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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:1-34

SUBJECT: Jesus the Firstfruits

The subject of I Corinthians 15 is the Resurrection of the Body. Paul brings it up because people in Corinth were saying, 'There is no such thing'. All the Pagans were saying this because, to them, a body was the prison of a soul, and salvation consisted of getting away from the material world to live a disembodied life of some kind up in the clouds. To put it in words familiar to us, the Pagan hope was 'to go to heaven when you die'.

If they had been the only ones saying this, I don't think Paul would have corrected it in his letter, but he does just that because, they were not the only ones saying it. Some of the Christians in Corinth were saying the same thing. Paul says so in v.12--

How do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?

How many of them were saying this, Paul doesn't say. What he does say is that it is a great error; it is inconsistent with believing the Gospel and living a godly life. No Bible doctrine is unimportant, but some are more important than others--and the Resurrection of the Dead is at the top of the list!

The Christian's hope is not to 'go to Heaven when he dies'. When he dies, he does go the Heaven--you might say--but this is not the end of the story. For now, the dead in Christ are present with the Lord and that is far better than where we are. But the Lord has something better for us than that. When Jesus comes again, He will raise the dead to immortality, renew the world, and, as the hymn says--

Earth and Heaven be one.

It is not our destiny to 'escape the world', but to inherit the earth. The Church has always confessed this because the Bible has always taught it: dimly in the Old Testament, to be sure, and, in the New Testament, as brightly as the Easter sunrise.


Paul is going to prove the Resurrection, but before he does that, he has to demonstrate its importance. 'If we're all with the Lord when we die, what difference does it make if we're with Him in the body or out of it?'

Most Christians I know feel this way. Paul did not.

He starts with a reminder of his own ministry in Corinth, vv.1-2. He didn't go there to champion personal morality or call for social justice. He went there to preach the Gospel.

Some of the Corinthians believed what he said, and as long as they kept on believing the Gospel, they would be saved. Paul's implication must not be miised or minimized: if they quit believing the Gospel, they would be lost. The theoretical question of whether true believers can 'quit believing the Gospel and be lost' is not his present concern. He's got something more practical in mind: he wants them to keep on believing the Gospel!

Why should they take Paul's word for it? Because they're not taking Paul's word for it! Paul did not think up the Gospel himself. According to v.3, He received it. And, if you read the rest of his writings, you'll see he did not get it from other preachers or churches or books., not even the Bible. He got it directly from Jesus Christ Himself.

By denying or doubting the Resurrection, therefore, the Corinthians were not breaking with Paul; they were breaking with Jesus! And since there is no life away from Jesus, they were choosing death. Their doctrinal mistake is that serious.

Why? Because the Resurrection is an indispensable part of the Gospel. Ignore it, and you don't have a reduced Gospel, you have no Gospel at all.

Take away the Resurrection, and Jesus becomes just another Teacher, like Socrates or Siddartha or Martin Luther King. A good man teaching good things. But that's all.

If Jesus had simply 'gone to Heaven when He died' there would be no Gospel. This underlines the importance of the Resurrection and how it must not be confused with other versions of 'life after death'.


Did the Resurrection really happen? Did a dead man actually come back to life?

Paul says He did, and he cites the evidence. Peter saw Him alive after His death; a bit later, the Twelve saw Him; then more than five hundred at one time saw Him. Then James His brother saw Him; then all the Apostles (not sure how they differ from the Twelve, if they do) saw Him; and finally, the unlikeliest man in the world saw Him, Paul himself.

How do we account for this strange testimony? Why would so many people, not known for lying or insanity, start saying that a dead man was really alive?

It's not because they were primitive. Of course they lived long before the scientific age, but primitive people were not stupid! They were every bit as sure as we are that 'dead men stay dead'. Otherwise they would have put doorknobs on both sides of the tomb!

It is not because Peter and his friends were looking for Jesus to rise from the dead, and if they saw a shadow here or heard a leaf rustle there, or spotted a man who kind of, sort of resembled Jesus at a distance if you squinted your eyes, they said it was the Lord. Read the Gospels and you'll see they weren't looking for Him to rise any more than you or I would be. They were not easy to convince; they were hard to convince. Jesus Himself called them--

Fools and slow of heart to believe!

It is not because their theology led them to expect it. For all their mistakes, the disciples truly believed their Bibles, but there was nothing in their Bibles to suggest more than one single Resurrection. Peter believed Jesus would rise from the dead on the Last Day, like all the other saints. What he didn't believe, was that the Resurrection of the Dead could occur before the Last Day, that the End of the World could be brought into the middle of history. No Bible believing Jew was looking for that. But that's what happened when Jesus rose from the dead.

The best explanation for believing their testimony is also the simplest one: they said they saw the Lord alive after He died because...they did.

Historians who are not disciples of Christ have done the church a real service. They tell us there were many Messianic movements in the First Century other than Christianity. In every case, charismatic leaders commanded a large and loyal following. Until the Romans killed the leaders and the followers went elsewhere. There was no attempt to build a movement around a 'Dead Judas' or 'The Sainted Memory of Theudas'. When the Messiahs died, the people realized they weren't Messiahs after all.

But when Jesus died, the opposite took place. A small group of loyal followers became three thousand in a day, and tens of thousands worldwide within a few years. And all without money or advertising or political patronage. Historians are stumped on why Christianity survived while the others died out. But we know why: Because Jesus rose from the Dead!

Paul was not worthy to preach the Gospel, but by God's grace he did, and he did it with all he had. The result of his preaching, and the preaching of others was, a believing Church, people who, for the most part, had not seen the Resurrected Lord, but believed He was risen, and believed it for very good reasons.

Luke said Jesus was a public figure--on both sides of the grave. He--

Showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs.

In telling the Gospel story to Herod Agrippa, Paul did not urge the king to take a blind leap of faith, but to act on what he knew to be the truth about Jesus, for--

These things were not done in a corner.

The Resurrection of Christ was a public event, accessible to anyone who really wanted to know the truth.


The first eleven verses of this chapter must have left the Corinthians scratching their heads. They weren't denying the Resurrection of Christ. For all its faults this was a Christian Church and Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead.

If this is true, why is Paul working himself up and charging them with heresies they don't believe? It's because all doctrines are connected, and if you deny the Resurrection of our bodies, it won't be long until you're denying the Resurrection of Christ.

If there is no resurrection, Christ is not risen.

The Corinthians were Greek, and the Greeks prided themselves on their logic. If their premises are correct, the conclusion has to follow. If (a) a man does not rise from the dead, (b) and if Christ is a man, it has to follow that (c) Christ did not rise from the dead. This is not only true, it has to be true! It cannot be untrue.

Paul wants to know if they're willing to give up the Gospel--and Christ Himself--to defend their silly end times speculation!

From the end times, he steps back to the present. If Christ is not risen, we have preached fantasy and that's all you've believed. Is that what the Gospel is? Fantasy literature? Science fiction?

What's more, if Christ did not rise, why do you put up with me and why do respect the Apostles and other Gospel preachers? If there is no Resurrection, we're fools at best, and more likely, charlatans!

Not only are we bad off if Christ is not risen from the dead, but so are you. If Jesus simply 'went to Heaven when He died', you're going to hell when you die because His rising from the Dead means God's accepted His sacrifice on the Cross in your place. If He's still dead, the Atonement for your sins wasn't made and you are still in your sins.

Then what about our loved ones who died in Christ? In short, they're gone. The only kind of 'afterlife' Paul knows is Resurrected Life, and if the dead don't rise, they're dead forever. Are you willing to give them up?

Finally, if the dead don't rise all we have in Christ is what we get here and now. For Paul that's a very bad deal. He gave up his family and his friends and his prestige and all for what? Thirty years of suffering followed by a shameful death on Caesar's chopping block! Then it's--

Out of the blue

and into the black.

If the dead don't rise, life ends with the grave. If life ends with the grave, we're fools for choosing the lives we do. The Pagans are right! Paul says so in v.32, quoting Isaiah--

Let us eat and drink,

for tomorrow we die.

But if Jesus did rise from the dead, we and what we do in life are not lost. The final word does not belong to death; it belongs to Life. The choice is that stark and brutal. If there is no Resurrection, the maggots are god! But if the dead do rise--

The Lord, He is God!

The Lord, He is God!


Starting in v.20, Paul finally makes the connection between the Resurrection of Christ and our own. He does it in two ways. Briefly, in v.20, he calls--

Christ, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Firstfruits is a word known to every farmer, especially the ones who read the Bible. Firstfruits are just that, the fruits that become ripe first. Under the Law, they belonged to God in a special way. The ripe and healthy fruit were brought to the Temple, and when God received them, they went home confident He would bless the whole farm, and before long, they would reap a wonderful harvest.

Playing off this image, Paul says 'Jesus is to us what the firstfruits were to the Jewish farm'. If He's the first one harvested to eternal life, He won't be the last; and knowing God has raised Him, we can be sure he will raise us from the dead!


This should have been enough for the Corinthians, but evidently it was not. Maybe they took firstfruits to be a pledge to the Jews only, since only they were under the Law and 'got' the reference.

Paul steps back from the Law to the first man who ever lived, Adam. He wasn't a Jew or a Gentile, but everyone's ancestor. Adam was in Covenant with God. If he obeyed the Lord he would live for a time in Eden, and, in God's good time, 'graduate' to God's New World with all his descendants in tow. His was a great privilege, to represent the whole human race, and also a great responsibility.

Which he failed to meet. Instead of obeying the Lord, he obeyed the devil, and received the death penalty, both for himself and for all of his descendants, v.22--

In Adam, all die.

Jesus came as a Second Adam, and unlike the first one, he obeyed God in every detail of life, up to and including the death of the cross.

Through His obedience, Jesus won what Adam lost, and that is Eternal Life, Heavenly Life, the Life of God, a Life that can never be lost!

We know He has that life because--right now--in His Resurrected Body--He is reigning at God's Right Hand and exercising dominion over the world. That's what Adam would have had had he been faithful to God, and what Jesus has because He is!

If Adam had a people dependent on Him, so does Jesus. We who belong to Him will share the Life of the Resurrection and reign with Him forever, under the Lordship of God.

Because He's on the other side of death and Resurrection, He's already got that place of honor. We don't. But we will because when Jesus comes again, Death, the last enemy will be destroyed for us, for all who belong to Christ through faith.

On that day our loyalties will no longer be divided, our hearts no longer split, our vision no longer double. Then, things will be as they ought to be--

God will be all in all!


From this dizzying height of Resurrection Glory, Paul brings us back to earth with a thud, vv.29-32. The Corinthians need more proof of the Resurrection, and he gives them more.

First, with one of the weirdest verses in the Bible, v.29--

Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why are they baptized for the dead?

This is what's called an ad hominem argument, that means 'to the man'. If a governor condemns illegal immigration, for example, you might ask him why he employs his nanny is an illegal.

This is what Paul does here. For some reason, the Corinthians baptized the dead by proxy. Say, Uncle Tom died three years ago unbaptized, they baptized his nephew in his name. Why they did nobody outside of Salt Lake City knows! The great German commentator, FAW Meyer spends five pages of fine print saying, in effect, 'You got me!'

I really wish I knew why they were doing this and what Paul thought of it, but the Bible doesn't say, and I've got to be content not knowing. Thankfully, it doesn't matter. Paul's point is a simple one: If the dead are dead and gone, why are you baptizing them as if they're going to come back to life? Their own practices--right or wrong, wise or stupid--means they can't live without the Resurrection.

Paul agrees with them. If there's no Resurrection, his life is a tribute to folly. Why does he preach Christ to Jews who want to kill him? Why does he say, 'Jesus is Lord' to an Empire built on the belief that 'Caesar is Lord'? Why does he humble himself daily, make a fool of himself, do without wife and children, a good place to live and plenty of food, to live a lonely and exhausting and dangerous life of poverty and shame? He does it because the Dead Do Rise! And what we do in this life will matter in the Life to Come!


He closes with two exhortations, v.33--

Be not deceived, evil company corrupts good habits.

'Resurrection' was not a new idea in Corinth; Paul had taught it there himself and, after he moved on, faithful brothers had continued teaching it. But the proud and, perhaps idle, members of the church were not content with his doctrine. It made their neighbors laugh at them; it seemed so crude and foreign, and maybe too Jewish. Couldn't they blend it into the Greek belief in the Immortality of the Soul?

Paul has already said they can't do that, and since they can't, they ought to stop listening to people who say otherwise. Stop going to the public lectures! Rebuke the heretics in the church, and if they won't repent, throw them out. Bad company is bad for you! We know this when the badness is 'moral', but is also true with it's 'doctrinal' badness.

Awake to righteousness and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

The words awake to righteousness mean 'sober up'; the smart members of the church are drunk with intellectual pride. But there is no reason for their pride. For all their soaring rhetoric, they've become as stupid as their unbelieving neighbors. Instead of beating their chests like a gorilla, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, for letting the wisdom of the world to creep into their thinking and put their faith and the Gospel at risk!

This is Paul at his angriest, and not because 'the Resurrection' was his pet theory, but because the Life of Christ is the only Life, the Life of the church, the Life of the world.


At his angry rebuke, let us repent of our own worldly thinking. Of doubting the Resurrection because skeptics say it can't happen. Of spiritualizing the Resurrection as though it changes only the soul and not the body as some Christian fools say. But mostly of paying lip service to the Resurrection without living as though it were true.

If Jesus is risen from the dead, we are truly forgiven, no matter how bad we've been in the past, or present.

If Jesus' Resurrection guarantees our own, let us be content with what we have now, for whatever we lack a the moment, we'll have in the future and far more.

If the Resurrection is true, the world matters and especially other people. Let us take care of them as best we can.

If the Resurrection is sure, let us wait for it with hope, not by setting dates, but by living as though Jesus could come any day. Because He may.

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