The Importance of the Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-11)
The “moreover” at the beginning of this chapter is the Greek word for “but.” Its usage here indicates that Paul is about to launch into a completely different topic. Among the Corinthians, some were claiming there wasn’t going to be a resurrection from the dead (I Corinthians 15:12). This isn’t the only place such teaching was appearing (II Timothy 2:18). Therefore, Paul addresses this issue in a powerful set of arguments.
Paul reminds them that they had received the gospel message from him, it is what they stand for, it is what saved them, and it is what they need to hold on to (Hebrews 3:6). If none of this were true, then what they believed was worthless.
What Paul taught in Corinth did not originate with him. He is merely the messenger relaying what he was told. It wasn’t some new teaching either. Everything that happened to Jesus was prophesied in the Scriptures. Jesus dies for our sins, just as God said he would (Psalms 23; 69; Isaiah 53:1-12; Daniel 9:24-26; Zechariah 12:10). Jesus did not simply die. There was a purpose to his death – to bring salvation to mankind. He was buried but was resurrected on the third day, just as God said would happen (Psalms 16:10-11; Isaiah 53:9; Hosea 6:2). Paul’s point is that Jesus’ death was not accidental. His death, burial, and resurrection was fully intended to take place. Therefore, it cannot be said that Jesus’ followers were making up the resurrection to soothe their grief.
Jesus’ resurrection was a fact, testified to by numerous witnesses:
- Peter (Luke 24:34)
- The twelve apostles (Luke 24:36; John 20:26)
- Seen by over 500, most of who were still alive at the time of this writing and could be interviewed.
- All the apostles again (Luke 24:50; John 21:14; Acts 1:2-12)
- Paul (Acts 9:3-5, 17; 22:14-18)
Paul’s case was different from the rest because he was not a follower of Jesus while he was on earth. The other apostles witnessed Jesus' life directly, but Paul was born later, out of the proper time for apostles to be selected. He was an exception to the rule. The wording in the Greek for “born out of due time” is actually the words for a child born too soon to live – a miscarriage. Paul is focusing more on the fact that he was fit to live for Christ.
In Paul’s mind, he didn’t deserve the position Jesus placed upon him. Because of his past when he persecuted the church (Acts 8:3; 9:1; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6; I Timothy 1:13), Paul knew that the mercy he received was beyond measure. Thus, Paul is saying that like a child born too soon is small and sickly, he had a bad start in life. Such also caused Paul additional hardships in serving as an apostle of Christ.
But it is due to God’s grace that Paul is who he is. He has worked hard to overcome his poor start, working harder than all the apostles. This is not an attempt to elevate himself. He was able to work so much harder because of the grace that God gave him. It doesn’t matter if what was taught came through him or one of the other apostles. What they all teach and what the Corinthians believe come from the same source. The teaching is consistent. And in this particular case, Paul is implying that all teach the fact of the resurrection.
- There are people who claim the title of “apostle” today. Why can there not be modern-day apostles?
- Is the gospel only about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? Why is Paul putting so much emphasis on it?
The Hope of the Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:12-19)
Given the importance of the resurrection, Paul finds it puzzling that some in Corinth are claiming that there is no resurrection. There are hints that such teachings had spread among some of the churches. Paul had to tell the Thessalonians not to grieve for those who had already died (I Thessalonians 4:13-14). Hymeneus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection was already over and done with (II Timothy 2:17-18).
Paul takes the claim to its logical conclusion. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ, who died, couldn’t have been raised either. But without Christ’s resurrection, the preaching of the gospel is meaningless (Acts 2:32; 4:33; Romans 1:4). All those witnesses would have to be liars and there is nothing to believe in. Logically a person cannot claim the dead are not raised and claim that Christ rose from the dead at the same time.
By it was by Jesus’ death and resurrection that we have forgiveness of sin (Romans 4:25; 5:10; 8:33-34; Hebrews 9:28). So if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then we haven’t been forgiven.
Another consequence is that if there is no resurrection, then only people who are alive can enter heaven. If you die, then you lost your chance (I Thessalonians 4:13-14). Paul’s choice of calling death “sleep” is not arbitrary. If we can call death “sleep” then it is clear that we expect to “awake” from death. Thus, even our terminology shows that we believe in a resurrection.
If hope is only in this life, then Christians have been going about it the wrong way. They live as if earthly life doesn’t matter (Acts 14:22; I Corinthians 4:10-13; II Timothy 3:12). They aren’t getting all the joy that they can out of earthly living. They are willing to die for their faith (Matthew 10:21-25; 24:9; John 16:2; I Corinthians 4:9), but such a death would end any hope they have of heaven if the dead cannot be resurrected.
The Final Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-28)
Fortunately, the concept of no resurrection is a false one. Christ has risen from the dead. The firstfruits (the first harvest) of those who have died (Acts 26:23; Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5). It was through one man, Adam, that death entered the world. It was also by one man, Jesus, that life was returned to the dead (John 11:25; Romans 5:12-19).
The resurrections must take place in their proper order. The term is a military one dealing with marching in ranks. Christ was the first, the rest will rise at his return (John 5:28-29; I Thessalonians 4:16; Colossians 3:4). At this point comes the end, not at some distant future, but immediately at this point in time.
Jesus will return the kingdom and the authority he was given back to the Father (Matthew 28:19). All that Jesus ruled will have been conquered by him (Luke 19:27; Colossians 1:20; Philippians 2:10-11; 3:21). The very last thing that will be conquered is death itself (Hosea 13:14; II Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:14). Notice the implication that Jesus is now ruling.
The fact that Jesus was given all authority implies that there is one above him who gave him the authority (Psalms 8:6; I Peter 3:22); that one is the Father (I Corinthians 11:3).
- Is Paul talking about physical or spiritual death and resurrection?
- Does Paul describe a millennial reign of Christ occurring after his return?
- If death is destroyed, what does that imply about sin (Romans 6:23)?
Literary Style: Type / Antitype
If you have ever seen an old fashion typewriter or typesetting machine, you will find a series of metal types each with a letter on it. These are pressed with ink to leave an impression of the type on paper. The ink impression is the anti-type (against type). The anti-type is both similar and different from the type. Understanding one helps you understand the other through comparisons and contrasts.
In this passage, Adam is the type and Jesus is the anti-type. There are similarities and differences between what these two did in the world. If we understand how Adam’s sin impacted the world, we are better able to understand how Jesus’ sacrifice impacted the world.
The Impact of the Resurrection on Life (I Corinthians 15:29-34)
I Corinthians 15:29 has confused many people. In part, because people have tried to understand it without taking the context into account. First, notice the use of the pronoun, “they.” Paul is not including himself when asking this question. Working our way backward, “they” refers to those among the Corinthians who are saying there is no resurrection from the dead (I Corinthians 15:12) and is verified when Paul said, “if the dead do not rise at all.”
The word “dead” is plural in Greek throughout this verse, so Paul is not talking of just one person’s death. Because Paul follows it by pointing out that the apostles stand in jeopardy of death constantly, it would appear that Paul is talking about those who have died before. People like Stephen (Acts 7:53-60) and Antipas (Revelation 2:13) died for their faith. These deaths served as examples that spurred people to follow their example and become Christians (Hebrews 11:39-12:3). So Paul’s question is why did these false teachers follow the example of people who died for their faith? It would be crazy to be baptized into a faith that leads to martyrdom if the dead are not raised. It would be crazy for the apostles to stand for a faith that threatens their lives if the dead are not raised.
Another possible view of this passage is to note that people are baptized to gain hope of the resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). If there is no resurrection, then they are really being baptized for their deaths and not for their lives.
Paul brings his point to a more personal level. He lays down his life daily for his Lord (Romans 8:36; I Corinthians 4:9; II Corinthians 4:10-11; 11:23). This is solidly affirmed by his efforts seen in Corinth. Why would he put his life in jeopardy (“fought with beasts”) where he is currently at in Ephesus if there is no hope of a resurrection.
If there is no resurrection, then the motivations for life are purely human motives of this world, people should be seeking to get as much pleasure out of life now. “Eat, drink, and be merry!” Which God called a foolish declaration (Luke 12-19-20).
Therefore, Paul warns the Corinthians not to be deceived by these false teachers. Associating with them will corrupt their spirituality because their teaching leads one to look at life purely from the world’s viewpoint (I John 2:15-17).