Hope of the Resurrection
“How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).
By Robert Goodman
1 Corinthians chapter 15 is labeled as the chapter on “The Resurrection.” Here, the Apostle Paul presents a series of lessons that provide the most comprehensive examination of the doctrine of the resurrection found in scripture.
The Apostle Paul starts by stating how critical belief in the resurrection is to understanding the Gospel. If we do not believe in the resurrection, then the apostle states that our faith is in vain! (verse 14). Why would Paul make such a dramatic statement?
During this early phase of the church, some had begun to question the resurrection. This error may have crept in from the teachings of the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. This was such a dangerous error that Paul spent a significant portion of his first letter to the Corinthians revealing how vital an understanding of the resurrection was.
In the opening and closing verses of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul identifies his audience as “brethren.” Whenever we see this designation, we should pay special attention to the lessons that follow. Paul’s admonition is as important to brethren today as it was to those in the early church. The apostle even identifies the resurrection as a doctrine in Hebrews 6:2, “Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”
Paul reminds us that Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day he rose from the dead. Then Paul lists many of Christ’s appearances after his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 reads, “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also.” The risen Christ appeared to more than five hundred people under different circumstances over a period of forty days.
Thus, Paul presents compelling evidence that Christ had been resurrected! Having established this, he explained that there would be a broader application of the resurrection. He presented his logic in both positive and negative terms to prove his point from both perspectives.
Paul concludes in verse 22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” So, the resurrection will include all that have ever lived! Paul reveals the relationship between the resurrection and the ransom. In this way he continues to build the case showing that the resurrection is critical to understanding the Gospel of salvation.
Next, the Apostle Paul provides details about the order of the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:23-24 (RVIC) we read, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; after that they that are Christ’s in his presence. Then cometh the end, whenever he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.” While Christ was the first to be raised in the first resurrection, “they that are Christ’s at his coming” (Strong’s G3952, παρομσια or parousia) are also included. This is a reference to the resurrection of Christ’s footstep followers shortly after he invisibly returned in 1874.
In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (RVIC), the apostle reveals; “Behold, I tell you a mystery; We shall all fall asleep, but we shall not all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The saints who died before the Lord’s return fell asleep and slept in death until our Lord’s return. However, after the Lord’s return, the saints as they fall asleep or die are changed or resurrected in a moment or twinkling of an eye. They do not sleep in death. This remains a mystery hidden from the world and is only understood by those with a knowledge of the Truth. When the last member of the church goes beyond the veil, the work of the first resurrection will be complete. It is wonderful how Paul fills in these important details of God’s glorious plan!
Soon after the church is complete, God’s kingdom will be fully established. Then, the general resurrection described in John 5:28-29 will begin. “Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done ill, unto the resurrection of judgment” (RV). The good news of the kingdom will be revealed to all mankind and they will have an opportunity to learn righteousness under ideal conditions.
The apostle continues in 1 Corinthians 15: “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
All who have ever lived will have a resurrection and have an opportunity to learn righteousness under perfect conditions on a restored perfect earth. Those who are faithful in their obedience to God will be given lasting life. When the last person is raised, then the resurrection work will be complete. After final judgment, even Adamic death will be destroyed and all creation will be turned back to God.
This narrative illustrates how the resurrection is a vital part of God’s master plan. No wonder that the Apostle Paul stressed the importance of a clear understanding of it to the early church. Truly, without this understanding our faith is confused and in vain! (1 Corinthians 15:14,17).
We see how the Apostle Paul builds layer after layer in his narrative about the resurrection. Next, he stresses the importance for Christians of being baptized into Christ’s death. Only through a complete consecration to Christ can one have part in the first resurrection. This is borne out in the statement; “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:20). Continuing in verse 21, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” Ultimately, all who will be granted everlasting life in the ages to come must have attained perfection of character.
Paul’s positive and negative arguments carry on all the way down to verse 32. He continues to fill in the details of the good news as illustrated in the doctrines he reveals. At times he states his arguments in positive terms and other times he proves his thoughts using points and counterpoints. His arguments stress the importance of being sound in “Truth” and not allowing error to creep in. We must be on guard since in our day we are also bombarded with erroneous thoughts on every front. We must hold fast to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
In 1 Corinthians 15:33-34, the Apostle Paul provides a stern warning: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” This is a double warning. First, there are those who would corrupt the purity of truth with leaven. They do not understand the wisdom of God. Paul is alluding to those who introduced the erroneous concept that there was no resurrection. He is warning brethren to be cautious of these people. Second, he admonishes brethren to commit and stay awake to righteousness and thus, stay pure! These lessons are even more pressing in the days in which we live!
Continuing in 1 Corinthians 15:35, Paul provides additional insights into the resurrection of the dead. There are two questions posed: (1) How are the dead raised up? (2) With what body are they raised? Paul answers the first question by presenting the picture of a seed. The grain seed must first die to bring forth new life. We are assured that God will bring forth new life. But Paul supplies no further details in his narrative.
The example of grain also gives the answer to the second question. The seed that goes into the ground produces new life just like the plant that produced it. So why did Paul add the statement that “God giveth it a body as it pleaseth him?”
Beginning in 1 Corinthians 15:39, the apostle introduces the concept of different types of flesh (men, beasts, fish, birds). In verse 40, Paul expands the scope to include terrestrial and celestial bodies. Why? In verse 45 we read; “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” This confirms that although Jesus died a natural man, he was raised to the spirit nature. This fact was witnessed via his appearances in different forms (as a gardener, traveler, with his crucifixion wounds) after he was resurrected.
Paul next reveals in verses 49 and 50 that there will be others who will participate in the first resurrection. “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Paul reveals two important aspects of the first resurrection. First, they who are raised in it, die in the flesh and are born of the spirit. Second, they will die in mortal bodies but will be raised to immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:53 reveals this: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Those who have a part in the first resurrection will receive immortal, spiritual bodies.
As we examine Paul’s discourse, we are impressed with the fundamental precepts of the Truth illustrated in his lesson. This demonstrates that the doctrines of the Truth are a beautiful and harmonious whole. But we see this beauty only if we stay pure from the leaven of error and sin. Keeping our faith free from error is a critical element of maintaining “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Paul concludes with the beautiful words found in 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57-58. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? … Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Our hope is that all who hold firm to the good news of the resurrection might stand firm to the end and that their faith will not be in vain.