- There are three things we need to keep in mind as we begin to explore 1 Cor. 15.
- These will help us from straying off into areas not relevant to Paul’s text.
(1) 1 Corinthians 15 is “a pointed and deliberate argument” – Wright.
- The argument Paul is making is to counter those in the Corinthian church who were “paganizing” resurrection.
- Generally, there were two ways this “paganizing” of resurrection occurred.
- 1) Deny it was even possible – dead people don’t rise.
- Or the “Christian” version – accept Jesus’ resurrection, but deny any future resurrection.
- 2) Spiritualize it – resurrection is eternity free from the physical and its baggage.
- This second one, BTW, is what the Gnostics did.
- This is the resurrection of the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas, Peter, etc.
We have evidence that Paul dealt with both.
- 2 Timothy 2:17–18 (ESV) — 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
- In other words, resurrection is not about our future physical resurrection, but about spiritual transformation that has already happened.
- 1 Corinthians 15:12 (ESV) — 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
- Maybe Christ was the exception, so at issue, then, is not Christ’s resurrection but believers’ resurrection.
(2) Genesis 1-3 is “a frequent point of allusion” for Paul – Wright.
- The importance of this is that, “there can be no doubt that Paul intends this entire chapter to be an exposition of the renewal of creation, and the renewal of humankind as its focal point” – Wright.
- We must remember that Paul is Jewish; his argument is bodily resurrection and physical creation, not (pagan) spirituality!
- “Within this framework of thought, death is an intruder, a violator of the creator’s good world” – Wright.
- “The argument is, in fact, an exposition of the future resurrection of all those who belong to the Messiah, set out as an argument about new creation.” – N.T. Wright.
(3) Death must be defeated at every level.
- And defeat of death does not come from retreat to a spiritual “victory”, but only by resurrection of those that have died and a restoration of a creation marred by death.
- This is why resurrection cannot, “refer to some part or aspect of the human being not dying but instead going on into a continuing life in a new mode [heaven]” – Wright.
- It must refer “to something that does die and is then given a new life” – Wright.
- And this is why heaven is, and must be, only an intermediate stage.
Paul frames his argument and engages the above ideas in roughly five sections (N.T. Wright).
- A) Verses 1-11 – “The gospel is anchored in the resurrection of Jesus” – Wright.
- B) Verses 12-19 & Verses 29-34 – No Resurrection Equals No Gospel.
- “The gospel, with all its benefits, is null and void” – Wright.
- The victory found in a future resurrection putting all things right thereby enabling Paul to endure suffering and persecution is gone.
- There would be no reason to proclaim the Gospel, for it would not exist.
- C) Verses 20-28 – The Now and Not Yet of Resurrection.
- “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of ‘the resurrection of the dead’, the final eschatological event, which has now split into two; the risen Jesus is the ‘first-fruits’, both the initial, prototypical example, and also the means of the subsequent resurrection of his people, because it is through his status and office as the truly human being, the Messiah, that death and all other enemies of the creator’s project are to be defeated” – Wright.
- D) Verses 35-49 – The Nuts and Bolts of a Resurrection Body
- “…the risen Jesus is the model for what resurrected humanity will consist of, and also, through the Spirit, the agent of its accomplishment” – Wright.
- E) Verses 50-58 – The Victory of Resurrection
- “He concludes triumphantly with a description of the future moment of resurrection, emphasizing the incorruptibility of the new body, and hence the character of the event as victory over death. He closes with both praise (verse 57) and exhortation (verse 58)” – Wright.
We will only have time to contend with sections “B” and “C”.
1) SECTION B – NO RESURRECTION = NO GOSPEL
1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (ESV) — 12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:29–34 (ESV) — 29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
- Corinthian Christians accepted that Christ was bodily resurrected.
- He was God after all.
- But what they were denying, and this is likely where their pagan background seeping through, is that believers will be bodily raised.
- “What is in mind here, clearly, is the future resurrection of God’s people, not the past resurrection of Jesus” – Wright.
How do we know this?
“There is plenty of reason to suppose that it would be quite natural for recently converted ex-pagans to doubt, and even to deny, a future bodily resurrection. Their entire culture was used to denying such a possibility; the multiple varieties of pagan worldview and theology offered nothing that would generate such a belief; common-sense observation of what happened to dead bodies, such as we find in the anti-Christian writings of subsequent centuries as well as in the modern period, militates against holding such a hope” – Wright.
We also need to notice that Paul, by his very question, begins to join inseparably together Jesus’ resurrection with our own.
Immediately after hinting at the profound connection between Jesus’ resurrection and our own in his question, Paul makes a startling statement about this connection.
- If there is no future resurrection of the dead, i.e. if you aren’t going to bodily rise in the future, then Jesus did not rise.
- He says this three times – in verse 13, 15 and 16.
- (1) “no resurrection” = “not even Christ has been raised” (vs. 13)
- (2) “if it is true that the dead are not raised” = “he did not raise” Christ (vs. 15)
- (3) “if dead are not raised” = “not even Christ has been raised” (vs. 16)
In doing this, Paul is equating the surety of our future resurrection stored up in heaven with the already resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- The past is dependent on the future and vice versa.
- The connection between Jesus’ resurrection and ours is so profound and thorough that for one to be true they both have to be true.
- (Use Dumbbell Illustration)
After Paul establishes the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our future resurrection, he then tells us at least nine things at stake if there is no future resurrection.
- (1) “preaching is in vain” (vs. 14)
- (2) “faith is in vain” (vs. 14)
- (3) “misrepresenting God” (vs. 15)
- (4) “your faith is futile” (vs. 17)
- (5) “you are still in your sins” (vs. 17)
- (6) Those who have “fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (vs. 18)
- (7) If our only bodily hope is this present body then we are “most to be pitied” (vs. 19)
- (8) Meaningless to be “baptized on behalf of the dead” (vs. 29)
- (9) Suffering on account of the Gospel is meaningless – “what do I gain?” (vs. 30-32)
- We might as well, “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (vs. 32)
And yet, in verses 33 and 34, he reminds us to get a grip.
- As he made clear in verses 1-11, bodily resurrection is legit.
- So, “wake up from your drunken stupor” and stop sinning (vs. 34).
- If you reject the future resurrection, you don’t know God and you should be ashamed.
BTW – I think this admonition still carries with it a warning for modern evangelicals and their overemphasis of heaven over resurrection.
For Paul, “What matters is once more the continuity [the connection] which Paul sees between the present life and the resurrection life, and the fact that the future [resurrection] life thus gives meaning to what would otherwise be meaningless” – Wright.
- It is not heaven that gives this life meaning, but our future bodily resurrection.
Paul’s list of things at stake if there is no future resurrection seems straight forward enough.
- But (6) and (7) seem rather surprising; they seem very “OT one-stage”.
- And (5) seems to downplay the cross.
- And (8) seems just plain weird.
What about (8) – “baptized on behalf of the dead”?
- This behavior is not mentioned anywhere else, so its meaning is unclear.
- However, the traditional meaning is, “that some people who had come to Christian faith in Corinth had died before being baptized, and that other Christians had undergone baptism on their behalf, completing vicariously in their own persons the unfinished sacramental initiation of the dead” – N.T. Wright.
- So Paul isn’t commenting on this practice directly.
- He is merely saying that because baptism is a symbolic participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, then this practice is meaningless if there is no future resurrection.
What about (6) and (7) “fallen asleep have perished” and if this bodily life is the only bodily life then we are the “most to be pitied”?
- We saw last week that Paul considered death to be gain.
- He said that it was “far better” to be at home with Christ (in heaven).
And yet we see here that he qualifies that statement.
- If there is no future resurrection, then even the nature of heaven is jeopardized.
- And even worse, believers who have died have no future.
- If no future resurrection, we are back at the one-stage view of death of early Judaism.
- We are asleep in the dust.
- “Christians who have already died have ‘perished’; in other words, they will not have a future life in any form worth the name” – Wright.
And what about (5) – if no future resurrection, then Christ was not raised and we are “still in our sins”?
- We often will say that our sin problem was dealt with on the cross.
- But Paul wants us to realize that, as with the rest of Christian faith, Christ’s work on the cross cannot be disconnected from resurrection.
- Just as it is problematic to stop at heaven when speaking of our future hope and not go all the way to our future bodily resurrection.
- It is problematic to stop at the cross when speaking of the forgiveness of our sins and not go all the way to Easter Sunday.
In this comment of Paul’s, he is beginning his allusions and references to Genesis 1-3.
- God created everything, and created it good.
- God created Adam in His own image to inhabit creation and fellowship with Him in it.
- Is Adam still fellowshipping with God in creation as God intended?
- Is Charles Spurgeon? Is John Calvin? Is Paul?
- Why not?
And what was the cause of this death?
- The answer, of course, is sin.
- Death is not natural – it is the fruit of sin.
- So because death is still present in creation, we know that sin still reigns.
So, how is it that we will know that sin no longer reins?
- The answer is, of course, that death will be defeated.
- And how is death defeated?
- The answer, of course, is resurrection.
Therefore if there is no future resurrection you are still in your sins.
- This is because if there is no future resurrection then Christ wasn’t raised, and this means that the death knell for death was not sounded.
This is why Paul says further on in 1 Corinthians:
- 1 Corinthians 15:54–55 (ESV) — 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
It is because of all these reasons that N.T. Wright says this:
“Paul simply does not rate a prospect of future disembodied bliss anywhere on the scale of worthwhile goals; he would not classify non-bodily survival of death as ‘salvation’, presumably since it would mean that one was not rescued, ‘saved’, from death itself, the irreversible corruption and destruction of the good, god-given human body. To remain dead, even ‘asleep in the Messiah’, without the prospect of resurrection, would therefore mean that one had ‘perished’. For there to be no resurrection would mean that Christian faith and life, including suffering, would be ‘for this life only’” – N.T. Wright.
2) SECTION C – THE NOW AND NOT YET OF RESURRECTION
1 Corinthians 15:20–28 (ESV) — 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” [Psalm 8:6] it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
In the OT, we saw how the burgeoning idea of resurrection had its expression in the “but God” texts.
- Paul echoes these texts with the same language but with Christ at the center.
- “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (vs. 20).
And because Christ has risen (and we will rise) certain things are true.
- By implication, of course, the nine things at stake, if there is no resurrection, are no longer in jeopardy.
- They are sound.
- We can have complete assurance in them.
But Paul goes on to identify certain “now and not yet” profound truths that result from Christ’s resurrection which will be fulfilled at our future resurrection.
- (1) Christ is the “firstfruits” and “then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vs. 20 & 23).
- (2) The “kingdom of God” inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection will be fully “delivered” at ours (vs. 24-28).
- (3) Death is – “the last enemy to be destroyed” (vs. 26)
- Christ defeated death at His resurrection, but we currently still die.
Very important to remember this – the dead in Christ might be in heaven now, but death is still having its way.
- After all, how are you going to end up in heaven? – You will Die.
- We and creation still groan.
- Heaven does not remedy this situation.
- Heaven does not put right this situation.
- But what is “stored up” in heaven does.
- Our future resurrection will fully and finally defeat death (vs. 26).
- This is why for Paul, the “imperishable” wreath (1 Cor. 9:25) and “the prize” he is seeking to obtain (Phil. 3:10-14) is resurrection and not heaven.
N.T. Wright sums up these (3) points as follows:
“This is the point above all where Paul is trying to teach the Corinthians to think eschatologically…the future has already burst into the present, so that the present time is characterized by a mixture of fulfilment and expectation, of ‘now’ and ‘not yet’, pointing towards a future in which what happened at the first Easter will be implemented fully and the true God will be ‘all in all’” – N.T. Wright.
The “age to come” (eternal life) that Jews longed for is at hand.
- And it will be fully inaugurated at our future resurrection.
- A resurrection, as we saw last week, that is “stored up” in heaven.
- This is why it is “now and not yet”.
What is (1) – the “firstfruits”?
- To begin with, it is yet another way he links resurrection with Genesis 1-3.
- But, more than that, this link is the vehicle that provides the context for both Jesus’ resurrection and ours.
- The context being creation, the fall, sin, death and how it is all put right.
Death came through Adam.
- So because we are all “in Adam” we are all in death (vs. 22).
- But God sent Jesus, the second Adam, to remedy the death that comes with being “in Adam”.
- Christ died without sin to bear the sin of those “in Adam”.
- And this work of Christ on the cross was realized when Jesus rose from the dead.
- Therefore, those who are “in Christ shall be made alive” because he was “made alive” (vs. 22).
- He rose first – the “firstfruits” – and, “then at his coming those who belong to Christ” will rise (vs. 23).
What is (2) – this future delivery of the kingdom of God business?
- As we previously said, this is when the “not yet” is fully consummated.
- Jesus returns, we are raised, death is finally defeated and all things are “in subjection under him” – God (vs. 28).
And this kingdom language is yet another connection Paul makes between OT Jewish expectations and resurrection.
- Daniel 2:44 (ESV) — 44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,
- Daniel 7:14 (ESV) — 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
- Psalm 8:6 (ESV) — 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,
Paul is saying Jesus is the king of this coming Kingdom, and “thy kingdom come”, the kingdom spoken of by Daniel, will be complete when He returns and we are raised.
- And it is in this kingdom that (3) – the defeat of death – will be fully realized.
- This is the emphasis of the “all things” that are put under subjection.
- Sin and Satan’s last word, death, will speak no more!
It should be apparent that Paul is continuing to expand the connections resurrection makes.
- Our future resurrection is inseparably connected to Christ’s resurrection.
- If we don’t rise, then Christ didn’t rise.
- If Christ didn’t rise, then we won’t rise.
And now Paul connects resurrection to the very beginning of it all and the Kingdom of God.
- If no resurrection then the intention of God for creation as expressed in Gen 1-3 is thwarted.
- We all will forever remain “in Adam” and God’s creation will not be put right.
- And the Kingdom of God spoken of so long ago will never be without resurrection.
If you haven’t seen yet why resurrection is central to the Christian faith, I hope you are beginning to see now.