1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 15.
Kretzmann’s Popular Commentary1921
Of the Resurrection of the Dead. 1 Cor. 15, 1-58. (1 Cor 15:1-58)
The facts of Christ’s resurrection: V. 1. Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand, v. 2. by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. V. 3. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; v. 4. and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; v. 5. and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the Twelve; v. 6. 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. V. 7. After that He was seen of James, then of all the apostles. V. 8. And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. V. 9. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. V. 10. 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. V. 11. Therefore, whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.74)
There were, it seems, false apostles or very ignorant members at Corinth, men that claimed there was no resurrection of the dead. St. Paul, therefore, includes a detailed defense and exposition of the doctrine in his letter. The section is the crowning glory of the epistle, a demonstration of the truth of a future resurrection. The doubt which the apostle here combats is one that strikes at the root of Christianity, which concerns the fundamental fact of the Gospel-truth. In a burst of lofty and sustained eloquence the patient teacher again gives the Corinthians instructions concerning the first things, the doctrine without which Christianity would be a riddle: But I make known to you, I declare to you, brethren, the Gospel which I proclaimed to you. The words convey a measure of censure, of blame, that it should have become necessary for him so soon to repeat some information which belonged to the fundamental tenets of their faith. Mark that Paul here, as elsewhere, does not refer his readers to human feelings or opinions, but to a fixed fund of Christian knowledge, to the Gospel, the good news of the redemption of mankind as it was being carried out into the world by all the apostles. Of this Gospel he says: Which also you received, in which also you stand fast, through which also you are being saved. These are the steps in Christian life: Faith is kindled in the heart, the Gospel news is accepted; faith continues in the heart, the believer places all his hope for salvation in the Gospel day by day, and thus the benefits of the Gospel, being continuous, are also progressive, salvation is altogether certain to the believer, he has its benefits, he enjoys them day by day. The Gospel is the means of our salvation; it is the beginning, middle, and end of our redemption unto eternal life, since it appropriates to us the riches of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Faith in the Gospel, belief in the resurrection of Jesus, was still found in the congregation at Corinth, otherwise the apostle could not have built up his great argument on this historical fact.
But the Corinthians needed a warning: In what word I preached to you, if you hold fast, unless you believed idly. He had given them the content of the Gospel, as they well knew if they were adhering to it as they should. The power of that word was such as to work conviction in their minds, to give them the continuous benefit of the salvation appropriated to them. It surely could not be that they had believed idly, that their acceptance of the Word of the Gospel was a mere external acceptance, in heedless levity, without serious apprehension of the issues involved! The fulness of salvation and all its benefits is given through the Gospel, but foolishness and frivolousness will lose its glories.
With great emphasis Paul refers to the authenticity of his Gospel, to the fact that God alone was its Author: For I delivered to you in the first place, among the things first in importance, as belonging to the weightiest articles of faith, what also I have received. Whether Paul refers here to direct revelation or to his first lessons in Christian faith from the mouth of his teachers, is immaterial. These first and most important articles of faith are that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He arose on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Note the repetition of the reference which shows that the vicarious death of Christ, His burial, and His glorious resurrection were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and type, just as Christ was wont to point back to the written Scriptures as telling of His suffering, death, and resurrection, Luke 24, 46. 47. By His death Christ paid the debt of sin and transgression in full, His burial placed the certainty of His death beyond doubt, and His resurrection on the third day proved the completeness of His redemptive labors. If as much as one sin had not been paid for, as much as one transgression had not been expiated, the resurrection of Christ could not have taken place, the righteousness of God would not have permitted the return to life of Him who had failed in redeeming the world. But His resurrection is a fact, and therefore also our salvation is a fact.
And for this fact the apostle brings the testimony of the eye-witnesses, of men that had seen the risen Lord, for He had been seen by Cephas, Peter, some time on Easter Day, Luke 24, 34, probably in the afternoon. Then He had been seen by the Twelve, that is, by the eleven disciples or apostles, on the evening of Easter Day, Luke 24, 36; John 20, 19, the appearance of the following Sunday evening being included. Some time after that Christ was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once, at one time, in one big gathering, probably in Galilee, by the entire number of men and women that had come to faith in Him during His earthly ministry. Cp. Matt. 26, 32. The hundred and twenty that were present about the time of Pentecost include the brethren that lived in and around Jerusalem. Of those five hundred fortunate eyewitnesses to whom Paul refers, the majority were still living when he penned this letter, some twenty-five years after the event so prominently emphasized here, but some had fallen asleep; as children of the resurrection they had closed their eyes to this world, knowing that they would presently be with their Lord forever. After that Jesus had been seen by James, the brother of the Lord, afterwards associated with Peter as a pillar of the congregation at Jerusalem, Gal. 1, 19; 2, 9. 12: then He appeared to all the apostles, for the last time, on the day of His ascension, Acts 1, 1—13. And every one of these disciples was a witness to the truth of the resurrection of Christ.
Paul adds his own testimony: But last of all He appeared also to me, to the abortion, as it were. His great humility causes the apostle to refer to himself in this uncomplimentary way, as an unfit and repulsive creature, brought into the world before the proper time. As one commentator says, Paul describes himself thus in contrast with those who, when Jesus appeared to them, were already brothers or apostles, already born as God’s children into the life of faith in Christ. And he repeats this depreciatory opinion of himself, with a confession of his own unworthiness: For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to bear the name of apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. The fact that he had, in the blindness of his Pharisaic pride, been a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious always caused the apostle deep distress, Gal. 1, 13; 1 Tim. 1, 13-16, made him protest his unworthiness, his lack of moral qualification, of fitness, of competence. Nevertheless, he adds his word of testimony to that of the other disciples, since he actually saw the risen Christ, Acts 9, 5; 22, 7-9; 26, 15. And he praised and magnified the Lord for accounting him worthy of being a witness of the resurrection and its glorious benefits: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace which was shown to me was not vain, void of actuality. As a mercy, as an utterly undeserved favor, Paul considered the fact that he had been summoned into the ranks of the apostles, especially since this implied previous forgiveness and adoption. Of himself, of his own personal achievements, he did not glory, but had only one thought, to magnify the grace of God, Rom. 1, 5. And the result was that more abundantly than they all did he labor. It was hard, painful, exhausting toil, but it also brought rich returns; by his continuous, systematic application Paul had achieved more in the extension of the kingdom of God than all the other apostles up to this time. And yet, once more, he dismisses the thought of personal worth or merit: But not I, the grace of God, rather, which was with me. Paul was but the instrument of the mercy and power of God for the benefit of many people, Jews and Gentiles. So he can conclude this passage with the cheerful words: Whether, then, it was I that did the preaching or they, the other apostles that had been placed into this office: so we preach, and so you believed. There was a perfect agreement among all the apostles as to the need of presenting the great facts of man’s redemption first of all, of presenting the fundamental doctrines first. And the Corinthians themselves, in accepting the doctrine as preached by Paul and by the other apostles, testified to its soundness by their faith.
The resurrection of Christ basic for the Christian’s faith: V. 12. Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? V. 13. But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen; v. 14. and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. V. 15. 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. V. 16. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; v. 17. and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. V. 18. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. V. 19. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
All the Corinthians had to admit that in the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ (as in all other doctrines of the Christian faith) the apostles taught in perfect harmony. Christ was preached as having been raised from the dead, and that historical fact they accepted as the truth. At the same time, however, there were some in their midst that held there was no such thing as a resurrection of dead men. It was a most peculiar contradiction, but one which had not entered their consciousness as such. Such a sweeping denial by the side of the calm acceptance of the great historical fact of Christ’s resurrection was so strange as to cause an outcry of displeased surprise on the part of the apostle.
Forthwith he proceeds to enlighten them by a double argument, showing that, if their position was right, Christian doctrine must be false, and faith must be useless. What follows from the position which these brethren in Corinth took? If the bodily resurrection of the dead is an impossibility, neither is Christ risen; the idea of a risen, living Christ is then absurd, for the denial of a bodily resurrection must strike Christ as well as all the other dead, since He died as a true man. Another result: If Christ, however, be not raised, vain then is also our proclamation, vain also your faith. This would be the second consequence of the denial: If the fact of Christ’s resurrection would be given up, in line with the first argument, then the testimony of the resurrection must be discredited as well; and the message being untrue, it follows that faith which is based upon a false representation has no basis, it is hollow, ineffectual, useless. Did any of the Corinthians care to maintain that the Gospel with all its glorious effects was a delusion ? And what would be the result so far as the character, the veracity, of the apostles was concerned ? But we should be found, discovered, set forth in shame, as lying witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up, if the contention as to the absurdity of bodily resurrection will hold good. If any person says of God that He has done something which, as a matter of fact, He did not do, although able to do so, then he gives false testimony against God. It would follow that the apostles were not only deluded fools, but tricksters and impostors as well. That is the one result if one will insist upon denying the resurrection of the body.
The apostle now restates the contention of the misguided Corinthian Christians in order to show a second inevitable consequence of that position, namely, that the entire fabric of Christian faith and life is unreal and a mockery. He starts out once more with the statement that, if there is no bodily resurrection, the fact of Christ’s resurrection cannot be upheld. What follows? If Christ is not raised, your faith is useless, vain, without beneficial results, a delusion. And since that faith is essentially trust in the forgiveness of sins made possible by the work of Christ and sealed by His resurrection, it follows that you are yet in your sins; the atonement is a mockery. And so far as those are concerned that fell asleep in Jesus, trusting in His perfect redemption, they died in a vain hope; instead of obtaining the blessedness of a perfect salvation in the presence of God, their fate is that of perdition. “If Christ did not rise for our justification, then those whose death seemed but a blessed sleep to a happy awaking in fellowship with their living and glorified Redeemer, so far from having been received into eternal life, were doomed still to abide under the wretched dominion of death.” 75) And to drive home the truth which he wishes to impress upon the Corinthians, the apostle adds: If in this life only we are hopers in Christ, if all hope for the future is vain and a foolish delusion, if there is no forgiveness of sins, no hope of a future inheritance in heaven, then indeed we Christians are of all men most in need of pity. For to insist upon a hope that has no basis, that can never be realized, and for such a hope to deny all material good, — that would give the unbelievers a right to consider us weak-minded fools that are to be pitied for their miserable delusion. The argument of Paul is all the more effective as it practically forced every true Christian in the Corinthian congregation to draw the inference: I know that my faith is not a futile trust; the Christian doctrine is not based upon a delusion; I am sure of the forgiveness of my sins as assured to me in the Gospel; the apostles must be true witnesses ; Christ is risen from the dead; there must be a resurrection of the body.
A victorious line of argument: V. 20. But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the First-fruits of them that slept. V. 21. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. V. 22. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. V. 23. But every man in his own order: Christ the First-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming. V. 24. 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. V. 25. For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. V. 26. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. V. 27. 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. V. 28. 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.
In contrast with the deplorable results which would follow from the supposition as held by the ignorant deniers of the resurrection of the body, Paul now triumphantly sets before his readers the fact of the resurrection and its glorious consequences. If Christ had not risen, all the disastrous events must have followed as a matter of course. But as matters now stand, if we look at the situation as it really exists: Christ has been raised from the dead as a First-fruit of them that sleep. The fact of His resurrection is beyond doubt and dispute, is, in fact, not called into question even by those Corinthian Christians that hold a wrong view with regard to this doctrine. And thereby Christ is set forth before us as the First-fruits, the first offering, of the new harvest, Lev. 23, 10, a sign and token that the entire harvest is sanctified to the Lord. He was the first dead person to lay aside all mortality and to assume a spiritual body which would not be subject to death in all eternity. And so they that fell asleep in Christ in the hope of eternal life will also arise from the dead; the first harvest-sheaf will be followed by all the other sheaves; the bodies of all the believers will lay aside mortality; consecrated to God as they are, they will become partakers of that same spirituality, Col. 1, 18; Rev. 1, 5.
The apostle explains how this result has been brought about: For since through a man is death, also through a man is resurrection of the dead. A man, Adam, was the means, the instrument, by which death entered into the world. He ate of the forbidden fruit and thus caused the curse of God to take effect; he subjected mankind to physical death. On the other hand, through man also is the resurrection of the dead; Jesus, true man, by His resurrection has broken the ban of death, has become the first one of a new mankind over which death has no more power, Rom. 6, 9. For just as in the Adam, in that one man representing the entire world of men, all men die, so also in the Christ, in the promised Messiah, all will be made alive. As death in all cases is grounded in Adam, so life in all cases is grounded in Christ. As in Adam all die that pertain to Adam, that are sinful human beings, so in Christ all will be made alive that are Christ’s by faith in Him.
The nature of the resurrection will be the same, but there will be a distinction of order or rank: But each in his own rank, in his proper order — Christ the First-fruits, then those that belong to Christ, at His coming. This statement is intended to remove an objection which men might make by pointing to the fact that the believers in Christ are lying in their graves by the side of those that were subject to death on account of the curse which came upon the world in Adam. Paul simply says that the Lord is observing a due order according to His plan. Christ, as the First-fruits, has entered into the fullness of life, has in His human nature assumed immortality, an incorruptible body. And those that belong to Christ by faith will enter into that same glorious state when He returns on the last great day.
When Christ thus comes, then is the end; His return for the final judgment means the conclusion of the world’s history, when He delivers up the kingdom to His God and Father, when He has put down and abolished every rule and every authority and every power. Christ is now the King in the Kingdom of Power and in the Kingdom of Grace. And He is performing the duties of this office continually; He is adding further souls to His Kingdom of Grace, He is making intercession for those that have been admitted under His rule by faith. This work of mercy continues to the last day, when the history of this present world will come to an end, when the last elect will be added to the number fixed by the Lord. By that time also He will abolish all the forces of evil that oppose His work of grace, no matter how firmly fixed their rule, no matter how extensive their authority, no matter how great their power seems to be at the present time. And then Christ will lay at His Father’s feet the kingdom; that will be the end of the Kingdom of Grace, since the Church Militant on that day will be changed to the Church Triumphant, and the Kingdom of Glory will have its beginning. This is no ceasing of Christ’s rule, but the inauguration of God’s eternal kingdom; as the victorious Prince of Life He lays the spoils, the power and reign of all His enemies, at the feet of the Father, and then proceeds with the Father, in perfect unity of essence, to reign to all eternity. So far as the present world, the present period of time, is concerned, Christ must needs reign until He has placed all His enemies underneath His feet, Ps. 110, 1. Satan, the arch-enemy of Christ, and all the powers allied with him in opposition to God, must be brought to the most perfect subjection, to the deepest humiliation. The last enemy that shall be rendered absolutely powerless, whose rule shall be taken from him, is death: death is the last enemy to meet his doom. When the resurrection is complete on the last day, the power of death will be forever annulled, there will no longer be such a thing as dying or as being dead; Satan’s last bulwark will be destroyed after he has given up his arms. It is a shout of victory which the apostle here utters as he reaches the climax of this passage.
The unlimited dominion which will belong to Christ by the removal of all His enemies is finally pictured: For “all things He put underneath His feet.” But when He says, “All things are subjected,” — obviously with the exception of Him that put all things in subjection to Him, — when all things will have been made subject to Him, then also the Son Himself will subject Himself to Him (the Father) that has subjected all things to Him (the Son), that God may be all in all. The apostle here applies the words of Ps. 8, 6 to Jesus, the Man above all men. Cp. Eph. 1, 22. God gave to Christ, according to His human nature, power and dominion over all things, subjected everything to His will. So absolute and all-encompassing is this “all” that only the Father Himself is excepted, since His is the unlimited supremacy. And incidentally the Son will then subject Himself to the Father, not as subordinated to Him in essence, but in the free submission of love. In all the works of His office as Redeemer, He was loyal to His Father in perfect obedience, and now the Son, in His Sonship, subjects Himself to His Father, as Father, that God may be all, the one object of praise, glory, and adoration, in all, the believers giving Him the joyful reverence of their blessedness, and the unbelievers and all other creatures bowing before Him as the supreme Lord. Mark: These words in no way teach the inferiority of the Son to the Father in essence: on the contrary, the absolute unity in the distinction of persons stands out all the more clearly and conspicuously. Whatsover glory the Son has gained is devoted to the glory and power of the Father, who, in turn, glorifies the Son. Cp. Chap. 3, 22; 11, 3. 76)
The effect of unbelief in the doctrine of the resurrection: V. 29. 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? V. 30. And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? V. 31. I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus, our Lord, I die daily. V. 32. 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. V. 33. Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners. V. 34. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame.
Having been carried forward by his argument of the consequences of Christ’s resurrection to a triumphant burst of victory, the apostle now returns to his general proposition, his object being to show here the futility of all Christian devotion in case death is the final end. Referring to a rite which was then in use in some Christian communities, either that people were baptized on behalf of, instead of, dead persons, in the foolish belief that the benefits of the Sacrament would be credited to the dead, or that some Christians chose to be baptized over the graves of the sainted dead, as a confession of their belief that the blessings of Christ’s resurrection are transmitted in Baptism, and that the baptized believers will rise to eternal life with Christ, Paul states that this custom would be without sense and reason if there is no resurrection of the body. For that was the slogan of the unbelievers: The idea of a bodily resurrection is absolutely false! Referring to his own case, Paul asks: And why do we run hazards every hour? What object would there be in his braving death from day to day if there were no hope of reward for the apostles, for the pains of their self-denial, in the state of resurrection ? Take away a Christian’s hope of a future life with Christ, and you render the misery and tribulation of this present life unbearable. Paul emphasizes this point with the greatest vehemence: Daily I am dying; on account of the many dangers besetting me I am always on the brink of death. There was not a day, not an hour of the day, in which he might not expect to be seized and led forth to his execution. And to arouse the Corinthians to a realization of the meaning he wishes to convey, he adds the solemn oath: By your glorying, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus, our Lord. The Corinthian believers themselves were the glory of Paul which, as their apostle, he had in Christ Jesus, chap. 9, 1. 2, which he had laid up as a precious possession in the hands of his Savior.
Paul cites a specific instance in which his hope of the future life sustained him: If after the manner of men I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, of what use is it to me? If the dead do not rise (there is only one thing to do) : Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die! Some scholars, including Luther, believe that the apostle had actually been condemned to be thrown to the wild beasts in the stadium at Ephesus and that he was saved by a miracle.”) But it is probable that Paul is speaking figuratively, and that he is referring to the mob at Ephesus which was stirred up by the shrine-makers, Acts 19, 23-41. or to the Jews that were always lying in ambush to kill him, Acts 20, 19. If he had endured all the hardships involved in that struggle, as men generally do, for the sake of the applause, money, glory, etc., it would have been without benefit to him under the circumstances, if the arguments of the ignorant Corinthians were sound. For if there is no resurrection of the body, a person may just as well join in the slogan of the frivolous mockers of the world: Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die, Is. 22, 13. If death is the end, if physical death is equivalent to annihilation, then the Christians may as well throw their Christianity overboard and live according to the adage: A short life and a merry one!
But Paul holds up a finger of warning: Be not seduced! Do not let any one mislead you! Evil conversations, evil companionships, corrupt good manners. If a person courts temptation in the company of loose people, his moral nature is bound to suffer. His character will be undermined by evil talk; his honesty will be overcome by roguery. The apostle quotes this as a sort of proverb, a word which was probably in the mouth of everybody, though it is also embodied in classical Greek poetry, originally in Euripides, but also in Menander. 78) With an exclamation full of apostolic majesty Paul turns to the entire Corinthian congregation: Sober up properly and cease to sin! He wants them all to return to and cultivate a mind full of soberness, saneness, common sense, and to that end also to recognize the sinfulness of this doctrinal position, as held in their midst, since false doctrine is a sin against the first table of the Law. For some of their members were deliberately holding to a position of ignorance, as Paul feels obliged to say, to the shame of them all. With all their boast of wisdom they are deliberately adhering to false views, which subvert the entire structure of Christian doctrine. This evil could be corrected only by a thorough reaction based upon the open acknowledgment of the wrong views existing in their midst, and by the speedy acceptance of the revealed truth.
The nature of the resurrection: V. 35. But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? V. 36. Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die. V. 37. 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. V. 38. But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body. V. 39. 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. V. 40. There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. V. 41. 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. V. 42 a. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Not to know, not to believe in, the resurrection of the body, that is a shame and disgrace for a Christian; but the manner of the resurrection is a secret which at best may be illustrated by analogous processes in nature. In this way Paul meets the question: How are the dead raised? With what kind of body, moreover, do they come? The lurking ideas of the impossibility and inconceivability of the resurrection of the body are both taken up; for the apostle realizes that some one might argue: The resurrection as proclaimed by the apostles is absurd; how can any one conceive of a new body that is to rise out of a corpse that has been eaten by worms or has fallen into dust? As far as the first argument is concerned, Paul does not hesitate for a moment to charge its defender with mental stupidity, since all nature teaches that death is only a transition to further life: What thou sowest is not made alive unless it die. The mystery of the resurrection is contained in every sprouting seed. The hull which serves as a covering, as a carrier for the seed-germ, will rot away and die, while the contents of the kernel, by a chemical process which only the Creator can explain, under the proper condition for germination, will rise up into new life.
To the argument that it is impossible to conceive of such a process, Paul answers with the analogy of the same picture: And what thou sowest, not the body that shall be sowest thou, but the naked grain, there being no difference whether it is of wheat or of one of the other grains. What we see before our eyes year after year may be impossible for us to comprehend, but it can no longer be said to be unreasonable. In placing the seed into the ground, the farmer or gardener knows that he is not planting a new body, which would but have to grow. He puts the naked, unclothed grain of any seed into the ground and does not permit himself to be deterred by the objection of some stupid person that has never seen things sprout, that his seed will merely rot in the soil. Experience has told the farmer that the grain of wheat, though in itself lifeless as a grain of sand, will yet, under the proper conditions, produce a new body. It is God that gives the sprouting seed the power and the plant its body, in accordance with His decree in creation, by which the continuance of life by this form of reproduction was determined. And He gives to each seed a body of its own. It is His miraculous working throughout, but that same power is able to return our bodies at the resurrection.
Paul now uses a second comparison to show with what form of body the dead will come: All flesh is not the same flesh, but different is that of men, different that of beasts, of four-footed animals, different the flesh of winged creatures, different that of fishes. All these creatures have flesh in their body, and yet it is not the same; there is variety not only in organization, but also in composition, as both the sense of feeling and of taste can testify. The God that exhibits such wonderful power in producing this variety will surely be able to provide a body for every person in the resurrection. Again, the apostle argues: And there are bodies heavenly and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the heavenly bodies is one, and that of the earthly bodies another. The stars and all the heavenly bodies, by God’s creation, have a glory which differs from that of the bodies in this world, though the beauty of the latter in the manifold miracles of nature can well compare with them. Finally, the heavenly bodies differ among themselves in beauty and brightness, the sun, the moon, and the stars exhibiting a variety of glory which must be recognized at once: all are glorious, but in degrees. And the same God that produced all these miracles is fully able to produce bodies for His saints at the time of the resurrection which will be altogether suited to the glory of Christ’s coming kingdom. Paul therefore sums up all that he has advanced in the entire passage: So, indeed, is the resurrection of the dead. It is as reasonable as the recurring miracle of germination and new growth, and the bodies which it will make necessary can be provided by the same God that calls all the marvelous creatures before our eyes into existence. Simply because our bodies are now grossly material, it would be a mistake to conclude that they cannot, at God’s command, exist, in an entirely different and far higher state.
A contrast between the present and the future states: V. 42b. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; v. 43. it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; v. 44. it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. V. 45. And so it is written, The first man, Adam, was made a living, soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. V. 46. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. V. 47. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. V. 48. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. V. 49. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
As the apostle develops this beautiful contrast, he retains the imagery of the pictures used in the previous section and thus makes his presentation concrete, easily understood, in a fine, symmetrical pattern. As with the seed, so it is with the human body, specifically that of the believers: It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. The dead body is laid into its last resting-place, the grave. We sow it as a seed in God’s acre, knowing that it will spring up into imperishable life. Decay may take hold of the lifeless hull, putrefaction may result in the total decomposition of the body, yet the omnipotent power of the Lord will raise it up to a glorious, heavenly condition. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. The earthly body, due to the action of sin and its effects, is unseemly, vile, Phil. 3, 21, and at the time of its burial the little attractiveness and loveliness which it may have possessed is gone; it must be covered from the sight of men. But when God calls it forth from the grave, it will rise in glory, renewed once more to the brightness of His image that created it, fashioned like unto the glorious body of Christ Himself. “Transparent as crystal, the body of the resurrection will radiate the glory which the Spirit of Christ imparts to it; the flesh, no longer a dull covering, will be a lamp of spiritual light, according to the manner in which Christ was transfigured on the holy mount.” 79) It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. The body which we commit to the grave is about to return to the dust from which it was made; what little physical and intellectual strength lived in that unlovely frame has fled; it is an inert, helpless mass of decaying flesh. But when the trumpet-call of the Lord assembles the bones, then that same body will be clothed with power from on high, its nature will partake of that of Christ’s body. And all these facts are summarized by Paul: There is sown a natural, a fleshly body, the body being controlled in all its actions by the soul, but yet subject to corruption, dishonor, and weakness. And there is raised a spiritual body, one that partakes of the qualities of a spirit, with incorruption, glory, and power. For if there is a natural body, one in which the soul is the agency of natural life, then there is no reason for assuming that there is not also a spiritual body, one which is possessed, spiritualized, by the spirit, through the power of God. So the comparison holds true: The body of the resurrection is indeed not the same weak, corrupt body that was laid in the grave, and yet there are not two different bodies, the natural body being annihilated, and the spiritual body being filled with the soul of the former human being. The spiritual body, rather, the Christian body of resurrection, is the outgrowth of the new man that was planted in the Christian as the germ of the future glorified body, through the Word and Sacraments.
The apostle substantiates this doctrine by a Scripture quotation: The first man, Adam, became a living soul, Gen. 2, 7. That was the natural state of Adam, as the representative and the forefather of the entire human race; he was created to be a bodily being animated with a living soul, and as such he existed during his earthly life. In contrast to this Paul says that the last Adam, the progenitor of the new spiritual humanity, became a life-giving spirit, for Christ is the antitype of Adam. From Adam, as a forefather, the human race received only soul, earthly, natural life; but from Christ, the Forefather of the spiritual race of mankind, the believers receive the true spiritual life, which extends beyond the grave and makes us possessors of the divine glory: He is the Source of the heavenly and eternal life.
In case some one should now object by asking why God did not immediately create every human being so as to make the body spiritual at once, to give to soul, body, and spirit the eternal, heavenly life, Paul answers: However, not is first the spiritual, but the psychic, the natural, then the spiritual. Even the body of Adam, the first man, was not spiritual, but natural, God’s intention being that the spiritualized condition was to be realized by man’s remaining in permanent communion with the Lord, for which Adam had received strength. Through the. Fall, of course, the intention of God was thwarted, and now, more than ever, the body of sin is a natural body, truly born of the flesh. Only by the power of the Spirit in the means of grace is the spiritual life planted in us, and only by the application of the same power will He raise us up as spiritual bodies. It follows, then, that the first man is of the earth, earthy, his body partaking of the nature of the dust out of which he was formed. The second man, Christ, had no such origin, even though He assumed human nature in the body of the Virgin Mary. From the very moment of His conception He was the Lord from heaven, the Son of Man which is in heaven, John 3, 13. And so He succeeded and displaced the first father of mankind; He is of heaven, the God-man. As the earthy, such they also that are earthy; all those that have descended from Adam are, like him, of an earthy nature. Adam, instead of rising to a spiritual state, fell into sin; and we, who are his bodily descendants, fell in his fall, and bear his mere natural, earthy life. And as the heavenly, such they also that are heavenly; as the exalted Christ, the First-born of many brethren, partakes of the fullness of the heavenly glory in His spiritual body, so Christ’s risen followers, their bodies made like unto His own glorious body, shall share in this glory. And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, the outward, bodily form of our progenitor, Adam, so let us bear also the image of the Heavenly One. We drag around this body of sin with us, homesick throughout our earthly life for the true life above; but we look forward to the happy day of our final deliverance, when we shall be restored to His image and once more, according to soul and body, enter the ranks of the children of God, 1 John 3, 2; Col. 3, 4. “The wearing of Christ’s moral likeness here carries with it the wearing of His bodily likeness hereafter.”
The transformation of the last day and the victory over death: V. 50. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. V. 51. Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed v. 52. 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. V. 53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. V. 54. 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. V. 55. O death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? V. 56. The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. V. 57. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. V. 58. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmov-able, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
The apostle here sets forth a final argument for the resurrection of the body. For the burial of the dead, with its picture of decay and corruption, far from shaking our faith in the reality of the resurrection, rather teaches us that the body in its present state must perish and be changed before it can inherit the glories of heaven. With great emphasis Paul writes: But this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood, the natural body as such, cannot inherit God’s kingdom; nor, indeed, does perishableness inherit imperishableness. If human beings want to become possessors of the heavenly glory, with all the bliss that is included in its enjoyment, then it is absolutely necessary that they pass through the change by which this earthly dress and this bondage of corruption is removed.
This indispensable change in the case of people still living is the object of a wonderful revelation, which Paul proceeds to communicate, calling attention, incidentally, to its importance: Lo, a mystery I tell you! He opens before their eyes one of the secrets which the Lord had made known to him. Not all shall we sleep, not all believers would be lying in the sleep of death on the last day, but we shall all be changed. Our perishable body, whether through death or not, must undergo the change by which it becomes spiritual. The change will be universal and extend to all those that are living when Judgment Day dawns. In a moment, literally, in an atom of time, in the length of time required for a wink of the eyelids, during the sounding of the last trumpet, this would take place. That will be one of the certain signs of the Lord’s advent: The final trumpet will sound, and the dead, all of them, will arise, will be raised with their bodies incorruptible. At that point of time the peculiar change in the living will also take place by which their mortal, corruptible bodies become immortal, incorruptible. This change must take place, it is a necessity according to the will of God: This perishable is bound to put on imperishableness, and this mortal is to put on immortality. Note that Paul, throughout the passage, assumes that the believers feel the certainty of the coming immortality.
glories then shall open up before our eyes the apostle pictures in a
triumphant burst of victorious shouting: When this has been
accomplished, as it is certain to come about, when this perishable
body has been invested with incorruption, and when this mortal body
has been invested with immortality, then the word will find its
fulfillment which is written Is. 25, 8; Hos. 13, 14, which Paul
quotes from the Greek text, but in the corrected form. Death has been
swallowed up unto victory; the greedy, insatiable enemy has been
forced to succumb, and has, in turn, been devoured; the last bulwark
of the enemy has been destroyed, v. 26. In triumphant exultation the
challenge rings out:
O Death, is thy victory?
Where, O Death, is thy sting?
Now the sting of Death is Sin, and the strength of Sin is the Law;
But to God be thanks, who gives to us the victory
Through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Death, who, like a poisonous serpent, has used his sting to put people to death, has lost this sting. He that was accustomed to having the victory at all times, has himself been definitely conquered. For the sting of death is sin, through which it came into the world, Rom 5, 12, and Jesus has borne all sin, paid all guilt, submerged all trespasses in the depths of the sea. And the strength of sin is the Law, Rom. 8, 2, because it promises salvation to men upon terms which they cannot fulfill, and thus makes sin abound; but Jesus has fulfilled the Law and thus removed the strength of sin. To God, therefore, the Triune God, the Author of our salvation, be thanks, who gives to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! A full and complete victory was gained by Christ, and its entire fullness and completeness belongs to us by virtue of our Savior’s work, which we accept by faith. As Christians we possess eternal life even now; to us, as Christians, death no longer has the bitter taste of God’s wrath. At the very graves of those that have fallen asleep in Christ we chant this great hymn of victory, knowing that death and the grave have lost their power over them that are in Christ Jesus, and that death is to believers the entrance to eternal joys.
Paul concludes the chapter by applying the wonderful teaching to the state of the Corinthian congregation, whose members may have become lax in their Christian work, due to the doubts that were afloat in their midst. Pleadingly and urgently he writes: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be firm, show yourselves steadfast, do not let the foundation of your faith be removed; be immovable, do not let yourselves be led away by others. That is the one side of their work. But the other will follow: Abounding in the work of the Lord always, in that work which God does through you and you perform to His glory; knowing that your toil, your strenuous labor, is not empty in the Lord; it cannot remain without fruit and effect if begun in His name, carried out in His strength, and intended for His glory.
Summary. The apostle brings the historical and logical proof for the resurrection of the body, describes the nature of this resurrection, reveals the fact of the transformation of the last day, and closes with a triumphant hymn of victory.