1 Corinthians 15:1-4


by Ray C. Stedman

...Finally we come in this section to the ultimate truth about the Spirit, the resurrection of the body after death.

You recognize that one of the most relevant questions of our day is, "What happens after death?" A dozen books have come off the presses recently dealing with this theme. Many are speculating about it; many testimonies are being given about various experiences of those who, supposedly, have died and then come back to life again. The apostle is dealing with that very theme in this chapter. Here he brings us face to face with the great reality of life, one that is even more certain than taxes, and that is death.

You may evade paying your taxes, but you are not going to avoid growing old and ultimately dying. We may try to avoid it. I know a lot of people who are working hard at it; they are trying to cover up all the evidences of age and decay. But we have to face the fact that there is an invisible, irresistible, and inevitable process going on in every one of us right now. No matter how old, or how young, we may be, this process is slowly stealing the bloom from our cheeks, taking the spring from our steps, reducing the sharpness of our senses so we do not see quite as well or hear quite as accurately, decreasing the potency of our sexual powers, and in many ways depriving us of what we thought to be the joy of living. (I read somewhere recently that death is nature's way of saying, "It's time to slow down.")

Now, in one of the most wonderful passages in all of literature, the Apostle Paul is facing this ultimate enemy of mankind with the ultimate declaration of the good news that Jesus is victor in this area, just as in others. Paul first shows us, in the opening verses, how the resurrection of the body is part of the foundation of the Christian faith; it is an essential part of the good news of the gospel.

These are his words:

Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, {1 Cor 15:1-4 RSV}

That is as far as we are going to go today, because there the apostle sets forth in very forthright, simple language the heart, the key, the element, the foundation of faith, the good news about Jesus.

There are two simple and obvious divisions. He talks about what the gospel does, and what the gospel is. Paul takes it in that order, but we are going to change it. We are going to look first at what the gospel is, because a lot of people really do not understand that.

You ask somebody, "What is the gospel?" and he will say, "Jesus died and rose again." But that is not the gospel, and that is not what Paul says is the gospel. We have to learn precisely what the gospel is, so we are going to look at that first, and then come back to what the apostle says the gospel does in our lives.

There are three elements of the gospel, according to Paul. He says, "I delivered to you as of first importance [I think that is the proper translation there. It means that which is foundational, that which is fundamental to our understanding] what I also received."

Whom did he receive it from? Well, he tells us in other places that it was from the Lord himself. Jesus appeared to him and taught him what the gospel was. He did not learn it from the other apostles; amazingly, some of the commentaries still say that. But if you read the opening words of Paul in the letter to the Galatians, he says, "I did not learn it from men, nor was I taught it by man," {cf, Gal 1:12}. The Lord himself delivered it to him, and what was delivered to Paul, by the words and lips of Jesus, he passed on to these Corinthians. They received it, they believed it, they accepted the One of whom it spoke, and thus they have become Christians.

Paul now says, here is what that word is. He reminds them of what he had preached to them:

First: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures." That is the first element. Isn't it amazing that he does not mention a word about the whole life of Jesus? He passes over the marvelous birth in a cave in Bethlehem, through the silent years at Nazareth, all the journeying up ant down on the hillsides of Judea and Galilee, all the marvel of his teaching and his miracles, and comes down quickly and immediately to his death. There, Paul says, that is the gospel.

That is rather startling in itself, isn't it? But that is where the gospel begins. And even here he does not simply say, "Christ died." Ask people today what the gospel is, as I have suggested, and this is often what they will say, "Well, Jesus lived and died." No, that is not the gospel. Everyone believes that Jesus died. Go to any of the modern presentations of the life of Jesus, such as Jesus Christ Superstar, and some of those, and you will find they all end at the death of Jesus. Every humanistic philosophy today accepts the fact that Jesus died. But there is no good news in that. The good news is Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. That is the good news, that his death accomplished something for us. It changed us, it delivered us, it set us free. That death had great significance in the mind and heart and eyes of God, and that is the good news. As Peter puts it in his words, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree," {1 Pet 2:24 RSV}. Or, to use the words of Isaiah, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed," {Isa 53:5 KJV}.

That is the good news, that God did something for us in that marvelous event of the cross. As we contemplate the cross, and the dying of Jesus in our place, we see that the good news of it is that God takes it seriously, and he is prepared to treat us in an entirely different way than we deserve to be treated on the basis of the death of Jesus on our behalf. That is the good news. There on the cross, we are told, he dealt with our failures, he dealt with our rebellion, he dealt with our sinful, guilty lives. He did something about it so that besmirched and dark and stained past does not any longer need trouble us. It has been set aside by the death of Jesus, and with that fact we enter into hope and freedom.

Of course, without that fact, life is really hopeless. This philosophy that many people have that God is a judge weighing up the good and the evil of life -- and if the good outweighs the evil you get in and if it does not you have to go to hell -- is not only unbiblical but it is illogical, for how could a God of holiness and justice and purity ever accept any kind of evil at all? His demands are for perfection and never anything less. He himself is perfect, and he says to us over and over again, "Be ye perfect for I am perfect." What are we going to do with a guilty past in the light of that? The answer, of course, is the good news. In the cross of Jesus, God has already dealt with that sinful past. He offers to us freely the forgiveness of sins.

The second element of the gospel, according to Paul, is that Jesus not only "died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" -- predicted, anticipated and fulfilled in the cross -- but he was also "buried." I am always startled when I read that in this passage of Scripture. Why does Paul include the burial of Jesus? Is it not enough that Jesus died and rose again? Would that not be good news enough? Well, surely the reason for it is that when his disciples came and took the body of Jesus down from the cross, it marked their acceptance of the fact of his death.

Did you ever realize how hard it was for them to accept the fact that he died? They did not want to believe it when he himself told them that was what he was going to do. They refused; they shut their minds to it. When it actually happened they went away stunned and unbelieving, agonizing and unwilling to believe that all their hopes and dreams, all they had built up in those marvelous years with him, should come crashing down and become nothing but empty hopes, empty dreams, all in ashes at their feet. But somewhere along the line some realist among them faced up to it and said, "We have got to go get his body, and bury him." Joseph of Arimathea came forward and offered a tomb, and with loving hands they took his body down from the tree. They wrapped it in grave clothes, bound it tightly, took his head and wrapped it with a separate cloth. (By the way, that answers the claims of the so-called "Shroud of Turin" as to whether it was the legitimate garment that was about Jesus. According to the Scriptures, his grave clothes came in two pieces; one was wrapped around the head and the other around the body.) They embalmed him with spices, and then they placed him in a tomb where he lay for three days and three nights. There is no question that the disciples believed that he was dead. In their minds there was no doubt about it. They could never have entertained any idea that he had merely fainted on the cross, or entered into a coma, for they themselves had performed the burial service. That is why Paul adds that here. It marked the acceptance of the disciples that Jesus was truly dead.

But the third element is, "that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures." Once again he fulfilled the predictions. It was anticipated that he would die; it was equally anticipated that he would rise again from the dead. The Old Testament said so. On the third day, to the amazement of the disciples, he fulfilled all predictions. He was not merely resuscitated (that is, coming back to the life he had before), he was resurrected. That means he came back to a life he had never lived before, a real life, a glorified life, a different life, and yet in the amazing mystery of the resurrection, the same Jesus with the wounds in his body that they could touch and feel and see for themselves.

That is the story of the gospel -- three basic facts. These are not doctrines; these are not philosophies; these are not ideas that men have had about what God should be like. These are simple, hard-nosed facts that occurred in history that cannot be eliminated or evaded. There they are. These facts have changed the history of the world. Our faith does not rest upon mere philosophy but upon facts that have occurred and cannot be taken away from us.

That is the gospel as Paul gave it to the Corinthians. But there is implied in this another level of meaning which I want to briefly mention before we come to what the gospel does. All through the Scriptures you read that, not only did this happen to Jesus, but everywhere in the Word of God subsequently we learn that in some way it is expected to happen to us. That is part of the gospel too. There is a sense in which these facts about Jesus -- his death, his burial and his resurrection -- are a foreview of what is going to happen to us when we become Christians. They are a pattern, if you like, a picture of how God is going to work with us.

Something in us is going to have to die when we become Christians. Something in us can no longer go on living. It must end; it must die. As we read the Scriptures we see how many passages set this out for us. We are to "put off the old man" {Col 3:9} because it is "dead with Christ," {Col 2:20}. We learn that it is this selfish self, this god which is me, this insistence on being able to run my own life and make my own decisions and be the boss over me -- that is what has to go. Jesus himself said it. "If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me," {Matt 15:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23}.

So something has to die. It hurts when it happens; we do not like it. It disturbs our ego; it undermines some degree of our self-confidence. Yet it keeps happening all the time, doesn't it? Every Christian learns this. You are involved in a process that keeps occurring again and again where something in you is being put to death and you have to give it up. You do not like it, I do not like it; but that is part of Christianity -- something has to die. Ah, but when it dies then it has to be buried. What does that mean? Well, again it means we have to accept the fact that that thing that dies within us is to be allowed to lie dead. That is part of the gospel too. We must not try to revive it again. If that thing is the selfish self, the hunger for self-expression and self-fulfillment, of being glorified, of being the center of attention, then we have to agree to let it die. That is the point. We must not try to keep snatching it back in some subtle way and bring it back to life again. We must bury it.

But that is not easy to do, is it? We like to assert ourselves. We like to feel in charge and in control of everything in our life. We are uneasy to let somebody else make decisions for us, or run our affairs, and we keep trying to bring it back. But part of the gospel is we are to bury that which is dead. This is what Paul means when he says, "put off the old man which was crucified," {cf, Col 3:9, Rom 6:6}. Put it away and let it go and do not try to hang onto it and cling to our self-prerogatives, because (and the third element is), if we do, it leads on inevitably to a surprising recovery. Suddenly we discover that, in the humiliation and the hurt of death, something has happened. A resurrection occurs and the tragedy turns into a triumph. What we thought to be an end becomes a new beginning, and with it comes peace, love and joy. We discover there was meaning and purpose in our being put through that painful experience, whatever it was, that brought us to death. Now that is the gospel too. Paul says the whole reason for it is that we might come into newness of life and again and again experience this remarkable truth in our daily life.

Now he adds a condition here; we do not want to miss it. Notice how he puts it, "if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain." I do not want to dwell long on this, but I want to point out that it is possible to believe in vain. Your faith in Christ can be of such a superficial nature that you accept all the words of the gospel as a kind of an insurance policy against going to hell but you do not let it change anything in you. That is what Paul calls "believing in vain." And it happens all around us.

Just this week I heard of a very prominent leader of a church, an elder, a respected man who has been a faithful Christian for a long time, slipped away from what he had held his faith to be, and fell into moral evil in his life. This has raised the question of whether he has believed in vain or not. There can be a mechanical conformity to Christianity that never sees any need for discipline, for Bible study, for prayer or for fellowship. It merely goes for what it can get out of it. That is believing in vain.

Jesus said that will not hold up in the tests of life. When the crisis comes it collapses and fails. He said of certain ones like that, "Many will say to me 'did we not do many mighty works in your name?'" But he will say, "I never knew you; depart from me," {cf, Matt 7:22-23}.

The test of true faith, of course, is that it cannot quit. It can fail at times, temporarily, but it really cannot quit.

Some years ago a young man called me up and said, "I'm tired of being a Christian. I'm fed up with it. I've tried my best and nothing seems to work so I'm going to quit. I just wanted to let you know." I said, "I think it's a good idea. Why don't you do that? Why don't you give it up?" He said, "What do you mean?" "Well," I replied, "you said it. You said you were going to quit, and I think it's a good idea. Why don't you stop trying to be a Christian and go ahead and live the way you like? Pay no attention to the Bible, or the church, or the Word of God, or anything, and just enjoy yourself. Why don't you?" He said "You know I can't do that." I said, "Yes, I do, and I think it is about time you knew it too!" No, the test of true faith is that you cannot quit.

There are two things, then, the gospel does for you, Paul says, two simple divisions:

First, it makes you stand. Notice he says, "the gospel, which you received, by which you stand." That means you have a foundation; you have a place to handle life; you have a security to which you can resort at any time of pressure and problem and you can stand steady, no matter what kind of force comes against you. When you believe that God has forgiven your sins for Christ's sake, when you believe that God loves you and has accepted you as his child, when you believe that he is working in you by the power of his resurrected life to enable you to love and to live as you ought and to give you power to say "No" when you need to say "No," you have a place to stand that can handle anything that comes. That is what Paul said these Corinthians had. They were loved by God, therefore they had a place of emotional security. That is the first thing the gospel does.

In a dangerous and slippery world like this, it is a tremendous thing to have a place where you can find love and acceptance and understanding and support in all the pressures. Well, that is what the gospel does. When things are frightening and foreboding all around, the gospel gives you a place of reassurance. I do not know how you feel when you pick up the newspaper and read that China has now invaded Vietnam, that Russia is standing by, ready to retaliate. These two great powers are about to leap at one another's throats. The Middle East is all aflame and in turmoil; wars are breaking out in the African states; the South American countries are restless and filled with violence and the threat of revolution. What does it do to you, living in a world like that? Who knows, warfare may break out very shortly and nuclear bombs will scream across our country? Well, in the face of an uncertain future the gospel gives us a sense of certainty. It reminds us, as we read in those wonderful words from Colossians, that there is One who is above all principalities and rulers and authorities and powers; he is in charge of all human events. When you fail and slide away and slip, the gospel is the place where you find recovery and an ability to come back again, sick of soul and hungry of heart, and find relief and forgiveness and healing for your hurting heart. That is the gospel -- the fact that God loves you despite all your failure and all your weakness. He is always ready to pick you up again and wash the hurt away, to start you out anew and teach you to walk in his strength and by his grace. That is a place to stand.

Paul goes on to say that the gospel is doing a second thing -- "by which you are being saved." Now he puts it in the present tense; that is why I translated it that way. It is not by which you "were" saved. That is past tense; or by which you "will be" saved, that is future. It is by which you are now "being" saved. The present tense indicates that he is thinking here about our present, earthly experience of life.

There are three tenses of salvation simply because there are three parts of our human being, our human nature. There is the spirit, which is the essential "you." That is who we really are. We are all spirits here. We are living in these various, multi-colored, multi-shaped bodies. Some are nice looking, some are a little bit loose and flabby, but we live in these bodies. Who we are is the spirit, but we cannot see that. You have never seen me; I have never seen you. We are spirits. Now, when you came to Christ that spirit was regenerated; it was made alive; it was indwelt by the Holy Spirit; it was linked to Jesus himself so that you and he are one Spirit. That is salvation past; that is the past tense, by which you "were" saved, as certain texts say.

Then there is the one in the future: you will be saved. Paul will be talking about these bodies; this is the theme of this great resurrection chapter. This body too has a part in God's plan. God is not going to throw it away. I do not care if you grind it up and burn it up and scatter it to the winds, God can gather it together. We are going to see how, and why, he does it in this very chapter. God has a purpose for your body. He is going to redeem it, and restore it, and it will be useful to you all throughout eternity. That is salvation to come.

But now Paul is talking about the soul, about your life, about how you are living from day to day. He says that is "being" saved according to how much you are resting on God at work in you, and allowing yourself to be the instrument of his grace. In these terms, what he is talking about is buying you back from wasting your life. In these terms, he is telling us that as we walk with him what we do becomes eternally profitable, not only profitable for this present time, but eternally so, so that you can use your money for eternal profit, you can use your time for eternal profit, you can lay up treasures in heaven and not upon earth. By the way you use your moments and your days, whether you employ them in the strength of God or from the energy of the flesh, you can determine what is going to be good and bad at the judgment seat of Christ, when "every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad," {cf, 2 Cor 5:10}.

Now that is what the gospel is for.

The gospel is to give us stability, to give us steadiness, to give us an immovable foundation, to give us a place of recovery, to give us a place of healing and of wholeness, and finally to redeem our present existence so that it has eternal meaning as we live day by day.

What a tremendous theme that is!

What a marvelous thing that God has prepared for us, in this solid place to stand!

Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture. He was buried. He rose again from the dead according to the Scripture, that we too might learn to die to our sins, to bury them, and to rise again to the freshness and newness of life that we experience right now by faith in Jesus Christ.


Heavenly Father, thank you for the marvel, the wonder of the gospel. Help us to understand that this is to be the center of our life, the most basic thing about us is our faith in this good news. Nothing can be more foundational than that. Grant to us Lord, to take it seriously, to know that this is the beginning of a new life as we stand again and again at the place where the gospel brings us. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:5-11



by Ray C. Stedman

I am sure it is not wholly coincidental that the approaching the Easter season finds us in the great resurrection chapter of the Scripture, First Corinthians 15. Looking at the preaching schedule, we should be at the very climax of this chapter on Easter Sunday.

Everyone here who is a Christian knows that the fundamental question upon which Christianity ultimately rests is, "Did Jesus Christ actually, literally, and physically, rise from the dead?" Everything hangs on that question. Well, that is the theme of this chapter, and this section of First Corinthians is one of the most significant passages in the Word of God that states that question most profoundly. As you read it, you see that there is a whole chorus of voices from the 1st century that say loudly and clearly, "Yes, he did rise from the dead. We saw him; we talked with him; we handled him." (John says that in his letter {cf, 1 Jn 1:1}.) "We ate and drank with him, {cf, Acts 10:41}. It was unmistakably Jesus. We recognized him by the marks of crucifixion still in his body, in his hands and in his feet. Our encounters with him were so frequent, so full and so satisfying that we have never been the same since. When he rose from the dead it completely changed our lives." Christianity has always rested, therefore, on that powerful evidence of eye witnesses who saw him alive from the dead.

The other night I saw on television the film on Big Foot, the strange, ape-like creature that supposedly lives in the forests of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. This film was examining the question, "Is there such a creature?" and the answer it gave was, "Yes, there is, and here are the people who have seen him." Then there came a series of presentations from various individuals and groups of individuals who had actually seen and bore witness of some of these creatures.

As I watched that film, I realized that this is the same kind of evidence that Christianity rests on. If we believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the basis of the accounts of eye witnesses who saw him and talked about him and told us what it was like, it would be very difficult to escape the logic that we must also believe in the existence of Big Foot. These people who saw and encountered these animals were very much the same kind of people -- artless, simple people, not trying to put something over, with no axe to grind, but bearing witness to an experience and an encounter they had had. Now I am not trying to equate the importance of believing in Big Foot with the importance of the resurrection of Christ. In fact, there is a very remarkable and important difference between the level of evidence for believing in Big Foot and believing in the resurrection. At the end of this message I want to tell you what that difference is, if you have not caught it yourself before then. But I do want to stress the point, and it is enough for us at this moment to recognize that the resurrection of Jesus is supported by the most powerful line of evidence that we human beings know anything about. It is direct, unquestionable eyewitness evidence, the kind that is employed in every courtroom in America.

In Chapter 15, the apostle reviews briefly this line of evidence. We have already looked at his account of the gospel and how he says the resurrection is an integral part of it: We believe "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures [the prediction of the Scriptures], that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures." The combination of the prediction of the Old Testament and the experience reported in the New is what forms the strongest and most powerful line of argument for the resurrection. This is what the apostle says:

... and that he appeared to Cephas, [another name for the Apostle Peter] then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. {1 Cor 15:5-8 RSV}

According to the Gospel record the actual first appearance of our Lord was not to Peter but to Mary Magdalene. As the Gospel accounts tell us, she was first at the tomb and she mistook him for the gardener on that Easter Sunday morning. It was only when he spoke to her that she realized that this was the Lord, and she held him by the feet and worshiped him. Then he sent her away to find the disciples. But in the chauvinistic mentality of that 1st century, a woman's testimony did not count. Paul, therefore, is conceding a point here, perhaps to the age in which he lived, by listing the Apostle Peter as the one who first bore witness to the resurrection of Christ.

We do not know when and where exactly our Lord appeared to Peter. I am sure Peter was the apostle who was hurting the most at this particular time. He had denied his Lord in that black night before the crucifixion. Three times he had professed that he did not even know him, and he supported it with curses and oaths. It was only when he realized what he had done that he went out into the night and wept bitterly. You can imagine how Peter must have been feeling all through this terrible time after the crucifixion of Jesus when he was suffering from the awful pangs of his guilt over this denial.

I think it is for that reason that Jesus sought him out first. That is like him, isn't it? He found him in his brokenness, in his heartbreak, in his hatred of himself, in his awful sense of guilt, and he forgave him. Later on, in Galilee, John tells us, Jesus restored him to his public office again.

I have always wished I could have been hiding nearby, watching, when our Lord saw Peter. What a moving scene that must have been when Jesus found him and forgave him. I know how Peter must have felt, because the Lord has done this with me on numerous occasions when I did not feel I had any right (and did not have any right) to be forgiven at all, and still he forgave me. The Gospels confirm this appearance of Jesus, without describing the event, in several references. Paul lists this time as the very first, then, of the appearances of our Lord to his apostles.

Then the second was to all the apostles, to the twelve, Paul says. Here the apostle undoubtedly is grouping together several appearances that our Lord made to the twelve apostles. Two of these appearances were on the Emmaus road that first afternoon after his resurrection when he appeared as a stranger and then later identified himself to them as they were sitting at bread together. That same evening he appeared suddenly in the midst of ten of the apostles. (Judas, of course, was gone, and Thomas was absent.) He revealed himself to them there, and showed that he was truly the risen Lord. He sat and ate with them, actually, on that occasion. Then, one week later, Thomas was present and Jesus appeared again. This time he invited Thomas to come and put his finger in the wounds in his hands, to feel his side, and establish clearly to his own satisfaction that he was indeed the risen Lord.

There are other appearances to the disciples that are gathered up in a phrase or two in the Scriptures which suggest that Jesus repeatedly appeared to them during a whole forty-day period and that he taught them many things during that time. We are not given the details, but Paul gathers this all up in these words, "he appeared ... then to the twelve."

Paul's third reference is to an event that we have no account of directly in the Scriptures, although we do have some brief reference to it. He says:

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. {1 Cor 15:6 RSV}

Every generation, the theory is propounded that Jesus really did not rise from the dead physically, that the disciples were so caught up in the wonder of his personality, that they so wanted him back they actually hallucinated and imagined they saw him. But this event, of course, can hardly fit that category, for here there were over five hundred individuals. Now it is hard enough to get one person to hallucinate, but to get five hundred people from various backgrounds and attitudes, etc., to do so all at once is simply incredible.

I think this occurred up on a mountainside in Galilee, for even before his crucifixion the Lord had said that he would meet his disciples in Galilee after the resurrection. The first message he sent by the women at the tomb was, "go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me," {cf, Matt 28:10}. Now you can imagine that word of that spread rapidly throughout the whole believing community and everybody who could get away headed for Galilee. Who would have wanted to miss that most exciting of all Christian meetings? So it is no wonder there were five hundred or more waiting for him on the mountainside, and to them he appeared.

We have a brief reference to this in the closing words of Matthew's Gospel where we are told that our Lord appeared in Galilee and there he gave them the words of the Great Commission: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you," {Matt 28:18-20 RSV}. With those words he sent them, and all the generations since, out to the farthest reaches of the earth. Now Paul says to these Corinthians, "most of these people are still alive." When he wrote this letter it was about 25 years after the crucifixion, and most were still alive. Some had fallen asleep, as he said, but if the Corinthians wanted to check it out, there were still many hundreds of people who were there and had seen Jesus and could bear testimony to it.

Paul's fourth reference is to another appearance that is not reported in the Gospels:

Then he appeared to James. {1 Cor 15:7a RSV}

The James mentioned here is undoubtedly the half-brother of Jesus, the oldest remaining son of the family that grew up in Nazareth. John tells us in his Gospel that his brothers did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. And you can understand why. It would have been very hard to believe that someone you made mud pies with, someone you ran through the fields and went skinny-dipping with and all these other things that kids do was the Son of God, the Creator of all the universe.

So his brothers did not believe in him until the resurrection. It was that phenomenal event, that magnificent recovery, that finally convinced James that Jesus was the Son of God. We do not know when he appeared to him. Again, it would have been fascinating to have been there, and heard what he said, and how he revealed himself to his brother. But it is this James who wrote the Epistle of James in our New Testament. If you read through that letter you will see how reverently he refers to the Lord Jesus. He calls him twice the "Lord Jesus Christ," and once the "Lord of Glory," so that his brother was now solidly and firmly convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Then the fifth in Paul's list of Jesus' appearances is:

Then [he appeared] to all the apostles. {1 Cor 15:7b RSV}

This is the occasion recorded in the first chapter of Acts when our Lord led his disciples, his believing band, out to the Mount of Olives. There, looking out over the city of Jerusalem, he began to teach them and speak to them. While he was speaking, it says, they noticed his body rising from the ground. To their amazement, he ascended into the heavens until a cloud received him, and he disappeared out of sight. They stood there gazing into the sky, and two strange men, whom they afterwards realized were angels, said to them, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven," {Acts 1:11 KJV}. With that our Lord disappeared permanently from earth. Only a few ever saw him after that, but he changed his relationship with his disciples, and this ended the post resurrection appearances, except, as Paul goes on to say:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. {1 Cor 15:8 RSV}

This was clearly that remarkable scene on the Damascus road when young Saul of Tarsus, burning in his hatred against the Christian cult, was trying to eliminate it. Suddenly a light brighter than the sun shone around him. He was blinded by it and was thrown to the ground. He heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" {Acts 9:4 RSV}. He said, "Who are you, Lord?" {Acts 9:5a RSV}, and the voice identified itself, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting;" {Acts 9:5b RSV}. Now Paul never forgot, not only that event, but the words of Jesus, that he was the one who was persecuting the church, persecuting Jesus himself.

That event changed Paul's life. He never could get out of his mind that reminder of his burning hatred of Christians. That explains this phrase he uses about himself, "one untimely born." He means, by that, that he did not come to spiritual birth in the usual, proper way. The word he employs really means "miscarriage." He saw himself as a miscarriage, or, as some have translated it, an "abortion." Had Paul written his spiritual biography, the title would have not been Born Again, it would have been The Miscarriage, The Abortion, or something like that. This is what he thought of himself, largely because of the way he came to birth.

He is thinking of the twelve apostles as being born in a very normal way. When they heard the word of the Lord, they began to believe it. Gradually it developed in their minds and hearts until they came to the place where they believed it totally. In this way their spiritual birth followed a normal pregnancy that could be observed developing. But Paul's experience was not like that. It was abnormal; it was sudden; it was very precipitous and unexpected.

That may account for the fact that Paul had a difficult time in his early Christian life. When somebody is prematurely born he does not just leap out and handle life like a normal baby. He is cared for specially; he is nurtured in private; he is protected from exposure to danger and germs and it is a long time before he begins to function normally. And this was the case with Paul.

He was born again on the Damascus road, but it was such a sudden, precipitous thing it took a long time for him to adjust his thinking and get it in line with this fantastic event that had occurred. That is why he spent three years in Damascus and Arabia and another seven years in his home town of Tarsus before he got it all together and felt he was ready to begin his great ministry of teaching and preaching all around the world. The Spirit of God led Barnabus to go down to Tarsus and find him ten years later, then Paul began his great worldwide ministry.

In Verses 9-10, we have his evaluation of that ministry. He says:

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 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 which is with me. {1 Cor 15:9-10 RSV}

It is astonishing to me to hear people sometimes accuse the Apostle Paul of being conceited. But anybody who draws that conclusion has never really listened to what Paul has to say about himself. Here he is giving us what he thought were his natural qualifications for his work as an apostle, and he says they are zero, absolutely zip -- and less than that! "I am the least of the apostles," he says, "because the twelve, the ones our Lord called, believed when they heard, but I persecuted the church. Not only did I not believe, I arrogantly and defiantly opposed God," he says. He saw himself as having forfeited every possible right to be an apostle. But his spiritual qualifications overcame, because, he said, "nevertheless I am what I am."

And he knew what he was. He was by this time a well-known apostle, in some ways the leader of the apostolic band, to whom the other apostles looked oftentimes for support and even guidance. He was the most remarkable missionary that has ever appeared on the earth, and he had already spent years in preaching the Word of God in the most difficult places throughout the earth. Now, he says, how could somebody who had no qualifications achieve something like that? His answer is three times stated, "The grace of God which is with me." It is not him, he says, it is the grace of God that does it.

Surely he is referring here to what he regarded without doubt as the greatest truth that is in the gospel. It is the fact that the risen, ascended Lord has found a way by which he can come and live in a human heart, in an individual life, in any scene, in any age, in any generation, and reproduce his character and his life through the ordinary, natural things that a human being does. There is the grace of God. It sets aside all the folly, all the failure, all the weakness, and nevertheless uses us, in simple but effective ways, wherever we are. That is Paul's explanation of his ministry.

I hope that encourages many hearts because many of us feel that we have lost every right to be used of God. We have fouled up our lives, and messed up everything, so how can God use us?

Well, Paul is the great encouragement, isn't he? He who had been the persecutor of the church, and the most ardent enemy of the faith was now the greatest apostle of all, and God was using him everywhere around the earth. Wherever this great apostle went he found whole cities blanketed with despair, people living in anger and hostility with one another, bound with superstition, filled with fears, engaged in the most degrading practices, and destroying themselves with sexual looseness on every side. Here he would begin in simple ways, with the normal contacts he had, to tell them the truth about Jesus. As they would believe, one by one, a believing community would spring up, and their lives would be so different, so glowing, so loving, that word would spread throughout the city, and other people would come and hear. Gradually a whole community would be stirred and changed. City after city began to be changed like that until, within the course of a few decades in the 1st century, the whole Roman world was drastically altered by the power of a risen Lord.

No wonder Paul gloried in the resurrection of Jesus!

And this is what we ought to glory in. We are not turned loose as Christians in this day and age to mobilize all our best human resources, and do what we can for God. We are filled with a risen Christ who is ready to release through us, in terms of our experience, old or young alike, his quiet power to transform humanity from within. That is what brings about fantastic changes in society and social structures as the gospel does its work.

Paul now sums this all up in Verse 11. He says:

Whether then it was I or they, [that is, I or the other apostles] so we preach and so you believed. {1 Cor 15:11 RSV}

It did not make any difference which apostle preached the gospel, it was always the same gospel. There is no difference between Paul's gospel and Peter's gospel. Peter preached to the Jews and Paul went to the Gentiles, but the gospel was the same; the good news was absolutely the same.

Paul, then, puts his finger on the difference between believing the eye witnesses concerning the resurrection of Jesus and believing eye witnesses about any other human event, including the existence of Big Foot or anything else. Do you know what the difference is? Well, when you believe the eye witnesses concerning Big Foot you just believe there is such an animal. He does exist; people have seen him; but that does not give you any access at all to him. You have not seen him; you cannot lay hold of the power and the strength and the cunning of these creatures by your belief. But when you believe in Jesus, something happens. He makes himself known to you; you can receive him. That is the great difference.

This is what has made the change in these Corinthian believers. As Paul says, he preached the gospel but they received it. And when you receive Jesus, changes begin to occur. John tells us, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God," {John 1:12 KJV}. That fundamental change occurs when you receive Jesus.

It has been fifty years now since, as a boy of eleven, I knelt at a Methodist altar in a rough camp meeting in North Dakota and received Jesus as Lord. I still remember clearly how I felt at that moment, and the changes that occurred in my heart immediately following that event. They began to fade after a while, and without adequate nurture I drifted back into a relationship in which many would have thought nothing had happened. But I knew something had, and I could never really be the same again. In my early 20's, when I really returned and began to walk with the Lord, I found that the risen Lord was still present and still making changes in me. He still had power to alter my affections, my desires, my wants, and to supply me with strength and grace to say and do what I ought to do, and to stop me from doing things that I should not do.

That has grown through the years since, and I can bear testimony that Jesus Christ is real. He is not some distant God in some far-off place in space watching us poor, struggling mortals down here. He is real. He is alive. He has confirmed the witness to his resurrection by imparting to my heart and to thousands like me -- and hundreds here -- eternal life. That becomes the ultimate testimony of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. The existence of the church through all these centuries could never have been brought about had he not risen from the dead.

We have, therefore, a risen Lord. I leave you with that truth stirring your heart this morning, as it stirs mine, to realize again that this is the power of the church -- not our feeble efforts for him, but his mighty efforts through us in the simple way we live our lives today.


Thank you, Lord, for reminding us afresh of this mighty truth. Grant to us that, in this 20th century hour, we my join with our brothers and sisters from the 1st century and bear a powerful witness for our risen Lord by the change in the way we think and the way we act and the way we live and the way we love. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:12-10

WHAT IF ...?

by Ray C. Stedman

Have you ever had the "What if's" about your Christian faith? What do you do when doubt attacks, and you feel that perhaps it is Christianity that is wrong, that maybe this is all a delusion, a psychological trick you have been playing on yourself? What do you do when you feel that the record of Scripture is merely a collection of myths and legends, as we are frequently told, and that there is no life after death, there is no God, no judgment, etc.?

We all feel that way at times because those are attacks upon our faith, and we live in a day when faith is being attacked. I have just returned from Poland, and in that Communist world Christians have to learn to live under the unrelenting pressure of assaults upon their faith. They are constantly asked to believe, to accept, the secular, world view. They are ridiculed when they say they believe in life after death. Karl Marx, of course, is well known for his statement that "religion is the opiate of the masses," that it holds them in a kind of a "pipe dream," removing them from the realities of existence and making them willing to endure great indignities and injustices now, with the transient hope that some day they will find a compensation.

Even here, in the West, this is very common also; we are under attack as well. I am sure there are days when you feel, as I sometimes do, that Christianity might just be a delusion; we feel that we are just kidding ourselves, perhaps, that this Christian faith is nothing but a dream, or at best a kind of unfounded hope based on wishful thinking.

Now, when we feel that way, the temptation is always to think, "Well then, I'd better get what I can now." The fundamental assumption of almost all advertising today is, "You only have one life, so live it now. You are only going to get one opportunity to enjoy yourself, so go to it." Somebody once said in my presence that we are living in a day which is like unto the day of the sinking of the Titanic. Even secular observers can see that we are headed for destruction, but the philosophy seems to be, "Well, if you are going to be a passenger aboard the Titanic you might as well go first class."

Some of these feelings were widespread in Corinth when the Apostle Paul wrote this letter. The Corinthians were concerned about getting the most out of life now. They were not denying the resurrection of Jesus; there was too much evidence for that. As we saw in our last study, there were over 500 eye witnesses, "most of whom are still alive," as Paul had said, whom they could ask if they wanted evidence about the resurrection. But what they were denying was that that meant that we, the body of Christians, were going to be resurrected too. This represented a surrender to the thinking of the Greek philosophers, who held that the spirit is saved but the body is buried, gone and forgotten. These philosophers taught that the body is essentially evil, that it is a kind of prison we have to live in now, and when the day comes that we can get out of it we will be free; the body will have served its purpose, and that will be the end of it.

You hear a lot of that yet today. Most of the new cults that are springing up -- especially those that reflect an Eastern, Oriental thinking -- are based upon that philosophy. The natural result of that kind of thinking is that if you are ever going to enjoy the delights of the body, now is the time to do it. So there had risen here in Corinth, as there had throughout the whole Greek world, the philosophy expressed in the well-know phrase, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you must die." Paul examines all this very briefly in this section before us.

In Verses 12-13 he introduces it:

Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection from the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; {1 Cor 15:12-13 RSV}

Paul's logic is clear. He is saying that these two facts are inextricably bound together: If human bodies cannot survive death, then Christ's body did not survive death, because, as he had demonstrated all along, his was a human body, he was just as human as we are, so you cannot argue, "Well, he rose, but we can't." If Christ is not raised there is no hope for our resurrection, but if Christ was raised, then, certainly, there is the possibility that we can be raised as well. That is the heart of Paul's argument.

The practical conclusion, of course, is that enjoyment of bodily pleasures is not, therefore, limited to this life. The corollary is that if, for some reason, you cannot indulge yourself in every bodily pleasure that life offers, do not feel that you have been cheated; there is still the greatest opportunity yet to come, for the enjoyment of the body lies ahead. Therefore, no one needs to feel that there has been some tragic loss if perhaps you have been deprived of bodily enjoyment right now.

I do not have to argue or convince anybody that our human bodies give us great enjoyment. We all know the delights of eating. (I can see that many of you have been indulging it to an extreme!) There is nothing like sitting down to a good, well-cooked meal, with a marvelous supply of food, and a great dessert following. (You are starting to drool already!) Then there is the delight of drinking. It is hard to pass by the taste of a good cup of coffee in the morning, or a Coke, or whatever on a hot day. These are bodily delights that God delights to give us. There is the delight of seeing the glorious beauty of springtime flowers by the bodily function of being able to see. And there is the delight of hearing great music, of conversation, the delights of feeling, including not only the tactile sense of touching things, but the joys of sex -- all these are part of the delights of the body, and God has intended them for us.

Now when you contemplate death, the question arises, "Do we lose all these forever when we die? Is there to be no more of these sensual delights?" And if the body is not raised, the argument is clear: It would be better to "eat, drink, and be merry" now, because this is the only chance we will ever have to lay hold of the delights of the flesh. But the Christian answer is, "No, we do not lose these forever. We shall enjoy them in a fuller way than ever before in the body raised from the dead. God has a purpose for the body, as well as for the spirit and the soul. These bodies shall be transformed and enhanced and enriched, and all that they are able to do will be experienced to a greater degree than ever in the life to come."

"Oh," you say, "that may be true for some of these pleasures, but how about sex? The Lord said that there is no marriage in heaven and no giving in marriage." I really think a lot of people are tremendously frightened by that thought. There is a lot of pressure on them to try to experience the delights of sex now, while they still have a body capable of this kind of relationship. But, when we talk and think that way, we have failed to see the reason why God gives us physical pleasures now. It is not because there is something we must enjoy now and never again, it is because these things experienced now are but a taste of the possibilities that lie beyond in the whole realm of life. Take even the joy of sex in marriage. It is given to us now to teach us the exquisite ecstasy of intimate relationship with another person. Though it physically will not be expressed in heaven -- that seems to be the implication of the Scripture -- it is nevertheless a picture of a far greater delight and joy we will get from just relating to people and to God himself. To sit down and talk with someone in heaven will be a bliss beyond any imagining. We will experience a delightful sense of union with that person in a way that the nearest thing on earth that can express it is a sexual orgasm. To worship God in a resurrection body is to find your whole being suffused with a glow of glory that orgasm can only faintly picture right now, and certainly can never surpass. That is what life is telling us.

C. S. Lewis once preached a message called, The Weight of Glory, which was one of the greatest words he ever spoke. In it he examined some of these possibilities. He said:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden, of my neighbor's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

Then he says:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Those are biblical concepts. Beyond and behind the familiar doctrines that we are so well aware of -- until they have become almost commonplace -- these are the great truths these teachings are seeking to convey. Therefore, we do not need to fear if circumstances in some way do not permit the satisfaction of all present bodily desires. Nothing is permanently lost; a greater glory awaits us. That is the great truth of the resurrection of the body of a believer, which Scripture seeks to convey to us. Sometimes I can hardly wait for some of these things to come to pass. People often ask me, "Do you find it disturbing to be growing old?" and I have to answer with all honesty, "No, I don't. I find it very exciting. I don't want to go back." All the hope that I have for fulfillment lies far more in the future than it does in the present, and certainly than it does in the past. What lies ahead is so entrancing, so remarkable, I can hardly wait for it to come.

Now, in Verses 14-19, the apostle considers the question, "What if ...?" What would the world be like if Jesus had not been raised? What if the women who went out to the tomb on that resurrection morning had found that nothing had happened, that the stone was still in front of the tomb, the guards still pacing up and down? What if nothing had changed, if there was no relief from their memory of the dead eyes and the cold body of Jesus when they had taken him down from the cross and laid him in the tomb? What would the world be like today if, as Matthew Arnold once put it,

Now he is dead,
Henceforth he lies
in some lone Syrian town,
And on his grave
with shining eyes,
The Syrian stars look down.

What would life be like? Well, this is Paul's answer:

... if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. {1 Cor 15:14-19 RSV}

There are six things in that account, six history-changing facts Paul says would have followed if Jesus had not risen from the dead. Let us look at them:

First, without the resurrection, he says, all preaching would have been a waste of time. All meetings like this, all the messages you have ever heard or read, all the Christian books you have read, all the tapes and the radio and television broadcasts of the gospel you have listened to would have been a total waste of time had Jesus not risen from the dead.

"Well," someone says, "there is still a lot left to Christianity when you take away the resurrection. There are all those wonderful teachings of Jesus, crystallized in the Sermon on the Mount. We would still have those. And there is the death of Jesus, the crucifixion. He would still have died for our sins. We would still have that even though we didn't have the resurrection." And, of course, this is true. We would have these things. But the point the apostle is making is that, without the resurrection, not one of those things would do us the least bit of good, because there would be no power we could lay hold of, and obey. The teachings of Jesus would only condemn us more. They would only reveal how far, much farther away, we are from the mind and heart of God than we ever thought. The death of Jesus would but hold out to us an empty promise that could never be fulfilled, and which we could never lay hold of, so we would be even more despairing. Without the resurrection all preaching would be in vain.

And, without the resurrection, all Christian faith, Paul says, would be useless. What would be the point of coming to church every Sunday morning, or going to a Bible study, or reading the Scriptures even, or trying to believe that God is there to help you? All that would be worthless, useless. It would be only a kind of religious game. Life would be reduced to grim, stark realities, with no hope now or later.

Let me share with you a quotation from a man who had no faith in the resurrection. His name is Bertrand Russell, one of the eloquent spokesmen for unbelief in our day. This is what he says has to be the natural outcome of a life from which faith in the resurrection of Christ is removed. He says:

The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach and where none can tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death.

Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day.

What pessimism! What despair! What darkness! That is what we have left when the resurrection of Jesus is taken away.

Then if the resurrection is untrue, the apostles, Paul says, are the world's greatest liars: "We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised." If there is no resurrection the apostles of Christ deserve to be treated as a Hitler or a Stalin, as arch deceivers rather than as honored men of integrity and truth. They are hypocrites, and worse than that they are deceivers who have led us into gross darkness and gross error. Now, after twenty centuries of the preaching of these things, they have undoubtedly won the title of the world's greatest liars. That is what Paul says. You cannot avoid that, if there is no resurrection, because the apostles staked their reputation on the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Then a fourth point, and even worse: If Christ is not raised, then all our sins of the past are still with us; we are still in our sins. This means that even granting that there is a God, then we must stand at last before him and give an account of all we have done. And there is no way of escaping the justice with which God would deal with sin. There is no hiding place, no hope for mercy, no loving Christ to say, "I've paid the penalty on your behalf; I've taken your place; I've loved you and given myself for you." When we stand before God we will get everything that we deserve for every evil action or thought that we have had.

The fifth thing, Paul says, is, "those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." All those loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord, we thought, whom we hoped to meet again, we will never see again. Our children, our parents, our friends, those who have been taken suddenly, those to whom we bid a weeping farewell with the hope that one day we would meet them again in glory, we will never see again. A terrible silence has fallen; they are gone forever, Paul says.

Finally, the sixth fact: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied." Even the present is changed. We have to give up our beautiful dream and go back to coldness, selfishness, drabness, grimness, and darkness. And it is all made worse by the fact that we once thought we had escaped; we once thought we had a hold of something so beautiful, so marvelous, that it gave us great joy and peace and glory and blessing. But if there is no resurrection all this crumbles and is taken away from us; our darkness is all the darker for that. "We are of all men most to be pitied."

That is quite a list, isn't it? Let me go through it again:

  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;
  6. Life itself is made utterly miserable.

Would you like to live like that?

Well, millions do today. Every one who does not know the reality of a risen Lord has to live every day of his life on that basis. That is why the world seeks so desperately to try to find some anesthetic that will dull the pain of an empty, aching heart. That is why people keep trying to get caught up in a continual round of noise and action that will not let them think about life because they cannot stand life without these things.

Well, thank God for Verse 20:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, {1 Cor 15:20a RSV}

What a transformation that verse makes!

That means that the most fundamental fact of our life, of our history, of the world, is the resurrection of Jesus. That being true, it is the darkness and the grimness and the death which are unnecessary.

Those who live that way are living in a delusion, for the great, striking reality of all history and life is, "Jesus has risen from the dead." I hope that, from this, we will see and understand more clearly than ever before that this is the fundamental factor of faith.

When you confront the glorious fact that Jesus rose from the dead it answers all the doubts. It means that we too can rise with him. All the unfulfilled desires of our life and our body can be satisfied in a glorious new body, fitted to make life more real than we ever dreamed it could be. What a hope this is!

1 Corinthians 15:35-49


by Ray C. Stedman


The 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein, the great man whose theories of the makeup of the universe revolutionized science, was celebrated last month. The concepts he envisioned have changed the whole modern world, opening new vistas of thought that no one ever explored before him. Now, in a far greater way, this is what the resurrection of Jesus has done, as the Apostle Paul is exploring it in this 15th chapter of First Corinthians. This one Man's breakthrough, shattering the death barrier and transforming existence for all who follow him, has changed the history of the world many, many times.

In this chapter, the apostle has defined the resurrection as an integral part of the "good news," it is something we rest our faith upon. He supported this with the testimony of eye witnesses, giving a list of those who saw Jesus alive after his death; and then he described what life would be like without the resurrection.

Beginning with Verse 20, we now come to a section where the apostle's thoughts sweep across the centuries to declare the ultimate effects in history of the resurrection of Jesus. There are three remarkable things about the resurrection, he says:

The first one is to guarantee the physical resurrection of the bodies of all who believe in Jesus; our resurrection is tied in with his.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. {1 Cor 15:20-23 RSV}

The key to that passage is the twice repeated word, "first fruits." Paul is referring here to the ritual that was given to Israel in the 23rd chapter of the book of Leviticus, where on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which followed the Passover, on the morrow 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.

Now if you have been carefully following the chronology of Scripture, you know that was the exact morning of our Lord's resurrection. There, in the feasts of Israel, you have a prediction that the resurrection of Jesus would be the first fruits of the harvest. 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.

It is important for us to understand that Jesus was the first human being ever to be resurrected from the dead. Well, someone says, what about Lazarus, and some of the Old Testament stories of people being raised from the dead? Yes, there were people who returned from the dead, but they were not resurrected. It is very important to understand this, because resurrection means more than merely coming back to life. We are familiar today with books that tell the stories of people who have "died" and had certain experiences, and then "come back to life" to tell us about them. Sometimes the term "resurrection" has been used in those stories, but that is not resurrection. The proper term would be "resuscitation" if it is true that they have "come back," because they come 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 marvelous 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. So Paul says that Jesus' resurrection is a sample of ours.

He then goes on to argue that it is absolutely certain that this will happen. This is the way he puts it: "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.

It is a rather sobering thing to realize that we are all dying this morning. We begin to die the moment we are born, and the process keeps going on relentlessly. Though we can cover up the outward appearances for a while, the inward decay cannot be arrested; we are all headed for death. There was an epitaph written on a tombstone once that said:

Remember, friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, soon you will be,
Prepare for death, and follow me.

Some wag had written underneath it:

To follow you I'm not content,
Until I know which way you went.

Content or not, that is the way we are going to go. Paul is arguing very strongly here, "... as in Adam all die." That is certain. You do not have to do anything; you do not have to work at it, although some of you do. Let time take its course and it will happen, because it is not up to you to die.

Now, with equal certainty, here is the good news. It is not up to you to be resurrected, but it will happen. Just as surely as death is at work in us in Adam, so life is at work in us in Christ, if we are "in Christ." Therefore, it is just as certain as death that we shall be resurrected again from the dead and brought into a quality and level of life that we have never known before. Now that is a wonderfully encouraging thought. The apostle puts it in the strongest terms possible. Even the dead are resurrected. There is a resurrection of both the just and the unjust, we are taught in other Scriptures, but the "resurrection to life" {cf, John 5:28-29} involves only those who are "in Christ." The apostle makes that very clear.

When will it happen? Paul answers that great question in Verse 23:

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. {1 Cor 15:23 RSV}

There is the answer: "at his coming." This agrees with other passages in Scripture where the apostle says there will be some who will never die. I just said that death is at work in all of us, and it is, but nevertheless, for at least one generation there will be some who will never die. Paul describes this in First Thessalonians 4:16-17:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. {1 Th 4:16-17 KJV}

So there are some who will never die, even though death is at work in them. For nineteen hundred years, every generation has hoped that it would be the one that would be alive when Christ returned. That hope blazes high in many hearts now because of the things that are taking place in the world today. We see the nations gathering in what looks like may well be the final arrangement before the Lord returns. No one can say for certain. It may all fold back, and flow back again into other relationships. So, for nineteen hundred years, all those who expected to escape death by the return of Christ have been disappointed. Ultimately they had to lay down their burdens, and in that strange, mysterious experience that we call death, pass into glory through the gates of death.

Well, what about them? When are they resurrected? The answer again is, "at his coming." Now because of that, many have felt that people who die before the coming of the Lord either lie asleep in the grave until he comes, or they drift around in a disembodied state. (Some have even suggested that perhaps God gives them a kind of a temporary body, a sort of a "heavenly bathrobe" to wait for until their good clothes get back from the cleaners.) But I think this is to misread what the Scriptures are saying. It is my understanding that there is a difference between time, in which we now live, and eternity, which is a different kind of existence. Eternity has no past or no future as time does. If we understand that difference, then we can see from many Scriptures that when a believer lays down his life here and steps out of time into eternity, the first event to await him is the coming of the Lord for his own, and, therefore, the resurrection of his own body. So there is no waiting for those who go to be with the Lord. Now I do not have time to go into that more fully.

(If you want a little more explanation of that, I would suggest the chapter, "Time and Eternity," in the book I have written, Authentic Christianity, which goes into that more at length. I believe that it is the explanation of many baffling and difficult passages in the Scriptures. It has given great hope and anticipation to my own life to see, in those terms, that when we step out of time into eternity, the first event which we face is that wonderful moment when "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout.")

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. This is what Paul now describes:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. {1 Cor 15:24-26 RSV}

Notice something there: The reign of Christ does not begin after he subdues his enemies, although we often think of it that way. There is a great hymn by Isaac Watts that goes:

Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does his successive journeys run,
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
'Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

That is all couched in the future tense, Jesus shall reign, but the Biblical truth is he does reign, and he shall continue to reign until his enemies are made his footstool. I do not know anything that has more power to steady us in times of pressure, and undergird us in times of discouragement, defeat, and oppression than the realization that Jesus now reigns. He is in control now. When we run up against oppressive governments and severe limitations to our freedom and outright, violent persecution of Christian faith, we are to remember that all this takes place under the overall authority of Jesus Christ who said, when he rose from the dead, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth," {Matt 28:18 KJV}. He permits this kind of thing to happen to accomplish his purposes, just as, in the Old Testament, God raised up the Babylonians and the Assyrians and brought them against Israel. He allowed Jerusalem to be taken; he allowed the Israelites to be taken into captivity, not because that was the way he wanted things to happen on earth, but because that was necessary to teach his people the lessons they needed to know. God brings these things to pass for our sake, and it is part of the authority of Christ that allows them to happen. That is a very important truth that we often forget.

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. In this present heaven and earth death reigns and will continue to do so even during the millennium, even during the time when Christ personally rules on earth, as I believe he will, and peace and righteousness prevail all over the earth. Nevertheless, death is present. The prophet Isaiah says, "the child shall die a hundred years old," {Isa 65:20 RSV}. He means that death will be an unusual experience during the millennium, when someone one hundred years old will still be a mere child as far as the possibilities of his life are concerned -- he could go on and live the entire thousand years. But death is still present, and it is not until the end, when our Lord subdues his enemies, that death is finally destroyed and cast into the lake of fire. Therefore, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

But there is a sense in which this is individually true of us right now. What is going on in your life and mine now? Well, we are experiencing a continual reciprocation of death, out of which comes life. We are all fighting battles, struggles in which at times we fail, falter, and are overcome. We give way to worry, we give way to impatience, anger, malice, and lust. Sometimes we struggle against these things with great effort; other times we give in quickly. But we are all engaged in a great battle in which we are assaulted continually with temptations to yield and to fall into death. Yet, even out of those times of failure, by the grace of God's forgiveness we are restored. Life is handed back to us, in a sense, and we go on to walk for a longer time without failure, until gradually we gain victory over evil habits and evil attitudes. Life, therefore, is a continual experience of life coming out of death, of pain leading to joy, and that will never end as long as we are in this present life.

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.

In Verses 27-28 there is a description of this end Paul speaks of when the kingdom is restored to God the Father:

"For God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says "All things are put in subjection under him," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one. {1 Cor 15:27-28 RSV}

Here is the description of the end of Christ's work as a mediator between God and man. During this present time, our Lord Jesus is singled out, as it were, from the persons of the Godhead as the supreme object of worship, and we are invited to worship him and give honor to him. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that, because of our Lord's faithfulness,

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. {cf, Phil 2:9-11 RSV}

So to worship Christ honors God. In that great scene in Revelation 5, the whole universe gathers about the throne worshiping the Lamb that was slain, crying, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," {Rev 5:12 KJV}. Everyone is invited to worship the Son.

But there is coming a time, Paul says, when the work of the Son in subduing a lost creation will be finished. When the full results of the atonement of the cross have been completed and all the harvest of the earth is gathered, then, according to this account, the Lord Jesus returns the kingdom to the Father in order that "God [the three-fold God, Father, Son. and Spirit] may be everything to every one."

What this means is that then, for the first time in our experience, we will understand emotionally the mystery of the Trinity. We now know the Bible teaches that there are three persons in the Godhead, that they are equal in glory and honor, and that they somehow coalesce so that there are three persons but only one God. Intellectually we can grasp that; emotionally I do not think anyone does. But there is coming a day when we will thoroughly understand, emotionally, the makeup of God, and we will understand the great truth God has been seeking to teach us all through this earthly experience that he is all we need, that God is everything to every one.

I often talk with people who are having struggles in their Christian lives, and almost invariably I find their struggles come from an unwillingness to believe that God can supply what they need. They feel that somehow they have to lean upon human beings to get what they need, and that if they are denied what they feel they need, life is hardly worth the living. But God continually works at us to show us that is not true. He is all we need. He knows we need bread and food and shelter, etc. This is our Lord's argument in the Sermon on the Mount, "Your Father knows that you have need of all these things. Do you think he is unable to supply them to you? If he can feed the birds of the air and clothe the lilies of the field do you think he cannot find some way to meet your need as well?" {cf, Matt 6:26-28} he argues. It is a constant rebuke to our little faith that we do not trust God and believe that if we obey him and walk with him he will give us all we need. This is the struggle. But the mark of maturity, the mark that indicates that man has come into his own, has fulfilled his purpose, is the time when he understands with all his heart and mind and soul that God is everything to every one. After that the mediation of our Lord is no longer required. God the Triune God. is everything to every one.

Now there is a third remarkable characteristic of the resurrection. In the next section, from Verses 29-34, the apostle brings out the motivating power of the resurrection.

He starts with this puzzling verse,

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? {1 Cor 15:29 RSV}

The Mormon church bases a major part of their religious activity on this one verse. Unless you are a "good" Mormon you are not permitted to enter one of their temples. People ask, what goes on in them? Well, one of the things is that they are being baptized on behalf of the dead. The Mormons believe that you can go back through history and be baptized for all your ancestors. That is why they put great reliance upon genealogical tables and spend a lot of time tracing their ancestry, because they believe they can be baptized on their behalf and thus save them. I met a woman once who said that she had saved more people than Jesus Christ because she had been baptized for so many thousands of people! Some Mormons pick out the well-known figures of history and are baptized for Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, etc., all based on this one verse; there is no other reference in the Bible to being baptized on behalf of the dead.

Well, what does this verse mean? I do not know. It evidently refers to some form of proxy baptism, but it is noteworthy that the apostle does not refer to it as though it was something that the Christians in Corinth practiced, because he puts it in the third person: "Otherwise what do 'people' mean" (not what do "we" mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead), but what do "they" mean, that is literally what he says. "If the dead are not raised at all, why are 'they' baptized on their behalf?" He returns to the first person in the next verse, so that it is clear it is some practice that some people were engaged in that he does not necessarily approve of or disapprove of. He simply refers to it as a practice. It would be a shame to miss the significance of the point he is making because we do not understand what that practice he refers to was.

The point is this: Something was motivating people to take this action; something had a powerful effect upon them, and they so strongly were moved by it that they actually went out of their way to be baptized on behalf of someone who had died. Now perhaps it was a case where some people had died without being able to be baptized; they had become Christians by faith, but they had not had an opportunity to be baptized before they died. So some were adopting the practice of being baptized on their behalf, out of a kind of superstitious idea that you could not enter heaven unless you were baptized. Lots of people have that idea yet. Whatever it was, the apostle is arguing that the belief in a resurrection has a profound motivating force upon our lives, and it will make us do things to help others. Now he is not arguing that this is proof of the resurrection, because many people believe in things that do not really exist and their belief does not prove that such things exist. (You can believe in Santa Claus but that does not mean he really exists.) What he is saying is that believing in the resurrection has a great effect upon you. It will change your life. It will make you do things that you would not otherwise do, and one of the things is that you will be concerned about the salvation of others.

He has a similar effect in Verse 30 on through 32 concerning himself:

Why am I in peril every hour? I protest, brethren, by my pride in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? {1 Cor 15:30-32a RSV}

That is a reference to persecution he endured that we know very little about. There is another verse in the Second Corinthians letter that probably refers to the same thing. In Chapter 1, Verses 8-9, he says:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, 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; {2 Cor 1:8-9 RSV}

That is the point. To believe that God raises the dead is a tremendous encouragement to endure suffering and even physical affliction now. The fact that the apostle understood this enabled him to bear up in a time of great physical pressure, when, as he put it, I think figuratively, he "fought with beasts at Ephesus." It was almost like going into the arena to fight wild beasts. I do not think he actually did that, because he was a Roman citizen and no Roman citizen could be compelled to fight in the arena with wild beasts or gladiators. But, in a figurative way, this is what he went through, and he says the hope of the resurrection strengthened him.

Are you, perhaps, wearing out your life in some obscure corner? Do you think you will never be heard of, that nobody will ever know the punishment you have had to take? Well, have no fear. Paul says this "light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," {2 Cor 4:17 KJV}. The resurrection is the ample recompense for all human suffering, no matter how bad it maybe.

He closes this section with an appeal to let the hope of resurrection determine your life style:

If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." {1 Cor 15:32b RSV}

That was the philosophy of Epicureanism in that day, and it is widespread today. "Live it up. Get it all now. Don't bother with giving yourself and wasting your time on doing things for God. Enjoy yourself. Spend all your free time having fun and pleasure." But, he says:

Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." Come to your right mind, [that is, be realistic] and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. {1 Cor 15:33-34 RSV}

What was happening in Corinth is what is happening in California.

Many Christians there were giving way to this "live it up" philosophy. Instead of making themselves available to spread the word of truth, instead of giving themselves to the Spirit of God to be used in ways that would plant the seed of righteousness and love and truth in areas where people were hurting and suffering, they were giving way to the idea, "Enjoy yourself; that is what life is for." And they were running with people who thought that way. Paul reminds them, quoting a proverb of that day. "Bad company ruins good morals." So he says, "Come to your right mind; begin to face life realistically; stop kidding yourselves. This is a battle, and we have the privilege of living in this time of history and affecting the world of our day. The time is rapidly passing. Make the proper use of it," he says, "for some are even professing to be Christians and have no real knowledge of God at all because they are living just like everyone around them."

So the apostle closes this section with this note: We are not the creatures of time. We are immortal beings. When we gather at the throne of God, the greatest privilege we will claim for ourselves is that we had the opportunity to labor for his namesake here in this life. Make the most of it, Paul says.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4


by Ray C. Stedman

We have now come to what is, for many people, the key question of Chapter 15, the great resurrection chapter of First Corinthians. The Apostle Paul says,

But some one will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" {1 Cor 15:35 RSV}

It is obvious that skepticism oozes from those questions. In Verse 12 of this chapter, Paul had already recognized that some among these Corinthians were saying that there is no resurrection from the dead. "We do not understand how it can happen," they were saying, "therefore, we do not believe it will happen." So these questions were expressions of that unbelief.

For twenty centuries now the skeptics of all ages have asked these same questions. Of course, they amplify them by imposing various obstacles they see. They say, for instance, "We can understand, perhaps, that a body that has been carefully embalmed and placed in a grave might possibly be brought back to life, but what about those that have been destroyed? What about all the people that have been cremated?"

Just last week a friend of mine died. His body was cremated and his ashes were taken and scattered by an airplane out over the Pacific Ocean. "How are you going to restore a body like that?" the skeptics would ask.

"What about those that are eaten by animals or by marine life? Those animals in turn have died; their bodies have returned to ashes and they have been taken up as parts of plants or other animals. How can God sort it all out?"

These questions always arise when unbelief faces this question of the resurrection of the dead. "How can it be?" That is what some of these Corinthians were asking. The clear implication was, "It cannot be; it is impossible." The Greeks, of course, were teaching that it was a good thing, an advantage, to lose the body. The body was a prison-house, they taught, where we are limited and restricted. The Oriental religions, on the other hand, were teaching that many bodies were needed in a process of salvation, that you return to earth many times. Their question would be, "Which body is raised from the dead? Is it the 'cow' body you once had, or the 'gorilla' body you may have had, or the one you are walking around in now?" Reincarnation would, for them, pose an entirely different question concerning the resurrection of the body.

Well, Paul now answers these two questions the skeptics were asking, "How are the dead raised?" and, "With what kind of body do they come?"

His answer to the first question is in Verses 36-38:

You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. {1 Cor 15:36-38 RSV}

Notice what he is saying:

First, "To ask how this can be is a foolish question," he says. Why did he say that? It is a normal question, almost everybody asks it, and yet Paul immediately brands it as a foolish question. The reason, of course, is evident in what he says next. It is foolish, he says, because everywhere around you are examples of what is happening in resurrection. He is referring to the normal process of plants growing from seeds or bulbs that are placed in the ground. They die, they lose their consistency, and out of them emerges another kind of body which is yet identical to the seed that was placed in the ground.

I do not think it is any accident at all that Easter comes in the height of the spring season. We do not know when our Lord was born -- Christmas is a debatable date -- but there is no question about the date of Easter. For centuries it has been pegged to the movements of the moon, and tied to the ancient Jewish celebration of the Passover, so that everyone knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that Easter Sunday is indeed the very day that our Lord rose from the dead. Easter, therefore, always falls in the midst of the awakening of earth from its death in winter and the coming to life again of things that once were dead. Thus Paul is pointing out that we have ample evidence in the processes of nature itself to believe in a resurrection of the body.

Nature teaches us two obvious lessons.

First: Death is a necessary part of the process. Far from being an obstacle to resurrection, death is essential to it. You can put that in the form of an axiom: Nothing that has never died shall ever be raised from the dead. Obviously if it is going to be raised from the dead it has to die. Therefore, death is not an obstacle to resurrection. It is an ingredient of it and necessary to it. To balk at the fact that people die and the body loses its ability to function and its form and consistency as a body, ought never to be any hindrance to believing that life will emerge from it. The body must die just as the seed must die.

The second lesson that nature teaches us is this: The body that emerges from the seed that dies is different from the one that was planted. Put a grain of wheat or a kernel of corn into the ground and what comes up? Another grain of wheat or another kernel? No! What comes up is a green stem which does not look at all like what you put into the ground. Nevertheless it is tied to it; it is continuous from it; it has an identity with it. There is an undeniable tie with that which you put into the ground, and yet it is not the same; it is the "same" without being similar. Now, if you had never seen that process before, would you have believed it if somebody had said that that is what would happen? You would have looked at him as though he were mad and said, "How can that be?" because you can put almost anything else into the ground and that will not happen. It is one of those miracles that is so familiar to us that we miss the miraculous part of it. But Paul says it happens so frequently there should therefore be no struggle with believing in the resurrection of the dead.

On the occasion reported in the book of Acts where Paul is defending himself before King Agrippa, he says to the king, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?" {cf, Acts 26:8}. And why should it, when we have the testimony of nature all around that this kind of thing can and does happen? If it was not incredible in the 1st century how much more should it be believable today, when, by the efforts of science, we know a great deal more about the processes of transferring energy and of retaining life. We are now familiar with a process called "cloning." Scientists say that it is possible to take a single cell of the human body, any cell, it does not have to be a sex cell, and by a process now known in theory, though not yet in practice, to restore that body completely as a human being. Why then should it be thought incredible that God can do it, that all he needs is a single cell from a body to restore the body exactly as it was? Man can do it; surely God will catch up with man one of these days.

Some of the other things that science is facing as possibilities are even more remarkable and confirming of this. Dr. Dirks, who is in this congregation, is in many ways the inventor of the great electronic computers we are so familiar with. Several years ago he told me that it is possible to take the genetic structure of any human being and reduce it to an electronic signal which could then be bounced off the moon and returned to earth and reconstructed as the human being again.

If that is possible to science, surely it is possible to God. So why should there be this strange unbelief about the process of resurrection from the dead? Paul says it is foolish to talk that way when there is such a wealth of evidence from nature that this very kind of thing happens all the time.

Paul now faces the skeptics' second question, "With what kind of body do they come?" All right, supposing there is a resurrection, they said, "What is the resurrection body like? How will it differ from the one we have now?"

Paul's answer is found in the next ten verses, Verses 39 through 49. He takes it in three movements:

First, the lesson from nature (Verses 39-41):

For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 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. {1 Cor 15:39-41 RSV}

Paul is still back in the world of nature, of observable phenomena, which are designed to teach men spiritual lessons.

Here is the first truth that he brings out. All bodies are not alike. Human bodies are different from bird bodies and animal bodies are different from fish bodies. Even the very nature of their flesh is different. If you do not believe that, you are going to have difficulty when you go to a restaurant because you would order beef and they would serve you fish and you would never know the difference. But there is a visible difference. In fact, science confirms this. There is such a difference that a trained scientist can tell whether a single cell comes from a human, an animal, a bird, or a fish. This is a wonderfully truthful and accurate scientific statement of that fact.

The second part of Verse 38 suggests that this difference is a result of the inner difference of nature, or personality, that these beings have. It says, "to each kind of seed its own body." In other words there is a correspondence between what the body looks like and what the being inside is like. That is why animals have various natures. For this reason, animals are used in Scripture as symbols of corresponding qualities about human beings -- wolves are always ferocious and dangerous, sheep are always helpless and needing protection, and pigs are always dirty. All these qualities are there because God wants to demonstrate to us truth about ourselves that we see reflected in the natural world. This is a great truth which I have not time to enlarge upon here.

The second thing the apostle says is there are two major divisions of bodies, Verse 40:

There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. {1 Cor 15:40 RSV}

Now, "celestial bodies" are heavenly bodies. Paul goes on to list them -- the sun, the moon, the stars. There are also "terrestrial bodies," which are earthly bodies. He has already said what they are -- men, animals, birds, and fish. The point he makes is that there is a marked and deliberate difference between heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. Heavenly bodies shine. That is their function -- to shine, to have a glory about them. Earthly bodies, however, do not shine: They function, they articulate and coordinate in various says. That is the glory of an earthly body.

Heavenly bodies move in limitless space, which we measure in light years, but earthly bodies are limited. They have to function within a very tightly compressed time-space sphere. Heavenly bodies control and influence and affect other things. The sun affects this planet in every way. We are dependent upon it. The moon affects us too. It controls the tides and the seasons and much of our life, in ways we hardly understand. And the stars also affect the earth. So it is the nature of heavenly bodies to control and affect; and it is the nature of an earthly body to respond, to follow, to adapt. Thus Paul is pointing out a very important distinction which nature would teach us if we had the eyes to observe.

The third thing he says here is that there is a difference in the glory of celestial bodies. 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." You know how obviously true that is. The sun shines with a tremendous power. All of earth is dependent upon it. Solar power is far and away the greatest power known to man, and though we have only touched a fraction of its use, all energy in life, basically, comes from the sun. There is a different glory of the moon, but it has a profound effect, even upon lovers. Out together on a moonlit night they will do things they would not have done otherwise. Then the stars differ in glory. As some of you know, I have been enjoying the gift of a hot tub. While lying in it at night, studying the stars in perfect comfort, I have noticed the difference in their magnitude. Some shine brilliantly, while others are very faint and dim.

What is Paul saying about all this? Well, he is saying that all this has its parallel in the truth of the resurrection. If you would only read the lessons of nature you would have a panorama of theological truth about the resurrection spread before you. Just open your eyes and see it, he says.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. {1 Cor 15:42a RSV}

And then he goes on to draw the parallel for us:

What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. {1 Cor 15:42b RSV}

What is there about me that is perishable? Well, it is my body. My body is losing its ability to function. It is perishing; it is decaying; it is gradually slowing down. So are your bodies. They are going to perish one of these days, so do not look at me that way! Just as the seed buried in the ground becomes a beautiful plant, so an earthly body put into the ground in death, or scattered across the oceans, will become a body designed for the heavens, an imperishable body, no longer subject to decay. That is what Paul is teaching us here.

It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. {1 Cor 15:43a RSV}

What is it about you and me that is dishonorable? Well, it is the body, isn't it?

Let me tell you a secret about mine: It sags; it groans; it even smells. When it dies it will become foul, loathsome. One of the ugly things about the story of Jonestown was what to do with those corrupting bodies that no cemetery now wants to receive. When put into the ground, or in any other way disposed of, the body ends its existence in dishonor. But it will be raised, Paul says, in glory. It will be clean, sweet, fragrant, eternally fresh, and able to function in a marvelous way.

It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. {1 Cor 15:43b RSV}

Isn't it amazing how we boast about our strength as human beings, yet just a tiny, invisible microbe can carry us away and end it all? A gnat so small you can hardly see can choke you to death. Human life is really very fragile and very easily ended. Muhammad Ali boasts that he is "the greatest," but a half-sick gorilla with one hand tied behind his back could whip him. There is nothing very impressive there. No, what you see up here, walking around before you, is a body that, Paul says, is suited to the soul:

It is sown a physical [soulish, literally, not physical] body, it is raised a spiritual body. {1 Cor 15:44a RSV}

There is a "soulish" body. It is designed to function by the control of my soul -- my mind, my emotions, my will. I like to think of it as a kind of an "earth suit" designed for time, a "time suit" that I live in. It is not me. I live in it. And that is what your body is. I am standing up here wiggling the lips of my "earth suit," and you hear sounds coming out of it. You say that is me speaking to you. Well, yes, you are right. Behind the "earth suit" is me. I could not talk to you without it, but the "earth suit" is designed only for this life. It is not designed for anything else. It works fairly well in this life, but something could happen to this "earth suit" while I am talking to you and I would fall over and somebody would walk up here and say, "He's dead!" But it would not be so. I would not be dead. The "earth suit" would have died, but I would be as alive as I have ever been, and already enjoying the new body, the "heaven suit," the "eternity suit." There is also a body designed for the heavens, as well as the earth, and what the apostle is saying throughout this whole chapter is that there is a definite link between the two.

You see it so wonderfully in the resurrected body of Jesus. He rose from the dead, and yet upon his body still were the marks of crucifixion by which his apostles could be absolutely sure that it was the same Jesus in the same body. And yet what a difference! His body had been glorified, transformed. It was functioning at a different dimension and level of existence. It was able to pass through doors, able to appear and disappear, to eat or not to eat. It was able to function in fellowship with people in their "earth suits" and yet it was able to disappear from the earthly scene and still function in an "eternity suit," a "heaven suit" that God had provided for him. What a marvelous truth this is!

Now we come to the statement of certainty about it in the closing section, beginning in the middle of Verse 44. Paul argues:

If there is a physical [soulish] body [designed to be operated by the soul], there is also a spiritual body [designed to be operated by the spirit]. {1 Cor 15:44b RSV}

And then he proves it:

Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being [soul]"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. {1 Cor 15:45-49 RSV}

How certain it is! Paul says there are really only two men who have ever lived in all of history, and both of them he calls "Adam." There is the first Adam and the last Adam. Do not call him "the second Adam" because that would allow for a third and a fourth and a fifth. There are only two -- the first Adam, and the last Adam, Jesus. The only other human being to head up a race is Jesus.

The first Adam, Paul says, was made a living soul. He had a body made from the dust, and into that body of dust God himself, a Spirit, breathed a breath, and the joining together of spirit and body produced another phenomenon called the "soul," the personality. It is the presence of a spirit in a body that creates the soul and allows a person to function as a human being with mind, emotion, and will. That is what the first Adam was. Now, in the fall, the Holy Spirit that dwelt in the human spirit of Adam was withdrawn, and the human spirit was as though it was lifeless and dead. Man, therefore, was governed by his soul, the highest part of his being, which can feel and touch and taste and reason and think, but it has no contact with anything beyond and above. It is "dead in trespasses and sins," {cf, Eph 2:1}. We were all born that way. Every human being is a son or daughter of the first Adam by nature.

But then there came a last Adam. Jesus, a life-giving Spirit, came, and as a Spirit he indwells, by faith, our human spirits when we receive him, when we open up our life to him. He regenerates our human spirit, and he is now, from that vantage point within us, beginning to impart life to the soul again, to recapture the mind, the emotions and the will and bring them back under subjection to his Lordship. So we begin to experience in our life, right now, the joy of being once again in right relationship with the God who made us. He is a life-giving Spirit, and he is waiting to impart life to the "earth suit" as well and to make it into a "heaven suit," designed for the heavens.

And the order is determined by God:

... it is not the spiritual which is first {1 Cor 15:46a RSV}

The Mormon church teaches that we were once spirit beings who then came to earth and became men, but this verse flatly contradicts that. It is not the spiritual which is first, it is the physical.

We came into existence on a physical level, but designed by God, beyond that, is the spiritual. That is next, and death is but a stop in that process, and necessary to it. So now we are in a state of transition, as Paul goes on to describe,

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust [and we share that nature from Adam]; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is [notice the change of tense] the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. {1 Cor 15:47-48 RSV}

Let me ask you a question: Are you "of heaven"? Having been born into this race, part of Adam's race, have you gone on to become also a part of the Kingdom of God? Have you opened your heart to him? Have you received the Lord Jesus Christ into your human spirit so that you have the hope expressed here of becoming body, soul, and spirit, a man or woman as God intended a man or woman to be?

That is the great question of all time. Are you also of those who are "of heaven?" For the promise is,

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [we look and act and talk and think like Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. {1 Cor 15:49 RSV}

I love the way John puts it. He says,

... it does not yet appear what we shall be. [The sons of God do not look any different than anybody else, do they?] But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. {1 Jn 3:2 RSV}

What a hope!

What a difference that makes to everything in life!

It transforms the way you act, the way you think. It transforms your dreams, your aspirations, what you do with your time. Everything is changed if you are a man of heaven as well as a man of the dust.

1 Corinthians 15:50-68


by Ray C. Stedman


We have just read the passage from First Corinthians 15 that I will be speaking on this morning, and I want to particularly call your attention to the last verse again:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. {1 Cor 15:58 RSV}

That is, your life is not meaningless or futile, your work is not useless or wasted no matter how routine or dull it may seem to you to be.

There are, perhaps, many here who feel that their labor is futile, routine, and unrewarding. I hear people complain all the time about how they do not enjoy their work, that they only work in order to eat. Now, this verse and this truth we are looking at this Easter morning is designed to help with that problem. You notice the verse all hangs on the word "therefore." (It has become trite to say that wherever you see a "therefore" in Scripture you have to stop and see what it is there for.) But that word introduces here the conclusion to the argument of the resurrection; this is where resurrection truth ought to come out at, and it ought to be an encouragement and a help to us in the rat race of life.

This is all the more remarkable when you see how this last section of Chapter 15 begins, at Verse 50:

I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. {1 Cor 15:50 RSV}

That may sound like theological language, but what it is saying, practically, is, "There is no way to achieve enduring value in God's eyes by utilizing your natural, normal, human resources." That is what "flesh and blood" means. That sounds strange, does it not? What Paul says, in effect, is: "Nothing that wins the approval or the applause of men has any value at all in the sight of God." This includes all the Hollywood Oscars, all the athletic trophies, all the academic degrees, all the Nobel Prizes, or achievements of a lifetime of labor. None of these can ever impress God in the least degree. That is frightening, is it not?

A young man called me up not long ago. He introduced himself on the phone as a young Christian and a businessman. He said he was sure that in the next few years he would probably be making about fifty million dollars, and his question to me was, "How can I use my money to lay up treasures in heaven and not treasures on earth?" I told him, "You do not need money for that. In fact, the biggest obstacle you will have to laying up treasures in heaven may be your money, depending upon how you use it." Then I quoted to him the words of Jesus in the 16th chapter of Luke, "... that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God," {Luke 16:15 KJV}. Now if you are going to take that verse seriously -- and remember it comes from the lips of Jesus himself -- you will see that it agrees exactly with what Paul is saying here. Flesh and blood cannot do anything of value in the kingdom of God. It cannot lay hold of it; it cannot achieve anything within it. This is what startled Nicodemus so when he came to Jesus, because he was a respected and highly successful leader in Israel, he thought. But Jesus said to him, "You have to start all over again. You must be born again," {cf, John 3:7 KJV}. This is what Paul is saying here.

Well, what is the answer then? How can you make your life worthwhile in God's sight? How can you achieve, by means of labor and effort and energy, anything that is enduring beyond this life? The answer, Paul says, is, "It's a mystery."

Lo! I tell you a mystery. {1 Cor 15:51a RSV}

That is his response. We have already come to understand that the word "mystery," when it is used like this in Scripture, does not refer to something murky or mysterious or hard to understand. What it means, of course, is a truth that our human sense can never discover, that no scientific investigation will ever reveal, that no amount of intense research on the part of human beings will ever unravel.

And here is the mystery:

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and the mortal nature must put on immortality. {1 Cor 15:51b-53 RSV}

As we have been seeing all through this chapter, that is a gathering up of the great argument of the apostle that this change that we anticipate happening to us as believers is a direct result of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. My wife greeted me this morning with these words: "You had better get up. It is time for you to go and speak to more than 3,000 people and tell them about the most exciting thing that has ever happened on this planet." That is true. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most remarkable, the most revolutionary act that ever took place on this earth. The result of it, as Paul says, is that there is a change coming to us.

Now, the mystery is not that "we shall not all sleep," although that is true. There is a generation of Christians that is never going to die. Scripture constantly anticipates this. There are some who will not even have to pass through the portals of death, such as we know it, but will instantly, while they are walking around, suddenly, without warning, be changed -- "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." That phrase refers to the little change of light that occurs when you blink. It is one of the fastest speeds known to our human experience, and that is how fast the change will take place to some.

There are others who will die. All the generations of Christians before us have died, but that is not the important thing. Whether you live or die, Paul says, the mystery is "we shall all be changed." And it will be a remarkable change. As we have already seen in our last study, this change means that our bodies will take on the opposite characteristics to what they now have. This is an "earth suit" I am wearing here this morning. It is fitted for time, and it is subject to decay, to weakness, to losing its ability to function, to groaning and complaining. But it will be changed, Paul says, "This perishable must put on the imperishable." This mortal, subject to death, must become no longer so; it must become imperishable, unable to die. That is the change.

When is this going to be? Paul's answer is, "at the last trump." The next question, of course, is "When is the last trump?" That is what everybody wants to know. The answer of Scripture is, "at the return of Jesus." Paul says it in First Thessalonians, Chapter 4:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. {1 Th 4:16 KJV}

That is the last trump you will ever hear, the trump of God, when the dead in Christ shall rise first:

Then we which are alive and remain so shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. {1 Th 4:17a KJV}

That is the great event, the great change that is coming. I believe, as I have already stated, that this occurs for every one of us when we step out of time into eternity, but it will also occur when Jesus steps back out of eternity into time. This is the event that the apostle refers to.

Now it is a certain change. It must occur. Notice how he puts it, "This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality." Why? Why must it? The answer is in the next verses:

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."
  "O death, where is thy victory?
  O death, where is thy sting?" {1 Cor 15:54-55 RSV}

I prefer the King James rendering here, based on the Textus Receptus, which says the triumphant shout is:

O, death, where is thy sting?
O grave,
[or, literally, Hades] where is thy victory? {1 Cor 15:55 KJV}

Standing beside the grave of a Christian whom I just buried, I have often felt like that. Though there was sorrow as loved ones bade good-bye to someone they loved, nevertheless I have often sensed an electric excitement, and seen a radiant hope pervading the whole group. Their hearts and mine were saying, "O, death, where is your sting? O, Hades, where is your victory?" I have been at funeral services where the whole congregation stood at the end and, led by a thundering organ, sang the "Hallelujah Chorus." I thought it an appropriate expression of what people were feeling at that moment.

What is Paul saying here? Well, he is saying this change must occur because it is the outworking of a change that has already occurred in the hearts of those who have faith in Jesus. There is something that has already happened, he says, and that guarantees the other change. And what is that? He tells us: "Death is swallowed up in victory." The fear of death is gone. Every one of us, without exception, in the "natural," fears death.

What made the passengers pale with fear when that plane, flying over Michigan last week, began to roll, and then suddenly, out of control, plunge five miles straight down? Some of them clutched one another and cried out in terror; some began to weep and cry. Why? Because there is a fear of death. And what makes us afraid of death?

Paul analyzes it. He says:

The sting of death is sin, {1 Cor 15:56a RSV}

We are afraid of death because it is an unknown, over which we have no control. We cannot evade it -- it is beyond us. We are in the grip of other forces, and, what bothers us is, we have a sense that we are being plunged into accountability. Beyond death lies a settling, and an answering, for where we have been, and how we have lived, and what we have done. That is why death is such a fearsome thing. It is made all the more so by the law that says you cannot escape the evil of your past. God cannot set it aside nor can any man. It must be faced. There can be no deliverance from it. That is what makes us afraid of death.

But the good news coming to us from the resurrection of Jesus, following his crucifixion, is that this power of sin is broken. We are no longer helpless; we are no longer unable to change. Many people today are troubled by an unending struggle they feel within to try to be different, but they cannot find the way.

I read this last week a letter from a girl who had written to Ann Landers because she was trying to stop smoking and nothing she did could break that habit. She started lying to her husband, and to others around, because she could not find a way to break it. But breaking the smoking habit is a lot easier than breaking some of the other habits that afflict us -- like a vicious temper, or a lustful mind, which turns everything into sexual fantasies, or a bitter spirit which views the actions of others in a suspicious light.

How do you get free from those terrible feelings, especially the guilt that comes over us because of them?

How can you escape from the sense that you have hurt and injured many people and there is nothing you can do about it, and some day you will have to answer for it?

Well, the good news is that there is a way. Sin's power has been broken. We have been given a way to say, "No!" and to be able to do it despite the pressure. Even when we fail there is a way of relief so that we can have the failure cleansed and put away and it no longer needs to haunt us.

What is that way? Paul tells us in Verse 57. This is really the heart of the mystery:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. {1 Cor 15:57 RSV}

I want you to notice that is put in the present tense. It is not past, "who gave us the victory." It is "thanks be to God who keeps on giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." I do not know anything that means more to me as a Christian than the fact that every day I can lay hold of the grace of Jesus Christ. He is not a distant Savior who lived twenty centuries ago. He is alive, and I meet him every day. When I find myself having failed, faltered, and sinned, I come again and receive from him the cleansing that he has won for me on Calvary. My sins are washed away anew. I am forgiven once again, and given a clean slate to start over again from that moment. That gives me new power to say, "No!" to all the evil, afflictions, and pressures of my life. I know that that evil is put away; it will never come back to haunt me; I will not have to face it at the judgment seat of God. I call turn instead to try to make up, in as many ways as I can, to others for the hurt I have done, and to help others find the way of release and deliverance out of heartbreak and sorrow and guilt arid fear.

That is why this passage ends with Verse 58:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, {1 Cor 15:58a RSV}

When you go back to your work do not see it as simply a way by which you earn your living. It has been given to you as an opportunity for you to have a ministry in which you witness, you demonstrate a changed life, a heart at peace, the radiant joy of fellowship with a living Lord on your face, and love pouring out of your heart to those who, like you, have struggled and lost frequently in the rat race of life.

That is what God sends us out to do as Christians. He has given us a work, not that we might make notable achievements which men applaud, and in which we make a name for ourselves. What God looks for is:

That is the work of the Lord.

That is why God gives us contact with others.

That is why God has given us our work.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast [faithful at this] immovable [do not let the world's philosophy change you], always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [as you do it unto him, faithful at your task, radiant in your witness] your labor is not in vain. {1 Cor 15:58 RSV}

Something has already happened to those who know Jesus.

There may be some here who have not yet learned to know him, and this may be the moment when, in the loneliness of your own life and heart, you can say, "Lord Jesus, risen Lord, come into my life. Change me. Give me release from my sins, and from the power and the grip of the law; set me free from my evil past and begin to heal my present with your radiant fellowship." When you do that there is guaranteed to you, as there is to all, that there is coming a day when we shall all be changed.

On that day, what God has been working out in secret among us, will become radiantly visible to all. Paul calls it the day of "the manifestation of the sons of God," {cf, Rom 8:19}.


Our Father, we ask that you will hear the voice of any who cry out to you at this moment from sin-governed lives, struggling against habits they cannot break, longing for release from a guilty, dark, and stained past, wanting to find their way into life and peace and truth and joy. We pray that you will grant to them now the gift of a risen Lord. And as they believe that he has died for them, and rose again for their justification, that he will enter their life and heart, and they will be changed with that inner change which will surely manifest itself one of these days in that great and marvelous outward change of which the apostle speaks. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

By: Ray C. Stedman
Series: Studies in First Corinthians
Catalog No: 3602 -3607

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