1 Corinthians 15:12-28
Living a life of faith requires hope for the future, the future beyond the end of our present existence. God didn’t give us the grace of faith, the Incarnation didn’t happen simply to give us our best life now. It’s not a case of thinking happy thoughts, applying the power of positive thinking, or God expecting us to simply “don’t worry, be happy”. This life is not all there is, what goes around does not come around, and he who dies with the most toys has won nothing. It is not God’s desire for us to be wealthy and healthy if we only have enough faith to name it and claim it. In fact, all of these trite cliches represent fallen man’s best attempt to make sense of life from his own earth-bound perspective.
The church in Corinth had issues – of morality, of understanding the nature of true holiness, appropriate orderly worship and, as is apparent from our text, issues about the nature of man. Perhaps the Corinthians had been influenced by Plato’s philosophy and that of 1st century Gnostics which held that spiritual is good, physical is evil; the best thing that could happen to a person was for their pure spirit to be released from its corrupt, evil and temporary house. If that were true, then the whole idea of the resurrection of the body would be foolish and unnecessary.
In our text Paul works to overcome this misunderstanding, treating as a given that the resurrection of our Lord occurred and has a point – see1 Cor. 15:3-4. He then points out the absurdity of denying the resurrection by giving five examples, showing the logical consequences of such a position and how our Lord’s resurrection has a point and purpose which gives us a hope for the future.
If there isnoresurrection, then:vv. 13-19
1. Christ is not risenv.13, 15-16
**no resurrection means just that –noresurrection, for anyone, including Christ
2. preaching is empty and faith is emptyv. 14, 17
**death, burial and resurrection of Christ are the central, non-negotiable elements of NT preaching – see vv. 3-4; also “we preach Christ crucified”1 Cor. 1:23“I decided to know nothing …except Christ and him crucified”1 Cor. 2:2
**if the proclaimed message is empty, then faith in what is proclaimed is likewise empty and fruitless
3. the apostles misrepresent Godv. 15
**Paul claimed his message was from God – if there is no resurrection, and if God doesn’t lie, Paul must be lying
**no resurrection, then all the apostles guilty of attributing a miracle to God that he didn’t perform
4. we are still in our sinsv. 17
**as inRom. 4:25(who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification) Paul declares Jesus’ death and resurrection to be inseparable – no resurrection, then no acceptance by God of Jesus’ sacrifice or justification for us
5. the dead have perishedv. 18
**this life is as good as it gets ’cause the only thing left is eternal death, the logical counterpart to eternal life; described inRev. 20:14as the second death, by Jesus as “eternal fire, …prepared for the devil and his angels, …eternal punishment”Matt. 25:41,46
If this is all there is, boy, are we pathetic. We’ve placed all our confidence in the one basket of faith in Christ and the accompanying hope in the future only to find the basket empty. All of our religious exercises in this life have no benefit beyond whatever passing comfort and diversion they may provide here and now. We’ve been worshiping a God who is powerless, our supposed Savior is merely a man like the rest of us. What a bunch of fools we’ve been!
Now that we have established that Christ in fact has been raised from the dead, there are some logical consequences. In one sentence of fourteen words (verse 22) Paul spans the full scope of human history from creation to consummation. He identifies three landmarks – the fall, the cross, the final resurrection. We cannot consider the cross without having the empty tomb in view; even the words of the institution of the Lord’s Table include both – “you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes”.1 Cor. 11:26No resurrection, no future coming of Christ.
From the beginning God has had the end in view – when he will be most glorified in all things (v. 28). Meanwhile there is an orderly progression as God works out his purpose through human history, moving toward that point whenallof his enemies have been subdued. The problem is we arehere, the end isthere; the way we arehereis not the way we must bethere. Betweennowandthenthere must be a transition of some sort, a process by which we are made fit for our eternal life with God in heaven.
Paul in verse 23 speaks of order – a military term which speaks of orderliness according to sequence and rank. So, let’s start at the very beginning:
1. Adam was created in the image of God in righteousness and true holiness.Gen. 1:27;Col. 3:10;Eph. 4:24
2. Adam sinned and in him all mankind lost that righteousness and true holiness, coming under the curse of death.Rom. 5:12,15
3. The second Adam was born of a virgin, without sin and perfectly holy before God.2 Cor. 5:21
4. Having satisfied God’s demands for justice by his life of perfect obedience and submission to the penalty of death, God raised Christ from the dead.Eph. 1:20
5. The next event will be Christ’s coming when the last enemy, death, will be destroyed by the resurrection.1 Cor. 15:24-26
6. Having subdued all his enemies, when all things are subject to him, Christ will then deliver the kingdom to his Father and “God [will] be all in all” for eternity.1 Cor. 15:28
the significance vv. 20-23
Beginning with the first Hebrew new year established by God immediately prior to the tenth plague that afflicted Egypt, God appointed three annual feasts to be kept by the Jewish people: the Feast of Unleavened Bread or Passover, the Feast of Harvest or Pentecost, and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles.Ex. 23:15-16
At the Harvest Feast, the firstfruits or that which represented the first gathering of the new harvest were brought as a sacrifice to God. The remainder of the harvest was still in the field, awaiting final ripening and gathering into the storehouse. The firstfruit stood symbolically for the entire crop of grain and the expectation that it would all be successfully harvested.
Paul twice uses the term firstfruits (verse 20 & 23) to refer to Christ, not because he was the first one to be raised from the dead, but because Jesus’ resurrection accomplished something absolutely unique. Just as the sacrificial offering of the firstfruits of the ground anticipated a full harvest of grain, so Jesus’ resurrection anticipated a full harvest of saints raised from the dead.
Paul also connects the Fall and the Resurrection, two crucial points in redemptive history.
1. Because of sin (the Fall) –> condemnation
2. Because of condemnation –> death
3. Adam experienced death –> all in Adam (with a fallen nature) experience death
4. The problem came by way of man (Adam) –> the solution must come by way of man (Jesus)
5. God’s perfect plan –> satisfy justice at the cross, defeat death at the empty tombANDaccept the performance of a substitute on behalf of his people
The inescapable conclusion: Just as certainly as those who are united to Adam by sin experience death, so will those who are united to Christ and having a new nature be raised from the dead to enjoy eternal life.
Here’s the mystery: eternal God, the author of life, taking on human form to be born as a baby, sent to die in order to conquer death that we might have life.
To put all this another way: no Christmas, no Good Friday; no Good Friday, no Easter; no Easter, no eternity in heaven for those who are in Christ.
the hope v. 24ff
Yet Paul doesn’t end with the resurrection – God wins overALLhis enemies. Death is the final enemy (v. 26) – that is, the last in the order of events, to be conquered; it will at that time be the only remaining enemy of God which he has not thoroughly subdued.
Christmas is an exciting and heart-warming time of year to be sure. However, we need to look beyond the “babe in a manger” to the Lion of Judah. That little baby had an incredible array of sworn enemies who would have given anything to be able to permanently eliminate him – remember King Herod, the people of Nazareth who tried to push Jesus off a cliff, all the various assaults of Satan recorded throughout the Gospels. We need a Lion with the power and determination to subdue all those who would oppose him and those who are “in him”.
Since he is the head and we are the body, we win! Our hope for the future is not merely a journey to heaven and all that means for us. If we are united to Christ, his adopted brothers and sisters, we share in the triumph of Christ over all his enemies. And what is the best part of victory? The celebration!
It is the saints who are the “host of captives in [his] train” following Christ as he ascended on high (Psalm 68:18). And it is those saints who, at “the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father”, will join with the living creatures and the elders and the thousands of thousands of angels around the throne of God to give Him the glory – forever!Rev. 5:11-131 Chron. 29:10-11
Because of that baby in the manger, the Christ on the cross, the triumphant Savior who overcame death at the empty tomb, we can have hope for the future. We can also live a triumphant life now, confident that God wins over his enemies and will bring us safely home to sing those songs of sweet accord around the throne in the heavenly Zion.