15:1-2 Remember The Gospel
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
These 2 verses are a transition to the topic of the resurrection. There must have been some who denied the resurrection of Christ, and Paul needed to correct that idea.
Notice that he calls it the gospel. He is saying the resurrection is part of the gospel and must be believed.
It is the holding fast to the gospel, or continuing to believe that is the sign of the true believer.
-We know from Matthew 13 that some will appear to believe, but will fall away, and that some will never believe, but will continue to associate with the church.
-First, the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-9. The word came to many, but only a few persevered in the faith. Jesus explained it in verses 13-23.
-Next is the parable of the weeds in verses 24-30. Jesus explained that parable in verses 36 through 43.
-Matthew 7:21-23 tells us that not everyone who said they were followers were.
-1 John 2:19 also addresses this issue.
-But, those who believe and are saved will be preserved for eternal life. In John 10:27-30, Jesus concludes a long analogy of the sheep and the shepherd when he says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hands. I and the Father are one.”
-Paul said, in Romans 8:28-30, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
-Hebrews 10:12-14 says “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
-BF&M says “All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.“
Here, “believed in vain” means, if they denied the resurrection of Christ, their faith was useless.
15:3-4 Defining The Gospel
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
Paul gives a neat summary here of the Gospel in 3 points:
1. Christ died for our sins.
2. Christ was buried.
3. Christ was raised on the third day.
This was the gospel Paul preached, he delivered it to them of first importance. The gospel message has to be first, before any other message.
It was also the message of Christ and of the church. It was the message Paul received.
Paul also told us this was according to the scriptures, that is, it was the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures.
What does “for our sins” mean? It means he died to pay the penalty of our sins. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages or sin is death. Christ paid that price so that we who believe in him would not have to, but would be declared righteous by his death.
1 Peter 2:24 says He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Romans 8:3-4 says for God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might e fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
15:5-11 Further Proof
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Paul offered proof of the resurrection by citing witnesses:
500 believers, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote
James, Jesus’ half brother
All the apostles (In Acts 2:32, Peter preached that the apostles were all witnesses)
He uses the word “appeared” 4 times, or “was seen”, to emphasize it. This is a real historical fact for Paul, not just religious theory or philosophy. This is an early example of apologetics.
15:12-18 The Importance of Resurrection
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Paul now confronts those who do not believe in the resurrection of believers. He ties the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of Christ inexorably. There either is resurrection or there is not.
The doctrine of resurrection is an essential part of the gospel. If he is not raised, our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain. If there is no resurrection, there is no Christian faith. These people contemplated that death was the end, that the dead had perished.
Verse 19 has a special application today. If we only have Christ for this life, we are pitiful. It was true in Paul’s time, for many had lost their property, gone to prison, been beaten and suffered. If this was all they had, it was a sorry lot.
But, many today preach Christ as for this life, for health and wealth. If that is all you have, you still have nothing. That is why the message of the gospel is about eternal life, not just life on earth.
15:20-22 Death & Life by Representative
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Christ was raised from the dead and he was the “firstfruits” of those who have died. The firstfruit is the first portion of something. The Israelites took the first portion of harvested grain and gave it to the Lord. It was the firstfruits. This is required in Exodus 23:19 and Leviticus 23:19, among others. Christ was the first one raised in bodily resurrection, so he is the firstfruits, and is the promise that the rest of the harvest of believers will follow in resurrection. As the firstfruits were the first grain of many, Christ is the first of many to be resurrected.
[slide: Christ: The Firstfruits]
In addition to being the first of many, Christ became our representative in resurrection. Through Christ, and his resurrection, we obtain resurrection, we are made alive in him. So he was raised as our representative, which makes it a guarantee of our resurrection.
[slide: Comparing Christ to Adam]
To help explain this concept of representation, Paul used an analogy of Adam. In verses 21 and 22, Paul tells us Adam brought death into the world, not only for himself, but as our representative.
[slide: Brought to You by Adam]
Adam broke God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Read Genesis 2:15-17. God also imposed a penalty, some say made a covenant with Adam. He said “…when you eat of it you will surely die.”
Romans 5:12 said sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.
As death came to all who are in Adam as a result of Adam’s sin, resurrection came to all who are in Christ through our union with Christ.
[slide: Brought to you by Christ]
Verse 22 says that in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 says “God will bring…those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
15:23-28 The Order of Last Things
23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God  has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Paul gives us an order to the end of time. First, Christ is resurrected. We know he has been. This is in the past.
Then, Christ begins to reign. He destroys all opposition. Then, Christ returns, believers are resurrected, and the end comes. Christ will hand over the kingdom to the Father.
[slide: Christ reigns]
You may not think of Christ reigning at this point, but he is. He was resurrected to the right hand of the Father, a picture of reigning in heaven with God the Father. We see that in several places in the Bible.
Psalm 110:1 is a prophecy by David of Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father. Read it. Jesus applied this passage to himself in Matthew 22:41-46.
Matthew 28:18 speaks of his authority to reign. Daniel 7:13-14 is a prophecy of this.
Also, see Ephesians 1:19-20, Hebrews 1:3, and Philippians 2:9-11.
Paul tells us Christ will reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. This is necessary so he can hand the kingdom over to his father.
[slide: Christ destroys all opposition]
Paul also tells us that, during this reign, Christ will destroy all opposition to the kingdom of God. By the end, he will have destroyed all dominion, authority and power. (This has a postmillennial ring to it, doesn’t it?)
The last enemy to be destroyed is death, which will be destroyed by the resurrection. Isaiah 25:8 says the Lord will “swallow up death forever”. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The, John gives us a picture of this truth in chapter 20, verse14, when he says “then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”
[slide: Christ returns for us]
The next step is that Christ returns (this is verse 23) and believers are raised. Jesus told his disciples, in John 14:2, “In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
While the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven, an angel told them “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” This is in Acts 1:11.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 gives us an account of his return. Read it.
15:29-34 Live For the Resurrection
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why am I in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”  34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
The first 28 verses of this chapter dealt primarily with the resurrection of Christ and how that is the guarantee of the resurrection of believers. Now he is moving on to answer questions about the bodily resurrection of believers.
First, Paul deals with the practical importance of the resurrection of the believer. Paul here argues 2 reasons why it is absurd to deny the resurrection of believers. First, people are baptized for the dead and second, he risks his life for the gospel. I think this is a resumption of the argument of verses 12 through 19, and that verses 20-28 are a parenthesis. So, verse 19 says “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. Then comes the parenthesis, then comes verse 29, which says “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized for the dead?”
It is hard to know what Paul meant by his reference to the baptism for the dead. There are 30 some odd interpretations of this verse.
Some believe the Corinthians practiced the baptism for those who died in unbelief, such as the Mormons do now, and so Paul used it in his argument, even though he did not endorse it. The problem with that idea is that it is hard to believe Paul would have referred to such an unbiblical practice without condemning it.
Darby says it mean that you took your place with dead believers who had gone before by being baptized, so that it is similar to 1 Thessalonians 4:13 et seq and concern over those who died before Christ returned and what would happen to them.
Gill thinks it was that those baptized had to confess their belief in the resurrection of the dead so, in some sense, the baptism was for the dead.
Others say it refers to people who knew they were dying.
Curtis Vaughn says it refers to those who were lost when believing loved ones died and were converted and baptized in hope of a reunion with the loved one. For example, a believing mother on her deathbed exhorts her unbelieving son to be saved and join her in heaven. That plea brings him to salvation. He looks forward to meeting her in heaven. If there is no resurrection, his motivation would have been in vain.
In this case, “the dead” would be the “dead in Christ”, not those who died in unbelief. So, the thought is that the resurrection imparts hope, not only in the individuals eternal state, but in the reunion with others. (“Will the circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by”) The Mormon practice, in contrast, is a vicarious baptism that saves the unbeliever.
The second argument is, why would Paul put himself in danger all the time if the dead are not raised? If there is no eternal life, someone like Paul would have spent his life in vain. He would have taken needless risks. You might as well party your life away. That is why some people do so today: they think this life is all they have. This is also why people in our age think death is the worst thing that can happen to you. This drives much opposition to war. It is not that the other side is not dangerous, it is that the death of people in war is the ultimate tragedy. The same happens in the capital punishment debate.
Rejection of the resurrection is a rejection of God, for it rejects his power to raise us and give us eternal life, and rejects his plan for his people. Rejection of the resurrection leads to Nihilism. Nihilism is a philosophy which argues that the world, and especially human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilists generally believe all of the following: There is no reasonable proof of the existence of a higher ruler or creator, a "true morality" is unknown, and secular ethics are impossible; therefore, life has no truth, and no action is known to be preferable to any other.
I think Nihilism is the reasonable alternative to resurrection based Christianity. If this is all there is, and there is no God of absolute value, there is no essential truth or value. Postmodernism is a take off on this very idea, although it tries to avoid the fatalism that accompanies nihilism. In that way it mirrors the thinking of Nietzche. We just cannot get away from this guy.
So, you could call many Post Modern churches Nihilists. They deny the resurrection, and therefore God as we know him in the Bible, but try to apply the values of Christianity to their lives, inherently knowing that they need such values, but often failing because there is no motivation without belief.
But, Paul rejected that idea and exhorted the Corinthians to come to their senses and stop sinning as if there would never be a time to account for their actions. He also said to avoid association with such people, because it corrupts good character.
In contrast, 1 John 3:3 says “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
15:35-41 The Resurrection Body
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
So, the next question is, since there is a resurrection of the dead, how are we raised? What kind of body will we have? That is a good question. Some people feel that we will just be spirits, but that is not what the Bible says. Some, of course, think we will be angels, as in A Wonderful Life, but that is not it either. Angels are a separate type of being.
Paul’s first point is that the resurrection body will be different than the earthly body. He uses an analogy to a seed which is planted and becomes a plant, such as wheat or some other grain. The wheat seed does not look like the stalk of wheat. A kernel of corn does not look like the corn stalk. The acorn does not look like the oak tree. Planting is an illustration of the resurrection. The apparently dead seed is placed in the ground, but later a living plant springs forth. God can “quicken” or bring to life, seeds, and he can quicken human bodies.
God is also capable of creating different kinds of bodies. There is quite an array. There are birds, fish, animals and people. There is earth, the stars, the planets and all kinds of things in space. So, we should not be surprised that our earthly bodies will be changed into a different kind of body. It does not have to be exactly like this body. He can create a glorious body for us to inhabit for eternity.
15:42-49 Comparing the Bodies
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 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. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;  the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall  also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Here are the differences given by Paul:
Paul tells us that, if there is a natural body, there must be a spiritual body. He explains this by referring again to the contrast between Adam and Christ. As humans, children of Adam, we bear his likeness. We are flesh, in effect, made from dust. But, as believers, we also bear the image of Christ. He is a life giving spirit, so we have this eternal, spiritual life.
15:50-56 A Changed Man
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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 shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We cannot inherit the kingdom in the body we have. So, even those of us who do not die before the resurrection, must be changed. It will happen in a moment. First, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and the living will be changed. This is similar to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, that says the dead in Christ will rise first.
When we are all changed, and have the imperishable and immortal body, Christ will have the final victory over death. The quote is from Hosea 13:14. Verse 26 already told us the last enemy to be conquered is death.
The sting of death is sin. Sin brought death into the world. The power of sin is the law. The law defined sin for us and set the standard. It also brought out the sin nature, making us want to sin and break the law.
But, we will have victory over all this in the resurrection. There will be no more death and no more sin.
15:58 Live For the Resurrection
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Since we know we will be resurrected and inherit an imperishable and immortal body, we should be steadfast and immovable in our faith. We do not focus on the pleasures or the trials of earthly life, but rather focus on the work of the Lord. That work is not in vain. Eternity will last far longer and be of far greater consequence that this earthly life.
Certainly, God gives us strength and help to get through our earthly life, but our great hope and consolation is the resurrection.