:2


  The tomb was guarded and sealed.


Matthew 27:66


The religious leaders stole Jesus’ body to produce it later. If the religious leaders had taken Jesus’ body, they would have produced it to stop the rumors of his resurrection.




15:21-22 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, Adam, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man, Christ. Everyone dies because all of us are related to Adam, the first man. But all who are related to Christ, the other man, will be given new life.NLT Death came into the world as a consequence of the sin of one man, Adam (Genesis 3:17-19). Adam sinned against God and brought alienation from God and death to all humanity. Sin resulted in death. All human beings are related to Adam and have two characteristics in common: They are sinners; and they will die. By capitulating to sin, Adam allowed the whole human race to succumb to death. Death is inescapable; it comes to every living thing. And the reign of death over creation began because of Adam’s sin. Paul contrasted the roles of two single agents: Adam and Christ. Adam’s sin brought condemnation and death to all; Christ’s sinless sacrifice and resurrection brought resurrection from the dead to all who are related to Christ through accepting his sacrifice on their behalf. Those who believe in him will be given new life. This same idea is explained in Romans 5:12-21.

Adam’s sin allowed death to claim every human’s life; Christ’s death challenged that claim and nullified it in the Resurrection. Adam “gave” us all death; Christ offers life to all. In other words, real life can only be found in Christ. At conception, we receive as part of our human inheritance the gift of death; at conversion, we receive Christ’s gift of eternal life. The choice is between death and life. How tragic that so many make the wrong choice. What will you choose—life or death?

15:23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised first; then when Christ comes back, all his people will be raised.NLT Paul wanted to clarify, however, that there is an order to this resurrection. It had not already happened, as perhaps some of the false teachers were claiming. Rather, Christ was raised first, three days after his crucifixion, and he is the “first of a great harvest” (15:20 nlt). That “harvest” will be taken in when Christ comes back at his second coming. At that time, his people, those who believed in him as Savior, will be raised from death to eternal life.

15:24-25 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.NIV The words “then the end will come” did not mean that the end would come (or had come) immediately after Christ’s resurrection. This is an unspecified time of an event still to occur. At the time of Christ’s second coming, “the end will come,” and the resurrected Christ will conquer all evil, including death. (See Revelation 20:14 for words about the final destruction of death.) Christ will destroy all dominion, authority and power that oppose God and then hand over the kingdom to God the Father. At Christ’s resurrection, Christ began the destruction of Satan and all his dominion. At the resurrection of the dead, all Satan’s power will be broken. Christ must reign because God has ordained it so; what God has said cannot be changed. The word “must” has the sense of “will definitely without a doubt”; Christ will reign as the ultimate ruler, having put all his enemies under his feet. This phrase is used in the Old Testament to refer to total conquest (see Psalm 110:1).

Because the resurrection of Christ is an accomplished fact and because the promise of the resurrection is a future fact, the promise of Christ’s ultimate and final reign can be trusted as fact and anticipated by every believer.

Although God the Father and God the Son are equal (Philippians 2:6), each has a special work to do and an area of sovereign control (15:28). Christ is not inferior to the Father, but his work is to defeat all evil on earth. First, he defeated sin and death on the cross, and in the last days, he will defeat Satan and all evil. World events may seem out of control, and justice may seem scarce. But God is in control, allowing evil to remain for a time until he sends Jesus to earth again. Then Christ will present to God a perfect new world.
We, too, have special roles to play in God’s plan. Much of Christ’s work is done in us, and requires our cooperation and obedience. To also participate in Christ’s work, we must allow his words and presence to direct our relationships and decisions.

15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.NRSV While the enemies in 15:25 were not named, one last enemy was here named—death. Death is every living being’s enemy, the common fate of all humanity. Death is the last enemy that always wins. But Christ will destroy death! At the Cross and through the Resurrection, Christ has already defeated death. Yet people still die. For those who believe in Christ, however, death is merely a doorway into eternal life. Finally one day, there will be no more death. John proclaimed this in the book of Revelation: “And death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire” (20:14).

15:27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.NIV As noted in 15:24-25, the one ultimately in charge is God the Father. This verse sounds very much like Psalm 8:6: “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet” (niv). The first “he” refers to God, who “has put everything under [Christ’s] feet.” Because God did this, it is clear (or should have been to Paul’s readers) that the word “everything” does not include God himself. God gave the Son supreme authority over everything, except God himself.

15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.NIV When he has done this, when the Son has toppled all evil powers and when God has placed everything under the Son’s feet, then the Son himself will be made subject to God. “God” here refers to “God the Father.” No one can take God’s place, not even the Son. This must happen so that God may be all in all. Some have used this verse to attempt to prove the inferiority of Christ (that he was not equal with God). But this verse is not about the person, nature, or being of God (his essence) as it relates to Christ. Instead, this verse is speaking of the work or mission of Christ, whereby he willingly obeyed the Father by subjecting the government of the world first to himself, then symbolically and willingly placing it under God’s control. In these words, Paul was not attempting to take the three persons of the Trinity and decide their relative importance. Their essential nature is always one and the same; however, the authority rests through the work each has accomplished. God sent the Son; the Son will finish the work and then will turn redeemed humanity back over to God.

This again is a very difficult passage because it deals with ideas which are strange to us.

It speaks of Christ as “the first-fruits of them that sleep.” Paul is thinking in terms of a picture which every Jew would recognize. The Feast of the Passover had more than one significance. It commemorated the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. But it was also a great harvest festival. It fell just at the time when the barley harvest was due to be ingathered. The law laid it down, “You shall bring the sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest to the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the morrow after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10, 11). Some sheaves of barley must be reaped from a common field. They must not be taken from a garden or an orchard or from specially prepared soil. They must come from a typical field. When the barley was cut, it was brought to the Temple. There it was threshed with soft canes. so as not to bruise it. It was then parched over the fire in a perforated pan so that every grain was touched by the fire. It was then exposed to the wind so that the chaff was blown away. It was then ground in a barley mill and its flour was offered to God. That was the first-fruits.

It is significant to note that not until after that was done could the new barley be bought and sold in the shops and bread be made from the new flour. The first-fruits were a sign of the harvest to come; and the Resurrection of Jesus was a sign of the resurrection of all believers which was to come. Just as the new barley could not be used until the first-fruits had been duly offered, so the new harvest of life could not come until Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Paul goes on to use another Jewish idea. According to the old story in Genesis 3:1–19 it was through Adam’s sin that death came into the world as its direct consequence and penalty. The Jews believed that all men literally sinned in Adam; we see that his sin might transmit to his descendants the tendency to sin. As Aeschylus said, “The impious deed leaves after it a larger progeny, all in the likeness of the parent stock.” As George Eliot wrote, “Our deeds are like children that are born to us, they live and act apart from our will; nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never. They have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness.”

Nobody would be likely to deny that a child can inherit a tendency to sin and that the father’s sins are literally visited upon the children. No one would deny that a child can inherit the consequences of a father’s sin, for we know all too well how physical conditions which are the consequence of an immoral life can be transmitted to the child. But the Jew meant more than that. He had a tremendous sense of solidarity. He was sure that no man could ever do anything that could affect only himself. And he held that all men sinned in Adam. The whole world of men was, as it were, in him; and when he sinned all sinned.

That may seem a strange idea to us and unfair. But that was the Jewish belief. All had sinned in Adam, therefore all were under the penalty of death. With the coming of Christ that chain was broken. Christ was sinless and conquered death. Just as all men sinned in Adam, so all men escape from sin in Christ; and just as all men died in Adam, so all men conquered death in Christ. Our unity with Christ is just as real as our unity with Adam and this destroys the evil effect of the old.

So we get two contrasting sets of facts. First, there is Adam-sin-death. Second, there is Christ-goodness-life. And just as we were all involved in the sin of him who was first created, we are all involved in the victory of him who re-created mankind. However we may estimate that way of thinking today, it was convincing to those who heard it for the first time; and, whatever else is doubtful, it remains true that with Jesus Christ a new power came into the world to liberate men from sin and death.

Verses 24–28 read very strangely to us. We are used to thinking of the Father and the Son on terms of equality. But here Paul clearly and deliberately subordinates the Son to the Father. What he is thinking of is this. We can use only human terms and analogies. God gave to Jesus a task to do, to defeat sin and death and to liberate man. The day will come when that task will be fully and finally accomplished, and then, to put it in pictorial terms, the Son will return to the Father like a victor coming home and the triumph of God will be complete. It is not a case of the Son being subject to the Father as a slave or even a servant is to a master. It is a case of one who, having accomplished the work that was given him to do, returns with the glory of complete obedience as his crown. As God sent forth his Son to redeem the world, so in the end he will receive back a world redeemed; and then there will be nothing in heaven or in earth outside his love and power.[3]

[1] Here, the focus may be on the “life” which our Lord gives to believers, but it seems to me that we must see Christ’s resurrection as the ground for the resurrection of all men, whether believers or unbelievers.

[2] There is, I know, considerable discussion as to what Paul means by “the end” in verse 24.  Regardless of whether Paul here refers to the resurrection of the unbelieving dead, it is clearly taught in Revelation 20 and elsewhere.  I think Paul’s point here is that the “the end” is the destruction of death, the last enemy, by the final resurrection of unbelievers.  It is at this point in time when death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).

[3] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 149–152.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2023 in Resurrection

%d bloggers like this: