Some people in the church had doubts about a future resurrection of the dead. Paul reassured them and because it seems many had questions he gives an extended discourse in response to their skeptical questions. In chapter 15 Paul discusses the resurrection of the dead: the resurrection of Christ, the future resurrection of the dead, and the resurrection body. First, the resurrection of Christ. In the first 11 verses Paul summarizes the Good News that he had been preaching, and at the heart of this Good News we find the message of the atoning, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He reminds that that whoever continues in their faith will be saved. What we find is that Paul didn’t originate the proclamation of Jesus that he delivered to the Corinthians. He simply gave the Corinthians what he had received himself. He saw himself as a link in a long chain of witnesses to the truth of the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul made it crystal clear that Christ’s death dealt decisively with our sins. He suffered in our place to endure the just wrath of God against us. Christ lived and died in accordance with the prophecies about Him in the Old Testament. And, the resurrection verifies the fact that Christ’s death paid the full, price for our sin. The Greek word here for rose is in the perfect tense which serves to emphasize the ongoing effect of this historical event. Christ is a risen Savior today. At the time of Paul’s writing it would have been fairly easy to verify the truthfulness of Paul’s statements since most of those Jesus had appeared to were still alive. We do not have that luxury today. We walk by faith and not by sight. Paul even listed many of those who saw the risen Christ, including James the half brother of the Lord and the head of the Jerusalem church.
But Paul considered himself born at the wrong time. This is probably Paul’s comment on the way he became an apostle. Unlike the other apostles who had the benefit of an initial training period with Christ, Paul became an apostle abruptly, with no opportunity for earthly contact with Christ or His teaching. Paul is most likely combining here several things. There were derogatory comments about his apostleship. He no doubt felt unworthy, but when you really stop and think, who among us wouldn’t feel unworthy. He considered himself unworthy because he had persecuted the church and even stood by and watched as Stephen was stoned to death. His persecuting the church probably haunted him for a long time. But Paul also came face to face with the risen Christ at his conversion. Paul’s awareness of God’s extraordinary favor, or grace to him, resulted in Paul showing an extraordinary response on his part. But, even that must be understood as an expression of God who was working in and through Paul. He got a late start, didn’t t have the same discipleship training, traveled farther than anyone else, established more churches, and wrote more scripture than anyone else. And he attributed all of it to the grace of God because for Paul the important thing is the message, not the messenger. Not only that but Paul didn’t care who got credit for the Corinthians faith. The importance thing was that they believed.
Next Paul made a case for a future resurrection and Christ’s resurrection confirms the reality of the future resurrection. It seems as though there were Corinthian Christians who struggled to accept the Jewish notion of a bodily resurrection of the dead. They preferred instead the Greek notion of the Immortality of the soul. Some of the Corinthians were teaching that there is no resurrection. These were probably opponents of Paul who were teaching false things. They may also have been teaching that resurrection is only spiritual, not physical. Others may have been teaching that the resurrection had already happened. Whatever the case, these false teachers contradicted the essential teaching that Christ had been physically raised from the dead and that believers in Him will someday also be resurrected. Paul’s argument is this: If Christ has not risen from the dead, then faith in Him is useless. But in reality, Jesus’ resurrection is proof that the sacrifice of Christ fully atoned for human sins. If Christ has not been raised then beings remain unforgiven, under the judgement of God, and still guilty of all their sins. Christ’s death without resurrection would not succeed in saving us from our sins. And, without the resurrection of Christ, those who are asleep in Christ, the dead, have perished or been destroyed. It is futile then, with futile here meaning that which has no results. Without eternal life, faithful believers are more to be pitied than anyone in the world because they suffer persecution and deprivation. Their joy is found in what lies ahead after this life.
In the Old Testament, the first crop was dedicated to God. Christ’s resurrection is the first of a great harvest of God’s people who will be resurrected. Jesus is the first fruits of all those who believe in Him. The first man, Adam, broke God’s law and brought sin and death into the world. The second, man, Jesus Christ was the true perfect sacrifice to take away sin and bring life and resurrection to those who believe in Him. Paul does a compare and contrast here between Adam and Jesus. Adam brought death and Jesus brought the gift of eternal life. Paul reminds his readers that Christ is the Lord of all things, even death itself. Nevertheless He remains subordinate to God His Father. The Greek word for order here is a military term that could be translated rank. The commander is raised first, His troops afterwards. When Paul speaks of the end in verse 24 it refers to all the remaining prophetic events that will occur after the rapture of the church and during the climax of history when Christ puts an end to all rule. He will deliver the kingdom to God the Father. When Christ and the church are joined at His coming, God will establish His kingdom on this earth, culminating in a new heaven and a new earth. Until that time, the Father subjugated everything to the Son. Every ruler, authority and power here refers to spiritual powers who oppose Christ. In the ancient Near East it was common for victorious kings to celebrate their victories by putting their feet on the necks of their defeated enemies. It was a picture Paul knew his readers were familiar with. God has allowed the His enemy, the evil one, to rule as the prince of the power of the air but his final judgement before God is certain and it will not end well for the evil one. God is sovereign and once the old is gone and everything is made new, there will be universal peace and prosperity.
It seems that some first century Christians practiced baptism by proxy for dead unbelievers whom they wished to be saved. Paul neither endorses or condemns the practice. He simply uses it as evidence for belief in resurrection. There is no other reference to such a practice in early Christian literature. Paul reminded his readers that he risked his life daily and that was based on the conviction that there is life beyond death. If there is no resurrection such suffering is completely pointless. Why else would Paul have endured fighting with the wild beasts in Ephesus. It would have been better for him to take a different view and enjoy pleasure instead. One of the most common forms of entertainment in the Roman world was watching condemned prisoners fighting wild beasts and getting mauled to death. Paul had already warned the Corinthians to avoid fellow believers who lived immoral lives. Now he has added false teachers to that list. He also sharply rebuked those who prided themselves on their knowledge but remained skeptical about resurrection.
Last in chapter 15 Paul discusses the nature of resurrection bodies, again be cause of skeptical questions being raised by the Corinthians. In the Greco-Roman world’s belief in the immortality of the soul was common but not belief in the resurrection of the body. Because of Paul’s strong response in verse 16 it appears the question asked was by a skeptic. And it was a foolish question, perhaps because the answer seems obvious and perhaps because it might mean the question is unknowable. If you have ever planted seeds or watched someone else do this you know that the kind of seed that gets planted determines the plant that grows. But the plant does not resemble the seed at all. So the resurrected body will be. The resurrection body will be unlike the present body, yet identifiable as belonging to the same person. There were people who objected to the resurrection on the grounds it was to difficult to understand. Paul referred to these folks as foolish. God has created a great variety of species; men, birds, animals, and fish. But then there are the stars, planets, sun and the moon. Each of them is different and the stars; each is different than the others. Paul is saying that God can and does creature whatever He wants to create. Everything that God has made has its own glory; its own unique beauty and magnificence. The resurrected body will be unlike anything else.
Adam and Christ founded two distinct humanities: one is natural and earthly, enslaved to sin and death. The other is spiritual and heavenly, purified and destined for life. Adam represents the natural (physical) body and Christ the spiritual (resurrection) body. Just as Christ’s Life giving Spirit supersedes the natural life, the spiritual body will supersede the physical body. Paul continues: Adam’s body came from the dirt of the earth and Jesus from heaven. Earthly people like Adam, natural human beings are under the cursed sin and death. All return to dust. They all die. Heavenly people are like the heavenly man: those who belong to Christ are like Him in having an unending spiritual life. Like the earthly man, Adam, we have physical bodies in this life. But we will someday be like Christ, the heavenly man, experiencing the kingdom of God in resurrection bodies. Physical bodies cannot inherit God’s kingdom. Only a spiritual, resurrected body can experience the kingdom in all of its fullness. The Good News reveals the previously unknown secret of resurrection. We will not all die. It is quite possible Paul expected the future resurrection in his lifetime. The teaching here is similar to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 where the dead in Christ will be raised first, the living believers will be instantly transformed into their immortal bodies when Jesus returns. The living will receive a body that is not subject to death. The evil ones apparent victories in the garden of Eden and at the cross were reversed by Jesus death and resurrection. From the vantage point of Jesus’ victorious return, death and hades (the grave) have no power over Christians, because Jesus has already conquered both. And we participate in His victory. Resurrection defeats the ultimate enemy, death, just as the power of the Spirit enables believers to transcend sin here and now. Believers have nothing to fear from death. Death is like the sting of a scorpion. The death and resurrection of Christ ends the dominating power of sin and death. Lastly, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are called to work enthusiastically for the Lord because our labor is never in vain. Nothing we do for the Lord is ever useless and there will be eternal rewards for those who serve Him faithfully.
The Corinthians had questions about the collection for the poor brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem church. Christians met on the first day of the week rather than on the last day in the Old Testament. The first day was the Lord’s Day, the day Christ rose from the dead. The portion of money is not specified here and Paul later encouraged them to give as generously as they could. And Paul did in fact deliver the offering to Jerusalem himself. Macedonia is a province in the northern region of Greece and Paul travelled there on his second missionary journey. Paul was trying to get to the Corinthian church and had hoped to leave Ephesus soon. Perhaps he would winter in Corinth since the weather was too bad to sail and the land route was arduous because of the rains and snow. Paul eventually did make it to Corinth, but not according to the schedule he planned here. This failure to come caused him trouble later with the Corinthians. The opportunities for Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, a major city of Asia Minor, were great, as was the persecution he endured there. Though Paul could not leave immediately for Corinth he wanted to be represented among the Corinthian Christians by his fellow workers. He planned to send Timothy and he encouraged the Corinthians to go easy on him for though he was trustworthy, he wasn’t as forceful as Paul.
It is possible that Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus had apparently traveled to Ephesus from Corinth to visit Paul. He knew Priscilla and Aquila from Ephesus. They had moved from Corinth. There was a house church in their home. A kiss in the cheek was a common greeting in Paul’s day. It was common for people like Paul to have their own secretaries but here Paul takes pen in hand and signs the letter himself. It may seem harsh that Paul would wish God’s damnation on those who do not love Jesus. But the acceptance or rejection of Christ is serious business. Those who reject the Lord Jesus are enemies of God. In the next breath Paul utters desires of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with an Aramaic expression “Marana tha” which means Lord, come! All of Paul’s letters close with a benediction similar to this one. Paul invokes Grace at both the beginning and the end of this letter.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W