The First Epistle to the Corinthians
(9) On the Resurrection of Christ and the Resurrection of the Dead (Ch. 15)
If Chapter 13 of this epistle is one of the most prominent chapters of the Bible concerning love, chapter 15 is one of the most prominent chapters of the Bible concerning the resurrection of Christ and the final resurrection. It constitutes, with the Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, the foundation of our belief in the doctrine of resurrection. This doctrine was not all clear in the Old Testament that even the Sadducees denied it, while the Greeks who believed in the eternity of the soul, did not believe in the resurrection of the body after its death.
Resurrection is the foundation of our faith:
+ St. Paul indicates the fundamental role of the resurrection Christ in Christian faith and in the preaching of the gospel of salvation, “The gospel … which you received and in which you stand (as a present act which will be completed at the revelation of Christ) ... otherwise you have believed in vain” (15:1-2). Then, he brings anew the principles of the faith that he submitted to them before, as he himself has accepted:
(1) “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (prophesy),
(2) “That He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,”
(3) He confirms the truth of His resurrection that He appeared to Peter (which was also recorded in the gospel of St. Luke 24:34), then to the twelve, and after that He appeared at once to more than five hundred brethren most of them are still living, but some have fallen asleep. After that, He appeared to James (the brother of the Lord), then to all of the apostles, “Then last of all, He was seen by me also, as to one born out of due time” (15:3–9)(1).
+ In spite of all the great accomplishments of St. Paul, he remained amazingly humble. Here he describes himself as the “last of all”, “born out of due time”, the “least of the apostles”, and “I do not deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God” (15:9). But he magnifies the work of the grace of God in him “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (i.e. what I am in is by the grace of God) and how this grace has supported him that he worked harder than all of them, “yet not I, but the grace of God, that was with me” (15:10).
+ St. Paul confronts those who claim that there is no resurrection with the following truth: The resurrection of Christ is pivotal for the preaching of salvation (there is no effect of the cross of Christ and His death without His resurrection). Without the resurrection of Christ the preaching of the gospel is useless, and faith is vain. We remain in our sins, and “those who have fallen asleep in Christ (in the hope of the resurrection) have perished.” Also, the apostles who preached that Christ has been raised from the dead “are found false witnesses of God” because they preached the resurrection of Christ, which did not happen “if in fact the dead do not rise” (15:12-18).
+ Eternal life in Christ is the goal of our salvation. If our hope in Christ is limited to this present life only and after that death without resurrection “we are to be pitied more than all men” (15:19). If we suffer here, carry our cross, deny ourselves the lust of the flesh and the pleasures of this world, and live on the hope of a glory that will not happen, how pitiful we are. Then, “let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (15:32), and the stupid rich man (Luke 12:19) becomes our role model.
+ But Christ has risen … and so we also, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” and consequently we too will rise at His coming, “He is the first fruit of those who had fallen asleep.” If in Adam, the first man who sinned, all die; in Christ the Son of man, the righteous, is the “resurrection of the dead … so in Christ all shall be made alive … But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (15:20–23).
+ The Son’s salvation and His revelation of the kingdom of God, will reach its greatest fulfillment at the end of the present ages, when He had destroyed, by the final resurrection of the dead, “all dominion, authority, and power”, and God is declared the King without any opponent, putting “all His enemies under His feet” including “the last enemy that will be destroyed (which) is death” (15:24–26). The Father has sent His Son (Gal. 4:4) to the world, and “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16, Rom. 8:32), and “has raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:3, Rom. 10:9, Gal. 1:1, Eph. 1:20, Col. 2:12, 1Thes. 1:10, 1Peter 1:21). And Christ, “the son of man” who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant ... and became obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:7-8), who is at the same time one with the Father in His divinity (John 10:30, 14:11), will come at the end of days as the head of the victorious Church, to offer her obedience to God the Father. “When all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will be made subject to Him (the Father) who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (15:28).
This verse, which is difficult to interpret, should be understood together with other verses that indicate the unity of the three equal persons of the Holy Trinity. The Son who “delivers the kingdom to God the Father” (15:24) after His death, resurrection, and ascension, to proclaim the completion of His salvation, will not loose His eternal Kingdom (Dan. 7:14, Rev. 11:15), neither the Father will recover what was not His; but this indicates the victory of salvation that God had designed since the fall of Adam, and will be completed at the last day when the Son will be glorified with His saints, the same as He was glorified in His crucifixion, death and resurrection (John 12:23 - “the hour has come that the Son of man be glorified”). In another place, St. Paul states that Christ will be “all in all” (Col. 3:11) and sees Him crowned with “glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9). This description applies to each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity as one (Triune) God (Deut. 6:4, Mat. 19:17, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19, John 5:44, Rom. 3:30, 1Cor. 8:4, Gal. 3:20, James 2:19, 1John 5:7).
+ At the end of his discourse on the inevitability of the resurrection of the dead and its relation to the final salvation that began with the cross and the resurrection and will be accomplished, St. Paul warns against “bad company” with those “who do not have the knowledge of God” for this “corrupts good character” and shakes the beginners’ faith.
Also, he brings forth two points in connection with the previous topic, “if there was no resurrection of the dead”. We’ll start with the second point: What would St. Paul profit from endangering himself every hour, being exposed to death every day, and fighting wild beasts (either in the literal sense or figuratively - i.e. fighting those who ferociously resist the faith), “if the dead are not raised” (15:30-32). The resurrection of Christ justifies all suffering for Him. The first point is in regard to “those who are baptized for the dead.” This is more difficult of explain. It may refer to a practice that was performed in the early Church and then stopped, where it is thought that a believer was baptized in the name of another who lead him to faith before he could be baptized, or in the name of another who proclaimed his faith but was martyred before his baptism(2). St. Paul says here “if the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them” (15:29); there is no reason then for this baptism. St. Paul does not discuss the validity of this practice, but he only questions the purpose of this practice if there was no resurrection of the dead.
+ The body must die before it is raised, “What you sow is not made alive unless it dies” (15:36). The resurrected body differs in its shape from the body that died (which was buried, burned by fire, drowned in water, or devoured by beasts). “And what you sow, you do not sow the body that shall be” (the resurrected body). This is similar to the difference between the seed (or the egg) and the body that comes from it (however, they are related to each other in spite of the difference in the final shape).
+ As the bodies differ between man, animals, birds, and fish and between heavenly and earthly bodies and the stars (like the sun, the moon and other stars), “for one star differs from another star in glory”, likewise, our bodies will differ at the resurrection of the dead:
“The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (15:42-44)
+ Similarly, “the first man Adam became a living being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit … The first man was of the earth, made of dust, the second Man is the Lord from heaven … And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man”(3)(15: 45-49).
+ This change must happen, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (15:50), because in heaven they will be like the angels of God (Mat. 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:36).
+ There will be people alive at the time of resurrection, therefore “we will not all die” but we all (dead or alive) will be transformed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (Mat. 24:31, 1Thes 4:15-17)(4). Thus, “the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we (who are alive) shall be changed” (15:51-53, 1Thes. 4:15-17).
+ In this way, the Scriptures will be fulfilled (Hosea 13:14), and death will be defeated, “O Death, where is your sting (sin)? O Hades (where the souls of the dead were), where is your victory?” “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (who has defeated death by His death and enlightened life and eternity [2Ti. 1:10]) (15:54-57).
+ This is the last recommendation of the apostle Paul after he has enlightened the mind of the Corinthian Church believers (and all the subsequent generations) with the light of the knowledge of the gospel, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not vain in the Lord” (15:58).
(9) The Conclusion of the Epistle (Ch. 16):
After soaring high in the theological and intellectual spheres, St. Paul returns to the concerns of the daily life of the Church. He commends his brethren the poor (particularly those in Jerusalem) and their needs, on which his concerns were always focused as he traveled here and there to collect for them. He preached on their behalf in all his epistles to the Churches, and he served them, in obedience to the Lord command. He opened in front of them the gates of faith, and confirmed their membership in the Church (Acts 20:35, 24:17, Ro. 15:25-28, Gal. 2:10, 2Cor. 8, 9).
+ He asks everyone, as he did in the Galatians Churches, to collect whatever he can every Sunday, so that when he comes, he will send their gifts to Jerusalem in the hands of whom they approve. “If it fitting that I go also, they will go with me” (16:1–4).
+ He promises to visit them after he stays in Ephesus (where he wrote his epistle) to the day of Pentecost (because a great and effective door has opened to him to preach there, and there are many who oppose him), and departs to Macedonia, and then he may stay with them till winter (16:5-9).
+ St. Paul also advises them to respectfully deal with Timothy, whom he will send to them soon, and that no one should despise him (because he is young) … because “he does the work of the Lord, just as I also do” (16:10). Honoring God’s servants is also honoring God himself (Mt. 10:40, Luke 10:16).
+ ِAlso, he points to the honorable decision of Apollos, who did not want to go to them despite Paul’s urging, feeling bad that there are people who admire him more than Paul, causing divisions in their church. “I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time” (16:12). He has seen it wise to stay away now to preserve the unity of the Church.
+ In the midst of the different topics and news, St. Paul does not forget the essential spiritual directives: “Watch (be on your guard), stand fast in the faith; be brave; be strong. Let all that you do be done with love” (16: 13, 14).
+ He also commands them to honor the household of Stephanas, who were the first converts in Achaia, and all those who serve the saints like them. He announces his joy for the arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus who comforted him concerning them, “For they refreshed my spirit and yours” (16:18).
+ He sends them the greetings of those who are with him in Asia Minor (Ephesus): Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2) “with the church that is in their house”, and he asks that they “greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:20). This tradition is continued in many Churches including the Coptic Church.
+ As a seal to the epistle and to attest its genuineness, he takes the pen and writes “The salutation with my own hand – Paul’s” (16:21).
+ He affirms one more time the love of the Lord, “If anyone does not love the Lord … let him be aacursed, Maranatha”(5)(16:22)
+ In the last sentence, he writes “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen”. Let us learn from St. Paul how to start and end our letters.
(1) It is to be noticed that some of these appearances were not mentioned in the gospels, such as a) His appearance to James (the brother of the Lord, who may have joined his relativesin blasphemy against the Lord before becoming His disciple [Mark 3:21]. Here the Lord showed him His consistent love and forgiveness, as He did also with Peter, to confirm their faith and their preaching of salvation), and b) His appearance to a great number at once.
(2) The Church considers the martyrs who died before their baptism with water, as actually baptized “with blood”, and those who believed but died before their baptism, as baptized “by intention”.
(3)In his epistle to the Philippians (Phil. 3:20-21) St. Paul says that in His second coming from heaven, the Lord “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (that is like His glorified body after the resurrection who was material and spiritual at the same time, cannot be intercepted by any obstacle and does not need earthly food).
(4) To complete the picture of the final resurrection and its signs, review the following references: Mat. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, 1Thes. 4:13-18, 2Thes. 2: 1-11, 2 Peter 3.
(5) He wrote it in the Aramaic language “Maran atha” in the midst of his epistle written in the Greek language. This word was common among the believers and means “the Lord is near, or come O Lord”.
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