1 Corinthians 15

These notes are based on the NASB text.

15:1 Now I make known to you [that is, “I draw your attention”], brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

15:2 by which also you were saved [present tense indicating continuous action – “being saved”], if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain [superficially and insincerely].

Paul reminds the Corinthians of the good news he proclaimed to them (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15), which they received, and in which they stand and by which they were saved.

15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

When and where did Paul receive the gospel? On the Damascus Road (Acts 9:19)? At Arabia (Galatians 1:17)? At Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18)?

Paul declares that what he received was rooted in history.

[A] “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” The death of Christ was a historical fact. Many men died at the hands of the Romans, but His death was for our sins. His death was according to the Scriptures. His death was foretold in several places in the Old Testament (see especially Isaiah 53:5-12).

Regarding the phrase “according to the Scriptures,” refer to the experience of the two who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Luke records, “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).

15:4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

[B] “He was buried.” Christ did not merely swoon on the cross. He actually died on the cross and was buried.

[C] “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Jesus died (past tense) and was buried (past tense) and was raised (perfect tense indicating that He remains raised from the dead. A past event with results continuing to the present).

15:5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

15:6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

15:7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;

15:8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

[D] “He appeared.” The appearances of Christ following His resurrection are an important part of the historical facts of the Gospel. Lest anyone try to deny the resurrection, Paul lists actual eye-witnesses in chronological order, many of whom were still living and available for interrogation.

[1] “He appeared to Cephas” (Peter). See Luke 24:34.

[2] He appeared to “the twelve.” Although Judas was dead, the term was used as a collective term for Jesus’ disciples.

[3] “He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time.” Perhaps Matthew 28:16-20 is a reference to this occasion (although this appearance is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Gospels). At any rate, many of these eye-witnesses were still alive. They could be questioned by anyone.

[4] “He appeared to James.” Most scholars believe that this is a reference to the half-brother of Jesus. James is mentioned in Mark 6:3. According to John 7:5 he was an unbeliever. The resurrection must have provided him with the proof he needed to become a believer. He later became the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13-21).

[5] He appeared “to all the apostles.” See Acts 1:3-11.

[6] He appeared to Paul, an unbeliever convinced that Jesus was dead.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain [that is, empty or without success]; but I labored [toiled to the point of exhaustion] even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

Christ appeared to Paul and his life was forever changed. By God’s grace he was saved and given a new purpose in life. Paul labored for the Lord to the point of exhaustion. He was able to do so because of God’s grace.

15:11 Whether then it was I or they [the other apostles], so we preach and so you believed.

Paul and all the apostles were faithful in proclaiming the good news of salvation. That is what mattered. That is what had made a difference in the lives of the Corinthians.

15:12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?

Some were denying, not the resurrection of Christ per se, but the resurrection of men from the dead. Paul proceeds to show the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection are linked together. Christ is the first-fruits (see verse 20). That means there is more to come. But if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then there are some serious ramifications to consider.

Notice that “if there is no resurrection of the dead”, then…

15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;

[A] “not even Christ has been raised.” (See also verse 16).

15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

[B] “our preaching is vain” – There is no good news to proclaim.

[C] “your faith is also in vain” – Because if Christ has not been raised they had trusted something which was false and had no basis in fact. See also verse 17.

15:15 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.

[D] Paul and all the apostles (see verse 11) who proclaim the gospel would be liars.

15:16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;

See verse 13. Paul reinforces his point through repetition.

15:17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

[E] “your faith is worthless” – Because they trusted in a lie. See also verse 14.

[F] “you are still in your sins” – The death and resurrection of Christ assure the believer of salvation from sin. But if Christ has not been raised there is no remedy for sin. Living believers are unjustified.

15:18 Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

[G] Those believers who have died have perished. There is no hope of a future in heaven. Dead believers have perished. There is no hope of ever seeing them again.

15:19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

[H] Believers are the most pathetic and miserable of all men. All of their sufferings and sacrifices are without meaning and purpose. They have a faith without a future. They are committed to an illusion, a lie. Why, then, be a Christian?

15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Good news! “Christ has been raised from the dead.” He is “the first-fruits” or the promise of more to come. See Leviticus 23:4-11 for the background of this metaphor. See Colossians 1:18 where Paul refers to Christ as “the first-born from the dead.”

15:21 For since by [through] a man [Adam] came death, by [through] a man [Christ Jesus – see 1 Timothy 2:5] also came the resurrection of the dead.

15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all [that is, all who are in Christ] shall be made alive.

The first Adam introduced death to mankind. The last Adam offers men life.

15:23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,

At the second coming of Christ, “those who are Christ’s” will experience the resurrection. “But each in his own order” meaning [1] Christ first (He is the first fruits), [2] Christians who have died, and [3] Christians who are alive at His coming. See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

Regarding the word “coming.” It translates the Greek word parousia.

[A] “It was a word commonly used in the Greek world in reference to the return home of a journeying monarch.” (M.J. Berquist)

[B] This term was used by the early Christians to designate the second coming of Christ.

15:24 then [after an unspecified period of time] comes the end [the accomplishment of God’s creative and redemptive purpose in Christ], when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.

Note the three conditions that must be fulfilled in order for the end to come.

[A] “when Christ delivers up the kingdom to God the Father”

[B] “when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.” The phrase “all rule and all authority and power” refers to various human and nonhuman demonic powers that oppose God’s rule. See 1 John 5:19. This condition actually precedes the first.

See verse 28 for the third condition.

15:25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

“Christ alone must reign till no enemy remains to separate God and man.” (Mid-America Theological Journal, Spring 1983)

15:26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

Death was not victorious over Christ, neither will it be victorious over those who belong to Christ. See also verse 54.

15:27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He [God] is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.

15:28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.

[C] “when all things are subjected to Him” – Mission accomplished!

15:29 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?

Paul did not believe in the practice of baptism for the dead but used it as an illustration concerning the resurrection.

15:30 Why are we also in danger every hour?

15:31 I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

15:32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.

If Christ has not been raised from the dead then Paul said it was foolish for him and others to endanger their lives in the proclamation and propagation of the Gospel. See 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for an overview of some of the dangers that Paul experienced for the sake of the Gospel. Sacrifice, suffering, and service is foolish if Christ has not been raised from the dead. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then one might as well adopt the hedonistic Epicurean philosophy which says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

15:33 Do not be deceived [this is a command to stop an activity in progress]: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

Paul cautioned the Corinthians against associating with and listening to those who did not believe in the resurrection and who were without moral convictions. That would only lead to wrong living. Those who did not believe in the resurrection could easily fall into the trap mentioned in the previous verse: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

 15:34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

Paul exhorted the Corinthians to come to their senses and stop sinning. Some had no knowledge of God and denied the resurrection because of the sinful behavior of the Corinthians.

15:35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”

Some were asking the how and what questions regarding the nature of the resurrected body. Perhaps, “How can a decomposed human body be raised? What will it look like?” Paul used three analogies to answer these questions.

15:36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;

15:37 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.

15:38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.

[A] The analogy of the seed. A seed that is planted in the ground dies but eventually springs forth in an even more glorious state. Read verses 42-48 for a more detailed discussion of this point.

15:39 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.

[B] The analogy of flesh. The resurrection body will be as different from our present body as the flesh of men, beasts, birds, and fish are different from one another. Just as the flesh God has given to men and beasts and birds and fish is suited to their respective environments, so the resurrection body will be well-suited for its environment.

15:40 There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.

15:41 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.

[C] The analogy of celestial bodies. Each is distinctive and suited to its particular sphere. In like manner the resurrection body will be different from the natural body and suited to its new sphere.

15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;

Note the differences between the body that dies and is buried and the body that is raised from the dead.

[A] Perishable versus imperishable.

15:43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;

[B] Dishonor versus glory.

[C] Weakness versus power.

15:44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If [since] there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

[D] Natural versus spiritual.

See verse 53 for the following comparisons:

[E] Perishable versus imperishable.

[F] Mortal versus immortal.

15:45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

15:46 However, the spiritual [Christ] is not first, but the natural [Adam]; then the spiritual [Christ].

15:47 The first man is from the earth [that is his origin], earthy [made of dust]; the second man is from heaven [that is His origin].

15:48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.

15:49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

See Philippians 3:20-21 and 1 John 3:2.

15:50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood [the present natural body] cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

A change in our earthy bodies must take place to prepare us for eternity. Our earthy bodies are not suitable to a heavenly existence. Believers who are alive at the second coming of Christ will be changed and those who have died will “inherit the imperishable,” that is, receive new resurrection bodies.

15:51 Behold, I tell you a mystery [a message beyond human comprehension]; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

Not all believers will experience death (before the parousia), but all will “be changed,” that is, receive new resurrection bodies. See also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

15:52 in a moment [atomos or the smallest fragment of time], in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet [at the voice of Jesus Christ – see Revelation 1:10 (McGee)]; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

15:53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

The word “must” emphasizes that we cannot go to heaven with our old bodies. We must be outfitted with new incorruptible and immortal bodies.

15:54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality [refer back to verse 50], then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

When the perishable and mortal is changed to imperishable and immortal the believer will be beyond the reach of death. See verse 26.

15:55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;

The word “sting” “represents death as a venomous creature, a scorpion, or a hornet which is rendered harmless” (Rienecker/Rogers).

15:57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our victory is through Christ.

15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

This verse is nothing less than a triumphant note of victory. The word “Therefore” points back to everything Paul has written regarding Christ’s victory over death and the assurance that those who are in Christ share that victory. The word “Therefore” assures us that our “toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

The word “be” is an imperative and should be understood as “continue to be.” Paul urged the Corinthian Christian to continue to be “steadfast” or “firm or fixed” in their faith, not swayed by contrary argument. They were to be firmly rooted and established in their faith (see Colossians 2:6).

The word “immovable” means to stay in place and not shift from a position. Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to stay in place doctrinally. They were not to give in to any attempts to overthrow their belief in the resurrection. They were to be so fixed in place that they would not be “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). They were to guard against being taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Paul also urged the Corinthian believers to always abound in the work of the Lord. This is the mark of a steadfast, immovable believer. “Always abounding” means to do more than enough. It means to go a second and third mile when it comes to the work of the Lord. It means to work quietly, consistently, and faithfully in the work of the Lord. Our work for the Lord should indeed be overflowing.

The word “knowing” is the important word here. It is a word that speaks of conviction and assurance. The believer can work with the confident assurance that his work is not vain, empty, or futile. The Amplified Bible translates this phrase, “being continually aware that your labor in the Lord is not futile-never wasted or to no purpose.” What a marvelous assurance. Some men labor without the assurance that their work is meaningful or purposeful, but not the believer. The believer can labor knowing that his work is both meaningful and purposeful and of eternal significance.

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