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1 Corinthians 15 .
With chapter 15 we come to the third main division of the Epistle. In the first division we have the Cross of Christ excluding the wisdom of the world, the licence of the flesh and the worship of demons (1 Cor. 1 - 10). In the second division we have the free action of the Holy Spirit, maintaining order in the assembly of God (1 Cor. 11 - 14). The third division brings before us the resurrection of Christ, triumphing over death and the grave, and opening the way to the perfect state when God will be all in all.
It is evident that in the assembly at Corinth there was not only the allowance of moral laxity and assembly disorder, but also the existence of doctrinal error of a vital character, for some among them were saying, “There is no resurrection of the dead” (verse 12). This error was doubtless the outcome of their low moral condition. The progress of evil, as seen in this assembly, is solemn and instructive. First, there were evil practices; secondly, there was assembly disorder; thirdly, there was false doctrine. One evil leads to the other; moral laxity opens the door to the flesh, and denies the Cross; assembly disorder leads to clerisy and human order, and ignores the Spirit; doctrinal error opens the way for the enemy to undermine the foundations of our faith, and attacks the Person of Christ.
It is important to remark that it is not said of those who were propagating this error that they denied the immortality of the soul, but that they opposed the truth that the body would be raised again. Resurrection teaches that what is dead is raised. It must therefore apply to the body, for it is the body that dies, not the soul. We thus read, “Many bodies of the saints which slept arose” ( Mat_27:52 ). Moreover, it is possible that those who asserted this error had no intention of compromising the gospel, or even denying that Christ was risen. This, however, was the terrible result, and this was the aim of Satan.
To meet this snare of the devil the apostle shows how this error affects the gospel (verses 1-11), how it attacks the Person of Christ and those who believe in Him (verses 12-19), and then he unfolds to us some of the positive blessings that follow from the resurrection of Christ (verses 20-58).
(Vv. 1, 2). As this denial of resurrection undermines the gospel, the apostle first reminds these believers of the gospel which he had preached, which they had received, wherein they had their standing in blessing before God, and by which they were saved. But he adds the words, “unless ye have believed in vain”, for if there is no resurrection they had evidently believed in a myth. However, the apostle shows in a parenthetical remark that the reality of their faith would be proved by holding fast the word that he had announced to them in the glad tidings.
(Vv. 3, 4). Immediately he sums up the glad tidings under three heads. First, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. This brings before us the great propitiatory work of Christ for all the world, foretold in all the Scriptures, for the law sets it forth in figure, the Psalms present it experimentally, and the prophets announce it prophetically. Secondly, Christ was buried, the complete evidence of His death and the solemn fact that all His links with man after the flesh are severed. Thirdly, “He was raised the third day, according to the Scriptures”, the everlasting witness that the power of death is broken, the devil defeated, and God is glorified.
The apostle carefully remarks that the gospel he preached, he had “received”, as we know from another epistle, “by the revelation of Jesus Christ” ( Gal_1:12 ). To reject his gospel is, therefore, to question the revelation of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture.
(Vv. 5-10). Having presented the gospel that he preached, in which the resurrection has a vital place, he confirms the truth of the resurrection of Christ by bringing forward different witnesses to whom Christ appeared after He had risen from the dead. As we know, there are other witnesses, such as Mary and the two going to Emmaus, but the apostle is led to select those witnesses who, by reason of their service, or numbers, have special importance as witnesses. First, the risen Christ was seen by Cephas, the apostle who first preached the gospel to the Jew, and was used to open the door of grace to the Gentile.
Secondly, He appeared to the twelve who had accompanied Him on earth.
Thirdly, He was seen in resurrection by five hundred at one time.
Fourthly, He appeared to James, the apostle who had a leading place with the Jewish believers at Jerusalem.
Fifthly, He was seen of all the apostles, when, at the end of forty days, He was received up into heaven.
Sixthly, as the risen Man in glory, He was seen last of all by the apostle Paul, who had been the persecutor of Christ and His people, but who had been appointed to preach to the Gentiles. The apostle delights to own that it was by the grace of God that he was found amongst the witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, and if, as an apostle, he laboured more abundantly than they all, that too was by the grace of God.
(Vv. 11). Thus, whether it was by Paul, or the great company that had seen the risen Christ, the gospel that was preached, and which these Corinthians had believed, had its key-stone in the resurrection of Christ.
(Vv. 12-19). If, then, in the face of such evidence it is impossible to deny that Christ is risen, how could some dare to say that there is “no resurrection of the dead”? However, as, alas, there were such, the apostle proceeds to show the solemn consequences of this error. First, whatever was believed by those who put forth this error, it was an attack upon the Person of Christ, for if there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not raised. Secondly, if Christ be not raised, the preaching is a fable and vain. Thirdly, if the preaching is vain, the faith of the hearers is futile, as they put their faith in that which is false. Fourthly, if the preachers who profess to come from God are preaching fables, they are “false witnesses of God”. Fifthly, those who put their faith in that which is vain are yet in their sins. Sixthly, if those who are in their sins have fallen asleep, they must have perished. Seventhly, if the resurrection is a fable, the living who profess it are of all men the most miserable, for in the faith of resurrection they have given up this present world and they have nothing for the future.
Thus the apostle shows that this fatal error dishonoured Christ, condemned the preaching as a fable, made the faith of the hearers useless, the preachers false witnesses, those fallen asleep to have perished, and the living believers most miserable.
(V. 20). Having shown the solemn consequences that must flow from this error, the apostle proceeds to set forth, in contrast, the blessed results that flow from the great truth that “now is Christ risen from among the dead”. Christ, risen from among the dead, is “the firstfruits of them that slept”. His resurrection is, indeed, the pledge that all will be raised, the just to come into their final blessing and the unjust into judgment ( Act_17:31 ). Here, however, His resurrection is the pledge of the resurrection of His own who have fallen asleep. Their resurrection will be after the pattern of His resurrection, a resurrection from among the dead. With the wicked it will not be a resurrection from among the dead - a resurrection in which some are taken out of death while others are left - it will be simply the destruction of death, with the result that all that are in the graves will immediately arise.
(Vv. 21-23). The apostle then shows that, if death came in by man, so also the resurrection is brought in by Man. There are two races of men characterised by their respective heads. All those connected with Adam come under death. All connected with Christ shall be made alive. One has truly said that the “all” in Adam's case embraces the entire race, whereas the “all” in the case of Christ as necessarily attaches to His family only. The following verse, which speaks of the order of resurrection, makes it very clear that Christ and only those who are Christ's are in view. Christ was raised the firstfruits, not of the resurrection of the dead, but of those raised from among the dead. This resurrection of His own will take place “at His coming” and will surely include all the Old Testament saints, for they too “are Christ's”, though doubtless the apostle, in writing to the Corinthian assembly, has the church more especially in view.
(Vv. 24-28). Without mentioning the resurrection of the wicked, the apostle at once passes from the resurrection of those that are Christ's to the end of Christ's earthly kingdom. This end will be reached when every opposing rule and authority and power has been annulled, when every enemy has been put down, and the last enemy, death, has been destroyed. This indeed involves, if it does not specifically mention, the resurrection and judgment of the dead.
The great aim of the kingdom of Christ will be to bring the whole universe into subjection to God. As the creation has been subjected to sin and death and the power of the devil by one man, Adam, so every enemy will be dealt with by one Man, Christ, and all be brought into subjection to God. The “end” here is not simply the end of the present age, as in Mat_13:39 ; Mat_13:49 . The end of the present age introduces the kingdom of Christ. Here the end marks the close of the kingdom and the beginning of the Eternal State, the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. The latter part of verse 24 and verses 25 and 26 describe the character of the reign of Christ, the last act being the destruction of the power of death.
Then, when every evil has been dealt with, Christ will deliver up the kingdom to God, the Father. The whole passage views the Son as having become Man, in order to accomplish the will of God in bringing the whole creation into subjection to God. In order to accomplish this great end God has committed to the Son, as become Man, universal power. Having by His mighty kingdom power brought all into subjection to God the Father, He still remains the subject Man as when upon this earth, in order that God may be all in all. The Son does not cease to be God and one with the Father, even as He was on earth, but “Christ will take His place, as Man, the Head of the whole redeemed family, being at the same time God blessed for ever, one with the Father” (J.N.D.). It does not say that the Father may be all in all, but that God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost - may be all in all. What a blessed world will that be when in the new heavens and the new earth God will be the Object of all, and morally set forth in all, for is not this the meaning of these words, so simple in their language but so profound in their significance?
(Vv. 29-32). It is well to notice that verses 20-28 form a parenthesis, in which the apostle, starting from the great fact of the resurrection of Christ, traces its far-reaching effects in connection with His own, with the kingdom, and with the end of time, on into the new heavens and new earth when God will be all in all. Having shown the far-reaching results of resurrection, the apostle resumes the thread of his argument from verses 18 and 19. In these verses he has proved that, if there is no resurrection, those fallen asleep have perished, and believers still living are of all men most miserable. He now asks two questions in connection with these two classes. First, if those fallen asleep have perished, “What shall the baptized for the dead do if those that are dead rise not at all?”. Why are they baptized for them? Baptism is a figure of death, and implies that the one baptized accepts the place into which Christ's death puts the believer as regards this world. Christ by His death and believers who have fallen asleep have actually severed their links with this world. By baptism we that are living identify ourselves in figure with Christ and the saints fallen asleep in their death to this world. How senseless to do this if the dead rise not.
Secondly, continuing his argument of verse 19 that if there is no resurrection we, believers, are of all men most miserable, he asks, “Why stand we in jeopardy every hour?”. What folly to run the risk of death if there is no resurrection. He then refers to his own life of suffering, for Christ's sake, and that the saints might share with him in his joy in Christ. This constantly brought him face to face with a violent death, so that, in the spirit of his mind, he died daily. So violent was the opposition at Ephesus that he despaired of his life ( 2Co_1:8 ). Men behaved like beasts and to speak figuratively, after the manner of men, he had fought with beasts at Ephesus. But what sense was there in enduring all this suffering, and endangering his life, if the dead rise not? Would he not have been wiser, if there is no resurrection, to act on the principle of those who say, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die”?
(Vv. 33, 34). The apostle, viewing things from a moral stand-point, sees that behind the false doctrine there was bad practice. False views may, indeed, be the outcome of ignorance through being linked with a system of false teaching. But when the soul that has been in the light of the truth adopts serious error that denies a great fundamental truth of Christianity, we shall generally find that bad practice is behind the bad doctrine, and connected with the bad practice there will be worldly associations which corrupt good manners. Hence the apostle appeals to these saints to “awake to righteousness, and sin not”. Moreover, this self-indulgence and worldly association only proved how little they knew God. Some indeed had not the knowledge of God. This was to their shame.
(Vv. 35-41). Having shown the practical life of the believer who, governed by the truth of resurrection, takes a place apart from the world, the apostle now meets the rationalistic objections of some who were asking, “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?”. The one who raises such questions proves that he is a fool, who measures the all-powerful and all-wise God by human limitations, and rejects everything that he cannot explain. The apostle rebukes this folly by reminding the objector of his own actions; “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain”. You do the sowing, says the apostle, “But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him”. Man can put the seed in the ground, but man cannot make it grow, still less can man give it a body according to his pleasure.
Death must come in before resurrection. Death is dissolution, but death is not annihilation. The seed as such dies in order to bring forth the plant. One has said, “No doubt there is a germ or principle of life: but what does the objector know of it? If he is utterly unacquainted with this even in the seed, is he in a position to cavil as to the body?”. We know that the plant comes from the seed, but we do not know how. Hence the apostle does not tell us how the body is raised, though he rebukes the folly of those who deny resurrection of the body because they cannot conceive how it can be accomplished.
There are indeed different bodies in the plant world; every seed has its own body, and that a God-given body. In the animal world there are bodies of men, beasts, fishes and birds. In the material world there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and in the heavenly bodies there are differences, for the sun, the moon and the stars differ in glory.
(Vv. 42-44). If, then, there are all these differences in bodies in the natural and material world, need we raise questions because there is a vast difference between our present bodies and the bodies we shall have in resurrection? The apostle thus takes occasion by the folly of these reasoners to bring before us the character of the resurrection body and the resurrection state. In contrast to our present bodies, the resurrection body will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual. Believers will not be disembodied spirits, but in resurrection they will receive spiritual bodies, little as, at present with our finite minds, we can comprehend either a spiritual existence or a spiritual body. We admit there is a natural body entirely suited to the conditions of the present life on earth. So we know believers will have a spiritual body entirely suited to heavenly conditions.
(Vv. 45-50). In proof of these great truths the apostle turns to Scripture. He says, “So it is written”. Quoting from Gen_2:7 , he reminds us that the first man, Adam, became a living soul. But the first Adam is, as we know, “the figure of Him that is to come” - “the last Adam”, Christ - Who is the Head of a new race that will never be superseded by another Head and another race. The last Adam is “a quickening spirit”, One Who in resurrection could breathe on His disciples and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, and thus communicate life in the Spirit ( Joh_20:22 ). But the natural comes before the spiritual, and the first man is earthy, made out of the dust of the earth; the second Man is out of heaven; and as we have borne the image of the earthy, so shall we, Christians, bear the image of the heavenly. Here the apostle is not speaking of the Christian setting forth the character of Christ, and thus, even now being changed into the same image from glory to glory ( 2Co_3:18 ), but of the full conformity to the image of the heavenly when we have our resurrection bodies. It is evident that these present, frail bodies of flesh and blood, that are liable to corruption, cannot inherit the kingdom of God with its incorruption.
(Vv. 51-55). This being so, the question arises, how, and when, shall we obtain these spiritual and incorruptible bodies, as some believers are living on earth, and some have fallen asleep? The apostle meets these questions by declaring a mystery, one of God's truths that could not be known until revealed to His people. We thus learn that not all believers will pass through death; “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed”. The Old Testament saints, like Job, knew indeed of the resurrection of the dead, but they knew nothing of this great secret that the natural bodies of the living saints will be changed into spiritual bodies without the saints going through death. What a proof of the mighty efficacy of the death of Christ, which has so entirely met the penalty of death for the believer, that it is possible for him to be changed into the image of the heavenly without going through death!
But, if we are not all going to pass through death, “we shall all be changed”, both sleeping and living saints. This great change will take place “in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed”. In speaking of the last trump, the apostle is probably alluding to the final act in the breaking up of a Roman camp as they started a march, a figure that would be well understood in those days. In a moment this body that is liable to corruption will put on incorruption, and this body that is mortal will put on immortality. In view of this mighty triumph over the power of death, we can well say with Isaiah, “Death is swallowed up in victory” ( Isa_25:8 ). How mighty the power that, from every spot of this earth, where, through the long ages, there has been resting the dust of saints who have fallen asleep, whether by martyrdom or natural decay, will raise the dead, and, together with every living saint, will change them into the image of the heavenly, and this in a moment of time, “sooner than the mind can reckon, or the eye discern”.
Looking back over the long, sad history of a fallen world, we see that the shadow of death is over all. Looking on to this great event, the believer can say, “O death, where is they sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”, words used by the prophet Hosea when he records the promise of Jehovah, “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol. I will redeem them from death: Where, O death, are thy plagues? where, O Sheol, is thy destruction?” ( Hos_13:14 ).
(Vv. 56, 57). The apostle reminds us that “the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law”. But God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Who bore the sting when made sin on the Cross, and “redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” ( 2Co_5:21 ; Gal_3:13 ). With the blessedness of the truth filling his soul the apostle breaks forth into praise to God.
(V. 58). Wherefore, on account of the mighty victory that Christ has gained by His death, and that is witnessed by His resurrection, and the full blessedness of which we shall enter into in the twinkling of an eye, let us be firm in maintaining the truth, unmoved by any attacks of the enemy, and abounding always in the work of the Lord, knowing that any toil or suffering will have a glorious answer and not be in vain.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent