The Resurrection of the Dead

But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.--Luke 20:35,36

A verse by verse study in 1 Corinthians 15

Few chapters in the Bible are more appreciated than the apostle Paul's dissertation on the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15. The resurrection concept sets Christianity apart from the other major religions. Particularly notable in this chapter is the order of the resurrection, with both spiritual and earthly phases.

The Gospel--Verses 1 through 4

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.

The gospel, or good news, which Paul preached was the same which had been "preached before unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8). This was the good news of salvation. There is no other path to eventual salvation than through belief in this gospel as characterized in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the "seed of Abraham" (Galatians 3:16; Acts 4:12).

Paul identifies the two essential elements in this gospel, namely, that Jesus both died and was raised from the dead. Jesus’ death provided the ransom price for Adam, and thus the entire race in his loins. Important as that was, however, it required Jesus’ resurrection to place him in a position to use that price and apply it for the raising of the human race from the dead.

Proofs of the Resurrection--Verses 5 through 11

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, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet 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 which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

Paul condenses the eleven post-resurrection appearances to three, probably considering these sufficient to prove his point. He highlights the first appearance to an apostle, Peter; his appearance to the entire group of apostles, including Thomas (using the term "the twelve" as a title since obviously Judas was not present); and to a group of 500. This number does not appear in the writings of the evangelists, but is probably a detail omitted in the account of Matthew, where he appears in a mountain in Galilee to "his brethren" (Matthew 28:7,10,16). Tradition places this mountain as Mount Tabor, a mountain which many consider to be the Mount of Transfiguration, where Peter says that he was "an eye-witness of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).

Paul proceeds to add himself to the list of witnesses. Although modestly calling himself "the least of the apostles," he defends his apostleship with the zeal with which he prosecuted that office. However, he concludes, the office was not the relevant matter. What was of real import was that this was preached by the apostles because of their strong conviction that the resurrection of Jesus was a verifiable reality.

The Importance of Jesus’ Resurrection -- Verses 12 through 19

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

The doctrine of the resurrection was not new to the Jewish religion in the days of Jesus. It was, in fact, the dividing issue between the two major sects of the time. The Sadducees did not believe in it, while the Pharisees did. The Pharisees admitted that the resurrection would occur because of their Messiah. Paul is carrying their argument one step further--your Messiah has come. He is Jesus of Nazareth. His resurrection, which you cannot logically dispute, is proof of the resurrection of all. Conversely, if you deny the fact that he is raised you are denying the fact that any will be raised.

Beyond that, he states that their witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus would all be false testimony. This is why it was so important to call over 500 witnesses to the stand to testify to this resurrection. Luke makes the same positive assertions, calling attention to the "many infallible proofs" of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1:3). It was for the same reason that Peter, mistakenly feeling that the brethren must select a successor to Judas, insists that the candidates for such an office must be "a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:22).

Not only would the fact that Jesus had not been raised make a mockery of their resurrection hopes, it would undermine the very principle on which such a resurrection would be based--the cancellation of Adamic sin. They would remain under the death penalty for this sin.

While the term "they which are fallen asleep in Christ" seems an obvious reference to his followers, the Christians, it need not be limited to them. The hopes of all--Christian and non-Christian--lie in the fact that they are under the ownership of the Messiah. Many Christians may contest Paul’s last statement in this section. They can testify to the fulfilling nature of the Christian life. Many might state that, if there were no resurrection, living a life by biblical principles is the very best and happiest way to live. But this does not negate Paul’s arguments. One of the most fulfilling aspects of the Christian life is having a message of comfort to give to those who have died. If Christ be not risen from the dead, this entire message of comfort is false and misleading.

The Order of the Resurrection--Verses 20 to 28

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 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.

The word translated "resurrection" in this chapter is the Greek anastasis, literally meaning to stand anew. The word does not refer to such resuscitations as that of Lazarus, or even of the awakening from the dead in the kingdom of Christ. It refers to a full standing, a reaching of perfection, mentally, morally, and physically. All men are guaranteed an awakening from the dead merely by virtue of being part of the Adamic condemnation. Man does nothing to merit this awakening. But those who attain to the "resurrection of the dead" must be "accounted worthy" so to do (Luke 20:36).

Herein lies the distinction between verses 21 and 22. In verse 21 we see that one man, Adam, introduced a lifestyle of sin. Such a lifestyle would be reversed by the work of one man, Christ, in his kingdom. Verse 22 looks at the means of arriving at such a resurrection--the redemption of Adam guaranteed an awakening from death to all his posterity The word "firstfruits" is used in two senses in the New Testament. It is used of Jesus alone and it is also used of his followers (James 1:18; Revelation 14:4). In this chapter Paul is placing his emphasis on Jesus alone.

This passage is parallel to 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The indication is that not even the followers of Jesus would experience their resurrection change until the Lord returns at his second advent. Bypassing the work of Christ’s thousand-year kingdom, Paul jumps to the end of that time with the simple statement: "Then cometh the end." The "end" here spoken of is the end of that kingdom when mankind shall have reached perfection. Christ, having achieved his objective, relinquishes the earth and the perfected race to the grand sovereignty of God, that he may be all and in all.

In the book of Revelation we find that when that kingdom shall be completed, Satan will be loosed for a "little season" (Revelation 20:7-10). The purpose of this "little season" is to give the resurrected and educated race a final test of fidelity. While many believe that this final test follows the turning over of the kingdom to the Father mentioned in our text, some of us are more comfortable with the thought that it precedes that transaction. The "little season" forms a type of quality control demonstrating which members of the redeemed race will remain loyal.

It does appear, however, that the office of Mediator will no longer be in force during this testing time. It will be in this short period that the greatest enemy mankind has ever known, Satan, will be destroyed forever.

Practical Application--Verses 29 to 34

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. 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.

An active belief in Christ’s resurrection means much more than the acceptance of the fact as a reality. It means a commitment to that belief. Paul describes this involvement as a baptism for the dead. This is the same baptism Jesus referred to in answering the plea of the mother of James and John that they could be at his right and left hand in the kingdom. "But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able" (Matthew 20:22).

This is not a baptism into water, but the reality which that act symbolizes. It is, as Paul phrases it, to "die daily." It involves a willingness to put personal life in jeopardy for the sake of the gospel. It is a commitment to sacrifice. This sacrifice is not without purpose. The experiences of the church, like those which Jesus endured, are to train them to be a sympathetic high priest to help the human race in their walk from imperfection and sin to perfection and holiness (Hebrews 2:17,18; 4:15,16; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Paul’s fighting with the beasts at Ephesus does not refer to his being placed in the sports arena with literal beasts, but refers to his disputations and persecution at the hands of those of beastlike disposition in that city (Acts 19:23-41).

The conclusion that he might as well take the attitude of "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" is purely rhetorical. To ensure that his readers understand this, he follows with his warning against such an attitude saying, "be not deceived." It is just such evil conclusions which dilute the Christian’s focus. Rather, he incites them to "awake to righteousness" and to the proclamation of the resurrection of Christ, for "some have not the knowledge of God."

The Manner of the Resurrection -- Verses 35 through 50

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 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. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 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’s chief concern in his letter to the Corinthians is the church of Christ. Therefore he concentrates on the heavenly or spiritual resurrection. His initial illustration is that of the seed. The seed that is planted bears little resemblance to the plant which grows from it. That seed must die as a seed to give life to a new and better form. Although many seeds look similar, their end products vary widely. Yet each seed has the same genetic makeup as the plant which springs from it. So with the Christian; the character makeup which he forms now will become the nucleus of what he is to become. He is advised to "lay up treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20).

The Christian is to experience two different bodies--the present terrestrial or earthly one and the resurrection body of a celestial or heavenly nature. Not only will the celestial bodies be more glorious than their earthly counterparts, but even they will differ from each other as one star does from another.

Returning to the theme of redemption, Paul again reverts to the comparison of Adam and Christ, calling Jesus "the second Adam." The first man was made with life, the second with the power to restore life. The first was made of the "dust of the earth" (Genesis 3:19), the second became a glorious heavenly being. Therefore the Christian must share this human body in order to acquire the spiritual one. What that body will be like we are not informed, except as the apostle John writes, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).

In the Last Days--Verses 51 to 57

Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Trumpets were a familiar sound in Israel. There were trumpets of alarm, trumpets of assembly, the feast of trumpets, the trumpet of jubilee, and many others. Paul, however, appears to reference one particular trumpet by calling it "the last trump." If the epistles to Corinth had been written after the book of Revelation, one might be tempted to believe that he was alluding to the last of seven trumpets found in that book. However, Corinthians was written first and therefore cannot draw on Revelation for reference.

There was one series of trumpets, however, with which the Jews were familiar. These are found in the account of the fall of Jericho when Israel first began to conquer the promised land (Joshua 6:1-16). It is probable that both John and Paul drew their pictures from this event. These were trumpets of judgment; they were also trumpets of victory.

Many Bible Students feel that the seven trumpets of Revelation are parallel in time with the seven churches and seven seals. They also express the thought that the last of this series begins with the return of Jesus Christ. This is supported by 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." It is this trumpet which heralds the final judgments of God and also the victory of those who were "dead in Christ." It is then that these dead saints are raised to meet their Lord "in the air" and to be joined, as they individually die, by those "which are alive and remain." Paul seems to refer to two classes who will be "changed" in this resurrection: the corruptibles who put on incorruption and the mortals who put on immortality. This must be taken as either a poetic repetition of one event or, more probably, as referring to the same two classes mentioned in the Thessalonians text. If that is the case, the "corruptibles" would refer to those who have already died, the "dead in Christ" who rise first; while the "mortals" refer to those who "remain," the living saints, who will be changed at their death to immortality.

When this resurrection is complete "death will be swallowed up in victory." This is a quotation from Hosea 13:14 and appears to be one of many examples where an Old Testament text is quoted, not for its contextual meaning, but for the significance of the words themselves.

In harmony with the disputes concerning the law at the first advent, Paul adds that "the sting of sin is the law," that is, by identifying sin the Israelites who remained subject to its commands could identify the guilt which would bring their death. "Thanks be to God," exults Paul, they would have victory over the law by coming into Christ.

The Lesson--Verse 58

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.

Now Paul reveals the real purpose of the whole chapter. Jesus did rise from the dead. Their faith was not in vain. This knowledge should give them fresh impetus to carry on their missionary work. Because their faith was not based on idle speculation, but the verifiable truth of the resurrection, they should redouble their efforts. And so should we, dear brethren, since we know that because he arose, we too shall arise if we are faithful to the commandments of our Lord and to the proclamation of his word.