Study Notes for I Corinthians 15:12-34
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The resurrection has been a stumbling block for millennia. The Jews were divided about their understanding of a resurrection. By the time the Pharisees and Saducees were established, the Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection one day, and the Saducees didn't. In fact, the Saducees didn't believe in the existence of angels, either.
The Greeks certainly didn't believe in such a thing. They believed that reality was spiritual. The physical world, to the Greek mind, was merely a representation of the real world, which was entirely spiritual. The body, they believed, was a tomb or prison which held the real person-his or her spirit-captive.
The Greeks dualistic belief that reality was split between two unintegrated parts-physical and spiritual-led to the Gnostic heresy that one could indulge the body in whatever hedonistic pursuit one wished. After all, the body didn't count; what happened to the body had no bearing on the spirit.
Conversely, Christianity teaches that humans are created to be fully integrated. The body (including the mind) and the spirit directly affect each other. Only Christianity teaches that God redeems the body as well as the soul. When God became incarnate in human flesh, he declared that the body as well as the spirit has value. He honored his creation in an ultimate way; he forever linked himself with humanity.
When Jesus rose from the dead he demonstrated what we humans will experience ultimately. He came from the tomb in a physical body-not the same as his original body, but a physical "resurrection body" that was immortal.
Paul creates an intricate argument to support the reality that the resurrection is a fact and a promise. He starts from the assumption that those to whom he's speaking already believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Indeed, the crucified, buried, and risen Christ is the transforming belief of Christians.
If there is no resurrection of the dead, Paul says, then Jesus could not have risen from the dead either. The power that made Jesus' resurrection certain is the same power that makes our resurrection certain. Paul is saying that Jesus' resurrection is not in a different category from ours. They are both the result of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, Paul says, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost."
Jesus' death paid the price of sin by dying. He fulfilled the requirement of the law. His death mended the rip in the universe that is sin. It closed the unbridgeable distance that separated God from humanity. But without Jesus taking up his life again, we would never have inherited life.
Jesus is the "firstfruits" of the resurrection, Paul emphasizes in v. 20-23. He rose from the dead by the power of God (v. 15; Acts 2:24; 1 Cor. 6:14, Romans 8:11). If Jesus had not risen from the dead, he could not have been God-or else God would have ceased to exist.
"It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him," Luke says in Acts 2:24. Death was powerless in the presence of God. "In him was life, and that life was the light of men," John asserts in John 1:4.
Only in God is there life. Only God could create a living soul in Adam and Eve. Only God can create living souls in us. Only in God is life inherent. Death could not hold God. The miracle of salvation, however, is that God gives us his life. Just as he breathed life into Adam's nostrils, so the Holy Spirit breathes life into each person who says "Yes" to Jesus. When we are infused with the life of Jesus, death can no longer hold us, either.
"He who believes in me will never die," John says in John 11:26. Our spirits enter eternity when God breathes his life into us. And because Jesus rose from the dead, we know that we also will experience redeemed and resurrected bodies. Our living souls will ultimately be housed in living bodies.
Paul is right; if Jesus had not risen from the dead, God's inherent life would have not been the most powerful force in the universe. Death would have had that distinction. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, we could not have had eternal life. Death would have claimed us, spiritually and physically, and God's life could not have rescued us.
Even though Jesus' death had satisfied the demands of the law, without his life we could not have had eternal life or a physical resurrection. God's life must be more powerful than death, or God cannot be God.
Resurrection Comes Through a Man
"For since death came through a man," Paul says (v. 21), "the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man."
Sin entered humanity through the sin of our first parent, Adam. Adam's soul died instantly when he disobeyed God at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. His body also began to die, but it would take many years for him to experience the completion of physical death.
Ever since Adam, humans have been born spiritually dead. (Eph. 2:1) When Adam lost the life from God, death claimed him and all his descendents. But God claimed us for himself, and as part of his claim, he restored life to us. In order to restore life, however, there had to be a death that could satisfy the demands of the law-and there also had to be life that was more powerful than death.
Such a death, however, had to happen in human flesh, and the defeat of death also had to happen in human flesh. Nothing could accomplish the defeat of the death sentence on humanity except the resurrection of human life.
In order for God to accomplish the salvation of his doomed creations, he had to become one of them. The immortal, omnipotent God took on human flesh and became a man.
The curse of sin had never rested on God. God had never been doomed to destruction. But God took our curse on himself in his own humanity, and he-our Creator-died a human death in order to satisfy the law.
Likewise, the curse of death could not have rested on God. He is life, love, perfection. Only God is more powerful than death, and only God could break the power of death. But the death sentence rested on humanity, and it had to be overcome in humanity just as sin had entered by humanity. Jesus took on humanity to overcome death by rising from the dead by the power of his inherent life-God clothed in human flesh.
Just as death came to us by the act of a man, so life had to come to us by the miracle of human flesh rising from the dead by the power of God. Jesus took on humanity to fulfill the demands of the law for human death, and he took on humanity in order to break the bonds of death that claimed mankind.
Jesus was the "firstfruits" of those that die in Christ. By God dwelling in human flesh, he restored life to humans. He broke the power of sin and death. His resurrection is the promise that we, too, will experience resurrection when we allow him to fill us with his divine life and power.
Because we do not have a dual nature-spiritual separate from physical-life or death includes both spiritual and physical. When Adam died, he died both spiritually and physically. Because spiritual death separated him from God, that part of his death happened immediately. But both physical and spiritual died.
When Jesus redeems us, we inherit both spiritual and physical life. Because our conversion reconnects us to God, our spirits come alive immediately. But just as Adam's body took longer to die, so we wait for our physical restoration. God created us to be both physical and spiritual. His redemption transformed all of us, not just part of us.
Our salvation saves the whole person!
Kingdom Returns to the Father
After Paul discusses the certainty of the resurrection, he turns to a brief discussion of the "end".
"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive," he says. (v.22) "But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." (v. 23-25)
From the Old Testament to Revelation there are prophecies and declarations about the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom that has no end. Daniel predicted that the kingdom that had no end would destroy all other kingdoms and fill the earth. (Dan 2:44) Peter talked about our receiving welcome into the kingdom that has no end. (1 Peter 1:21)
The risen Christ is the reigning king. God "has put everything under his feet." (v. 27; Psalm 8:6) He has conquered the power of sin; he has restored life to his creation; he has defeated Satan. In spite of the war being won, however, smaller battles still rage. Sin still exists although it no longer rules us. Satan still deceives people; pride, greed, and lust still dominate life on earth. Over these imperfections, Jesus reigns. Although Satan continues to defy His authority, He is the King.
As his people and his followers, we will reign with Jesus. We will judge the world and judge angels (1 Cor. 6:2,3) At the renewal of all things, we will "judge Israel". (Matt. 19:28)
Jesus will reign until "he has put all his enemies under his feet." Those enemies include everything that derives from evil, and the last enemy to meet destruction will be death itself. After all His enemies have been destroyed, Jesus will hand "over the kingdom to God the Father." (v. 24)
Paul continues by saying, "When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all."
When our Redeemer finally destroys the last vestiges of sin, he will no longer need to function as our high priest and mediator. When that day comes we will be given our resurrection bodies, and we will begin living both physically and spiritually in the literal presence of God. "We shall see face to face." (1 Cor. 13:12) The triune God will be "all in all"-supreme and sovereign in all things. We will experience the Trinity as one God-in person.
Resurrection Is Real
Paul closes this part of his discussion by asking if the resurrection were not true, why would he be enduring persecution and hardship? If the resurrection, the promise of life, were not true, we might as well "eat, drink, and be merry" and die tomorrow.
Because it is true, we have hope and a future. Our whole selves will be redeemed, and we will have immortal flesh for our immortal souls. We will live in the physical presence of God.
"Do not be misled," Paul warns. "Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God"
We are to take the resurrection power seriously. Not only can we look forward to resurrection bodies, but we can know that the Holy Spirit will also change us now! Even in our sinful flesh, we are dead to sin when Jesus makes us spiritually alive. We are now alive, and we are saved! The Holy Spirit gifts us with power and victory and the actual presence of Christ.
Because we are alive, we can know that our bodies will also live. We will be restored to the wholeness with which Adam and Eve were created.
We are called to take Jesus' promises seriously. We are called not only to respond with initial excitement to the news of the gospel, but we are called to deepen and grow in it. We are to act in faith and confidence in the indwelling Holy Spirit.
We are called to let the Holy Spirit bring resurrection power to our lives while we're still in our mortal flesh.
Jesus is faithful. His promises are completely reliable. What he has promised, he will do.
We belong to Christ, and as his followers, we have forgiveness, security, and victory.
We have Life.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised October 7, 2000.