What does 1 Corinthians 15 mean?
Will Christians really be raised from the dead as Christ was after the crucifixion? Some of the Corinthians did not think so. A group of them either believed false teaching or blended Christian ideas with the Greco-Roman philosophies of their day. Perhaps they imagined life completely ends in death. More likely, they thought the human spirit continues into the afterlife without a body of any kind.
Paul writes this chapter to correct their thinking, teaching about what resurrection from the dead means for born-again believers.
He begins by reminding the Corinthian Christians of what they believed when he taught them the gospel of Jesus. They believed in both the death of Christ for their sins and the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead on the third day. In short, they believed the gospel. Since so many eyewitnesses to Christ's resurrection were still living, the Corinthians could choose to remain confident that Christ did indeed walk alive out of His tomb (1 Corinthians 15:1–11).
Having established that the Corinthians do believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Paul challenges their unbelief in the coming resurrection of all who trust in Christ. He begins to show why this is so significant by working out the logical implications of believing there is no resurrection from the dead. It starts with this: If nobody is resurrected from the dead, then Christ was not resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:12–13).
That would mean that Paul's preaching of the gospel was false and worthless, as was the faith of anyone foolish enough to believe it. In fact, Paul and the other apostles would be guilty of misrepresenting God the Father by claiming that He raised Christ from the dead. Even worse, if the gospel is false, all who have believed in Christ for their forgiveness of their sins by God remain unforgiven and destined for hell. In fact, those who have already died are already separated from God forever (1 Corinthians 15:14–18).
Truly Christians are to be pitied more than anyone if our hope in Christ ends in death. Especially given all the hardships endured for the sake of faith, a resurrection-less end would be a disaster (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Thankfully, Paul declares once more that Christ has been raised from the dead. Further, He was but the first of all who will follow Him. Just as death came to all people through one man, Adam, resurrection will come to all in Christ when He returns for all those who belong to Him. At that time, Christ will defeat every power on earth and the Father will cause everything to be under His authority. Once that is secure, Jesus will deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:20–28).
After declaring that he would not continue to lead the dangerous and costly life of an apostle of Jesus if there was not resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:29–34), Paul begins to describe what the resurrected body will be like. Shallow thinking, or superstitions of that era, might have assumed "resurrection" meant a reanimated corpse. Or, they might have wondered how a rotting or corrupted body could exist in a heavenly realm. Instead, Paul described our current bodies as the seed that will die to make way for a far better body built to exist in eternity. That body will be as different from our current bodies as a man is from a star or the moon (1 Corinthians 15:35–41).
The natural-born physical bodies of believers are perishable, temporary, dishonorable, and weak. They will be raised imperishable, eternal, glorified, and powerful. These natural bodies, made as Adam's was from the stuff of earth (Genesis 2:7), will be transformed into bodies like the one Christ was raised with and made of the stuff of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:42–49).
Though it is hard to comprehend, when Christ returns, both the dead in Christ and those who still live will be transformed in an instant into these new and glorified heavenly bodies that will never die. Death will be swallowed up in victory, never to hurt anyone again (1 Corinthians 15:50–58).
This concludes the main doctrinal content of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. What follows in chapter 16 is mostly tying up loose ends, addressing scattered issues, and giving his closing remarks.
First Corinthians 15:1–11 describes the gospel as it was delivered to Paul and as he delivered it to the Corinthians. It begins with the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, but it continues to His burial and, significantly, His resurrection. The alive-again Christ appeared to many people still alive at the time Paul wrote his letter. Paul establishes that the Corinthians believed the gospel, including faith in the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Paul will connect that faith to belief in the resurrection of all believers from the dead.
First Corinthians 15:12–34 describes all the implications for Christians if there is no resurrection, at all. Most importantly, that would mean that Christ was not raised from the dead. If Christ was not raised, then Paul's preaching of the gospel was false, and the faith of those who believed it was worthless. All remain in their sins. Christ, though, was raised from the dead, and when He returns for those who are His, all who have died in Christ will be resurrected to new life, as He was after the crucifixion. Finally, Christ will reign on earth before delivering the kingdom to the Father.
First Corinthians 15:35–49 describes how the resurrected bodies of believers will be different from our current bodies. Resurrected bodies will not be reanimated corpses or some lesser version of our pre-death frame. The opposite is true. Our current, corrupt bodies are like seeds that are sown to bring to life the plant. These forms are temporary, dishonorable, and weak. Our transformed bodies will be eternal, glorified, and powerful, made from the materials of heaven, not earth, and built for an eternity with God.
First Corinthians 15:50–58 powerfully concludes Paul's teaching on the resurrection of Christians: when the last trumpet blasts and Christ returns for those who belong to Him. In that moment, all believers in Jesus, living and dead, will be transformed into the glorified, eternal bodies God has promised us. Death will be defeated forever, never to hurt anyone again. Sin brings death, and the law is the power of sin, but God has given us the victory over death by forgiving our sin through faith in Jesus and by His grace.
Paul provides thorough teaching about the resurrection of Christians from the dead. This is a direct counter to some group of Corinthians who did not believe in such a resurrection. He shows that natural death is not the end of life for Christians; it is the last step before receiving a glorified, resurrected body like that of the risen Christ. That ''spiritual'' body will be as different from our current bodies as a star is from a fish. In that moment, for all who have believed in Christ, living and dead, death will be defeated for good.
In chapters 12, 13, and 14, Scripture focused on the concept of spiritual gifts and how best to use them. This follows several other ideas where Paul corrected errors in the Corinthians' thinking. Chapter 15 contains extensive teaching on one last issue about which some Corinthians were confused or misled. Apparently, they harbored some doubts about the physical resurrection of Christians from the dead. After clearing up these confusions, Paul will address various other items, of a less doctrinal nature, and close out his letter.
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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