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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 15:21-58


 Chapter 15:21-58

Victory and the Eternal Kingdom

21. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
23.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.
24.  Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
25.  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.
26.  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
27.  For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him, “it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted.
28.  Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

Christ, in His resurrection, was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Firstfruits. There were three feasts that occurred simultaneously in the Jewish month Abib. In the afternoon of the 14th day of the month, the Passover feast took place. The next day the Feast of Unleavened Bread began and lasted seven days. The first day of that feast was a sabbath, a day of rest, and the next day, the very first sheaf of the harvest was offered to the Lord. This was called the Feast of Firstfruits. From that day, fifty days were counted to the Feast of Pentecost. The Scripture calls these (Lev.23:2) ‘the feasts of the Lord’.

Christ was the Passover Lamb, offered on Passover evening, then rested in the tomb on the sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, rising from the dead on the morning of the Feast of Firstfruits (see Lev.23:5-14). This is why Paul called him the Firstfruits of them that sleep. That year it happened to fall on the first day of the week. The sheaf of firstfruits was a representation of the entire harvest, in thanksgiving and consecration, recognizing that all comes from God and belongs to God.

Paul presents this spiritual principle in Romans 11:16, speaking of Israel: “If the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy” or, if the first sample offered to God is holy, then the entire harvest is holy. (The Israelites also offered a “firstfuit dough” to the Lord, from a larger mass of dough. That is to which Paul is referring.) Paul applies the principle to Israel: If the patriarchs were chosen and consecrated by God, then the entire nation is God’s. Applying this to Christ’s resurrection it means, if He, as the firstfruits, was resurrected, then it assured the resurrection of all believers.

Matthew Henry comments: “The whole body of Christ, all that are by faith united to him, are by His resurrection assured of their own. As He has risen, they shall rise; just as the lump is holy because the first fruits are so. He has not risen merely for Himself, but as head of the body, the church; and those that sleep in Him, God will bring with him (1 Th.4:14)”

What follows, beginning with verse 21, is an interesting comparison between the two great protagonists of the human race: 1) Adam is the first creation and 2) Christ is the second. From Adam came physical death upon all of humanity; from Christ came resurrection from that death. In the fall, Adam underwent a negative transformation. His genes were reconstructed to cause universal death to himself and all his offspring without exception. The old creation is destined to die. We should not think it an injustice that we should be punished for Adam’s fall, unless we are ready to concede that it is an injustice that we should freely be granted life on the merits of Jesus Christ.

Those who belong to the new creation through new birth, those who are in Christ, will be resurrected at the resurrection of the just (22). It should also be noted that Christ will call forth both the saved and the damned from their graves: “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn.5:28). Paul, however, speaks of those in Christ, whom He will call forth at His coming for the church: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep… For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Th.4:13,16). We already have the assurance, because Christ rose from the dead, that we will surely follow Him in resurrection (23).

It is a present truth that, “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn.11:26), but he will only be transported from his earthly body to the presence of the Lord. His body will sleep until Christ returns for His own. After the Tribulation, Christ will destroy the Antichrist and the False Prophet in the Lake of Fire (Rev.19:20). After His thousand-year reign, the devil will also be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev.20:10). He finally destroys death at the Great White Throne judgment. He will then call forth the damned from their graves and Death and Hell will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev.20:5, 11-15).  In the end, every knee will bow to Him, He will put every enemy under His feet in submission, and He alone will reign supreme (24-26). Christ will then turn His mediatorial kingdom over to the Father (Jn.17:10, 12).

John Wesley gives us an important theological truth on verse 24: “Not that the Father will then begin to reign without the Son, nor will the Son then cease to reign. For the divine reign of the Father and Son is from everlasting to everlasting. But this spoken of the Son’s MEDIATORIAL KINGDOM, which will then be delivered up, and of the immediate kingdom or reign of the Father, which will then commence. Till then the Son transacts the business which the Father hath given him, for those who are his, and by them as well as by the angels, with the Father, and against their enemies. So far as the Father gave the kingdom the Son, the Son shall deliver it up to the Father (Jn.13:3). Nor does the Father cease to reign, when he gives it to the Son; neither the Son, when he delivers it to the Father: but the glory which he had before the world began (Jn.17:5, He.1:8) will remain even after this is delivered up. Nor will he cease to be a king even in his human nature (Lk.1:33). If the citizens of the New Jerusalem shall reign forever (Rev.22:5), how much more shall he?”

The prophecy, He has put all things under His feet (27 with Ps.8:6) is in present perfect tense. In God, the future is as sure as history and cannot fail. The exception to “all” is God Himself. Christ’s manhood, then as now, is subject to the Father. However, nothing can ever be taken away from, or limited, concerning divinity; therefore His divinity, along with the Father, will be all in all… completely and absolutely (28).

Why bother if there’s no resurrection?

29.  Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?
30.  And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?
31.  I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
32.  If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
33.  Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
34.  Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.

We come to a verse, which can be somewhat confusing, and has been misused by men, whose minds have not been illuminated by the Spirit of God. The Mormons practice “proxy baptism”, in which a ‘believer’ is baptized in place of a dead relative, who is an unbeliever. The practice is not scriptural, but it may have existed in Paul’s time. In any case, the Corinthians understood what he was illustrating. There are many other opinions as to what Paul is referring, but we can be sure of his intention: He wants to prove that Christianity is not logical, if there is no resurrection. Why should anyone become a Christian and expose himself to difficulties, loss, persecution and even martyrdom, if there is no resurrection? (29)

The apostle himself would be an example of the latter opinion. He asks, Why do I and my fellow missionaries put ourselves at risk? (30) I assure you, he goes on, that as sure as I boast, find enjoyment, or glory in your Christianity, I am just as surely exposed to death continually (31, the structure of the sentence may suggest an oath). Understanding the demonic activity in Asia Minor, due to Greek gods, who were nothing less than demons, and the books on witchcraft burned by the Ephesians, He has fought against savage beasts. They stir up their mobs against those who bring in the message of Christ. He taught the Ephesians that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph.6:12). Why would a man put himself through such trouble, and refuse to submit himself to a better and more comfortable way of human life if there is no resurrection? (32)

Paul warns: Be careful with whom you associate, because they will have an effect on your Christianity (33). You have become comfortable and satisfied with your level of life and even defended it. It has bred sin. How disturbing it is, when sin is not recognized, until it breaks out in a form that cannot be ignored! You need to awaken to your actual state, as God sees you. There are people among you, perhaps more than you think, who do not know God! That is, they do not have a true relationship with God and, therefore, are not Christians at all. That is why they are averse to truth and concoct false doctrines. They are proud of themselves, their knowledge and their church; but, in fact, they are ignorant of important matters and need to be ashamed (34). John Wesley said, “Nothing is more shameful than sleepy ignorance of God.”  


35.  But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?”
36.  Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.
37.  And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain – perhaps wheat or some other grain.
38.  But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
39.  All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.
40.  There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41.  There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
42.  So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.
43.  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
44.  It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

As to questions concerning the resurrected body, we turned to the Firstfruits, who is Christ. That is a subject that, I think, earlier we have covered sufficiently. We have discussed the word itself, and these two issues should have provided us with a foundation for this doctrine. Now Paul will present us with some other matters, which demonstrate a transformation (35). He already said that there were shameful characteristics among them and now goes on to declare some of the Corinthians foolish (36).

The resurrection was taught in the Scriptures from earliest times. Job existed during the Genesis period and he knew about the resurrection: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25,26). David said: “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Ps.17:15). Isaiah prophesied: “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Is.26:19). As Daniel closed his book, an angel taught him, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dn.12:2).

Even nature teaches us the truth concerning death and resurrection. To all appearances a seed is dead, when placed into the ground and buried. Matthew Henry calls “How are the dead raised?”, a stupid question because it denotes unbelief concerning the power of God. Does it become a problem with God, when flesh turns to dust and gases? The second question is not offered by opponents, but by doubters.

In answer to that question, the first consideration is the transformation and superiority of the body that is raised. A mere seed is put into the ground, but a green plant rises from the earth (37). It is done at the pleasure of a creative God… as He pleases. In so doing, Paul points to the need to trust the sovereignty of God; He knows what He is doing. There is tremendous wisdom and variety in His creation. Notice the mind-boggling differences in bodies: Men, animals, fish, and birds (39). There are heavenly bodies: The sun, the moon, the stars and a varied brightness among them (40,41). There will be a difference, as well, among the resurrected bodies of believers. Every created body fits in its place and adapts to its ambiance. The question follows: “If He can create, cannot the Creator resurrect?” He will do so with transforming power so as to fit the human body for heaven and eternity (42).

Paul lists some of the changes, which will take place: 1) The body that is buried in order to corrupt will be raised, never again to see corruption. 2) It is placed in the ground as a dishonorable body. In spite of the eulogies pronounced over it, it is lowered into the ground a victim of sin and death. Paul told the Philippians that it is vile (Phil.3:21). It will be raised in glorious wonder in the likeness of the resurrected Christ. 3) In weakness, it has succumbed to sickness and death, as death is the epitome of weakness, incapable of any function. It will be raised as an overcoming, powerful being (43). 4) It is sown a natural body, suited to the pleasures of this life, but raised a spiritual body, designed for and sensitive to another world altogether, inhabited by a perfect spirit. Please notice, it is still a body, and there is continuity; it is still our body. Paul declares that there is a natural and a spiritual body, whether we have any knowledge of such a being or not (44). The spiritual body will serve and glorify God throughout eternity.

Although these transformations will take place, just as the disciples recognized Christ in His resurrected body, once their unbelief was removed, so we will recognize one another in our resurrected bodies. The believers in Thessalonica were to comfort one another concerning their beloved ones, who had died. So that they would not sorrow, Paul taught they would meet them at the resurrection and be caught up to heaven together with them (1 Th.4:13-18).  

Matthew Henry, speaking of Abraham, who “was gathered to his people” (Ge.25:8, an expression often used in the Bible), said “Death gathers us to our people. Those that are our people while we live… are the people to whom death will gather us.” There is every indication that we will know one another in eternity and nothing in Scripture that indicates that we will not.

The First and Last Adam

45.  And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
46.  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.
47.  The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.
48.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.
49.  And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
50.  Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.

We return to the progenitors of the first and second creation. Adam is the first man and from the time of his creation in his perfect form, he was a living soul or being. The spiritual body will come into being through the agency of the last Adam, who is a life-giving spirit. Adam reproduced himself and the world is filled with billions of living souls. Christ is uncreated life in Himself, resurrection life, and He does something other than simply restore life to the dead. He is the source of eternal life and He gives life of a quality unknown to Adam or his progeny (45).

First came the natural man, made from the dust of the earth and adapted to the earth. Christ came from heaven and imparted to natural man a heavenly nature through a new birth. His spirit is made alive and forever saved from eternal death. His soul, a part of the inner man, is experiencing a renewal, while last of all, his body awaits transformation at the resurrection (46,47). There are two distinct races on this earth, far different than those of various colors or habitats, and more differences even than those between a man and a woman.

They have different progenitors: The first man is of the earth and so are all his descendants. The second Man is the Lord from heaven and all those, who are born again are partakers of the divine nature (2 P.1:4). We are not, and never will be, divine, but because He became a human being and remains human throughout eternity, we will bare an eternal similarity to Him (48). In Adam we bore the likeness and image of God, but now, in Christ, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (49).

We could never inhabit heaven, as we exist here, in our natural flesh-and-blood bodies,. We have no idea of what physical qualities will be needed there, but of course, they will require capabilities, of which we know nothing now (50).

The Rapture

51.  Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed
52.  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55.  “O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
56.  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
57.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord

As Paul brought the Thessalonians to the rapture, so he will now bring the Corinthian church, and we will be able to learn more details about that most significant and glorious event for the future of the church. He calls the rapture a mystery, which was hidden among the prophecies of last-day events. It did not fit into all the descriptions concerning the second coming of Christ, and it stood apart from the millennial reign of the Lord. Is this what John was describing in Revelation 10:7, when he wrote that “in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished…?”

He told the Thessalonians that there would be saints who would be alive when Christ returns and he declares the same here, in verse 51, and their bodies will experience the same transformation as the resurrected saints. As so many of God’s long-awaited events, when they do happen, they happen suddenly. In this case, it will take place, literally, in a split second.

What will signal His return? It will be heralded by the last trumpet and when it sounds, the resurrection will occur, and those coming from the grave, as well as those who are alive, will all experience this amazing transformation that Paul has been depicting. Essentially, they will become incorruptible and immortal (52,53). For those who participate in this mystery, eternal life will swallow death (54), exactly as Isaiah prophesied: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken” (Is.25:8).  

According to the prophet, Hosea, the destroyer will be destroyed: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction!” (Hos.13:14). Having obliterated the enemies of mankind, the poisonous sting of death will be extracted and Hades will suffer everlasting defeat (55). It needs to be said that the Lord will get the victory, whether or not, we can fully appreciate it. It will happen, therefore it is to our present spiritual well-being to grasp it in full faith.

Paul quoted David in Romans 4:8: “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (from Ps.32:2). The cross has dealt with the sin question, so death has lost its sting. Death is now the doorway to heaven for the soul, the body resting and awaiting the resurrection (56). We are carried from grace to grace, free from the penalty of the law, because God’s good pleasure has been extended to us. It is purely a work of the Lord Jesus Christ (57). Thanks be to Him for our victory through the gospel! “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

Therefore, says Paul, because of all that he has taught us in the love of God, be solid, and planted on a firm foundation. Don’t let the enemy influence you and shake your sure position in Christ. Know the purposes of God, from Genesis to Revelation, and find your calling in them. It is impossible that they can ever suffer loss. “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose(Ro.8:28).


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