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Bible: What Does 1 Corinthians 15 Teach Us About the Gospel and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Updated on August 21, 2016

The Apostle Paul


The Prophetic Scriptures


The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ


Crucial Questions

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The Resurrection

Now Paul spends a lengthy chapter discussing the most important issue facing the Church: the gospel, but especially the vital role that the resurrection of Christ plays in the completion of that fundamental doctrine (vv. 1-58).

The apostle preached the good news to the Corinthians, and they accepted it as true; they now “stand” (are established) in and have been saved by that truth, if they hold to it.

Yet Paul reminds them that their faith would be empty if Christ had remained in the sepulcher (vv. 1-2).

[Does perseverance in the faith (“holding fast that word”) signify the individual’s responsibility in salvation, or is it the necessary consequence of possessing the grace of saving faith?]

The Gospel

Verses 3 and 4 set forth the three elements of the gospel Paul received as divine revelation:

(1) “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”;

(2) “He was buried”; and

(3) “He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”

The OT foretold that the Messiah would provide a substitutionary atonement for God’s elect through His death by crucifixion (Is. 53:5, 6; Ps. 22).

It spoke about His burial in a rich man’s new tomb (Is. 53:9), and it prophesied about His bodily resurrection from the grave (Ps. 16:9-11).

Jesus' Post- Resurrection Appearances

Paul also remarks about several of Jesus’ resurrection appearances:

(1) To Peter;

(2) To the whole apostolic band (perhaps a reference to the time of the Ascension and Great Commission [Matt. 28:18-20]);

(3) To a large gathering of over five hundred Christians, most of whom are still alive as the apostle is writing this epistle;

(4) To James (the leader of the Jerusalem church and Jesus’ half-brother);

(5) To all of the apostles (how does this group differ from “the twelve”?); and finally

(6) To himself (a witness who considers himself a miscarriage, “the least of the apostles,” and unworthy to be an apostle because he persecuted God’s people) [vv. 5-9].

Though believing himself to be an undeserving party, Paul acknowledges the truth that God had not only chosen him for this responsibility, but that His grace has also enabled him to accomplish far more than the others (v. 10).

[If God’s grace provides enablement, what responsibility does the human being bear in the matter of faithfulness? See Phil. 2:12-13.]

Paul, however, is not concerned whether the Corinthians believed the gospel through his ministry or through that of the others (v. 11).

Jesus: Did He Rise Bodily From Among the Dead?

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The "No Resurrection" Doctrine

The apostle now enters a more intense apologetic portion of his discussion (vv. 12-19).

He seeks to convince certain church members who had been taught several erroneous doctrines—

1) that the resurrection of the body is fictitious (v. 12);

(2) that the body is evil; and

(3) that resurrection would just enslave the soul again (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 309)—,

that Christ’s bodily resurrection did, in fact, occur, and that it is absolutely vital to their salvation.

Paul proceeds logically through the devastating ramifications of the “no resurrection” doctrine.

First, if bodily resurrections do not occur, then Christ Himself was not raised (vv. 13, 16);

Second, apostolic preaching (v. 14) and the Corinthians’ faith (vv. 14, 17a) is vain (empty, useless);

Third, the apostles are false witnesses of God for testifying to the Resurrection--an event which did not occur (v. 15);

Fourth, the Corinthian believers do not possess forgiveness of their sins (v. 17b);

Fifth, “sleeping” Christians are lost forever (v. 18); and

Sixth, no hope for Christians makes them a most pitiable group (v. 19).

[Sacrificing all the good things one could enjoy in this life to serve a lie would truly make them a sorry group.]

The apostle, however, does not leave his message on this depressing note, but strongly affirms the fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, asserting that Christ is “the first-fruits” of sleeping Christians.

In other words, as the firstfruits of grains guarantee a full harvest in due time, so the Lord’s resurrection ensures the raising of all those who have died in Christ (v. 20; cf. Lev. 23:9-14).

Paul then contrasts the legacies of two men: Adam and Jesus.

On the one hand, Adam’s sin brought death into the world, and that death he passed on to all of his descendants through procreation.

Christ’s resurrection, on the other hand, brings everlasting life to all who trust in Him (vv. 21-22).

The Order of Resurrections

Next, he lists the order of resurrection:

(1) Christ the first-fruits (v. 23a);

(2) those who belong to Him at the Rapture (the Church) [v. 23b]; and

(3) those at the end of the millennium when Christ puts down all remaining rebellion, and He merges His Messianic kingdom with the eternal Kingdom of God (vv. 24-25).

Death will become the final enemy He conquers (v. 26).

Paul finds it necessary to clarify the teaching that Christ’s kingdom unites with the eternal kingdom.

He states that Christ subjects everything (including Himself) to the Father.

This act of submission does not make Christ any less God than the Father.

The Triune God purposed from eternity to use the theocratic kingdom to bring all things into subjection to Himself.

Christ’s kingship does not end with this accomplishment, but He continues to reign eternally as the Second Person of the Triune God (vv. 27-28).

More Ramifications of "No Resurrection" Doctrine

After taking a brief doctrinal side trail to discuss the order of resurrections, Paul returns to consider more ramifications of the “no resurrection” doctrine.

He seems to take the opponent’s side of the argument when he questions why (if no resurrection has taken place) do people submit to baptism to take the place of older saints who have died (v. 29).

[Why did people submit themselves to these immersions?

Did they do it to encourage the church?]

He also wonders why he is “dying daily” for teaching this doctrine if the resurrection never happened.

Why should he face martyrdom if resurrection is impossible?

He should just enjoy life while he can, as the pagans and other unbelievers do (vv. 30-32).

Then he brings the issue to a head, arguing that the company the Corinthian believers are keeping is corrupting their morals (v. 33).

Paul admonishes them to wake up to what is right, and stop listening to those spiritually ignorant ones who would mislead them.

The apostle thinks the Corinthians’ reasoning has brought them shame (v. 34).

Paul fields another objection from the “no resurrection” crowd which asks him about the nature of the resurrection body (v. 35).

After labeling the dissenter as foolish for thinking that the same dead body is reconstituted and then raised, the apostle then employs an agricultural analogy to refute his position.

He points out that the farmer does not sow the whole shock of wheat, but only a mere grain that dies and then bears fruit (vv. 36-37).

God gives each grain the body He chooses (v. 38).

The apostle broadens the analogy to include the flesh of the animal kingdom and the bodies on the planetary and terrestrial plane, asserting that texture distinctions exist between one flesh and another in the animal world, and that glories differ between a heavenly body and an earthly body in those spheres (vv. 39-40a).

In the heavenly realm, the different bodies (sun, moon, stars) possess varying degrees of glory (v. 41).

[Mere observation demonstrated this truth to Paul; he did not need any special revelation to know this fact.]

As for the terrestrial glory, the mortal body is “sown” in corruption, in dishonor, in weakness, a natural body; God raises it incorruptible, in glory, in power, a spiritual body (vv. 42-44a).

Paul clearly distinguishes two bodies: a natural and a spiritual (v. 44b), and then contrasts the contribution the two progenitors, Adam and Christ, make to humanity (vv. 45-49).

He quotes Genesis 2:7 to indicate that the first man became alive when God breathed lives into him at his creation.

After God raised Jesus, “the last Adam,” from death, Christ through His spirit (Spirit?) gives eternal life to whom He will (v. 45; cf. John 6:57).

Adam contributes his earthy life to mankind first, and then Jesus adds His heavenly life to believers (vv. 46-48).

Believers bear Adam’s image now; one day God will clothe them with a resurrection body like Christ’s, and they shall bear His image (v. 49; cf. Rom. 8:29).

The Mystery of the "Rapture"

The apostle’s final section discussing the resurrection body focuses on the mystery of the “Rapture” (vv. 51-55).

He prefaces his remarks on this subject by noting to his Corinthian brethren that believers will not enter the glory of God’s heavenly kingdom in their mortal bodies (v. 50).

Paul reveals to them a mystery/a truth long hidden: not all Christians will die physically, yet God will “change” them from their mortal to their immortal body (v. 51).

This astounding event will take place instantaneously (“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”) at Christ’s coming for His church (v. 52; “the last trumpet,” cf. “the trumpet of God” in I Thess. 4:16).

Those who have died God will resurrect with bodies incapable of decay; He will change their bodies from perishable to imperishable.

Likewise, He will transform the mortal bodies of those still living into immortal existence (v. 53). When both of these transactions have taken place, Paul declares that the Scripture announcing victory over death and Hades will find fulfillment (vv. 54-55; cf. Is. 25:8).

[Of course, many other believers will yet experience victory over death at the Revelation of Christ (that is, His Second Coming to the Earth].

“Death” uses sin to rule over and punish mankind, and the law strengthens sin by stirring up its desires in humanity’s soul (v. 56).

Nevertheless, God through Christ’s resurrection gives believers victory over these enemies forever (v. 57).

In the light of this resurrection triumph, Paul encourages his brethren to persevere through life, not allowing trouble to move them from their hope in Christ, and to continue to labor assiduously in God’s work, since they know that the Lord will one day reward them (v. 58).

© 2013 glynch1


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