The question about life after death is one of the oldest questions ever asked. For example, Job, in probably the oldest book of the Bible, asks “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14).
This is a question nearly everyone asks at some point in their lives. And apparently the Corinthians had been asking these types of questions, too, but some had come to the wrong conclusion. So Paul asks them in 1 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 of the dead?”
The Corinthian church had a lot of behavior problems but they also had doctrinal problems which is why Paul writes this chapter. They were denying the Resurrection of the dead.
Now, let’s be clear at the very beginning. To deny the Resurrection of Christ is to deny the very foundation of Christianity, so this is no side issue.
The foundation of Christianity isn’t exclusively the teachings of Jesus, or the life of Jesus, or even the death of Jesus. The foundation of Christianity is the Resurrection because without the Resurrection none of those other things matter.
So, the reason Paul wrote was to address their doctrinal errors.
In Paul’s day there were a lot of competing views about the afterlife.
In Ancient Egypt it was believed that when a body died parts of the soul would go to the kingdom of the dead. Egyptians believed that the only way to have an afterlife was to be first mummified and put in a sarcophagus.
The Greeks believed you had to cross over the river Styx before getting to the underworld where your soul was judged and then sent on to a place of green valleys, if you had been good enough. If you weren’t good enough your soul was sent to a place burning with lava.
Every culture that has ever existed has had a view of the afterlife whether it be European, Middle Eastern, Asian, or Native American. It’s in our DNA to want to know about what happens when we die. It’s a part of what it means to be human.
And since God has given us the desire, it makes sense that the Resurrection is one of the most important themes throughout scripture. The word Resurrection is used 43 times in the New Testament and, as a concept, it is used even more and all throughout the Old Testament.
The Resurrection is so important that being an eyewitness of Jesus after the Resurrection became one of the requirements to become an Apostle and it's also the primary reason Christians moved from worshiping on Saturday to Sunday.
The first sermon Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost culminated with his testimony that he had seen the risen Christ. Paul’s recorded sermons in Acts are also about the Resurrection.
Without the Resurrection there is no salvation. Romans 10:9 says if “you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So today we are all confessing and testifying that we believe in a risen Lord, despite the competition.
Now, all of this leads us back to the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the most compete explanation of the Resurrection in the Bible.
Chapter 15 can be divided up into 6 sections: The Evidence for the Resurrection, The Importance of the Resurrection, The Order of the Resurrection, The Relevance of the Resurrection, Our Resurrection Bodies, and The Mystery of Resurrection.
In the coming weeks we will go into each section in more detail but first it will be helpful to get a general overview.
The Evidence for the Resurrection (1-11)
There are three main sources of evidence for the Resurrection: the church (vs 1-2), the Old Testament (vs 3-4), and the eyewitnesses (5-11).
First of all is the evidence of the church in verses 1 and 2.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
What Paul is implying is that the very fact that you are present here today, standing firm in your belief in the gospel, in the good news about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is proof that the Resurrection really happened.
The Resurrection is the reason those that are saved are meeting in churches all around the world on Sundays. The church has received and held fast for centuries to the truth of the gospel. So that’s the first proof.
The second proof is Old Testament Scripture. Verse 3:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
The second proof of the Resurrection are the Scriptures, the prophesies of the Old Testament. Places like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 give us unshakable evidence to believe in the Resurrection and there are many, many more. About 400 more!
For example Psalm 16:10 says, “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”
More than 400 years before Jesus was born his death and Resurrection were prophesied. Since Jesus was only in the grave for 3 days, his body didn’t decay. That’s an amazing prophesy and it’s reason number two for believing in the Resurrection.
The third reason to believe is because of all the eyewitnesses. 1 Corinthians 15:5–7 say:
and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
We might try to make the argument that they missed Jesus so much when he died they imagined seeing him alive. But it’s just not possible for all of these hundreds of people to be delusional at the same time.
And what about Paul? Paul didn’t imagine anything, which is the point he’s making in 1 Corinthians 15:8–9…
and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Paul had no reason at all to make anything up about the Resurrection. In fact, it would have been in his best interest to go along with all of the conspiracy theories, but that he personally saw Jesus couldn’t be denied.
So, there’s undeniable evidence for the Resurrection from the existence of the church, the Old Testament Scriptures, and from personal eyewitnesses.
Yet, it seems some people still didn’t think the Resurrection was all that important.
The Importance of the Resurrection (12-19)
Now, can you imagine a pastor telling you the Resurrection doesn’t matter but he still wants you you to show up again next week so we can fellowship, sing songs, and hear a sermon about being good people?
That would be ridiculous because if there is no Resurrection, all of this, your faith, our meeting together, Christianity itself, is worthless.
1 Corinthians 15:12-14 says,
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
The Resurrection isn’t a side issue. It isn’t an optional belief for Christians. If you don’t believe in the Resurrection then all this preaching is a lie and you’re an idiot for believing in Jesus.
If there is no Resurrection then all of the atheists are right. There isn’t an afterlife. When you die, they bury you in the ground and that’s the end, and you’re a fool to deny the Resurrection but at the same time say you “believe in Jesus.” No you don’t, you believe in a fantasy.
And you know the worst part? 1 Corinthians 15:16–17 says, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
You are still in your sins because if there is no Resurrection, Jesus didn’t conquer death, death conquered him. Jesus may have died on the cross for your sins, but if he stayed dead then what did he really accomplish? Nothing at all, and there is no future for us other than to experience the eternal wrath of God.
But, as verse 20 says, Christ has been raised from the dead. It’s a fact because of all the proofs already given. And it’s important because without it our faith is worthless.
Next Paul tells us the order of Resurrection. What’s the sequence of events?
The Order of Resurrection (20-28)
First, there is the Resurrection of Christ, the first fruits. Then, at his second coming you and I are resurrected, and lastly there's, the end of all things, the eternal Kingdom of God.
We see the order in verses 23-24:
But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
The order of Resurrection is like a harvest. In Israel the harvest took a lot longer than it does today. Today, we have a lot of machinery so there isn’t much time that passes between the harvesting of the first fruits and the the rest of the harvest.
But in Paul’s day, it could take weeks, months before the harvest was complete.
In the Old Testament the Israelites were instructed to give the first fruits of the harvest as an offering, by faith, to the priest. But there was no guarantee they would have any more harvest and it could be weeks before they knew if they would even have more to harvest.
So, by faith, they had to trust that God would provide. They weren’t supposed to give what was left over after the harvest was finished. They gave what came first and then a portion of it was burned in a sacrifice to the Lord and the rest given to the Levites.
In a similar way, Jesus is the first fruits. He has been sacrificed for sin and his Resurrection is our guarantee of Resurrection that we also accept by faith.
The rest of the harvest is coming which will usher in the great harvest of the Kingdom of God, a time when death itself is abolished and everything is put in subjection to Jesus Christ.
So, that’s the Order of Resurrection which we will get into a lot more detail in the weeks to come.
The Relevance of the Resurrection (29-34)
We’ve looked at the proof, the importance, and the order of the Resurrection. Now we get to the relevance of the Resurrection.
In verse 29 we get to the confusing section where Paul talks about those “who are baptized for the dead.” There are more than 40 opinions about what that means so I don’t plan to give you a definitive answer but we’ll get into what some of the better options are in the weeks ahead.
In verse 32 we get to the main point about the Resurrection’s relevance:
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.
In other words, why should we try so hard? Why should we put our lives at risk every day if there is no resurrection? If there is no resurrection then it has no relevance for how we live and we might as well live for as much pleasure as we can. We might as well throw Christianity and the Bible out the window, live it up, and wait for the inevitable end.
And he’s right. If there is no resurrection then there is no motivation for living a righteous life. Christianity, itself, has no relevance or connection with anything. Everything is relative and the best anyone can do is selfishly pursue as much pleasure as they can before they die.
But this isn’t true. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.”
Don’t be deceived. There is a moral standard because the Resurrection is true. Christianity is relevant, so don’t be hanging around with people who live as if it isn’t. “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
There is a God. There is a Resurrection. And there will be consequences for sin that last beyond this life.
Those that deny the Resurrection are denying that they will be held accountable for how they live. But they will be held accountable. There is a Resurrection so live like it. There isn’t anything more relevant to how we live than the Resurrection.
Our Resurrection Bodies (35-49)
Next, in Paul’s explanation, it’s as if Paul hears someone in the crowd, who’s still not quite convinced, shout out “but it’s not possible!”
He’s talked about the proofs, the importance, the order, and the relevance, yet still people doubt that Resurrection is even possible. Verse 35 says, “But someone will say, how are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
In other words, what about science, Paul? Don’t you know it’s not possible to raise someone from the dead? But Paul’s got a pretty good answer to that, one that comes from nature itself.
1 Corinthians 15:36–37:
You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 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.
You’re a fool if you want to deny the Resurrection because of “scientific” reasons. Just look around you. Every time you plant a seed in the ground it has to die before it blossoms into something else, living again. There is proof of the Resurrection all around us.
What will this resurrected body look like exactly? We don’t know any more than the average person who takes a handful of random seeds, plants them in the ground knows exactly what what’s going to pop up. Unless you’re an expert, most of the seeds all look alike and we’re going to just have to wait and see.
But we do know four things and the first is found in verse 42: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;”
First, we know the body will be imperishable, incorruptible. That is, it won’t be able to die. It will never decay or grow old.
Second, we know it will be a glorified body; and third, we know it will be a powerful body as it says in verse 43: “it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power”.
And, fourth, we know it is a spiritual body. Verse 44: “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
It’s still a body, that is touchable, it’s physical, but it is also a spiritual body. What that means more precisely, we will get into later but for now understand that our resurrected bodies will be marvelous and wonderful, so much better than our bodies are now, in ways we can’t fully comprehend.
In fact, it’s a mystery.
The Mystery of Resurrection (50-58)
Paul has talked about the proofs, the importance, the order, the relevance, and what our Resurrection bodies will be like.
And if you’re like me, you’re getting excited about this new body. When are we going to get it? How much longer?
Well, it’s a mystery. 1 Corinthians 15:51 says “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.”
A mystery is a revealed secret. It’s something that is not fully understood. So keep that in mind if people start speculating.
What we do know is that not every believer will die but every believer will be changed. Everything about us has to be changed because as it says in verse 50 “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
In other words, in order to live eternally with Christ we can’t have the same bodies that are subject to death, sickness, and sin that we have now. We can’t have the same fleshly hearts that sin all of the time. We need to be changed and that process of change is a mystery.
When will it happen? When will this change be finalized? We don’t know specifically but we do know it will happen, as 1 Corinthians 15:52 says: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
When Jesus returns to Earth, at the sound of the last trumpet, the dead in Christ will be raised. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 4: “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
The amazing result is as verse 54 says, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
For believers, death isn’t a sad time. Death hasn’t won. Death can be a time to celebrate a great victory. When you plant a seed in the ground and it dies you don’t weep for your loss. No, you start to get excited about what’s coming next because when the seed dies that’s when life really begins.
I don’t mean to minimize the real loss that we feel when people die. Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died. But Christians should have a different view of death, even a joyful view, because of the Resurrection.
So we have hope. The Resurrection is a mystery we don’t fully understand but we have hope for the future, and even for today.
Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 15:58 saying:
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.
In other words, don’t fear death. Don’t worry about your future because if you’re a believer in Christ your future is going to be great.
There’s hope for the future but there’s also hope for today, so get busy laying up your treasures in heaven, knowing that your toil is not in vain.
Don’t waste your time toiling over what is temporary. Instead, let your life be always abounding in the work of the Lord as you await the Resurrection.