Paul's Teaching
On The Resurrection
(1 Corinthians 15)
By Paul Robison

“That Jesus really did rise from the dead is supported by the shortcomings of other possibilities” (Gundry).  Some say that Jesus just lapsed into a coma and later revived in the tomb, but it was a Roman centurion’s job to make sure that Jesus was dead, and this centurion even reported to the Roman governor Pilate that it was so (Mk. 15:44-45).  Some say that that the disciples stole Jesus’ body, but Roman guards had been stationed to guard the tomb from such thieves, at the risk of their own lives.  Some say the disciples experienced hallucinations, but Jesus told his disciples to touch Him and give Him something to eat (John 20:27; Luke 24:42).  Some think the story of Jesus is just all myth, similar to the death and rising found among pagan gods, but secular historians pinpoint Jesus’ life to the first century, the Gospels give accurate historical facts concerning places, customs, and rulers, and it would be incredible that the apostles gave their very lives to promote such a falsehood!  Jesus’ resurrection is the fulcrum of Christianity, and it continues to offer hope to all mankind!

One of the greatest discourses on Jesus’ resurrection is found in 1 Corinthians 15.  It was written by the apostle Paul.  Corinth was sort of the Las Vegas of the first century.  Since Paul heard about divisions in the church at Corinth and since the brethren there had written Paul a letter asking him several questions, Paul writes in about 55 A. D. to this multi-cultural congregation to admonish them towards unity and to provide them responses to their questions.  Paul well understood the Greeks and Romans’ outlook on resurrection.  Someone has described it in this way: “It is well-known that the ancient Greeks (and Romans) believed in a kind of after-life.  It was, however, an ethereal and gloomy world of the disembodied spirits who flitted about eerily in this [miserable] realm.  The idea of a bodily resurrection was totally foreign to them.  [The Greeks and Romans called a coffin a “sarcophagus”, a word which literally means “flesh-eater”.]  They had seen too many  sarcophaguses opened after long centuries of burial, and they knew what became of the dead” ( McKinney ).  Having just concluded a section on the proper usage of spiritual gifts and the proper behaviors during public worship, Paul then launches into his wonderful and inspiring discourse on Jesus’ resurrection.  Let’s quickly look at seven areas that Paul examines.

The first area involves proofs of Christ’s resurrection.  In the first two verses, Paul underscores that Jesus’ resurrection is a part of the Gospel which he originally preached in Corinth .  The acceptance of that Gospel had brought salvation to the brethren in Corinth (v. 2).  Paul then begins to give proofs of the resurrection.  The first proof is that Jesus’ resurrection was predicted in the Old Testament: “that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (v. 4).  Paul does not say which passage he has in mind, but some could have been the following: Psalm 16:10: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption”; Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”; Hosea 6:2: “After two days, He will revive us; on the third day, He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight”.  Jesus’ resurrection was no accident, but God brought Him back to life, once and forever, just as the prophets had foretold hundreds of years earlier! 

Now Paul provides his second proof by listing the appearances that the risen Jesus made before others.  Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus appeared to at least five women (24:10).  Paul then mentions six other appearances: to Peter (v. 5), to the twelve apostles (naturally minus Judas, v. 5), to over 500 people, many of whom were still living when Paul wrote (v. 6), to James (Jesus’ brother, v. 7), to other apostles (this is probably not the 12, but others whom Jesus had commissioned to preach, v. 7), and to Paul himself (v. 8).  These witnesses would total at a minimum 517, to which we can now add Luke’s 5 witnesses, so that is 522!  Now 522 witnesses in a court of law saying they all saw a specific individual would be strong proof indeed, wouldn’t it? 

Paul then offers one more proof: the Risen Christ had radically changed his life!  He had been a persecutor against the church, but now he was a preacher doing all that he could to promote it!  Remember that he had once been a staunch Pharisee who would have hated the Gentiles, but now he was obedient to his vision of Christ on the road to Damascus and became Christ’s ambassador to the Gentiles (Acts 26:19-20)!  Proof one: Christ’s resurrection happened in accordance with God’s prophetic revelation!  Proof two: Christ’s resurrection can be verified by 522 eye witnesses!  Proof three: Christ’s resurrection has changed my life’s direction and work!  Christ is alive!

The second area concerns consequences of denying a resurrection.  Paul begins to adopt the position of a debater in this next section.  And we see him taking his opponent’s arguments to their absurd logical consequences.  The little word “if” helps us to understand what each of those consequences are.  In verse 12, we find that some of the Christians in Corinth were sustaining that there was no resurrection of the dead.  If there is no resurrection, then Jesus Himself has not been resurrected.  “Paul is reasoning that, since Christ was genuinely human and died a human death, if [people] are not raised [bodily], then neither has Christ been raised [bodily]” [Morris].  “Paul tips the first domino, and then invites the Corinthian Christians to stand back and watch [what happens to his preaching, their faith, and their former members]” ( Holladay ).

If there is no resurrection, then the apostles’ preaching has become useless.  If Jesus was not living, He could not be Lord and provide help to mankind.  “It is the resurrection that shows that God is active in Christ, and if the resurrection did not take place, then the Gospel is a sham” (Morris).

If there is no resurrection, the Corinthians’ faith is worthless.  If preaching is useless and has no transforming Lord, then one’s belief becomes worthless.  “Christianity is not a system of good advice, and the [apostles] had not simply told people of a good way to live.  They had said that something happened—that God raised up Jesus” (Morris)!  But if God did not raise Jesus, then He could not work in people’s lives either.

If there is no resurrection, then the apostles are false witnesses.  Paul would need to confess that he is a liar and keeps company with liars and ultimately Jesus, who claimed that He would rise, and God, who had prophesied that He would rise, are shown to be liars as well.  “Christianity is … the good news of what God has done [through Christ].  The function of preachers is to bear witness to God’s saving acts, [and] the apostles had done that. … But if ‘dead [people] don’t rise [as some were mistakenly claiming], then dead Jesus did not rise, and it is a lie to say that God raised Him” (Morris).

If there is no resurrection, then all Christians are still sinners.  Our sins were cancelled when were buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him to walk in a newness of life ( Rom. 6:4).  But if Jesus was not raised, then our resurrection is voided, and we experience no newness of life.  “A Christ without resurrection would be a condemned, not a justified, Jesus, so how could He justify others” (Morris)?  If Jesus had not been shown to be victorious over sin through His resurrection, how could we expect to share in His victory?

If there is no resurrection, then those Christians at Corinth who have died have perished.  Those “who had died in Christ” had enjoyed the hope that His life-giving Spirit would provide them future resurrection.  But a Jesus without  a resurrection takes away this hope; their deaths would be no more than a finality.  There is no purpose for optimism, and no hope of a great reunion.  The new Gospel would be: “In Christ, all are dying and perishing, just like everyone else is!”

If there is no resurrection, then Christians are to be a pitied people.  We are deceived into thinking there will be a future with a living Judge, when all there really will be is just another tomorrow with no Judge who will ever right any of mankind’s wicked and despicable wrongs!  Christians become the world’s most deluded people because we look to a hereafter when there is only a here with no resurrection in sight, and this is why they would be considered so pitiful.  Without the resurrection, existence in this life and a person’s subsequent death have both become hopeless.  A lifeless Christ has about as much worth as a punctured balloon!  So the consequences of no resurrection are no risen Lord (which Paul repeats twice in verses 13 and 16 for emphasis), useless preaching, a worthless faith, false apostles and lying divinities, no forgiveness, no afterlife, and no hope!  Paul’s logic has painted a bleak picture indeed!

ut now comes the flip side as Paul affirms Jesus’ resurrection and some future results of it!  The expression “but now” is emphatic.  Paul could be paraphrased in this way: “In contrast to the bleak picture that I painted without a risen Lord, I boldly affirm that Christ is risen from the dead and has become the guarantee that the dead in Him shall also rise too!”  Someone else said it this way: “However, says Paul, putting all ‘ifs’ aside, ‘Christ HAS been raised—in fact, as the ‘first-fruits of the dead.  This expression stems from the Old Testament practice of bringing the first-harvested produce of one’s crops as a wave offering to the temple (Lev. 23:17-20).  Its significance lies in the fact that such first-fruits were … a pledge of more offerings to come and a fuller harvest yet to be.  Christ, as the first-fruits of the resurrection, is thus the guarantor that ‘in Christ all shall be made alive’ at the time of His second coming (vv. 22-23).

What are other results triggered by the resurrection?  First of all, the living Lord will stand at the head of a permanent resurrected race, just as Adam stood at the head of a temporary human race (v. 22).

Secondly, the living Lord will terminate all history, as the final end of time becomes a reality (v. 24).  It might be noted here that Paul mentions no lengthy interim period between Jesus' appearing and history's end. 

Thirdly, the living Lord must continue to rule until he will conquer all the powers of evil at His return (vv. 24-25).

Fourthly, the living Lord will destroy death (v. 26).  Death can only be destroyed and conquered by the Resurrected One who is alive forevermore! 

Lastly, the living Lord will subject Himself to God (v. 27).  Paul is in no way implying that Jesus is inferior to God, their equality and unity remain, but Christ’s function as Mediator is now no longer needed (Marsh).  So, we see how Jesus' resurrection has already begun to unfold further glorious results that will occur at His second coming!

Now, Paul goes back to debating his opponents and offers some arguments for the resurrection based on Christian activities.  The first argument concerns that troubling passage where baptism of the dead is mentioned.  Someone has noted that there are at least 30 interpretations of this passage, and this just shows that no interpretation can be too dogmatic.  Paul is probably referring to a practice used by more pious oriental cultists where they used immersion in order to try to save others who had already died and who they felt would one day rise again.  Since there are so many other passages that explain baptism for living, "it would be highly presumptuous, from this verse alone, to institute a practice of baptism” for others to be practiced by Christians today.  Paul is arguing that the resurrection must be true, else why would cultists even try to save others if they didn't believe it would help them at the resurrection? 

The next argument is a little easier to understand.  Paul asked why he would live in peril, face death daily, and live under persecution if the resurrection would not be true. 

He argues thirdly that if there is no resurrection, we might as well throw off of moral restraints—“eat, drink, and be merry”—since there would be no future life (sadly, many of our own neighbors have bought into this hedonistic outlook).

The statement “Bad company ruins good morals” comes from a pagan playwright.  The point is clear: “Corinthian brethren who say there is no resurrection, stop being deceived by those promoting this pernicious teaching and stop sinning by thinking such a belief!”  “Apparently those whom Paul addresses were claiming 'knowledge of God,' otherwise his statement 'some have no knowledge' would have no point.  Ignorance of God is what they are displaying, which is shameful indeed!  So don't miss Paul's arguments for the resurrection: other cultists can see its truth, we risk our lives for its truth, morality (with its teaching of an afterlife) points to its truth, God's knowledge underscores its truth!

Now Paul provides some more arguments for the resurrection based on his own world.  Someone was sure to ask, “How are the dead raised up?  And with what body do they come?”  Paul begins by answering the second question.  People will be resurrected with transformed bodies.  First of all, just as a plant differs from its seed of origin, so people's spiritual bodies will differ from their physical bodies!

Secondly, the same God who could form different bodies for different environments is the same God who can provide a spiritual body for a new environment!  How can we grasp a six dimensional body when we only know a three dimensional world?

Thirdly, the resurrected body will definitely be a better one; it will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (vv. 42-44)! 

How will all this transformation take place?  Here's Paul answer to the first question about how the dead are raised.  It all will take place because of Jesus!  Adam became a living soul, but Jesus is a Life-giving spirit!  Jesus will provide that resurrected body which will be heavenly (v. 49)!  Our spiritual bodies will be similar to Jesus' glorified body—supernatural, without any sexuality, radiant, with no sickness, pains, or deformities (Philippians 3:21).  And that's about the extent of the tantalizing brief foretaste that the Scriptures give us.  Since Jesus will provide it, you know it will be fantastic!  There is a resurrection because transformation will take place (just as it has in nature), the spiritual body will be suited to its environment (as also seen in nature with a seed), the spiritual body will be much better, and Jesus, that life-giving spirit, will cause it to happen!

But Paul does not stop here!  He has more to reveal, and now he presents some more results of Christ's resurrection.  Our spirits can soar as we listen to these sublime truths!  First of all, Paul notes that people cannot take part in God's coming kingdom with their present bodies (v. 50).  “Flesh and blood” are the two parts most liable to decay (Morris).  Hallelujah, there will be no more struggles and sins of the neither flesh nor decay in heaven! 

Secondly, Paul relates that those who are still alive at Christ's return will also have their physical bodies transformed into spiritual bodies, and this process will happen very quickly when the dead are resurrected (vv. 51-52)!  What a stupendous revelation Paul has given us!  Our identities are changed, not lost!

Thirdly, those new bodies will also be incorruptible, immortal, and victorious!  The punishment of Eden has now been totally reversed!  Death's venomous sting will no longer be experienced by the redeemed!

Fourthly, Christians need not fear the future for, through Christ, we will conquer both Death and Hades (vv. 55)!   Paul uses Old Testament prophecy to celebrate their defeat because these prophecies will be fulfilled when the transformation occurs!  Since Jesus has already conquered both and replaced the Law, we also will participate in His victory (vv. 56-57)!

What a glorious future awaits the righteous!  The same transforma-tion for the resurrected dead will be equally experienced by those who remain alive, and all Jesus' followers will share in His victory of everlasting life and immortality!  More results: transformation for those alive, all the redeemed “must” have the new clothing of immortality (verse 53), the prophecies of death's conquest will be fulfilled, we will share in Jesus' victory!

Now Paul concludes by returning to the present and giving the members at Corinth some exhortations.  First, we should be thankful to God for His provision of victory of everlasting life through Christ.  Secondly, we should be steadfast and immovable in our beliefs about the resurrection.  Thirdly, we should always be abounding in God's work knowing that one day we will be rewarded with glorious, incorruptible, and spiritual bodies!  Another preacher put it this way: “There is no way that the epitaph ‘perished’ should describe our death, for in His resurrection, he released those who through fear of death had been subject to bondage by the adversary, reducing him to impotence and releasing us to a lifetime of steadfast, unmovable service in the work of the Lord” (Hamilton)!  Our firm grip on the resurrection will spur us on to thankfulness, steadfastness, and fruitfulness!  This is an abundant life, not one lived in vain!

Jesus’ resurrection is the fulcrum of Christianity, and it continues to offer hope to all mankind!  Someone else puts it this way: “Jesus’ resurrection makes it impossible for mankind’s story to end in chaos—it has to move unrelentingly towards light, towards love, and towards life” (Carretto in Rowell)!  Why not reread this tremendous chapter each day during this next week?  What a wonderful life lies ahead in the hereafter!  Christ’s resurrection guarantees it!

Who would want to pass up the blessings that Paul has described for the redeemed?  Are you ready for the trumpet call and our Lord’s appearance once again?  Are you ready to be transformed and have a spiritual body?  Are you ready for immortality?  Don’t let these blessings be lost!