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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 15

 

 

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Introduction

The Truth of the Resurrection (15:1-58).

Paul now seeks to end his letter by outlining to the Corinthians as a whole the true Gospel of Christ. He had begun emphatically with the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). He now confirms its importance and comes to detailed proof and treatment of the resurrection. And this was partly because there were some among them who were denying the resurrection of the body. This probably indicated such a belief in their 'spiritual' state that they considered that they did not need a resurrection but would live on in the spirit in the angelic world in which they considered that they already partook by speaking in tongues. Seemingly they were beginning to fall away from the idea that redemption was necessary. Paul therefore seeks to bring out that the truth is more specific than that. God's purposes must be completed from beginning to end. Redemption for man is necessary. And he can only enter into the fullness of spiritual life through a physical resurrection. It is an essential part of God's final triumph. Thus the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead repudiates finally the position of these people.

While the theme appears new it is closely connected with what has gone before. It is a reminder that we have not yet achieved full spirituality. We are still fleshly. Thus the idea of some of the Corinthians that they were above all fleshly things and parallel with the angels was shown to be false.

He commences with the facts of the Gospel which immediately repudiate their position.


Verse 1-2

The Facts of the Gospel (15:1-4).

'Now I make known to you brothers, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, wherein also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.'

Paul has already emphasised the centrality of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:2) and he now confirms it, along with emphasis on the resurrection, as ‘the Gospel’ of Christ which he wishes now again to make known to them, the Gospel (Good News) which he had previously preached to them, and which they had received. It is also the Gospel in which they now stand and by which they are also being saved as long as they hold fast the word (of the cross) which he had preached to them. And that Gospel includes the resurrection of the body of Christ. It is the very opposite of what some of them are now saying.

'Now I make known to you, brothers.' The word 'brothers' is all embracing and includes 'sisters'. It refers to all. Paul especially uses it in this letter when what he is saying is controversial, here because many of the Corinthians clearly laid doubt on the bodily resurrection. Having dealt with many of their questions he now comes to deal with the central matter, the content of the true Gospel.

'The Gospel which I preached to you.' He is bringing them back to the Gospel which he had first proclaimed in Corinth, that Gospel which had been so effective among them.

'Which also you received.' He reminds them that then they had received it gladly. But it may also include the technical sense that they had 'received' what had been 'delivered' and therefore had a responsibility towards it. It was received from God.

'Wherein also you stand.' This Gospel is the stance on which the Corinthian church is founded, the basis of what they represent, and what they are now standing on against the world and the Devil. It includes the fact that they know that they have been justified by faith and stand firm in the grace of God (Romans 5:2; 1 Peter 5:12), and are protected from the Enemy's onslaughts by the truths of the Gospel and of the word of God (Ephesians 6:12-17).

'By which also you are being saved.' The present passive confirms that they are in the process of salvation, a process which is continual, and the passive indicates the source, that their salvation is of God. They are 'being saved' ones, and that by God, and that is because of their faith in this true Gospel that he is about to expound on.

'If you hold fast the word which I preached to you.' And yet that salvation is dependent on their holding fast to 'the word' that he had preached to them, that is 'the word of the cross' (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). That is where he began and that is where he will finish. Salvation lies nowhere else. That is the essence of the Gospel, and includes, as Paul now makes clear, the reality of the bodily resurrection of the Christ, and the hope of the resurrection for all who are His.

'Unless you believed in vain.' This means either that if they do not hold fast to it, it will be because they have believed in vain, or that the whole Gospel hangs together in such a way that unless in fact their belief in it has been in vain (which is clearly not true) it must all be held as one. They cannot pick and choose, for the Gospel not only consists of the cross, it consists of bodily resurrection.

He wants to bring them back to what had first brought them to Christ, so that they might consider the whole. That is why he now makes it known to them afresh. Let them recognise that in this is their hope. Without it they have no hope, whatever their professed spirituality. It is only if they stand in that Gospel that they are 'being saved', that God is doing His saving work within them. They must hold it fast, for in that alone are they eternally secure.


Verse 3-4

'For I delivered to you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he has been raised on the third day according to the scriptures.'

'First of all.' This had been his first concern when he came to them, for it was why he was sent by the One from Whom he received it.

And what is the Gospel which he delivered to them? It is the Gospel that he 'received', both directly by revelation from God (Galatians 1:16-17), and also from the Apostles whom he later consulted (Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:2). Just as he stated that the prophets should be 'judged' so did he submit to the judgment of others the revelation that he had received, as we must also when we receive special insights.

'Received' and 'delivered' were technical terms among the Jews referring to the passing on of authoritative tradition. Thus Paul makes quite clear that the Gospel he preaches is a Gospel that was preached before he arrived on the scene, and is the same Gospel as was preached by the Apostles, and was long prophesied in Scripture. And that Gospel is that 'Christ' died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (compare Luke 24:45-47).

'Christ died for our sins.' Note the title. It was 'the Christ' Who died for our sins. It was the Christ Who suffered. It was the Lord Jesus Christ in the totality of what He was as God's anointed Who died. It was God’s chosen and anointed One Who suffered. And that was just what the Scriptures had taught in, for example, Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, backed by all the Scriptures which pointed to deliverance through suffering, whether of man or sacrifice (e.g. Psalms 22; Daniel 9:26; Zechariah 13:7 with 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Corinthians 13:1). So the real death of the Christ is declared. His body was a part of what He was.

'For our sins.' Contrast 1 Corinthians 15:17 and compare Galatians 1:4; Romans 4:7; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 1:14; Titus 2:14 and see Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:8; Isaiah 53:11-12 LXX). Christ is here declared to be an atoning sacrifice (compare 1 Corinthians 5:7) dying for men's sins, and bearing in Himself the sins of all who call on Him (compare 2 Corinthians 5:21). In the words of Jesus, with the Servant of Isaiah 53 in mind, He gave His life 'a ransom in the place of many' (Mark 10:45).

That Jesus was early identified with the suffering Servant of Isaiah comes out in that He was declared to be the Servant at His baptism - 'my beloved, in whom I am well pleased' (Mark 1:11 compare Isaiah 42:1) and the idea is applied to Him in Matthew 12:17-21; Luke 2:32; Luke 9:35 (RV/RSV); Luke 23:35, and we might add John's declaration that He was the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). For the fact that He identified Himself with the Servant see Mark 10:45; Luke 22:37, and He also identified Himself with the anointed one of Isaiah 61:1 (see Luke 4:17-21).

'He was buried.' The certainty of His genuine death comes out in that He was buried. This was no illusion, no pretence. In His physical body He was assuredly laid in the grave. He was dead, stone dead. This was testified to by those who had been there. This stated fact demands that the next clause refers specifically to physical resurrection from that grave, and therefore to the reality of the empty tomb.

The importance of this in Paul's argument is that the fact that He was entombed, and that Jesus was then seen to have been raised from that tomb, demonstrates that His resurrection was a genuine bodily resurrection.

'And that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.' And in that body, lying as it was in the grave, He was raised again from the dead, and this too was in accordance with the Scriptures. (See especially Isaiah 53:10-12 with Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:19; Hosea 6:2). Note the perfect tense, He rose and still lives. The resurrection of the body was important because it stressed God's complete deliverance. The curse of sin had been wholly removed. His resurrection was the beginning, and in its significance the source, of the redemption of the whole creation (Romans 8:20-21).

'On the third day.' The Gospels tell us that Jesus Himself forecast that He would die and rise again after three days, or on the third day (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:34; Luke 9:22), and that was in fact the period after which the resurrection took place. Indeed given the significance of 'three days' as regularly indicating 'a short, complete period' any other period could hardly have been used to mean 'almost immediately, within a short period'; for 'three days' is shorthand for any complete period from one and a half to around five days (compare its use in Joshua 1:11; Joshua 2:16; Joshua 2:22; Joshua 3:2). In Jewish literature even so definite a period as 'three days and three nights' could indicate a part of a day, a day and a part of a day. (We can also compare how in Genesis any shortish journey is a 'three day' journey, and a longer one a 'seven day' journey).

'According to the Scriptures' may not apply to the length of time, but if it did so the thought in mind is probably Hosea 6:2 where the period from Israel being smitten to its rising up is three days also, that is, it will take place 'in a short fixed time period determined by God' (compare 2 Kings 20:5; Jonah 1:17). Later Jewish literature for this reason saw three days as signifying a period resulting in divine deliverance. Jesus may thus have been seeing Himself as accomplishing what was prophesied to happen to the nation. As the suffering Servant He represented Israel. Compare also how He said, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again', that is 'within a short, divinely determined period of time' (John 2:19-22).

If the Jewish belief that the body began to corrupt three days after death was held at this time then the promise that 'nor will you give your Holy One to see corruption' (Psalms 16:10), utilised by Peter in Acts 2:15, could also be seen as prophesying a resurrection within three days.


Verses 5-10

The Witnesses To The Resurrection (15:5-10).

'And that he appeared (literally 'was seen by) to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one unfortunately born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the Apostles, who am not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.'

Note the fourfold events, 'Christ died --- He was buried --- He has been raised --- He was seen.' The verbs are pregnant with meaning. Note the contrasts. 'He died', a necessary death for the sins of the world -- 'He has been raised and lives.' Death has been vanquished. 'He was buried' (life over and hidden from view) --- 'He was seen' (visibly appeared with new life and revealed to all, although He now does so no more). The death has been cancelled, the burying reversed, all has begun anew both physically and spiritually.

The stress on the fact that He 'visibly appeared' now comes out in a listing of resurrection appearances. It was the fact that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, and that He spoke to them and ate bread among them, that gave new hope to the Apostles, and was central to their preaching from the beginning (Acts 2:14-36). Peter contrasts that fact with David who 'died, and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day' (Acts 2:29). Had he not been confident of the empty tomb he would never have drawn attention to David's tomb. David was still in his tomb, but Jesus' tomb was empty. Without that all someone had to do was point to Jesus' tomb and his argument would collapse. But it never happened.

When Christ rose He ensured that there were witnesses. First he appeared to Peter (Cephas) (Luke 24:34), then to the twelve (John 20:19-23), then to a group of five hundred, most of whom were still living witnesses, then He appeared to His brother James, then again to all the Apostles. There were thus plenty of living witnesses to the fact that Jesus had been seen as alive from the dead. And He made it clear by blessing bread, and breaking it and giving it to them (Luke 24:30; John 21:13), by showing His hands and His feet (Luke 24:40; John 20:20; John 20:27), by receiving fish and eating among them (Luke 24:42-43).

This listing demonstrates that the fact that they had seen Jesus alive from the dead was a central fact in the teaching of the early church, and more so if, as many believe, Paul is quoting an early creed. It is noteworthy that the appearances to the women are not mentioned. While important to the early church they would not have carried weight before the world.

The specific mention of Peter and James is revealing. It was to Peter and James that Paul spoke when he first visited Jerusalem to meet up with the Apostles (Galatians 1:18-19). From them he received personal confirmation that they too had seen the risen Christ. This brings out Paul's close relationship with both Peter and James. He met up with them on his first visit to Jerusalem after being converted. He later considered them to be two of the three pillars of the Christian church (Galatians 2:9) and was received by them with the right hand of fellowship, and he reported to James and the elders of Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary tour (Acts 21:18-19). The idea that there were conflicts between Paul and the Apostles is totally refuted.

'The twelve.' A technical term meaning 'the body of those appointed by Jesus as Apostles' seen as a whole. Only ten were present at the first appearance (or eleven if Matthias was with them). But all twelve, if we include Matthias, certainly saw Him.

'Then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep.' Had this not been common knowledge among Christians Paul would not have cited it to doubters. This may have occurred on the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20), or it may have been another appearance. Five is the number of covenant so that the number is probably a round number in which the covenant element is stressed (compare the feeding of the five thousand). The covenant community had also seen Jesus in their representatives. Paul also cites the well known fact that most of them are still alive, although some sleep (are dead). As a result of the expectancy of bodily resurrection death could now be described as sleep. The body slept in the grave awaiting the resurrection, the spirit was with God. Such a bold statement to doubters about five hundred witnesses demonstrates that the facts could be verified.

'Then he appeared to James.' We know nothing about this appearance apart from its mention here. It was when brother met brother, and helps to explain why Jesus' brothers, who had previously been doubtful of His claims, were one with the Apostles immediately after the resurrection (Acts 1:14).

'Then to all the apostles.' Thomas had not been present at Jesus' first appearance to 'the twelve'. That was later rectified (John 20:24-29). But more probably the reference is to the final appearance when Christ ascended for the last time (Acts 1:2-11), and may also be intended to include Barnabas and James, the Lord's brother, thus signifying both the cessation of the appearances and that all those recognised as 'the Apostles' apart from Paul had seen the risen Jesus during this period, which had then closed. This explains the repetition of an appearance to 'the Apostles' and would tie in with the next phrase which refers to Paul's own experience which occurred as it were out of step, but in which he emphasises his own Apostleship on a par with theirs.

The purpose behind this delineation is partly to connect himself with the recognised leadership, and the foundation members of the church, Peter, James, the twelve, all the Apostles, and the whole covenant community who had seen Jesus. He was one with them in the privilege of having seen the risen Lord.

'And last of all, as to one unfortunately born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.' In this phrase is contained the depths of Paul's own sense both of how he had been a persecutor of Jesus, and of how graciously the Lord had appeared to him and called him after the resurrection appearances had ceased.

He was clearly both awe-stricken and burdened by the fact that Christ had so graciously appeared to him even while he was engaged in persecuting Him in His church (he never forgot this - Acts 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6-8; 1 Timothy 1:12-14). He recognised that he had been 'unfortunately born'. The appearance of Christ to Him, which was so necessary for his acceptance as an Apostle (Acts 1:22), had occurred out of step because he had been so obdurate. But he makes clear that the appearance was not merely a fleeting vision, but a genuine appearance. He appeared to him as He had to the other Apostles.

And it had led to his appointment as an Apostle of Christ, and the inference from the context in which it is stated is that he was the last to be so appointed. But he considered that it was right that he should be the last, for he was also the least, the most unworthy as a one time persecutor of Christ in His people, of God's own church. While Paul would defend His Apostleship to the last, and counted himself among them, he had no sense of superiority over the other apostles, but rather a recognition of his own unworthiness. He alone of all the Apostles had not walked with Jesus and absorbed His teaching. While He was on earth, he had been His enemy.

That Paul had been in Jerusalem when Jesus taught there must be seen as probable. He had been a disciple of Gamaliel and he would hardly have been absent from Jerusalem at the Passovers. What he actually saw of Jesus at that time we have no indication, which possibly suggests that he saw little. His teacher was not one of those intent on persecution (Acts 5:34-39). But he would have been very much aware of all that was being said about Him, both good and bad, and would probably have been present at the discussions about Him. And included among what he heard would have been words that Jesus was said to have spoken. That was no doubt why he especially felt the fact that he had retained his antagonism when others had been more sympathetic. He had not responded to Him when others did, and he should have done.

'As to one unfortunately born.' The word occurs only here in the New Testament but is found in LXX in Numbers 12:12; Job 3:16; Ecclesiastes 6:3 where it refers to stillbirth giving the impression of misfortune and horror. The idea may simply here be of a birth which is not normal, because so late. But its containing the idea of horror suggests that Paul saw his late birth as something horrific. His delay had been inexcusable.

Some see it as pointing to Paul's own unfortunate personal appearance, which is also hinted at elsewhere, so that the Corinthians had mocked him for it, and that this is his reply. Unfortunately born, yes, but born under the grace of God to be an Apostle (Galatians 1:15). This is then tied in with his phrase 'the least of the Apostles' as referring to his appearance ('Paul' means 'the little one'). But Paul refers that to his being a persecutor. Thus it seems more likely that this refers to the horror of his having left it so late, and the added horror that in his prior almost unforgivable behaviour he had actually prided himself on serving God.


Verse 10

'But by the grace of God I am what I am. And his grace which was bestowed on me was not found to be vain, but I laboured more abundantly than all of them, and yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.'

But he does not want them to gain the impression from this that he is not therefore a genuine Apostle. He is what he is by the grace, the unmerited favour and goodness, of God Who had chosen him from birth (Galatians 1:15). And God does nothing by halves. Even while he had not known Him God had been fully preparing him for the task that was to be his. And that grace was not bestowed in vain, for of all the Apostles he had been the most active. He had laboured more abundantly than all, working hardest, reaching furthest, writing letters to the churches in which he had laboured. And yet the credit was not due to him. It was due to the unmerited favour of God. This was no criticism of the others. It was due to the grace of God which was with him. It was that which had driven him on and enabled him. It had been God's miracle. He owed all to God.


Verse 11

The Argument For The Resurrection (15:11-19).

'Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so you believed.'

But let them recognise in the end that it matters little which Apostle they appeal to. All teach the same. All are at one in their doctrine. All proclaim this message he is declaring. And it is the message that the Corinthians themselves originally believed. Let them consider that.


Verse 12-13

'Now if Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised.'

Some of the Corinthians were declaring that there was no resurrection of the body from among the dead, as though such a thing could not be. Paul counters by pointing out that Christ has risen from the dead in bodily form, and is still alive (perfect tense - has been raised and is still raised). Thus their basic premise is wrong. Then he reverses the argument. If there is no resurrection from the dead then Christ has not been raised, and therefore the Gospel they preach as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:2-4 is a vanity which is not true, and the witnesses, Peter, James the Lord's brother, all the Apostles and the covenant community, are all found to be liars. Furthermore as their own faith is dependent on that Gospel they too are still in their sins because their belief too is false and useless, and those who have died in Christ are not merely sleeping but have perished.

'But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised.' Some see this as simply saying that if, dogmatically speaking, there can be no resurrection from the dead, Christ cannot have been raised. Others take it further and add that Paul means that the resurrection of the dead as a coming reality and the resurrection of Christ go together. If one occurred then the other will occur. Thus if Christ has risen, the resurrection of the dead is guaranteed.


Verse 14

'And if Christ has not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain.'

The whole of the Apostolic teaching was based on the fact that Jesus Christ had died, been buried and had risen again. The resurrection was not only the source of their faith in the effectiveness of what He had done, but was itself also the evidence of God's acceptance of it. And it was the spur that drove them on. It was as it were their trump card. Without that they had no message. Without that the Master was dead, and there was no avoiding the fact. Glorious though His teaching was, without the resurrection it was just another addition to the wisdom of the ages, even if a unique one. It was the fact that Christ had risen that had brought men new hope. It was that that had made the Apostles certain about the future, and confident that He was what He had said He was, the Lord of glory. It was that that had demonstrated that He had been declared both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

A living on of the soul would have proved nothing except that the soul could live on, and how could they ever have known that it was true? But the resurrection of the body, after His giving of Himself up to death, had made all the difference. It had revealed that He had been right in all He had said, it had declared the success of Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross, it had demonstrated the defeat of death, and it had shown God's full satisfaction with what He had accomplished. It was moreover also a pointer to the coming redemption of all things. So without that the Apostolic preaching was but a vanity, a nothing, and if that was so it meant that the faith of the Corinthians was also useless and nothing and empty. They had accepted an invalid message.


Verse 15

'Yes, we are found false witnesses of God, because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ, whom he did not raise up, if so be that the dead are not raised.'

Now we come to see why Paul went into such detail as to the witnesses of the resurrection. With Peter, James the Lord's brother, the twelve, all the Apostles and the covenant community all involved as witnesses the Corinthians will certainly be disassociating themselves from the whole church if they deny their reliability. In order to deny the resurrection they will have to declare them all false witnesses. That is, they will have to declare the accepted revealers of God and those who had walked with Christ on earth to be false witnesses about God.

For they had all seen Christ when He had been raised from the dead, and bore witness of God that He had raised Him up. Yet if we dogmatically say that the dead do not rise then Christ cannot have risen. For if He has then at least some dead do rise. Thus either the Apostles and their fellow-believers are liars and false witnesses about God or it is possible for the dead to rise.


Verse 16

'For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain, you are yet in your sins.'

But to declare that the dead are not raised is to declare that the dead Christ cannot have been raised. And if that is so their faith is vain and worthless and without purpose, it is meaningless, and they are still dead in their sins. Christ's death can then offer them nothing because His death has no seal on it and He has been proved a fake. All His promises and His insights are shown to have been in vain. He still lies cold in the grave.

And yet that is the whole uniqueness of the Christian message, that it puts forward as factual the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on the basis of solid witnesses and the subsequent effectiveness of their message. And intrinsic in that is that the resurrection is the hope of every believer because their sins have been forgiven through Christ's death for them.


Verse 18

'Then those also who are fallen asleep in Christ have perished.'

So the preceding suggestion that the dead do not rise, that Christ has not risen, and that they are thus yet in their sins, removes any hope for the future. They have died in sin and could only expect to perish. There can be no thought of them being in a state of 'sleep' awaiting the resurrection. Rather they are stone cold dead. They are not 'with Christ' (Philippians 1:23) in an intermediate state of bliss, their bodies sleeping in the grave. Rather they have perished.


Verse 19

'If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.'

For the fact is that in spite of all that He brought men, without the gift of eternal life which He promised, and which was the great hope he offered men, all else that He brought will be seen as a chimera, a dream, a pretence. What good is hope without fulfilment? We will have been filled with hope in vain and only misery will result from becoming aware if it. We will be the most miserable of men.


Verse 20

Christ's Death And Resurrection Has Cancelled Out Adam's Failure So That Triumph Is Assured (15:20-28)

'But now has Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those that are asleep.'

Having established his position Paul announces his conclusion triumphantly. 'Now has Christ been raised from the dead.' He has risen and He is the firstfruits of those who sleep, those who are dead in Christ. That is why they only sleep and will one day wake to eternal life beyond the grave. The firstfruits were the first growth that announced that the harvest was coming, and Christ's resurrection is the guarantee of the full-scale resurrection of all God's people.

So the resurrection of Christ is not only a glory in itself, it is the precursor of all that inevitably follows. Once Christ has risen the rest is guaranteed. He is the firstfruits. the final resurrection and triumph is the harvest that is sure to follow, until God is all in all.


Verse 21

'For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.'

This was why Jesus had to come as man. By man, and his sin, death came into the world. It was therefore necessary that another Man should come Who would defeat sin and death, provide the ransom, and demonstrate it by rising from the dead, thus making resurrection from the dead a certainty for all who are God's.


Verse 22

'For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.'

As a result of being 'in Adam' all men are dying. His sin and its taint carries through from generation to generation. All sin, and all are dying and will die. This is the due result of Adam's first sin, and of our connection with him. But in Christ a transformation has now taken place. Those who are in Christ, that is who have believed in Him, who have responded to Him, and who have come to Him through the cross, will all be made alive. He has received them and they are His. He was fully righteous in His life, and they have become righteous in Him with the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Having originally been affected by the sin of Adam believers have now been enveloped in the righteousness of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). This argument is expanded further in Romans 5:12 onwards. And in being enveloped in His righteousness they are borne along with Him towards the resurrection.


Verse 23-24

'But each in his own order, Christ the firstfruits, then those who are Christ's, at his coming. Then the end, when he has delivered up the Kingly Rule to God, even the Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power.'

But the predetermined order must be fulfilled. First will be Christ, the firstfruits, then those who are Christ's at His coming. The firstfruits will be followed by the harvest. For at His coming the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up, transformed and will meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall ever be with Him (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The harvest will have been gathered in.

'Then the end.' Once the resurrection has taken place, and the harvest has been gathered, it will be the end. Then Christ the King will deliver up the Kingly Rule to God, even the Father, and then will He abolish all rule and authority and power. As vividly depicted in Revelation 19:11-21 the Enemy will be defeated, the rebels judged, and Christ will be finally triumphant over all evil in process of yielding all to the Father.

Note the close connection between the abolishing of all rule and all authority and power and the delivering up of the Kingly Rule to God. The one follows close on the other, indeed are almost instantaneous. Both verbs are active aorist subjunctives.

The natural significance of these words is that 'then the end' follows immediately on the resurrection. Once the final resurrection has taken place, death has been destroyed, and nothing remains but the final triumph, when that which began with God is fully restored to God, so that He can be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). (But those who believe in a Millennium to come, which does not appear to fit in here, have to leave a gap so as to allow for it. But there is no room for a gap. The resurrection of His people results in the end of all earthly things. That finalises redemption. There is no point in anything further. And can we seriously think that someone who believed in the Millennium would have given no hint of it here?).

'He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.' Paul regularly refers to the heavenly antagonists of God in these and similar terms. Satan rules the 'power (= the kingdom with all its powers of evil) of darkness' (Colossians 1:13), he is the 'prince of the power (all that contributes to the power of his kingdom) of the air' (Ephesians 2:2). See also Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10; Colossians 2:15). Their rule and power will be rendered void, their positions of authority will be abolished, defeated through the cross.


Verse 25

'For he must reign, until he has put all his enemies under his feet.'

For Christ having taken His throne after His resurrection, has continued His reign, and must go on reigning until the final defeat of all His enemies both in Heaven and earth. And once they are under His feet as a result of His second coming, when all rule and authority and power has been abolished, then He will hand the crown to His Father.

'Rule and authority and power' indicates all that is in rebellion against God, all who have chosen to be independent of Him and establish themselves over against Him, whether Satan, his minions in the heavens, or his dupes on earth. All are to be 'put under His feet'. This idea, related to Kingship, comes from Psalms 110:1 compare Matthew 22:44, revealing Jesus Christ as the greater David, God's Anointed, and Philippians 2:10 as taken from Isaiah 45:23.


Verse 26

'The last enemy that is being abolished is death.'

And the final enemy that is being defeated is death. Once God's throne is established, and the resurrection has taken place, there will be no more death. It will have ceased. It will have been abolished. Thus the last enemy is being destroyed by the resurrection (compare the similar idea, although expressed differently in Revelation 20:11-15), and this being so all His other enemies must be defeated at His coming and at the resurrection.

When Adam sinned, death received its power, and it has reigned through the ages. It was Isaiah who declared that one day death would be swallowed up for ever (Isaiah 25:8) and followed it by speaking of a resurrection of bodies (Isaiah 26:19), and Hosea spoke of its conquest (Hosea 13:14). Now that hope will come to reality. Death will be destroyed by the resurrection to eternal life. And with it will be brought to nothing him who had the power of death, the Devil (Hebrews 2:14). That will be the end of all things, and the beginning of all things new.

Those who believe only in the spirit living on and the body remaining in the grave to end in nothingness, fail to look to this glorious hope and this final triumph of God. They see only the continual cycle of existence. But the glory of the Gospel is that one day God will bring to a final end all sin, all suffering and all rebellion, and all death and will rule over all. For just as all had a beginning, so all will have an end.


Verse 27

'For, "He 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 did subject all things to him.'

The words are a quotation from Psalms 8:6 where man's destined final triumph is declared. And in Christ as the great representative man this has been accomplished and will be accomplished, and it will be accomplished for Him by the Creator. It will be God Who will finally subject all things under Him.

The Psalmist portrayed a truth beyond his understanding. Somehow he knew that God had destined man, made a little lower than the angels, to be crowned with glory and honour, for had He not made him in the image of God, destined to rule? And he therefore knew that it must be. But he little realised how it would be brought about. We are to have the privilege of seeing the fulfilment of his hope in Christ, (and no doubt he will be standing there with us). Christ, the second man, raised from the dead and accompanied by His people whom He has also raised, is crowned with glory and honour with all things under His feet. He has fulfilled man’s destiny.

But that being so, there is One not put under Him. God alone, in the fullness of His Being, is that One. He is the great Exception. Man is to have total triumph over all things in Jesus Christ, but that triumph is under God.


Verse 28

'And when all things have been subjected to him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him who did subject all things to him, that God may be all in all.'

And then once the Son, as glorified man, having already received all authority and power (Matthew 28:19), has all finally subjected to Him, then He Himself will subject Himself as man’s Redeemer to the Godhead. And God will be all in all.

We must note carefully here the terminology. Christ has been raised and received Kingly Rule, then His own are raised with Him (1 Corinthians 15:23), then having abolished all authorities and powers (1 Corinthians 15:24), as the Son (1 Corinthians 15:28), He delivers the Kingly Rule to God the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). Then God is all in all. In this is made clear the mission of the Son, to come as the Anointed of God to bring about the redemption of all things, so that He might deliver all to the Father, at which point the Godhead become all in all.

'God will be all in all.' Once Christ's second coming has brought about the resurrection, and all enemies have been defeated, including death, and He has then handed all things over to God the Father, God will be all in all. God will be everything in all creation. He will be the sum of all things, to all. He will be the all sustaining sufficiency in all. There will be no need for a Mediator. God will be all, in all.

Does this then make the Son inferior to the Father? That is a human question. There is no inferiority in the Godhead. Jesus shares with the Father the glory that He had with Him before the world was (John 17:5), when with the Spirit they had been all in all. But the Son was commissioned by the Godhead to the task of redemption, and for that purpose emptied Himself (Philippians 2:6-7), making Himself lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:8-9), making Himself man, that dying on the cross of humiliation and shame, He might restore to God the Father the people whom He had chosen. And in His glorified manhood, having paid the price of sin, He was raised, and He was given again the name above every name, the name of Yahweh, so that all was subjected to Him, that in the end His re-establishment as 'Lord' (Yahweh) might be to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). But in the end it is God (not just God the Father) Who is all in all.


Verse 29

'Else what shall they do who are baptised for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptised for them?'

This first argument was possibly based on a custom at that time of baptising the dead by proxy (or possibly the mortally ill who could be described as 'dead' and in no condition to be baptised?). It would seem that it had become a custom in Corinth for people to be baptised on behalf of Christians who had died unbaptised or were so close to death that they could not be baptised. So 'for the dead' means being baptised for Christians who had died before they could be baptised, or were about to die and could not be baptised, so that there might be no loss by their not being baptised. The use of the article with 'dead' indicates from its use elsewhere that it is Christian dead who are in mind. When used of the general dead it does not generally have the article.

One point that he might be making here might be that once someone has died their spirit has passed on. If, as some of the Corinthians stated, their body is now finished with, what on earth point is there in someone going through a bodily ceremony for them? The baptism would be declaring these dead to be Christians, of what point would that be on bodies which had been cast off?

Others have referred it to being baptised on behalf of relatives who had died before the Gospel had reached Corinth, in the hope that it might be effective for them as those who had had no opportunity to receive Christ, or even on behalf of friends and relatives, in a general hope for those who had died unsaved. But Paul would hardly have accepted such ideas without protest. He has made quite clear earlier that it was the word of the cross that saved, not baptism (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).

Thus the first is the most likely to be the case, otherwise it would have smacked of that very thing that in chapter 1 he had rejected, that baptism was necessary to salvation, and could bring about salvation, in contrast with his view that it was the word of the cross that saved. He would hardly have quietly accepted that.

For in the case of the baptism on behalf of Christians who had died or were mortally ill Paul could see it as declaring to the world that the person had died (or was dying) trusting in Christ, saved by the word of the cross, and so could be seen as a physical and outward manifestation by proxy that he belonged to Christ. Thus he could go along with it. But what, says Paul, would be the point of that if the dead are not raised? It is the body which is being indicated to be Christ's, not the spirit.

This practise is not witnessed to anywhere else in the New Testament and is found in none of the earliest Christian literature, even though baptism had by then gained a deeper significance. It must therefore be assumed that it was a local practise. But all the Corinthians were seemingly involved in it. Indeed these whom he was disputing with clearly had a 'high' view of baptism (1 Corinthians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 10:2), so he points out that their practise is contrary to what they teach.

Other interpretations include the suggestion that ‘baptised’ here refers to the baptism of suffering which Jesus faced and which would face at least some of the Apostles (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38-39). Thus by this Paul would be saying, ‘Why should those who have suffered overwhelmingly in order to bring to Christ those who have now died in Christ, have done so if there is no resurrection?’ This would fit well the following verses, where the same thought would then be applied to Paul personally. Or alternately that the meaning is ‘baptised in readiness for being dead ones’. In other words why are Christians themselves baptised at all if they are not to rise from the dead? For Paul saw baptism as a depiction of that rising from the dead (Romans 6:4).


Verses 29-34

Further Arguments For The Necessity of Resurrection (15:29-34).

The assumption behind what follows is the belief among some of the Corinthians that man was made of both body and spirit, and that the body was unimportant, even evil, and would one day be cast of, while the spirits of all men were involved in the spirit world and all that was necessary was for them to be developed and enjoyed through manifestations of the spirit. Doing whatever they liked in the body and development of the spirit through spirit contact had become the basis of their lives. Then when death came their bodies would be buried and their spirits would live on. There was no need for redemption or the cross. They had fallen away from the Gospel. And yet they were still consorting with the church in Corinth.


Verses 30-32

'Why dowe(emphatic) also stand in jeopardy every hour? I swear by that glorifying in you, brothers, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'

His second argument (or continuation of the first) is based on the fact that being ready to suffer and die for the Gospel is folly if the view of these particular Corinthians is right. If the spirit already has its place in the spirit world, and the body is not to be raised, but to be cast off, why bother about physical life at all. Why not just enjoy it while waiting for the body to fall away?

But his own behaviour and that of his fellow-teachers is in contrast with this. Why do they gladly suffer as they do? It is because of their concern for people as people, and because of their belief in the importance of the body and its purity, because of their belief in the resurrection of the dead, and of their own resurrection, that he and his companions are prepared to face death daily, yes even hourly, as they are doing.

'I swear by that glorifying in you, brothers, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.' Paul rejoiced and gloried in the fact that he had founded the church at Corinth, as they well knew, and he now uses this recognised fact as a form of oath to stress the dangers he faced at Ephesus. He swore by that most precious thing that things were such that he faced death daily.

His was not a life of ease. ‘Fighting with beasts at Ephesus’ almost certainly indicates the savagery he has had to face in Ephesus from men who opposed the Gospel. So it is clear that during his time in Ephesus his life was constantly in danger. And yet he continued boldly preaching the Gospel, because he was confident that should he die he would finally experience the resurrection of the body. Thus he cared not what they did to his body. And he was concerned that others too might enjoy a similar resurrection.

'If after the manner of men --- .' If he simply faced mortal danger for the same things and for the same reasons for which men would do it, it would be no gain to him at all. In fact it would be folly in his view to face daily the possibility of death for such reasons. To him it was only belief in the resurrection of the dead that justified it. But if these Corinthians were right what he was doing was folly.

'If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.' Indeed, he says, if there is no resurrection of the body why not just enjoy life to excess, for then the Gospel has nothing about it that is worth sacrificing for. If the body is simply bound for the grave why not then reflect the same hopeless and frivolous attitude as was reflected in the besieged men of Judah in Jerusalem at the time of Sennacherib (Isaiah 22:13)?

No, the whole behaviour of he and his fellow-teachers was proof of the resurrection of the body. They considered that the behaviour of the body was important because that had been set apart for Christ. (This argument might not have carried much weight with the die-hards, but Paul has in mind those who are still open to considering all the facts, and who still favoured him and his ministry).


Verse 33-34

'Do not be deceived. Evil companionships (or 'conversations') corrupt good morals. Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not. For some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to move you to shame.'

Paul finally uses his arguments to stress the need for right behaviour, and to declare that wrong doctrine produces wrong behaviour. Some Corinthians behaved badly because they considered that the body was not important, that only the spirit was involved in redemption. The others should recognise that mixing with the wrong people who teach such falsehood will corrupt their morals.

'Do not be deceived.' Compare on 1 Corinthians 3:18 where there was a danger that they would be deceived by false wisdom, the same situation as here. See also 1 Corinthians 6:9 where he warns against their being deceived about the fact that those who commit sin easily will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God. So, he says, let them be quite clear on the fact, that, as the proverb says, 'evil companionships (and their conversations) corrupt good morals (character, habits, moral attitudes)'. This latter comes from the Greek poet Menander's 'Thais' but had by this time become a popular saying. The word for companionships can also signify conversations. The principle is simple. Listen to the wrong people and you will be morally bankrupted.

'Awake to soberness righteously, and sin not.' The verb may mean simply to wake up, but can also refer to waking from drunken stupor, which is a play on the idea in 1 Corinthians 15:32. Thus Paul is saying 'awake to soberness, and in so waking be righteous and behave righteously, and sin not'. They should wake up from their folly and not behave with folly. This would confirm that those who rejected the resurrection of the body were also careless about morals.

'For some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to move you to shame.' And the result of their excessive so-called spirituality is that they are seemingly not aware that among their number are those who have no knowledge of God. They are too taken up with 'spirit' activity to recognise their own failings and lack. While boldly claiming divine knowledge they are failing to pass on that true knowledge to their adherents. There are now those in the church who, for all their outward manifestations, do not know God. And he seeks to move them to shame about it.

So in this important section Paul differentiates between his own Gospel and their Gospel, for they have fallen away from and have ceased to proclaim the true Gospel, so much so that some of their adherents do not even know God. They have not experienced the power of the Gospel. These Corinthians consider that they already talk with angelic speech and that they are one with the spiritual world, and the consequence is that they consider that that is all important and that the body and its behaviour is unimportant.

So he appeals for them to awake from their drunken stupor and recognise the truth. Let them consider his own endurance, and that of his fellow-teachers. Let them recognise from that the truth of the resurrection of the body, (for why else would Paul and his fellow-teachers endure what they do?), and that the consequence of that is that what the body does is important, and let them recognise that the spiritual experience they now have is at least partly spurious, and is actually leading them into sins in the body for which they will have to give account (1 Corinthians 4:5).

What Form Will The Resurrection Body Take? (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).

Up to this point Paul's emphasis has been on the resurrection of 'the dead'. Now he begins to deal with the related question, the resurrection of 'the body'. When we speak of the resurrection of the dead, with what kind of body will they rise? Paul answers that it is in some way connected with the old body, but is a spiritual body, arising out of the physical but not itself physical.


Verse 35

The Resurrection Body (15:35)

Certain of the Corinthians, with many Greeks, could not believe that a human body could enter the spiritual world. Thus the idea of the resurrection of the body was foolishness to them. This is therefore the next question with which Paul deals.

'But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come?'

The question arises as to the nature of the resurrection body. The body dies and is laid in the grave where it corrupts and disintegrates, and becomes food for other creatures. Some are blown up into small pieces, others are destroyed by fire. From where then comes the resurrection body? And how can such a body enter into a spiritual world? How can it live on for ever? Of what is its nature?


Verses 36-38

'You foolish one. What you yourself sow is not made alive except it die. And what you sow, you do not sow the body which shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind. But God gives it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own.'

Paul, now calling them foolish for being so undiscerning about what God can do, replies by pointing to nature. As nature reveals, for seed that is sown death is not the end, rather it is the precursor of life. Men do not sow the full body of what shall be, but merely the bare grain. And from that small beginning comes the full growth of whatever crop it is. Nobody looking at the acorn would imagine that within it was a mighty oak. So God takes each seed and produces from it its own body, and there are many varieties. The thought is that in the case of human beings who are raised from the dead a new body will be produced, resulting from the seed of the old which has died. This is intended only to be an illustration, not a scientific explanation. It is simply saying that God does not need much of the old with which to create a new spiritual body which shares the essence of the old, and that death is therefore not necessarily final but can be the precursor of new life.

‘You foolish one.’ In the Old Testament those who fail to take God into account are regularly called ‘fools’ or ‘foolish’. Compare Psalms 14:1; Psalms 53:1; Psalms 74:18-22.


Verses 39-41

'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 fishes. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial. But the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory.'

He points out that there are also many types of body. There are fleshly bodies. Men, beasts, birds and fish all have differing types of terrestrial body. But there are also heavenly bodies as well as terrestrial. And their glory is above that of the terrestrial, and each differs in glory. Thus there are the sun, moon and stars, and they all differ in glory. So may we also expect that the resurrection body will be different again, and again differ in glory.

We note that the earthly bodies are described in terms of flesh, although they do have a certain level of glory, while he speaks of the heavenly bodies solely in terms of glory. Thus the movement from earth to the heavens is a movement from a lower glory to a higher one, as all can see simply by examining the heavens. This is in preparation for speaking of the fleshly, terrestrial body of man, as connected with earth, becoming the glorious, heavenly body of resurrected man, as connected with Heaven, where all is glory, and yet as having a glory even greater than that of the heavenly bodies.

Paul was almost certainly thinking back to Daniel 12:2-3 where the resurrected dead were to shine as the stars for ever and ever. But he is careful not just to associate the new spiritual life with the glory of the stars, for they not only differ with each other in glory but are inferior to the resurrection body. At this stage he has on mind three types of body, fleshly, with its lower level of glory; heavenly and thus celestial and glorious; and spiritual, which we learn later has its own heavenly glory.

'There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial.' To catch his meaning here we may translate, 'As well as terrestrial bodies there are also heavenly bodies.' (Compare for a similar construction 1 Corinthians 16:18 a).


Verses 42-44

'So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour; 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.'

'It' must in context refer to 'the body'. So the resurrection body, while connected with the old in some way, is totally new and unlike anything else we know. The dying and disposal of the old body is like the sowing and dying of a seed. The body is sown as a corrupt and decaying body. But what is raised is incorruptible and undecaying. It is sown in its humble earthly state, but what is raised is honourable and glorious. It is sown in a state of weakness, as a weak and frail body, but it is raised in power, as strong and vibrant and whole. It dies a natural (soulish) body, connected with the earthly creation, it is raised a spiritual body, connected with the spiritual world. Yet this must not just be seen as its spirit existing on. It has some kind of relationship with the previous body. Through Christ death results in new life for the body. But while emphasising that, he also emphasises the clear distinction between the two bodies. We must not expect to rise again as we are now. Our new form will be not liable to corruption, it will be honourable and glorious, powerful and spiritual. There will be no more disfigurements, no more disabilities, no more frailty, all will be perfected.

This might be seen as important with relation to the make-up of man. It suggests that the 'physical body' contains a spiritual element which is outside the range of science to discover, and is yet an integral part of the man's 'body', brought to life by his new birth in Christ by the Spirit, for it is that part which will form the basis of the new resurrection body.

We know a little of Jesus’ resurrection body, but it would be dangerous to argue from Jesus' resurrection body to our own. Certainly His was not an ordinary body. He could come and go instantaneously. But it was necessary that it be recognisable and that the nail prints and spear wound could be seen, and that He be able to eat earthly food. Nothing of that will be necessary for the resurrection body of God's people.


Verse 45

'So also it is written, "The first man Adam became a living soul." The last Adam was a life-giving spirit.'

He then illustrates this from history and Scripture. 'The first Adam became a living soul' (Genesis 2:7). When man was first created God breathed into him and he became a living being with a body of flesh, and he passed on life to those who followed him. All who were produced from him and his seed, owed all they were to him, and were by nature like him. He was a 'living soul', a body with life breathed in by God.

But in contrast the last Adam is a life-giving spirit, a Spirit Who in essence has spiritual life in Himself which He can dispense to others. Through what He was, and now is through His resurrection, Jesus not only had life in spiritual form but was also a potential giver of that life. All was totally different. As Adam began the old creation, and passed on earthly life to his children, a life he had received from God, so Christ, the last Adam, begins the new creation, and gives spiritual life to His own, a life which comes from Himself and from God. And they too become like Him (1 John 3:2).

We note that Jesus is the last Adam, not the second. Jesus Christ is the ultimate, the final life-giver. There can never be another. A third is not a possibility. No other will be necessary. He has fulfilled all that God had intended in Adam, and is the beginning of the new humanity.

It would, however, be a mistake to think that it was the resurrection which made Christ a life-giving Spirit and that He had not been so before. What it did do was reveal Him as a life-giving Spirit to those who were dead in sin. Prior to that He could give life, for ‘the Son has life in Himself --- and makes alive whom He will’ (John 5:21; John 5:26). But nevertheless He also declared Himself to be the One Who would give final resurrection life (John 5:28-29). So all life is in His hands, both that given while He was still alive, and that which is in the future. And the life Jesus gives includes finally the resurrection of the body, for only so is the full restoration of the creation seen to occur. And that was only possible because He would suffer for our sins and rise again. From the very beginning in Him was life and the life was the light of men (John 1:4) and it was from Him that Adam received his life (John 1:3-4). And He could therefore confidently declare 'I am the Life' (John 14:6; John 11:35). The giver of life to Adam. The source of life for His own. Yet it will be through the resurrection that that fact will be especially manifested in the raising of men to a perfect life so that He could declare ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:35). So Jesus, John and Paul agree together.


Verse 46

'Howbeit that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; then that which is spiritual.'

But there is an order to things. First comes what is of nature ( natural, soulish), where life is imparted to the flesh by God, and then that which is spiritual, with full spiritual life being received from Him Who is Spirit and Who is the life-giver. The one was always to precede the other. Had Adam not sinned he would have progressed from soulish man to spiritual man. But when he sinned the seed died within him. Thus another, a second representative Man, had to come, who could provide that heavenly life which was lost in Adam.


Verse 47

'The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is of heaven.'

For the first man, the source of the life of all men, is earthy, and is of the earth, as are they. But the second man is of Heaven. Paul has now come to the point where he feels that he can speak of what is heavenly without it simply being connected with sun, moon and stars, but rather being seen as that which is greater than the stars. Again Genesis 2 is in mind. Man was made of the earth, and as such returned to the earth. But the second man was not only made of earth, He was of Heaven. That is central to what He is.

By sin man had lost that heavenly part of himself, and had shut himself up ever to be earthy. But the second man was of Heaven. He had not lost that heavenly part of Himself. It was central to what He was. And although He had come as earthy, although He was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), it was in order to be the source of that new heavenly life for men.

So they must see that life in Christ has changed everything. Those who have that life are no longer just living souls, they have received life from above, heavenly life, coming from the Life-giver Himself Who while on earth could say that He was the man from Heaven (John 3:13) and could claim 'I am the life' (John 14:6; John 11:35). They can thus not only be described as citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), but are in their bodies imbued with heavenly life which will come to its full fruition in the resurrection. Even while on earth they dwell in Christ in the spiritual realm, in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).


Verse 48

'As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.'

And just like the first man was of the earth, and so produced earthy descendants of similar nature to himself, so is the second man heavenly, and produces heavenly seed of like nature. Those who look to Adam will die. Those who look to Christ have everlasting life (John 5:24). They have passed from death to life. They are, as it were, already heavenly men.


Verse 49

'And as we have borne the image of the earthy, so let us bear the image of the heavenly.'

That being so, says Paul, consider how it should change our whole attitude to life. When we bore only the image of the earthy and were in Adam it was natural that we would behave in an earthy fashion. But now that we are united with the One Who has heavenly life, and Who has imparted to our mortal bodies that heavenly life so that we bear the image of the heavenly, how different we should be. In those who are in Christ all should see the image of the heavenly in their mortal bodies, for they will behave like Christ. And in the end at the resurrection that image of the heavenly will shine through to such an extent that it will become all prevailing, so that as we ourselves originally bore the image of the earthy, so on resurrection we will bear the image of the heavenly to its fullest extent, and will be spiritual and glorious and Christ-like.

An alternative rendering of the second section is ‘so shall we bear the image of the heavenly’. But all the best manuscripts apart from B, both Eastern and Western, support the above reading, and it is the harder reading. We can therefore see no grounds for not accepting it as the original.


Verse 50

'Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Neither does corruption inherit incorruption.'

He then emphasises that flesh and blood, our earthy body as it is, cannot inherit the Kingly Rule of God in its heavenly form, cannot come into God's presence as it is. What is corruptible and decaying, cannot as it is inherit a life which is incorruptible. There will therefore need to be a mighty transformation through resurrection. But this need for transformation also includes those living when Christ comes. They too cannot be taken as they are. They too must be transformed.

What then will bring about this change that means that earthly Christians can inherit their heavenly kingdom? It is by their bodies being made spiritual and heavenly, being made incorruptible, by the power of God. They will no longer be flesh and blood. They will be heavenly.


Verse 51

'Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.'

The answer lies in a mystery of God now revealed. And that is that although we shall not all die because some will be living when Christ comes, nevertheless whether living or dying we who are His shall all be changed, shall be transformed. In a moment it will happen, as quick as the eye can blink, for we shall all be changed at the sounding of the last trump. For when that trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised in their new form as incorruptible and undecaying, and the living saints will be transformed.

The ‘we’ indicates the possibility, but not the certainty, that Paul will still be alive when Christ comes. It basically means ‘we who are His’. There will be some Christians living when the Lord comes.

Reference to the last trump in this way would naturally be seen as indicating the end of all things physical. The battle is over. The final trumpet is sounded. It seems to be linking back with 1 Corinthians 15:23-26 and saying that at this time God is bringing all things finally to completion. Compare Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16. It is God’s call to final deliverance for the righteous and final judgment for the unrighteous. However, those who believe in a Millennium and a post-rapture tribulation have a difficulty here, for they have to try to fit it into their schemat by some means or other, none convincing. For in context here it is difficult to conceive that Paul could have spoken like this had he not thought that this indicated the final glorious hour, the end of all things physical (compare 1 Corinthians 15:23-26). The whole passage rings with finality. From that time on death is no more. The eternal future begins. He is not obviously speaking of a stage in the process of events, but of the final triumph of God when creation is restored.


Verse 53-54

'For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then will come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.'

Indeed he accentuates that fact. All is changed, and death ceases. God’s people will no longer live in decaying bodies, they will have been clothed with incorruptible bodies. They will no longer be mortal, they will have become immortal. Elsewhere Paul tells us that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16). Now this will be changed. He will give it also to His people.

And this is the time when death is swallowed up for ever (Isaiah 25:8) in victory. This surely indicates God's final victory, when death ceases and we have the introduction of eternity. It describes the end of corruption and decay, the end of mortality, and this fact is doubly emphasised. For then death ceases, it is swallowed up in victory. Surely this is the end of all things old, and the beginning of all things new. It is what all has been leading up to (1 Corinthians 15:23-26). There is no room for further earthly events.

In Revelation 20 John describes all this in terms of a great white throne of judgment with the righteous whose names were written in the book of life going into eternity and the unrighteous being destroyed, along with death and the grave. The picture of victory is the same as here. The death of death and salvation for His own.

(Some may ask, but what of the thousand years in Revelation 20:4? Our reply is that it refers to the period between the resurrection of Christ and His final coming as a period of completeness and perfection. Compare 2 Peter 3:8. For the New Testament knows nothing of any other millennium).

But from where does Paul obtain the thought of victory? In Isaiah 25:8 the word translated ‘for ever’ can also (as repointed without changing the letters) be translated ‘in victory’, which is elsewhere in LXX used as a synonym for ‘for ever’. Thus Paul draws the idea of victory out to indicate that the triumph over death is not only permanent but a symbol of victory. It is everlasting victory.


Verse 55

'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'

Paul now comes back to the present and is so carried away with the glory of the idea that he chides death itself as he considers the resurrection of the dead. So death thought that it had won? Death thought that it would be always victorious, that it had the victory? For had not all died? Ah, yes, that was true until the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But now all is different. There is now One Who has defeated death. Death has not finally won, for in Christ life has triumphed. Death has lost its sting. The one thing that gave it invincible power has been dealt with. The victory no longer goes to death, it belongs to Him.

There is an echo here of Hosea 13:14, but the general ideas expressed are dissimilar. It is the form, ringing in his mind, and some of the ideas, rather than the basic meaning that Paul has utilised, just as we sometimes may use Biblical wording to express something different from its original meaning. Note that he does not say, ‘it is written’.


Verse 56

'The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.'

He visualises death as like a vicious insect or scorpion with its poisonous sting. And what was death’s sting? It was sin. Once man had sinned, he was sentenced to death. And subsequently all men sinned, and therefore all died. All were stung by sin. And it continues so to be. But then One came Who had not sinned, and yet He too was sentenced to death. He too died. And in that was Satan’s error. For He Who died bore the sin of all who would be His (1 Corinthians 15:3), of all who had been given to Him by the Father (John 6:39). And thus was death rendered powerless. In Christ the power of sin was broken, the guilt of sin was removed, and for those who submitted themselves to Christ, death had no further sting. It was sheathed in Jesus Christ in Whom it could have no everlasting effect, because He was the ultimate sacrifice and the Lord of life.

‘And the power of sin is the Law.’ Here too there is tragedy. The Law that should have given life gives only death, for it is the Law that condemns man unceasingly. When a man sins the Law points at him unerringly. It declares, ‘man, you have sinned, for you have broken one of my precepts.’ And he knows then that he is doomed, and that death is the inevitable consequence. That he has no hope. He has sinned and he must die. And the more he sins the more the Law condemns him. The Law which should have been his hope, and should have meant that he could live triumphantly, could now only condemn. By his sin man has turned God’s blessing into a curse. For once he had sinned it became his accuser.

This idea of the Law is amplified later in Romans 7:7-14. But whether Paul here means the Law of Moses, or the general law that governs mankind (Romans 2:15) we cannot be certain. There has been no prior emphasis on the Law in 1 Corinthians. Yet the question is not a vital one. To Paul God’s Law underlay all law (Romans 2:14). And the principle remains the same. Moral law, which is intended for good, condemns once sin is committed.


Verse 57

'But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory continually (present tense) through our Lord Jesus Christ.'

But now all is changed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection we are delivered. We are being given victory continually, victory over sin now, and finally the victory over death that Christ has accomplished. When the Law condemns us we point it to Jesus Christ. ‘You have sinned,’ thunders the Law. ‘Christ died for our sins,’ we reply, ‘and the sting of death has been sheathed in Him. And He has been raised from the dead. Thus do we know that His sacrifice of Himself was accepted.’ God has given Him, and is giving us, the victory, so that even as we die it is in hope of the resurrection.

And that victory will finally be fully established at the resurrection. Then death will be conquered. It will be no more. And it is all due to Him. It is through God, to Whom we give thanks, and through our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are given the victory, the final victory of everlasting life in all its glorious perfection.


Verse 58

'Wherefore, my beloved brothers, be you steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.'

What then does this mean for us? Does it mean that we can sin freely because all our sin is laid on Christ? We can surely hear Paul say quite clearly, ‘God forbid!’ Indeed it is because of this, he says, that you must be ‘steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord’. Having received so great a deliverance they must concentrate every effort on being Christlike, on letting Christ do His work through them. On showing the love of 1 Corinthians 13, on revealing the true spiritual gifts in ministry to God’s people, on true and united worship, and on holy and righteous living. And last but not least, on reaching out to the lost in order to bring in God’s harvest. (Compare 1 Corinthians 16:10). Our lives must mirror the perfection and purpose of His life.

‘Steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding.’ This represents full commitment, firm faith, and continual activity in Christ in all spheres. There is no place for sin, no room for selfishness. All that Christ would do on earth we must do. That is what the promise of the future demands of us. We are to reveal the heavenly nature (1 Corinthians 15:49) and the heavenly power.

‘Forasmuch as you know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.' And this is why we must do so. Because we know that the Lord has triumphed. Because we know that He will raise us up. For from now on we know that in the light of His resurrection the purpose of our labour is meaningful, and the reward for our labour is certain. Because of this our service can never be in vain. Difficulties may arise. The way may be hard. But the final triumph is assured. How then can we fail to play our full part in it?

We should note here how Paul chose to end this passage. It is with an exhortation to righteous living and holiness. The doctrine was important in order that we might know the truth about the resurrection, but equally important is our response to that doctrine. Without the latter the former is but empty words. Paul has no room for great theoreticians whose lives do not reveal the truth of what they teach. Like James he would say, ‘faith without works is dead’.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-15.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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