1 Corinthians 15 – The ResurrectionEdit
I have taken a long time to write my thoughts on this chapter. Some might argue years. Certainly it has been a month and then some between the writing of this article and the ones concerning the preceding chapters. With a newborn daughter, priorities have certainly shifted. Add to that, the content of this chapter.
I am a partial preterist. That means that -- while I believe a majority of the Bible points to the purpose and end of Judaism, the coming of the Messiah, the establishment of the church, and ultimately the reconciliation of men to his Creator -- I do believe there are at least a few passages that do speak of the end of the physical universe and our ultimate goal, Heaven. I believe that this chapter is one of those few. I have had some pretty thorough, polite discussions with folks I disagree with challenging myself to be sure. It has only strengthened my conviction that this chapter is not about the end of the Jewish system and the establishment of the church, but is about what will happen at the end of all things temporal and physical. That final reexamination is what has delayed this posting longer than what I wanted. However, I needed to give you the best effort here and so I thank you for your longsuffering and for remaining with me.
I. "I Declare Unto You the Gospel" - The Gospel Core - 1 Cor. 15:1-11Edit
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
Paul transitions from something that would be temporary, something that would only outlive him by a few decades at most to something eternal. Chapter 15 verse 1 is a huge transition in topic, yet it continues it as well in that Paul presents the end point of what was then being established. Paul writes "I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you". While I believe the entire New Testament can be referred to as the gospel, what Paul is declaring here is the core of it, its fundamental distillation. It is the good news that he has already preached to them. News they accepted and now stand firm in. It is news that they are saved by, IF they keep that news in their memory.
These are already Christians Paul writes to, but he explains to him that their standing, their status is conditional upon remembering this good news. Otherwise, their faith is in vain. This harkens back to before the miracle discourse in chapter 12-14 to chapter 11 and the communion. This good news ties directly into that because of what the good news is.
Furthermore, this passage explicitly teaches that Christians can lose their salvation. The Calvinistic doctrine of eternal security (once saved always saved) bites the dust...again. So what is the good news?
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
The core of the gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. This news is good news because in His death, we are given the means to die to sin and be reconciled to God. In His burial, we have the pattern to follow to put away the old sinful self and be reborn. In His resurrection, we have the hope that our physical death is not the end for us, but just as Christ was raised, we too will rise from the dead.
I do want to touch on a very important phrase found twice in these two verses. It ties in powerfully with Acts 24:15 and the idea that the Jews (Pharisees especially) knew of and believed in the type of resurrection that Jesus underwent. The phrase "according to the scriptures" can only be a reference to the Old Testament. None of the New Testament had been written before Jesus' crucifixion. In passages such as Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27, 31, the pointer to a real Resurrection is clear. This is not just a metaphorical resurrection such as we see in Ezekiel 37. It is a real, individual, rising from the dead and return to life. More on this below.
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
Not much to say here other than this is a great number of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. Proof positive that it happened despite the best efforts of the Jews. Also there is a semi-parallel to Galatians 1:19 which I covered in another post concerning two of Jesus brothers being apostles.
8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet 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 which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Verse 8 is a powerful verse with regard to apostolic succession as taught by Catholicism and related religions. Paul is an apostle, called and sent directly by God and evidenced by his ability to lay his hands on others and pass on the ability to do miracles. Yet he is born out of due season, an exception to the qualifications laid out in Acts 1:21-22. Those who practice apostolic succession would have the exception become the norm. This one verse annihilates that man-made doctrine regardless of what spin they might put on it.
I have already done a couple of articles on grace and will not rehash that here. Suffice to say that it was for the preaching of the gospel that Paul was singled out and became one of the sent. In that mission, he worked more and with more success than all the other apostles combined, largely because Paul's mission was to the Gentiles where the others were focused on the Jews according to God's will. This is neither Paul being arrogant about it, nor condemning the other apostles for their laziness. If anything, it is a testament to how much God loved the people of Israel (see Romans 9:1-10:2) that Jesus designated 12 men to focus on them in their last days.
11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
The result, then, is that by the preaching of this good news, the Christians at Corinth obeyed the gospel and were then addressed as hagios in this letter. It is to the saints, the sanctified, that the defense of the gospel is set out in such clear terms in the following text so that they can gainsay those who claim there is no Resurrection. Such is my purpose here as well, but in a different light.
II. "If...Then..." - The Argument - 1 Cor. 15:12-19 Edit
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Here is the issue laid out. Some in the church, at this very congregation, were arguing that there is no Resurrection of the dead. This is undoubtedly the influence of the Saducees just as Paul contended with as a Pharisee and used to his advantage in Acts 23. What then is the nature of this Resurrection? It is laid out in the clearest of terms throughout this chapter, but I'll state it here as a premise to defend:
- The Resurrection of the dead is an individual return from physical death to physical life where the soul is reinstalled (if you will) into a human body that is recognizable as that individual; it is as of today a yet future event.
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
Paul first here identifies what manner of Resurrection he is talking about. He ties it directly to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If there is no such thing as Resurrection from the dead, then Christ did not rise from the dead. If Christ didn't rise from the dead, then this whole Christianity thing is a sham and we're all fools, the apostles were liars.
Now, there are few that would be interested in the nature of this site that would argue against the resurrection of Christ and the nature of the Resurrection. What is important is that the nature of the resurrection of Christ is tied to the Christian's eventual Resurrection. That nature is individual, physical, and recognizable just as Christ's was. By tying this to the resurrection of Christ in such a direct way, all other possible types of resurrection are eliminated. If not, then we are right back where Paul is talking about Christ not really being raised from the dead. You can't have it both ways.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
Ultimately if there is no Resurrection in the manner that Christ was raised, then our faith is vain, those who have died both in Paul's time and through the centuries for the cause of Christ are perished. That word perished is apollymi, which may sound familiar. It is a Greek word that means lost, destroyed, ruined, completely put away. Those who put so much faith and effort into defending a physical kingdom of Christ, that millennial reign in physical Jerusalem, this is their danger. The put their hope in things of this life, this temporary existence.
III. "Then Cometh the End" - The Timing of the Resurrection - 1 Cor. 15:20-28 Edit
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
Now that the foundation is laid for the argument, we get into the details...the meat. Paul declares that Christ is risen from the dead. He is the firstfruits of them that "slept" (a metaphor for death). How is Christ the firstfruits? This is a very important question. Pivotal even. The term "firstfruit" is used in a number of places in scripture to speak of the first of a given type. E.g. the house of Stephanas was the firstfruits of Achaia, the first in Achaia to become Christians (1 Cor. 16:15).
So what type is Christ the first of? He is certainly not the first person to be resurrected from the dead. Christ himself raised Lazarus from the dead as well as a son and a daughter of two other people. In Romans 6:9 Paul writes - "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." Christ then is the first raised never to die again. Paul even alludes to Romans in verses 21-22 nutshelling Romans 5. This will become even more evident as we proceed through the chapter and discuss corruptible versus incorruptible.
Verse 23, though, would seem to contradict my premise for this chapter. Let's examine this in detail and show that it actually supports my premise. There are some keys in Paul's writing that tell us more about Christ's status as firstfruits. Those who would be made alive are in Christ. That's those who have already been immersed into His death, burial, and resurrection as per Romans 6. So this can't be spiritual resurrection. This must be physical resurrection.
What then of Adam? I believe that physical death is part of the design of the kosmos. Entropy. Yet man was spared this death by the tree of life. (Gen. 3:22). The wages of Adam's sin was immediate spiritual death (Gen. 2:17), but the consequence was expulsion from the garden and separation from the tree of life not just for Adam and Eve but all humans that would come after them. We don't all spiritually die because Adam sinned (original sin is a damnable heresy). We do all die physically as a consequence of Adam's sin and before Christ, physical death was a scary thing because, without any payment for sin, those who died were lost eternally, even if faithful to God. Christ is the first, then every man in his own order. This word order here is Greek tagma which is not a chronological term, but a term of organization. It means within a certain band or regiment. There is talk here and in places like 1 Thess. 4 of those who were already dead in Christ, those who were martyrs, the faithful of the Old Testament, and those who would be alive and therefore not experience Resurrection at all. Christ was before all of these qualitatively, the first to never see corruption, the first never to die again.
The last phrase, though, is the one that folks will toss at me and claim full preterism (or perhaps millennialism). "afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" The question is, after what? After Christ's resurrection as first fruits. How long after this? Paul doesn't say. Which coming? Ah, now we get to it. Read on to find out.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
This is probably the verse for this passage with regard to our purposes here on this site. It and the next few verses give us the timing of this Resurrection and with that, all the other pieces align and make sense.
"Then cometh the end" - the end of what? We find out from the context by what happens. In "the end" Christ delivers the kingdom (the church) up to God the Father. He puts down all rule authority and power. He abdicates His throne in favor of His Father. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus claims all authority had been given to Him throughout creation. It is fitting that when the time for that creation is ended, He should return that authority back to the One who gave it to Him. Now, unless someone wants to claim that Jesus is not now their King (which there is a line I hear), Jesus has not abdicated His throne yet. Furthermore, with regard to answering the full preterist yet further, there is another issue with this passage that they must contend with. The kingdom is going in the wrong direction. In Revelation 21:2, John sees the church coming down out of Heaven from God. Here, Paul is speaking of the end where the church is going up to be with God the Father. Can't be the same event because the vectors are exactly opposite.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
To add to the point about verse 24, Paul continues this thought about what will happen at the end. Jesus has to reign until all His enemies are defeated. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. The word destoyed here is the Greek word katargeo and is the same word used in verse 24 about Jesus having "put down" His authority. It means to cause to cease, to render inoperative, to put an end to, abolish, etc. It is still a fact that people die (both spiritually and physically!). So "the end" of verse 24 cannot have happened yet. Folks, that makes the timing of this particular Resurrection, whatever other conclusions may come from studying this chapter, a yet future event.
IV. "What Profit To Me?" - 1 Cor. 15:29-34 Edit
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? 30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? 31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. 32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
I don't plan on getting into a long defense of what Paul is talking about concerning "immersion for the dead" in this post. Suffice to say I believe it is talking about those who are spiritually dead being immersed in order to receive spiritual life (Eph. 5:14) looking forward to the promise of physical Resurrection after their physical death. The reason we are immersed and regenerated spiritually, Paul says, is because we know that when we die physically, there will come a time when we will be brought back from the grave. Otherwise, why did the apostles put themselves at risk of their life constantly? If only while they lived they had hope in Christ, if there were no physical Resurrection, the apostles would have been foolish to risk physical death the way they did. Again, this cannot be spiritual resurrection by water immersion because Paul is talking about men who were already Christians risking their lives constantly.
33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. 34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
Verse 33 is used extremely often, well out of context. Though the principle this verse teaches does weakly apply the way it is used, this is a tertiary application at best. "Don't be lead into heresy." Paul is cautioning the Corinthians not to be lead into the heresy of saying there is no Resurrection. "Evil companionship/intercourse (back and forth communication where there is general agreement - not sex)/communion corrupt good ethos." That word ethos definitely means morals or character, but it can also mean dwelling place as Paul sometimes refers to the physical body (are earthly tabernacle or tent). I believe Paul is using a bit of wordplay here considering his topic. Those who would lead the Corinthian Christians into the heresy of no Resurrection would be leading them to the death that would be their ultimate end according to that false doctrine.
Whatever the case may be, Paul calls heresy the doctrine that says that this particular type of Resurrection will not take place. Once again, this cannot be the spiritual resurrection at immersion into Christ. It has to be an individual, physical Resurrection of the same type that Christ was the firstfruits of.
V. "How Are the Dead Raised Up?" - The Goal of the Resurrection - 1 Cor. 15:35-49 Edit
35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
This is two questions here that Paul deals with. The first is asking how its possible that the dead are resurrected. It's a silly question considering the examples already shown the world in Lazarus, Christ, and even those that the apostles later raised from the dead (who ultimately died again to wait the final Resurrection...unless they are still walking around on the planet somewhere and are really really...really old.) The omnipotent Creator has the power to do this, of course.
The second question is more pertinent to our purposes here. What body does a Resurrected person get? To some, this is one of the ultimate questions of our topic. I don't believe it is as important as to whether it takes place and when it takes place, but the question of the actual nature of the Resurrection is one of importance, especially to our broader purpose on this site.
36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: 37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: 38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
First he uses the analogy of a seed. A seed is buried in the ground and the seed part surrounding the baby plant actually dies (it is consumed by the baby plant housed within the seed). Then the plant rises up out of the ground whether wheat or some other plant.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
There are a whole bunch of different physical bodies in the universe, all of them temporal. Animals and men, stars and the moon and the planet itself. These different kinds of bodies all have one thing in common, they die. Entropy always wins in the physical realm and only a miracle can overcome that.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; 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. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
Here then is a pivotal verse where much ado will be made. I will take it slow then. The Resurrection of the dead is the antitype of the metaphor of the seed. There are two states given here described in four sets. One state after death and burial, one state after the Resurrection.
- corruption vs. incorruption - these two states indicate entropy, the natural tendency of physical systems to become more disorganized over time. A human corpse put into the ground turns to dust (Gen. 3:19; Psa. 104:29), it becomes corrupted (Acts 13:36). However, when we the Resurrection comes, we will be raised incorruptible, raised to die no more. Christ is the firstfruits of this type of resurrection, the first to be raised to die no more, the first to be raised incorruptible (Acts 13:37).
- dishonor vs. glory - this is not a different set of states. It is the same two states, a before and after just like corruption and incorruption, so it cannot be that somehow the nature has changed else you have multiple types of resurrections here and then nothing but confusion. Dishonor refers to the corruptible state after death. We are worm food, desiccated, disgusting corpses that turn into dirt. Raised in glory means that our bodies are the opposite of this state, returned to health (not zombies as some foolishly assert out of malice).
- weakness vs. power - your body can't do much when its dead and decaying, but alive again, it can do work over time
- natural vs. spiritual - Here is the set of descriptions everyone gets hung up on. They point to natural and say "see, that's the physical body when you die, but only your soul is raised, not your body". Except that's not what the words are in the Greek. Natural or physical is physikos from which we derive the word "physical". The words here are psychikos and pneumatikos, the soul and the spirit (Heb. 4:12). They have nothing to do with the physical body in and of themselves. However, we have already shown from the first set of terms that the physical body is certainly under discussion here. What I believe this fourth set refers to is the distinction between the life that all living things have (plants, animals - hence the comparison to them above) and the life that only man has that is the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). In death, man obeys the laws of the physical world and his life, his self (psyche) is corrupted, destroyed, ended just like any other animal. Yet because man is made in the image of God, because of a different, better kind of self, a spiritual, immortal, eternal self, man will be Resurrected. Those who are in Christ and have a nature of eternal life will go to Heaven where that eternal self, the pneumatikos self will be with God. Those who are not will find their eternal self, the pneumatikos self eternally without God in Gehenna. This fourth set is not so much the nature of that Resurrection but the goal of it. Paul explains the fourth set further in the following verses.
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Adam was made a living soul (psyche). The last Adam, Jesus (Romans 5), was made a life giving spirit (pneuma). One is just animating life, that thing that separates all living things from dead rocks and just chemicals. The other is an eternal self, the stuff of Heaven, the image of God. So the conclusion that only our souls will be resurrected and not our bodies because of the English words natural and spiritual is an incorrect conclusion. Paul, though, has more to say and it will solidify completely the nature of the Resurrection.
VI. "And We Shall Be Changed" - The Nature of the Resurrection - 1 Cor. 15:50-58Edit
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Paul states clearly then that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God, which is the church, because it is a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36). We aren't in Christ's kingdom the way that the Jews were in the kingdom of Israel. Neither does the corruptible inherit incorruption. Lazarus, when raised from the dead, died again. So did all the others save Christ who had risen from the dead before Christ. Since our physical bodies are not part of the spiritual kingdom and therefore not bound for Heaven, something has to change.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Here then is the key to understanding the true nature of the Resurrection. First of all, not everyone is going to die (sleep). However, everyone is going to be changed. That change is going to happen in an instant at the sounding of the last trumpeting. So here are the steps Paul gives:
- Jesus, who is the archangel Michael, sounds the trumpet to herald the end of the created universe.
- The physically dead (corruption) become physically alive again just like Jesus did (incorruption - they won't die again, even though they are technically still capable of it, still mortal).
- Everybody, both resurrected and never-died, changes into an immortal form.
- Judgment sends those who have eternal life to Heaven and those who don't to Gehenna for all eternity.
- God does whatever He is going to do with the now pointless universe with all its stars, planets, animals, plants, microbes, and shrooms. Man doesn't care because man is no longer there. Perhaps God does nothing with it. We aren't ever told in scripture.
- Man lives eternally with God or is punished eternally in Gehenna.
Verse 51 says not all will sleep/die, but implies that some will. Dead or not, Paul says that same all would be changed. So the question to ask is: If the dead are only raised spiritually, into their immortal forms directly, why do they need to be changed? The answer is, because they are not just raised spiritually, but physically, just as Christ was. The Resurrection will be individual, physical, and will be every human who ever died except Jesus. It will therefore be physically visible and known to everyone. This puts an end to the full preterist notion of a hidden spiritual resurrection when Jerusalem fell in AD 70 and then an ongoing spiritual-only resurrection to Heaven or Gehenna (or whatever, depending on who you ask) as individuals die. That's not even really a resurrection but more of an ascension anyway.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
When all this happens, death is swallowed up in victory. IF this happened in AD 70, then death has been swallowed up and nobody can die any more. We have incorruption and immortality already. See verse 26 above.
What then of this quote from Isaiah 25:8. Is this not an anchor to things of the last days, the fall of Jerusalem? Does this throw this commentary on this whole chapter into the wind? No. Paul is writing to assure them that there will be a Resurrection of the dead and to exhort them not to give in to the false teaching that no such thing can happen or will happen. Death is the last enemy and it will cease at the end (see vs. 24 above). However, in this time period, with the death of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, He broke the bonds of sin and death, and the power of the Mosaical law to condemn only. By His resurrection, we can be confident of the Resurrection of all Christians. Three days after the cross, death lost its power. But by Paul's own words, men still die. Death just doesn't sting any more because we are not under the law of Moses but under Grace. The grave cannot be the ultimate winner because one day the graves will all be empty. Christ made that possible in the last days (Heb. 9:26). Here we are, 1900 years after the end of the last days, and death is not a scary thing for the faithful.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
This applies to us, today, as well.
So my original premise:
- The Resurrection of the dead is an individual return from physical death to physical life where the soul is reinstalled (if you will) into a human body that is recognizable as that individual; it is as of today a yet future event
1 Corinthians 16 Edit
1 Corinthians 16 contains nothing relative to apocalyptic concepts and so I will not address it at this time. I look forward to my own resurrection. I hope you are in a state that you can as well.
In Truth and Love.