RESURRECTION AHEAD 1 Corinthians 15–16
“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, 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” (1 Cor. 15:42–44).Life for the Christian never ends. New and endless life lies ahead.
A number of Old Testament passages suggest that God intends to resurrect His saints (cf. Job 14:14; Pss. 17:15; 73:23–26; Isa. 25:8; Dan. 12:2). Yet the doctrine takes clear and definite form only in the New Testament, where the resurrection of Jesus serves as history’s great example, and 1 Corinthians 15 provides the exhaustive teaching. It’s important to realize that incidents in the Old and New Testaments of bringing the dead back to life are not resurrections. They were simply restorations to earthly life, and the persons so restored were doomed to die again. On the other hand, resurrection involves a transformation of the believer’s body; an infusion of immortality that renders the believer forever free from the powers of sin and death. It is this transformation, which awaits us at Christ’s return, that Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 15.
Jesus’ resurrection is a thoroughly attested historical event (15:1–11), essential to Christian faith (vv. 12–34). And the bodily resurrection that awaits us is God’s final victory over death! (vv. 35–58) Paul closed with an exhortation to give (16:1–4), personal remarks (vv. 5–18), and greetings (vv. 19–24).
Understanding the Text
“This is what we preach, and this is what you believed” 1 Cor. 15:1–11. Ancient mystery religions featured mythical stories of gods who died and were restored to life. These represented the seasons of the year; the deadness of winter, followed by the revitalization of plant life in the spring, in the never-ending, repeated cycles of nature. But such folklore offered no hope to the individual, who when fallen was planted in the ground, never to rise again. And then God broke into history in the person of Jesus Christ. It is no myth that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day as predicted in the Scriptures. It is no myth that the risen Jesus, who appeared to many witnesses, dies no more. And this, Paul says, is “of first importance” (v. 3). The endless, hopeless cycle represented in ancient nature and mystery religions was broken by a real, historical event: an event that displays the power of the true God—and offers mankind hope. The literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. It took place in history—in real space and time. And as Jesus was raised from the dead in this fashion, you and I will be too! “If Christ has not been raised” 1 Cor. 15:12–19. The notion that the soul persists after death was common in Greek thought. But the idea of a bodily resurrection was not. So some in Corinth spiritualized the resurrection, as some do even today. It was Jesus’ “spiritual presence” that the disciples sensed after the Crucifixion. And it was the awareness that what Jesus stood for would never die that transformed the disciples into bold missionaries of a new, positive faith. To Paul, this was utter nonsense. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (v. 14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (v. 17). What God did for us in Jesus was real. Christ became a real human being, lived a real human life, died a real human death. He was actually raised from the dead in a transformed body, and now lives an endless life. Because the historical Jesus experienced a historical death and resurrection, and only because of this, our salvation is secure. “So in Christ all will be made alive” 1 Cor. 15:20–29. I enjoy science fiction. The imagination that creates new worlds and strange beings delights me. But when I read I’m always aware of the difference between science fiction and truth. One exists only in the realm of the mind. The other exists in the realm of space and time. The one is fantasy, the other historical, solid, real. True Christianity is firmly rooted in history. It is touchable stuff. Jesus told Thomas to: “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side” (John 20:27). This reminds us all that what we believe is historical, solid, real. If the past that Scripture describes is real, so is the future! We can look forward to the flowering of the new era Christ introduced in His resurrection. We can know that the day is coming when it will be our turn to rise. To rise, and share in the ultimate reign of God over all. “Baptized for the dead” 1 Cor. 15:29–34. This is the only reference in Scripture to this practice. Apparently some in Corinth were baptized for dead loved ones, assuming that somehow this rite, that symbolized participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus, might assure their resurrection too. Paul didn’t cite the practice because he approved. He cited it only to show that it is inconsistent to both deny resurrection, and then be baptized for the dead in hopes of winning resurrection for them. Paul believed totally in resurrection, and his life demonstrated it. Knowing and valuing what lies ahead more than present pain or pleasure, Paul “endangers” himself “every hour.” What Paul said makes sense. Our lives should be consistent with our beliefs. How is your life different from that of others because you know resurrection lies ahead? “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable” 1 Cor. 15:35–39. We can’t know what our resurrection bodies will be like. Paul himself could only draw analogies. Our present body is like a seed. When placed in the ground a seed is transformed and becomes a vital, living plant. Resurrection is something like this. Adam and Christ provide another analogy. The body we inherit from Adam is flesh and blood, driven by its material (“earthy”) character. The body we will receive through our relationship with Jesus is spiritual, and like His, will be driven by its spiritual character. The analogies are insufficient. One thing we do know, however. We who die in weakness will be raised in power, to be forever like our Lord (see DEVOTIONAL). “Your labor in the Lord is not in vain” 1 Cor. 15:50–58. The author of Ecclesiastes looked back over a busy and successful life, and declared it meaningless. All he had accomplished meant nothing, he complained, for he would die. And what he had built would be left to another (Ecc. 2:17–23). Paul, however, shouted out in triumph. What we accomplish for Jesus is never in vain. Death is not the end! Death is a defeated enemy, to be swallowed up in victory when God clothes us with immortality. All that we accomplish for the Lord will reflect His glory for eternity. “Now about the collection” 1 Cor. 16:1–4. After the theological “high” of chapter 15 Paul now brings us down to earth with talk about money. Right? Not at all. There’s a logical bridge here. Because resurrection lies ahead, and what we do for the Lord on earth is not in vain, money has heavenly significance. We use it now with eternity in view. Paul suggested we give systematically, weekly, “in keeping” with our income. (He had more to say on this in 2 Cor.) Do keep resurrection in mind as you reconsider your giving. What you spend is gone. What you give is yours forever. “Do everything in love” 1 Cor. 16:5–24. The close of this letter is warm with love. Here as at the end of Romans Paul mentions person after person—people he knew and cared about—people he wanted the Corinthians to care about too. “Love” can’t be an abstract concept for us Christians. It’s a people concept, and only becomes real as we spend time with others.
Sown Perishable(1 Cor. 15:42–57)
Dad didn’t want to go with my sister and me to meet with the doctor. We all knew what the verdict would be. Cancer. Later Eunice and I told Dad what the doctor had said. The cancer was all through his body. It was just a matter of months. I moved into my childhood home to take care of Dad those last weeks. At first he sat out in the living room with me and talked or watched TV. As a fighter, Dad overcame many a physical adversary during his 86 years. Now he felt frustrated. This was something he couldn’t fight. Soon he was unable to sit up, and he stayed in bed. As the pain got worse, I gave him regular shots of morphine. I listened as he ranged over his life in his delirium. And I watched his body shrink. When the men from the funeral home took his body away, he seemed no larger than a small child, curled up on his side. This wasn’t the father I’d known in my childhood, so big and so strong. It wasn’t my fishing companion of our later years. It couldn’t be. And yet it was. As Paul says, the body is sown perishable. Sown in dishonor. Sown in weakness. But the glorious message of the Gospel is that the shriveled body that returns to the earth is nothing like the body that will be raised! I’ll see my father again. I’ll share with him in the coming resurrection. And when I do, the body in which he dwells will be imperishable, glorious, bearing no mark of man’s weakness, but only the mark of God’s power. That’s the vision I have of my dad today. Not the withered frame that lay dead on the bed in my boyhood home. But the vibrant form of the man I knew, vitalized by God’s transforming power.
Thanks be to God who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Taking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no single historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.”—B.F. Westcott