Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2019
Lesson 45: 1 Corinthians 15:20-34 (ESV)
Where I grew up in South Buffalo, New York in the 1950s we didn’t have to go far for most things. There was the Red & White corner grocery store, Ken’s butcher shop, and Pat’s pharmacy. My elementary school was less than a half-mile walk away. Our church and family doctor were both about one mile up Seneca Street. All our relatives were within about two miles. When we took the big trip down-town for major shopping, it was 4½ miles.
My world was very small. So when a longer trip was planned it was a very big deal.
When I was older I spent two weeks of every summer at Camp Schoelkoph with my Boy Scout troop. It was only 25 miles away – but to a boy living a neighborhood life, it was beyond my normal horizons. It took a lot of planning to get all my things ready to go. My friend Gary and I would make packages of pemmican to eat on hikes. I spent the weeks before packing up the wooden foot-locker my grandfather made for me.
The really long family trip every summer was to Lake Honeoye about 100 miles away. That took even more planning. We had to take out the back seat of our family car for a place to put the tent and supplies. My brother and I rode sitting on top of the load where the back seat would have been. It was for us a long ride sitting on our supplies, counting cows, and playing auto bingo. But it was worth it. The anticipating and planning was exciting.
The point is this: while you’re planning to go some special place it occupies your thoughts, you put effort in to getting things ready to go, you think ahead about what you’ll need there, you put up with a lot of work and inconvenience to be sure everything’s ready, you anticipate how nice it will be when you get there.
The Christian has an incentive in what lies ahead beyond the greatest places we can visit on earth. Because Jesus Christ died to make us right with God, as believers we have a great hope: Our Savior’s resurrection proved that sin and its penalty were paid for. Death can’t hold his people any longer. Though our souls and bodies may be separated for a while when we die, we know they’ll be joined again in a new and glorified way at the Resurrection of God’s People.
That thought should make our every moment here on earth different. It’s an incentive that makes the preparations here not only bearable, but wonderful.
Christ’s resurrection is a pledge that his people will rise too.
20. 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.
This is the great fact this whole chapter’s been about: Christ is risen. Here Paul adds a familiar idea to help them understand: Jesus has become the firstfruits of all the believers who have died in faith. The early Christians were familiar with God’s law about firstfruits in Leviticus 23:10-11. The first harvested sheaf of ripe grain was to be brought to the priest. He would waive it before God as a sign of thanksgiving. It wasn’t just gratitude for this one sheaf of grain. It represented the whole rest of the crop. When the first sheaf was cut, the rest was sure to follow. This made the word firstfruit very meaningful to the Jews and the early Christians.
Paul said Jesus is the firstfruit of the resurrection for all who belong to God by grace. His resurrection meant that ours would follow as part of God’s great harvest. Since sin was paid for and therefore it’s penalty of death lost it’s power over us, our bodies will not remain in the graves forever. One day they will be raised up to be rejoined with our souls to live in God’s presence forever. And Spiritual Death is ended too. The sin that separated us from God is paid for. Christ’s perfect righteousness is fully credited to us. When we’re raised up, we will ever to be with the Lord. The barrier is forever gone. The resurrection of Jesus was the pledge of this promise of Grace.
Just as all represented by Adam became sinners and subject to death, all those represented by Christ overcome death and are made alive. But each in his own order: Jesus Christ is the firstfruit, the pledge of the rest to come, and those who belong to Christ by faith will be resurrected at his future coming.
When the end comes Christ will
deliver his kingdom to God the Father,
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.
The end won’t be the way the trite movies and books about the end times show it. This won’t be a Hollywood Movie event. It will be a very real and serious moment of judgment. Those who are Christ’s will be transformed into glory, those dead in Christ will be transformed with them. Those who remain alienated from God will receive what we all deserve if it wasn’t for God’s grace.
Jesus sovereignly reigns even now over all the events of human history. The wicked rage against God and his people proving that their judgment will be deserved. Though they might be deceived for now, justice will be done. Believers are comforted in Christ through whatever trials they have to endure.
When the final chapter of this era ends, all those earthly powers: dictators, persecutors, false-teachers, false-prophets, will be crushed for the last time under the feet of our Messiah. God’s people will be not only vindicated, they will enjoy unimaginable pleasure forever.
The eternal plan of the Triune God will be completed. He will show his Sovereign rule over all things as God the Son completes the Father’s mission. This doesn’t mean the Son is inferior to or subordinate to the Father. It means that he carried out his role as Son and Savior exactly as the Father wanted it done. Those who see a problem with the Trinity here, fail to grasp the awesome nature of God. He is one God only, each person is of the same substance with equal power and glory. All three desire the same things, but each completes a specific part of the plan. Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled his role in the Triune God’s work of redemption.
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death itself. In the end, there will be no more separation. Never again will a body in its glorified state become separated from it’s human soul. Never again will a human person in fellowship with God be separated from him in judgment. Death’s Destruction means that the cause of death has been dealt with and ended. There will be no more sin.
If this was not true, it would be hard
to understand some things
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?
Admittedly, this is a hard verse to understand without considering the larger context. Paul doesn’t spell out all the information here which the Corinthians would have understood.
No where in all of Scripture is there any explanation of what he meant by “baptized on behalf of the dead“. It’s unwise to speculate too much about things God doesn’t explain.
But we can rule out that someone could be baptized in place of someone else who had died. There’s no such teaching anywhere in the entire Bible. That would be incompatible with what Baptism means according to Scripture. It’s completely against everything else revealed, and contrary to every other reference to Baptism.
God wouldn’t mandate such a radical idea with an obscure comment like this. Paul is correcting an abuse in Corinth, not teaching something that should be done. He raises a logical question to show how foolish it is to deny resurrection. He’s not expanding the covenant sign to people everywhere else unqualified to receive it.
There are dozens of way this verse has been interpreted. Some invent new uses for the words or twist Greek grammar very creatively to make this verse say something totally opposite of what it seems to say. Figurative meanings don’t explain why Paul brings the issue up here.
When we take a sentence out of its context it can confuse us. But the point Paul is making in this chapter is very clear and consistent: Those denying the resurrection hope of believers are being inconsistent if they’re baptizing for the dead. He’s correcting that error. They can’t make their denial of the resurrection fit their practices.
In the last section, verses 12-19, Paul argued against those who said resurrection was impossible. If Jesus was raised, which they are forced to admit, then resurrection is possible. And if it’s possible, and Jesus said so, then all that Jesus promised is true. There is a certainty of resurrection for all believers. Now Paul goes to another group, those who for some reason baptized for the dead. If there was such a group in Corinth, they are the misguided ones he’s correcting here.
The point is that if they were admitting that the dead had some need for baptism then how could they consistently deny the resurrection of believers?
Even this extreme error imagines a need for the dead to be baptized with the covenant sign. There’s a natural belief in man’s soul that there’s life after this one, though the fallen soul tries to deny it.
If there’s no resurrection, then why would Paul put himself
in harm’s way for the Gospel?
30. Why are we 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? …”
Before they relegate Christianity to just another religion, they should consider Paul’s dedication. He, the other Apostles, and brave believers had more in mind than earthly comforts. They willingly and bravely faced persecution and grave personal dangers.
Paul later wrote about this kind of struggle in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”
Humanly speaking, what point would there be in suffering like that if all there is, is what we experience in this life? He stood in jeopardy every hour of his life — because of the promise of the gospel. He had a hope that obviously reached beyond mere earthly pleasures. If there’s no resurrection in Paul’s gospel, how could they explain his willingness to suffer so much? And if it wasn’t for the power of the resurrected Savior working in him, why would this former persecutor and prominent Rabbi have given up so much, and face such grave dangers if it wasn’t for the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and therefore ours as well?
32. … 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.
If there is no resurrection of the dead. then where is morality? Ethics has no foundation without the promise of resurrection, consequences that go beyond just what we enjoy and gain in this life. We may as well just eat and drink — for tomorrow we die.
Paul was quoting a verse quoted many times in later literature. Isaiah 22:13, “and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ ”
The prophet was rebuking Israel as Sennacherib and the Assyrians attacked them. They should have been making sacrifices to God, humbling themselves in repentance, living in ways that pleased God, and looking to him for comfort and deliverance. But instead, they were feasting, partying, eating and drinking, as if soon they would just die anyway. They had no concept of meeting God when Sennacherib invaded and they died.
If we see only this life’s pleasures, and forget that we’re preparing for an eternity with God, we may as well just party on indulging our senses with immoral pleasures if there’s no resurrection.
The believers in Corinth needed to be very careful about the company they were keeping. Those who teach dangerous beliefs also promote immoral life styles. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I wouldn’t go along with that, I’m a Christian.” But as Paul warns here, we are weak and imperfect and still able to be tempted. The world’s loose living is based on doubt of the coming day of resurrection. They see only what we have now as important. So they influence you to little by little accept their view of things. Before long you fill your mind with immoral entertainment, and your tongue with immoral language. You begin to care more about good food and drink, a good evening on earth, good investments, easy living, having the material things you like to have than any concern about how God sees what you’re doing. If there’s no resurrection — then only what’s on this side of your grave matters.
Paul warns that bad company ruins good morals. There’s an old proverb of the Rabbis: “There were two dry logs of wood, and one green log; but the dry logs burnt up the green log.” Green logs generally don’t burn on their own. But when laid by the dry wood and the dry wood catches fire, the heat consumes the green ones too.
Then comes the great challenge — the positive side: “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning.” The words used here were often applied to somebody sobering up after being intoxicated. Instead of being taken in by the lure of immediate pleasures, earthly security and comfort true believers should be focused on not going against God’s word and ways.
They need to be aware that some people have no knowledge of God. They’re ignorant of his word and ways. The Greek word for “have no knowledge of God” is where we get our word “agnostic” (ἀγνωσίαν). a person who denies that God is knowable. To deny resurrection is to deny that we answer to the God of Scripture who promises eternal life. These are dangerous people because they undermine the moral foundations of the community.
To their shame, the church had allowed these deniers of the resurrection to influence them. They evidently were working within their church family.
This is the practical day-by-day
importance of the
promise of resurrection.
Life for those who know Christ is so much more than the world knows. It’s not just the brief pleasures of immediate gratification. – those can be gone the next day. The resurrection promise means that we have an eternity to prepare for.
If earthly pleasures can dominate your thoughts, change your schedule, make you sacrifice things, how much more should your anticipation of the resurrection to life in heaven effect you! It should shape how you spend your time, your money, how you do your work, how you treat others, how you worship and encourage Christ’s church on earth. We’re accountable to the God who will raise us up, and bless us eternally by his grace. To live as if there’s no resurrection, to put this life’s fleeting values first, makes no sense. Since Christ is risen, we should live every minute of every day accordingly.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)