In verses 12-19 of the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul has argued that if the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then we are still in our sins, our faith is futile, our preaching is vain, the dead have perished, and we are to be most pitied of humans. Verse 20 is the turn point of Paul’s argument. Christ in fact has been raised from the dead and he is the firstfruits of the resurrection. What happened to him will happen to us. Paul wants his readers to learn that there is certainly a resurrection of the dead. Paul continues in verses 20-28 to explain what it means that Christ has risen from the dead.
Christ’s Power Over Death (15:21-22)
Paul makes a simple argument. Physical death inevitably came from Adam’s sin. So also physical resurrection comes from Christ’s act. All who are descendants of Adam will die but all who are descendants of Christ will be brought back to life. While the point sounds very similar to Romans 5:12-13 there are a few key distinctions. In Romans Paul declared that every person experiences spiritual death because all sin just like Adam. But in Christ all who belong to him will experience spiritual life. But the firstfruits argument steers us away from Paul speaking about spiritual life. Remember that the apostle has argued that whatever happened to Jesus will happen to us because Christ is the firstfruits. Paul cannot be teaching that Jesus suffered spiritual death and then experienced spiritual life as the firstfruits. The firstfruits image means that Jesus suffered physical death and then experienced physical resurrection from the dead as the firstfruits. Christ’s coming not only dealt with the problem of spiritual death, which is our separation from God. Christ’s coming also dealt with the problem of physical death. Since the act of Adam inevitably brought physical death, the act of Christ inevitably brought resurrection from the dead. Notice the parallel in verse 21 is not that by one man came death and by another came life. Death is still going to happen. But Christ came and rose from the dead and all who are in Christ will be raised from the dead (15:22). We will be made alive. Paul continues to emphasize that since Christ rose from the dead, then those who are in Christ must of necessity rise from the dead also.
Resurrection Order (15:23-28)
But there is an order to the resurrection events. Christ has already done his part. Christ is the firstfruits. He has already risen from the dead. Then, those who belong to Christ will rise from the dead “at his coming.” The apostle Paul sets the mark in time for us. When Christ returns, then those who belong to Christ will rise from the dead. The resurrection of Christ has set in motion a series of events to be culminated at his second coming.
When Christ returns, then we will be raised from the dead. When Christ returns and we are raised, Paul says “then comes the end.” The end of all things happens when Christ returns. Then Christ will deliver the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed every enemy and every power and rule. In fact, Christ must continue to reign in the kingdom until all the enemies are put under his feet. Christ reigns now (cf. Daniel 7:14; Acts 2:31-35) and will continue reign until all enemies are subjected to him. This is what the prophets declared, “1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Psalm 110:1–2 ESV) Christ is on the throne and ruling over the world, subjugating the enemies. Notice what the last enemy is, in verse 26. Death is the last enemy. Christ must reign until all the enemies are destroyed and the last enemies that will be destroyed in this order is death.
Here is the idea: We know that we will be raised from the dead because Christ has been raised from the dead, has taken his place at God’s right hand, received the kingdom, and now rules over that kingdom. Christ is destroying his enemies and subjugating all creation. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Christ’s resurrection shows he has the power over death. Death will be destroyed which means that we know that those who belong to Christ will be raised. All of this section has been a long way of proving that we will be raised from the dead. Christ has been given all power, as exhibited by the resurrection. His power over death shows we also will be raised from the dead. This is why he rose from the dead: to set us free from death’s power. As the firstfruits, this power has already been revealed. Those in Christ will be raised.
Three Actions That Must Be Taken In View of the Resurrection (15:29-34)
The apostle Paul now speaks of things that the apostles and the Christians are doing because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of Christ and the hope of our resurrection are supposed to lead us to do three things.
Baptism for the dead to bring life (15:29).
Baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection. Why is everyone being baptized if the dead stay dead? Why would Christians baptize on behalf of the dead? What happens at baptism? Do they hold people under water forever? No, there is a raising of that body to new life. Baptism not only signifies our spiritual life but also our hope in the resurrection of the dead (cf. Romans 6:1-5). It is amazing to me how often the significance of baptism is ignored and passed off as unnecessary. Baptism is the uniting in the death and the resurrection of Christ. Baptism is inexplicable if the dead are not raised. God’s Word translation sums up the idea of Paul well:
If the dead can’t come back to life, why do people get baptized as if they can come back to life? (1 Corinthians 15:29; God’s Word)
Hope in the resurrection compels us to be baptized because it is the picture of the faith we have in Christ. Christ was buried in the earth and raised from the dead. We are buried in water and raised to a new life living in the hope of resurrection of the dead. Listen to the apostle Paul again:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5 ESV)
Sacrificial living (15:30-32).
The second argument concerns their own physical safety. Why would the apostles and the preachers of the gospel in the first century face the kinds of dangers they were facing if there was no resurrection of the dead? They are facing death every day. Paul is under constant mortal danger. Paul would be a fool for risking his life if there is no resurrection. Paul lived his life in view of the resurrection. He lived with the full expectation of the resurrection. That is why he did what he did and lived how he lived. Paul admits that what he is doing does not make any sense if looked at from a human point of view. His actions are senseless if he only has human hopes in this life.
The resurrection of the dead changes everything about how we will live. Paul did not live for the preservation of his life. He lived for the advancing of the gospel because of the hope of the resurrection. The resurrection means that we will give our lives to follow Jesus. We will risk our lives for him. We will sacrifice our lives for him. Christians have a radically different mindset than the world. Physical death is no longer the greatest fear nor the greatest tragedy. We will risk our lives and we will risk our well-being because of the resurrection. We will ask not how to save our lives but how to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35 ESV)
We will ask what will lead to the spiritual salvation of myself and others. My concern will not be for the earth and the things that happen on the earth or in this country or in this state or in this county. My concern will only be about losing my life to save others. The resurrection is the motivation for enduring suffering. The resurrection is the motivation for facing powerful opponents every day.
In summary, we are baptized because of the hope of our resurrection and we give our lives for Christ in hope of our resurrection.
Holy living (15:33-34).
Verse 33 is egregiously taken out its context regularly. Paul warns these Christians to not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals. Recognize what Paul is teaching: listening to bad teaching corrupts. We see this today even among our own brethren. They have been taught certain things that cannot be substantiated with proper exegesis of the scriptures and therefore teach false things. Verses are taken out of context. Doctrines and traditions are created out of proof texting rather true, thorough bible study. We have to be so careful that we are not the “bad company” because we have bad theology and a bad understanding of God’s word.
Paul is telling them to watch out for people who are not living their lives with a view of the resurrection of the dead. They are teaching people that there is no resurrection and that is ruining them. Wrong behavior comes from wrong doctrine, wrong beliefs, and wrong standards. Being around people who teach contrary doctrines is damaging to our faith. Those who do not share a proper understanding of the gospel and have a proper doctrine of God will cause a ruin to our faith. To say this another way, immorality flows from bad theology. This is why we must surround ourselves with the right group of Christians and we do not just go to any church. What the people of a church teaches is very important. It can be the building of your faith or the shipwreck of your faith. This calls for teaching that comes directly from the word of God alone. This calls for us to come together regularly and repeatedly because good company is going to reinforce good morals. To think we do not need a full dependance on the word of God is arrogance. To act like we do not need each other and do not need to gather together as much as possible is arrogance. We must offer the ability for one another to be together so that we are not pulled in by the false ways and teachings of the world.
But a denial of the resurrection leads to loose living. This is exactly what we see in our world today. If there is no God, then do what you want. Get to know God and it will change your life. Therefore, sober up spiritually! Live holy lives. Stop your lack of spiritual awareness and come to your senses. Knowing God is the key to having good sense and sound judgments. Know the scriptures and encourage people to living holy lives. Paul says that there are some Christians at Corinth who do not know God and it is shameful. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul: you can think you are a Christian and not know God and it is shameful. The resurrection of the dead changes how we must live. The resurrection is the courage for godly radical living.
- I will be baptized because I want to participate in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.
- I will sacrifice my life because I want to participate in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.
- I will wake up and live a holy life, surrounding myself with good teaching from God’s word and faithful followers of God because I want to participate in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns.