1 Corinthians 15
Dead Jesus is Alive
We’ve got witnesses: Jesus rose from the dead1I want to remind you of something, dear family. I’m talking about the Good News I told you about earlier. It’s a message you believed when you heard it. It’s a message you’re living now. 2It’s the message that’s going to save you, if you keep believing it. But it’s not going to do anything for you if you don’t hang onto your faith. 3I told you the most important part of the story, exactly as it was told to me.
“The Messiah died because of our sins, which is what the Bible said he would do.
5Peter saw him. So did the rest of the Twelve.” 6After that, more than 500 of his followers saw him at the same time. Most of those folks are still alive, though some have died. 7Then James saw him, and later the rest of the apostles saw him, too. 8He appeared to me last. That’s because I was born at the wrong time in history.
9If you line apostles up in order of their importance, put me at the back of the line. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle. After all, I persecuted the church. 10But I am an apostle, thanks to the kindness of God. He didn’t waste his kindness on me. No sir. I worked harder than any of the others. Yet the results aren’t because of my work, they’re because of God’s kindness. 11Whether it’s because of the other apostles or because of me—it doesn’t matter which— we preached and you believed what you heard. That’s what counts.
Stop saying the dead don’t rise12We’ve been preaching that the Messiah is alive, raised from the dead. So tell me this. Why are some of you saying there’s no such thing as resurrection from the dead?
13If there’s no such thing as resurrection from the dead, then it’s pretty doggone obvious that the Messiah couldn’t have been raised from the dead. 14If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then our preaching is a lie and your faith is a joke. 15If that’s true, that makes us liars about God. We told everyone that God raised the Messiah from the dead. But God could not have done that if there’s no such thing as resurrection from the dead.
16So I’m telling you, if there’s no such thing as resurrection of the dead, the Messiah hasn’t been raised from the dead, either. 17If Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead, your faith is good-for-nothing—and you’re still sinners, guilty as sin. 18It also means that dead believers of the Messiah are just that —dead and gone.
19If our faith in the Messiah is good for nothing more than our life here, pity us more than anyone has ever pitied the pitiful.
It’s a fact, Jesus rose from the dead20Listen up. The Messiah was raised from the dead. He was the first of a huge crowd of souls that will rise. 21People die because of one man. People will rise from the dead because of one man. 22Adam brought death; we all die because of him. Christ brought life; we will all live again because of him.
End-time schedule23There’s a schedule for raising the dead. The Messiah was resurrected first. His people will get resurrected next, when he comes back. 24After that, it’s all over—life as we used to know it. The Messiah will defeat all the rulers, officials, and powers hostile to God. Then he’ll present the Kingdom of God to the Father. 25Meanwhile, the Messiah will rule until he has finished overpowering all of his enemies.
26Death is the last enemy he’ll defeat. 27The Bible talks about this. “You (God) have made him boss over everything.” Let me make it clear that “everything” doesn’t include God. After all, it was God who put the Messiah in charge.
28Everyone eventually gives way to God’s Son, submitting to his authority. The Son, too, submits to the authority of God, the one who will make sure everyone submits to the Son. In time, everyone will embrace God as the ruler who means everything to them.
Getting baptized for the dead29If there’s no resurrection of the dead, what good is it for people to get baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead stay dead, why bother getting wet? 30And why on earth are we risking our lives every hour of the day?
31I risk death every day! That’s the truth. I swear it. It’s as true as the fact that I brag about you, because of the Messiah Jesus, our leader. 32In Ephesus, I was a mere man fighting wild animals. Why would I do that? What would I have to gain? If the dead stay dead,
“Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we kick the bucket.” 33Don’t kid yourself. “Hang out with bad company, hang up your good character.”
34Get serious. Stop sinning. Some of you don’t know a single thing about God. I’m telling you this because you need to be ashamed of yourself.
What a resurrected body looks like35Some folks are going to ask, “How on earth are people raised from the dead? And what kind of body will they carry around with them?”
36Don’t be absurd. It’s as simple as this. When you plant a seed, it has to die before it comes to life. 37The body of any seed you plant—whether it’s wheat or something else—isn’t the same body you get when it comes to life. 38God gives each kind of seed whatever body he wants to give it.
39Not all living creatures are the same. There are humans, animals, birds, and fish. 40There are also bodies made for heaven and bodies made for earth. Each kind of body is wonderful in its own unique ways. 41The sun has its own brand of splendor. So do the moon and the stars—in fact, each star has its own unique splendor.
42It’s the same way when it comes to the resurrection of the dead. The body is buried dead. But it is raised never to die again. 43It is buried in humility. It rises in majesty. It is buried limp. It rises strong. 44It is buried as a physical body. It rises as a spiritual body. Both exist. Just as there are physical bodies, there are spiritual bodies.
45The Bible says, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” Well, I’d like you to know that the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit. 46But notice the sequence. The Spiritual One didn’t come first. The physical one came first, and the Spiritual One came afterward. 47The first man comes from the earth and was made of dust. The Second Man comes from heaven.
48Everyone on earth has a physical body, just as the man of dust did. Everyone in heaven has a heavenly body, just as the Man of Heaven does. 49Right now we resemble the man of dust. One day we’ll resemble the Man of Heaven.
A secret about the resurrection50I’m telling you, dear family, this flesh and blood body of ours will not make it into the Kingdom of God. Nothing that decays is fit for immortality.
51Listen up. I’m going to tell you a secret. We’re not all going to die. But we’re all going to be changed. 52It’s going to happen in an instant, in the blink of an eye. The final trumpet will blow, the dead will rise as immortals, and we’ll never be the same again.
53This temporary body of ours needs a makeover. We’re mortal now, but we need to dress for immortality. 54When that happens—when this mortal body gets a permanent upgrade to immortality, the Bible prophecies will be fulfilled:
“Death got chewed up and spit out.
Hey Death, you sting like a butterfly.” 56Sin gives death its sting. The Jewish law gives sin it’s power.
57But thank God, we win. We get to celebrate the victory over sin and death. And it’s all because of our leader, Jesus the Messiah! 58So here’s what I want you to do, dear family. Hold on. Don’t let anyone shake you loose from your faith. Put all of your energy and passion into everything you do for the Lord. Nothing you do for the Lord is wasted.
Paul’s last line is a bit vague. It literally means “unless you believed in vain.” What exactly Paul meant is unclear. Many Bible experts seem to rally around the idea that Paul was talking about people who developed only a shallow, superficial faith. These folks didn’t nurture their faith and let it grow.
Some Bible experts say that in 15:3-5 Paul was quoting or paraphrasing material from a well-known Christian song or a statement of faith that Christians recited in worship services. Early Christians said they saw in the Old Testament many references to the story of Jesus as an innocent person who suffered for the sake of others. The best-known section is Isaiah 52:13-53:12. But there are many references Christians said they saw in the Psalms. Here are just a few parallels between the Gospel of Mark and Psalms: Mark 14:1/Psalms 10:7-8; Mark 14:18/Psalms 41:9; Mark 14:55/Psalms 37:32.
It’s unclear if Paul was saying the Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, was talking about the resurrection of Jesus in general, or the resurrection of Jesus on day three. If it’s about day three, Paul may have had in mind “He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before him” (Hosea 6:2 New American Standard Bible). If Paul was talking about the resurrection in general, he may have had in mind passages such as Psalms 16:9-10; 56:13; 116:8.
Paul used the Aramaic version of Peter’s name: Cephas. It means “rock.”
Actually, there were only 11 of the original disciples left. Judas had committed suicide after he helped the Jewish leaders arrest Jesus. Paul may have been referring to the tradition of the 12, which outlived Judas. The disciples replaced Judas with Matthias, a man “who has been with us from the beginning” (Acts 1:21).
Most Bible experts guess that the James that Paul refers to is the brother of Jesus, who also led the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19; 2:12; Acts 21:18). By “the rest of the apostles” Paul is referring to other followers of Jesus who had been with him throughout his ministry.
Paul was born about a decade after Jesus, in about AD 5. Bible experts estimate that Jesus started his ministry sometime between the winter of A.D. 27 in the summer of A.D. 29. That means Paul would have been in his early 20s. Paul said that Jesus appeared to him while Paul was traveling to Damascus in about A.D. 35, when Paul was about 30 years old.
For “kindness,” Paul uses the Greek word charis, often translated as “grace.”
Some Bible experts say Paul was thinking of Adam as the representative of Creation, and Jesus as the representative of the New Creation—which prophets had predicted. “I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun!” (Isaiah 43:19 New Living Translation).
Genesis 2:17; 3:19.
It’s unclear what Paul means when he says the Messiah will give the Kingdom of God to God the Father, since the Kingdom of God has always belonged to God. Perhaps Paul has in mind the Kingdom of God on earth, made up of people who have become followers of Jesus.
Bible experts offer some 30 to 40 theories about what is going on with this baptism for the dead, depending on which scholar is doing the counting. Theories generally fall into one of several categories. Two of the most popular categories: (1) Christians are getting baptized on behalf of family and friends who had never been baptized. (2) Dead bodies are getting baptized.
Many Bible experts say “wild animals” is Paul’s way of describing the violent opposition he faced in the city of Ephesus. After he spent three years there, some of his opponents orchestrated a riot that drove him out of town (Acts 19:29; 20:1).
Paul is referring to Isaiah 22:13.
Paul seems to be quoting an old saying popular in his day. A more literal translation of the quote: “Bad company corrupts good morals” (NASB).
Paul seems to be describing Jesus not as the last person, but as the ultimate person—the finale. Now, as a life-giving Spirit, Jesus was raised from the dead—and he is the one who will raise the dead.
Can we get an Amen?
In 15:3-5, Paul may have been pulling material from a statement of faith that Christians recited during worship services. Some churches today occasionally recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. What do you think about creeds like this? Are they helpful, or are they too confining, perhaps pressuring people to say what they don’t yet believe?
What do you think Paul might say are three of the top beliefs that distinguish a Christian from a person of another religion? What do you think are two or three of the top beliefs that distinguish a Christian from someone else?
When Paul talks about how important the resurrection is to Christianity, in 15:12-22, what do you think is his most compelling line?
In many Bible translations, it sounds as though Paul says that everyone will eventually be saved: “Adam brought death; we all die because of him. Christ brought life; we will all live again because of him” (15:22). Which of the following Bible translations of that last phrase would you prefer to believe?
- “In Christ all will be made alive” (New American Standard Bible).
- “Everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life” (New Living Translation).
- “Christ will bring life to all of us” (Contemporary English Version).
- “Everyone will be given life in Christ” (Common English Bible).
Paul gives the Christians in Corinth something that sounds like a schedule to the end times. How do you think we should understand what Paul says in 15:23-28; 50-55? Pick one of the following options, or add an option of your own.
- We should read it the way he wrote it, and trust that he literally meant what he said.
- Sometimes Paul is a poet, though he might not know it. We should let him drive on a poetic license.
- He’s a preacher, so we don’t know how much of this we can trust. He might be exaggerating a little. And the version we are reading might not precisely resemble the version he initially wrote. So we should hold lightly to this and concentrate on the harder stuff like loving our neighbor who lives on the other side of an eight-foot fence we built on purpose.
Paul, in passing, talks about people getting baptized “on behalf of the dead” (15:29). Or perhaps it was the corpse that was getting baptized. Bible experts have a lot of theories about what exactly was going on. If you were going to make a case to argue that it can be helpful to allow people to get baptized for the dead, or to allow the dead to be baptized, what would you say?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul seems to do a fair amount of quoting other writers. Which of the following quotes do you find most compelling?
- “If the dead stay dead, ‘Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we kick the bucket’” (15:32).
- “Hang out with bad company, hang up your good character” (15:33).
- “Death got chewed up and spit out. Hey Death, you’re a loser. Hey Death, you sting like a butterfly” (15:54-5).
Paul says that when we die our “mortal body gets a permanent upgrade to immortality” (15:54). In the preaching and teaching you may have heard over the years, what have you been told our heavenly body will be like?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul said that the Good News story about Jesus is the message that would save people. But he warned the Christians in Corinth, “It’s not going to do anything for you if you don’t hang onto your faith” (15:2). From what you have seen of life, what causes people to let go of their Christian faith?