This chapter itself forms a third division of the book, and deals with another most serious matter in Corinth. Some among them denied the resurrection of the dead. But the resurrection of Christ is the very basis of the existence of the Church of God. So the reality of His resurrection is first considered, then its significance as connected with the resurrection of believers, proving beyond doubt that the first is the pattern and assurance of the second.
Paul had preached to them the fundamental facts of the gospel, which they had received. It was the only basis on which the assembly stood. And it is by this they are saved, at least if they held fast the Word preached to them. Salvation is in that Word: how could a true believer give it up? Did they believe in vain? This would be without reality, empty, not true faith at all. How can one believe in the resurrection of Christ, and at the same time refuse to believe in resurrection?
The basic facts then are simply stated in verses 3 and 4. Paul had received them directly from God, but with abundance of outward testimony also. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Old Testament prophecy had borne great witness to this - every animal sacrifice also a vivid type of it. He was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. Again, the evidence from the Old Testament is abundant. The prophecies that speak of His death speak also of His triumph and glory afterwards. Of course His burial for three days proves the reality of His death, and therefore of His resurrection.
Many human witnesses also corroborated this. The women first at the grave are not mentioned lest their witness should be discounted as though influenced by a highly emotional state. Cephas, on the other hand, was slow to believe, but the Lord appeared specifically to him (Luke 24:34). Then the apostles together saw him in the upper room both the day of His resurrection, and a week later (John 20:19-26).
Then five hundred brethren saw him at one time. It is not said where, but very likely this was in Galilee where disciples were more numerous than in Jerusalem. At the time Paul wrote, some of these had passed away, but most were still living. The account of James seeing him alone is not elsewhere given, so we do not know where and when this took place. But no doubt all the apostles saw Him again at least at the time He led them out to Bethany, and ascended to heaven from there (Luke 24:50-51).
And Paul himself was a last witness, seeing Christ, not on earth, but in heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-5); so not born in "due time," as among the other apostles, but a distinct witness, given revelations beyond those of the others. This indeed was a powerfully confirming witness, specifically because Paul had before persecuted the Church of God, in bitter enmity against Christ. He never ceased to feel this in lowly self judgment, considering himself unfit to be at all called an apostle. But it was God who had so wrought with him, in most convincing proof of the truth of Christ risen; and here he stood, a living witness to the marvellous grace of God. The very fact of the change in him, his witness, and the unusual ministry given him, could not be explained by natural means.
(This in fact the more inflamed his Jewish persecutors.) The grace of God was the only explanation, and this was not in vain, for Paul's labours were more abundant than all the apostles, not that Paul takes any credit, but presses the reality of the grace of God with him. Indeed, whether Paul or the others, this made no difference; for whoever the persons, the witness was plain, the preaching was true, and the Corinthians had believed.
This being the case, how could some at Corinth deny a resurrection of the dead? In doing so, they denied that Christ was raised. And if He were not raised, then the preaching of the apostles was vain, and the avowed faith of the Corinthians was vain. The foundation of Christianity was utterly gone. More than this, the apostles would in this way be proven false witnesses of God, for their witness was plain and decided that. Christ was raised. And if there is no such thing as resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised. And more still: if Christ is not raised, than neither the Corinthians nor anyone else can be saved: their faith was meaningless: they were still in their sins. Souls often little realize what they are refusing when they deny the truth of God. In this case too, those who had died in Christ had only perished. Did the sacrifice of Christ have no more value than being simply death, with no power of life in saving grace? If our hope in Christ is merely for our present short existence on earth, then ours is a more miserable existence than that of any unbeliever. For here a path with Christ means reproach and shame, which is worth the while because of the future joy of His presence. Take this away, and what is left?
Verses 20 to 28 are parenthetical. It will be noticed that the apostle's reasoning ceases in these verses, then continues in verse 29. The parenthesis is a precious, absolute statement of Christian teaching. Christ risen from among the dead is the firstfruits of them that slept, that is, of believers who have passed away. His resurrection is the promise of theirs; for the firstfruits is but the beginning of a larger harvest.
For since by man (Adam) came death, so it was essential that Christ must be man in order to both die and rise again. Adam introduced death for all his race, but in him was no power of life. But on the contrary, all who are "in Christ" shall be made alive. In resurrection He is the Head of a new race, involving every soul who has been redeemed by the blood of His cross. Indeed, Colossians 2:12; Colossians 3:1-3 shows us that even now believers have the spiritual position of being raised with Christ, identified with Him who is our Representative in resurrection; but Corinthians shows the certainty of our bodies actually entering into this precious resurrection life at the coming of the Lord. There is a becoming order in this: Christ must be first, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Unbelievers have no part in this, and their end is not even mentioned in this chapter except that aIl enemies will be put under the feet of Christ.
Verse 24 goes on to the final victory of Christ over aIl evil. The tribulation period and the millennial kingdom are passed over with only the statement, "He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet." This is finally done at the Great White Throne. As Son of Man He will have brought creation back from its bondage to sin, thus perfectly accomplishing the will of God in all that has been committed to Him; and He will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. The kingdom will no longer be "the kingdom of the Son of Man," but the kingdom of God existing in an eternal form.
Death is here said to be the last enemy destroyed. For after sin has been fully and eternally judged, then death, the sentence against sin, will be totally annulled. This is seen in Revelation 20:14.
In verse 27, Psalms 8:1-9 is quoted, and in the present tense. In reality today God has already put all things under Christ's feet; yet the public display of this in power will not be complete until the Great White Throne. The issue is settled now, but the full manifestation is future. But God's putting all things under the feet of the Son of Man plainly does not imply that God Himself is subject. Indeed, the Son of Man is He who is delegated to bring all things into subjection, not only to Himself, but to God. And when this is done, then the Son also, together with the kingdom He has subdued, is subject to the great God who gave Him this stewardship - "that God may be aIl in all." As Son of Man He is subject, in order that God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) may be all in all.
Verse 29 then connects with verse 19. Let us observe that the concern expressed here is not for the dead, but for those who are baptized in place of the dead. If Christians died (and some of them by martyrdom) with no hope of resurrection, what would be the sense of others coming in to take their place in the ranks of Christianity? If this only exposes one to persecution on earth, with no future hope, this would be insensate folly. And the apostles too, continually in jeopardy for Christ's sake - Why?
Their own rejoicing in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, in which Paul shared, because having himself led them to Christ, was certainly an evident protest against such doctrine that troubled them. Indeed, on account of such joy in Christ, Paul was content to "die daily." To speak after the manner of men, he had fought with beasts at Ephesus. Evidently lie refers to men of bestial character, men who believe in no hereafter, and live therefore as beasts. There were many adversaries in Ephesus (ch. 16:8,9); and later opposition increased, as is seen in Acts 19:23-41. Why should he contend with such enemies of the truth, if after all they are right in their mere material conceptions, and the dead rise not? If tomorrow everything comes to a total end, then one might as well live now only for his own pleasure.
But this is dreadful deception, and the Corinthians are warned against any identification with such evil. Good manners will very soon be corrupted by it. False associations will inevitably lead to bad conduct. The assembly then is told to "Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God." This was therefore an assembly responsibility: they must take a decided stand against this insidious evil. If individuals did not have the knowledge of God, how much better to have this exposed; for it was to their shame that such evil doctrine had ever arisen among them. Now they must realize that any association with it is corrupting, and must be refused by the assembly.
But there are objectors who pose questions they think unanswerable: "How are the dead raised," etc. If this expressed an honest desire to understand, of course the apostle would not speak so scathingly. But one who denies resurrection is guilty of folly. The answer, illustrated by nature itself, is most .simple. A seed, falling into the ground and dying, springs up into life. Nor does it revive in the identical state in which it died, but bears a more glorious form. In new life God gives it a body consistent with its character, as He pleases. And He is certainly not at a loss as regards variety, yet each seed reproduces strictly according to its nature.
Similarly, men, beasts, birds, fishes, are totally distinct as to their type of flesh; and this shows that God can give whatever flesh He pleases. This verse totally refutes any evolutionist theories of animals developing into humans.
And if one would deny that heaven is any place for bodies, he has but to look up and see the tremendous number of celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars, planets) that shine in the heavens. Terrestrial bodies are those connected with earth, and of course there is a difference. And among the celestial bodies themselves, the sun, the moon, and the stars, each has a particular glory not shared by any other.
In resurrection then, it is God who decides the character of the body; and He is at no loss as to investing this with a glory greater than as yet we have imagined. Philippians 3:21 tells us our body shall be fashioned like that of the Lord Jesus in resurrection. In this body, material barriers were no obstacle to Him; and in this He ascended up to heaven; time and space no obstacle whatever. Yet also, each individual body will have its distinct glory, just as every individual on earth today is different. Such is the marvel of the ways of our God!
As to our present body, in contrast to the Lord's body on earth, it is sown in corruption, the result of sin. But it will be raised in incorruption, the effects of sin totally done away, because the root has been fully judged at the cross. This shows a marvellous change in its condition. Secondly, its manifestation is completely changed, from that of dishonour, decrepitude, humiliation, to that of "glory," a dignity and beauty impossible to our present bodily state. And thirdly, the weakness of the vessel, coming down often in old age to utter helplessness, will give place to a "power" as yet unimagined. Christ was "crucified through weakness," having taken a place lower than angels, who "excel in strength." But He is raised by the power of God, and given in Manhood a place above angels, His bodily condition now no deterrent to the exercise of this marvellous power. Thus, the capacity of our bodies will be also wonderfully changed. And fourthly, the character of the body will be in great contrast to that of today. For as inherited from Adam it is simply "natural"; as raised it will be "a spiritual body." Not a "spirit body," as though it were merely intangible, but a true body, complete with spirit and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23), just as that of the Lord in resurrection, handled by His disciples, partaking of material food (Luke 24:38-43). And yet material obstacles were no hindrance to Him: when the doors were closed. He suddenly stood in the midst of His disciples (Luke 24:36). But being a spiritual body, no doubt this involves its being suited to spiritual conditions, as our natural body is suited to natural conditions. It may seem strange that a material body may yet have a spiritual character, able to be at home in spiritual conditions; but is this not intended to bow our hearts in wondering adoration at the greatness of the power and grace of our God?
Verse 45 is decisive that there was no man before Adam, either of the same type or of a different type. This settles all men's speculations about this. Here also Christ is called "the last Adam." Adam therefore was typical of Christ, though Christ is a Man of different and lasting character: while He supersedes Adam, none can possibly displace Him. And He is a "quickening spirit." not as Adam "a living soul." For Christ in resurrection is Head of a new creation, as Adam was head of the first, which waxes old and is about to perish (Hebrews 1:11-12). But Christ is "life-giving" in contrast to Adam's
bringing death. And this is spiritual life, in contrast to that natural, which is characterized more by soul than by spirit.
The natural had come first, however, in order that it be given full opportunity to manifest itself, so that when the spiritual came, its precious superiority would be evident. More than this also, "The first man was of the earth, earthy," on a plane infinitely lower than that of "the second Man," who is of Heaven, the Lord. Plainly therefore there are only two types of men, for Adam was "the first" (there were none before him): Christ is "the second" (there were none between Adam and Christ); and Christ "the last" (there can be none to follow). The first is earthly, the second heavenly, for the second expresses perfectly the thoughts of God in relation to true Manhood.
Verse 48 insists that as is the head of a race, so is the race itself. In the first creation we have been linked with Adam in an earthly condition: in new creation we are linked with Christ in a heavenly condition. This being true now, then the future is settled as regards our bodily condition too: "The image of the earthly," the outward manifestation of natural life in this body, will give place in resurrection to "the image of the heavenly," that body that will outwardly manifest the spiritual, heavenly life that is in Christ.
While our chapter strongly stresses that the resurrection body is a body, a literal physical body, not a spirit; yet verse 50 shows that it is not a body of "flesh and blood." Some have on this account denied that "flesh" has anything to do with it. Certainly our evil, fleshly nature has no place here; but yet the Lord Himself was raised in a body of "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39). His blood had been shed; and manifestly in the resurrection body, blood has no part. Its function is for the repair and replacement of worn or decayed parts of the body, as well as for its sustenance. We may wonder as to the physical makeup of the spiritual body, for it seems it would be greatly altered by the absence of blood; yet the Lord in resurrection ate before His disciples (Luke 24:42-43). Of course this proves only that His body was physical, capable of eating, not that His body required food. Verse 50 refers to our bodies, not to His, though His on earth was of "flesh and blood" (Hebrews 2:14). His was not corruptible, as ours are, for it is sin that brings corruption. Our bodies cannot remain the same in order to inherit incorruption. Yet the identity of our body remains: it is not a different body, but an altered one, changed to be "fashioned like unto His body of glory" (Philippians 3:21).
Verse 51 shows that up till the time Paul wrote, the truth of the first resurrection and its results had been "a mystery." Various other things are spoken of in this way also in Scripture, some now revealed in connection with the ministry of Paul. The resurrection is closely linked with the truth of the Church, and in fact will mark the close of the history of the Church on earth, because her true destiny is heavenly, not earthly. This would involve, not simply resurrection, but a change in those believers living on earth, from a state of corruption to that of incorruption. Those who sleep are of course those who have died in Christ. Here the fact of the Lord's coming is not mentioned; but from verse 23, and from Philippians 3:1-21 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, we know that this takes place at that time. The apostle writes then as though this were imminent, and how much more so now! And its suddenness is emphasized, "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," not the blinking of an eye, but more rapid. Some have connected "the last trump" with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15; but this does not in any way fit the case. In Revelation the trumpets are connected with God's judgments in the earth, and the seventh trumpet with Christ's taking His place of supreme ruler over all the kingdoms of the earth. But here in Corinthians it is a question of the last trumpet in connection with the Church, not Israel and the nations. The trumpet speaks of a declared public testimony, and this will be the last such as to the Church. What a voice indeed it will have to those who are left behind!
But immediately "the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." Wonderful intervention of pure divine power! Redemption by blood is ours now by virtue of the death of Christ: but then we shall have the redemption of our bodies, by power. Verse 53 insists that it is "this corruptible" that must "put on incorruption"! That is, that it is our present body that must be given an altered condition. This no doubt refers primarily to those who have died, while "this mortal" refers to those still living, though subject to death. Putting on immortality is being invested with that which death cannot touch.
When this takes place, it will bring to pass the prophecy of Isaiah 25:8, "Death is swallowed up in victory." It is not the direct fulfillment of this prophecy, which refers rather to Israel's new birth and restoration of blessing in the millennial kingdom, for death will never after that touch those who have been thus redeemed. But in the first resurrection we shall anticipate this, and in fact on a higher level, for we shall have spiritual bodies for over one thousand years before the saints of the millennial kingdom shall have theirs.
Verse 55 is a question cited from Hosea 13:14. Death has been a righteous sentence of God against sin, and spoken of as an "enemy." But is not God greater than the sentence He has imposed: Is the sting of death final? Does death (or it may be "hades") gain the final victory? Whether "death" or "hades," it is the same question, for death is the state of the body as separate from spirit and soul; while hades is the state of the spirit and soul in separation from the body. But sin is "the sting of death," the very poison that brought death; and sin has been perfectly atoned for by the death of Christ, the effectual basis therefore of complete victory over death. Now also the law is said to be "the strength of sin." For the law, applied in its pure justice, brings sin out clearly in its strong, bold, evil character, and condemns it. But it can of course do nothing as regards taking sin away. So great a work as this could be done by none other than the eternal Son of God Himself, and then by means of the sacrifice of Himself, Himself bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. We have seen this basis laid down in verses 3 and 4 of our chapter, the basis upon which sin and death will be completely triumphed over, so far as present day believers are concerned, at "the resurrection of the just."
And this victory of the Lord Jesus over death God had seen fit to recognize as on behalf of all who trust His beloved Son. It is a matter as settled as though it had already taken place: the victory is ours, through our Lord Jesus Christ. What a basis for the exhortation of verse 58: Since nothing can change this, therefore let nothing change our stedfast, undeviating devotion to Christ. And along with firm, consistent stability, let us combine the active faith that abounds in the work of the Lord. We know such labour is not in vain in the Lord. Present appearances are no real indication of the value of labour, no more than was the outward appearance of defeat when our Lord was crucified. Let the reality of His resurrection power have vital effect in all the walk and service of the beloved saints of God.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter