1 Corinthians 15-16



The previous article offered (i) an outline of 1 Corinthians 15 and (ii) some expository comments on verses 1-19. The present article provides expository comments on verses 20-49.

For ease of reference, the outline of the chapter is reproduced below.

Verses 1-34 deal with the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. The section ends with the practical implication of believing that this life is all that there is, v. 32; namely to live a life of self-indulgence.

Verses 35-58 deal with the main intellectual objection to the doctrine. The section ends with the practical implication of believing that this life is not all that there is, v. 58. If for us as believers there is a real heaven the other side of death and a time of review for all our service, then we should live for God and be energetic and resolute in our labour for the Lord.

Verses 1-34 break down into two main sections: namely verses 1-19 and verses 20-34. Both sections consist of a block of teaching – vv. 1-11 and vv. 20-28 – followed by the implications of denying that particular teaching – vv. 12-19 and vv. 29-34. In summary therefore:

1a. In verses 1-11, Paul asserts that the resurrection of Christ forms an essential and integral part of the apostolic gospel. This section looks backward – transporting us into the realm of history.

1b. In verses 12-19, Paul draws out the implications of denying that Christ has been raised; note the words, ‘if Christ has not been raised’, vv. 14, 17 lit.

2a. In verses 20-28, Paul asserts that the resurrection of the believer and of all men forms an essential and integral part of God’s programme for the future. This section looks forward – projecting us into the realm of prophecy.

2b. In verses 29-34, Paul draws out the implications of denying that the believer will be raised; note the words, ‘if the dead are not raised’, vv. 29, 32 lit.

Moving on from his consideration of the resurrection of Christ, Paul explains in verses 20-28 that the resurrection of the Christian – and indeed that of all men – forms an essential and integral part of God’s plan and purpose for future.

Verse 2 We note Paul’s outburst of overpowering conviction – ‘But now Christ has been raised from among the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’, lit. I suspect that his reference to Christ as ‘the firstfruits’ suggested itself to him because his letter was written in the run up to the feast of Pentecost, 16. 8 – that is, at some time around the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits. This may also explain why, back in chapter 5, Paul introduced references to ‘Christ our Passover’ and to ‘the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’, vv. 6-8. The point here in chapter 15 is that, as raised from the dead, Christ is the firstfruits of an abundant harvest – the pledge and guarantee of the ingathering of the rest. But in what sense can the Lord Jesus be said to be the firstfruits? What about the cases of resurrection in the days of Elijah and Elisha – or the several resurrection-miracles performed by the Lord Himself? In what sense could Paul inform king Agrippa that, following His suffering, Christ was ‘the first to rise from the dead’, Acts 26. 23?

In Romans 6, the apostle puts his finger on that which distinguishes the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from all of the other cases – ‘Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over Him’, v. 9. Those raised previously had each been raised to a continued earthly existence and either had died again or would die again. But it wasn’t simply that – in terms of a prolonged life – they had been granted only temporary visas whereas the Lord Jesus was granted full resident status. The difference was far more profound than that. He had conquered death and had risen to an altogether different kind of life – to another dimension altogether.

When Lazarus had been raised, he ‘came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth’, John 11. 44. Lazarus had indeed been raised – but he couldn’t pass through even the grave clothes, let alone the walls of his rock tomb. He still had exactly the same kind of body he had before he died – he needed to come out through the same door through which he had been carried in – and he would die again. But when the Lord Jesus rose, He passed right through both His grave clothes and the walls of His rock tomb – bursting out into another dimension altogether. He is the mighty Conqueror, ‘alive for evermore’ and possessing ‘the keys of both Hades and of death’, Rev. 1. 18.

Verses 21-22 teach that it is in every way fitting that resurrection should come through the agency – the channel of man – because death had. Just as Adam brought ‘death’ – including physical death – not only on himself but on his whole family and line – on all those associated with him as their head – so Christ not only rose Himself but He is the means of bringing ‘life’ – including physical life – namely, resurrection – to all His line – to all those who by faith are linked and associated with Him.

Verse 23 But each ‘in his own order’. This is a military metaphor – picturing the arrangement of a regiment of troops into its various ranks. That is, if you like, ‘each in his own rank’ – Christ the firstfruits, then those who are ‘of Christ’ – those who belong to Him. And these will rise when He ‘comes’ – that is, when He arrives and is personally present with them – it is the word used of the ‘coming’ of Paul’s three friends, 16. 17.

Verses 24-28 The word ‘then’, v. 24, means ‘after, subsequently’ – not necessarily ‘straight after’. ‘The end’ signifies the climax, the consummation of all, and here we reach the very borderland of eternity. And then the Lord Jesus ‘delivers the kingdom to God the Father’ – but only after – and it is desperately important we note this – He has ‘destroyed’ all rule, authority, power. That is, He delivers up the kingdom only after He has rendered all of these powerless and inoperative – has annulled and put them out of commission and immobilised them (note 1). In verses 24-28, Paul places tremendous emphasis on the word 'all’ – employing it no less than nine times in these five verses. His point is very simple: in accordance with Psalm 8. 6, God’s ultimate purpose and programme is that 'all’ things are to be subjected beneath Christ’s feet – beneath the feet of the Son of Man, v. 27. The only One not to be subjected to the Son of Man is God Himself, v. 28. All of Christ’s ‘enemies’ – all who oppose and resist Him – every last one of them – are to be destroyed – to be put beneath His feet, v. 25. cf. Ps. 110.1.

But one of His principal and foremost enemies is death. Indeed, death will hold out to the final scene and episode of all. It will be the last enemy to be destroyed, v. 26, – but destroyed it will be! Death, Paul insists here, will not have the last word.
Revelation 20 reveals how, at the very end of time, both Death and Hades will surrender up the dead which are in them and will be both hurled into the lake of fire, vv. 13- 14. In that passage, John personifies Death and Hades as two unspeakably cruel tyrants – Death having claimed men’s bodies and long held them captive – and Hades having claimed men’s souls and long held them captive. John sees these two immensely powerful despots finally defeated and destroyed – long after the Beast and false prophet – and even after the devil himself, 19. 20; 20. 10. As we have noted above, John had made it clear back in chapter 1 that our Lord Jesus already holds the keys of both Hades and death, v. 18, but now he speaks of how these two great tyrants are finally and eternally destroyed. Then it can be truly said – but only then – ‘there shall be no more death’, 21. 4. Praise the Lord, we are bound for a deathless city. There are no cemeteries or funeral parlours in the New Jerusalem!

But Death, the last enemy, can only be said to be vanquished if his terrible grip is broken – that is, if he is compelled to yield up all his victims – to release his hold once and for ever on all his captives. That is, to put it simply, for death to be roundly defeated – all men must be raised at some point or other!

The point is that death – the last enemy – must be subdued – must be defeated – before it can be said that all Christ’s enemies are beneath His feet. And, until that moment, He – the Son – is unable to deliver up the subdued kingdom to God – and, until then, God cannot be all in all. In other words, Paul is saying – and it is important that we follow his argument – that God’s ultimate and eternal purpose cannot be fulfilled – God cannot ‘be all in all’ – unless first the dead – all the dead – have been raised! Verses 20-28 therefore demonstrate conclusively that the dead must rise.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the guarantee that all His people must rise, v. 23, and God’s grand programme of the ages is the guarantee that ultimately all men must rise, vv. 24-28.

In verses 12-19 Paul had pointed out some of the serious implications of denying the resurrection of Christ. Now in verses 29-34 he points out some of the serious implications of denying the resurrection of believers. It is not now a case of ‘if Christ has not been raised’, vv. 14, 17 (lit.), but of ‘if the dead are not raised’, vv. 29, 32 (lit.). And again there are the most devastating consequences. This time: (i) for those who are being baptized, v. 29, (ii) for Paul himself in all his sufferings, vv. 30-32a, and (iii) for the way in which we live and conduct ourselves, vv. 32b-34.

Verse 29 The first consequence affects those who are being baptized. According to Acts 18, when Paul was at Corinth ‘many … believed and were baptized’, v. 18. But, if the dead do not rise and if therefore those who ‘had fallen asleep in Christ’ had in fact ‘perished’, why, Paul asks, should others step forward to take their place?

For though some of the earlier Christians had died, v. 6, other recruits were stepping forward to enlist and to take their place – to fill the ranks of those that had gone. But to what possible purpose, Paul wants to know, if death is the end of everything? What is the value in being baptized ‘on behalf of the dead (plural)’ (lit.) if death ends all? What is the point in being baptized as a new convert if death has the last word? And the more so, I suppose, because Christian baptism is the appointed symbol of death, burial and resurrection – both of the Lord Jesus physically and of the believer spiritually, Rom. 6. 2-4; Col. 2. 12. Why go through the motions of submitting to an action which inter alia symbolizes resurrection if there is no such thing as resurrection?

Verses 30-32a The second consequence of denying the resurrection of the dead affects Paul himself. ‘Why should I’, he asks, ‘go to such lengths – and suffer such hardships – in my service for Christ? Why should I expose myself to danger and death every hour?’, v. 30. When writing to the Romans concerning this very period in his life, Paul applied to himself the words of the psalmist, ‘For your sake we are killed (we face death, that is) all day long’ (note 2). And in his second letter to the Corinthians, he speaks very movingly about, ‘our trouble which came to us in Asia’ – that is, at Ephesus, from where Paul was now writing – saying, ‘we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life … we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake’ (note 3).

I understand, ‘I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have’ in verse 31, to mean something like ‘I would never dream of deceiving those of whom I boast before God’. Paul wants them to know that he isn’t exaggerating.

I suspect that the reference to fighting with wild beasts in verse 32a is figurative – in much the same way as he later wrote to Timothy about being ‘delivered out of the mouth of the lion’, 2 Tim. 4. 17 – which I take to be a veiled reference to Emperor Nero. It is interesting that Heraclitus, an earlier Greek writer from Ephesus, had spoken of his fellow-citizens as ‘wild beasts’. More generally, the Greeks used the term ‘wild beasts’ to describe a violent, fierce mob. And it was probably very shortly after dictating these words that two of Paul’s friends, Gaius and Aristarchus, were almost pulled to pieces by the mob, Acts 19. 29 (note 4). No doubt, Paul could see the storm already gathering – and ranked these ‘wild beasts’ among his many opponents – the ‘adversaries’ – to whom he later refers, 16. 9. But what, Paul wants to know, did he gain from all this suffering and persecution if he faced it only ‘according to man’ (lit.) – probably meaning if he faced it merely as the average man of his day would – with no hope beyond the grave?

Verse 32b The third consequence of denying the resurrection of the dead affects us all. If the dead aren’t to be raised, we have no real basis for morality – we may as well live entirely for ourselves and for pleasure. We may as well live according to the well-known Epicurean maxim and motto – ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’! – words which, as we noted in our introductory comments to the chapter, are also found in the Old Testament, being the outcry of the people of Jerusalem during the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians, Isa. 22. 13.

Verses 33-34 ‘Don’t be fooled’, Paul pleads – and then quotes Menander, a famous Epicurean writer, ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’ – possibly meaning ‘Bad associations ruin good character’. ‘Sober up’, he says, ‘as one would from the stupefying effect of drink, to righteousness’. Have done with sinning, he adds, and points to the disgrace which they brought on themselves by tolerating non-Christians – those with no knowledge of God – those who denied any resurrection and who thereby undermined all moral principles – in their fellowship.

As we saw in the Introduction, verses 35-58 deal with the main intellectual objection to the doctrine of resurrection. The section breaks down as follows:

  1. Paul quotes two questions posed by the false teachers, v.35. First, ‘How are the dead raised up?’ Second, ‘With what kind of body do they come?’
  2. Paul answers the second question, dealing with the nature of the resurrection body, vv. 36-44a. He makes his appeal to an analogy from nature.
  3. Paul argues that, because of our links with two very different kinds of men – Adam and Christ – we have every reason to expect the resurrection of our bodies, vv. 44b-49. He makes his appeal to the teaching of Old Testament scripture.
  4. Paul answers the first question, dealing with the ‘mechanics’ of the resurrection change, vv. 50-57. He makes his appeal to a revelation from the Lord – labelled ‘a mystery’.
  5. Paul concludes with a brief practical application, v. 58.

As we noted in the previous article, the questions of verse 35 aren’t genuine questions. Far from being the serious questions of an honest enquirer, they were designed rather to ridicule and belittle all faith in the resurrection. The second question suggests that the false teachers’ main objection to faith in the resurrection was that the idea was ludicrous. ‘With what form of body do you dream the dead will come?’, they scornfully asked. ‘Come on now’, they were saying, ‘this imagined resurrection body of yours will either be the very same as you have now or it won’t. On the one hand, you can’t seriously believe that you’re going to occupy the same body you have now – with all its frailties and imperfections – for ever. But, on the other hand, if the body you imagine being raised isn’t going to be the same as the one you have now, it follows that it must be something else – call it a fresh creation if you like, but it will certainly not be a case of resurrection. Either way, the whole notion of a resurrection is absurd’.

In verses 36-44a, Paul demonstrates that it simply isn’t true that for there to be resurrection the raised body must be identical in detail and in form to that which we have in the present. It is, he argues – and proves – possible to retain identity of nature – having the same kind of life – without being identical in form.

In verses 36-41 he encompasses an amazing range of subjects. The apostle culls material from the domains of botany, zoology and astronomy – drawing on the plant, animal and heavenly realms for his illustrations. In verses 36-38, he draws attention to two simple principles constantly at work in the natural world around and which indeed underpin the doctrine of the resurrection.

Verse 36 Paul draws attention to the sheer folly of men denying God the power to raise the dead when they see Him doing just that very thing – and see Him doing it regularly. It is, he insists, plainly silly to argue that a body can’t live again because it has died – when we know full well that no seed germinates, sprouts and lives in a new body unless it first dies. Every time men sowed seeds in their fields or gardens, they took for granted the very principle which the false teachers denied – that death isn’t the end – it is the beginning. Every gardener knows that a seed sprouts, not in spite of the fact it dies, but because it dies.

Imagine that some bright spark ventured to interrupt a gardener at his work with the observation, ‘I say, my man, I hate to tell you but you are wasting your time. I mean, what is the point of you sowing that seed? What sort of body do you imagine that grain of wheat – which you are now dropping into the ground – is going to assume? Frankly, you might as well be sowing grains of sand’. I suspect the gardener would put in a call for men in white coats to come and have the individual taken off and certified. It is, Paul is saying, foolish in the extreme to deny God the power to raise the dead when we see Him regularly reviving seeds which we know have well and truly died.

Verse 37 Paul makes the second, and equally simple, point that men don’t sow full-bodied plants – they don’t sow fully developed cabbages or stalks of wheat or whatever. They sow seed – a ‘naked’ grain (lit.) – ‘naked’, that is, in that it is not yet clothed with the body which one day it is going to have. In form and appearance that which goes into the ground is very, very different to that which will come out. And we must note in passing that Paul has now deliberately introduced the word ‘body’ into verse 37 to pave the way for the application he is shortly to make of his illustration.

Verse 38. ‘But God gives it a body’. Yes, God does it. Paul isn’t going to credit this great change to the impersonal power of ‘nature’. He has no intention of giving the honour for this marvellous work to blind, mindless forces. And we note that God 'gives’ (present tense) – that is, He is doing so in the present. God is constantly at work in the creation around us – as the psalmist said, ‘He causes the grass to grow for the cattle’, Psa. 104. 14. And we have it on the authority of One infinitely greater than the psalmist that He clothes the lily of the field with a splendour exceeding even that of Solomon, Matt. 6. 29.

But we note also that it is ‘as He determined’ (aorist) not ‘as He determines’. Paul refers here to a single act in the past – namely, to the Lord God’s original creatorial decree. That is, God goes on doing it in accordance with His original plan at the creation of the world. It was at that time that God established those processes which have remained unchanged to the present day. It was at that time that God coded each plant and its seed separately and distinctively. It was at that time that God fed in all the ‘information’ necessary to ensure that a grain of wheat would produce wheat – and only and ever wheat. And the same holds true of rye, barley or whatever.

Not that I'm suggesting for a moment that Paul was clued up on DNA molecules and structure or the like – but he knew as well as any 21st century scientist that, if you sow a grain of wheat, you will get wheat – and not a cabbage – ‘to each seed its own body’. In other words, that which comes out of the ground – while not being the same in form and appearance as that which went in, v. 37 – is most certainly and invariably the same in nature and kind. So that, in the natural world, the raised body is in one sense the same as the sown seed and in another sense it isn’t the same. Then what is the problem, Paul is arguing, in believing that the raised body is to retain identity of nature with the sown seed – without being identical in form? ‘So also’, he is to point out in verse 42, ‘is the resurrection of the dead’.

But first he takes a short detour – hence verses 39-41. This digression draws attention to the vast range of bodies in God’s creation – demonstrating that God has already proved that He had no difficulty in making an immense array of bodies – each perfectly adapted to its proper environment. There is certainly no shortage of different kinds of bodies in God’s universe. I say it with due reverence, God is good at making bodies – everything from a sardine, v. 39, to a first-magnitude star, v. 41.

It may be worth noting one small technical point. The word translated ‘another’ in verse 40 is not the same as that translated ‘another’ in both verse 39 and verse 41. On the rare occasions when these two particular words are distinguished, the word used in verse 40 indicates something altogether different in kind – whereas that used in verses 39 and 41 signifies something different in degree only (note 5). In other words, ‘bodies’ fall into two main categories, v. 40 – those which are heavenly and those which are earthly – and within each category, vv. 39, 41, we discover a seemingly endless diversity and variety.

The earthly examples – man and the animal world – differ in terms of their 'flesh’ – a fish isn’t built like a bird: it boasts no feathers – and a cow isn’t built like a fish: it boasts no fins. The heavenly examples differ in terms of their radiance and glory. And each body is ideally suited – is perfectly adapted – to its own sphere and environment. There is therefore no possible reason, Paul is arguing, to question the ability of the God who has already formed such a vast array of very different kinds of bodies – and all equally fitted for its own environment – to provide the believer with a body suited in every way for heaven and glory.

Verses 42-44a Returning from his short detour, Paul now applies the lessons learnt in verses 37-38; namely, that what comes out of the ground – while not being the same in form and appearance as that which went in – remains very much the same in nature and kind. For there he showed that in one sense the raised body is the same as the sown seed – and in another sense it isn’t the same as the sown seed.

‘So also’, Paul says, ‘is the resurrection of the dead’. Note the repeated ‘it’ throughout verses 42-44a: ‘It is sown in corruption’ (lit.) – doomed to decay, to decompose, to disintegrate – ‘it is raised in incorruption’. ‘It is sown in dishonour’ – a disgusting and humiliating thing – ‘it is raised in glory’. ‘It is sown in weakness’ – feeble and frail – ‘it is raised in power’. ‘It is sown a natural body’ – a ‘soulish’ body (lit.) – ‘it is raised a spiritual body’. On the one hand, ‘it’ remains ‘it’ – but, on the other hand, ‘it’ is gloriously changed and transformed.

Paul deliberately concludes his short series of contrasts with the contrast between the body as ‘soulish’ (lit.) and as ‘spiritual’ – because this opens up the way for him to marshal yet another argument for the resurrection of the believer – namely, the links which each believer has with the only two kinds of men which there have ever been – or will be – Adam and the Lord Jesus, vv. 44b-49.

Verses 44b-49 By speaking of the Lord Jesus as ‘the second Man’, v. 47, Paul is stressing that there has never been another kind of man between Adam and Him – all who came between Adam and the Lord were, so to speak, simply reproductions of Adam – Seth was begotten ‘in his (Adam’s) own likeness, after his image’, Gen. 5. 3. By speaking of the Lord Jesus as ‘the last Adam’, v. 45, Paul is stressing that there never will be another kind of man after Him.

We should note that there is a direct connection between verse 44 and verse 45 which it is difficult for an English translation to bring out. The word translated ‘natural’ in verse 44 means literally ‘soulish’ – that is, ‘it is sown a soulish body’. And the quote from Gen. 2. 7 in verse 45 is literally, ‘The first man Adam became a living soul’. To what does the quote from Genesis 2 refer? It’s important to note that the very same expression translated ‘living being’ in Gen. 2. 7 is used in Genesis 1 and 2 of the animal kingdom. The expression, which is also translated variously ‘living creature’ or ‘living thing’, is literally ‘living soul’ – as in, for example, ‘Let the earth bring forth living souls according to their kind’, Gen. 1. 24 (lit.) and ‘whatever Adam called each living soul, that was its name’, 2. 19 (lit.). In other words, man shares the same kind of physical life as the animals. Like it or not, I share exactly the same senses as a cow – both of us see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Both of us breathe, eat, make sounds, sleep, etc. In common with ‘dear Daisy’, I have a ‘soulish’ body adapted in every way for life in the present world.

Because, then, of my links with the first man Adam – because of my natural descent from him – in the present I have a body which is like his was – ‘soulish’, vv. 44-45. The first man was ‘out of the earth’ – ‘made of dust’ – ‘Dusty Adam’ if you like – and, because of my links with him, I too now have a body made of dust, v. 48. But, as a Christian, I also have links with another Man – with ‘the Man of heaven’, v. 48 (lit.) – with the Risen Lord. And I can be fully confident that – because of my links with Him – I shall one day have a body just like His. Just as I now bear the image of ‘the man of dust’, I shall one day bear the image of ‘the man of heaven’, v. 49. Wow – what a mind-blowing prospect!

Paul has in his mind the fact that Adam had his own proper realm and that Christ has His. Adam belonged to earth – the Lord Jesus belongs to heaven. Adam had a body suited to the earthly realm – the Risen Lord has a body suited to the heavenly realm. In terms of chronology and their appearance in the world, the ‘soulish’ man (Adam, the man of dust) came first – and the ‘spiritual’ (Christ, – the man of heaven) came later, v. 46. And that sequence is exactly the same for us. First, now, we have a ‘soulish’ body – perfectly suited to the earth. But then, one day, we shall have a ‘spiritual’ body – perfectly suited to heaven.

Paul told the Philippians, ‘our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body’, Phil. 3. 20-21. Do you see the connection ther


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