Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai
In the conclusion of last week’s study in verse 19, Paul mentioned six things; six history-changing facts that would have followed if Jesus had not risen from the dead. They are: (1) Our preaching is vain; (2) our faith is empty; (3) the apostles are made to be liars; (4) our sin still remains unatoned for; (5) death has triumphed over our loved ones; and (6) life itself is made utterly miserable.
But thank God for the following verses beginning from verse 20!
Verses 20-28 The Last Enemy Destroyed
“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. 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[a] 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."
Twice, Paul mentioned "first fruits." What he refers to here is the ritual given to the Israelites in Leviticus 23:9-14, where on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed the Passover, the day after the Sabbath, there would be the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest. The Jews were commanded to bring a sheaf of grain, the first of the harvest, to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord on the first day of the week after Passover. Jesus celebrated First Fruits in the appropriate manner by rising from the dead on that day. He also gave the Father His Proper First Fruits offering; graves were opened and dead people rose and were seen after His resurrection in Jerusalem (Matt. 27:53). Paul's argument is that not only did Jesus rise from the dead on the exact day predicted by the ritual, but, furthermore, his resurrection is a sample and a guarantee of the entire "harvest" of resurrection, which would include ours as well. Jesus was the first human being ever to be resurrected from the dead.
What about Lazarus and a number of others who were raised from the dead? Yes, they did return from the dead, but they were not resurrected. There is a difference! Resurrection means more than merely coming back to life. They were resuscitated; brought back to the same life they left. But resurrection does not do that. Resurrection brings us to a quality and a dimension of life we have never lived before. It is not simply a return to existence as we know it now; it is a lifting to a higher, more free, more marvellous dimension of existence than we have ever known. Jesus was the first one, therefore, to be resurrected from the dead. It was the same Jesus, he came in the same body, but he came back to a different level of life.
Paul goes further; "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead." Death passed upon our race because of the fall of Adam, so all who are part of the new creation, the new race in Christ, shall also participate in the resurrection of the dead. As Paul says, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." Now he is talking about believers, those who have already fallen asleep in Christ. In Verse 18 he says, "Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ ..."; in Verse 20 he speaks of "those who have fallen asleep"; and in Verse 23, "those who belong to Christ." So when he says, "in Adam all die," he is not talking about the unbelieving world, although it is true that they all die in Adam, but he is talking particularly about believers. Believers die because, as far as their bodies are concerned, they are part of the race of Adam, and that is why we are not caught up into glory immediately. But, also, we are "in Christ," and those "in Christ shall all be made alive." This is his argument. By man came the breakout from Eden; by man came also the breakthrough back into Paradise, by means of resurrection. What he is really saying then is that resurrection is just as certain as death.
Beginning in Verse 24, the apostle moves on to that final scene, to the time when Christ has returned into time and reigned already for 1,000 years of millennial peace and righteousness on the earth. He will have completed his work, subdued his enemies, cast the devil and death and Hades into the lake of fire (as we read in the book of Revelation), and then delivered the kingdom back to the Father.
Now the apostle says, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." This can be seen to be true in both an individual and a universal sense. Universally, death is never going to disappear from this earth until we come to that moment, described in the book of Revelation, when a new heaven and a new earth come into existence. But there is coming a time when this body will die, and death then is destroyed for us. "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." Once we pass through the experience of death into resurrection, like our Lord himself, we shall never die again; that is the wonderful statement. Christ having once died, Paul says in Romans, never dies again, and we share his existence. He is the first fruits of the great harvest of which we are a part.
Verses 29-34 (MSG) - Effects of Denying the Resurrection
“29 Why do you think people offer themselves to be baptized for those already in the grave? If there’s no chance of resurrection for a corpse, if God’s power stops at the cemetery gates, why do we keep doing things that suggest he’s going to clean the place out someday, pulling everyone up on their feet alive? 30-33 And why do you think I keep risking my neck in this dangerous work? I look death in the face practically every day I live. Do you think I’d do this if I wasn’t convinced of your resurrection and mine as guaranteed by the resurrected Messiah Jesus? Do you think I was just trying to act heroic when I fought the wild beasts at Ephesus, hoping it wouldn’t be the end of me? Not on your life! It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live. If there’s no resurrection, “We eat, we drink, the next day we die,” and that’s all there is to it. But don’t fool yourselves. Don’t let yourselves be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk. “Bad company ruins good manners.” 34 Think straight. Awaken to the holiness of life. No more playing fast and loose with resurrection facts. Ignorance of God is a luxury you can’t afford in times like these. Aren’t you embarrassed that you’ve let this kind of thing go on as long as you have?”
The first part of verse 29 is an interesting read. “. . . what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead?” This is what some religions have erroneously adopted and people go and baptize on behalf of someone who was dead; claiming then that the dead person has fulfilled the requirements of salvation in the after world and can enjoy further spiritual benefits in the spiritual realm. Historically, just north of Corinth was a city named Eleusis. This was the location of a pagan religion where baptism in the sea was practiced to guarantee a good afterlife. The Corinthians were known to be heavily influenced by other customs. It is probable that the Corinthians were being influenced by the religious practices found at Eleusis where baptism for the dead was practiced. So, Paul used this example from the pagans in 1 Cor. 15:29, when he said, "...if the dead are not raised, then why are they baptized for the dead?" Paul did not say we. This is significant because the Christian church was not practicing baptism for the dead, but the pagans were. Paul's point was simple. The resurrection is a reality. It is going to happen when Jesus returns. Even the pagans believe in the resurrection, otherwise, why would they baptize for the dead? He then continued to rhetorically ask: “Why are we (the apostles) in danger every hour?
Verses 35-49 (MSG) - Parallels in nature help us to grasp the truths of the resurrection
(35-41) “Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different. (39-41) You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!
(42-44) This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!
(45-49) We follow this sequence in Scripture: The First Adam received life, the Last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. Physical life comes first, then spiritual—a firm base shaped from the earth, a final completion coming out of heaven. The First Man was made out of earth, and people since then are earthy; the Second Man was made out of heaven, and people now can be heavenly. In the same way that we’ve worked from our earthy origins, let’s embrace our heavenly ends.