In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen, we are reminded of the fact that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for any hope that we have.
"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." NIV translation
Now, Paul begins to address the false teachings that were influencing the church concerning Jesus' resurrection. At this time, there were three main philosophies concerning life after death. Stoicism said that the soul merged into deity at death (we all just become a part of a god). The epicurean philosophy held that there was no existence beyond this world and so one should get and enjoy all that this world has to offer. Platonism taught that the soul was immortal and that it just migrated to another being at death. All three of them denied the resurrection of the body which, as we shall see, is the heart of the gospel.
"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." NIV translation
He reminds them that there is only one way to be saved and that is through Jesus Christ.
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 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. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born." NIV translation
The gospel (Good News) comes down to some pretty simple facts as Paul presents them here. Jesus died as payment for our sins, was buried as proof, and was raised again just as He said it would happen. The Scriptures that Paul refers to were the Old Testament scrolls of which Paul was intimately familiar. He points out the fact that those Scriptures had told the people what God was going to do through His Son. He also gives a list of witnesses to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Although the legal standard for something to be considered truth was only two, Paul gives us a list of over five hundred people and includes himself among them. It is interesting to note that the first person on the list is Cephas (Peter). We are reminded of the fact that Jesus had told him that "on this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). What did Jesus mean? He was talking about the fact that Peter would be the first to see Him resurrected and be able to share his testimony to that fact. In effect, Jesus was saying that His church would be built on the testimonies of those who saw Him after He was physically raised from the dead. We also see that it is this testimony that helps us to overcome the schemes of the devil (see Revelation 12).
"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. 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." NIV translation
Paul continues by humbly explaining the fact that he didn't consider himself to be worthy of the title of an apostle or even salvation through Jesus Christ. But, because God selected and empowered him, he was able to serve the Lord and become the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen.
"Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed." NIV translation
Paul reminds them that there is only one gospel and that the same message was shared by all of the apostles. In our world today, it seems like many pastors and teachers are looking for a clever message. As we see here, the simple gospel that was preached by the apostles is what is needed.
"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?" NIV translation
Paul asks a simple question in hopes of getting the people to see the fact that you cannot take a part of the gospel and the philosophy of the day and combine them. The same type of thing is happening in our world today as many want to accept the fact that Jesus was a prophet but they deny that He was and is the Son of God.
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." NIV translation
Paul goes on to explain that you cannot have it both ways. Either the resurrection of man from the dead happens as in the case of Jesus or it does not happen at all. If you do not believe in the resurrection, then, nothing else matters. If Jesus had lied about His resurrection, then, you could not believe anything He had said.
"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." NIV translation
The penalty for being a false witness about God, was death and so Paul makes it clear how much he believes in the resurrection.
"For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." NIV translation
Paul reminds the people that Jesus was crucified for our sins as the perfect sacrifice. The perfect sacrifice could not be a liar and Jesus had said that He would be raised from the dead. Therefore, if He had not been raised from the dead, it would be a sign of the rejection of the offering. Without His offering, there was no payment for our sins and so man would still be "in your sins".
"Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." NIV translation
Have you ever been in a situation where you know someone is being deceived by another person and yet they will not listen to the truth? At that point, we feel sorry for them and that is what Paul describes here. The epicureans of Corinth were wallowing in their sin and loving it because they did not believe in an afterlife. If Christians (who did not take part in those parties) were wrong and died without an afterlife, then, they had just missed out on all that the world had offered.
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." NIV translation
Paul moves on by simply stating the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. He knew that because he had seen Him and talked with Him. The term "firstfruits" or "bikkurim" in Hebrew literally means "promise to come". As part of the Law that was given to Moses, the best of the land was to be brought to God during the three annual feasts. During their time in the wilderness, this offering was brought to God in faith that He was going to keep His promise to bring them to the land that he had promised. After they were living in the land, it was brought in thanks for what God had done in keeping His promise. These offerings were only the first part of the harvest that was standing in the fields. The same principle applies with the resurrection of Christ as it is our "promise to come". He is the first and the best of what has already been provided by God.
"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." NIV translation
Paul reminds the believers of the fact that death is a result of the sin of Adam & Eve. All humans have the sin nature because we are all relatives of Adam & Eve. The final effect of sin is death and so all of our flesh will die at some point. Likewise, all will be made alive because of the fact that Jesus Christ defeated death when He was resurrected by the power of God. It is important to note that ALL people will be resurrected from the dead and not just those who have accepted Jesus Christ. There are many people that want to believe that the life we live now is all that there is but that is a lie from the devil.
"But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him." NIV translation
As they say, "timing is everything" and Paul makes it clear that we will have our new bodies at the proper time. That proper time is when the Father sends Jesus back to get us and take us to be with Him. The final resurrection is for those that have died in their sin by rejecting the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
"Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death." NIV translation
Paul continues to speak about timing as he describes the time for Jesus' return. The phrase "has put everything under his feet" is a partial quote from Psalm 8. There, King David was worshiping God as he remembered the fact that the Creator of all things put man in charge of His creation. Man's pride has made many think that we are always going to be in control but judgment is coming when it will be made known that Jesus is Lord over all creation. Once that is established, Jesus will hand control back to the Father.
"For he 'has put everything under his feet.' Now when it says that 'everything' has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all." NIV translation
Paul reminds us that God (the Father) is the ultimate authority and Jesus does His will. After Jesus (the King of Kings) has established the kingdom, it will be presented to the Father.
"Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" NIV translation
It seems that there were some in the church who had fallen back into legalism. They thought that it was essential to be baptized in water to go to heaven and so made a way for the dead to sorta have a second chance. We notice that Paul did not condone this activity as he said "those" referring to the people that were doing it. He was simply making a point that even they believed in the resurrection or they would not have done this ritual.
"And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day - yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 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.'" NIV translation
Paul now turns to the persecution that he and the church faced. The resurrection is the heart of the gospel and he asks why anyone would endure for a lie. Without the resurrection, then, you might as well go along with the Epicureans and live it up here on the earth instead of endure the persecution for your faith.
"Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.' 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." NIV translation
Paul quotes from a Greek comedy by the poet Menander which the Corinthians would have been familiar with. Basically, he says that, if they continue to hang with those who are denying the resurrection, they will be lead astray. He goes on to say that they do not know God and so it is expected for them to act that way but, as Christians, the believers knew better.
"But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?' How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies." NIV translation
Now, Paul shifts the focus from the truth that the resurrection happens to what it looks like. He begins to explain by using the example of planting crops which was something that everyone back then could understand. He reminds them of the fact that, in order to have a crop, a seed must be buried in the ground.
"When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body." NIV translation
Paul continues to use the example of farming to explain about the resurrection body. He explains that it is just as a seed that produces a plant but the plant does not look like the seed. We do not know how or why the seed produces the type of plant that it does.
"Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another." NIV translation
As we see in the natural world, God created several kinds of flesh. Although many scientists try to prove that we all evolved out of some slime, one cannot look at the diversity of life and accept that kind of nonsense. All life on this planet testifies to the fact that there is a Creator.
"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. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor." NIV translation
Paul goes on to explain that, just like stars and planets are different from each other, we will each have a unique resurrection body. It is comforting to know that we will all still remain unique in heaven.
"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." NIV translation
He goes on to explain that, not only will we each get a unique new body. Our human bodies are amazing in the way that they operate but they are nothing compared to our spiritual bodies that will last forever. One of the problems in our world today is the fact that people worry too much about trying to make our earthly bodies last forever. We are reminded that, no matter what you do, all of these earthly bodies will one day be corpses left behind.
"So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being', the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual." NIV translation
Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that the physical body came first through Adam as he quotes from Genesis 2. All people on the earth began through God's creation of Adam and Eve but this was only physical. Eternal life came through the last Adam (Jesus Christ) who gave us the Spirit.
"The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man is of heaven." NIV translation
We are reminded that Adam was created from the dust of the earth while Jesus Christ was sent down from heaven by His Father. It seems like we spend a lot of time and efforts on preserving this earthly body but the simple fact is that it was created out of dust and will return to dust. We are to keep our minds focused on the things that will last such as our spiritual health.
"As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man." NIV translation
Although there are variations in the size, features, etc of people, we all have many characteristics that are common. These characteristics have been passed down to us from their beginning in Adam and so we resemble Adam while we are in this earthly body. It does not matter what we do to maintain this body, it will wear out and and return to the dust. When it does, we will get our new body that will resemble that of Jesus Christ.
"I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." NIV translation
Even the most fit and beautiful earthly body is not good enough to get into heaven. Why? The simple answer is that these earthly bodies still have the sin nature in them due to the fact that they descend from the earthly Adam. There are those who use this verse to say that we are not going to have a body in heaven but that is not what Paul is saying. He is just saying that it will be a new and different kind of body without the sin nature and its effects.
"Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - 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." NIV translation
The mystery that Paul speaks of is commonly called "the rapture" or the time when Jesus comes back to gather His people. As we see, we are not all going to die and be buried in the ground. If you are in Christ and He returns while you are still alive, you do not die but you are changed into your spiritual body to be like Him.
"For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality." NIV translation
These earthly bodies will not enter heaven and so everyone must be changed. It is like putting on new clothes for a special event but these new clothes will last forever.
"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.' 'Where , O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?'" NIV translation
With the return of Christ and these new bodies, there will be no more death. The victory has been won through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." NIV translation
The cause of death for our earthly bodies is sin and sin gets its power to cause death through our inability to keep the law of God. Without the law, there would have been no basis for fair judgment of disobedience (sin).
"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." NIV translation
We did not have the ability to keep the law perfectly but Jesus did on our behalf. He not only did that but He also paid the penalty for our sins and so we have overcome death and moved to eternal life.
"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." NIV translation
Paul concludes his teaching on the resurrection body by urging the believers to hold fast to what they know. He also urges them to put their faith into action by serving the Lord.