Category Archives: 1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-58

The doctrine of resurrection as it relates to believers.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-58

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This brings us to the second major section of the chapter, in which the apostle deals with the resurrection of the saints. Those who have died in Christ have not perished, verses 18, for Christ is risen. Those who are still alive are not of all men most miserable, verses 19, for the same reason.

In verse 1-34 the emphasis has been on the resurrection of Christ Himself. In the remainder of the chapter the focus is on the consequence of that resurrection, even the resurrection of the saints of this present church age.

 

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 15, VERSES 35-49:

15:35  But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

15:36  Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:

15:37  And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:

15:38  But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.

15:39  All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

15:40  There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

15:41  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

15:42  So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

15:43  It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

15:44  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

15:45  And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

15:46  Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

15:47  The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

15:48  As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

15:49  And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

 

15:35-49    GRAPHICAL: DESCRIPTION OF THE RESURRECTION BODY

Structure of the section

(a) Verses 34-41 The character of the resurrection body.
(b) Verses 42-44 The change of the resurrection body.
(c) Verses 44(b)-49  The correspondence of the resurrection body to Christ’s.

(a)    Verses 35-41     THE CHARACTER OF THE RESURRECTION BODY.

(a) Verse 36 A quickened body.
(b) Verse 36 A clothed body.
(c)  Verse 38  A sovereignly-given body.
(d) Verse 38 An identifiable body.
(e) Verse 39 A body suited to the nature.
(f) Verse 40 A body suited to the environment to be lived in.
(g) Verse 41 A body capable of radiating glory.

Summary of the section
By the use of illustrations from various fields of study in the natural realm, whether biology, zoology or astronomy, the apostle illustrates truths regarding the resurrection body and its suitability for the glorious environment in which it will function.

15:35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?

But some man will say- having dealt effectively with the question raised in verse 12 as to whether the resurrection of the dead is a possibility, the apostle now anticipates another query. The way the apostle answers suggests that the question is a cynical one on the part of an unbeliever, virtually suggesting that it cannot happen.
How are the dead raised up?- the word “how” means either, “by what means”, or “in what condition?”. That the latter is the meaning is clear from subsequent verses, for the apostle makes no attempt here to explain by what means God will raise the dead. The Sadducees denied resurrection, and the Lord Jesus rebuked them with the words, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God”, Matthew 22:29. The resurrection of Christ was through the working of God’s mighty power, Ephesians 1:19,20, and so shall the resurrection of the saints be.
And with what body do they come? What body can possibly rise from the grave, when it has crumbled to dust centuries before? The answer is found in the One who made man from the dust at the beginning, and who can bring a man out from the dust at the resurrection. The one who gave Adam a spirit at the beginning, can reunite the believer’s spirit, (which, at death, had gone back to God who gave it, Ecclesiastes 12:7).
We should remember that our body is not only an object, but is also an idea, for cells in our body die and are replaced all the time, so we are constantly changing. The body we had when we were saved, the body God bought with the price of His Son’s blood, 1 Corinthians 6:19,20, is composed of different cells now. The resurrection body is “eternal in the heavens”, and “from heaven”, 2 Corinthians 1,2, in other words it exists in the mind of God in the first instance.

(a) Verse 36 A quickened body

15:36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:

Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die- even a knowledge of natural matters should rid the fool of his doubts as to the possibility of resurrection. “Thou” is emphatic, for even the seeds fools sow are quickened after they have “died”, that is, after the outer part has given way to the development of the inner germ of life. So death is a necessity, in this context, not a calamity, for seeds left unsown will not grow. Death for the believer is not the end, but a means to the end.
Later on the apostle will show that some believers will not die, yet shall share in the resurrection. How that will happen is part of the mystery he will set out to explain in verses 51-54. In a later epistle he states that “the body is dead because of sin”, Romans 8:10, so because the believer’s body is judicially dead already, he can share in resurrection. Meanwhile, the “Spirit is life because of righteousness”, so we can live for God now.

(b) Verse 37 A clothed body

15:37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:

And that which thou sowest- now a further thought, based on the act of sowing a seed.

Thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain- the small insignificant seed is placed in the earth, but when it is quickened into life, a luxuriant plant is produced, which seems to bear no resemblance to the plain seed sown. The Lord Jesus spoke of Solomon and his glorious array, yet the lilies of the field had more glory than he. Solomon needed to put on his apparel from without, but the beauty of the flowers is intrinsic, for they are arrayed by God. Yet for all that, they are sown as insignificant seeds, yet come out of the earth in glorious splendour. So the believer is sown in the earth as bare seed, (for as Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither”, Job 1:21), but shall emerge in resurrection glory.

(c) Verse 38 A sovereignly-given body

15:38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.

But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him- note the change of tense, with the “giveth” (present), when the seed grows, but the “pleased Him” (past), referring to God’s original creation. He gives the seed a body in accordance with His original design in Genesis 1:11,12 as the Creator of all things. To wheat He gives a wheat body, to another grain a different and corresponding body. Perhaps there is a suggestion here that the believer will rise with the body that suits his personality.

(d) Verse 38 A body with continued identity

And to every seed his own body whether wheat, or some other grain, the body or foliage is given suited to the kind of seed that has been sown. So there is a continuity maintained from sowing to growing, so we know what was sown by looking at what has come up.

(e) Verse 39 A body suited to the nature

15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

All flesh is not the same flesh- having established certain principles from the plant kingdom, the apostle now turns to the living creatures. This statement introduces the idea of differences of nature, whereas wheat and other sorts of grain were a question of variety of the same species, with the common idea that the plant produced corresponded to the seed sown. Now the further idea that God has given bodies to the creatures of earth that suit their environment. So with the resurrection body- it will be suited to life in heaven.
But there is one kind of flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds- this shows that men and apes are different flesh. Each class has a body which is suited to the nature, which the word flesh suggests. Eve was flesh of Adam’s flesh, but she was not made of the soft part of his body. She did, however, share his nature, as the animals did not. So Adam says “This is now…flesh of my flesh” whereas before, when he named the animals, it was not, Genesis 2:19, 23.
Each creature mentioned here has a body suited to its habitat and nature, with man being upright, able to work; animals walking on all fours, able to hunt; fishes with fins, able to swim in the water, and birds with feathers and wings, able to fly in the air. So with the resurrection body, it will be suited for life in heaven, its proper environment, as far as church saints are concerned.

(f) Verse 40 A body suited to the environment

15:40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial- our bodies are currently terrestrial, suited to earth, but after the resurrection they will be celestial, suitable for heaven. Just as the stars are suited for heaven, so shall we be. The celestial bodies he has in mind are the sun, moon, and stars of the next verse. Our body has a certain glory even now, for it may be presented to God as a living sacrifice, Romans 12:1, but the glory of the resurrection body will far exceed it. In 2 Corinthians 5:1,2 our resurrection body is described as “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…our house which is from heaven”.

(g) Verse 41 A body capable of radiating glory

15:41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon- even celestial bodies vary according to God’s ordination. The sun displays the glory of energy, the moon the glory of beauty. So we may think that the believer’s resurrection body will possess tremendous energy, and will display incredible beauty, for it will be like Christ’s glorious body, Philippians 3:21.
And another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory- it is obvious that the sun and moon vary but it is not so evident that stars are different to one another, hence the affirmation that it is so. Just as each star has its own peculiar glory, the glory of its individuality, (suggested by the fact that all the stars are named by God, Psalm 147:4), so each believer will have his or her different and glorious characteristics, but all to glorify Christ.

(ii) Verses 42-44(a) The change of the resurrection body

Structure of the section

(a) Verse 42 From corruption to incorruption
(b) Verse 43(a) From dishonour to glory
(c) Verse 43(b) From weakness to power
(d) Verse 44(a) From being natural to being spiritual

(a) Verse 42   From corruption to incorruption

15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

So also is the resurrection of the dead- the apostle now enlarges on the subject of the character of the resurrection body as to its moral features. He refers only to the resurrection of believers in the remainder of the chapter.
It is sown in corruption- the dead body is buried in the earth as a corruptible and corrupt thing, being part of the creation which is in the bondage of corruption. The apostle wrote of this as follows, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body”, Romans 8:20-23. No matter how holy a believer is, the body is corrupt.
It is raised in incorruption- able to display holiness perfectly. This is the redemption of the body, Romans 8:23, Ephesians 4:30 which introduces us to the full measure of sonship, (adoption) of which the Spirit of adoption is the earnest or pledge, Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:13,14.
Note that the same body is raised, even though the body that shall be is not the body sown in the earth, verse 37. The latter statement has to do with the condition of the body, the bare grain contrasted to the luxuriant plant, not its identity. The plant is not buried, but the seed is, so in that sense the future body is not sown. On the other hand, the seed that is sown is the seed that comes up. The human body changes every second, so it is an idea as well as an object. The identity and personality of the believer are not lost by death.

(b) Verse 43(a) From dishonour to glory

15:43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory- there is nothing personal about the dishonour, for it is the common lot of humanity, including the believer. No matter how honourable that believer, his body lacks the honour it should have, because of the Fall. It is a body of humiliation, Philippians 3:21, and yet shall be fashioned like unto His body of glory. It will be fitted to radiate the glories of Christ, not simply outwardly, but morally too. We shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.
At the moment, we but feebly appreciate His glories, but in the resurrection it will be different, and the sight of His glories will transform us into His glorious image. This is what the apostle referred to when he spoke of believers being conformed to the image of God’s Son, Romans 8:29.

(c) Verse 43(b) From weakness to power

It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power- no matter how physically strong the believer was before he died, his body was weakened by sin. At the resurrection weakness will give way to unfettered energy, enabling us to serve God as we should.

(d) Verse 44(a) From being natural to being spiritual

15:44(a) It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body- no matter how spiritual the believer was before he died, his body was natural, or soulish, fitted for life on earth, and to sense things naturally. Note that the resurrection body is a spiritual body, not a spirit-body. This body will be perfectly fitted to express spiritual things, and to appreciate them too.

(iii) Verses 44(b)-49 The correspondence of the resurrection body to Christ’s

Structure:

(a) Verses 44-45 Spiritual body.
(b) Verse 46 Superior body.
(c) Verses 47-48 Suitable body.
(d) Verse 49 Serviceable body.

(a) Verses 44(b),45   A spiritual body

15:44(b) There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

There is a natural body- the one possessed by Adam and all in his image. The word natural means soulish, dominated by soul-considerations, appreciating things through the senses. Hence for instance the garden in Eden was full of trees pleasant to the sight, and good for food, and Adam with his soulish body was able to appreciate them. The apostle repeats the fact that there is both a natural body and a spiritual one, for the latter truth was being denied. It is also the truth he is about to develop. There are three repetitions in the passage, in verses 44, 46, and 54, and they are Paul’s way of drawing our attention to a matter he is about to emphasise and enlarge upon.
And there is a spiritual body- only possessed by one man as yet, Jesus Christ. Note that just as Adam had a soulish body, but this did not mean he was immaterial soul only, so Christ has a spiritual body, but this does not mean He is immaterial spirit only. In the next verse each of these two men will be designated by the part that is dominant, either the soul or the spirit, but for all that, they each have a body.

15:45 And so it is written, The first man “Adam was made a living soul”; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

And so it is written, the first man “Adam was made a living soul”- note the order in Genesis 2:5,7, where first it is said there was not a man to till the ground, then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and “man became a living soul”. So the man described here is the first man, for before him there was no-one to till the ground. The notion that there were men who lived and died before Adam, existing in a supposed era between the first two verses of Genesis 1, has no support in Scripture. Death came in through Adam, Romans 5:12, so there was no death before his sin. The fossil record is perfectly explained by the events at the Flood.
The man is specifically and personally named, so that we may be in no doubt that it is of Adam that the apostle is speaking. The Hebrew word “adamah”, from which Adam derives his name, is the word for red earth, for God formed man as a potter forms a clay vessel. Then man became a living soul by the in-breathing by God of the breath of life (plural), so that he might have the ability to live in every sense of the word, whether physically, morally, spiritually, intellectually or sensually.
So man has a soul, but is also said to be a living soul, that is, a living person. The Scripture Paul quotes relates to man in innocence, so having a natural body does not imply being a sinner. Note that the name Adam is also used to describe the whole of the human race. See for instance the use of word man (adamah) in each of first seven verses of Genesis 6. So by bearing the race-name as his personal name, Adam was marked out as the head of the race of men.
It is worth remembering that there is only one race; there is not a variety, such as the yellow race, the brown race, the black race, the white race. God has “made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth”, Acts 17:26. So wherever we go on the earth, the people there are of the same blood as ourselves, even though not of the same nation.
The last Adam was made a quickening spirit- Christ is not called the last man Adam, for that would make Adam His personal name. He only takes the name of Adam as the head of the new creation. He takes the name Last Adam because He is the last one who will be head of a race of men. The rabbis spoke of the former Adam and the latter Adam, the Messiah.
He has become, in resurrection, a quickening spirit. Adam lay on the ground lifeless, and then by the in-breathing of God received life and stood upon his feet. Christ lay lifeless in the tomb, and then took His life again at the commandment of His Father, and stood in resurrection.
The fact that He is a quickening spirit does not mean that He is only spirit, any more than Adam being a living soul meant he was only soul. What it does mean is that His resurrection body, the pattern of the saints’ resurrection body, is governed by the highest part of man, the spirit.
But whereas Adam was simply the receiver of life, for he became a living soul at his formation, Christ is become, by virtue of His resurrection, the giver of spiritual life even as to the body. Adam received life, but Christ gives it. This means that He will give His people bodies that fit them to dwell in the realm of spirits, heaven itself. When He was on earth, Christ raised the dead, and gave them their natural body back, (as is seen in the fact that Lazarus had to be released from his grave-clothes). Now that He is risen, He will give His people a spiritual body at the resurrection.
This ability to quicken implies His Deity, for only God can quicken with resurrection life. See John 5:17-25. He also gives this life as one who is “spirit”, that is, has Himself the sort of body that is dominated by the spirit, and can be suitably described by that part of Him.
There is another reason why He is called a spirit, and that is because the resurrection of believers is guaranteed by the fact that they have the Spirit of the God of resurrection indwelling them. Paul writes, “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you”, Romans 8:11. So there is the united action of the Persons of the Godhead in the raising of the saints, with the God who raised Jesus, the Spirit of God, and Christ Himself, all acting together. So by calling Him a spirit Paul is emphasising also that, like the other persons of the Godhead, He is spirit too, and can work in harmony with the Father and the Spirit to raise the dead.

We may set out the contrasts between Adam and Christ as follows:

ADAM  CHRIST
First man.                              Second man, (none in between).
Adam (as head of race, with none before).  Last Adam, (none to follow).
Became (by creation) a living soul. Became (by resurrection) a life-giving spirit.
Given life for earth. Gives life for heaven.
Natural (soulish) body Spiritual body
From the earth beneath him. From heaven.
Lower than angels. Lord of all.

(b) Verse 46   A superior body

15:46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.

Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual- the word “howbeit” introduces further thoughts on this matter, as the apostle now tells us three more features of the resurrection body. The idea of the second being better is a principle which runs throughout scripture. So it is Cain who is the first, Abel the second; Ishmael the first, Isaac the second; Esau the first, Jacob the second; Reuben the first, Judah and Joseph combined, the second. Saul the first, David the second. The law-sacrifices the first, the sacrifice of Christ the second. The first must show itself a failure, and be set aside, so that the way is clear for the introduction of the second. When God introduces a second thing, it implies the failure of the first. It is not that He needs to experiment until He reaches perfection. But He does need to allow the first to show us that it is a failure. Even though Christ existed before Adam, He did not have a spiritual body then. The natural body comes first, so that the spiritual body may be seen to be superior.

(c) Verse 47    A suitable body

15:47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.

The first man is of the earth, earthy- we now have a reference to the actual material of Adam’s body, whereas in verse 45 it was a question of the character of it. He was made of the dust from beneath his feet, which is appropriate, since he would walk on the earth.
The second man is the Lord from heaven- whilst it is true that when He came down from heaven at the incarnation He was the Lord from heaven, nonetheless the apostle is referring to a risen and exalted Christ coming to effect resurrection for His people at the rapture of the saints, for the apostle writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven”. He is the Lord both of the dead and the living, Romans 14:9, and this in virtue of the fact that He has died, rose and revived.
The things spoken of here with regard to believers receiving a spiritual body await His coming from heaven at the rapture. He did not come from heaven as a man at His first coming, but came into manhood. Adam came from the dust beneath our feet, but Christ shall come from the sky above our head. He has a body which is suitable for Him to live in heaven with, and He is coming to ensure that believers have a body suitable for that heavenly sphere as well. The apostle is not describing the Lord’s resurrection body, (as if it is “from heaven”), but is emphasising where He is coming from, heaven, in contrast to where Adam came from, earth.

15:48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.

As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy- Adam’s race shares his earthy body. This is not a stigma, for Adam had an earthy body in innocence. It is true that he was earthly in character, but the point here is that his body was made from the earth. Man dwells in a house of clay, Job 4:19, for God at the beginning formed Adam as a potter forms a vessel, such is the word used in Genesis 2:7. There is no element in our bodies that is not found in the soil.
And as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly- they who are linked with the Lord who is coming from heaven are looked on here as if the resurrection has taken place, and they can be said to be heavenly, sharing the same resurrection body as the Lord when He comes from heaven to make it a reality. As He is, with a glorified body in resurrection, so are the heavenly, (as far as the purpose of God is concerned), those destined for heaven by God’s grace, Ephesians 2:6. Our resurrection body is a house from heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:1,2, meaning it is God’s heavenly purpose for His people that they should have a changed body.

M (d) Verse 49   A serviceable body

15:49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

And as we have borne the image of the earthy- the “and” suggests a further thought; not only possessing a natural body like Adam, but representing and manifesting him through it.
We shall also bear the image of the heavenly- we shall have a body then which will enable us to truly and perfectly represent Christ, not only bodily but morally also, for we shall be like Him, 1 John 3:2. We all represent Adam now, (that is, as far as having a body is concerned. We should represent Christ as to our nature), but we are all different in looks, and have our own personality; so also when we represent and manifest Christ fully in resurrection conditions. We should always remember, however, that we should be growing daily in likeness to Christ. Paul’s desire for the Galatians was that Christ might be formed in them, Galatians 4:19, and Christ as the ascended Head of the church has given us gifted men, so that we might “grow up into Him in all things”, Ephesians 4:15.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 15,VERSES 50-53:

15:50  Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

15:51  Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

15:52  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

15:53  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

Section 5 15:51-53 Revelational

The mystery of the change of the bodies of the living saints

Structure of the section:

(a) Verses 50,51 Telling of the mystery.
(b) Verse 52 Timing of the change.
(c) Verse 53 Transformation of the believer’s body.

Summary
Up to this point the apostle has dealt mainly with the bodies of dead saints, but now he deals with the change effected to living saints at Christ’s coming. This is hitherto undisclosed truth, which is why it is called a mystery. After it has been disclosed, it will no longer be a mystery.

(a) Verse 50 The announcement of a mystery

15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

Now this I say, brethren- the apostle asserts his personal authority as the steward of Divine mysteries. He also encourages the Corinthians to take note, by calling them brethren.
That flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God- in other words, the bodies of believers, (brethren), cannot enter into full inheritance in heaven as they are. Flesh and blood conditions are suited to the earth, but not heaven. Note it is a question of inheriting. The children of God are heirs, Romans 8:17, (another reason why he calls them brethren here, for they are members of the family of God), and they are about to receive the fulness of their inheritance.
Neither doth corruption inherit incorruption to be flesh and blood does not imply sin, but corruption does, for it reminds us that there has been a fall, with its consequent bondage of corruption for all of creation, including our bodies, Romans 8:18-23. “Flesh and blood cannot” indicates a physical impossibility, whilst “corruption doth not” indicates a moral impossibility. It is said of the holy city that “there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth”, Revelation 21:27.

15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

Behold, I shew you a mystery- the word show as used here means to tell, or explain. A mystery in ancient times was a secret known only to the initiated, (called “the perfected”, see 1 Corinthians 2:6), and revealed by one specially authorised, see Ephesians 3:1-4. Paul acts in this capacity here as he unfolds the truth regarding the bodies of saints who are still alive when the Lord comes. How are they going to share in the resurrection if they have not died before Christ’s coming?
We shall not all sleep- that is, not all believers will pass into death, where the body sleeps, see John 11:11. The mystery is not about the fact that not all shall sleep, but about the fact that all shall be changed. We know that not all shall sleep because 1 Thessalonians 4:15, (written five years before 1 Corinthians), speaks of those who shall be alive at the coming of the Lord. In that passage Paul simply said that the living saints would be caught up with the saints who had died, but had now been raised from the dead. He did not mention the change of living saints in that passage.
But we shall all be changed- whether dead or alive at Christ’s coming. The word change means to make other than it is. Paul does not use the word that speaks of the manifestation of inner reality which he employs in Philippians 3:21, Romans 8:29, no doubt because he is thinking of bodily changes only at this particular point in his argument. The ground of this change is that the believer’s body is indwelt by the Spirit of God, so Romans 8:11 reads, “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken (make alive) your mortal (tending to death) bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you”.
In the previous verse to the one just quoted, Paul writes, “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness”. The indwelling of the Spirit shows up the fact that the believer’s body, because it has the sin-principle within it still, is judicially dead; that is, dead as far as God’s thought is concerned. However, the Spirit within means the believer is also judicially alive, because God has justified him with “justification of life”, 5:18. In this way spiritual life can manifest itself now. But it will manifest itself fully when the mortal body of the believer is quickened from its judicially dead state, and in this way partakes of the quickening that saints who have died will know.
Taking this passage and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 together, we see that dead saints shall rise first with their resurrection body, the living will be changed, so that both classes stand momentarily upon the earth in bodies fit for heaven, and then they are caught up together in the clouds, and then rise higher to meet the Lord in the air or atmosphere above the clouds. Perhaps they will be caught up together in the clouds so that the first person they see clearly is the Lord Himself, and not one another. The word translated “caught up” is based on a root word meaning “to take to oneself”, and would remind us of the Lord’s words, “I will come again, and receive you unto Myself”, John 14:3. Is this my reader’s hope? If it is not, then please re-read 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, looking to God to reveal His truth to you.

(b) Verse 52 The accompaniments of Christ’s coming

15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

In a moment- the Greeks believed that they had discovered the smallest particle, so small that it could not be further divided; they called it “a-tomos”, meaning “not divisible”, and this is the word the apostle employs here. If we could imagine a period of time that could not be divided up, then we would have an idea of the rapidity with which the change will take place. It is not, therefore, a process, but speaks of indivisible time, preparing us for eternity. This has solemn moral implications for us, for there will be no time to make amends with others, nor to repent of sins before God. As the apostle John wrote, “He that hath this hope on Him, purifieth himself”, 1 John 3:3.
In the twinkling of an eye- not a blink, but the momentary change of the light in the eye. This tells of change that is so sudden that the eye cannot capture it, an imperceptible change therefore. This is preparation for the changeless state.
At the last trump- now we learn of an irresistible call. In 1 Corinthians 14:8 the apostle likens the ministry of Christ to His people as a trumpet sound preparing them for battle. He no doubt has in mind the uses to which the silver trumpets were put in Israel, in accordance with Numbers 10. They were for calling the assembly; for a signal to journey; to call the princes, and to sound an alarm for war. Clearly, at the coming of Christ it is a question of preparing to journey. Many have been the soundings of the trumpet down through the centuries, as Christ has led His people on, but now there has come the last trump, for the last journey, this time from earth to heaven, is to be made.
For the trumpet shall sound- in Revelation 4:1 the apostle John heard a voice like a trumpet saying “Come up hither”, and he went through the opened door of heaven. Such shall be the experience of the saints. The apostle John described the voice of the Lord as like a trumpet, Revelation 1:10,11, so no doubt Paul is alluding to the voice of the Son of God that shall wake the dead saints, for “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live”, John 5:25.
And the dead shall be raised incorruptible- not only shall the bodies of believers not be corrupt, but shall be unable to be affected by corruption, assuring us the saints will never fall into sin.
And we shall be changed- the apostle links himself with those alive at the Lord’s coming, such was the expectancy with which he anticipated it. Yet he was also realistic, and spoke of his time of departure, 2 Timothy 4:6.

(c) Verse 53 The alterations to the believer’s body

15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption- the believer’s body is corruptible because it is the seat of the sin-principle, which means it is in the bondage of corruption. It is morally imperative that this body be altered, for nothing that defiles shall ever enter heaven, Revelation 21:27. Incorruption here has the thought of incorruptibility, which means the resurrection body is not only incorrupt, but cannot be corrupted.
And this mortal must put on immortality- likewise it is vital that the body that tends to death should be changed to one that is totally and eternally deathless. So sin which brings corruption, and death which brings mortality, shall both be dealt with.

THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 15,VERSES 54-57:

15:54  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

 15:55  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

 15:56  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

 15:57  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Section 6 15:54-57 Triumphal

Death is swallowed up in victory

 

Structure:

(a) Verse 54 The victory of life over death.
(b) Verses 55-56 The victory of Christ over death and hades.
(c) Verse 57 The victory of the believer through Christ.

Summary of the section

When the changes detailed in verses 51-53 have taken place, then the full extent of the victory obtained by Christ at the cross will be realised, and the triumph which He knew over death, Hades and the grave, will be shared with His people on the resurrection day.

(a) Verse 54 The victory of life over death

15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory”.

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption- “this corruptible” means this body which is capable of deteriorating because of the bondage into which the Fall of man brought it. “Put on” is the same figure used in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven”. The resurrection body is not able to decay.
And this mortal shall have put on immortality- now the body is viewed as being subject to and tending towards death. The resurrection body is not capable of dying, for it comes from the one who is life-giving, verse 45.
Then- there are three distinct ways used by the inspired writers to introduce the fulfillment of prophecy, and they are as follows:

1. With the word “ina”, meaning “in order that it might be fulfilled”, in cases where the object of the prophecy is completely realised.

2. With the word “opus”, meaning “so that it might be fulfilled”, in cases where not the full realisation of the thing prophesied, but an event within the scope and intention of the prophecy, is meant, in Matthew 8:17 for instance.

3. With the word “tole”, as here, meaning merely a case in point, when what happened was an illustration of what was said in the prophecy.

So the resurrection of the saints of this age is not a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah that Paul quotes here, nor of the prophecy from Hosea which he alludes to in the next verse. Rather, what will happen in relation to Israel in the future provides an illustration of what will happen at the resurrection of church saints. The principle is the same but the time and the people are different.

Shall be brought to pass the saying which is written- the saying of Isaiah 25:8 still stands written, hundreds of years later, for God’s word is inspired, not just was inspired- it retains its original character.
Death is swallowed up in victory”- this is the Hebrew way of saying that permanent victory over death has been achieved. What God pledged to do He will have then done.

(b) Verses 55,56 The victory of Christ over death and the grave

15:55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

“O death, where is thy sting?- this will be the exclamation of the saints when the resurrection has taken place. The original wording was “O death, I will be thy plagues”, Hosea 13:14, and is a declaration that God will accomplish this in the future.
O grave where is thy victory?” The original wording in Hosea indicates God’s intention to destroy death, “O death, I will be thy destruction”, and this He did when Christ rose from the dead, no more to die. If death cannot hold one who had all sins laid upon Him, its power is broken; if the Devil cannot defeat Christ when He is crucified through weakness, 2 Corinthians 13:4, he will never defeat Him.
So it is that saints that have died will find that the grave has not had the ultimate victory over them, and saints who are still alive when the Lord comes will rejoice as they realize they have escaped it altogether.
The Hebrew word “sheol” is translated in the Old Testament as “the grave” 31 times, and as “hell” 31 times. It is never translated “a grave”, but “the grave”. It is also translated “pit” three times, twice in connection with Korah. (In the passage from Hosea that Paul is alluding to here, the definite article is replaced by the vocative “O”, as God addresses the grave as if it is a person). So the same word is used of the place where the body is put, and the place where the soul resides until the resurrection. Jacob said, “For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning”, Genesis 37:35. But Jacob believed that his son had been devoured by a wild beast, and therefore had no grave. So in this first mention of the word sheol the grave is looked on as the entrance to the world of the dead, so that Jacob would indeed go down to the grave where his son was, meaning sheol.
The Authorised Version translators very wisely translated the word hades, (which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word sheol), as grave, and not Hades, because they knew full well that church saints do not go there anyway. They had the precedent of the Old Testament, where there was a choice between translating as either hell or the grave, according to the context. Christ has the keys of death and of Hades. He unlocks the door of death to His saints so that they die. But He locks Hades so that they do not go there, but pass immediately into His presence.

15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

The sting of death is sin- this is no doubt a reference to the word plague in Hosea 13:14. The bite of the serpent in Eden has resulted in the poison of sin being in us, which brings about death, for “the wages of sin is death”, Romans 6:23. On the resurrection morning all the saints shall be completely free from the sin-principle that currently dwells in their body. It will not be transferred to the resurrection body, for that body will be like Christ’s, and He has no sin.
And the strength of sin is the law- that which gave the sin-poison its potency, was the fact that it was the transgression of God’s law, for sin is the transgression of the law, 1 John 3:4. “The law worketh wrath”, Romans 4:15, and is the “ministration of death”, and “the ministration of condemnation”, 2 Corinthians 3:7,9. The apostle wrote, “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful”, Romans 7:13. So the law combines with the sin-principle in man to make that sin principle all the more deadly. In this way the law becomes the strength of sin, (the word is dunamis, from which we get the word dynamite), giving it even more power than it has on its own. There will be nothing of this in resurrection, however, for sin will be gone, and there will be nothing for the law to work upon in this way. The believer will only be governed by the “law of the Spirit” in heaven. Currently it is possible to give way to sin, but not then.

(c) 15:57 The victory of the believer through Christ

15:57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

But thanks be to God- the word thanks is “charis”, meaning grace, so is in direct contrast to the law which enhanced the power of sin in us. The grace of God gives us the victory over the powerful forces of sin and death. The law could not do this, Romans 8:3.
Which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ- the victory which was achieved when God destroyed death, hell and the grave by raising Christ from the dead, is given by grace to us, because of Him. Isaiah 53:12 speaks of God dividing a portion to Christ among the great, and Himself dividing the spoil with the strong, the reason being that He has poured out His soul unto death. His surrender to death has gained the surrender of death.

Section 7 15:58 Practical

Labour is not in vain in the Lord

15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Therefore- as a result of the whole chapter, but especially the last sections.
My beloved brethren- as those whose spiritual welfare is on the apostle’s heart.
Be ye steadfast- be firmly established in the truths set out in this chapter.
Unmoveable- unaffected by the error that some would try to teach.
Always abounding in the work of the Lord- the only feast in Israel’s calendar where there was no prohibition about working, was the feast of the waving of the firstfruits, see Leviticus 23:9-14, 1 Corinthians 15:20,23. The waving of the sheaf of firstfruits was done on the morrow after the Sabbath of week when the Passover lamb was slain. In other words, the very day the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. The wave-sheaf was waved horizontally, so that it could be seen from every angle; so the Lord Jesus was seen from every angle by those who believed, as verses 5-8 have reminded us.
Forasmuch as ye know- because you believe the truth of this chapter.
Your labour is not in vain in the Lord- because the Lord is risen, all work done for Him is worthwhile. The resurrection of Christ is a great incentive to work for Him, for everything done in His name will be carried over into resurrection to be for His praise to all eternity. The resurrection of Christ is also a great challenge, for it means that all that we have done will be assessed at the Judgement Seat of Christ, and we shall not be able to escape the consequences of our actions, even if we should desire to do so.

“And when I saw Him,
I fell at His feet as dead.
And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me,
Fear not;
I am the first and the last:
I am He that liveth, and was dead;
and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen;
and have the keys of hell and of death”.

Revelation 1:17,18.