Paul is reminding the church about the actual physical resurrection of Jesus. Greek Christians were hanging on to teachings that doubted the possibility of physical resurrection. Paul tells them several things in I Corinthians 15:1-28:
- Without Jesus' resurrection their faith and hope for forgiveness as well as their hope for resurrection and eternal life was foolish.
- He reviews with them the details of Jesus' resurrection and the confirmation of this fact by witnesses still alive at the writing of his letter.
- He then goes on to describe the order and process of the resurrection of the saints.
- Jesus is raised first.
- Believers will be resurrected when Jesus returns. This resurrection will be accompanied by:
- Destruction of wicked (judgment).
- Abolishment of death.
- Unification of God and man: the Godhead and man will become one.
After having explained to believers what to expect, he goes back to address the doubters once again. This section is written as if Paul were addressing two groups simultaneously; speaking to one group then to the other.
Speaks to Doubters – 15:29-34
He challenges the doubters, "If there is no resurrection, answer the following questions."
Vs. 29 – Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?
Why are people preparing for resurrection by being baptized? The way this question is written it could be interpreted two ways:
- Baptized in order to get benefits for someone already dead (i.e. Mormons). This idea is not in context and not supported by any other biblical doctrine. You cannot be baptized in order to have someone else be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. A doctrinal idea suggested by one passage needs to be supported by other passages (i.e. Jesus is the Son of God). Paul could also be referring to a mistaken idea people had at that time.
- People are responding to the gospel in baptism on the strength of the teaching, example and encouragement of Christians who have already died. This idea is supported and repeated throughout the New Testament.
The point he makes is: why are people preparing for death by being baptized if there is no such thing as resurrection?
Vs. 30-32 – Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
If there is no resurrection, why am I in danger, why do I struggle, why am I attacked for my preaching? Why don't I just enjoy this life if there is no life to come in resurrection?
Vs. 33-34 – Do not be deceived; "Bad company corrupts good morals." Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
In these verse Paul rebukes all those who are being carried away by the doubters. They should be ashamed of themselves, as Christians, for even considering such a thing. The "bad company" he refers to here are the doubters who use their doubt as an excuse for sin. People unsure of the resurrection have a difficult time letting go of this world. Doubters rarely sacrifice for Christ, rarely lead and rarely go all out for their faith. He tells them that association with those who doubt and have lower morals than they do will weaken them, not strengthen them.
It is a sin to doubt God's promises, especially after such a great witness given by Jesus and the Apostles. How much more evidence do you need?
Details Concerning the Resurrection Itself
So far we have dealt with the doubters, described the procedure and challenged the doubters once again. Now Paul describes the resurrection itself, referring once again to the believers:
The Nature of the Resurrection – vs. 35-49
Vs. 35-38 – But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
The doubters have raised the issue of how a dead and rotten body comes back to life. Paul answers by using the comparison of a seed. The seed does not resemble the plant that grows from it. The seed must first be planted, decay in the ground and from this a plant will grow. One comes naturally from the other, but both are totally different from each other.
The analogy, of course, is that a human body is planted in death in the earth, and resurrects a different body all together.
Vs. 39-44 – All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
Paul explains how God has created different qualities of life in His creation. These are evident (i.e. stars are different from plants and plants are different from animals). He uses this example to demonstrate that just like there are differences between various elements in the creation; there is also a difference between the human, natural body and the glorious, resurrected body.
He explains the differences between natural and spiritual (God creates both).
- Earthly body is perishable (decays); dishonorable (dies); weak (physically and morally).
- Spiritual body is imperishable (not subject to change or decomposition); glorious (no death); powerful (see the power of the angels – power over armies, nature, wisdom, space, time).
Paul says that like the seed is transformed into the flower, the natural body will be transformed into the spiritual body at the resurrection.
1. Why this is so
Vs. 45-49 – So also it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
Why do our natural bodies die and spiritual ones live? Our natural bodies are like this because we share in Adam's nature (human beings).
We will be changed into spiritual bodies because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Just as our natural bodies resemble Adam because we are born of the flesh, our spiritual bodies will resemble Christ because we are born again in water and Spirit.
The great reward is that we will possess the glorious body similar to Christ's when He ascended into heaven after His resurrection.
2. How and when this change will take place
Vs. 50-57 – Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on the immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "death is swallowed up in the victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We cannot resurrect ourselves. Only those who share in Christ's death and resurrection through repentance and baptism will share in His resurrection when He returns. We have to share Christ's nature if we want to experience His resurrection. A tomato seed cannot grow an apple tree. A non-believer (seed) cannot bloom into a glorious eternal body.
The final transformation will occur at the last trumpet when we will be changed into our glorious bodies in an instant. Those Christians who are dead will resurrect with glorious bodies. Those Christians alive at His coming will be transformed into glorious bodies in the twinkling of an eye. All resurrected believers will come together to be with Christ forever.
All this done to fulfill God's promise that one day death, that made its entry into the world through Adam's sin, would finally be eliminated through Jesus Christ.
No more death for three reasons:
- Satan is defeated, he will no longer be able to tempt men (no repeats of the garden).
- The price of sin is paid for (no more law).
- Glorious bodies know good and evil, and have chosen good in Christ once and for all (no more sin exists).
Vs. 58 –Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
A long passage about a complex subject, but essentially it boils down to three main ideas:
- The resurrection of Jesus has happened and has been witnessed by hundreds of people, some of whom have documented what they have seen in the New Testament.
- To doubt this fact leads to terrible consequences, the worst of which is the destruction of our own salvation. If Christ is not raised, then neither are we. If we do not believe that He was resurrected, we will be rejected by Him when He returns to raise the believers.
- Our own resurrection will be the final act in the process of salvation that will see:
- The wicked destroyed (judged and punished).
- The believers equipped with glorious bodies fit for eternity.
- A final restoration of God and man in perfect harmony to last forever.
If these things be so, Paul urges them to persevere in the doing of good, knowing by faith that God will accomplish the wonderful things that He has promised when He returns.