For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

Even a casual reading of this chapter reveals that the subject is resurrection, and the need for Paul to give teaching on that subject arises from the fact that the Greeks (and the Corinthians were Greeks) not only didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body, but were repulsed by such an idea, for as is pointed out in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, “To them the resurrection of the body was unthinkable in view of the fact that they held the body to be the source of man’s weakness and sin.  Death, therefore, was very welcome, since by it the soul would be liberated from the body; but resurrection was not welcome, because this would constitute another descent of the soul into the grave of the body.  This was the skepticism that Paul faced at Athens (cf., Ac 17:31-32),” and obviously some at least in the Corinthian assembly entertained the same wrong idea relative to the resurrection.

The resurrection of the body, however, is an essential part of man’s salvation, for without a body he is incomplete, his soul a disembodied thing, and the redemptive work of Christ imperfect, for the promise of the Gospel is that the salvation promised to faith includes also the redemption of the body, “... we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Ro 8:23).

15:1.  “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;”

It may well be asked why it should have been necessary for Paul to preach the Gospel to them again since they had already  accepted it, and confessed it as the basis of their hope for time and eternity.  Experience provides the answer.  Nothing has greater power to restore backslidden saints, or to refresh the hearts of the obedient, than the Gospel.  It is not only the power of God which brings salvation to the believing sinner, it is also the power of God to call the erring saint back to an

obedient walk.  And as Paul found it necessary to declare the Gospel unto them again, so may it be advisable for us to remind ourselves of what the Gospel is.  It is first a declaration of man’s ruined state, and a warning that the ultimate end of that state is to experience eternal torment in the lake of fire, and inasmuch as that ought to lead the convicted man to cry out, “What must I do to be saved?” it then presents God’s remedy: the need for the convicted sinner to believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross it was as his Substitute, for his sins, but having died that death, He has been raised again for the believer’s justification.  That is the foundation upon which every believer stands.

15:2.  “By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

It is generally accepted that “ye are saved,” is not only the assurance that the believer is completely saved the moment he trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, but also the declaration of the fact that the outworking of his salvation is an ongoing process to be demonstrated in an obedient life.  The disobedience so prevalent in the Corinthian assembly indicated that they had forgotten that fact, or worse, that they had never exercised genuine saving faith in the first instance.  Hence Paul’s feeling it necessary to declare the Gospel to them again.

The Gospel can’t be preached too much.  Not all who profess faith are true believers.

15:3.  “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;”

This is more than the reiteration of the fact that Paul had passed on to them what he himself had received directly from the Lord.  What he had heard he had also believed to the salvation of his soul.  As noted above, a fundamental of the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, that death and the necessity of it being foretold in the OT Scriptures.  The necessity of His death arises from the fact that Adam, by his disobedience had incurred the sentence of death, and if God’s moral integrity was to be preserved, man must die, otherwise God’s word would have gone unfulfilled, for He had said, “In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”  But the problem was that if Adam had died there could have been no resurrection, for death had a claim on Adam’s life.  If men were to be delivered from death, then one must be found who was not only willing to take their place, but who also had the power to overcome death and rise again as man’s representative.  Jesus Christ is the only One Who had that power, and Who was willing to be man’s Substitute.

15:4.  “And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:”

The mention of His burial teaches that His death was a reality, and not just as skeptics have suggested, an unconscious state from which He revived. 

Belief in the Lord’s resurrection is a fundamental of the Gospel, as it is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Ro 10:9).  It isn’t enough to believe that Jesus Christ died and was buried: there must be also the faith to believe that on the third day He rose again from among the dead, as He Himself had assured His disciples He would, His resurrection being also foretold in the OT Scriptures, both in direct statement, and also in type and symbol, see, for example, Ps 16:9-10 “ flesh also shall rest in hope.  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”  Ac 2:31 “He (David) seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption.”  Consider also the symbolic resurrection of Isaac, “By faith Abraham ... offered up Isaac ... his only begotten son ... accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”  The Lord Himself declared also that Jonah’s experience was a figure of His Own death and resurrection, see Mt 12:39-40.

15:5.  “And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:”

15:6.  “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.”

The Lord’s resurrection wasn’t just a figment of Paul’s imagination.  It was a very well verified event, Peter first, then all the Apostles, as well as more than five hundred other believers, all having seen Him after His resurrection.  Any event today attested by that many witnesses would be accepted without question.  (The time when He was seen by the five hundred is generally believed to have been that indicated in Mt 28:7, 16, it being believed that more than the eleven went there to see Him as He had appointed).  Since most of the five hundred were still alive, they were available as witnesses, and relative to those who had “fallen asleep,” we note that in the NT the believer is never said to be dead, but sleeping, because as a sleeper rises from sleep, so will the bodies of believers rise also in resurrection.

15:7.  “After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.”

This James is generally believed to have been the Lord’s brother; and relative to the second clause, “then of all the apostles,” this doesn’t imply that James was an apostle, but rather, that He was seen by all the apostles at the same time.

15:8.  “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

The Lord’s appearance to Paul was on the Damascus road, and it is difficult to determine the exact significance of his being “born out of due time (lit., an abortive offspring).”  Since abortive has the connotation of having been born too soon, the reference may be to the fact that though the time when Israel would see the Lord in resurrection glory, was in the then far distant future, yet Paul, a member of that nation, had been privileged to see Him, even though his nation had deprived herself of that privilege through unbelief.

Relative to Paul’s being an abortive offspring, the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary states, “As a child born before the due time is puny ... not of the proper size, and scarcely worthy of the name of man, so ‘I am the least of the apostles’ scarcely ‘meet to be called and apostle.’”

Some translators render it as having “been born almost too late for this,” but this runs contrary to the thought connected with an abortive birth, i.e., one occurring before the proper time.

15:9.  “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

This discloses, not only Paul’s humility, but also his deep contrition for having persecuted those who belonged to Christ.  He was deeply conscious of the grace that had made him an Apostle.  We would do well to remember that it is transcendent grace that has made us saints.  There is no better way to preserve a humble thankful spirit than to remember what we were before conversion.  It was for this very reason that God commanded Israel to precede their offering of Firstfruits with the confession, “A Syrian ready to perish was my father” (De 26:5).

15:10.  “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

He freely acknowledged that what he was, was entirely due to the grace of God, and such was his consciousness of indebtedness to that grace, that he was, not only willing, but eager to spend and be spent in the service of the Giver.  Happy is the man who has the same sense of indebtedness to grace, and who is willing to devote his life to the Lord’s service as an expression of his gratitude.  And yet even in regard to his unremitting labor for the Lord, he acknowledged that apart from grace none of it would have been possible.

15:11.  “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.”

While willing to acknowledge himself the least of the Apostles, yet Paul is happy to acknowledge kinship with them in that they all served the same Master, and all preached the same Gospel, i.e., the Gospel of salvation through a crucified but resurrected Savior.  The existence of the Corinthian church was proof of the effectiveness of that Gospel.

15:12.  “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”

This continues to emphasize that the resurrection of Christ is a fundamental part of the Gospel that must be preached if men are to be saved; and its having been proved that Christ has been resurrected, refutes the argument of the skeptics that there is no resurrection, for since at least one has been raised, then resurrection is a fact, and others can also be resurrected.

15:13.  “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:”

This presents the other side of the coin.  If there is no resurrection, then Christ is not risen, and the terrible results of that are presented in the following verses.

15:14.  “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

If Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead, then the Gospel has no value, for His resurrection is the very core of the Gospel; and with the Gospel then become a worthless thing, the faith of those who have believed it is equally worthless.  They are without hope.  If Christ hasn’t been raised, then instead of being the Conqueror of Death, He has become simply another of its victims, the implication being that He must have had sin of His Own, otherwise Death could not have held Him.  A further consequence is that if He hasn’t been raised, then He is proved a liar, for He declared emphatically that He would rise again, having power to lay down His life, and to take it up again.  If Christ has not been raised, then there can be no hope of His coming to raise the bodies of those who have fallen asleep, yet that is precisely what He has promised to do.  The consequences of rejecting the fact of Christ’s resurrection are far more terrible and far-reaching than at first appears.

Nor is anything changed by rejecting the possibility of resurrection for believers, though conceding that Christ has been raised, but only because He was a sinless man, or because He was God, and also Man.  To deny the possibility of resurrection for believers, is still to make Christ a liar, and to prove that He was, in fact, guilty of sin, for He has said that He will return to resurrect the bodies of those believers who have died.  If there is no resurrection, then that is a lie.

It is to be noted incidentally that resurrection is not confined to believers only, see Jn 5:29.  The unbelieving dead will also be resurrected, but at the resurrection of damnation, a resurrection that will be followed by the consignment of body, soul, and spirit into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, see Re 20.  If there is to be a resurrection of the bodies of unbelievers, then there must be also of the bodies of believers.

15:15.  “Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.”

If Christ has not been raised, then the Apostles themselves are also made liars, and the Gospel they preached a spurious thing of no value, a deadly delusion, the Scriptures themselves being also reduced to a fabrication.

15:16.  “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:”

This isn’t just unnecessary repetition, for it emphasizes that Christ was perfect man as well as perfect God.  An essential part of the Christian’s faith is to believe that Christ is in heaven as a resurrected man, sitting there at the Father’s right hand, the believer’s Representative in life, as He was his Representative in death on Calvary’s cross, His presence in heaven the guarantee of ours.

15:17.  “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain: ye are yet in your sins.”

Apart from the resurrection of Christ the believer’s faith is a vain thing, i.e., it is without result, for he is still in his sins, and therefore on his way to hell and the lake of fire, the very fate from which faith is to meant to save him.

15:18.  “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”

If Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead, then those believers who have died are lost for ever, for the resurrection of his body is part of what is promised the believer through the Gospel, see Ro 8:23.

15:19.  “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

If Christ hasn’t been raised, then the believer’s hope is confined to this world only, making him pitiable indeed, for he is called upon to suffer many things here on earth for Christ’s sake, which the unbeliever is not, and the promised recompense is a cruel hoax.  Instead of the promised rewards of heaven, he will, like the unbeliever, have to endure eternal torment in the lake of fire.

15:20.  “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”

Having shown beyond all question the error of the skeptics’ belief, Paul now announces triumphantly, “But now is Christ risen from the dead....”  This justifies the believer’s faith, and restores his hope.  Everything for the believer, for time and eternity, centers on Christ’s resurrection.  It is the guarantee that God has accepted the sacrifice offered at Calvary, and that He therefore also accepts all who offer it by faith.  And as the sheaf of firstfruits was representative of the whole harvest, so is Christ resurrected the guarantee that every believer who “falls asleep” will be also raised up from death, the whole harvest of the redeemed being with Him in heaven eternally.

15:21.  “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” 

Emphasis continues to be laid on the Lord’s perfect humanity, His sinless nature being the only difference between him and other men; and as it was by a man, Adam, that sin, and  concomitant death came into the world, so has God ordained that it should be also by a man, the last Adam, that the power of sin and death should be annulled.  Incidentally Christ is not the second, but the last Adam.  All the evil associated with the rebellion of the first Adam is ended by the perfect obedience of the last Adam, the ultimate evidence being the resurrection of the bodies of all believers who have died, the Lord’s own resurrection being the earnest or guarantee of theirs.

15:22.  “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

There are only two positions for men: in Adam, or in Christ, and as it is by natural birth that all men are in Adam, and therefore condemned to death,  so is it by the new birth that man is put into Christ, and given eternal life.  As to the first, man has no choice, but as to the second, he does, for since it was by the freewill choice of Adam that death became man’s eternal inheritance, so is it by the freewill choice of each man that he remains in Adam, or chooses to be in Christ, with life as his eternal inheritance.

Its being said that, “in Christ shall all be made alive,” may not be taken to teach universal salvation.  Those in Christ are there by their own freewill choice to trust Him as Savior.  Those remaining out of Christ, and in Adam, are in that position also by their own freewill choice not to believe the Gospel.  There is no predestination of some to be saved, and of others to be lost.

15:23.  “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.”

Order here relates to time sequence, and in that order, as in all things, Christ is first.  He isn’t the first to be raised from the dead, He Himself having raised at least three during His earthly ministry, but He is the first to rise and never again return to death.  So will it be also with those whom He will raise “at his coming.”  That resurrection will see them raised in the likeness of His resurrection.  They too will be forever beyond the reach of death.  As the sheaf of firstfruits was simply the assurance that the whole harvest would be gathered in, so is Christ’s resurrection and return to heaven, the guarantee that all believers will also be raised and safely gathered into that same heaven.

It is necessary, however, to consider the matter of “His coming,” for Scripture declares that besides His incarnation coming, there are two comings still future, (1) His coming to the air, before the Tribulation begins, to raise the bodies of the Church-age dead, transform the bodies of the Church-age living believers, and thus rapture His Church home to heaven, and (2) His coming seven years later to end the Tribulation, judge the living nations, banishing the unconverted into hell and bringing the living believers into the Millennial kingdom on earth, to raise the bodies of the OT and Tribulation-age saints and take them to heaven. 

The OT saints will not be raised with the Church-age saints.  The Church is a unique body in which OT believers have no part; and again it is to be remembered that the seven years of the Tribulation era are but the final “week” of Daniel’s seventy, i.e., it is the final “week” of the Jewish age prior to the Millennium, so that to include the resurrection of OT saints with the Church-age believers, would leave the resurrection of Israel to be represented only by a relative few, i.e., the believers who will die in the Tribulation.  (It isn’t that the number of such would be actually, but proportionately small, just as the seven years of the Tribulation are relatively small in comparison to the more than two thousand years of the Jewish age which began with the call of Abraham, or if measured from the Exodus, approximately fifteen hundred years).

We should note also that the resurrected believers of both the OT and NT ages will not be on the millennial earth, but in heaven, ruling over the earth with Christ from the heavenly Jerusalem; nor, apparently will the Lord Himself be actually present on earth, since Scripture makes it clear that the prince  who will occupy the throne in Jerusalem during that age will be a literal descendant of David, who will offer sacrifices, something Christ has not and will not do.  He, as God, receives the worship represented by the sacrifices.

15:24.  “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”

The “end” would appear to be, not just the end of the Millennium, but the end of the world, for Satan’s final rebellion will occur in the interval between the end of the Millennium and the end of the world.

The distinction between authority and power is that the former relates to the right to rule, while the latter relates to the strength to enforce the rule.  It happens sometimes that the one invested with authority lacks the means to enforce it.

15:25.  “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.”

When Christ returns at the end of the Tribulation it will be as King of kings, and Lord of lords, to rule the world for God’s glory during the final thousand years of earth’s history, the imprisonment of Satan, and the absolute obedience of the nations (that of believers being voluntary, that of unbelievers, compelled), demonstrating that all enemies will indeed have been put under His feet.

15:26.  “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

Though death will be a rare thing in the Millennium, it will nevertheless occur, for Scripture declares that as long as rebellion remains in the heart of the rebel he will continue to live, but the moment it becomes overt he will die.  And it must not be forgotten that all rebels of the Millennial age will die when Satan is cast bodily into the lake of fire following his final abortive rebellion between the end of the Millennium and the end of the world.  In the new heaven and new earth there will be no death, for there will be no more sin, and it is sin that gives death its power.  John records that following the judgment of the great white throne, “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire” (Re 20:14).

15:27.  “For he hath put all things under his feet.  But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.”

It is God the Father Who has put all things under the control of the Son, and Christ’s ruling with a rod of iron during the Millennium will be the visible manifestation of that fact, it being self-evident, however, that the Father is excepted, for it is the Son Who willingly places Himself under the dominion of the Father, and not vice versa.

15:28.  “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”

As already noted, that subjugation of all things will not occur until the end of the world when Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, for it is to be remembered that the Millennium will be followed by the final great rebellion of Satan and his demon hordes and the unbelievers of the millennial age who will ally themselves with him.

“...that God may be all in all,” would seem to imply that there will then be no longer any distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet that cannot be, for the Son is then to be subject to the Father for eternity future just as He has been in eternity past.  The phrase, then, is probably meant to indicate that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), will control the universe, with all opposition cast into the lake of fire, and thereby rendered inoperative.

15:29.  “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”

If the total supremacy of God is not ultimately established, then the Gospel is worthless, and those who believe it deluded dupes.  Relative to their being “baptized for the dead,” the obvious meaning is that as believers “fall asleep,” and others come along to take their places, the baptism of the new converts, like that of those who have preceded them, is a meaningless rite, for the baptismal candidate is declaring symbolically that he has not only died with Christ, but that he also lives with Him, and will be resurrected from physical death, to live and reign for ever with Him in heaven.  All of this is a mere myth if the undisputed supremacy of God isn’t eventually established.  If God lacks the power to raise the dead, then the Gospel, and all that pertains to it, is a myth, a delusion.

15:30.  “And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?”

If the undisputed supremacy of God isn’t finally established, then it is as worthless for His servants to risk their lives for the sake of the Gospel, as it is for their converts to be baptized.

15:31.  “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.”

The KJ version here is ambiguous.  The reference is not to their rejoicing, but his, Paul’s.  He rejoiced that he had won them for Christ, even though his continued ministry to them, and to others in the Gospel, placed his life in jeopardy every day, for his enemies had made it clear that they wouldn’t rest until they had killed him.

15:32.  “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.”

There is nothing to indicate that Paul ever literally fought with beasts at Ephesus or anywhere else, others having pointed out, in fact, that as a Roman citizen, he could not be subjected to such treatment.  It is generally accepted that beasts is a term used to designate the riotous mob which had attempted to kill him in Ephesus.  They were just as dangerous as wild beasts.  But if there is no ultimate supremacy of God, as manifested in His resurrection of the dead, what point was there in Paul’s having risked his life for the sake of the Gospel?  He might just as well have enjoyed himself by eating and drinking as did the unconverted, for apart from the established supremacy of God, he had no better expectation than they beyond life on earth.

15:33.  “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.”

He exhorts them not to be deceived by such philosophizing; and warns that abandonment of the truth relative to resurrection leads to abandonment of moral living, for if there is no resurrection, then neither can there be any eternal consequences of sin.

15:34.  “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak to your shame.”

He exhorts them to awake as from drunkenness, and to stop sinning, while warning them also that there were some among them who weren’t even believers.  The implication is that these unbelievers were all too ready to reject the idea of a resurrection, since it left them free to indulge in sin.  The genuine believers were not to allow themselves to be influenced by the unbelievers in their midst, Paul making it clear that it was to their shame that unbelievers had been received into their fellowship in the first instance, for that reception indicated gross carelessness on the part of the elders.

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

It is unclear whether this is the question of a skeptic, or of one who sincerely sought knowledge relative to the method of resurrection, and to the kind of body that would clothe the one raised up, though Paul’s reply would indicate that it was a skeptic.

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

The questioner was reminded that even in nature there was abundant proof of resurrection, seed not germinating apart from its first falling into the ground and dying, and so death, instead of proving to be the end of everything, was adduced as proof that it was a necessary part of the resurrection process.

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

As to the nature of the resurrection body, Paul points out that as the plant that later emerges, is different from the original seed sown, so will be resurrection body be from the one buried in the earth at death.

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

As to the how of resurrection, that of the believer’s body will be by the same Divine power which resurrects the sown seed as a plant, God in His sovereignty giving to each type of seed a corresponding body which He has chosen.

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.”

The body of a man could never be mistaken for that of a cow, or that of a cow for the body of a pig, nor could that of a bird be mistaken for the body of a fish, yet it is to be remembered that all of these have come from “seeds,” many of which are virtually indistinguishable one from another.  As God has chosen to give those seeds different bodies, so also has He chosen to make the believer’s resurrection body different from his physical body.    

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, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.”

God has not confined variety to earthly bodies: the same amazing diversity is displayed also in those that are astral, the glory of one not detracting from the glory of another.

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

It is significant that it is the physical body, not the person, who is described as being dead, and that that body is said to be sown in corruption, i.e., subject to putrefaction, but to be raised so as to be beyond the touch of death and decay.

15:43.  “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:”

The thought connected with dishonor seems to be what relates to the body in connection with the aging process.  The wrinkles, the old age skin cancers, the lameness, stiffness, deafness, blindness, forgetfulness, etc., that accompany advancing years, are all causes of embarrassment, but none of these things will afflict the believer’s resurrection body.  It will be raised in glory.  The weakness, physical and mental, that comes with old age, will never come to the believer’s resurrection body.  It will be eternally powerful.

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.”

The inferiority of the natural body is implied, not by continuing to detail its points of inferiority, but simply by placing it in contrast with the spiritual body.  The difference is more than can be conveyed by continued comparison, for our finite minds are incapable of grasping the difference between the two, just as they are incapable of comprehending the magnitude of the award that awaits the believer in heaven.

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

The first Adam was merely clay, and had to have life imparted to him in order to become a living soul; the last Adam was not of the earth, but of heaven, for He was none other than God the Son, the Author of life, the One Who had given life to the first Adam.

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

Just as the natural earthy first Adam preceded the spiritual heavenly last Adam, so is it relative to the resurrection: there must first be a natural man before there can be a spiritual, for God brings the one out of the other.  It is to be noted, however, that the seed sown must have in it the germ of life, otherwise there will be nothing to spring from it; and so in relation to man’s body: he must have within him the germ of spiritual life in order to rise up at the resurrection of life.  Without it, there is no life to emerge in resurrection, and the result is that that man will be raised at the resurrection of damnation to die the second death, i.e., to be cast into the eternal torment of the lake of fire.  The germ of life is implanted the moment the man puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

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

The thought connected with Adam’s being earthy is that he did not have within him the germ of spiritual life when he was first created.  He became the possessor of that life only after he had died spiritually, and then trusted in Christ as his Savior.

The second man, the last Adam, was very different: He not only possessed spiritual life, but He had also the power to transmit that life to others, to all who would trust Him as Savior.  That is a power possessed by no other, for even believers do not have the power to bequeath spiritual life to others.

The words “the Lord” do not appear in some of the original manuscripts, so that the rendering is, “the second man is from heaven,” but the omission or retention of “the Lord” does not in any way affect the meaning of the verse.

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.”

The “earthy” are unbelievers, and their being earthy declares, that as their father Adam before the fall lacked spiritual life, so do they also lack that germ of life apart from which there can be no rising at the resurrection of life.  The heavenly, on the other hand, like their Father, the last Adam, do have within them the germ of His life, which guarantees that they will rise at the resurrection of life, to live like Him for ever with nothing of earth to mar the enjoyment of that life which is found in Him alone, and which He gives to all who trust Him as Savior.

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

By natural birth we bear the image of the first Adam, i.e., we are without spiritual life; and because he had become subject to death when he begot us, we too have inherited the germ of death which flowed in his veins.  Like him, we must all die if we choose to remain in him, i.e., refuse or just neglect to trust in Christ as Savior.  Those who trust Christ, however, bear His image, and because He has always been the source of spiritual life, we whom He has begotten, the “children” whom God has given Him (He 2:13), that is, those who have trusted Him as Savior, also have inherited His life, and like Him will live for ever.  As He is so will we be eternally, that eternal existence being enjoyed, not in these natural bodies of clay, but in spiritual bodies like unto His glorious body (Php 3:21).

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

It is to be remembered that Adam’s body was made from the dust of the ground (Ge 2:7), nor did that physical part of him undergo any change when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”  It became imbued with life, the dust becoming flesh, bones, and blood, but  remaining still dust, as God Himself declared to Adam in Ge 3:19 subsequent to the fall, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”  Man’s earthly body is fitted only for earthly existence.  It cannot survive beyond the confines of earth, nor can it, even on earth, survive beyond its brief alloted span of about seventy years.

Corruption is literally perishable, and the announcement that corruption cannot inherit incorruption reminds us that these earthly bodies are perishable, each passing day bringing nearer the moment when the perishable will perish and return to the dust from which it came.  That these bodies are dying is apparent to even the least observant.  If it were in decaying bodies that we were to have the inheritance secured for us by Christ’s death, then how worthless becomes the inheritance!  The time when we should be entering into the full enjoyment of it, would be the moment of greatest disappointment, for it would be the time when our bodies would die!

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

But the God Who has redeemed us at infinite cost, is the God of resurrection, and He has for us not only an imperishable inheritance, but imperishable bodies in which to enjoy the blessings of that inheritance.

Mystery here refers to something not previously revealed to anyone else, and it relates to the process whereby God will prepare the bodies of believers for the eternal enjoyment of their imperishable inheritance in heaven.  Not all of them will “sleep,” i.e., die physically, but all of them will be changed, not only those living at the instant when God affects the change, but also those who will have already died.

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.”

1 Th 4:16-17 adds the further details, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive, and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

These verses need little comment, except to note that the time of this event, while not specifically stated, is clearly indicated as being prior to the beginning of the Tribulation, this not being the place to discuss all that is involved in support of the pre-Tribulation Rapture belief.

One point, however, that does require comment, is the position of the OT saints relative to the Rapture, though again, this is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of the reasons which I believe support the belief that their resurrection will not occur until the end of the Tribulation, at which time the dead believers of the Tribulation era will also be raised.  Since the OT and Tribulation-age saints have no part in the Church, there is no reason to believe that they will have a part in her resurrection.  The seven years of the Tribulation are simply the last of Daniel’s seventy “weeks”, that final “week”, though separated from the others by the parenthesis of the Church age, being nevertheless an inseparable part of the seventy.  Those seventy “weeks” will culminate in the completion of God’s program for Israel, a program in which the Church has no more part than does Israel in that of the Church.  They are two separate entities whose people and programs should not be confused.

It is to be noted that those, who throughout the NT are referred to as having “fallen asleep,” are here referred to as “the dead,” raising the obvious question, Why?  There is no mystery.  In the other instances it is the whole person who is in view: here the reference is exclusively to the physical, mortal, corruptible, body.  Those dead bodies will be raised and changed into immortal, incorruptible, spiritual bodies at the very same instant as the physical bodies of the living believers are similarly changed.

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

Those who are the heirs of eternal blessings will be given bodies not subject to corruption and death; nor is there any mistake about what seems to be an inversion of order here.  Corruption normally follows death, but in placing corruption first, God would remind us that the aging process is the evidence of the corruption already affecting our bodies and bringing 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.”

The quotation is from Isa 25:8 where the reference appears to be to the virtual annulment of death in the Millennium (death coming then only when sin becomes overt), the complete annulment coming only when Satan, death, and hell are cast into the lake of fire after the end of the Millennium (Re 20: 10-15).  During the Millennium the Church-age believers will be in heaven in their new bodies.

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

It is generally agreed that according to the better manuscripts, grave should be death as in the first clause.  How little we comprehend the magnitude of the Lord’s victory at Calvary!  By submitting Himself to death, He has removed for ever the venom of its sting, and robbed it of victory.  All it can do is cause the believer’s body to sleep, and that only until the instant announced in verse 52, when the sleepers will awake and emerge from their tombs in immortal bodies to reign for ever in the power of an endless life with Christ Who assured John, “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” (Re 1:18).  Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of ours.  His victory is ours.

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

It was by sin that death came into the world, for had there been no sin there would have been no death; but the glorious truth for the believer is that, because he now has no sin, he is beyond the power of death, Christ having given death the life it claimed when He took our guilty place at Calvary, but His power over death is manifested in that He then rose again demonstrating that His power was superior to that of death.   And it was the law that gave sin its strength, for Scripture declares that, “Where no law is, there is no transgression” (Ro 4:15).  God’s holy law is the standard that declares whether my thoughts, words, and deeds are sinful or holy, and it decrees death for the man who is guilty of even one unholy thought, and by that standard who can live?  None!  For all have sinned, except the Lord Jesus Christ, but as He has annulled the power of death, so has He also delivered us from the condemnation of sin, for by His death He has met all the claims of God’s holy law against us, not just relative to the sins of our unconverted days, but relative to all the sin that the old nature may ever produce in our lives.  But since the activity of that old nature will cease the moment death causes our bodies to sleep, our assurance is that since God views us now as a new creation in Christ, we are already delivered also from the claims of His holy law.  Christ has satisfied all its claims!

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

Paul’s giving thanks to God for the victory that is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ, reminds us that we too should be careful to give Him thanks also.  Our indebtedness is just as great as Paul’s.

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

Since we have the assurance of ultimate victory, we ought to walk in the enjoyment of it even here on earth, the evidence of our confidence in God’s assurance being demonstrated in that we refuse to be moved from it either by false doctrine, or any outward circumstance.  A knowledge of Scripture will enable us to detect false doctrine, and faith in its promises will enable us o live victoriously above every earthly circumstance, for among those promises are the assurances that God’s will is, “good, and acceptable, and perfect” (Ro 12:2), and that, “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).

But being stedfast and unmovable are, as it were, the negative side, the reminder that there is a positive side being conveyed in the command to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.”  The great antidote for virtually every ill that besets us is to be busy in the Lord’s work.  It is a great mistake to believe that only evangelists, elders, and teachers have a “full-time” ministry.  Every believer has been given a spiritual gift, and a work to do for the Lord, for it is to be remembered that He has commanded all of us, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).  And in addition to that ministry to the unconverted, there is also the equal necessity to minister first to those who are of the household of faith, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Ga 6:10).

Relative to the first, some will plead inability to preach, but we don’t have to be able to preach in order to spread the good news of the Gospel.  Tracts are available at minimal cost, and can be distributed without our having to speak a word.  Many Christians today are involved in all kinds of physical fitness programs, yet doctors tell us that there is no better exercise than brisk walking.  Distributing tracts can be doubly profitable: there is the earthly dividend of better health, and there is the heavenly dividend of the Lord’s commendation and eternal recompense of wise stewardship.  For those unable to walk, tract mailing is an available avenue of obedience, with bulk mailing worth consideration as an effective cost-cutting method.  The addressed pieces can be accumulated until there is the necessary minimum of 200, the bulk rate being under twenty cents per piece, plus the initial annual fee for the necessary permit.  A group working together can share the cost.

And in regard to the second, service to the household of faith, a better acquaintance with fellow believers would reveal many possible avenues of ministry, not the least being that of prayer.  Do we, for example, pray for other believers, not just the sick, bereaved, unemployed, aged, young, lonely, etc., but also the evangelists, elders, and teachers.

If we take a moment to consider this matter of “abounding in the work of the Lord” we will discover that there is more than enough to deliver us from the folly of frittering away precious time on frivolous things such as physical fitness programs, sports, TV viewing, pastimes, etc., to name but a few of the things that hold believers back in the Christian race.  We should not forget that we are exhorted to, “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).

The obedient believer quickly discovers that he hasn’t time for pastimes.  The Lord’s work gives him more than enough to do, with peace and satisfaction as an added bonus.

Abounding is a far cry from what many of us are satisfied to do in the way of the Lord’s work!

A word of caution, however, is necessary.  As Vine very aptly reminds us, “The work of the Lord is to be distinguished from work for the Lord.  The Lord’s work is that which He gives us to do.  Much may be done for Him which we imagine to be service rendered to Him, but which is not conformed to His will and therefore is not His work in reality.  The motive may be sincere and the activity constant, but we need to be sure that what is done is according to the Scriptures of truth, for only that can be work given by Him to be wrought.”

And finally there is the assurance that “your labor is not in vain in the Lord,” as it would be were there no resurrection.  The God we serve is no less the God of resurrection than was the God Whom Abraham also served.  The resurrection will reveal the wisdom of “abounding in the work of the Lord,” and the folly of frittering away our lives with the frivolous things of earth.

[1 Corinthians 16]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough