Intro: TURNING POINTS
Timothy Keller describes the resurrection as “the hinge upon which the story of the world pivots.”
The doctrine of the resurrection has profound implications for how anyone lives. The resurrection of Christ in the past and the resurrection of human beings in the future have deep practical significance for the present. It changes the way both death and life are understood and experienced.
Paul addresses the topic of the resurrection this way:
• The Realities of the Resurrection
• The Implications of the Resurrection
• The Application of the Resurrection
Theologian Erich Sauer has written, “The present age is Easter time. It begins with the resurrection of the Redeemer and ends with the resurrection of the redeemed. Between lies the spiritual resurrection of those called into life through Christ. So we live between two Easters, and in the power of the first Easter we go to meet the last Easter.”
The last Easter to which Sauer refers is, of course, the bodily resurrection of the saved.
Some have suggested that Paul reserved this chapter on the Resurrection till last because he thought that a firm belief in it would help solve many of the Corinthians’ problems.
Chapter 15 falls into two main sections. Verses 1–34 present Paul’s arguments for the certainty of the bodily resurrection, while verses 35–58 discuss the nature of resurrection bodies. The first section also divides into two parts. Verses 1–11 reiterate the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection. Verses 12–34 outline the consequences of disbelief and belief in this fact. The first of these parts in turn has three components.
Verses 12–19 and 29–34 both argue for the absurdity of Christian belief and practice if the bodily resurrection is not true.
In between, verses 20–28 gloriously reaffirm that it is true and point to some of the consequences of this grand doctrine. The main point of verses 12–19 is that if there is no coming bodily resurrection of all Christians, then Jesus himself was not bodily raised, and that makes Christianity futile.
God’s ultimate re-creation of new heavens and a new earth in equally material terms. In other words, God intends to see that his original creative purposes are not thwarted. Anything less than full bodily resurrection and full re-creation of the cosmos might still give believers an enjoyable experience but would not vindicate God against all his enemies or provide the absolute perfection that he intends for his people.
Christ’s death and resurrection in space and time, as bona fide historical events, actually set Christianity apart from all its major rivals. Later Western religions that developed in part in reaction to Christianity do not claim deity or resurrections for their originators, merely prophetic status (e.g., Mohammed in Islam or Joseph Smith in Mormonism). Older Eastern religions do not even require the actual historical existence of their founders for their beliefs and practices to make sense. In some ways they are more akin to philosophies than to historical truth-claims (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism). But Christianity lives or dies with the claim of Christ’s resurrection. To be sure, it is possible to believe in Jesus’ resurrection and not become a Christian,30 but without the bodily resurrection Christianity crumbles. Finding the bones of Jesus would assuredly disprove our religion!
Historians usually recognize the absurdity of most of the proposed alternatives to the resurrection—the swoon theory, the stolen body or wrong tomb, mass hallucination, and so on, though that does not stop more popular writers from continuing to perpetuate such nonsense.
By recording the resurrection appearances, the New Testament leaves no doubt about this event.
• In or around Jerusalem
To Mary Magdalene (John 20:11–18)
To the other women (Matt. 28:8–10)
To Peter (Luke 24:34)
To ten disciples (Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–25)
To the Eleven, including Thomas (John 20:26–29)
At His ascension (Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:4–12)
• To the disciples on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13–35)
• In Galilee (Matt. 28:16–20; John 21:1–24)
• To five hundred people (1 Cor. 15:6)
• To James and the apostles (1 Cor. 15:6)
• To Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–6; Ac 18:9, 10; 22:1–8; 23:11; 26:12–18; 1 Cor. 15:8)
15:1–11 To begin his teachings about the resurrection of believers, Paul reviewed the evidences for Jesus’ resurrection: 1) the church (vv. 1, 2); 2) the Scriptures (vv. 3, 4); 3) the eyewitnesses (vv. 5–7); 4) the apostle himself (vv. 8–10); and 5) the common message (v. 11).
15:12 some among you say. The Corinthian Christians believed in Christ’s resurrection, or else they could not have been Christians (cf. John 6:44; 11:25; Acts 4:12; 2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thess. 4:16). But some had particular difficulty accepting and understanding the resurrection of believers.
On the other hand, NT teaching in the words of our Lord Himself was extensive on the resurrection (John 5:28, 29; 6:44; 11:25; 14:19) and it was the theme of the apostolic preaching (Acts 4:1, 2). In spite of that clarity, the church at Corinth was in doubt about the resurrection.
15:13–19 Paul spells out the implications of a denial of bodily resurrection: (1) Christ has not been raised from the dead (vv. 13, 16); (2) the apostolic preaching is useless (v. 14); (3) faith is useless (vv. 14, 17); (4) the apostles are falsely testifying about God (v. 15); (5) the sins of Christians have not been forgiven (v. 17); (6) the Christians who have died are lost forever (v. 18); and (7) Christians are the most pitiful people because they base their lives on a lie (v. 19).
The contents of the early Christian “creed” embedded in verses 3–7 also refute all the classic suggestions that have been made down through the centuries to account for the origin of resurrection faith apart from a literal bodily resurrection. That “Christ died” disputes the claim that he merely swooned and recovered in the tomb. “That he was buried” renders implausible the views that the disciples stole his body or that the women went to the wrong tomb. Eventually a body could have been produced and the disciples’ story laid to rest. The verb ophthe (“appeared”) refers more naturally to an objective reality that the disciples saw rather than to some subjective vision (as might more plausibly be the case with the word horama—“vision”). The number of witnesses and numerous occasions on which Christ appeared seem to rule out mass hallucination. By mentioning Jesus’ appearance to two people who did not previously believe in him (Paul and James), Paul refutes the contention that the appearances were the projections of individuals who had so much personally invested in Christ that they simply couldn’t imagine him remaining dead.
Having established the resurrection of Christ as essential to the gospel, preached uniformly by the apostles, and believed universally by the churches, Paul now confronts the problem of some in Corinth who were denying the resurrection of the dead. The argument unfolds in two parts (15:12–34, 35–58). The first part deals with the question of resurrection generally and divides into three units (15:12–19, 20–28, 29–34). In 15:12–19 Paul takes up the position of those who deny the resurrection. He argues that to deny the resurrection of the dead generally is to deny the resurrection of Christ specifically, which has disastrous theological consequences. The whole structure of Christian preaching and belief collapses.
If the resurrection is false, belief is implausible. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then the gospel is invalidated.
When God created man He made him perfect, righteous, good, and subservient. At the Fall, this supreme creature of God, along with all the rest of His creation, was corrupted and ruined. But the new men He creates through His Son will never be corrupted or ruined. They will be raised up to live and reign eternally in His eternal kingdom with His eternal Son.
To Martha He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25).
The fact that Jesus died “for our sins” (v. 3) reminds us both of our need and of Jesus’ atoning work, as nothing short of God’s Son enduring divine judgment in our place could redeem us. The phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” (vv. 3–4) teaches us that Christ’s work fulfills God’s saving purposes, implying that all of Scripture points us ultimately to the grace of God in Christ.
Jesus’ burial confirms that he really died, and his appearances to eyewitnesses confirm that he truly rose. Thus we are not building our lives on myth or legend when we look to him for grace to pardon our sins and empower holy living.
Paul’s testimony in verses 8–10 allows us to see what effects “the grace of God” can have, even on those with hearts hardened toward Christ. These include humility (“least”; “unworthy”), honesty regarding past sin (“I persecuted the church”), and repentance (“I persecuted.… But …”). God’s transforming grace gives us not only a new identity (“I am what I am”; in Paul’s case, no longer a persecutor but an apostle) but the strength to labor diligently in God’s service (“I worked harder”; see also Col. 1:29; 1 Tim. 4:10).
Second, Christ’s work addresses every level of human need. He removes our sin and guilt before God (1 Cor. 15:17); he gives us power to obey God’s law, which we are unable to do while we are in our sins (“the power of sin is the law”; v. 56); and he will one day free us from the physical effects of sin such as death, disease, and disability (“imperishable”; “immortality”; “spiritual”—terms implying that our resurrection bodies will possess all the life-giving power of God’s Spirit).
Without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the gospel is not good news, since sinners would not be saved. The Christian faith serves no purpose (is “in vain”) without Jesus’ resurrection and thus provides no salvation; if one translates the Greek as “without due consideration,” Paul says that people who think of themselves as Christians have an incoherent faith if they do not accept Jesus’ resurrection as a historical fact.
That it was “for our sins” points to a vicarious atonement—paying the penalty we deserved to pay on our behalf. “According to the Scriptures” probably has in mind passages such as those in Isaiah 52–53 that speak of God’s suffering servant. Jesus’ burial (v. 4) again certifies that he really died and also points forward to the empty tomb and the reality of the resurrection.
both the apostolic preaching and the Corinthians’ faith are useless (v. 14); Paul and his companions are liars (v. 15); all humanity stands condemned because of their sins (v. 17); and those who have already died, including believers, are eternally lost (v. 18). As a result, Christians are most deserving of others’ pity or compassion, since they have given up creaturely comforts and endured persecution (vv. 30–32) for the sake of an empty promise (v. 19).
In Paul’s day, almost everyone held to a supernatural worldview that encouraged belief at least in life after death. Most Greeks and Romans, however, did not see that this entailed bodily resurrection. In modern cultures influenced by the skepticism of the Enlightenment, this supernatural worldview is not shared, so we have to defend both the possibility and the need for bodily resurrection.
Verses 12–19 return to the theme of the absolute necessity of bodily resurrection, both for Christ and for believers, in order for Christian faith to be genuine or valid. Paul does not permit a perspective on Jesus that views him merely as a good, moral teacher or on Christianity that considers it simply an admirable collection of proverbial truths about how to live. If the resurrection is false, Christianity is worthless.
If Christ was not raised, death, the penalty for sin, is not conquered. And his death in particular could not provide forgiveness of our sins, since it would not have eradicated death (cf. Rom. 3:23–25; 4:25). Above all, Paul did not experience enough natural enjoyment or “self-realization” in his life of constant turmoil and persecution to see any point in continuing the struggle if it were based on a myth.
But evangelicalism has its counterparts, as with those who so stress the earthly benefits of belief that Christianity would seem to be a desirable lifestyle irrespective of what happens after death. People who promote such perspectives have never walked in Paul’s shoes or, for that matter, in the footsteps of a sizable number of Christians and martyrs throughout church history, who would have quickly abandoned their faith if it were not for hope of eternal reward for the misery experienced in the here and now (cf. vv 19, 30–32).
The word for “vain” is the same word used in 15:10 where Paul affirmed that God’s grace toward him was not in vain. In 15:14, the word “vain” occurs in the first or emphatic position, “Vain is our preaching and vain is your faith!” The implications for preaching are spelled out further in 15:15–16, and implications for faith are given in 15:17–18. “A whole theology is at stake.”93
If Christ has not been raised, Paul’s preaching is perjured testimony with regard to God.” The apostles were not mere preachers of ethical ideals; they were men who testified to something they saw and experienced. If the resurrection did not happen, then all the apostles were liars, and nothing else they said (or wrote) can be trusted.
“Vain” in 15:14b has the idea of lacking in reality or content, while “futile” means wanting in result, fruitless, to no effect.
The NIV translates the Greek ἀπόλλυμι, “are lost,” but the idea is much stronger, “to be destroyed.” Cf. the use of the word elsewhere in 1 Corinthians (1:18–19; 8:11; 10:9–10). On the relationship of resurrection to justification, see Rom 4:24. Cf. also Rom 5:10; 6:10.
Most Greek philosophers considered the human body a prison, and they welcomed death as deliverance from bondage.
Typically people assume that the gullibility of ancient people allowed them to believe in something this incredulous. However, ancient people had just as much difficulty with the resurrection as moderns do.
It is exactly for that reason Paul is responding to some in the Corinthian congregation who denied the resurrection from the dead (v. 12). Blomberg argues that everyone in the ancient world believed in life after death, as the Corinthians certainly did. Instead the doubters were “disputing the Jewish and Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection and endorsing one of the more Greek forms of belief that limited the after-life to disembodied immortality of the soul” (Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], p. 295). Morris adds that “death for such meant the liberation of the soul from its prison in the body, for the body (soma), they held, was a tomb (sema). They may have thought of the state of the departed as the life of the ‘shades’ in Hades” (Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], pp. 205, 206).
People aren’t supposed to rise from the dead—this is true regardless of anyone’s cultural or historical context.
What’s surprising is that the amount of evidence for the resurrection is actually substantial. Even some renowned atheists have acknowledged this. Anthony Flew, one of the most respected atheistic philosophers within the last fifty or sixty years, claims: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.” Flew eventually became a theist, but he did not become a Christian. Though he thought the evidence was strong for the resurrection, he never actually embraced it.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then sin won the victory over Christ and therefore continues to be victorious over all men. If Jesus remained dead, then, when we die, we too will remain dead and damned. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and if we remain dead, then death and eternal punishment are the only prospects of believer and unbeliever alike.
A Christian has no Savior but Christ, no Redeemer but Christ, no Lord but Christ. Therefore if Christ was not raised, He is not alive, and our Christian life is lifeless. We would have nothing to justify our faith, our Bible study, our preaching or witnessing, our service for Him or our worship of Him, and nothing to justify our hope either for this life or the next. We would deserve nothing but the compassion reserved for fools.
Christ’s return brings the end of the present world as he finally eliminates all powers that oppose God (v. 24); Jesus’ present rule lasts until he has subjected all enemies to God’s rule (v. 25, alluding to Ps 110:1); then death, the believers’ last enemy, will be destroyed (vv. 26–27, which quotes Ps 8:6) and Christ’s victory will result in God’s victory (v. 28). The “kingdom” (v. 24) and Christ’s reign (v. 25) is Christ’s rule over history as mediator and sustainer of creation (Col 1:15–17), over the church as his body (Col 1:18), and over the individual lives of his people. Note that Jesus said the kingdom of God had dawned in and through his ministry (Luke 17:21). Some relate Christ’s reign to the millennium (1,000 years) mentioned in Rev 20:1–6.
3) those who die during the millennial kingdom may well be instantly transformed at death into their eternal bodies and spirits. The only people left to be raised will be the ungodly and that will occur at the end of the Millennium at the Great White Throne Judgment of God (see notes on Rev. 20:11–15; cf. John 5:28, 29), which will be followed by eternal hell (Rev. 21:8).
15:24 Then comes the end. This third aspect of the resurrection involves the restoration of the earth to the rule of Christ, the rightful King. “End” can refer not only to what is over, but to what is complete and fulfilled.
15:29–34 Paul points out that the resurrection gives men compelling incentives for salvation (v. 19), for service (vv. 30–32), and for sanctification (vv. 33, 34).
faith, however vital, would be useless (kenē, “empty”; cf. vv. 2, 10, 17) since its object would be a dead man.
Their faith would be futile (mataia, “without results”; cf. kenē, “empty,” in vv. 10, 14, eikē, “without cause” or “without success,” v. 2).
The “firstfruits”—the first sheaf of the harvest offered to the Lord (Lev 23:10–11, 17, 20)—was not only prior to the main harvest but was also an assurance that the rest of the harvest was coming. So with Christ. He preceded his people in his bodily resurrection and he is also the guarantee of their resurrection at his second coming.
Paul seems to be alluding to peril looming up in his ministry in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19), where he was when he wrote 1 Corinthians.
33 Turning now to Greek literature, Paul supports his position by quoting a piece of practical worldly wisdom from Menander’s comedy, Thais, relevant to the situation in the Corinthian church. The “bad company” points to those who were teaching that there is no resurrection and so were a threat to the testimony of the church.
The result is that God is “all in all,” that is, “pervasively sovereign.”
Verse 32b points out how self-indulgence is the consistent outgrowth of a material philosophy that denies the resurrection life. The Epicureans of old did not usually interpret their slogan as a call to sheer gluttony and drunkenness. Rather they sought the “good life,” cultivating the arts of fine dining, music and theater, and treasured friendships. Yet ultimately all of this was self-centered, since they did not look to continuing any pleasures beyond the grave. Self-interest may even lead to humanitarian and altruistic concerns, but ultimately it produces nothing permanently satisfying if this life is all that exists.
Christians must have a radically different mind-set. Recognizing that a far better life awaits them, they can risk their lives or well-being for the gospel in ways other people would not be willing to emulate. In Christian ethics, physical death cannot be the greatest tragedy that determines correct human behavior. Rather one must ask what is likely to lead to the spiritual salvation of the most number of people and to avoid the physical (and therefore spiritual) deaths of the greatest number of unbelievers. Snyder puts it well:
The resurrection addresses those who insist on protection and security of the individual, institutions, and country. Such persons set up mechanisms of defense along economic, racial, and national lines.…
In sharp contrast, the life of the Spirit, with its hope in the resurrection, does not, indeed, cannot, dwell on preservation of the flesh (personhood, institutions, nations). Rather the corporate life of the Christian becomes one of risk. A Christian hospital can accept more welfare patients than economically advisable because it knows God’s love for the poor does not depend on its continued existence.… Christians can call for total disarmament in the midst of a cold war because they know the future of the world does not depend on the survival of their nation. A Christian can risk his or her life because a Christian knows this life is not the end.
Verse 33 proves widely applicable and reminds us that Christians do not become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13–16) automatically.
Our persistent sinful nature continues to try to corrupt us when we are surrounded by people engaged in sinful practices, unless we take deliberate, conscious action to the contrary. Verse 34a highlights how immorality often flows from false theology. We recall the sexual sin that stemmed from the Corinthians’ divorce of body and spirit (chaps. 5–6).
The biblical hope is for believers to experience all of the wonders and glories of a fully re-created heavens and earth (Rev. 21–22). We will enjoy one another’s fellowship as well as God’s presence in perfect happiness. We will not sit on our private clouds with wings and harps periodically to dispel our eternal boredom! The new earth is centered in the new Jerusalem, a city of bustling activity.
Previous generations often lampooned certain kinds of Christians for being so heavenly-minded that they were no earthly good. It is doubtful if many such people under the age of fifty currently exist in our country. Instead, ours is a generation in which many Christians are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good.
Sooner or later we will die, and some of us will suffer quite a bit before we do. We need to recapture the longing for the life to come, which enabled Paul to declare confidently even in his most difficult moments: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Or again, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). Most of us consider our truly minor physical afflictions far more serious than Paul’s catalogues of horrible sufferings, and yet he could call them “light and momentary”!
So, against much liberation theology, we dare never truncate our gospel so that we do not simultaneously offer the spiritual deliverance that only Jesus can give and that alone can spare humans from an eternity far more unpleasant than anything they have experienced in this life.
How often do our lists of requests involve almost exclusively physical or material needs?
In 5:1–13, Paul called for the church to discipline the incestuous man so that his spirit might be saved on the Day of the Lord. In chap. 6, Paul mentioned saints judging the world and angels (6:1–3), inheriting the kingdom of God (6:9–11), and the raising of believers’ bodies from the dead as one reason to flee sexual immorality (6:14). In his instructions regarding marriage and singleness Paul stressed that the form of this world is passing away (7:31). Regarding food sacrificed to idols Paul recounted that all things must be done for the sake of the gospel (9:19–23) as believers strive toward the imperishable crown (9:24–27). In 11:27, he reminded the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper proclaims the death of Jesus until he comes again. In the discussion of things pertaining to the Spirit, Paul explained the permanence of love and that the gifts are rendered useless “when the perfect comes” (13:10). Chapter 15, although comprehensive in scope (15:20–28), especially picks up and elaborates on the mention of bodily resurrection in 6:14, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead [cf. 15:1–11, 20–23], and he will raise us also [15:20–23, 35–57].”
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” Paul’s point is not that there are no present benefits to the Christian life here and now, but rather that “the complex and fulfilling life of the Christian community has integrity only if it is premised on the truth and ordered towards the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises.”106 The richness of Christian existence is predicated on eschatological hope and confidence in a righteous judgment to come. Paul’s perspective is to be understood in the light of his present sufferings (4:9–13; cf. also Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:7–16; 6:3–10; 11:23–29) and the disastrous chain of consequences enumerated in 15:12–18.
In other words, there are further calamitous consequences implied if the assertions of 15:20–28 are false. All enemies must be subdued and death must be overthrown as a principle of God’s sovereignty over the hostile powers of the cosmos. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then ultimately God is not sovereign.
The designation of Christ as “firstfruits” anticipates the fuller argument of 15:35–49.
Paul does not reveal his full understanding of end-time events in the span of only two verses! As noted in the comments on 15:20–23, Paul does not mention the resurrection of unbelievers. Neither does he mention the resurrection of some believers immediately following the resurrection of Jesus (Matt 27:52). Paul is fully aware of other events attendant to the last days (see esp. 2 Thess 2:1–11). While some argue for an “interval” (millennium), others think Paul speaks of a more immediate consummation. First Corinthians 15:20–28 is not decisive on this matter. Paul’s immediate concern in this passage is not to establish precise time intervals but to show how Christ’s resurrection set in motion a sequence of events that will culminate with the complete overthrow of all hostile powers opposed to God, including death, which entails the subjection of all things to God the Father.
Psalm 8 has in mind the Genesis account of the creation of mankind, while Ps 110 refers to the royal Davidic king. By combining the two psalms Paul is able to emphasize that what was lost in Adam is regained in Christ and fulfills God’s intention for humanity.
When will Jesus Christ return for His church? Nobody knows; but when it occurs, it will be “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). It behooves us to be ready (1 John 2:28–3:3).
preceding. Useless (kenon) comes first with emphasis. The word means ‘empty’. If there is no resurrection of Christ, the preaching, which Paul has shown is not peculiar to himself but common to all the apostles (v. 11), has nothing in it, no substance. It is the resurrection that shows that God is active in Christ, and if the resurrection did not take place the gospel is a sham. Preaching (kērygma; see note on 1:21) means, not the act of preaching, but the content, the thing preached, the message. The word order in the latter part of the verse is ‘empty also your faith’, which again puts the stress on ‘empty’. The faith of the Corinthians depended on the gospel that had elicited it. If the gospel was a sham, then so was the faith it produced.
It cannot be said that they are honest men, who in sincerity have given advice they thought to be good, though it is now shown to be not as good as they had imagined. Christianity is not a system of good advice, and the preachers had not simply told people of a good way to live. They had said that something happened; God raised up Christ. Christianity is basically a gospel, the good news of what God has done.
Faith in Christ is a fruitless exercise if the result is you are still in your sins.
Christ had drawn the sting from it (v. 55). Death is now ‘gain’ (Phil. 1:21), so that Paul can ‘desire to depart and be with Christ’ (Phil. 1:23). Thus when believers died they were not mourned as people irretrievably lost. They were with Christ. But only, Paul insists, if there is a resurrection. If Christ did not rise, then neither will they. In that event, they are lost, they ‘have perished’ (RSV
The resurrection of Christ was not a one-time event that was never meant to be repeated again; it was the “firstfruits” of a greater plan. In agricultural terms, the “firstfruits” is the very first showing of a given harvest. If the firstfruits are good, that is a good sign that the rest of the harvest will be good. Christ’s resurrection is only the beginning of God’s greater plan of the resurrection.
Before Israelites harvested their crops they were to bring a representative sample, called the first fruits, to the priests as an offering to the Lord (Lev. 23:10). The full harvest could not be made until the first fruits were offered. That is the point of Paul’s figure here. Christ’s own resurrection was the first fruits of the resurrection “harvest” of the believing dead. In His death and resurrection Christ made an offering of Himself to the Father on our behalf.
Both the Old and New Testaments tell of persons who died and were miraculously brought back to life (1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 4:34–36; 13:21; Luke 7:15; John 11:44). But all of those persons died again. Even those whom Jesus raised—the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus—eventually died again. Christ Himself, however, was the first to be raised never to die again.
The scene of Revelation 5 depicts the Son taking rightful possession of the title deed to the earth, His going out to take it back from the usurper to present it to the Father. In doing that He will quell all rebellions and subdue all enemies. He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. It is necessary for Him to rule.
When He took the assignment of salvation from His Father, Christ came to earth as a baby, and lived and grew up as a man among men. He taught, preached, healed, and did miraculous works. He died, was buried, was raised and ascended to His Father, where He now intercedes for those who are His. When He returns He will fight, conquer, rule, judge, and then, as His last work on the Father’s behalf, forever subdue and finally judge all the enemies of God (Rev. 20:11–15), re-create the earth and heavens (Rev. 21:1–2), and finally deliver the kingdom to the God and Father.
if there is no resurrection from the dead, it makes no sense for new Christians (who were spiritually “dead” before their conversion) to undergo baptism if faith and baptism have no effect on what happens after death. Christians who deny a future resurrection of the body render baptism, which connects the “dead” sinner with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, meaningless.
Gratitude for the victory that God has given us through Christ must lead us to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (vv. 57–58). The gospel therefore combats hopelessness and gives purpose to our daily endeavors: “in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58).
Roman gladiatorial shows were also held in the theater at Ephesus during many festivals (as well as in Corinth). It is unlikely, however, that Paul was literally cast to beasts in that arena. The victims were not supposed to survive the maulings, and as a Roman citizen Paul would have been exempt from this punishment. Philosophers employed the image of battling such beasts, and Paul here probably describes his opposition in similarly graphic terms (cf. similarly Ps 22:6, 12–13, 16, 20–21). “In human terms” in verse 32 means “figuratively” (contrary to most translations; cf. 9:8; Rom 6:19; Gal 3:15).
But if Paul had no future hope, instead of facing affliction, he may as well have simply indulged his passions, a sentiment often attributed (with some distortion) to Epicurean philosophers but lived out by many Greek and Roman men at wild parties. Cf. especially Isaiah 22:13 and Luke 12:19. (The Old Testament often uses the language of eating and drinking in a neutral way [Eccles 2:24; 5:18–19; cf. 3:12], but without God it is never enough for life—Is 22:12–14; Eccles 11:7–12:14; cf. 7:2, 14.)
For Paul, the “bad company” are the people who claim that there is no resurrection (v. 12).
15:58 Paul concludes with three exhortations: (1) stand firm. Christians must not abandon the hope that the dead will be raised with new bodies, and they must not abandon the gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ (vv. 1–2). (2) Let nothing move you. Christians must resist being moved away from the gospel and the hope of resurrection. (3) Always give yourselves fully. Christians must completely devote themselves to the Lord’s work by building up the church (3:13–15; 9:1; 16:10), a task that is never futile.
15:32 beasts at Ephesus. Perhaps literal wild animals, or, metaphorically, the fierce crowd of Ephesians incited against him by Demetrius (Acts 19:23–34). In either case, these were life-threatening dangers (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23–28). eat … drink … die. A direct quote from Is. 22:13 reflecting the hopelessness of the backslidden Israelites. Cf. Heb. 11:33, 34, 38 for a litany of suffers who were willing to die because they looked forward to resurrection (v. 35).
15:29. Up to 200 explanations have been given of this verse! Most of these interpretations are inane, prompted by a desire to conform this verse to an orthodox doctrine of baptism. It is clear from the context, however, that Paul distinguished his own practice and teaching from that described here. He merely held up the teaching of being baptized for the dead as a practice of some who denied the Resurrection.
34 The call in v. 34 is for the Corinthians to stop sinning in denying the resurrection of the dead and, so by implication, the resurrection of Christ—a denial leading to loose living. There were some in the church who did not know God or the precious doctrine of the resurrection. They were in a shameful condition, Paul says, because they had espoused such a denial of the truth.
Fee quips, “One may consider it as axiomatic that when there is such a wide divergence of opinion, no one knows what in fact was going on.” Fee’s point is well-taken, but there are reasonable interpretive options. Furthermore, the function of 15:29 is clear in context. Already Paul has demonstrated the disastrous theological consequences that ensue if the dead are not raised (15:12–19). Now he will show the senselessness of certain practices in light of the same hypothetical scenario. However obscure the notion of “baptism for the dead” may be, it is Paul’s plain intention to take issue with those in Corinth who were saying, “There is no resurrection of the dead” (15:12).
The image of fighting wild beasts is most likely a euphemism for contending with powerful antagonists, perhaps political opponents to the gospel. In 16:9 Paul mentions “many who oppose me.” Since he is writing the letter from Ephesus, the opposition is fresh on his mind. Other texts bear witness to the difficulties Paul faced in this city (cf. Acts 19:23–41; Rom 16:3–4)
Either way, the saying depicts the logical outcome and perspective of those who rule out any life beyond the grave. Hays thinks that Paul chooses the proverb for its use of “eating” and “drinking” language, which has been prominent in chaps. 8–10, that it is “a devastatingly apt characterization of these resurrection-denying Corinthians, whose own misbehavior has much to do with eating and drinking (1 Cor 10:21–22; 11:20–22).”
Although the command to stop sinning could apply to any number of things mentioned in the letter, the context suggests a more specific connection with the denial of resurrection and ethical decision-making that is guided by the attitude expressed in the proverb “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32b).
An explanation follows from the three imperatives, “For there are some who are ignorant of God.” In other words, as Collins explains, “Paul shares the Jewish view that idolatry and the failure to acknowledge the one God lead to immoral behavior (cf. 6:9–10; Rom 1:20–31; 1 Thess 4:5).” The word “some” harks back to the “some” who deny the resurrection (15:12). They are one and the same group. To deny the resurrection is to demonstrate a fundamental ignorance of God since resurrection is the climax of God’s redemption of the world and the key event that culminates in his being “all in all” (15:28).
Why endure suffering and danger if death ends it all? “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die” (Isa. 22:13).
Immorality was a way of life in Corinth, and some of the believers rejected the resurrection in order to rationalize their sin. “Evil company corrupts good morals” is a quotation from the Greek poet Menander, a saying no doubt familiar to Paul’s readers. The believer’s body is the temple of God and must be kept separated from the sins of the world (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1). To fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:6–17) is only to corrupt God’s temple.
I say this to your shame” (v. 34). Many who have an intellectual knowledge of the resurrection lack a transformative knowledge. Paul compares this to a drunken stupor—functionally living without resurrection hope. But note that Paul doesn’t offer them anything more than what they already have in Christ. It is not as though there is something more profound than the death and resurrection of Christ.
“I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:17–18).
Because the Sadducees denied resurrection, they could not think or live right, as is obvious in their response to the life and work of Christ. Right doctrine is inseparably connected to right moral behavior; right principles are given to lead to right conduct.
During the Finnish-Russian war seven captured Russian soldiers were sentenced to death by the Finnish army. The evening before they were to be shot, one of the soldiers began singing “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” Asked why he was singing such a song, he answered tearfully that he had heard it sung by a group of Salvation Army “soldiers” just three weeks earlier. As a boy he had heard his mother talk and sing of Jesus many times, but would not accept her Savior. The previous night, as he lay contemplating his execution, he had a vision of his mother’s face, which reminded him of the hymn he had recently heard. The words of the song and verses from the Bible that he had heard long ago came to his mind. He testified before his fellow prisoners and his captors that he had prayed for Christ to forgive his sins and cleanse his soul and make him ready to stand before God. All the men, prisoners and guards alike, were deeply moved, and most spent the night praying, weeping, talking about spiritual things, and singing hymns. In the morning, just before the seven were shot, they asked to be able to sing once more “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” which they were allowed to do.
At least one other of the Russian soldiers had confessed Christ during the night. In addition, the Finnish officer in charge said, “What happened in the hearts of the others I don’t know, but … I was a new man from that hour. I had met Christ in one of His loveliest and youngest disciples, and I had seen enough to realize that I too could be His.”
What would not make sense is the godly self-sacrifice of those “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, … wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:33–34, 38). Their hope that “they might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35) would have been futile and empty.
“Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, … for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). It was anticipation of the resurrection, of being raised to be again with His Father, that gave our Lord the motive for dying on our behalf. He was willing to die for us because He knew He would be raised for us.
They had the truth, but they did not fully believe it and therefore did not fully follow it. He commands them to cease the sin they were involved in.