(NOTE: THIS IS QUITE A LENGTHY STUDY OF APPROXIMATELY 12 PAGES. A DOWNLOADABLE PDF COPY CAN BE FOUND AT THE END OF THE STUDY FOR OF THOSE WHO WANT TO USE IT FOR FUTURE REFERENCE)
In New Testament times Corinth was a thriving, prosperous, and strategically located city. Except for pagan worshipping, it also held a famous temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The temple normally housed some one thousand priestesses, ritual prostitutes, who each night would come down into Corinth and ply their trade among the many foreign travelers and the local men.
The name of the city became synonymous with moral depravity. In this letter to the church there, Paul lists some of the city’s characteristic sins—fornication (porneia, from which comes our term pornography), idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, homosexuality, stealing, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling (abusive speech), and swindling (6:9-10).
Some of the Corinthian believers had been guilty of practicing those sins before their conversion and had been cleansed (6:11). Others in the church, however, were still living immorally, some involved in sins worse than those—sins that Paul reminds them even pagan Gentiles did not commit, such as incest (5:1).
The Corinthian church had many problems, but their most serious problem was in not detaching themselves from the worldly ways of the society around them. Like many Christians today, the Corinthian believers had great difficulty in not mimicking the unbelieving and corrupt society around them. They wanted to have what they thought was the best of both worlds, but Paul plainly warned them that that was impossible (6:9-10).
Yet they lacked no spiritual resources (1:5-7) and had great potential for spiritual power and blessing. Paul longed to see that potential realized.
THE BLESSED HOPE
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Cor. 15:50-53)
The kingdom of God is here referring to the eternal state, to heaven. “Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (v. 49).
The rest of our study will focus on the resurrection. But what about believers who are living when Christ returns? Anticipating that question, Paul continues, Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep.
In the New Testament, mystery always refers to that which had before been hidden and unknown, but which is now revealed. The apostle now reveals that Christians who are alive when the Lord returns will not have to die (sleep) in order for their bodies to be changed. Those “who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).
As believers are resurrected or caught up they shall all be changed. Whether believers die or are raptured, their bodies will be changed from the perishable to the imperishable, from the natural to the spiritual. Since the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable, all believers will be equally equipped for heaven (cf. Phil. 3:20-21).
Both for the resurrected and for the raptured the change will be in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. It will not be a process, a supernatural metamorphosis. It will be an instantaneous recreation from one form to the other, from the earthy to the heavenly. Moment is from atomos, from which we get the word atom, and denotes that which cannot be cut, or divided, the smallest conceivable quantity. In the smallest possible amount of time our perishable bodies will be made imperishable. To further emphasize and illustrate the speed of the change, Paul says that it will occur in the twinkling of an eye. Rhipē (twinkling) literally means to hurl, and was used to refer to any rapid movement. The eye can move much faster than any other visible part of our bodies, and Paul’s point was that the change will be extremely fast, instantaneous.
This change will occur at the last trumpet. This trumpet will not necessarily be the last heavenly trumpet ever to be sounded. It will, however, be the last as far as living Christians are concerned, for it will sound the end of the church age, when all believers will be removed from the earth.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). By that trumpet God will summon all of His people to Himself (cf. Ex. 19:16; Isa. 27:13).
Speaking of the coming resurrection day, Jesus said, “I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). As He ascended to heaven the angels told the onlooking disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). With Paul, every believer should be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).
IMPORTANCE OF THE RESSURECTION
Some religions have taught soul sleep, in which the body dies and disintegrates, while the soul or spirit rests. Materialists believe in utter extinction, total annihilation. Nothing human, physical or otherwise, survives after death. Death ends it all. Some religions teach reincarnation, wherein the soul or spirit is continually recycled from one form to another—even from human to animal or animal to human. In all those views, human personhood and individuality are forever lost at death.
1 Corinthians, chapter 15 is devoted entirely to the doctrine of resurrection. In fact, in these verses Paul gives the most extensive treatment of the resurrection in all of Scripture.
The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth. The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25). He also said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44)
Because it is the cornerstone of the gospel, the resurrection has been the target of Satan’s greatest attacks against the church. If the resurrection is eliminated, the life-giving power of the gospel is eliminated, the deity of Christ is eliminated, salvation from sin is eliminated, and eternal life is eliminated. “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). If Christ did not live past the grave, those who trust in Him surely cannot hope to do so.
Without the resurrection salvation could not have been provided, and without belief in the resurrection salvation cannot be received. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9). It is not possible, therefore, to be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The doctrinal problem on which this chapter focuses was not the Corinthians’ disbelief in Christ’s resurrection but confusion about their own. Paul was not trying to convince them that Christ rose from the dead but that one day they, too, would be raised with Him to eternal life. Nevertheless, to lay the foundation, in the first eleven verses he reviewed the evidences for Jesus’ resurrection, a truth he acknowledges they already believed.
RESURRECTION OF THE BELIEVER
“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12)
The resurrections of Christ and men stand or fall together; there could not be one without the other. If there is no resurrection, the gospel is meaningless and worthless. Paul had written the Thessalonians several years before he wrote 1 Corinthians, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). He doubtlessly had taught the Corinthians the same truth, and in his next letter to them he says, “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:14).
It is possible that even some of the Jewish members of the Corinthian church doubted the resurrection. Despite the fact that resurrection is taught in the Old Testament, some Jews, such the Sadducees, did not believe in it.
In verses 13-19 the apostle demonstrates that the resurrection is not only possible but essential to the Christian faith.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF NO RESURRECTION
“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.” (1 Cor. 15:13-15)
CHRIST WOULD NOT BE RISEN
The first and most obvious consequence of there being no resurrection would be that not even Christ has been raised. Paul basically argues that if the dead cannot rise, Christ did not rise.
At Pentecost Peter proclaimed that “Jesus the Nazarene [was] a man attested to you by God” and that “this Man delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross” (Acts 2:22-23). Later in the same message he proclaimed that Jesus was still alive, not merely in spirit but in body. He told of David’s speaking “of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again” (Acts 2:31-32). In his opening words to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that “the gospel of God” for which he was set apart was “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:1-4). Jesus’ resurrection evidenced both His humanity and His deity. Therefore, if there is no such thing as physical resurrection, not even Christ has been raised.
PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL WOULD BE MEANINGLESS
The second consequence of there being no resurrection would be that preaching of the gospel would be vain, completely meaningless. Apart from the resurrection Jesus could not have conquered sin or death or hell, and those three great evils would forever be man’s conquerors.
Without the resurrection there would be nothing worth preaching as the gospel would be an empty, hopeless message.
FAITH IN CHRIST WOULD BE WORTHLESS
Just as no resurrection would make preaching Christ meaningless, it would also make faith in Him worthless. Faith in such a gospel would be vain (kenos, empty, fruitless, void of effect, to no purpose). We then could only say with the psalmist, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure” (Ps. 73:13), or with the Servant in Isaiah, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity” (Isa. 49:4).
ALL WITNESSES TO AND PREACHERS OF THE RESURRECTION WOULD BE LIARS
Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. To deny the resurrection is to call the apostles and every other leader of the New Testament church liars.
Although Paul does not mention it specifically, it clearly follows that if the resurrection were not true, Christ Himself lied, or at best was tragically mistaken. Or, if the New Testament writers completely misrepresented what both Christ and the apostles taught, then the New Testament would be a worthless document that no reasonable person would trust.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:16-19)
Next Paul gives what may be described as three personal consequences that would result if there were no such thing as resurrection from the dead.
ALL MEN WOULD STILL BE IN THEIR SINS
In verse 16 Paul restates his major argument: If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. A dead Christ would be the chief disastrous consequence from which all the other consequences would result.
The next consequence Paul mentions is both personal and serious: if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. After repeating the consequence that believers’ faith would be worthless, or vain (v.14), the apostle points to the obvious additional result that believers would be no better off spiritually than unbelievers. Christians would still be in their sins just as much as the most wicked and unbelieving pagan.
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. If Christ was not raised, His death was in vain, our faith in Him is in vain, and our sins are still counted against us. We are still dead in trespasses and sins
and will forever remain spiritually dead and sinful. If Christ was not raised, then also, He did not bring assure our eternity.
ALL FORMER BELIEVERS WOULD HAVE ETERNALLY PERISHED
If there is no resurrection, then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. Every saint, Old Testament or Christian, who had died would have forever perished. Obviously the same consequence would apply to every saint who has died since Paul wrote. Every believer of every
age would spend eternity in torment, as without God and without hope.
CHRISTIANS WOULD BE THE MOST PITIABLE PEOPLE ON EARTH
In light of the other consequences, the last is rather obvious. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only we are of all men most to be pitied. Without the resurrection, and the salvation and blessings
it brings, Christianity would be pointless and pitiable. To have hoped in Christ in this life only would be to teach, preach, suffer, sacrifice, and work entirely for nothing. The Christian life would be a mockery, a charade, a tragic joke.
Therefore, Paul asks, “Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? Why are we also in danger every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:29-30)
But we are not to be pitied, for Paul immediately continues, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (15:20).
CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER OF RESURRECTION
Moving into verses 20-23 Paul discusses two aspects of the resurrection of the righteous: (1) The Redeemer; and (2) the redeemed.
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:20-22)
Christ being raised made Him the first fruits of all who would be raised. 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.
Thus, His resurrection requires our resurrection, because His resurrection was part of the larger resurrection of God’s redeemed. The spirits of those who are asleep have gone to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8; cf. Phil. 1:23) but their remains are in the grave, awaiting re-composition and resurrection.
Just as Adam was the progenitor of everyone who dies, so Christ is the progenitor of everyone who will be raised to life. In Adam all have inherited a sin nature and therefore will die. In Christ all who believe in Him have inherited eternal life, and shall be made alive, in body as well as in spirit. “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Though the inheritance in both cases is bodily as well as spiritual, Paul’s major emphasis here is on the bodily.
“But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Cor. 15:23)
The coming of Christ will lead to the full harvest and this will take place in three stages, according to different groups of believers.
Initially will be the resurrection during the rapture of the church, of those believers who will have come to saving faith from Pentecost to the rapture. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). They will be joined by living saints to meet the Lord in the air and ascend to heaven.
Next will be the resurrection of the Tribulation saints. Many will come to trust in Christ during the Tribulation but will be put to death for their faith. At the end of that period, however, they will be raised up to reign with Him during the Millennium (Rev 20:4).
Following that will be the resurrection of Old Testament saints, promised by the prophet Daniel: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2; cf. Isa. 26:19-20). Their resurrection, will most probably occur simultaneously with that of the Tribulation saints.
Then during the millennial Kingdom there will, of necessity, be the resurrection of those who die during that time. It is interesting to think that they may well be raised as soon as they die, no burial being necessary. It would make death for a believer during the Kingdom nothing more than an instant transformation into his eternal body and spirit.
The only resurrection remaining will be that of the unrighteous, who will be raised to damnation and eternal punishment at the end of Christ’s thousand-year reign (John 5:29). The saved will have been raised to eternal life, but the unsaved will be raised to eternal death, the second death (Rev 21:8; cf. 2:11).
In 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 Paul then describes that Christ’s final act will be to conquer permanently every enemy of God, every contending rule and authority and power. They will forever be abolished, never to exist again, never again to oppose God or to deceive, mislead, or threaten His people or corrupt any of His creation. He will then delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father. This final act will be worked out over the period of a thousand years, during the millennial rule of Christ on earth.
HOW OUR RESURRECTION BODIES COME ABOUT
“But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” (1 Cor. 15:35)
Those in Corinth who denied the resurrection did so primarily because of the influence of gnostic philosophy, which considered the body to be inherently evil and only the spirit to be good. They therefore believed that resurrection of the body is undesirable. Paul now challenges the idea that resurrection also is impossible.
In verses 36-49 Paul answers the questions of verse 35 in four ways: (1) he gives an illustration from nature, (2) he tells what kind of body resurrection bodies will be, (3) he contrasts earthly and resurrection bodies, and (4) he reminds them of the prototype resurrection, in which many of them already believed.
“You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.” (1 Cor. 15:36-38)
Paul gives a common illustration from nature. In three significant ways resurrection is similar to the planting and growth of crops: the original form is dissolved, the original and final forms are different in kind, and yet the two forms have a continuity.
That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When a seed is planted in the ground it dies, actually decomposing as a seed: it must cease to exist in its original form as a seed before it can come to life in its final form as a plant. There had to be an end to the old before there could be a beginning of the new.
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before Christ could bear the fruit of salvation for us, He had to die. Likewise, before we can participate in the fruit of His resurrection, or bear fruit in His service, we too must die.
Second, both in the growing of crops and in the resurrection of bodies there is a difference between the original and final forms. The seed loses its identity as a seed and becomes more and more like the mature plant. But the seed itself, that which you sow—whether it is wheat or … something else—looks nothing like the mature plant, the body which is to be. Only after ceasing to be a seed does it become the mature plant the farmer harvests.
When Jesus was raised from the dead His glorified body was radically different from the one which died. He appeared and disappeared at will, and entered rooms without opening the door (Luke 24:15, 31, 36; John 20:19; etc.). At His return all resurrection bodies will be changed marvelously and radically.
In spite of the differences, there is nevertheless a continuity between the old and the new. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. The seed changes radically, but it continues as the same life form. A wheat seed does not become barley, and a flax seed does not become corn. God has given each type of seed a body of its own, whose identity continues into the grown plant.
After Jesus was raised, no one recognized Him unless He revealed Himself to them. But once revealed, He was recognizable. The disciples knew His face, and they recognized His wounded side and His pierced hands. In a similar way, our resurrected bodies as believers will have a continuity with the bodies we have now. Our bodies will die and they will change form, but they will still be our bodies. Surely it is not too hard to believe that the God who has worked this process daily through the centuries in His creation of plants, can do it with men.
THE FORM OF RESURRECTION BODIES
“All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:39-42a)
All flesh is not the same flesh indicates the amazing variety of earthly bodies God has made. We need only look around us to see the virtually infinite assortment of created beings and things. In the biological world the flesh of men is absolutely distinct from the flesh of beasts, the flesh of birds, and the flesh of fish. All flesh is not of the same kind.
There are also heavenly bodies, which obviously differ greatly from earthly bodies in glory, that is, in nature, manifestation, and form. Not only are the heavenly bodies vastly different from the earthly; they are greatly different from each other. The sun is greatly different from the moon, and both are different from the stars. Even star differs from star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. Resurrection bodies will differ from earthly bodies just as radically as heavenly bodies differ from earthly. And resurrection bodies will be as individual and unique as are all the other forms of God’s creation. Our resurrection bodies will be as uniquely ours as our spirits and our names.
When Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration they were as distinctly individual as they had been while living on earth. They did not then have resurrected bodies, but they were distinct beings of heaven, who one day will have distinct heavenly bodies.
“It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 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.” (1 Cor. 15:42b-44)
Focusing more directly on the resurrection body, Paul here mentions specific ways, given as four sets of contrasts, in which our glorified bodies will be different from our earthly bodies.
The first contrast pertains to durability. One of the most obvious characteristics of all natural life, including human life, is that it is perishable, subject to deterioration and eventual death. Even in the healthy infant the process of aging and deterioration has begun. “All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust” (Eccles. 3:20). “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; and its place acknowledges it no longer” (Ps. 103:14-16).
Even the healthiest of people, as they get older, become weaker and more subject to disease and various physical problems. Death, of course, rapidly accelerates decay. Martha objected to Lazarus’s tomb being opened, because “by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).
One of the tragic consequences of the Fall was that men’s bodies from that time on were irreversibly mortal, subject to death. Without exception, every human being is sown, that is, born with, a perishable body.
But the resurrection body of the believer will be raised an imperishable body. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3-4). Our new bodies will know no sickness, decay, deterioration, or death. “When this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor. 15:54).
The second contrast has to do with value and potential. At the Fall man’s potential for pleasing and serving God was radically reduced. Not only his mind and spirit but also his body became of immeasurably less value in doing what God had designed it to do. The creature that was made perfect, and in the very image of his Creator, was made to manifest his Creator in all that he did. But through sin, that which was created to honor God became characterized instead by dishonor.
We dishonor God by our inability to take advantage fully of what He has given us in His creation. We dishonor God by misusing and abusing the bodies through which He desires us to honor and serve Him. Even the most faithful believer dies with his body in a state of dishonor, a state of imperfection and incompleteness.
But that imperfect and dishonored body one day will be raised in glory. Throughout eternity our new immortal bodies will also be honorable bodies, perfected for pleasing, praising, and enjoying the Creator who made them and the Redeemer who restored them.
The third contrast has to do with ability. Our present bodies are characterized by weakness. We are weak, not only in physical strength and endurance but also in resistance to disease and harm. Despite the marvelous natural protective mechanisms of the human body, no one is immune from breaking a bone, cutting a leg, catching various infections, and eventually from dying. We can and should minimize unnecessary dangers and risks to our bodies, which for believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). But we cannot completely protect them from harm, much less from death. Our earthly “temples” are inescapably temporary and fragile.
But not so our new bodies, which will be raised in power. We are not told what that power will entail, but it will be immeasurable compared to what we now possess. We will no longer have to say that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Anything our heavenly spirits determine to do our heavenly bodies will be able to accomplish.
The fourth area of contrasts has to do with the sphere, or realm, of existence. Our earthly body is strictly natural. That is the only realm in which it can live and function. The physical body is suited for and limited to the physical world.
Even with the imperfections and limitations caused by the Fall, our present bodies are wonderfully suited for earthly living. But that is the only realm and the only living for which they are suited.
The new body of the believer, however, will be raised a spiritual body. Our spirits now reside in earthly bodies, but one day they will reside in spiritual bodies. In every way we then will be spiritual beings. In both spirit and body we will be perfectly suited for heavenly living.
“The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage,” Jesus said, “but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34-36).
In the resurrection everything about us will be perfected for all eternity. We will not be the same as angels, but will be “like” them in that we too will be perfectly equipped and suited for heavenly, spiritual, supernatural, living.
THE PROTOTYPE OF RESURRECTION
“So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:45-49)
Paul quote from Genesis 2:7, with the addition of the two words first and Adam. “So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” Adam was created with a natural body. It was not glorified, but it was perfect and “good” in every way (Gen. 1:31).
The last Adam, however, became a life-giving spirit. The last Adam is Jesus Christ. Through Adam we have inherited our natural bodies; through Christ we will inherit spiritual bodies in the resurrection.
Adam’s was the prototype of our natural bodies, whereas Christ’s was the prototype of our spiritual bodies. Christ’s resurrection, therefore, was the prototype of all subsequent resurrection.
In verse 46 Paul points out the obvious: However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. Every human being, starting with Adam and including Christ, has begun human life in a natural, physical body. The body that was raised from the dead on Easter morning had been a natural body, the incarnate body in which Christ was born and in which He lived and died. In the resurrection it was a spiritual, eternal body.
Adam, the first man, from whom came the natural race, originated on the earth, in fact was created directly from the earth (Gen. 2:7). Jesus, as the second man, existed eternally before He became a man. He lived on earth in a natural body, but He came from heaven. Adam was tied to earth; Christ was tied to heaven.
And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Just as we will exchange Adam’s natural body for Christ’s spiritual body, we will also exchange Adam’s image for Christ’s.
We cannot imagine exactly what that will be like. Even our present spiritual eyes cannot envision our future spiritual bodies. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). We will not see our own resurrected bodies, or even have our own resurrected bodies, until we first see Christ’s.
The coming resurrection is the hope and motivation of the church and of all believers. Whatever happens to our present bodies—whether they are healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, short-lived or long-lived, or whether they are indulged or tortured—they are not our permanent bodies, and we should not hold them too dearly. Our blessed hope and assurance is that these created natural bodies one day will be recreated as spiritual bodies. Although we have only a glimpse of what those new bodies will be like, it should be enough to know that “we shall be like Him.”
VICTORY OVER DEATH
In concluding, Paul proclaims the marvellous victory that resurrection will bring for those who are Christ’s. Praising God in anticipation of resurrection, the apostle proclaims the great transformation, the great triumph, and the great thanksgiving that the raising of God’s saints will bring, and then gives a great exhortation for holy living until that day comes.
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor. 15:54-56)
Christ’s resurrection broke the power of death for those who believe in Him, and death is no longer master over them because “death no longer is master over Him” (Rom. 6:9). But death is still the enemy of man. Even for Christians it violates our dominion of God’s creation, it breaks love relationships, it disrupts families, and causes great grief in the loss of those dear to us. We no longer need fear death, but it still invades and torments us while we are mortal.
But one day, when Christ returns, the perishable that “must put on the imperishable” (v. 53) will have put on the imperishable, and the mortal that “must put on immortality” will have put on immortality. Then will come the great triumph that Isaiah predicted, when death is swallowed up in victory. The Isaiah text reads, “He [the Lord of Hosts] will swallow up death for all time” (Isa. 25:8; cf. v. 6). When the great transformation comes, the great victory will come.
Quoting another prophet (Hos. 13:14), Paul taunts death: O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? To continue with that metaphor, Paul implies that death left its sting in Christ, as a bee leaves its stinger in its victim. Christ bore the whole of death’s sting in order that we would have to bear none of it.
To make his point, the apostle reminds his readers that the sting of death is sin. The harm in death is caused by sin; in fact, death itself is caused by sin.
Only where there is sin can death deal a fatal blow Where sin has been removed death can only interrupt the earthly life and usher in the heavenly. That is what Christ has done for those who trust in Him. Our “sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). Death is not gone, but its sting, sin, is gone. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
It is not, of course, that Christians no longer sin, but that the sins we commit are already covered by Christ’s atoning death, so that sin’s effect is not permanently fatal. “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). But for those who do not believe, death’s sting tragically remains forever.
Paul continues to explain the sequence leading to death by mentioning that the power of sin is the law. God’s law reveals God’s standards, and when they are broken they reveal man’s sin. If there were no law, obviously there could be no transgression. “Where there is no law neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15).
But men die because they break that law What about those who do not know God’s law, who have never even heard of, much less read, His Word? Paul tells us in Romans that when “Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (2:14-15). Anyone, therefore, who goes against his conscience goes against God’s law just as surely as anyone who knowingly breaks one of the Ten Commandments. That is the reason men are doomed to die (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
(Main Source: John MacArthur – New Testament Commentary – 1 Thessalonians)
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