1 - 4 The Gospel of Salvation
1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
The chapter you now have in front of you is the longest of the letter. Just like the previous chapters, Paul deals here with something that had to be corrected with the Corinthians. What we have here however is not a wrong practice, but a wrong doctrine. Not that practice and doctrine can be separated. You will see that a wrong doctrine always goes together with a wrong practice. In a positive respect it is also like that. When you are occupied with the healthy doctrine of the Bible, it will result in a healthy balanced Christian life.
The wrong doctrine here has to do with the resurrection of the dead. There were people who were proclaiming that there is no resurrection of the dead (verse 12). Paul is explaining here what the effects are of this error. As is often the case, he also uses the wrong doctrine that was preached to tell you a lot of things about Christ. He shows what effect a certain deceitful dogma has for the Person of Christ.
That is something you can learn from. When you happen to deal with people who want to teach you and who want to make you believe something which you do not know whether it is in accordance with the Bible, then the best thing you can do is ask yourself what effect this dogma has on the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus.
What Paul also does, is showing what the truth of God is, thus how you should really see it. He uses the opportunity to teach the believers further about the subject that is being attacked by the enemy. With regard to the resurrection, he even makes known a mystery (verses 51-55). In that way this chapter becomes an extraordinarily beautiful and important chapter.
V1. In the first verses, before he speaks in details about the resurrection, he once more presents the gospel to the Corinthians, in a simple manner and intently. He had already proclaimed it to them, but it was necessary to do it once more. They seemed to have forgotten about that, which was possibly caused by the influences of false teachers who took them on a wrong path about the truth of resurrection. Therefore he shows them right at the beginning, that if they believe this error, they jeopardize their salvation. He deliberately says that in that way, in order to indicate the gravity of the error and what is jeopardized by following this error.
There is the assurance that believers cannot perish. The Lord Jesus gives the absolute guarantee for that (Jn 10:28-29). This assurance is from God. He is the One Who guarantees that. However, here Paul is not talking about what God does, but about the responsibility of the believer. That is something you should distinguish well. There are more verses that make that distinction.
It may be helpful if you read Colossians 1:22-23. There you read what God does (Col 1:22) and what the believer should do (Col 1:23). Do you notice that verse 23 starts with “if”? Phrases that start with this word “if”, are often about the responsibility of the believer. Another example you read in Hebrews 3 (Heb 3:6).
V2. You also find the word “if” in verse 2 of our chapter. It is not the intention to make you doubt about your salvation. The intention is to talk to you about your confession. Have you really been converted and did you really accept the good news of God? Are you really sure about that, without doubts? Are you sure that you will be saved by that, which means: that you will definitely enter heaven? This is how Paul approached the Corinthians.
He had proclaimed the gospel, the good news from God, to these profoundly lost sinners. He had seen that they accepted that good news. He knew that they made that choice; they had gained a certainty that kept them from being driven back and forth by their desires. He knew that they would reach the final goal safely. But … they had to prove that it was real by holding on to what they had learned from Paul.
That applies to you and me as well. There is only one way to show that your confession is real and pure and that is by showing that you hold on to the Word of God. Otherwise you have believed “in vain”. ‘In vain’ means that your faith is empty, meaningless.
V3. In order to make them well aware again of the content and the value of the gospel, he first of all points them at how he brought it to them. He had not told them anything different than what he himself had directly received from the Lord. He did not hear it from anyone else, so they could not possibly have misunderstood him. Secondly, they could verify the content of the gospel, for it was “according to the Scriptures”. In the Scripture you can read about the work of Christ.
So Paul makes every effort to affirm the accuracy of the gospel they had heard. I am very glad that he says it that clearly. There is no doubt about the content of the gospel. It is about Christ and about what happened to Him. Because it is written twice “according to the Scriptures”, you may say that the gospel is resting on two pillars. Should you take one of them away, then there is no gospel left.
The first pillar is “that Christ died for our sins”. The death of Christ was necessary, because we sinned. To be able to redeem us from our sins, He had to die in our place, bearing our sins. God judged our sins in Him.
V4. But if this would have been all that Christ did for us, we would have never known whether God was really satisfied with what the Lord Jesus had done. Therefore it was necessary that He raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, as a proof that His work was fully accomplished and was accepted by Him.
The second time that “according to the Scriptures” is mentioned, it is preceded by “that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day”. The burial and the resurrection are mentioned in one breath. Therein lies a tremendous consolation with the burial of a believer. The burial takes place with a view to the resurrection! One who had to bury somebody whom he loved very much, may know that there will be a reunion. That will happen in the resurrection. Things will be far more beautiful than they were on earth. How things will be, is made clear from verse 42.
This whole chapter makes clear how important it is to believe in the physical resurrection. The book of Acts also testifies to this. When in Acts 1 a new apostle has to be appointed in Judas’ place, the apostle to be chosen, had to be able to witness of “His resurrection” (Acts 1:21-23), which is the resurrection of Christ. In the speeches of Peter and also in one of Paul’s speeches, the resurrection is mentioned again and again (Acts 2:31; 3:15; 4:2,10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30; 17:31). Believing in the resurrection is a crucial part of the Christian faith. He who does not believe in the resurrection, may call himself a Christian, but he is not a child of God.
There is a chance that you hear people talking about the resurrection, but that they mean something totally different than what you learn from this chapter. They mean by that what is called reincarnation. That is: returning to this world after death, but then in another form. It is very unfortunate that the number of people with this idea is increasing. There is only one thing you can oppose it by and that is to present them with what Paul is saying here about the resurrection. That is the truth through which deceit is being unmasked.
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 again.
Reflection: Why is resurrection important?
5 - 19 The Resurrection of Christ
5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then [it was] I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found [to be] false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact 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 worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
V5-6. In order to support the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Paul summarizes a number of witnesses, of whom some even were still alive when he wrote this letter. So it was a fact which could be verified by the Corinthians! After His resurrection Christ was never seen by unbelievers, at least, we cannot find this in the Bible. Wherever His appearance is mentioned in the Bible after His resurrection, it is to believers.
The Holy Spirit does not let Paul mention all witnesses. So Mary Magdalene is passed by (Jn 20:11-18) as are the two going to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). The witnesses that are mentioned, are, so to speak, chosen because of their personal reputation (Cephas, i.e. Peter) or because of their number (the twelve, five hundred at the same time) or because of their special position (James, all apostles). In that way all doubts about the physical resurrection of Christ are dispelled.
V7-8. At last Paul mentions himself. To him the Lord appeared in an exceptional way. The other witnesses saw the Lord during His forty days on earth after His resurrection (Acts 1:3), but to Paul the Lord appeared after His return to heaven. In Acts 9 you read about this event (Acts 9:1-9). His conversion also happened at that moment. That’s why he was too late born again to be able to see the Lord as the Risen One. Therefore Paul calls himself here “one untimely born”.
V9. While he is writing about that and looks back to the circumstances wherein he found himself then, he comes under the impression again of God’s grace. It’s not possible for him only to talk about God’s truth intellectually. His heart lies in there. And when he sees again what he was occupied with, he deeply humbles himself before God. He has not forgotten about his past. He was a persecutor of the church of God. He calls himself the “foremost” of all sinners (1Tim 1:15). He does not try to talk his way out of it, but he frankly admits how terrible his crimes were. He doesn’t do that out of some diligence to show how bad he was. No, he does that to emphasize the grace of God even more.
It is no humble pride when he calls himself “the least of the apostles”. It is no disguised form of self-praise when he talks about himself to be “not fit” of being called “an apostle”. He meant what he says from his very soul, because he came under the impression of God’s grace.
You can learn here in which excellent way you may be occupied with the truth of God. Whatever truth you read about in the Bible, God’s purpose has always been that the Lord Jesus becomes more important and that we get less important. John the baptist understood that well when he said: “He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn 3:30). That’s something you cannot pass on to each other; that must be the desire of your heart. When that is in your heart, then that admiration for God’s grace comes forward more and more every time you read something in His Word. You then take the right position before God so that He can use you, for in this way you are of value to Him.
V10. Therefore Paul could say that the grace of God made him who he was. It is really wonderful to see how, on the one hand he is aware that everything is grace and that man is nothing and on the other hand how exactly that awareness motivated him to great activity. He made every endeavor for God’s work that he could say without any form of self-praise that he had labored more abundantly than they all. But even that he does not ascribe to himself, but ascribes that totally to the grace of God that was with him.
So he says successively:
1. I am nothing;
2. what I am, I am by grace;
3. therefore I have labored more abundantly than whoever;
4. but even that abundant working I could only do, because God’s grace gave me the power to.
God wants to teach you to repeat these things. Not as a lesson you’ve learned by heart, but by practicing it in your daily life.
V11. The result will be that He receives all honor from the ‘preaching’ that reflects your life. That is what Paul is presenting the Corinthians in verse 11. He himself was thoroughly aware of the grace that was shown to him at his conversion and during his life afterwards, just like the other apostles. This is how they preached the gospel to the Corinthians and this is how the Corinthians had believed it.
When we are thoroughly aware of the grace that God proved to us at our conversion and which He still proves daily, we shall be able to preach like Paul and the other apostles have done. Not that we would ever be able to catch up with Paul, but the content and the power of our preaching will be drawn from the same Source as Paul did.
V12-19. In these verses it is proved in a simple way how far-reaching the denial of the resurrection is. When you read these verses carefully, you can sense the power of the apostle’s argumentation. It is clear and unambiguous.
Paul says, as it were: ‘Beloved Corinthians, you should think it through what it actually means, if you do not believe in the resurrection of the dead anymore. Listen carefully: If no dead will rise, then neither Christ is risen; if Christ is not risen, your faith is vain, for you are then still in your sins. And that makes us false witnesses, for we have then just imposed something on you in our preaching. And those who are dead already, are perished.
We would be no more than a bunch of fools, if only in this life our hope is in Christ. That should mean that we take distance from the fun and the pleasures of the world and instead cope with trials, while we have nothing in the afterlife to look forward to. Then we are the most pitiable of all people. Now we have nothing and in future we have nothing. It is all for nothing.’
Of course that was not the intention of the Corinthians, but Paul shows that these are the consequences of what some of them said. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus by God is exactly the conclusive proof that all sins of all believers are taken away.
Here you see also how inseparable Christ is connected to the believers. What applies to Christ also applies to the believers. Are the believers not raised? Then neither Christ has been raised!
I already indicated in the introduction to this chapter (but it is good to repeat it once again), that Paul is offering us a good method here to unmask a wrong teaching. That method is: Explore what the consequences of a certain doctrine are for Christ and His work.
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:5-19 again.
Reflection: What does the grace of God mean to you?
20 - 28 The Government of Christ
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then [comes] the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
The verses you just read actually form a sort of parenthesis. Some translations indicate that by putting this section in brackets. The verse next to this section, verse 29, is connected to the verse preceded by this section, verse 19. I will get back to that when we approach it. A parenthesis runs the risk to be overlooked, as if it is not that important. That is not the case with the Bible.
The parenthesis here, for example, gives an excellent overview of the course of history from the resurrection of Christ to the eternal glory, when time will have ceased. Though this parenthesis is very brief, you feel how the radiation of the future encounters you. It is as if Paul cannot help himself to stop summarizing more arguments to demonstrate the foolishness of the error, but has to present first the excellent and positive consequences of the resurrection of Christ.
V20. After he had made the desperate conclusion, in the case that Christ was not risen, the first verse you have read sounds like a cheer: “Christ has been raised”! He is risen from the dead. That is quite different than if He had risen from the power of death. The latter means that He couldn’t be detained by death and that He was made alive again. This is how both the believers in the Old Testament and also the disciples believed in the resurrection of the dead. They believed that the dead, who died in faith, would be made alive again.
But when the Lord at a certain moment spoke about His resurrection from the dead, His disciples did not understand what He meant by that (Mk 9:9-10). What does it mean then that He was raised from the dead? It means that He, of all those dead, was the only one Who was raised, while all others stayed in the grave. He is called the First-fruits, for He is the first Who was raised with a resurrection body. Later others will follow. In verse 23 Paul continues his explanation. Those who will follow later are the believers, for there it is spoken of ‘those who have fallen asleep’, and the word ‘fallen asleep’ is only used for believers. That will also be made clear in verse 23.
V21-22. But Paul, first of all, indicates what God means by the resurrection. The impressive thing about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is that death has been conquered by a Man! Death also entered the world by a man, Adam. God said to Adam: ‘The day you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will die.’ Adam was disobedient and that’s why death entered the world.
But now through another Man the resurrection of the dead has become a reality. It looked like death had the final say and that God’s plans could not be executed. Nobody has ever escaped the consequences of Adams deed, for all have died. (That, through the power of God, Enoch and Elijah went to heaven without dying (Heb 11:5; 2Kgs 2:11), is not included here, but it only confirms that God’s power is necessary to escape from death.) Opposite to Adam is Christ. Because Christ rose from death, all who belong to Him will be made alive.
V23. Here you see that there is an order in the resurrection. There is no such thing like a general resurrection. The First-fruits, Christ, has already risen. All who, from Abel (he is the first believer who died), have died in faith, are still in the graves. That will be changed when Christ returns. Then He will call all up who are in the graves and belong to Him, from the graves, as He did with Lazarus (Jn 11:43).
V24-25. Then He will establish His kingdom in this world and rule over it for a thousand years. That is not specifically mentioned in this section, but you can derive it from verse 24 and the verses that follow. What a wonderful time of peace and righteousness that will be. This period is comprehensively mentioned in the prophecies of the Old Testament. You also find sections in the New Testament that are about the public government of the Lord Jesus. After that wonderful time He will hand this kingdom over to God the Father. Then the end of all temporary things comes, and eternity starts.
With Him things have not happened like they did with all other rulers over the kingdoms of the earth, from whom the government was taken away by enemies or who handed their government over to other (failing) rulers. He will hand His kingdom over in an undamaged condition, purified from all evil, to God. His government is a fully righteous government that has no room for wrong. It is not possible for His enemies to enter into power anymore. They will be fully controlled by Him and they will never be able to revolt again. That is embedded in the expression “has put … under His feet.”
V26. This doesn’t only apply to the earthly powers, but also to the last enemy, death, which will be destroyed. Job called death “the king of terrors” (Job 18:14). Through death satan is still exerting his terror over all whom he keeps in bondage (Heb 2:14). Death will be entirely expelled from creation at the very end of time only. Thus, also through the power of the Lord Jesus the dead unbelievers will be called up from the graves, wherever they may be, and be judged according to their works. That moment is poignantly described in Revelation 20 (Rev 20:14). Therefore there is not the slightest doubt about the predominating and eternal government of Christ: everything is put, without exception, under His feet.
V27. Still, it is obvious that when God has “put all things in subjection under His feet”, God Himself is not included. Therefore God is excepted from “all things”. But, still there is another exception from ‘all things’, which is a great miracle, and that is the church. This exception is mentioned in Ephesians 1 (Eph 1:22-23). There it is also said that God has subjected all things to the Lord Jesus, which makes the Lord Jesus “head over all things”. And, as you read there, it is in this position as ‘Head over all things’ that He is given to the church, “which is His body”. The church forms one body with the Lord Jesus. You have seen that already in an earlier section of this letter. Therefore, when the Lord Jesus will reign, He will do that together with the church, for a head and a body are connected inseparably with each other.
After the period that the Lord Jesus has ruled His kingdom perfectly and has handed the kingdom over to God the Father, then eternity can commence. In His millennial kingdom He, as Man, has fulfilled all the desires of God, without any mistake. The first man failed when he received the government over creation, but the Lord Jesus will show as the second Man how God intended everything.
In all things He gives God the glory. He always did that and He will always do it. He did that when He was on earth in weakness as Man, from His birth till His death. He will do that when He, still as Man, will reign in glory and power during the millennium, when God subjects all things to Him. He will still do that when there is no mention of ruling anymore when eternity has started.
V28. When it is written that the Son Himself also will be subject to God, then that is meant in relation to eternity. How should you imagine that? The Son is God, isn’t He? Is God subjected to God? This is an inconceivable mystery. The miracle of the Person of the Son consists of the fact that He is God and Man in one Person: He is fully God and fully Man. He was eternally God and became Man, without ceasing to be God (Jn 1:1-3,14). The Son became Man and therein subject to the will of God. He fully accomplished that will. He became Man in order to remain that forever. As Man He also will eternally execute everything according to God’s will.
He, the eternal Son, became Man to eternity, so that God can be all in all. When that moment has become a reality, all plans of God are accomplished. The eternal rest has commenced for God. The love and power of God have conquered in every respect on all areas. God may rest in His love. Everything that surrounds Him will be for Him and everything that is, will rejoice in Him. God will be seen everywhere and in everything and nothing else. All the desires of His heart will then be perfectly fulfilled ….
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 again.
Reflection: What impresses you most when you think about eternity?
29 - 34 I Die Daily
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? 30 Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 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. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak [this] to your shame.
V29. After he had spoken from the fullness of his heart about the future government of Christ, Paul returns to his argument in verse 29, which he left off in verse 19. He puts forward a new argument in order to emphasize further the importance of the resurrection. The argument is baptism. It may seem far-fetched to you, but you will see how much baptism is related to resurrection.
Now, you remember what baptism means? In Romans 6 you read that baptism presents a burial (Rom 6:3-4). Through baptism you show that you are buried with Christ, Who died for you. Somebody who is buried, does not exist anymore to this world. By being baptized you make known that you want to follow the Lord Jesus right through a world that has dismissed Christ. Baptism makes you a follower of Him.
If you want to do that consistently, you will be treated by the world just like the world has treated Him. The Lord Jesus has said that the people of the world have persecuted Him and that they will persecute His disciples as well (Jn 15:20). From the moment you are baptized, you do not want to live for yourself anymore, but for Him Who died and was buried for you.
You are not the first who has been baptized (I assume that you are baptized; if not, what is keeping you from being baptized?). You’re standing in a long, long line of people who preceded you. All who have been baptized, form, as it were, an army that is in a hostile area. They all want to follow the Lord Jesus right through oppression and enmity. The world is still the area wherein satan has the authority.
That will change when the Lord Jesus comes, as you have seen in verses 20-28. But in this time you can be sure that you are a nobody which means that you are despised and rejected. This enmity can even reach the point that believers get killed. This causes empty places in the army. How wonderful it is then when new followers of Christ are baptized and added in order to fill up the places and to join the army. You understand that I make this comparison with the army only from a spiritual point of view.
What does this all have to do with the resurrection? I suggest you read verse 29 carefully. There it is about believers who have died and about others who are still alive and are baptized. The believers who died, have ceased to follow a rejected Christ and to live a life of contempt and despising. Others (of which you are one), have got to know the Lord Jesus, been baptized and have filled the empty places. They now walk behind Him, while they take part in the contempt and the despising involved.
What advantage does that all have, however, when there is no resurrection? The prospect of resurrection persuades people to abandon an easy-going and pleasant life, and to choose freely for a way of humiliation and mockery. At the resurrection there will be a reward for all deprivation suffered. Then God will restore everything we have abandoned for His sake.
You can look upon the Lord Jesus. He has, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame (Heb 12:1-2). In Hebrews 11 believers are mentioned who “were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Heb 11:35). I would suggest you read the whole of chapter (Hebrews 11) in that light.
V30-31. Paul was familiar with that too! Was he talking about others in verse 29? In verses 30-31 he talked about himself. The conditions he lived in were far from rosy. He was “in danger every hour”, and said: “I die daily.”
That is not exaggerated. It was maybe in the eyes of the Corinthians and therefore he empowered his words by pointing at their boast. What did their boast consist of? What was it they were boasting of? Whatever they were boasting of, it was something they surely received through the proclamation of the gospel. Therefore their boast was his boast and which he had in Christ. In addition to that, he says “our Lord”. Here he connects the Corinthians to himself as submitted to a common Lord.
V32. Paul had to face death very often. Actually, this is the daily pattern of life of somebody who follows close upon the heels of his Master. To him who makes efforts to declare Christ in every way and at every occasion, there is no ‘let’s call it a day’; there is no program of distraction with appetizers. Paul was constantly aware on which ground he found himself. To him this world was a temporary place. He had to go through it and he did that with a clear mission.
He expected to receive his rest and reward at the resurrection. As long as he had no part in that yet, his life was a struggle and a battle. The people who threatened him, he compared with wild beasts. They were cruel and rude people who wanted to see blood. What happened to him in Ephesus is written in the book of Acts 19:23-41. What you read there is absolutely not a small thing. Just imagine the case that thousands of people are revolting against you, because you proclaimed the gospel to them! Would it be a strange thing for you to fear for your life? People become like beasts when they are driven in a crowd. Wars in the past and at present prove that it is true.
But what is the advantage of jeopardizing your life like that when dead are not resurrected? Then you’d better enjoy life today, for tomorrow you may be dead. Even people who grasp all they could, out of life, are quite aware that there will be a moment for them to die. The thing is, that they think that it will only be tomorrow and not today. They always think they can postpone this fatal moment. They think: ‘I may die tomorrow, therefore I want to get the most out of life today.’
V33. That seems quite logical and it is when you do not believe that resurrection is a reality. But because there is a resurrection for sure, this argument is a deception. “Do not be deceived!” Do not listen to people who think and live like that. Do not associate with them! He who does, will fall into the same pattern of life like them.
V34. The apostle warns the Corinthians to “become sober minded” which means not influenced by a certain spirit of thinking. More often Christians are called to be sober (1Pet 4:7). People who live without God, fool themselves and others that they are sober. They keep both feet on the ground and they only deal with the things they can see, they think. If you believe, you are not sober, but vague, they argue.
Don’t believe a word they say. Those are people who “have no knowledge of God” and therefore do not esteem Him. The reality is the other way around. He who is sober, listens to what God has to say in the Bible and acts accordingly. Then you live how you supposed to and do not sin.
Having no knowledge of God is common to unbelievers. Here, however, believers are addressed. If this had to be said about us, we should be deeply ashamed of ourselves. This ignorance is no lack of knowledge of God, because you just know God. A child of God has the anointing of the Holy One and knows all things (1Jn 2:20). That means that such a person has received the Holy Spirit and therefore is able to sense whether something is according to the will of God or not, without the necessity of quoting a certain verse from the Bible. Of course you will read a lot in the Bible to learn more of God. The ignorance that is meant here, regards believers who should have known better, but who got astray, due to associating with wrong people.
Take note of this word and do not associate with people, whether unbelievers or ‘believers’, who want you to believe things that are in contrast with what God has said. That will also keep you from a life that dishonors God.
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:29-34 again.
Reflection: Do you think that a life with the Lord is worthy of all the hardships that are described in these verses?
35 - 44 How the Dead Are Raised
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 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. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. 39 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. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the [glory] of the earthly is another. 41 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. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable [body], it is raised an imperishable [body]; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual [body].
V35. It is not very pleasant to ask a question about resurrection, when the person who replies to that, calls you “fool”. Who doesn’t have questions about the resurrection!? Though, you should keep on thinking that Paul is still talking about people who do not take the resurrection seriously, which is the very case these days with many of the so-called Christians. The question of verse 35 should be seen in that light too. It is asked by a person who is not willing to be convinced that there is a resurrection. The question is only asked to satisfy his curiosity and not from an inner desire to know more of God’s actions.
V36. Therefore Paul rebukes the questioner by pointing out examples from nature. From those examples he could have learned all that was necessary about the resurrection. I heard about a man who was dying and who had been thinking a lot about death and thereafter. He did not believe in the resurrection of dead. He had had a long sick-bed. Out of his bed he could view the plants and the trees outside. He then noticed that in the autumn everything was, as it were, dying. Almost all colors were changing brown and the leaves fell off until there was nothing more left than bare branches. In winter everything seemed to be even dead. But what happened in the springtime? Then new life began! Buds appeared on the branches, which later became leaves and flowers. There was life after death!
This was the eye opener in his own situation. It led him to conversion and faith in the Lord Jesus. When he died, he knew that that was not the end, but that he went to his Savior and that he would even receive a new body one day.
V37. What this man saw and noticed can be connected with what Paul is saying here. He points at the seed that is sown. That has to die first before it germinates and grows. And what is it that grows? Does it still look like a grain that has been sown? It absolutely does not look like that anymore. The grain that was sown in the ground is not the same as what comes out above the ground after a course of time. What comes out above the earth though, came out from the grain that has been sown.
V38. The kind of seed that is sown, determines what will come out of it. You would be very surprised when you plough up the ground, then sow grass seed into it to get a nice lawn, but instead of that get a flowing wheat field, after a course of time, wouldn’t you? That is not possible, of course. Each seed has its own body and its own inflorescence that becomes visible above the earth. This is how God has ordained it in nature. He has given everything its own body, its own shape. That is said in Genesis 1 that God made every creature “after its kind” (Gen 1:11,21,24,25).
V39. When you look around you in nature, this time not regarding the vegetation, but regarding men and the animal world, then you notice the same distinction. Man and animal are made from the same substance, namely flesh. Nevertheless, there is a huge variety of this matter. What an immense distinction God has made between men, animals, birds and fish! The examples that Paul mentions, come from the first creation, as it is originated in Genesis 1. But through the way he uses these examples, you learn that Genesis 1 has also something to say about the distinction that will be in the new creation.
V40-41. In order to add more details in the distinctions, Paul now introduces the difference between the celestial and terrestrial bodies. In the previous verses he talked about the terrestrial bodies, while in verses 40-41 he goes a step higher and points at celestial bodies, as the sun, the moon and the stars. Each planet in the universe has its own special glory, which is given by God.
I just read in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa 19:1). All glorious things that are seen in creation are the radiation of God Himself. He Himself is the Author and Executor of everything. He wants us to see that and praise Him for that. If that applies to the first creation, how much more it applies to the new creation. The new creation consists of a new heaven and a new earth. In the new heaven and on the new earth new people will dwell. How the new heaven and the new earth will be established, is to be read in 2 Peter 3 (2Pet 3:10-13).
We return now to 1 Corinthians 15. There it is about new people, as they will appear in the resurrection. Of these people there will be people who dwell on the new earth in a body with a terrestrial glory and there will be people who dwell in the new heaven in a body with a celestial glory. Jealousy will be no issue there, for sin does not exist anymore. Everyone will praise the wisdom of God, for He will give a body to all things as is fitting for everybody.
Summarizing what is said prior to this, you can learn three things:
1. It talks about a seed that must die first, after which a body sprouts from what looks totally different than the seed (verses 37-38).
2. It talks about the differences between the bodies that are sprouted from the seeds (verse 39).
3. It talks about the difference between celestial and terrestrial bodies (verses 40-41).
V42a. These three things are taken from the first creation among which we live and prove that there is a resurrection. The conclusion is: “So also is the resurrection of the dead.”
V42b-44. Therefore it has been proven that there is a resurrection and that the resurrection will happen in a way that is comparable with examples from nature. Still, what we will exactly be like, is not clarified by this proof. Neither does it become directly clear in the following verses. What becomes clear, actually, is that everything will be far more wonderful, without any remembrance of weakness and the corruption of an earth, where sin has done its destructing work.
You may compare this with a caterpillar and a butterfly. A caterpillar pupates. It spins silk all around itself and after a course of time a beautiful butterfly comes out of it. This transformation is really unimaginable. If you compare your earthly life with the caterpillar and your resurrected body with the butterfly, you then may have some idea of the transformation that will take place in the resurrection.
Paul uses for our ‘caterpillar life’ the words “perishable”, “dishonor”, “weakness” and “natural body”. These words indicate how terribly the consequences of sin have left its scars in our terrestrial body. When we die, this is the last and clearest proof of the decline that our body has suffered from birth. Then our body is put into the ground: it is “sown”.
But to the believer that is not the end! Actually there is sown, because there is a resurrection. And that resurrection shows a totally different and much more glorious body. The body is raised “imperishable”, “in glory”, “in power”, and as a “spiritual body”. The words that are used here, have to do with the Lord Jesus and His work, with heaven, with God and with the Holy Spirit.
Through His work on the cross the Lord Jesus has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (2Tim 1:10). Heaven is the place where glory is seen and experienced and where we first were not able to come (Rom 3:23-24; 5:2). It is the power of God, that will make the resurrection possible (Eph 1:19-20).
We then will have a body that does not have any natural needs anymore. It doesn’t need food and drink anymore to stay alive. The life of the resurrected body is a spiritual life, which means that the Holy Spirit provides everything that body needs and that is fellowship with the Father and the Son. From that fellowship each activity takes place, both in the millennial kingdom and in eternity, in the Father’s house.
It seems wonderful to me, to be occupied undistracted, with everything the Father prepared for us based on the work of His Son in a realm where there is nothing that can disturb that anymore.
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 again.
Reflection: What characteristics of the resurrected do you find in the section?
45 - 52 A Mystery Revealed
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam [became] a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 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.
V45. To make clear the difference between the natural and the spiritual body, Paul quotes what is written about the creation of the first man. As you see, this is another “so … it is written”. The answer to each question, regarding the existence of man and the here-after, you ought to look for in the Bible.
How did the first man become a living soul? That happened when God breathed the breath of life in his nostrils. This is how man, who was formed by God from the dust of the earth, became a higher being than an animal. Through the breath of God man was able to start his existence on earth and was able to have fellowship with God. This is not the way God gave life to the animals. God could approach Adam and speak with him and vice versa. This is not the way God dealt with animals. God created man in such a way that he, to stay alive, had to eat. God provided man with that food.
So you see by the way God created Adam, he was somebody who was dependent on God. He received everything, his life and livelihood, from God.
He received life through the soul. What the soul is, exactly, I cannot explain that to you. Many people have tried to do that by writing books about it, but nobody seems to have the final say about that. I certainly do not have the final say, but I would like you to consider the following. The word ‘soul’ in the Bible is used to indicate several things. One of the things is to indicate the incorporeal side of man (thus something else than his physical body, which you could call the corporeal side of man). When the word ‘soul’ is used in this way, it usually refers to man in relation to the terrestrial conditions, the way he feels and behaves on earth.
What had happened to the first man, is now compared to what occurred to the last Adam. The Lord Jesus is called here “the last Adam” to indicate that after Him there is absolutely no next Adam. Well, what is the character of the last Adam? That He became “a life-giving spirit”. So, the last Adam, the Lord Jesus, did not receive something from God, but He Himself gave life to others. The Lord Jesus did that, after He resurrected from the dead.
In John 20 you read about that (Jn 20:22). He breathed on the disciples and by doing that, He gave them a life wherein the Holy Spirit could work. This seems similar to what happened to Adam in Genesis 2 (Gen 2:7), but still it is different. Through what happened to Adam, he was able to live on earth as a living soul. Through what happened through the last Adam, the disciples received a new life, which enabled them to approach God in heaven.
V46. You also see the rank order here: first comes the natural and then the spiritual. This rank order you encounter every day. A baby only needs milk. You cannot talk about spiritual matters with a baby. That is only possible if a person has reached a certain age.
V47. There is not only a difference in what Adam and the Lord Jesus became, they also differ in origin, where they come from. This is a huge difference. The first man owes his existence to the dust of the earth. After the fall of man God said: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). Man with his self-importance is nothing more than that. Without a powerful work of God there was no hope that a change would take place.
Then came the Second Man. Where did He come from? A new man from the dust of the earth? No! He came from heaven. He surely became Man, but His origin is heaven.
V48. These two Adams both have their ‘offspring’. He who belongs to the first man – Adam – is therefore made from dust. He who belongs to the last Adam – Who is here called “the heavenly” – is heavenly. So you are heavenly, exactly like the Lord Jesus. That is quite something! Though you are on earth and still participate in what is from dust, your inner man belongs to heaven. Inwardly a tremendous change has already happened.
V49. We are waiting for the great change that will take place at the resurrection. Then we shall bear the image of the Heavenly. Some wonderful verses that speak of that, are found in Roman 8 and 1 John 3 (Rom 8:29; 1Jn 3:2).
V50. “Flesh and blood” do not partake in the issues that are dealt with here. The expression ‘flesh and blood’ regards man as a creature with limitations, in whom sin dwells since the fall of man. That’s why he is “perishable”. God cannot disclose His kingdom for those men. He did not make them heirs. The inheritance of His kingdom is only made possible for those who are connected with the Heir, the Lord Jesus. Outside this connection there is no inheritance.
V51. When Paul gets to this issue of his teaching, he reveals a mystery. All the time he had talked about the resurrection of the dead. That is something that was also known in the Old Testament. All the believers of the Old Testament died in the faith that there will be a resurrection one day and that they will receive what God has promised. Through the whole chapter of Hebrews 11 you encounter such believers. To partake of the resurrection you ought to be dead first.
The exceptional thing of the mystery that is revealed here, is that when Christ comes to fulfill God’s promises, not all will be dead. Actually, there will also be believers on earth, who are still alive when Christ returns. Paul even says this in a way as if he is sure that he will not die. He speaks about “we will not all sleep”. How much more could we, who are now still alive, say that.
What then will happen to those who are alive? They will be changed. That is necessary, for you have read in verse 50 that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom. To be with God in heaven, we need a body that is able to be there. In Philippians 3 it is said that when the Lord Jesus returns He “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil 3:21).
V52. The moment that will happen, cannot be expressed in a time unit. We use all kinds of words if we want to indicate the fastness of an event, for example: a flash, swift as an arrow, a part of a second. Still each description fails to describe the fastness in which this transformation will take place. It is in “the twinkling of an eye”.
The signal that heralds this event is the sound of the trumpet: the last trumpet of course. By that Paul alludes to the traditions of the Roman army, where the trumpet was sounded three times. The first time was the sign to break up; the second time implied that the soldiers had to marshal and the third time was the command to march. That is how they used to do it in the Roman armies: breaking up, marshalling, march.
This is what we ought to do as Christians. Have you already broken up and are you marshalled yet? Breaking up means: disconnect everything that still connects you to the world. Marshalling means: to be prepared to depart.
We have to wait for the last trumpet. When that sounds, two things happen in that twinkling of an eye. Firstly the dead are resurrected. They have priority over the living, although it is just a moment of that twinkling of an eye. They do not remain longer in the grave than necessary. What happens further is to be read in 1 Thessalonians 4 (1Thes 4:15-18). That section is about the same event. The emphasis there is on those who are asleep, while here the change of the living is put more in the forefront. Anyhow, the result is that we shall always be with the Lord. A wonderful perspective!
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:45-52 again.
Reflection: Which great changes will be effected by the return of the Lord Jesus? Do you look forward to that?
53 - 58 Labor Is Not In Vain In the Lord
53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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.
V53. So a great change must happen before we are able to enter heaven and dwell in the place where God and the Lord Jesus dwell. Our body is, as a result of sin, perishable and must therefore “put on the imperishable”.
‘Perishable’ or ‘corruptible’ means that our body is constantly deteriorating. How many efforts you make to keep your body in good condition and do a lot of physical training, it will stop one day. Even if you stay healthy (you cannot claim health), you will notice at a certain moment that you can no more do everything that you formerly were able to. In that way you can see that corruption. Our body will get rid of that process of deterioration when it is raised imperishable and has put on the imperishable.
Additionally, our current body is mortal. That is not suited for heaven. Therefore our body must “put on immortality” – we shall receive that with the return of Christ. The ageing process and death will no longer have a hold over our body. So it is not only a body that cannot possibly die anymore and will remain to live in all eternity, but death will never ever get a chance to rule anymore.
V54. When will be the moment that the word “death is swallowed up in victory” comes true? That is when all the redeemed will be resurrected from the graves. The resurrection will actually take place in some stages.
The first stage becomes a reality with the coming of the Lord Jesus to collect the church. The Lord Jesus will not then return to earth. He shall raise all believers who have ever lived on earth and catch them up together to meet Him in the air. The proof of this is written in 1 Thessalonians 4 (1Thes 4:17).
After the rapture of these believers, there will still be believers who will die. Those are the believers who came to faith after the rapture. Many of them will have to pay for their confession of faith with their life. That will mainly happen during the great tribulation that will explode after the first stage of the resurrection. In Revelation 6 and 13 you read about these believers (Rev 6:9; 13:15-17). Nevertheless they participate in the millennial government of Christ. This is what is written in Revelation 20 where they are mentioned (Rev 20:4). Thus they are resurrected before Christ accepts His government. That is the second stage and then the first resurrection has been accomplished (Rev 20:5).
Then corruption and mortality belong to the past. They are replaced by incorruption and immortality. The victory over death is complete. That, as the final enemy, death still has to be eliminated, does not make any difference to the victory. That is only the execution of the verdict, as it is described in sober words in Revelation 20 (Rev 20:14). Death cannot exert its terror anymore. It will never happen again that a believer is being laid in a grave.
V55. Therefore the words of this verse sound as a triumphant cry of victory, whereby death is being challenged, as it were, to show its sting and its victory. But death does not have an answer anymore. When all believers are withdrawn from the empire of death through the ‘metamorphosis’ (transformation) of the living and the resurrection of the dead, then death has lost its control over the bodies of the living and the dead believers forever.
V56. Previously death had a strong weapon with which he could defeat people and that was sin. Sin is called here the sting of death. Death and sin have made an obscure alliance together. Through sin death entered the world and sin drags all men into death.
The law makes it worse, because it brings the sinful and rebellious will of man to light. After all, the law proposes nothing more than a number of rules for man to obey them, doesn’t it? And what becomes clear? That man doesn’t keep the rules, but breaks them. He is not able to keep the law, because sin works in such a powerful way. The law proves the power of sin. The letter to the Romans has made clear that there is nothing wrong with the law. It is man that is wrong.
V57. Fortunately God did not let us continue to struggle forth in this unequal fight. We were the losers, but God gave us the victory in the gift of His beloved Son. Yes indeed, He gave! It is a present that we were able to accept through grace. We did not have to do anything for it. Every effort we made to escape the fear of death and to win the battle against sin, resulted again and again in failure and defeat. Praise God! He gave the victory.
On the cross at Golgotha the Lord Jesus abolished sin; when He rose from the grave He abolished death. Although we do not see the entire result of it yet, we know by faith that He has achieved a complete and eternal victory. God already sees the final result and we can see that too by faith. What else can you do than to thank God?
V58. Thus, everything is prepared for the future. But how do you reflect on your further life here on earth? You still live in a world where death is exerting its power. The Lord Jesus still has not come yet to transform your body. That means that you still have a task to fulfill. The final verse of this chapter starts with “therefore” and thus refers to the previous verses. If you have understood something of those verses, you will be able to find a great motive to commit yourself totally “in the work of the Lord”. Looking forward to that great transformation is quite an exhortation to “abound” in the work of the Lord and not just give a little bit of your time and energy for it.
You are called to be “steadfast” and “immovable”. That is necessary, for there will surely be much resistance when you decide to live for the Lord Jesus. Be sure that there will always be voices that are trying to convince you that you can slow down a bit. That voice can be from yourself or others can tell you for example that you surely need some rest. Of course you should not deal recklessly with your health, but your commitment is important. Perhaps you may also have to deal with much hostility that might discourage you. Therefore: be steadfast and immovable; keep going and be persistent. From the previous you are sure of one thing: your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
It would have been in vain and useless if there was no resurrection. But the resurrection is a fact and when that happens, the reward will be handed out. Everything you do or abandon for the Lord’s sake, He will reward.
I want to point at a mistake. Some people think that a person can only ‘labor in the Lord’, if he or she doesn’t have a job in the society anymore and can devote all the time to spiritual matters. That is a misconception. Each Christian is called here to abound in the work of the Lord. Your work in society, whether you go to school or your occupation with housekeeping, are included. You may do everything for the Lord (Col 3:17). That gives glory to the most common occupations.
‘Abound in the work of the Lord’ does not mean that you should drown in all kinds of earthly activities, but it means that you are focused to do the will of the Lord, even in the simplest activities.
Now read 1 Corinthians 15:53-58 again.
Reflection: What is the best motivation to always abound in the work of the Lord?