1 Corinthians 15:20-22
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Our verse (last Sunday) presented some incredible theology regarding the resurrection of Christ … and I believe it prompts further examination for us. I have taken some time to let it penetrate my own heart and renew my thinking. I hope it will resonate in same way with you – to more deeply examine the implications of the resurrection both in the present and in the future. Let’s break down 1 Corinthians 15 and let it be the outline for some study:
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NIV)
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Here Paul begins with the affirmation of the Gospel and its salvific message. He then reviews the three pillars on which the Christian faith rests (Christ died, was buried, and was resurrected) – which is the core of the Gospel message and the creed of our faith. And then Paul recounts those who were witnesses to the fact of the resurrection … lastly including himself during his “encounter” with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul will contend it is the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ that supersedes the entire Gospel narrative as he continues to reason:
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (NIV)
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Paul is quite adamant that the resurrection of Christ has indeed occurred:
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (NIV)
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him. 24 Then the end will come, when He hands over the Kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Indeed, in Verse 22, we see the theological implications of the resurrection from Genesis to Revelation. In one sentence, Paul contrasts Adam with his Seed who will strike (crush) the head of Satan under His foot. (Cf. Genesis 3:15) Paul explains this victory in further detail through his letter to the Romans:
Romans 5:12-21 (NIV)
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:30-34 (NIV)
30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (Cf. Isaiah 22:13) 33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (Here Paul quotes the Greek Poet Menander) 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.
I believe the point Paul intends to make here is that the preaching of the resurrection has brought extreme hardship and death threats to him. So if the resurrection did not happen, why would he put himself in such peril? If the resurrection of Christ did not occur, then there is no atonement … our faith is in vain … we are still in our sins and salvation is just some sort of myth. We might as well just eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die…. But Paul warns against such thinking; and he advises us to be careful not to listen to people who have no understanding or faith in the truth of the resurrection. In a sense, unbelief in the resurrection is tantamount to unbelief in the Gospel – the testimony or word of God….
Paul goes on to surmise that someone will ask, ““How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (Verse 35) And while it seems that Paul finds these questions somewhat “silly,” he proceeds to explain the process of our own resurrections using “natural” examples to teach “spiritual” truths.
1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NIV)
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as He has determined, and to each kind of seed He gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 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. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
(Note: this quote is found in Genesis 2:7) 7 Then the Lord God formed a man (Adam in Hebrew) from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Paul uses this contrast between the “first” Adam with the “last” Adam to highlight his following thought process:
46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
To me, the pertinent question here is: “What seed is it that we sow?” “What seed is it that we bury … to die … so that it will emerge in a new form … as God determines?” I believe that seed to be buried is our life … the life we now live in our body. And this brings to mind what Jesus taught:
Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV) (See also Mark 8:34-36; Luke 9:23-25)
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
It is clear that we are to die to our sinful nature; and I believe this is the seed we sow! Our former life (our natural life) is to be buried with Christ Jesus through baptism into death in order that we too may live a new life … a resurrected life now (our spiritual life). Just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead after His crucifixion, so we are raised to new life … a new creation … that does not bear the image of what was sown; rather, it bears the image that God has determined. Yes, He conforms us to the image of His Son! (Cf. Romans 8:29)
Romans 6:1-11 (NIV)
6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. 10 The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to Him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
What I think we need to understand is that there is a spiritual resurrection that occurs now when we die to self, repent, and place our faith in Jesus. And there will be a resurrection of our bodies after our physical deaths that occurs later when Jesus returns for the day of judgement and His rule. But Paul goes on to assure us that the image we will bear in our resurrected bodies will be the same as the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. Oh how I pray that we get the importance of this revelation … because it sets the foundation for what Paul declares next:
1 Corinthians 15:50-55 (NIV)
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all die, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (Read Isaiah 25:6-8) Where, O death, is your sting?” (Cf. Hosea 13:14) 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Before He was sentenced to be crucified, Jesus told Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not from here.” (Cf. John 18:36) This is an interesting statement Christ made; but it does confirm that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God? It is similar to what Jesus disclosed in His prayer for believers:
John 17:14-18 (NIV)
14 I have given them Your Word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
Although we are not of this world, we are still in this world. Even though we serve the Kingdom of God within our physical flesh and blood, its realm will not be of this world! As Jesus explained to the Pharisees, “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation; rather, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Cf. Luke 17:20-21) Indeed, at the new birth (after we have died to ourselves and been resurrected in newness of life), the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and we submit to His authority over us. Our citizenship is transferred into heaven – from which we await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. (Cf. Philippians 3:20) So even though the Kingdom of God is not of this world … our service to God IS within this world, and we are exhorted to continue the work of sanctification; that is, to set ourselves apart unto God and to lead others out of this world and into the Kingdom of Light. As Paul concluded in Verse 58: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
The concept of the Kingdom of God has its roots in the Old Testament – when YHWH (God) was thought of as the King of Israel … the ruler of His people. But with the birth of Jesus, the Kingdom of God entered with new power and redemption (i.e. the New Covenant – when God will put His law into our minds and write it on our hearts. See Jeremiah 31:31-34) Jesus clearly taught that the “Kingdom” is present through His life and through His Word; yet, we must enter it of our own free will. So how do we reconcile the tension of these two views? Well, my thought, is that we must recognize that the Kingdom of God “embodies” a spiritual dimension. Just as salvation has already been effectuated through the cross and we receive it in faith; the Kingdom of God was effectuated through the resurrection of Christ Jesus and we enter it through the Spirit! Both are available to us now. Both are realities in the future.
Death has reigned because of sin … from Adam until Jesus Christ. But we have been given victory over the sting of death and the power of sin. Sin no longer reigns; rather, Christ reigns in our hearts! Death from sin is being destroyed now by the preaching of the Gospel … it has been nailed to the cross! And when the Gospel has been fully preached to the ends of the earth, then the end will come. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” And the Apostle John tells us that when believers are resurrected (the first resurrection), we will reign with Christ Jesus in His Kingdom! (Cf. Revelation 20:4-6) Perhaps this is the Kingdom that Paul indicated would not be inherited by flesh and blood. Perhaps the Kingdom we enter now is not the same as the Kingdom we will enter after death. This is a mystery…. But we do know that Jesus Christ is the King Eternal … Immortal … Invisible. (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:17)
Jesus told us to pray: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come … your will be done … on earth as it is in heaven.” (Cf. Matthew 6:10) What does this mean in the context of our study? Well, understanding that the will of God is for all people to come to a knowledge of the truth (Cf. 1 Timothy 2:3), there is a Kingdom where God Himself has sworn by His own mouth, and His Word will not be revoked: “Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear.” (Cf. Isaiah 45:22-25) Paul quotes this passage in his discourse regarding our individual spiritual journeys in Romans 14. And in Philippians, Paul asserts sovereignty of God is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus.
Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
7 rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest placeand gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.
Yes, in the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ rules in our hearts … and we bow to Him and acknowledge Him as Lord! And God invites all people to enter His Kingdom through His Son because Scripture tells us that submission to Jesus as Lord is required. Jesus declared, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (Cf. John 14:6) This is what God has ordained for His plan of redemption before the creation of the earth! So even though the Kingdom of God to come will not be experienced by flesh and blood, it will be experienced by our souls … which are ever present within us even now. And it appears that our souls will indwell our resurrected bodies … which will be like the resurrected body of Christ. This should make us even more introspective of the question Jesus posed: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
As we think through the issues of faith, I think it is important to note that this tension between the present and the future should not be viewed as a hindrance to our understanding of Scripture; rather, I believe the “dualism” flows from the truth we encounter each day. As Paul explained, “there is a natural body and a spiritual body. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.” But we should recognize that the spiritual is readily manifested in the natural even now. Perhaps this experience should be considered an “integration” because each one impacts the other without reference to time. There is a salvation now … and a salvation later. There is a resurrection now … and a resurrection later. There is a Kingdom of God now … and a Kingdom of God later. There is eternal life now … and eternal life later. Yet, for God, it is the eternal present. There is no time … and that is the mystery for us to reconcile.
So, I hope that we will see these patterns and relationships between the physical (natural) and the spiritual (supernatural) presented here. I pray that we will come to understand that what we do and how we respond to God impacts not only our spiritual birth and maturity within the physical reality of life we experience now, but I hope that we will come to understand how this impacts our inheritance of what God has prepared and declared for the new heavens and new earth to come. (Yes, even the heavens will experience a resurrection to come!) So while there is a reality of physical and spiritual integration in the present; there is a similar reality to be experienced in the age to come. This is the hope of our salvation to come! And I believe the challenge is this: To enter the kingdom of God now … to deny ourselves and the attachments of darkness now … in order to inherit the kingdom of God to come – when Jesus returns in glory to take us to the place He has prepared for us. Yes, the body of sin must be put to death so that a spirit of holiness will prevail in us. Perhaps, this is why we are admonished: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Cf. Luke 9:23) Yes, for the Christian, death to sin is a daily decision. But the promises of God and our inheritance through Christ Jesus is worth it all – both now and in the age to come.
I realize this has been quite lengthy; and I appreciate your patience with me if you made it through…. I may not have articulated the points very well; but I hope you have been intrigued enough to examine these Scriptures for yourself and to consider how they should engage deeper thought on key theological issues of the faith. I pray you and I will continue to grow in our knowledge of God through His Word and be changed by its truths….