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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted by on April 24, 2023 in Resurrection


What if Christ Had Not Been Raised From the Dead? – 1 Cor. 15:12-19

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Christians attempting to share their faith are often shocked by the world’s denial of the possibility of Resurrection. The gospel remains an irritating and upsetting challenge to the commonly held views of life and death. Christians are convinced that Jesus’ resurrection did happen, and that it changed everything. The Christian faith comes from Christ’s experience, not people’s individual feelings or desires. The conviction of the Resurrection gives believers hope for the future.

15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?NIV The gospel message the Corinthians had received and believed included the basic facts recorded in 15:3-4: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (niv). The words “if it is preached” mean “since it was preached.” The Corinthian believers had accepted the message of the gospel because of the promise of the Resurrection—a fact central to the Christian faith. In order to believe in their own resurrection, they had to believe that Christ has been raised from the dead. If they had believed that, why then were some of them saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? Such a belief contradicted the entire gospel message.

The exact beliefs of those who stated this “no resurrection” are unknown. They may have held the Greek view that matter was evil and, therefore, no physical body would rise. Most Greeks did not believe that people’s bodies would be resurrected after death. They saw the afterlife as something that happened only to the soul. According to Greek philosophers, the soul was the real person, imprisoned in a physical body, and at death the soul was released. There was no immortality for the body, but the soul entered an eternal state. Or they may have taken an overly spiritualized view of the present state as Christians. They were “spiritual people,” so the body would be unnecessary. Christianity, by contrast, affirms that the body and soul will be united after resurrection.

The church at Corinth was in the heart of Greek culture. Thus many believers had a difficult time believing in a bodily resurrection. Paul wrote this part of his letter to clear up this confusion about the resurrection.

15:13-14 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.NIV Paul argued that if the resurrection is not possible, then Jesus is still in the grave.

If Jesus is still in the grave, then the apostles’ preaching is useless because they preached a risen Savior. If Christ has not been raised, believers’ faith is also useless. Why believe in a dead “Savior”? If Jesus is still dead, then his Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

Martin Luther


sacrifice did not appease God for believers’ sin, and believers have no advocate with the Father (Hebrews 7:25; 8:1). They also have no Comforter in the Holy Spirit, for he was to come when Christ returned to glory (John 16:5, 13-15). They have no hope of eternal life if not even their Savior gained eternal life. They have no reason to believe a gospel message, centered on Resurrection, if there is no resurrection of the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the central fact of Christian history. On it, the church is built; without it, there would be no Christian church today. Jesus’ resurrection is unique. Other religions have strong ethical systems, concepts about paradise and afterlife, and various holy Scriptures. Only Christianity has a God who became human, literally died for his people, and was raised again in power and glory to rule his church forever.
Why is the Resurrection so important?
·       Because Christ was raised from the dead, we know that the kingdom of heaven has broken into earth’s history. Our world is now headed for redemption, not disaster. God’s mighty power is at work destroying sin, creating new lives, and preparing us for Jesus’ second coming.
·       Because of the Resurrection, we know that death has been conquered, and we too will be raised from the dead to live forever with Christ.
·       The Resurrection gives authority to the church’s witness in the world. Look at the early evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts: The apostles’ most important message was the proclamation that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead!
·       The Resurrection helps us find meaning even in great tragedy. No matter what happens to us as we walk with the Lord, the Resurrection gives us hope for the future.
·       The Resurrection assures us that Christ is alive and ruling his kingdom. He is not legend; he is alive and real.
·       God’s power that brought Jesus back from the dead is available to us so that we can live for him in an evil world.
Christians can look very different from one another, and they can hold widely varying beliefs about politics, lifestyle, and even theology. But one central belief unites and inspires all true Christians—Jesus Christ rose from the dead!
The bodily resurrection of Christ is the center of the Christian faith. Because Christ rose from the dead, as he promised, we know that what he said is true and that he is God. The Resurrection affirms the truthfulness of Jesus’ life and words. The Resurrection confirms Jesus’ unique authority to say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Because he rose, we have certainty that our sins are forgiven. Because he rose, he lives and represents us before God. Because he rose and defeated death, we know we will also be raised. Christ’s resurrection guaranteed both his promise to us and his authority to make it. We must take him at his word and believe.

15:15-16 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.NIV If Christ has not been raised from the dead, not only would the apostles’ preaching be “useless” (15:14), but the apostles themselves would be considered liars—false witnesses about God—because they had been preaching about God that he raised Christ from the dead. The apostles had been telling people that God raised Christ from the dead. However, if resurrection is impossible, if the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised. This point is repeated from 15:13 to drive home the point. The Corinthians had to understand the logical implications of the position they had chosen. To no longer believe in the physical resurrection was to throw away the entire gospel message. They could not claim to be Christians without believing in the Resurrection.

15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins.NLT Again Paul proclaimed that if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless (see 15:14). They have no reason to have faith if they take the Resurrection out of that faith. In addition to taking away the hope of future life with God, refusing to believe that Jesus rose from the grave means that Christians are still under condemnation for [their] sins. If Jesus died and was never raised, then his death did nothing to accomplish justification. God raising him from the dead showed acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice. If God left Jesus in the grave, then the sacrifice was not accepted and no one has received cleansing from sin. The condemnation for sin is death (Romans 6:23). To still be under condemnation means that all people will be given the ultimate penalty for their sins.

Why does Paul say believers should be pitied if there were only earthly value to Christianity? In Paul’s day, Christianity often brought a person persecution, ostracism from family, and, in many cases, poverty. There were few tangible benefits from being a Christian in that society. It was certainly not a step up the social or career ladder. Even more important, however, is the fact that if Christ had not been resurrected from death, Christians could not be forgiven for their sins and would have no hope of eternal life.
 In many places in the world today, those who believe in Christ still pay a heavy price. Some are dying for their faith. But for many, Christianity is little more than a convenient faith. If following Christ doesn’t place you at odds with the world around you in some way, examine the depth of your roots.

15:18-19 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.NLT Christians carry with them, even through persecution and death, the promise of eternal life with God. Yet if Christ was never raised from the dead, and if there is no hope of resurrection, then all who have died believing in Christ have perished! If all the preachers lied (15:15) and no one will be raised, then not only is faith meaningless for this life, it is meaningless in death. Those who believed in Christ believed a lie; those who died because of persecution for their faith perished for no reason. The consequences of believing the lie that there will be no resurrection shake the very foundations of the Christian faith. Paul pointed out the silliness of the argument—if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world. If the only promise of the Christian faith applies to this life, then why believe in it? Why believe in a faith that brought—in this culture and even still in many places in the world—persecution, sorrow, death, ostracism, separation? Without the resurrection, there would be no hope for final judgment and justice or hope for a final dwelling place with God. There would be nothing but death to look forward to. If the end is the same for everyone, why not live like the pagans in sensual pleasure (15:32)? Why deny oneself? Why be miserable if the other choices bring the same result?

It was not the resurrection of our Lord which was denied by some at Corinth, but rather the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of men. The denial of the resurrection of the dead is a denial of Scriptural teaching:

1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3).

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:24-27).

28 “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul does not turn us to these texts or others like them, but rather to the gospel which he has just declared and which the Corinthians have received. Paul reasons from the resurrection of our Lord. If Christ has indeed risen from the dead, then how is it possible for anyone to reason that there is no resurrection from the dead? To say that there is no resurrection of the dead, and yet to affirm that Christ rose from the dead, is a logical impossibility. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then we must also conclude that Christ did not rise from the dead either.

The Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead are wrong on many counts. Paul chooses to begin with the most significant error in verses 12-19. He reasons that a denial of the resurrection of the dead is, of necessity, a denial of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Since God has provided undeniable proof for Christ’s resurrection, and since Paul and more than 500 others are witnesses of His resurrection, no one can logically say that there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. The Corinthians are logically wrong because they hold two contradictory statements to be true at the same time. First, they hold the resurrection of Christ from the dead to be true. Second, they hold the resurrection of anyone from the dead to be false. They must choose one or the other. Logically one cannot affirm and deny the resurrection of the dead at the same time. In denying the resurrection of the dead, some of the Corinthians are wrong, dead wrong!

The conclusion they reach—that the dead are not raised—is not logical, given the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Furthermore, the implications of such a conclusion are astounding. Paul first rejects their conclusion as illogical; now he challenges the implications of their conclusion that the dead are not raised. What if Christ had not been raised from the dead? What would the implications of this conclusion be? In a word, they would be horrifying.

If Christ was not raised from the dead, then the gospel, outlined in verses 1-11, is false. The resurrection of our Lord was proclaimed by Paul and the apostles as one of the foundational truths of the gospel. Further, since the apostles[1] preached Christ crucified, buried, and raised again from the dead, their ministry would be vain if Christ did not actually rise from the grave (verse 14). It would be vain in the sense that these men risked their lives and made monumental sacrifices for a message that was false and which had no saving power. Both the message of the apostles and their ministry would be rendered useless if the proclamation of our Lord’s resurrection were proven false.

Not only would the apostles’ preaching topple if the resurrection of Christ had not occurred, but the faith of those who believed their message would also be undermined. The gospel Paul preached at Corinth is the gospel which proclaimed Christ’s resurrection. It is also the gospel the Corinthians received, by which they are being saved, and in which they stand (14:1-2). If Christ did not rise from the dead, their faith is without foundation; it is empty and useless.

As Paul’s argument unfolds, it gets worse. Up to this point, the apostles’ ministry and message have been shown to be worthless. Now in verse 15, Paul shows that the denial of Christ’s resurrection puts the apostles in an even more serious dilemma. If the gospel they have been preaching is a false gospel, then these men are actually in serious trouble with God. They are “false witnesses.” They have misrepresented God, making false claims about Him by proclaiming that He raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. They have defamed God. From an Old Testament point of view, the apostles would be exposed as false prophets (Deuteronomy 13 and 18:14-22), and this they would be, if Christ had not risen from the dead.

Things get worse for the Corinthians, as well as the apostles, if indeed Christ did not rise. Their faith in Christ would be worthless, for they have trusted in a dead man, a man who staked the integrity of His ministry and message on His resurrection (see Matthew 12:38-40; 27:62-64). If Christ was not raised from the dead, then His death on Calvary was meaningless, and the Corinthians are still condemned sinners. Take away the resurrection and you pull the rug out from under the atoning work of our Lord. It is not merely the death, but the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord which saves sinners. To deny the resurrection of our Lord is to condemn men as sinners, without hope of forgiveness and eternal life. And so those saints who have already “fallen asleep” (verse 18) have no hope beyond the grave. They are dead and gone. In this sad state of affairs, brought about if Christ did not rise, Christians should be pitied for their stupidity, not persecuted.

Paul attacks the central position of his opponents at Corinth. They said flatly, “Dead men do not rise again.” Paul’s answer is, “If you take up that position it means that Jesus Christ has not risen again; and if that be so, the whole Christian faith is wrecked.”

Why did Paul regard a belief in the Resurrection of Jesus as so essential? What great values and great truths does it conserve? It proves four great facts, which can make all the difference to a man’s view of life here and hereafter.

(i) The Resurrection proves that truth is stronger than falsehood. According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus said to his enemies, “Now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth.” (John 8:40). Jesus came with the true idea of God and of goodness; his enemies procured his death because they did not want their own false view destroyed. If they had succeeded in finally obliterating him, falsehood would have been stronger than truth. On one occasion the Earl of Morton, regent of Scotland, sent for Andrew Melville, the great Reformation leader. “Ther will never be quyetnes in this countrey,” said Morton, “till halff a dissone of you be hangit or banished the countrey.” “Tushe! sir,” said Melville, “threaten your courtiers in that fashion. It is the same to me whether I rot in the air or in the ground. … Yet God be glorified, it will nocht ly in your power to hang nor exyll his treuthe!” The Resurrection is the final guarantee of the indestructibility of the truth.

(ii) The Resurrection proves that good is stronger than evil. Again to quote the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is represented as saying to his enemies, “You are of your father, the devil.” (John 8:44). The forces of evil crucified Jesus and if there had been no Resurrection these forces would have been triumphant. J. A. Froude, the great historian, wrote, “One lesson, and only one, history may be said to repeat with distinctness, that the world is built somehow on moral foundations, that in the long run it is well with the good, and in the long run it is ill with the wicked.” But if the Resurrection had not taken place, that very principle would have been imperilled, and we could never again be certain that goodness is stronger than evil.

(iii) The Resurrection proves that love is stronger than hatred. Jesus was the love of God incarnate.

“Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine.”

On the other hand, the attitude of those who procured his crucifixion was an almost virulent hatred, so bitter that in the end it was capable of ascribing the loveliness and graciousness of his life to the power of the devil. If there had been no Resurrection, it would have meant that the hatred of man in the end conquered the love of God. The Resurrection is the triumph of love over all that hatred could do. This very beautiful poem sums up the whole matter.

“I heard two soldiers talking As they came down the hill, The sombre hill of Calvary,

Bleak and black and still. And one said, ‘The night is late, These thieves take long to die.’

And one said, ‘I am sore afraid, And yet I know not why.’

I heard two women weeping As down the hill they came,

And one was like a broken rose, And one was like a flame.

One said, ‘Men shall rue This deed their hands have done.’

And one said only through her tears, ‘My son! my son! my son!’

I heard two angels singing Ere yet the dawn was bright,

And they were clad in shining robes, Robes and crowns of light.

And one sang, ‘Death is vanquished,’ And one in golden voice

Sang, ‘Love hath conquered, conquered all, O heaven and earth rejoice!’”

The Resurrection is the final proof that love is stronger than hate.

(iv) The Resurrection proves that life is stronger than death. If Jesus had died never to rise again, it would have proved that death could take the loveliest and best life that ever lived and finally break it. During the second world war a certain city church in London was all set out for harvest thanksgiving. In the centre of the gifts was a sheaf of corn. The service was never held, for, on the Saturday night, a savage air raid laid the church in ruins. The months passed and the spring came, and someone noticed that, on the bomb site where the church had stood, there were shoots of green. The summer came and the shoots flourished and in the autumn there was a flourishing patch of corn growing amidst the rubble. Not even the bombs and the destruction could kill the life of the corn and its seeds. The Resurrection is the final proof that life is stronger than death.

Paul insisted that if the Resurrection of Jesus was not a fact the whole Christian message was based on a lie, that many thousands had died trusting in a delusion, that without it the greatest values in life have no guarantee. “Take away the Resurrection,” he said, “and you destroy both the foundation and the fabric of the Christian faith.”[2]

[1]Our preaching” in verse 14, followed up by “we” in verse 15, must refer to the apostolic preaching of the gospel.  It is not just Paul’s gospel which falls if the resurrection of our Lord did not happen; it is the gospel proclaimed by all the apostles.

[2] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 146–149.

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Posted by on April 22, 2023 in Resurrection


The Gospel and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Dead – 1 Corinthians15:1-11

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The truth never loses its power. People, however, often lose their grip on truth. The struggles in the Corinthian church made it clear to Paul that they needed to refocus their attention on the gospel. He brought his letter to a close with a vigorous proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were wandering; Paul called them back to the center. Like the Corinthians, we can’t afford to stray from Christ. Every claim about Christianity has roots in his resurrection. What we believe about this life and the afterlife depends on what Jesus did with death. God’s Word calls us back to the center

In this final section of the letter, Paul gave a masterly defense of the resurrection of Christ and its importance to the Christian faith. The gospel message that he had preached to them, that they had received, on which they had taken their stand was the message that had saved them. Paul wanted to remind them of that gospel, because apparently some (probably false teachers) had been distorting it. In fact, some of the Corinthians had come to believe that there would be no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Not only was the church in Corinth having problems with unity (as Paul tried to clear up in the previous chapters), it was also dealing with basic problems of theology. This, too, would tear apart the church. As an apostle who had himself seen the risen Christ (15:8), Paul took these Corinthian believers back to the basics of the message that they had welcomed and received. Because acceptance of that gospel had saved them, they should hold firmly to it.

To do otherwise would mean that they had believed in vain. If they could be so easily swayed to other messages, tangents, and untruths, then perhaps what they claimed as belief was not belief at all. If the faith they thought they had could not assure them of salvation, then that faith was worthless. The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith. John S. Whale


Paul’s devotion to the Word of God and to the good news of the gospel causes him to be as alert and vigilant as an anti-virus program. There is one “file” (so to speak) which is always searched out by the virus of false teaching, and that is the “gospel” file. Every action, every teaching, is scrutinized by Paul to make sure it does not seek to modify or set aside the “gospel file.” Thus, when certain teachers insist that Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses, they find immediate opposition from Paul, who would not allow men to corrupt the “gospel file” (see Acts 15:1-1). When some insist that Titus be circumcised, Paul will not allow it, for the sake of the gospel (Galatians 2:1-5; see 5:3). And when Peter stops sitting at the Gentile table and begins to sit with the Jews, Paul publicly rebukes him (and those who followed him) for his (their) hypocrisy, because his actions imply that Jewish Christians are better than Gentile Christians—and this Paul recognized as a corruption of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-21).

It should come as no surprise then that before Paul takes on the error of the denial of the resurrection of the dead, Paul first lays a foundation for his argument by reiterating the gospel. Whatever practice or teaching Paul might encounter, he always judges it by the gospel he and the apostles preach. That gospel must never be corrupted or altered in any way. Several characteristics of the gospel are emphasized in verses 1-11, which we can summarize.

(1) The gospel is not a message devised by the minds of men, but a revelation from God, received by the apostles and delivered to men by them (see 15:1, 3, 11).

(2) The gospel is the only message by which men are saved and by which they stand (15:1-2).

(3) The gospel is “good news” concerning the grace of God, which informs men concerning the only way they, as undeserving sinners, may experience the forgiveness of their sins (15:3, 9-10).

(4) The gospel is the message which is based solely upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, the One who died for our sins on the cross of Calvary, who was buried, and who was literally and bodily raised from the dead on the third day (15:3-4).

(5) The sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ are events which were prophesied in the Old Testament, foretold in the Gospels by our Lord, and then fulfilled by Him as God’s promised Messiah.

(6) The gospel is the message which is of the highest magnitude of importance (15:3).

(7) The gospel saves and keeps only those who receive it and hold fast to it by faith (15:1-2).

(8) The gospel is false and our faith is vain if any element of it is proven to be false (15:2; 12ff.).

(9) The gospel is established on the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, as witnessed by more than 500 people.

When Jesus spoke of His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, He always spoke of His resurrection as well. The enemies of our Lord knew this, and from the day of His resurrection attempted to pass it off as a deception perpetrated by His followers (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15). Paul wants his readers to remember that the resurrection is based upon the most irrefutable evidence possible—the eyewitness testimony of over 500 people on various occasions and over a period of time.

Paul does not appeal to circumstantial evidence to prove the resurrection of Christ from the dead but rather to the testimony of more than 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom are still alive at the time he writes this Epistle to the Corinthians. Few facts in history have been so well attested. The Corinthians should be reminded of the firm basis which the resurrection of our Lord has in history. Luke, the great historian, sums it up in these words: “To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

The resurrection is a matter of great import to the apostle Paul. Few men can claim to have been more impacted by the resurrection of our Lord than Paul. First, the resurrection of our Lord was the means by which Paul was converted from an enemy of Christ to a true believer. Three times in the Book of Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26) Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus is reported. This appearance of the risen and glorified Christ blinded Paul, stopping him in his tracks, and led to his conversion. No wonder Paul saw the resurrection of our Lord as such a significant event. It turned Paul’s life upside-down.

The resurrection was important to Paul in yet another way—the resurrection appearance of our Lord to Paul on the road to Damascus was the means by which Paul was qualified to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. You will recall that Judas, the disciple who betrayed our Lord, killed himself, leaving a vacancy among the apostles (see Matthew 19:28; Acts 1:15-26). The disciples chose not to wait for “what the Father had promised” (Acts 1:4) and went ahead to select two men who seemed qualified as candidates to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:12-26). It is my opinion that it was not Matthias whom God had appointed to this position, but Paul. I believe Paul’s words in our text (15:7-11) indicate that he was appointed as the replacement for Judas.

Who would have ever imagined such a thing? The apostles were those whose task it was to be witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32). How could Paul (or anyone else who had not been with the eleven disciples) possibly qualify? What seemed humanly impossible was possible with God. He arranged a private resurrection appearance for Paul. It was as a result of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus that Paul was qualified to be an apostle.

Just how important was the resurrection of our Lord to Paul? It was not only the basis for his salvation and apostleship, it was a constant theme in his preaching (Acts 17:30-31; 24:15, 25). It was the reason for Paul’s imprisonment and trial before Caesar (Acts 23:6; 24:21; 26:6-8; 28:20). No wonder Paul is so emphatic about the resurrection of our Lord and about the error of those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. The gospel is the starting point and standard for all Christian teaching and practice. Paul takes us back to our origins to reinforce the vital role which the resurrection of our Lord plays in our salvation and Christian life.

Paul is recapitulating the good news which he first brought to the Corinthians. It was not news which he had invented but news which had first been delivered to him, and it was news of a Risen Lord.

In verses 1 and 2 Paul says an extremely interesting series of things about the good news.

(i) It was something which the Corinthians had received. No man ever invented the gospel for himself; in a sense no man ever discovers it for himself. It is something which he receives. Therein indeed is the very function of the Church. The Church is the repository and the transmitter of the good news. As one of the old fathers had it, “No man can have God for his Father, unless he has the Church for his mother.” The good news is something that is received within a fellowship.

(ii) It was something in which the Corinthians stood. The very first function of the good news was to give a man stability. In a slippery world it kept him on his feet. In a tempting world it gave him resistance power. In a hurting world it enabled him to endure a broken heart or an agonized body and not to give in. Moffatt finely translates Job 4:4, “Your words have kept men on their feet.” That is precisely what the gospel does.

(iii) It was something in which they were being saved. It is interesting to note that in the Greek this is a present tense, and not past. It would be strictly correct to translate it not, “in which you have been saved,” but, “in which you are being saved.” Salvation goes from glory to glory. It is not something which is ever completed in this world. There are many things in this life which we can exhaust, but the meaning of salvation is something which a man can never exhaust.

(iv) It was something to which a man had to hold tenaciously. Life makes many an attempt to take away our faith. Things happen to us and to others which baffle our understanding; life has its problems to which there seems no solution and its questions to which there seems no answer; life has its dark places where there seems to be nothing to do but hold on. Faith is always a victory, the victory of the soul which tenaciously maintains its clutch on God.

(v) It was something which must not be held haphazardly and at random. The faith which collapses is the faith which has not thought things out and thought them through. For so many of us faith is a superficial thing. We tend to accept things because we are told them and to possess them merely at secondhand. If we undergo the agony of thought there may be much that we must discard, but what is left is really ours in such a way that nothing can ever take it from us.

15:3-4 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.NIV Paul had received the gospel message from Christ himself, as had all the other apostles; then he passed on to all his listeners that same message. These words indicate the careful and literal way that Christian teachers passed on tradition from one generation to the next.

The central theme of the gospel is given here. It is the key text for the defense of Christianity. The three points that are of first importance are as follows:

  1. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Without the truth of this message, Christ’s death was worthless, and those who believe in him are still in their sins and without hope. However, Christ as the sinless Son of God took the punishment of sin, “dying for sin” so that those who believe can have their sins removed. The phrase “according to the Scriptures” refers to the Old Testament prophecies regarding this event, such as Psalm 16:8-11 and Isaiah 53:5-6. Christ’s death on the cross was no accident, no afterthought. It had been part of God’s plan from all eternity in order to bring about the salvation of all who believe.
Paul restated the gospel because there were unbelievers in the Corinthian church. Most churches contain people who do not yet believe. Some are moving in the direction of belief, and others are simply pretending. Impostors, however, are not to be removed (see Matthew 13:28-29), for that is the Lord’s work alone. The Good News about Jesus Christ will save us if we firmly believe it and faithfully follow it. The preaching of the gospel, then, accomplishes two purposes: (1) The message offers salvation to those who have not yet responded; and (2) the message challenges believers to remain faithful.
Pray for the communicators in your church. Perhaps you are one yourself. Remember that every believer is a living sermon. Pray that the gospel will be heard and understood clearly in your fellowship.
  1. He was buried. The fact of Christ’s death is revealed in the fact of his burial. Many have tried to discount the actual death of Christ, from the false teachers of Paul’s day to false teachers today. But Jesus Christ did die on the cross and was buried in a tomb. (For more information on the facts of Jesus’ death, see the Life Application Commentary Mark, in Mark 16:9, the chart called “Evidence That Jesus Actually Died and Arose”)
  2. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Christ “was raised” permanently, forever; his Father raised him from the dead. He came back to life from being a dead person in a grave “on the third day” as noted in the Gospels (Friday afternoon to Sunday morning—three days in Jewish reckoning of time). This also occurred “according to the Scriptures.” Jesus had quoted the prophet Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 niv; see also Jonah 1:17) to show the connection to “three days” as prophesied in the Old Testament. Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110 also foretell the resurrection of the Messiah.

15:5 He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles.NLT Jesus made several appearances to various people after his resurrection, some of which Paul included here. He first mentioned the appearance to Peter, noted in Luke 24:34 (see also Mark 16:7). Peter had denied his Lord and then had wept bitterly (Mark 14:72). Jesus forgave Peter and still considered him to be one of his disciples. Jesus had great responsibilities for Peter to fulfill in the church that had not yet been born.

Jesus had also been seen by the twelve apostles. The expression “twelve apostles” was a title for the original disciples—sometimes they are called “the Twelve.” But this title doesn’t always signify that twelve apostles were present. By the time of the Resurrection, Judas Iscariot and another apostle, Thomas, were not present at Christ’s first appearance. These appearances are recorded in Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-31.

     There will always be people who say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Those who seek to deny the Resurrection are neither courageous nor novel in their thinking. They have nothing but hopelessness and despair to offer those who believe them. Their efforts simply highlight the importance of Christ’s victory.
     Paul wrote that many people saw Jesus after his resurrection: Peter; the disciples (the Twelve); more than five hundred Christian believers (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this, although some had died); James (Jesus’ brother); all the apostles; and, finally, Paul himself. The Resurrection is an historical fact. Don’t be discouraged by doubters who deny the Resurrection. Be filled with hope because of the knowledge that one day you, and they, will see the living proof when Christ returns.

15:6 After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now.NLT This event is recorded nowhere else. It most likely occurred in Galilee, and the sheer number of eyewitnesses, more than five hundred, should cause doubters to stop and think before dismissing the Resurrection accounts of a few followers. All these people saw him at one time, and at the time of Paul’s writing, most of them were still alive. Paul could appeal to their testimony to back up his own.


Jesus appeared to

1. Mary Magdalene Mark 16:9-11;
John 20:10-18
2. The other women at the tomb Matthew 28:8-10
3. Peter in Jerusalem Luke 24:34;
1 Corinthians 15:5
4. The two travelers on the road Mark 16:12-13;
Luke 24:13-35
5. Ten disciples behind closed doors Luke 24:36-43;
John 20:19-25
6. All eleven disciples (including Thomas) Mark 16:14;
John 20:26-31;
1 Corinthians 15:5
7. Seven disciples while fishing on the Sea of Galilee John 21:1-14
8. Eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee Matthew 28:16-20;
Mark 16:15-18
9. A crowd of 500 1 Corinthians 15:6
10. Jesus’ brother James 1 Corinthians 15:7
11. Those who watched Jesus ascend into heaven Mark 16:19-20;
Luke 24:50-53;
Acts 1:3-9

15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.NRSV This James is Jesus’ brother (actually, half brother), who at first did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (John 7:5). After seeing the resurrected Christ, he became a believer (as did Jesus’ other brothers, Acts 1:14). James ultimately became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). He also wrote the New Testament book of James. (For more information on James, see the Introduction to the Life Application Commentary James.) This next mention of all the apostles must describe an event separate from that recorded in 15:5, as well as designating the James mentioned here from the two apostles of that name.

In Paul’s list of appearances of the Risen Lord two are specially interesting.

(i) There is the appearance to Peter. In the earliest account of the Resurrection story, the word of the messenger in the empty tomb is, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” (Mark 16:7). In Luke 24:34 the disciples say, “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.” It is an amazing thing that one of the first appearances of the Risen Lord was to the disciple who had denied him. There is all the wonder of the love and grace of Jesus Christ here. Others might have hated Peter forever, but the one desire of Jesus was to set this erratic disciple of his upon his feet. Peter had wronged Jesus and then had wept his heart out; and the one desire of this amazing Jesus was to comfort him in the pain of his disloyalty. Love can go no further than to think more of the heartbreak of the man who wronged it than of the hurt that it itself has received.

(ii) There is the appearance to James. Without doubt this James is the brother of our Lord. It is quite clear from the gospel narrative that Jesus’s own family did not understand him and were even actively hostile to him. Mark 3:21 tells us that they actually sought to restrain him because they believed him to be mad. John 7:5 tells us that his brothers did not believe in him. One of the earliest of those gospels which did not succeed in getting into the New Testament is the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Only fragments of it remain. One fragment, preserved by Jerome, reads, “Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth unto the servant of the priest, went unto James and appeared unto him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the Lord’s cup until he should see him risen again from among them that sleep).” So, the story runs, “Jesus went to James and said, ‘Bring ye a table and bread.’ And he took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it unto James the Just and said unto him, ‘My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among them that sleep.’” We can only conjecture what lies behind this. It may well be that the last days turned James’s contempt into wondering admiration so that when the end came, he was so torn with remorse for the way in which he had treated his brother that he swore that he would starve unless he came back to forgive him. Here once again we have the amazing grace and love of Christ. He came to bring peace to the troubled soul of the man who had called him mad and who had been his opponent.

It is one of the most heart-moving things in all the story of Jesus that two of his first appearances, after he rose from the tomb, were to men who had hurt him and were sorry for it. Jesus meets the penitent heart far more than halfway.[1]

15:8 Last of all, I saw him, too, long after the others, as though I had been born at the wrong time.NLT One of the credentials to be an apostle was to have been an eyewitness of Jesus Christ. Paul could call himself an apostle (1:1) because he had seen Jesus last of all . . . long after the others. This event is recorded in Acts 9:3-6. The phrase “as though I had been born at the wrong time” (literally, “miscarriage”) means that Paul’s opportunity to see Jesus Christ was a special case. The other apostles saw Christ before the Resurrection; they lived and traveled with him for nearly three years. Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles, yet Christ appeared to him.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.NIV As a zealous Pharisee, Paul had been an enemy of the Christian church—even to the point of capturing and persecuting believers (see Acts 9:1-3). Here Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of the magnificent grace of God in drawing sinners out of sin and into his kingdom. By calling himself the least of the apostles, Paul was not putting himself down (see 2 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 2:11). Instead, he realized that although all of the apostles had been drawn from sin, Paul had actively persecuted the church of God. He fully realized the depth of the error and sin from which he had been saved, so much so that he knew he did not even deserve to be called an apostle. Only God’s grace had handed him such a privilege and responsibility.

Paul felt unworthy to be called an apostle of Christ. Though undoubtedly the most influential of the apostles, Paul was deeply humble. He knew that he had worked hard and accomplished much, but only because God had poured kindness and grace upon him. True humility is not convincing yourself that you are worthless but recognizing God’s work in you. Take God’s perspective on who you are and acknowledge his grace in developing your abilities.

15:10-11 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.NIV Neither Paul nor any of the apostles could take credit for achieving the position of apostle. They had all been called to that position by the grace of God. Only by God’s “grace”—his undeserved favor poured out on sinners—was Paul saved and enabled to serve. And Paul certainly did so! He wrote of having worked harder than all of the other apostles. This was not an arrogant boast because he knew that his hard work was a result of the grace of God that was with him. Because of his previous position as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5) and his previous occupation of persecuting Christians, Paul’s conversion made him the object of even greater persecution than the other apostles; thus he had to work harder to preach the same message. He wrote to Timothy, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 nrsv).

Whether, then, it was I or they who brought the gospel message, they all brought the same message as noted in 15:3-4. This is what we preach, explained Paul, and the apostles never strayed from that message. This is what you believed, he reminded them, so they must not stray from the message that had brought them salvation.

Finally, in this passage we have a vivid light thrown on the character of Paul himself. To him it was the most precious thing in the world that Jesus had appeared also to him. That was at one and the same time the turning point and the dynamic moment of his life. But verses 9–11 tell us much about him.

(i) They tell us of his utter humility. He is the least of the apostles; he has been glorified with an office for which he is not worthy. Paul would never have claimed to be a selfmade man. It was by the grace of God that he was what he was. He is perhaps even accepting a taunt made against him. It would seem that he was a little and an unhandsome man (2 Corinthians 10:10). It may be that the Jewish Christians who wished to impose the law upon Christian converts and who hated his doctrine of free grace, declared that, so far from being born again, Paul was an abortion. He, for his part, was so conscious of his own unworthiness that he felt no one could say anything too bad about him. Charles Gore once said, “On a general review of life we can seldom feel that we are suffering unmerited wrong.” Paul felt like that. His was not the pride which resented the criticism and the taunts of men, but the humility which felt that it deserved them.

(ii) They tell us at the same time of the consciousness of his own worth. He was well aware that he had laboured beyond them all. His was not a false modesty. But even at that, he spoke always, not of what he had done, but of what God had enabled him to do.

(iii) They tell of his sense of fellowship. He did not regard himself as an isolated phenomenon with a message that was unique. He and the other apostles preached the same gospel. His was the greatness which bound him closer to the Christian fellowship; there is always something lacking in the greatness which divides a man from his fellows.[2]

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 143–145.

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Posted by on April 20, 2023 in Resurrection


A Refresher Course  on the Resurrection of the Dead — 1 Corinthians 15


The gospel of Jesus Christ has as its central theme and message the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the resulting hope of resurrection and eternal life for every Christian. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul deals with the subject of death and the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. In so doing, Paul gives one of the clearest, most concise definitions of the “gospel” found anywhere in the Bible. He shows how a denial of the resurrection of the dead is a denial of the gospel itself, and how believing in the gospel gives one hope for the next world as well as for the present.

The Problem at Corinth

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Verse 12 discloses the problem which prompts Paul to write this chapter: some of the Corinthian saints are saying there is no “resurrection of the dead.”[1] Denying the resurrection of the dead is seen in several different forms in the New Testament. The Greek pagans denied the resurrection of the dead, as we can see from the Book of Acts. In his sermon to those in the market place of Athens, Paul preached these words:

30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this” (Acts 17:30-32).

The Greeks may have believed in the immortality of men, as spirits, but they did not seem responsive to the teaching that God raises the dead so that they may stand in judgment before God.

The Jewish Sadducees did not embrace the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead either:

6 But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” 7 And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 And there arose a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:6-9)

The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection of the dead, and in spirits and angels, but the Sadducees did not. Basically, the Sadducees were anti-supernaturalists—they did not believe in miracles. It would almost seem the Sadducees were farther from the truth (at least about the resurrection of the dead) than the Gentile pagans.

There were those in the church who professed to believe in the resurrection of the dead but who insisted that this “resurrection” had already taken place:

16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

This “resurrection” was a present possession rather than a future hope. It must therefore have been some kind of mystical or spiritual “resurrection” rather than a literal, bodily resurrection. In saying that there has already been a spiritual resurrection, these heretics were denying that there was a future bodily resurrection. And for this they receive Paul’s indictment that they have “gone astray from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18). The error is so serious that it “upsets the faith” (verse 18) of those who embrace this error.

We are not told exactly what form the denial of the resurrection of the dead took at Corinth. I am inclined to think it was the same kind of error Paul exposed in Ephesus (2 Timothy 2:16-18), where Paul told Timothy that such error would “lead to further ungodliness” (verse 16). We can see some forms of ungodliness this doctrinal deviation took in the earlier chapters of 1 Corinthians. While the theological error regarding the resurrection of the dead is not exposed until chapter 15, the fruits of this error are everywhere apparent in chapters 1-14.

In the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul deals with the divisions and factions which had disrupted the unity of the church at Corinth. These divisions were based upon the pride which some took in certain leaders and their teachings. The Corinthians were puffed up because their leaders “were the greatest” and their teachings were so “wise.” Their esteem for these leaders resulted in a corresponding disdain for Paul and the other apostles:

6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 7 For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 8 You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. 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 4:6-13).

Paul’s gospel (which was one and the same with the gospel proclaimed by the other apostles) was disdained because it was too simplistic, too naive, too foolish. The “new gospel,” proclaimed by the Corinthians’ new leaders, was much more sophisticated, much more acceptable and appealing to the pagan culture of that day.

Just what was the problem the Corinthians had with Paul, his theology, and his practice? The key is found in the word “already” in verse 8.[2] The Corinthians seem to be claiming that they have already arrived, spiritually speaking. Christianity has three dimensions or tenses: past, present, and future.[3] We were chosen in Christ in eternity past, and 2,000 years ago, Christ died, was buried, and was raised from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins and our eternal salvation. We are now being saved;[4] we are currently being sanctified, daily being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Our final salvation comes when our Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth, and when we, with glorified and transformed bodies, live eternally in His presence.

Difficulties arise whenever we confuse these three tenses. Some Christians live as though Christ’s atoning work at Calvary (in the past) has no great impact on our day-to-day living in the present. Such people live out their lives naturalistically, as though the supernatural power of God has no practical relevance to daily living. They go about their daily living little different from atheists. They employ merely huan methods and mechanisms. They raise funds, for example, using the same methods as the Red Cross or the United Fund. They seek to sanctify and utilize secular marketing techniques to evangelize and to produce church growth. They use human management techniques to run the church and Christian organizations.

Other Christians go to the opposite extreme. They confuse the future blessings, which Christ has promised and purchased, with His present blessings. In short, they think the Christian can and should experience heaven on earth. They believe no one needs to be sick (or perhaps even to die), because of the atoning work of Christ at Calvary (see Isaiah 53:5). According to this version of “spirituality,” we should expect to be happy, healthy, and wealthy now. They claim the future blessings of Revelation 21 and 22 as their present rights, and they tell us that if we do not experience these blessings now it is due to our lack of faith.

This health and wealth doctrine does not find its origin in the Scriptures, but in the wishful thinking of those who do not want to face up to a life of suffering, a life that is lived out in a fallen world. The context of 2 Timothy 2 and 3, the teaching of the Book of Hebrews and 1 Peter, and the example set forth by Paul and the apostles points to a different view of spirituality in the present age (see also Romans 8). The Scriptures speak of our identification with Christ in this age through our participation in His sufferings (see Philippians 1:12-26; 3:10; Colossians 1:24-29; 1 Peter 4:12-19), rather than in our escape from them.

No wonder the “spiritual” Corinthians looked down upon Paul. They had already arrived; Paul had not. They were kings; Paul was homeless. Paul and the apostles were a disgrace, and the proud Corinthians were ashamed of them. The apostles did not look nor act like royalty, but like the “scum of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:8-13). To speak of the resurrection of the dead as a future certainty meant they had not already arrived, that the kingdom of God had not yet come. It meant that they must identify with Christ in His earthly humiliation and rejection and not in His triumphant reign. And so they set aside the literal bodily resurrection of the dead, embracing in its place some kind of spiritual resurrection which already brought them into their kingdom, a kingdom of this age and not the next, a kingdom which the apostles and their gospel would not embrace or sanction.

Symptoms of the Rejection of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Corinthian Church

Everywhere we look in 1 Corinthians we can see the fruit of this doctrinal error of rejecting the resurrection of the dead. In chapters 1-4, we are not surprised to learn that the Corinthians have formed cliques based upon the pride they took in new mentors, in their new message, and in their new methods. These “new messengers” will eventually prove to be “false apostles,” as Paul will indicate in 2 Corinthians 11. Their message will not be the foolish and weak message of Christ crucified (1:23-24), but one which appeals to the pride and arrogance of lost men. Their method was not a simple proclamation of the truth of the gospel; it was the same kind of methodology the heathen used to market everything from fish to philosophy (see 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). Paul’s method was to simply proclaim the truth of the gospel and then to depend on the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit to enlighten men’s minds and to convince them of the truth (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 10-16).

In chapter 5, Paul exposes one professing Christian at Corinth who is living in such a degraded fashion that even the pagan Corinthians blush at his behavior (5:1-2). The Corinthian church, on the other hand, is not ashamed at all, but proud (5:2). How could they be proud? Just as the Corinthians distinguished between a spiritual resurrection and a bodily resurrection, they also distinguished between a “spiritual” spirituality and a bodily “spirituality.” It seems as though many of the Corinthians thought they could be spiritual in spirit but immoral and self-indulgent in the flesh. And so they not only tolerated shocking sexual immorality among their membership (chapter 5), they practiced all kinds of sensual and bodily indulgences themselves (chapter 6).[5]

In addition, the Corinthians are taking one another to court (6:1-11). The Scriptures teach that the literal, bodily resurrection of all men is prerequisite for divine judgment which follows (Acts 17:30-32; 24:14-16, 21, 24-25; Revelation 20:11-14). The false teachers are the ones who deny or minimize the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead because they wish to comfort themselves with the deception that there will be no future judgment (see 2 Peter 3:3-4). If we truly believe there is a resurrection of the dead and that the wicked will be punished, we can abandon our desire to have revenge and leave retribution to God (Romans 12:17-21; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; 1 Peter 2:12). But when our vision concerning the resurrection of the dead is dimmed, we will want justice here and now, and if that means taking our case against a Christian brother before a pagan court, so be it. So it was in Corinth.

The Corinthians seem dull to the dangers of indulging their bodily appetites in spite of the lessons they should have learned from their predecessors, the Israelites (1 Corinthians 10:1-13). They feel free to participate in the pagan idol-worship rituals, even though this might cause a brother to stumble (chapter 8), and in spite of the fact that participating in this meal meant involvement with the demonic powers (10:18-22).

They are so enticed by the thought of eating a festive meal that they disregard all the dangers associated with doing so. When it came to satisfying their bodily appetites, the Corinthians just couldn’t say “no” (see 9:24-27).

Even at the Corinthians’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the most sacred part of their gathering together, they do not wait for their brethren to arrive, and so indulge themselves that they become drunk, making their celebration an abomination (11:17-34). The same excesses are evident in the exercise of their spiritual gifts at the meeting of the church (chapters 12-14). The Corinthians indulge themselves by exercising their gifts in a disorderly and chaotic fashion so that the edification of the church was set aside. And in the midst of this, they seem oblivious to the fact that divine judgment is causing many to become sick and a good number to die (1 Corinthians 11:30). We have no monopoly on being the “now generation.” The Corinthians minimized the future and majored on the present moment. Their motto: “Seize the day!”

An Overview of Paul’s Response to the Corinthians’ Denial of the Resurrection of the Dead

In chapters 1-14, Paul uncovers much of the dirty laundry of the Corinthian church and deals with each problem in particular. Now in chapter 15, Paul introduces the subject of the resurrection of the dead, not as an entirely new subject, mind you, but as the root problem underlying the sins he previously discussed. Is it any wonder that in chapter 14 Paul upholds the gift of prophecy as the greatest of the gifts for the church? I think not. Prophets fulfilled many roles and carried out various functions, but who would dispute that one of the tasks of a prophet was to speak of future things—to prophesy? Is the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead not a matter of prophecy? If, as I have assumed and alluded, the Corinthians have exalted the gift of tongues and minimized the gift of prophecy, is it surprising that Paul first extols the virtues of the gift of prophecy and then presses on to a particular element of prophecy—the resurrection of the dead?

In chapter 15, Paul approaches the denial of the resurrection of the dead indirectly at first. In verses 1-11, Paul lays a foundation by reiterating the role of the bodily resurrection of our Lord in the gospel message and in his own conversion. The resurrection of our Lord is a doctrine with which every Corinthian Christian heartily agreed. Then in verses 12-19, Paul exposes the real problem, the denial of the resurrection of the dead. If one believes there is no resurrection of the dead at all, then this means that Christ could not have been raised from the dead at all. If Christ was not raised from the dead, then the apostles are deceivers and the Corinthians are deceived and to be pitied, for their faith is futile. But in verses 20-28, Paul returns to the certainty of our Lord’s resurrection and plays out its implications. Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead was the first fruits of resurrection, and other resurrections will follow as a divinely-purposed result. The first to rise will be those who have trusted in Him, followed later by those who have not (15:23-25). It is only after death is finally defeated by the resurrection of all men that the kingdom can be handed over to the Father.

Any hope of the kingdom of God has as a prerequisite the resurrection of the dead (15:26-28). The practice of some of being baptized for the dead (verse 29) and the dangerous living of Paul (verses 30-32a) make sense only if there is a literal resurrection of the dead. Otherwise, one might just as well “grab all the gusto he can get” if we only “go around once” (verse 32b). The source of the Corinthians’ error regarding a bodily resurrection is revealed in verses 33 and 34. Illicit fellowship has caused them to become soft on sin and thus vulnerable to doctrinal deviation, which tended to validate their sin.

In verses 35-49, Paul takes on the objections which some have raised concerning the resurrection of the dead. Do they wonder how the dead can be raised? Are they perplexed that the bodies we place in the ground decay and that an imperishable body resulting from this decay seems scientifically untenable? Let them simply refresh their memories as to how, with grain, new life sprouts from the “death” and “decay” of the seed that is buried or planted in the ground. The physical body must come first and then be replaced by the spiritual. The objections to the resurrection of the body are simply the result of a lack of faith in the God who is the Creator of all “bodies” and who raised our Lord from the dead. Adam’s sin brought about bodily death and decay; Christ’s righteousness produces life and bodily transformation.

In verses 50-58, Paul builds to a triumphant climax. Physical death and the setting aside of our mortal bodies is a necessity, because these earthly bodies have no place in heaven. The bodies of those saints who have died and been buried will be resurrected as transformed bodies, and the mortal bodies of those alive at Christ’s coming will also undergo the same transformation, so that both will be clothed with bodies fit for eternity in the presence of God. All of this removes the sting of sin and of death and assures the saint of victory. In the light of this truth of the resurrection from the grave, we know that our earthly toil and labor is not in vain but is an eternal investment.


Corinth was a Greek city, and the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. When Paul had preached at Athens and declared the fact of Christ’s resurrection, some of his listeners actually laughed at him (Acts 17:32). Most Greek philosophers considered the human body a prison, and they welcomed death as deliverance from bondage.

This skeptical attitude had somehow invaded the church and Paul had to face it head-on. The truth of the resurrection had doctrinal and practical implications for life that were too important to ignore. Paul dealt with the subject by answering four basic questions.

Are the Dead Raised? (1 Cor. 15:1–19)

It is important to note that the believers at Corinth did believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so Paul started his argument with that fundamental truth. He presented three proofs to assure his readers that Jesus Christ indeed had been raised from the dead.

Proof #1—their salvation (vv. 1–2). Paul had come to Corinth and preached the message of the Gospel, and their faith had transformed their lives. But an integral part of the Gospel message was the fact of Christ’s resurrection. After all, a dead Saviour cannot save anybody. Paul’s readers had received the Word, trusted Christ, been saved, and were now standing on that Word as the assurance of their salvation. The fact that they were standing firm was proof that their faith was genuine and not empty.

Proof #2—the Old Testament Scriptures (vv. 3–4). First of all means “of first importance.” The Gospel is the most important message that the church ever proclaims. While it is good to be involved in social action and the betterment of mankind, there is no reason why these ministries should preempt the Gospel. “Christ died … He was buried … He rose again … He was seen” are the basic historical facts on which the Gospel stands (1 Cor. 15:3–5). “Christ died for our sins” (author’s italics) is the theological explanation of the historical facts. Many people were crucified by the Romans, but only one “victim” ever died for the sins of the world.

When Paul wrote “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3) he was referring to the Old Testament Scriptures. Much of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament pointed to the sacrifice of Christ as our substitute and Saviour. The annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) and prophecies like Isaiah 53 would also come to mind.

But where does the Old Testament declare His resurrection on the third day? Jesus pointed to the experience of Jonah (Matt. 12:38–41). Paul also compared Christ’s resurrection to the “firstfruits,” and the firstfruits were presented to God on the day following the Sabbath after Passover (Lev. 23:9–14; 1 Cor. 15:23). Since the Sabbath must always be the seventh day, the day after Sabbath must be the first day of the week, or Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection. This covers three days on the Jewish calendar. Apart from the Feast of Firstfruits, there were other prophecies of Messiah’s resurrection in the Old Testament: Psalm 16:8–11 (see Acts 2:25–28); Psalm 22:22ff (see Heb. 2:12); Isaiah 53:10–12; and Psalm 2:7 (see Acts 13:32–33).

Proof #3—Christ was seen by witnesses (vv. 5–11). On the cross, Jesus was exposed to the eyes of unbelievers; but after the Resurrection, He was seen by believers who could be witnesses of His resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32). Peter saw Him and so did the disciples collectively. James was a half brother of the Lord who became a believer after the Lord appeared to him (John 7:5; Acts 1:14). The 500 plus brethren all saw Him at the same time (1 Cor. 15:6), so it could not have been a hallucination or a deception. This event may have been just before His ascension (Matt. 28:16ff).

But one of the greatest witnesses of the Resurrection was Paul himself, for as an unbeliever he was soundly convinced that Jesus was dead. The radical change in his life—a change which brought him persecution and suffering—is certainly evidence that the Lord had indeed been raised from the dead. Paul made it clear that his salvation was purely an act of God’s grace; but that grace worked in and through him as he served the Lord. “Born out of due time” probably refers to the future salvation of Israel when they, like Paul, see the Messiah in glory (Zech. 12:10–13:6; 1 Tim. 1:16).

At this point, Paul’s readers would say, “Yes, we agree that Jesus was raised from the dead.” Then Paul would reply, “If you believe that, then you must believe in the resurrection of all the dead!” Christ came as a man, truly human, and experienced all that we experienced, except that He never sinned. If there is no resurrection, then Christ was not raised. If He was not raised, there is no Gospel to preach. If there is no Gospel, then you have believed in vain and you are still in your sins! If there is no resurrection, then believers who have died have no hope. We shall never see them again!

The conclusion is obvious: Why be a Christian if we have only suffering in this life and no future glory to anticipate? (In 1 Cor. 15:29–34, Paul expanded this idea.) The Resurrection is not just important; it is “of first importance,” because all that we believe hinges on it.

When Are the Dead Raised? (1 Cor. 15:20–28). Paul used three images to answer this question.

Firstfruits (vv. 20, 23). We have already noted this reference to the Old Testament feast (Lev. 23:9–14). As the Lamb of God, Jesus died on Passover. As the sheaf of firstfruits, He arose from the dead three days later on the first day of the week. When the priest waved the sheaf of the firstfruits before the Lord, it was a sign that the entire harvest belonged to Him. When Jesus was raised from the dead, it was God’s assurance to us that we shall also be raised one day as part of that future harvest. To believers, death is only “sleep.” The body sleeps, but the soul is at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1–8; Phil. 1:21–23). At the resurrection, the body will be “awakened” and glorified.

Adam (vv. 21–22). Paul saw in Adam a type of Jesus Christ by the way of contrast (see also Rom. 5:12–21). The first Adam was made from the earth, but the Last Adam (Christ, 1 Cor. 15:45–47) came from heaven. The first Adam disobeyed God and brought sin and death into the world, but the Last Adam obeyed the Father and brought righteousness and life.

The word order in 1 Corinthians 15:23 originally referred to military rank. God has an order, a sequence, in the resurrection. Passages like John 5:25–29 and Revelation 20 indicate that there is no such thing taught in Scripture as a “general resurrection.” When Jesus Christ returns in the air, He will take His church to heaven and at that time raise from the dead all who have trusted Him and have died in the faith (1 Thes. 4:13–18). Jesus called this “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29). When Jesus returns to the earth in judgment, then the lost will be raised in “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29; Rev. 20:11–15). Nobody in the first resurrection will be lost, but nobody in the second resurrection will be saved.

The kingdom (vv. 24–28). When Jesus Christ comes to the earth to judge, He will banish sin for a thousand years and establish His kingdom (Rev. 20:1–6). Believers will reign with Him and share His glory and authority. This kingdom, prophesied in the Old Testament, is called “the Millennium” by prophetic teachers. The word comes from the Latin: mille—thousand, annum—year.

But even after the Millennium, there will be one final rebellion against God (Rev. 20:7–10) which Jesus Christ will put down by His power. The lost will then be raised, judged, and cast into the lake of fire. Then death itself shall be cast into hell, and the last enemy shall be destroyed. Jesus Christ will have put all things under His feet! He will then turn the kingdom over to the Father and then the eternal state—the new heavens and new earth—shall be ushered in (Rev. 21–22).

Good and godly students of the Word have not always agreed on the details of God’s prophetic program, but the major truths seem to be clear. Jesus Christ reigns in heaven today, and all authority is “under His feet” (Ps. 110; Eph. 1:15–23). Satan and man are still able to exercise choice, but God is sovereignly in control. Jesus Christ is enthroned in heaven today (Ps. 2). The resurrection of the saved has not yet taken place, nor the resurrection of the lost (2 Tim. 2:17–18).

When will Jesus Christ return for His church? Nobody knows; but when it occurs, it will be “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). It behooves us to be ready (1 John 2:28–3:3).

Why Are the Dead Raised? (1 Cor. 15:29–34, 49–58)

The resurrection of the human body is a future event that has compelling implications for our personal lives. If the resurrection is not true, then we can forget about the future and live as we please! But the resurrection is true! Jesus is coming again! Even if we die before He comes, we shall be raised at His coming and stand before Him in a glorified body.

Paul cited four areas of Christian experience that are touched by the fact of the resurrection.

Evangelism (v. 29). What does it mean to be “baptized for the dead”? Some take this to mean “proxy baptism,” where a believer is baptized on behalf of a dead relative; but we find no such teaching in the New Testament. In the second century, there were some heretical groups that practiced “vicarious baptism,” but the church at large has never accepted the practice. To begin with, salvation is a personal matter that each must decide for himself; and, second, nobody needs to be baptized to be saved.

The phrase probably means “baptized to take the place of those who have died.” In other words, if there is no resurrection, why bother to witness and win others to Christ? Why reach sinners who are then baptized and take the place of those who have died? If the Christian life is only a “dead-end street,” get off of it!

Each responsible person on earth will share in either the resurrection of life and go to heaven, or the resurrection of judgment and go to hell (John 5:28–29). We weep for believers who have died, but we ought also to weep for unbelievers who still have opportunity to be saved! The reality of the resurrection is a motivation for evangelism.

Suffering (vv. 30–32). I die daily does not refer to “dying to self,” as in Romans 6, but to the physical dangers Paul faced as a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 4:8–5:10; 11:23–28). He was in constant jeopardy from his enemies and on more than one occasion had been close to death. Why endure suffering and danger if death ends it all? “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (Isa. 22:13).

What we do in the body in this life comes up for review at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). God deals with the whole person, not just with the “soul.” The body shares in salvation (Rom. 8:18–23). The suffering endured in the body will result in glory at the resurrection (2 Cor. 4:7–18). If there is no future for the body, then why suffer and die for the cause of Christ?

Separation from sin (vv. 33–34). If there is no resurrection, then what we do with our bodies will have no bearing on our future. Immorality was a way of life in Corinth, and some of the believers rejected the resurrection in order to rationalize their sin. “Evil company corrupts good morals” is a quotation from the Greek poet Menander, a saying no doubt familiar to Paul’s readers. The believer’s body is the temple of God and must be kept separated from the sins of the world (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1). To fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:6–17) is only to corrupt God’s temple.

It was time for the Corinthians to wake up and clean up (see 1 Thes. 5:4–11). The believer who is compromising with sin has no witness to the lost around him, those who “have not the knowledge of God.” What a shameful thing to be selfishly living in sin while multitudes die without Christ!

Death (vv. 49–57). The heavenly kingdom is not made for the kind of bodies we now have, bodies of flesh and blood. So when Jesus returns, the bodies of living believers will instantly be transformed to be like His body (1 John 3:1–3), and the dead believers shall be raised with new glorified bodies. Our new bodies will not be subject to decay or death.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychiatry, wrote: “And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be.” Christians have victory in death and over death! Why? Because of the victory of Jesus Christ in His own resurrection. Jesus said, “Because I live, ye shall also” (John 14:19).

Sin, death, and the Law go together. The Law reveals sin, and the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus bore our sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), and also bore the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13). It is through Him that we have this victory, and we share the victory today. The literal translation of 1 Corinthians 15:57 is, “But thanks be to God who keeps on giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We experience “the power of His resurrection” in our lives as we yield to Him (Phil. 3:10).

First Corinthians 15:58 is Paul’s hymn of praise to the Lord as well as his closing admonition to the church. Because of the assurance of Christ’s victory over death, we know that nothing we do for Him will ever be wasted or lost. We can be steadfast in our service, unmovable in suffering, abounding in ministry to others, because we know our labor is not in vain. First Corinthians 15:58 is the answer to Ecclesiastes, where thirty-eight times Solomon used the sad word vanity. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” wept Solomon; but Paul sang a song of victory!

How Are the Dead Raised? (1 Cor. 15:35–48)

Being philosophers, the Greeks reasoned that the resurrection of the human body was an impossibility. After all, when the body turned to dust, it became soil from which other bodies derived nourishment. In short, the food that we eat is a part of the elements of the bodies of generations long gone. When the body of the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, was disinterred, it was discovered that the roots of a nearby apple tree had grown through the coffin. To some degree, the people who ate the apples partook of his body. At the resurrection, then, who will claim the various elements?

Paul’s reply to this kind of reasoning was very blunt: “You fool!” Then he made the important point that resurrection is not reconstruction. Nowhere does the Bible teach that, at the resurrection, God will “put together the pieces” and return to us our former bodies. There is continuity (it is our body), but there is not identity (it is not the same body).

Paul knew that such miracles cannot be explained, so he used three analogies to make the doctrine clear.

Seeds (vv. 35–38, 42–48). When you sow seed, you do not expect that same seed to come up at the harvest. The seed dies, but from that death there comes life. (See John 12:23–28 for our Lord’s use of this same analogy.) You may sow a few grains of wheat, but you will have many grains when the plant matures. Are they the same grains that were planted? No, but there is still continuity. You do not sow wheat and harvest barley.

Furthermore, what comes up at the harvest is usually more beautiful than what was planted. This is especially true of tulips. Few things are as ugly as a tulip bulb, yet it produces a beautiful flower. If at the resurrection, all God did was to put us back together again, there would be no improvement. Furthermore, flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom. The only way we can enjoy the glory of heaven is to have a body suited to that environment.

Paul discussed the details of this marvelous change in 1 Corinthians 15:42–48. The body is sown (in burial) in corruption, because it is going to decay; but it is raised with such a nature that it cannot decay. There is no decay or death in heaven. It is buried in humility (in spite of the cosmetic skill of the mortician); but it is raised in glory. In burial, the body is weak; but in resurrection, the body has power. We shall be like Jesus Christ!

Today, we have a “natural body,” that is, a body suited to an earthly environment. We received this body from our first parent, Adam: he was made of dust, and so are we (Gen. 2:7). But the resurrection body is suited to a spiritual environment. In His resurrection body, Jesus was able to move quickly from place to place, and even walk through locked doors; yet He was also able to eat food, and His disciples were able to touch Him and feel Him (Luke 24:33–43; John 20:19–29).

The point Paul was making was simply this: The resurrection body completes the work of redemption and gives to us the image of the Saviour. We are made in the image of God as far as personality is concerned, but in the image of Adam as far as the body is concerned. One day we shall bear the image of the Saviour when we share in His glory.

First Corinthians 15:46 states an important biblical principle: first the “natural” (earthly), and then the “spiritual” (heavenly). The first birth gives us that which is natural, but the second birth gives us that which is spiritual. God rejects the first birth, the natural, and says, “You must be born again!” He rejected Cain and chose Abel. He rejected Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, and chose Isaac, the second-born. He rejected Esau and chose Jacob. If we depend on our first birth, we shall be condemned forever; but if we experience the new birth, we shall be blessed forever.

Flesh (v. 39). Paul anticipated here the discovery of science that the cell structure of different kinds of animals is different; and therefore, you cannot breed various species indiscriminately. The human body has a nature of one kind, while animals, birds, and fish have their own particular kind of flesh. The conclusion is this: If God is able to make different kinds of bodies for men, animals, birds, and fish, why can He not make a different kind of body for us at the resurrection? (Pet lovers take note: Paul did not teach here that animals will be resurrected. He only used them as an example.)

Heavenly bodies (vv. 40–41). Not only are there earthly bodies, but there are also heavenly bodies; and they differ from one another. In fact, the heavenly bodies differ from each other in glory as far as the human eye is concerned. Paul is suggesting here that believer may differ from believer in glory, even though all Christians will have glorified bodies. Every cup in heaven will be filled, but some cups will be bigger than others, because of the faithfulness and sacrifice of those saints when they were on earth.

These illustrations may not answer every question that we have about the resurrection body, but they do give us the assurances that we need. God will give to us a glorified body suited to the new life in heaven. It will be as unlike our present body in quality as the glory of the sun is unlike a mushroom in the cellar. We will use this new body to serve and glorify God for all eternity.

We must remember that this discussion was not written by Paul merely to satisfy the curiosity of believers. He had some practical points to get across, and he made them very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:29–34. If we really believe in the resurrection of the body, then we will use our bodies today to the glory of God (1 Cor. 6:9–14).

Finally, the lost will be given bodies suited to their environment in hell. They will suffer forever in darkness and pain (Matt. 25:41; 2 Thes. 1:7–10; Rev. 20:11–15). It behooves us who are saved to seek to rescue them from judgment! “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

If you have never trusted the Saviour, do so now—before it is too late![6]

[1] In this case, the denial of the resurrection of the dead was verbalized (“how do some among you say … ?”).  At Corinth, the denial of the resurrection of the dead was a doctrine consciously held and openly professed to others.  There are times when the gospel is unconsciously denied.  For example, when Peter ceased to eat with the Gentile saints and moved to the Jewish table, he was unconsciously denying the gospel, and for this he was strongly rebuked (Galatians 2:11-21).  This denial of the resurrection of the dead at Corinth was not unconscious, but deliberate.

[2] Essentially the same error is found in 2 Timothy 2.  The context in 2 Timothy is the suffering and hardship God calls us to endure in this present age in order to enter into the eternal blessings of the next (see verses 3, 10-12).  Those who insisted that the resurrection had already come were those who maintained that Christians should be presently experiencing all of the pleasures and blessings of eternity and should not be suffering.

[3] All three tenses of our salvation are referred to in 1 Peter 1:3-9.

[4] Actually the verb translated “saved” in verse 2 is in the present tense, and thus the New Revised Standard Version renders it, “you are being saved.”

[5] Paul’s belief in the resurrection of the dead is evident in 1 Corinthians 5:5, where he indicates that church discipline may result in the physical death of the sinning saint, and yet this one thus judged will ultimately be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.  This can only happen if the dead are raised.

[6] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 617–621.

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Posted by on April 17, 2023 in Resurrection


Reactions to the Resurrection – Acts 17:22–34

In about the year A.D. 52, a preacher of a new and little-known religion became the center of a great controversy in the ancient Greek city of Athens. The man had arrived in Athens from Berea, where his presence had caused such an uproar that he had been forced to flee for his life.

No sooner had he entered Athens than he again began to stir up controversy. In the local Jewish synagogue, he plunged into lively religious discussion. Also, he began a series of daily debates with those in the Athenian agora, or “market place.”

It was not long before his activities attracted the notice of the intellectual community. Stoic and Epicurean philosophers sought him out to learn what he had to say. That they expected nothing of real significance to come from their encounter with him was evident from their attitude to- ward him: “What would this idle babbler wish to say? (Acts 17:18b).

They led him away to Mars’ Hill, the Athenian courtroom, located on a steep, rocky hillside above the city. The courtroom itself was an open air platform on the rock, complete with benches carved in the solid stone. It was reached by a long flight of steps from the marketplace below.

Standing in the midst of a hostile audience with the evidence of Greek learning and religion all around him, the stranger began to speak. His words still challenge our thinking after 20 centuries.

Paul’s sermon in Athens centered on the resurrection of Christ from the dead. He emphasized the resurrection as the focal point of the Christian faith. He realized that nothing about Christianity could be true if the resurrection were not true.

The very essence of the gospel—the “good news”—is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1– 4). In Athens, as in every other place, Paul justified Christianity on the grounds of its risen Lord.

As might be expected, those who heard Paul’s sermon reacted to the doctrine of the resurrection in different ways. That day in Athens, three attitudes toward the resurrection were exhibited.

People today still respond to the preaching of the resurrection in the same ways that the people of Athens did. As we consider their reactions, let us ask ourselves, “How have I responded to the good news of a risen Savior?”


“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer (Acts 17:32a). They were unconvinced; they laughed about it.

There are always people who are ready to dismiss the “good news” of the resurrection as a preposterous impossibility. One recent claim was made by a researcher named Suzanne Marie Olsson. In 2002, she announced that she had found the final resting place of the body of Jesus in the Muslim shrine of Rozabal in India. She wanted to exhume the body and take DNA to compare with samples from a body in Pakistan which was purported to be the body of Mary, Jesus’ mother.

Some years ago, a movie called The Passover Plot was released. It was based on a book with the same title by Hugh J. Schonfield. According to this book, Jesus was a clever political schemer who used cheap tricks to convince people He was a miracle-worker and manipulated His own crucifixion for political effect.

According to the text, which is a variation of the “swoon theory,” Jesus plotted to have Himself dosed with a drug which slowed down His respiration and heartbeat and made it appear that He had died. His plan was thwarted, the book claims, when a Roman soldier thrust a spear into His side.

The theory presented by Schonfield is that Jesus revived briefly in the cool of the tomb and managed to recruit an understudy to make His post-resurrection appearances before succumbing to His wound and being buried in another tomb.

The fundamental implausibility of these notions makes them harder to believe than the Bible’s account of the resurrection. Why would the body of Jesus have been stolen and taken to India? How could this have happened under the watchful eyes of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers without someone’s noticing?

What about the idea that Jesus survived His ordeal on the cross? Are we to accept that experienced Roman executioners could not distinguish a dead body from a live one and that no one realized a mistake had been made until a “scholar” figured it out 20 centuries later?

According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, blood and water flowed from the spear wound in Jesus’ side. Forensic pathologists say this likely indicates that the spear had pierced the heart (see John 19:34).

Jesus died on the cross and then appeared, alive again, to many eyewitnesses. How could an imposter have fooled these witnesses—especially Thomas, who apparently examined the nail prints and the wound in Christ’s side?

Such theories must be seen for what they are: the unfounded sneers of those who will go to desperate lengths to keep from having a risen Lord rule over them.

People do not scoff at the resurrection because of a lack of evidence, but because of an unwillingness to consider the evidence. Famed scholar Brooke Foss Westcott said, “. . . there is no single historic incident better or more variously supported than the Resurrection of Christ.

Those who seek to dismiss the resurrection as a ridiculous fairy tale only succeed in making themselves ridiculous in the process.


While some mocked, others said, We shall hear you again concerning this (Acts 17:32b). They were not antagonistic toward the gospel message, but they were indifferent. They were polite, but not sincerely interested.

Indifference is far more common than mockery. Most people are not so much hostile to Christianity as they are unconcerned about it. Whether or not Christ was raised from the dead is not nearly so important to them as living in a nice house, having a good  job,  or  sending  their  children  to  good schools.

Tragically, some people today who claim to be Christians fall into this category of the “indifferent.” They may still go to church on special religious holidays, but the resurrection of Christ makes no real difference in their everyday lives. They are living as though Jesus remained dead. They do not even really want a risen Lord.

They would like to forget about the resurrection so they can live on their own terms, enjoying life and making themselves comfortable. They want to do as they please, with no concern for serving others or a living God.

If we took the resurrection as seriously as the early Christians did, it would change everything. It would have a profound effect on the way we live every day. For all practical purposes, many choose to live as though Jesus were still dead. The resurrection has no impact on their lives. These “Christians” live side by side with unbelievers, and no one can really see any difference between the two groups.

SOME WERE SURPRISED BY IT: I AM AMAZED. First-century disciples were not looking for a resurrection. They were disappointed when Jesus died; but with human nature being what it is, some were probably a little bit relieved too.

Following  Christ  had  been  an  exciting,  exhilarating experience—but it had also been demanding. Perhaps they were ready to get back to their usual work. They wanted Jesus to be a beautiful memory, not a living reality.

When the women went to the tomb on the first day of the week, they were not planning to greet a risen Savior, but to  but perfume on a corpse. When they found the tomb empty, they were amazed, astonished, and afraid. (See Mark 16:5, 8.)

When Paul received the shocking revelation that Jesus had been raised, he saw that his life was going in the wrong direction. When he became convinced of the resurrection, his life was completely changed. He gave up family, friends, home, job, and security; he put his life in constant peril in order to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Acts 15:26 (ESV) men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:24–29 (ESV)  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

He saw himself as a “debtor (Romans 1:14). He felt obligated to tell the world about the saving grace of Jesus. What could compel a man to brave the fury of an enraged mob in Ephesus; to endure the ridicule of sneering philosophers in Athens; to suffer stoning in Lystra, beating in Philippi, imprisonment in Jerusalem, and shipwreck in the Mediterranean? He was amazed by the transcending reality of the resurrection.

Of the fourteen witnesses of the resurrection who can be identified by name from 1 Corinthians 15:5–8, thirteen of them died violently for the sake of the “good news.” The Greek word for “witness” is the source of the word “martyr” (see Acts 2:32). What does the resurrection mean to us? Unless we are amazed and convicted so that it makes a difference in our daily lives, it really means nothing at all.

SOME SURRENDERED TO IT: I WILL ACT“But  some  men  joined  him  and  believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and otherwas one of the twelve members of the great court of Athens.”  Of  the  woman  named  “Damaris,” nothing more is known. Thanks be to God that there are always some who will consider the evidence honestly and accept the reality of the resurrection.

What does it mean to believe and accept the resurrection? We became participants (in a symbolical way) in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the act of baptism.

Romans 6:3 (ESV) Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Paul referred in Romans 6:17 to a “form [tupos] of teaching. This word for “form” means a mold, a die, or a stamp—a pattern which must be imitated or obeyed. The gospel is  summed  up in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We submit to that pattern when we die to sin in baptism and are raised to “walk in newness of life.

Paul  wrote that, “having been buried with Him in  baptism,” we “were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).

Baptism is faith’s response to the resurrection. It is the re-creation of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in the life of the believer.

It is a response of faith in the God who raised Christ and who invites and empowers those who are dead in sin to turn to Him and receive life.

Baptism is followed by a new life lived in submission to the risen Lord Jesus. The victory of Christ over death assures those who will respond to it that they can be victorious over sin.

CONCLUSION In reacting to the resurrection, some laugh about it, some brush it aside, and some take it in with awe, dedicating their lives to the risen Lord.

Which reaction is yours? Your reaction to the resurrection will determine your eternal destiny. Can you afford to scoff? Do you dare to look the other way?

Why not respond to the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead by obeying “from the heart that form of doctrine presented in the New Testament? with them” (Acts 17:34).

A few thoughtful Athenians weighed the evidence and believed what Paul preached about the resurrection.

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Posted by on April 13, 2023 in Resurrection


Getting Involved With the Resurrection – Philippians 3:7–11

At dawn, on a distant Sunday morning, a band of grieving women, on their way to visit the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, came upon an incredible sight. They found the stone rolled away from  the  entrance  of  a  deserted  tomb  (Luke 24:1–3). Suddenly, they were confronted by two men in “dazzling clothing” who spoke these words: “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen” (24:4–6a).

“He is not here.” These words sum up the hope and glory of the Christian faith 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Christianity centers on a blood-stained cross and an empty tomb. The resurrection lies at the very heart of all that we are, believe, and do as followers of Christ.

Unfortunately, some people have found the doctrine of the resurrection to be more of an embarrassment than a cause of celebration. The apostle Paul found this to be true in His own day. His proclamation of the resurrection was met with sneers (Acts 17:32), with jeers (Acts 26:24), and with angry fears (Acts 23:9). The same occurs today. We must take the resurrection seriously if we believe in God and His Word.

According to 1 Corinthians 15:16, 17, if Christ was not raised, then preaching is worthless, faith is vain, we are still in our sins, and we are of all men most to be pitied.

We must believe in the resurrection as a fact of history, and we are also to participate in it (see Philippians 3:7–11). Our belief should make a difference in our lives. We must demonstrate our faith in the resurrection by the way we live.

The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 (ESV)  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

The word translated “attain,” katanta¿w (katantao¯ ), means “to reach a condition or goal, . . .arrive at.” To attain to the resurrection” is to become a partaker of it, that is, to tie it in with our own lives. Paul was not speaking just of the resurrection in the hereafter. He was also talking about the total identification of the believer with Christ’s resurrection in this present life.

How do we become participants in the resurrection? How do we get involved with it here and now? The Scriptures suggest a number of ways.

THROUGH THE LORD’S DAY ASSEMBLY. Jesus was raised on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9). On that first Sunday of His resurrection appearances, Jesus met with the assembled disciples (Luke 24:33, 36).

From that time until this present moment, Christians have come together on the first day of every week to celebrate the resurrection and worship the risen Lord (see Acts 20:7). Because the Lord was raised on Sunday, early Christians spoke of it as “the Lord’s Day.”

Ignatius (A.D. 20–117) wrote a letter in which he explained why Christians regularly assembled on  Sunday for worship:  . . . therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death. (Ignatius Magnesians 9).

The resurrection of Christ is to be commemorated weekly in the assembly of disciples as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. In the early church, believers came together each first day of the week to celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave.

What Jesus did was so colossal, so stunning, and so unprecedented that every first day of the week was eternally touched with its glory! Coming together every Sunday is one way we participate in and identify with the resurrection.

When we assemble, the risen Lord is among us (see Matthew 18:20). In partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we commune with a risen, reigning Lord.

Weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper makes the resurrection real in our own lives. That is why faithful attendance at the Lord’s Day assembly is so important: It ties us to the resurrection and unleashes the power of the resurrection in our lives.

THROUGH BAPTISM. When we are baptized, we participate in the resurrection (Romans 6:3 (ESV) Do you not know that all of us who have been  baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Baptism is an act by which we identify with Christ and His return from the dead. We are “united” with Him in baptism, Paul said in Romans 6:5. In baptism, we are so closely identified with Christ that what happened to Him happens to us. Before baptism, we are dead in our transgressions; but in the act of baptism, we die to sin and are buried with Christ to be raised to live a new life (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12, 13).

Tragically, many people have missed this great truth about baptism. They have failed to see that it is in the act of baptism that we get involved with the resurrection and actually become resurrected people.

In Romans 4:25 we are told that Christ was raised so we could be justified from our sins. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:17 remind us that without the resurrection there could be no forgiveness or justification of sins. It is in baptism, then, that the blessings made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ become ours.

Baptism is not optional for the one who wants to receive these blessings. It is the time and the place that we identify ourselves with the resurrection of Christ. In baptism we re-create the “form” of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in our own lives (Romans 6:17). Before being baptized, we were dead; now we have newness of life because we got involved with the resurrection when we obeyed Christ in baptism.

THROUGH CHANGED LIVES. We must demonstrate our involvement with the resurrection by our lives. It is not enough just to believe that a man named “Jesus” was raised from the dead one Sunday morning twenty centuries ago.

The resurrection must make a practical difference in our lives. It is tragic that many who profess to follow Christ are living as if He were still dead. Their basic attitudes, values, and lifestyles are not really different in any substantial way from those of their unbelieving neighbors.

Colossians  3:1– 4  says  that  those  who  are “raised up with Christ” must “keep seeking the things above.” When we get involved with the resurrection, we must live changed lives. We have a new direction: to seek those things that are above (3:1).

Christians are not raised up from baptism to continue being the same persons as before. We have a new nature, a new purpose, and a new destination. We also have a new perspective. We are told, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (3:2).

We must no longer live as though this life were all that matters. Instead, we must learn to see this world against the background of eternity. If we really begin to live the resurrection, it will give us a new standard of values, a new way of judging what is happening, a new sense of proportion. If we really begin to live the resurrection, we will set giving above getting, serving above ruling, and forgiving above avenging. We will learn to look at life as it appears to God, not as it appears to those around us.

When we begin to live the resurrection, we have a new relationship with God. “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). The risen Christ takes up His abode in each Christian (see Galatians 2:20). We have a new attitude toward death because “Christ . . . is our life” (Colossians 3:4a). The fact that Christ was raised from the dead means we will be raised also, and we “will be revealed with Him in glory” (3:4b).

We live and die in the hope of the resurrection, when Christ, “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21; NIV). We do not have to fear death or grieve over it as do those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). That explains why early Christians could face  fire, sword,  persecution,  and  death  with songs in their hearts. They lived and died in the hope of the resurrection.

Legends are told of the famous Twelfth Legion of the Roman army, called the “thundering legion.” This event took place during the bitter winter of A.D. 320 at Sebaste, in Armenia.

An edict was read in the camp, proclaiming that every soldier must hail Caesar as lord and burn incense in his honor. Forty of these soldiers were Christians; and they refused to sacrifice, saying that Christ alone is Lord and that they would not value their physical bodies above their immortal souls.

In punishment, they were beaten, their sides were rent with iron hooks, and then they  were  imprisoned. After  some  days,  still resolute, they were sentenced to be stripped of their uniforms and marched out into the bitterly  cold night to die on a frozen pond. As they marched they prayed, “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat. Grant that we may be forth crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.”

The guards continued trying to persuade the men to sacrifice and provided a warm bath for any who would submit. Only one was overcome by this temptation and left; but a sentinel who was shaken by the devotion of these men threw off his clothes and joined the thirty-nine, making their number forty again.

He was drawn by the power of the hope of the resurrection he had seen in the lives of these men whose involvement in the resurrection had changed their attitude toward death!

The resurrection is real. We are called to participate in that victory—not only in the life to come, but in this life as well. Do you believe in the reality of the resurrection? Are you involved with it in your daily life? If you have not been resurrected with Christ, decide now to be buried with Him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

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Posted by on April 10, 2023 in Resurrection


The Radical Resurrection – Acts 4

Of Easter Sunday, it has been said that it is the only time of the year “when anyone can go to church without being accused of being religious!”

We turn to a section in the book of Acts, where we can trace the tremendous explosion of radical Christianity which burst out upon a decadent and weary world in the First Century.

We note the power and the excitement which prevailed because of this message, and discover that the same thing can occur today whenever authentic Christianity is proclaimed.

In Acts 3, Peter and John go up to the temple to pray. There they found a cripple, a man who had been lame from his birth, who asked them for some money. But Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give unto you: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk, {Acts 3:6}.

Immediately strength came to this man’s ankles, and he began to leap and to jump and to shout. All this drew a crowd, and Peter seized the occasion and began to preach to them in the name of Jesus, saying that it was by the power of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, that this man was made whole.

He gave a great message, which had tremendous effect. But in the midst of it, an interruption occurred. We pick up that story now as it is given to us by Luke, the author of the book of Acts, in the 4th chapter:

Acts 4:1–4 (ESV) And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

There is something strangely familiar to us about that, is there not? It sounds most contemporary. Here were the apostles, speaking to the people from the steps of the temple, and out in the crowd you can almost (using today’s vision) see banners and signs proclaiming: POWER TO THE PEOPLE! DOWN WITH THE ESTABLISHMENT!

Here also was the presence of the police, and the representatives of the establishment. The captain of the temple guard was there, and the Sadducees, who were the ruling class in Jerusalem. And there was a tremendous popular response to the message of Peter on that day.

We are told that five thousand men believed. In the midst of all this there was this sudden display of annoyed authority, of authoritative, iron-fisted power, when the temple guard suddenly elbowed their way through the crowd and, surrounding Peter and John, arrested them, dragged them off, and put them in jail until the morrow.

But the most remarkable thing about this occasion was the message. The message was the proclamation that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

They did not proclaim the overthrow of the Roman government. Such a reaction of authority might be expected if that were their message. But it was not. They were not advocating the violent overthrow of the establishment.

Nor were they protesting against some of the social evils of the day.

There is not a word of protest raised against the widespread practice of slavery throughout the empire. Half of the Roman empire at this time were slaves — every other person was a slave. But nothing is said about that.

There is nothing said about the burdens of excessive taxation which the Romans had placed upon this people. There is no such protest.

The message which was so threatening that the authorities regarded it as too radical to tolerate was nothing more than the proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. For this, Peter and John were thrown into jail before they could even finish the message.

And yet, because of this message, five thousand men in that great crowd in Jerusalem became believers in Jesus Christ.

Now, let me ask you: Do you think this could happen today? Would the authorities oppose a message like this today? Well, the clear answer of current history is: Yes, they would, and they do.

Two-thirds of believers around the world live under governments more repressive than the Roman Empire of the first century.

Believers everywhere face misunderstanding, ridicule, and even harassment by unbelieving friends, employers, teachers, and family members.

In some countries, converting to Christianity is punishable by death. No one is exempt from catastrophe, pain, illness, and death—trials that, like persecution, make us lean heavily on God.

First, of course, they proclaimed the great and exciting fact that Jesus Christ had himself risen from the dead — only seven weeks before this event took place and that they were witnesses to this fact. And not only Peter and John, but a band of a 120 disciples and then more than 500 could bear sterling witness to the fact that they had seen the risen Lord — not once, but many times.

And so powerful was that testimony, so convicting was that witness, that not one voice in all this vast crowd is raised to protest or challenge it. Instead, 5,000 are convinced of the truth of it, as 3,000 had been just a few days before, on the day of Pentecost.

They understand that this is true, that this dramatic event had occurred, that Jesus Christ, the man of Galilee, the prophet from Nazareth, had solved man’s most difficult problem — the problem of death.

Once in all history it had taken place. It had never occurred before; it has never occurred since. Oh, it is true that some have been brought back from the dead before by the power of God — a handful or so in history. But they were only returned to the same life they had before, and we would believe that they died again.

But here is One who comes back to a different level of life, who is resurrected, not merely resuscitated. He never dies again, and never will. This is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.

Here is a whole new level of life, a whole new realm of possibility for humanity. This dramatic breakthrough, they declared, had occurred in their own city just a few weeks earlier.

Second, they also preached the fact that the promise of the resurrection had been extended by Jesus to others as well, that he himself had said, I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” {John 11:25}.

He said, “Because I live, you shall live also,” {John 14:19}. And out of that open tomb has arisen a blazingly radiant, flaming hope which has gripped and held the hearts of thousands and millions since, through the centuries, who have had to face the fact and the experience of death.

Yet if that were all these apostles had to say, I do not think they would have created quite the stir they did. Because Judaism had a hope beyond death, as well.

This crowd was made up mostly of Jews, and they already knew from the Old Testament Scriptures that there was a hope beyond death. Pagan Romans and others were not aware of this, but the Jews knew.

But there was a third element that Peter and John proclaimed on this day which made all the difference in the world. It is the most dramatic element of all about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus.

They undoubtedly explained to these people that the death of the body, some day, is strangely linked, in a way that we do not fully comprehend, with the death which is at work in our inner lives, right now.

That is, death is all one thing, whether it takes place and affects the physical body some day, or whether it is taking place within the spirit of man today.

It is all of a piece. And that inner death is what we experience in a thousand ways — sometimes as loneliness, sometimes as bitterness, sometimes as emptiness and despair, as depression of spirit.

Sometimes it is a boredom, sometimes it is hate, sometimes it is malice and resentment and violence. Whatever it may be, it is not what God intended for man.

It is an enemy which has seized man and lives with him, sleeps with him, and eats with him, and haunts him in everything he does. The glorious proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus we have peace instead of restlessness, acceptance rather than guilt, love in place of lust or hate, power to replace weakness, joy for mourning, beauty for ashes, hope for despair, courage in place of cowardice, and cleansing from all dirt and filth of spirit.

Now, would you not think that the authorities would be pleased with such a development? Would you not think that the rulers of the city would be happy that men and women were finding the answer to their life-long search? Why are they so irritated? Why are they annoyed and threatened by this event?

Well, it is clear that they sense something about it is a threat to them.

Acts 4:5–12 (ESV) On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

A tremendous declaration! You can see how seriously the authorities took all this by Luke’s careful list of those who were present. There was Annas, who was the honorary high priest, the father of Caiaphas. Then there was Caiaphas, who was the official high priest. And with them were gathered two of his brothers, John and Alexander — all of one family.

This confirms what we know from secular history — that this family of the high priest intermarried with one another and constituted a ruling class in Jerusalem, controlling the vast wealth of the temple and certain profitable monopolies connected with the sacrifices.

So here was the class that sat in power and authority in the city, who had great vested interests politically and economically throughout this city. And they are disturbed. They sense a threat to their power.

They are so disturbed, in fact, that without realizing what they are doing, they give Peter an open door for testimony such as he never had before. They ask him, “Tell us, by what power or what name have you done this thing?

This is just what Peter is waiting for. He is delighted to tell them. And look how bold he is. What a contrast with that cringing disciple who was afraid of a little maid in the high priest’s courtyard a few weeks earlier!

Now there is a difference. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. The life of Jesus is being imparted to him by that Holy Spirit.

This is what the Holy Spirit does. When he comes into a human heart, his business is to take a risen Lord’s life and give it to you, to empower you, to encourage you, to strengthen you, to do whatever you need have done to make you adequate to cope with life. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

So Peter, filled with the Spirit, is bold — bold as a lion. Evidently the formerly lame man was right there with them, as well. In fact, later on the account says so. He was “Exhibit A” of the power and authority of the name of Jesus Christ.

Then to drive the point home Peter quotes from Psalm 118: “This is the stone which was rejected by your builders, but which has become the head of the corner, {cf, Psa 118:22}. This is the prediction of the resurrection in that amazing Psalm. It is where we get the verse we often quote: This  is  the  day  which  the  Lord  has  made; let  us  rejoice  and  be  glad  in  it.  {Psa  118:24  RSV}

What day? Why, the day of Christ’s resurrection, when God took that Stone which had been rejected by the builders, and made him the Head of the corner.

God had designed that Jesus of Nazareth would be the cornerstone of his government on earth, the rock upon which all human government should rest, and from which it would take its authority.

But the builders of various nations have rejected the Cornerstone. This is why no government can stand very long, why God’s program through history has been one of overturning, overturning, overturning, as Ezekiel says, until he shall come whose right it is to reign.

And  there  is  salvation  in  no  one  else,  for  there  is  no  other  name  under  heaven  given among  men  by  which  we  must  be  saved.  {Acts  4:12  RSV}

This is a startling declaration! It says that there is no other who can fulfill the place of being the cornerstone of authority in the world. No other name! None of the religious leaders, none of the political leaders of all time could possibly do this work.

There is only One adequately equipped, qualified to be the foundation of human government, the basis of human authority. You take all the religious names of history — Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, Mahatma Gandhi, Ramakrishna, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy — whoever and whatever.

The most that can be said of these men and women is that they are moral teachers. The best we can say of them is that they taught what is right. Many of them did. They could tell us what was right; but they could not enable us to do it.

That is the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and any other name that can be named in this world. That is why we can never consent to considering any other name to be equal with that of Jesus of Nazareth.

No other has solved the problem of death. No other has broken through this ghastly terror that hangs over the human race — only Jesus of Nazareth. God has made him the head of the corner, and there is no other name by which we can be saved.

You see, we do not need someone to tell us what to do; we know what to do. Most of us know better than we are doing!

Mark Twain said, “I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do. I’m not doing half of what I know to do, now.”

This is exactly the truth. What we need is One who will change us, give us a new motivation, make us want to do what we ought to do, and make us over, give us a new heart, a new outlook, a new ability, a new capacity, a new life. This is what Jesus of Nazareth does again and again.

And this, my friends, is political heresy. Whenever this takes place it threatens all oppression and tyranny and totalitarianism, wherever it may be established.

The life of Jesus Christ is never against government; but it is against oppressive government. It is the foundation of Christian liberties, everywhere. There has never been a force more powerful and more vital to assure the liberation of men and women from oppression than this dramatic power of the resurrection. This is why it is hated by the totalitarian forces of the day, wherever they may be.

But the glorious thing is: This is what God intends. This is what he is going to build his kingdom on. Christ is the head of the corner. God, through the course of history, behind the scenes, as it were, of all the tumultuous events of our own day, all the tyranny and heartbreak and tears and anguish and sorrow that is going on all around us in the world, behind that facade,

God is working out his purposes. He is building a new humanity. And everywhere he is inviting men and women to become a part of it, by sharing in the risen life of Jesus Christ, and experiencing now the glory of a life of peace and joy and rest and strength and adequacy and power and meaning and fullness — now. This is what the resurrection means.

Now, you will never know that kind of power, and that kind of joy and love and peace, until you come to grips with Jesus Christ personally, yourself, until there comes a time when you ask Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, to be part of your faith response that leads to being immersed in water in order to have sins forgiven…and be Lord of your life.

When you do that, earnestly and sincerely, he comes in, and you begin a new life in Jesus Christ. There is no other name — there is no one else — no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.

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Posted by on April 6, 2023 in Resurrection

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