I’m ecstatic to put the Spiritual Gifts chapters behind us and move into other matters. 1 Corinthians 15 has absolutely nothing controversial in it to deal with—well, there’s the verse about “baptizing for the dead,” and the misapplication of the euphemism of “sleep” for death which leads to the incorrect concept of “soul sleep” in death rather than the immediacy of judgment—oh, and there’s the references to how the end of all time breaks down with resurrections. No, nothing controversial.
Just some aspects that you’ll really need to grab a good Bible commentary on 1 Corinthians and do some research about it for yourself. I’d recommend the Teach the Text volume by Preben Vang and…well, actually, most of my 1 Corinthians resources are digital. At the very least, get a good Study Bible like the CSB Study Bible from Holman or the ESV Study Bible from Crossway.
The bulk of the chapter, though, does walk through some very basic ideas. The side items are the idea of Paul among the apostles (v. 8-9), that Jesus will return before every believer dies (v. 51, also the theme verse for all church nurseries), and the listing of resurrection appearances of Jesus. The main dish? The centrality of the fact of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Rather than focus on one verse, since that idea is the focus of the chapter, we’ll take that as the focus of the blog post. First, Paul sets up the resurrection as the key to the Gospel which he preached in Corinth. He points out that Jesus died and was buried, and then draws out the description of the resurrection by naming witnesses. This includes surviving witnesses (v. 6), some of whom must have been known to the church.
Second, Paul then connects the resurrection’s reality to the hope of the church. If the resurrection isn’t real, then nothing else the church has come to believe has any value—it is all vain. And vain, used in the Bible, typically refers to empty and meaningless, pointless and wasteful, rather than just “self-absorbed" as we tend to use it.
Third, Paul roots the resurrection into reality with the witnesses he recounts. The clear purpose is to establish that Jesus was not raised like many of the mythic heroes of Greece and Rome, where they were “raised” and then placed in the stars or moved off to a far away land. Jesus was raised and then seen by the people who had known Him in the first place.
What does that mean for us?
First of all, the resurrection is not merely a doctrine to be held or debated. It is a fact to either be accepted or rejected. There is no “spiritual meaning” to be substituted or symbolism that overrides the facts of the matter. Jesus is really risen, or there is nothing else in Christianity of value. Nothing.
So make up your mind where you are on that.
Second, though this may surprise some of you, there are those who think that the resurrection of Christ is actually optional. It’s not—so if you have a book that claims to talk of “good spirituality” but downplays the historicity of the Risen Christ, there’s a place for it: the trash. It is vain and empty—anything of value will be available elsewhere.
Third, keep the focus on the most important thing: Christ is Risen! Therefore, death is done for. Sin is atoned for, completely, and Jesus is no longer on the Cross but alive! That’s hopeful. Christianity is a religion of faith, hope, and love—and if we want to grow in our capacity for love, we need to cling to the hope of life in Christ!
A few key nerd points:
1. 1 Corinthians 15:22 makes spiritualizing Adam (and, therein, Genesis 1-3) a bit difficult. If Adam doesn’t bring death in all, then the first half of this parallel statement is false—which means the second half is, too.
2. V. 32 references fighting “wild beasts” at Ephesus. Holman Commentary makes this symbolic, as do most others. It is feasible as a reality, not as a punishment but possibly a life situation if Paul was having to dwell in the wilder parts of the area.
3. 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 would generate several great sermons. Bad company corrupts, stop sinning, be sober-minded. There’s plenty of action to be held there.