1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15:1

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

(a) Brethren. In the New Testament, the word brethren typically refers to Christian brothers and sisters (see entry for Heb. 2:11).

(b) The gospel. In the first part of this letter, Paul emphasized the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:8). “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). But in the second part of this letter, Paul turns his attention to the resurrection. See entry for 1 Cor. 15:3.

1 Corinthians 15:2

by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

(a) You are saved, if you hold fast. Salvation is something to experience here and now. If you want to experience the power of God in your life, you need to hold fast to the word that was preached. Grace comes by faith. Paul is not threatening your eternal security (which hinges on God’s faithfulness rather than yours; see entry for 1 Cor. 1:8-9).

(b) The word which I preached to you was the word of God (2 Cor. 2:17) or the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Jesus is the word of God, the word of life, and the word made flesh (John 1:1, 14, 1 John 1:1). Just as we reveal ourselves by what we say, God reveals himself in Jesus (Heb. 1:3).

(c) Believed in vain. The context is the resurrection. Some were saying that Jesus was dead or that his resurrection was merely metaphorical (1 Cor. 15:12). “Believe that,” said Paul, “And your faith is useless. You are believing in vain” (see 1 Cor. 15:14, 17). In contrast, the gospel that Paul preached revealed a risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:4, 15).

A dead Jesus saves no one, but a resurrected Jesus who has been exalted to the right hand of God and given a Name above all names, is a mighty Savior indeed. We overcome life’s trials by seeing Jesus who is above all and has been given a Name above all. His Name is greater than cancer and Covid and anything else that may harm us.

Further reading: “Believing in vain

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

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,

(a) He was raised on the third day. To those who were questioning the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:12), Paul offers an emphatic response. Jesus resurrection was foretold by the prophets and witnessed by hundreds (1 Cor. 15:6).

The resurrection is no minor issue. It is the very heart of the gospel, for if Jesus has not been raised, your faith is worthless and you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Paul did not preach a dead martyr, but a living King. Jesus is not in the tomb but on the throne!

(b) According to the Scriptures. Old Testament prophecies that foretold the death and resurrection of the Messiah include Psalm 16:10, 22:16, 18, 118:17-18 and Is. 53:7, 9.

1 Corinthians 15:5

and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

(a) Cephas or Simon Peter (John 1:42).

(b) The twelve. Technically, Jesus appeared to fewer than twelve disciples after he rose, for Judas had already left their company (John 20:19). However, “the Twelve” was the name of the original group of disciples.

1 Corinthians 15:6

After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

In the early years of the New Testament church, it was not uncommon to meet someone who had personally seen the Risen Lord. There were hundreds of eye witnesses, and many of them were from Galilee where Jesus did most of his ministry (Matt. 28:10). When Paul wrote this letter some 25 years after the resurrection, most of these eye witnesses were still alive.

1 Corinthians 15:7

then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;

(a) Then he appeared to James. This was not James the son of Zebedee, but James the half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:7). Once upon a time, James had been opposed to Jesus’ ministry (John 7:5). Just as Paul tried to take Christians by force, James had tried to take Christ by force (Mark 3:21). Then James saw the Risen Lord and everything changed. Like Paul, James became a new man, a leader within the church, and a writer of epistles.

(b) Then to all the apostles. Since Paul has already mentioned the twelve original apostles (1 Cor. 15:5), who are these other apostles who saw the risen Lord? Nobody knows. (Barnabas? Andronicus and Junia?) What we can say is that the risen Lord appeared to many people and some of them became apostles.

1 Corinthians 15:8

and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

One untimely born. Paul was not born too late to witness Jesus’ earthly ministry. When the Sanhedrin stoned Stephen, he was a “young man” (Acts 7:58), which means he was under the age of 40. He was old enough. Yet young Paul did not see the risen Lord when everyone else did and he didn’t witness the Lord’s ascension into heaven. Nevertheless, he had a personal encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus.

1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

(a) The grace of God refers to the goodwill, lovingkindness, and favor of God that is freely given to us so that we may partake in his divine life. See entry for Grace of God.

(b) By the grace of God I am what I am. Although Paul was an educated Pharisee, it was the grace of God that qualified and empowered him to be a gospel herald and a minister of the new covenant (1 Cor. 3:10). Similarly, the grace of God empowered the apostles (Acts 4:33), Stephen (Act 6:8), and every believer since (Rom. 12:6, 1 Pet. 4:10).

You are not qualified or disqualified on account of your pedigree or education; you are qualified by the Lord and empowered by his grace.

(c) I labored even more than all of them. The grace of God empowers us to do great deeds and makes us supernaturally fruitful.

Some have said that grace is a soft gospel for soft Christians. “Grace promotes passivity and laziness.” This was not Paul’s experience. No one understood grace better than Paul, and no one worked harder. Grace doesn’t make people lazy; it makes them supernaturally fruitful. In contrast with the law that provides no aid to those who trust it, grace makes us soar. The mystery of God’s grace is that it empowers us to do far more than we could have ever accomplished on our own.

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?

No resurrection. A literal resurrection of the dead was at the heart of Paul’s gospel: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Th. 4:14). When he was going through tough times, such that he despaired of life, his hope remained in “God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Resurrection isn’t merely metaphorical. Just as Jesus was raised, we will be raised (1 Cor. 15:19–20).

1 Corinthians 15:14

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

(a) If Christ has not been raised. The resurrection is what makes the good news good news.

(b) Your faith. Manmade religion says you have to faith your way into heaven, but the gospel declares, “See Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Religion says, “You need to believe,” without giving you a reason to believe, but saving faith follows facts. Because God’s word is true, you can trust him. Because Christ has been raised, your faith is worth more than gold.

(c) Your faith also is vain. Faith in another is only as good as the person in whom one trusts. If Jesus is dead and in the grave, there is no point trusting in him. But the Jesus who was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God is a Jesus you can count on.

1 Corinthians 15:19

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Pitied. If there is no resurrection and no life beyond this one, we who are suffering for the gospel are being persecuted and martyred for nothing.

1 Corinthians 15:21

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.

A man… a man. Just as it took only one man (Adam) to condemn humanity, it needs only one (Jesus) to save it (see Rom. 5:15).

1 Corinthians 15:22

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

(a) In Adam all die. Adam’s transgression put him and his unborn offspring on Death Row (Rom. 5:12, 14).

(b) So also in Christ all will be made alive. Those in Christ shall be raised to new life.

We are not born immortal (Rom. 2:6–8). Eternal life is a gift we receive when come to Christ (John 3:15, 5:24).

Some interpret the words “all will be made alive” as meaning all humanity will be raised and saved. However, Paul says in the next verse that those who are raised by Christ are those who belong to him. Like Jesus before him (John 8:47, 15:19), Paul distinguished those who belong to Christ from those who belong to the world (Rom. 8:9, 2 Cor. 10:7, Gal. 5:24).

1 Corinthians 15:25

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Under His feet. Here we see that Jesus is waiting for his enemies to be placed under his feet. Elsewhere we read that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet (Rom 16:20). So under whose feet is the enemy going? His. Ours. All of the above.

1 Corinthians 15:30

Why are we also in danger every hour?

(a) Why? Why would I take these risks except for the sake of the gospel?

(b) Danger every hour. In his travels Paul said he faced “dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren” (2 Cor. 11:26).

Few people were as persecuted for preaching the gospel. Paul fought wild beasts in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32); he received the “39 lashes” five times (2 Cor. 11:24); and he was beaten with rods, stoned and shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:25). Preaching the gospel cost Paul his freedom and ultimately it cost him his life.

1 Corinthians 15:31

I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

I die daily. I face death regularly (see previous verse).

Paul is not saying he died to sin daily. We die to sin once (see entry for Rom. 6:7).

1 Corinthians 15:44

it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

(a) Natural body. From first Adam we inherited a natural body that wears out and dies.

(b) Spiritual body. From Last Adam we will receive resurrection bodies that never die (1 Cor. 15:52).

1 Corinthians 15:45

So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

(a) The first man. Adam gave birth to a race of enslaved people, captive to sin and death.

(b) The last Adam. Jesus is contrasted with the first man, Adam. Adam was “a type of him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Just as first Adam’s offense had consequences that affected us all, last Adam’s obedience affects us all.

This is why we must be born of both water and the spirit (John 3:5). You have to be born before you can be born again. “The flesh profits nothing; the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63). Only the sons and daughters of Adam can become sons and daughters of God.

1 Corinthians 15:46

However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.

The natural body we inherited from Adam precedes the imperishable spiritual body we will receive when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:44, 51–52).

1 Corinthians 15:47

The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.

From heaven. On numerous occasions, Jesus told his disciples that he was not from earth but had come or been sent from heaven (see entry for John 6:38). Because of Adam, humanity was on death row. (Romans 6 calls it living under the condemnation of sin and death.) But Jesus was not from Adam’s fallen line. Jesus was born outside the prison. Only a free man can ransom a slave.

See entry for Virgin Birth.

1 Corinthians 15:50

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. In other words, you must be born again (John 3:6–7).

Someone once said, “You can be a good sinner or a bad sinner, but you still need to get saved.” That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6). We all need to be born of the Spirit. We all need to be born again (John 3:7).

1 Corinthians 15:51

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,

(a) A mystery is a secret or spiritual insight that Paul had learned from the Holy Spirit. See entry for 1 Cor. 4:1.

(b) Sleep. Die.

(c) We will all be changed. Those believers who are alive when Christ returns will be instantly transformed (see next verse).

1 Corinthians 15:57

but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gives us the victory. Victory is a gift to receive rather than something to strive for. Paul is encouraging us to go for it because we can’t lose. Because Christ has overcome the world, you are an overcomer (1 John 5:4). Indeed, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37).

Spiritual warfare for the Christian is less about shouting at the devil and more about believing that Jesus is Lord over whatever situation we face. Unbelief says we must engage the enemy and fight for the victory, but faith declares that Jesus has already won. Unbelief cowers before the name of the adversary, whether it’s disease, debt, or depression. But faith exalts the Name that is above every name.

1 Corinthians 15:58

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.

(a) My beloved brethren. See entry for Rom. 1:7.

(b) Be steadfast, immovable. Standing firm is not something we do to get the victory; it is something we can do because in Christ we have the victory (see previous verse).

(c) Your toil is not in vain. Your labor will receive an eternal reward. See entry for 1 Cor. 3:14.

This is Paul’s version of the don’t-store-up-treasure-where-moth-and-rust-corrupt speech. Every day we build. We either spend our lives in fleshly pursuits that bring no lasting pleasure, or we invest in people and reap eternal rewards. “Each one must be careful how he builds,” said Paul (1 Cor. 3:10). Life is a precious gift to be spent wisely.

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