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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

1 Corinthians 15



Other Authors
Verses 1-58

THE OPENING WORDS of chapter 15 appear at first sight rather extraordinary. Why, we may ask, should the Apostle declare the Gospel to people who had already received it?

There was, we believe a little wholesome irony in his words, as also there had been in 1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Corinthians 14:38 of the previous chapter. As we have noticed several times previously the Corinthians had inflated ideas of themselves, their gifts and accomplishments, so the Spirit of God confronted them with realities. The intellectualism they affected was leading them to deny, or at least question the resurrection from the dead—a fundamental truth of the Gospel. Paul had to begin declaring the Gospel to them all over again.

The Gospel saves us if we “keep in memory” or “hold fast” its message. If we do not hold fast the Word it does not save. Some people do not like the “If,” but it is there nevertheless. It is easy to say, “I believe,” and as result be numbered amongst the believers. Yet time tests us. The real believer always holds fast; the unreal does not. With that proviso we can say to all who take the place of Christians, “The Gospel has saved you, and in it you stand.” Consequently he who tampers with, and disturbs, the truth of the Gospel is cutting away the ground from beneath his own feet.

Now the Gospel brings us tidings of facts. First, the fact of Christ’s death for our sins, as the Scriptures had foretold—Isaiah 53:5; Isaiah 53:8, for instance. Second the two facts of His burial and resurrection, which are grouped together, as according to the Scriptures—Isaiah 53:9-10, for instance.

There was no question as to the first and second of these facts: they were publicly known. The third was not publicly known, but it was the prominent theme of apostolic preaching as recorded in the Acts. It was the third that was being called in question here, and hence Paul reminds them of the overwhelming witness of its truth that existed. He cites six different occasions on which He was seen in resurrection, ending with his own case when He was not only risen, but also in glory. Paul’s list is by no means exhaustive, for he does not cite any of the occasions on which He appeared to the believing women.

However, he himself came at the end of a long line of witnesses, and this reminded him of the fact that when the other apostles were having a sight of their risen Lord, he was an opponent and a persecutor, at least in heart. The thought of this humbled him, and made him feel unworthy to be numbered amongst the apostles. At the same time it filled his heart with a sense of the grace of God—grace which not only had called him, but also led him into a life of labour for his Lord more abundant than all the rest.

Still as regards their testimony there was no difference. Whether the twelve or himself, they had all equally preached the Gospel of the risen Christ. The Corinthians had heard no other Gospel from their lips than this. Upon the risen Christ they had believed.

Now the whole truth as to resurrection hinges upon the resurrection of Christ, as verse 1 Corinthians 15:12 indicates. How can resurrection be denied, if Christ be risen?

However the Apostle proceeds to argue the whole matter out in orderly fashion. First he contemplates the assumption that after all there is no resurrection, and shows what the logical results would be. This occupies verses 1 Corinthians 15:13-19. Quite obviously if there be no resurrection then Christ is not risen. And if Christ be not risen, what then?

Then a whole sequence of results must necessarily ensue. Paul’s preaching then was vain, for he must be convicted of preaching not a fact but a myth. Their faith was equally vain, for they had believed a myth. This explains the remark at the end of verse 1 Corinthians 15:2. The “believing in vain,” there spoken of, does not refer to faith of an inferior or defective kind but to faith, be it ever so vigorous, which rests in an unworthy or false object.

Then further, it would mean that the apostles were not true men but false witnesses, and that the Corinthians themselves, in spite of their faith in that witness, were yet in their sins. It would mean that those believers— some of them Corinthians—who had already died, had not entered into bliss but perished. Indeed it would narrow down any benefit or hope to be derived from Christ to things within the confines of this life. What a tragedy! Every bright hope of an eternity of glory extinguished in the night of death from which there is no awaking. All that Christ can give us is whittled down to a kindly example, which, if followed, would somewhat improve our short lives in this world.

There is no exaggeration in the statement that if that is all, “we are of all men most miserable.” Of course we are! Every Christian, worth the name, has deliberately turned his back on the sinful pleasures of the world. So he is in the position of denying himself what he might have, the pleasure that comes from gratifying his lusts, in view of a future, which after all does not exist. In that case we are indeed like the dog in the fable who dropped the piece of meat in clutching at its shadow. The out-and-out worldling at least has the pleasures of sin, whereas we should draw a blank in both worlds.

In verse 1 Corinthians 15:20 the Apostle turns from this negative line of reasoning to a positive argument. He starts now from the glorious fact that after all Christ is risen from the dead, and risen as the Firstfruits of the sleeping saints. The saints are the after-fruits of the same order as Himself. This important truth is expounded fully in the later part of the chapter; it is implied here in the use of the word, “firstfruits.” No one would present you with a potato as the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, or even a plum as the firstfruits of the apple crop. They would be incongruent. But there is nothing incongruent here. Though Christ is God yet He became Man, and as the risen Man He is the firstfruits of them that have died in faith. His resurrection must involve the resurrection of all that are His.

This point is of such importance that the flow of the argument is interrupted for a moment, and it is enlarged upon in verses 1 Corinthians 15:21-23. Death was introduced by man, and so now resurrection also is by Man. Adam brought death in, and all who are in him, that is, of his race, are under the death sentence. Christ has brought in resurrection, and all who are in Him, of His race, are to be “made alive,” or “quickened.” This quickening is special to those who are Christ’s. Though the unjust will be raised their resurrection will not involve quickening. The saints are going to enter into what is properly “life.” How complete and glorious has been God’s answer to man’s sin!

But in resurrection an order is to be observed: “each in his own rank.” (N. Tr.) as verse 1 Corinthians 15:23 puts it. Christ rose from amongst the dead first, and is pre-eminent. Afterward, at His coming, all who are His are also to rise from amongst the dead, leaving the unsaved dead in their graves. And, “then cometh the end,” when the unsaved dead will be raised, though this is not explicitly stated here, but implied in verse 26. If Revelation 20:11-15; Revelation 21:1-4, be read, it will be seen that death is destroyed when the wicked dead have been raised.

What is plainly stated in our passage is that the end which is to be reached in virtue of resurrection is the complete subjugation of every adverse power, so that all may be in subjection to God, who is to be all in all. This brings us to the eternal state, which is also alluded to in 2 Peter 3:13, and is described at greater length in Revelation 21:1-5. The millennial kingdom will serve the purpose for which it is designed. There will be found in it the perfection of government, and it will not end until the last enemy has been brought to nothing.

When that point is reached the whole work of redemption and new creation will have reached finality, and the Son will deliver up the kingdom to the Father. In becoming Man the Son took the subject place, and that place He retains to all eternity: a clear proof that He has taken up Manhood for ever. Subjection, be it remembered, does not necessarily imply inferiority. The Son was no whit inferior to the Father when here on earth, nor will He be in eternity. In the eternal state God is to be everything, and in everything; but of course the Spirit is God, and the Son is God, equally with the Father. The Son however retains His place in Manhood, the Head and the Sustainer of the new creation universe, which exists as the fruit of His work; this guarantees that it shall never be encroached upon by evil, but remain in its original splendour for ever.

Before passing on, just notice this contrast: that whereas the denial of resurrection worked out to its logical result leaves us in our sins and in hopeless misery, the fact of resurrection, accomplished in Christ, lands us into the eternal state of glory.

Verses 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 are somewhat parenthetical in nature, and hence verse 1 Corinthians 15:29 picks up the thread from verse 1 Corinthians 15:19 and reads on quite naturally, though its meaning is perhaps rather obscure. We believe that “for” in this verse indicates “in the place of.” A large percentage of the dead amongst the early Christians had fallen as martyrs, and so Paul views the newer converts as stepping by baptism into the place of the fallen, to become themselves targets for the adversary. Very courageous; but of course foolish and futile if there is no resurrection of the dead.

This interpretation of verse 1 Corinthians 15:29 is confirmed by verse 30. Why should the Apostle and his associates expose themselves to the adversary, if there were no resurrection? And in asking this he was not indulging in a mere figure of speech. It was a hard fact, and a daily fact with him. Not long before he had gone through the terrific riot in the Ephesian theatre, as recorded in Acts 19:1-41, when men fought against him like wild beasts, and every day his life was in danger. What an absurd man he was to live a life like this! Apart from the fact of resurrection one had better adopt the motto of the godless world, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” In this way once more do we reach the logical result of discarding the truth of resurrection. Not only are we left the most miserable of all men, but we are left with nothing better than the gratification of our animal appetites.

Having reached this point the Apostle appeals very pointedly to the Corinthians. They were being deceived, and all evil teachings have a reaction in the sphere of morals. If we think wrong we cannot act right. This throws light on the immorality amongst them, denounced in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and 1 Corinthians 6:1-20. Questioning the resurrection of the body, they had the more easily fallen into sins involving the abuse of the body. They needed to awake to what was right and gain the knowledge of God.

But the Corinthians, though having so little knowledge of God and righteousness, were an intellectual, reasoning people; so two questions that were sure to spring to their lips, are anticipated in verse 35. The first raises the question, How? the second, the question, What? The answers to these questions occupy practically the rest of the chapter. The second question—being more definite perhaps—is answered first.

Intellectualism proves itself again and again to be a great snare for believers. Having begun with faith some are inclined to continue on the basis of mere intellect, unaware that the things of God (as 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 has told us) are so deep as to entirely submerge the greatest human intellect. Nothing baffles human thought more than resurrection, as may be discovered if one listens for a little to the pronouncements of “Liberal Theologians.” We cannot fail to know what the Liberal Theologians think of God, for they are sufficiently vociferous. Here we see what God thinks of the Liberal Theologians. He dismisses them with one word— “Fool!” That one word is as much inspired of God as is John 3:16.

Still Paul was writing to saints, even though they had got tainted with that peculiar folly which is so fully developed in the Liberal Theologians of today. So having plainly indicated to them their foolishness, he proceeds to answer the question.

Nature itself furnishes us with a striking analogy on the point, an analogy used previously by our Lord Himself. When He said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit,” He indicated His own death and resurrection.

Here the same analogy is used but with a different application. A seed is sown in the earth, yet, though its identity is preserved, it comes up with a vastly different body. The acorn is buried, but the oak springs up. Every seed has what we may call its own special resurrection body in which it comes forth. The bearing of this on the point before us is plain. The dead body of that saint is laid in the grave: in the resurrection it will come up vastly different, yet with its identity preserved.

Again nature teaches us that this presents no difficulty to God, for He is of infinite resource. Look at the variety seen in creation. These are different orders of flesh—men, beasts, fishes, birds: and within those orders there are again vast differences of body. Again, there are bodies of a heavenly order—as to which at present we know so little—and bodies of an earthly order, which we know well. It is very probably true that no two stars are in all respects the same.

This conducts us to the marvellous declaration of verses 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. The body that is sown in the grave is characterized by corruption, dishonour, weakness, soulishness,—if we may be allowed to coin that word, for the word, “natural” is more literally “soulish,” something fitted for the animal soul rather than the spirit. It is raised in incorruption, glory, power, and a spiritual body rather than a soulish one. The identity is preserved, as witnessed by the words, four times repeated, “It is sown... it is raised.” Nevertheless the condition in which it is found is of a different order entirely. This answers the question, “With what body do they come?”

The first question of verse 1 Corinthians 15:32, “How are the dead raised up?” gets a very full answer in verses 1 Corinthians 15:45-54. In this question the force of “How” seems to be “In what condition?” rather than, “In what way?” or “By what means?” Otherwise there would be no conclusive answer to the question in the chapter. Moreover, if God did condescend to explain in what way or by what process He will raise the dead, we should be no wiser for the explanation would be utterly beyond us. As it is, we have an answer. In a nutshell it is this—we shall be raised in the image of the heavenly Christ.

In order to understand it we must consider the contrast between the two Adams, the first and the last. The first was made a living soul, as Genesis 2:1-25 tells us. The last is of another order entirely. Though as truly Adam (i.e. Man) as the first, He is a life-giving Spirit. The one, then, is “natural” or “soulish”: the Other, spiritual. We might have expected that the Spiritual would take precedence of the soulish as to time. But it is not so, as verse 1 Corinthians 15:46 points out. The first Adam was constituted a living soul by the Divine in-breathing. Consequently he was “soulish,” and he possessed a “natural” or “soulish” body (verse 1 Corinthians 15:44) which was “earthy.” He has reproduced himself in abundance, but all who spring from him are earthy also, as being of his order (verse 1 Corinthians 15:48).

The last Adam stands in sharp contrast to the first. Though truly Man, being a life-giving Spirit He is God. He is the “Lord from Heaven.” He is not only Man, however—the “Second Man” as stated in verse 1 Corinthians 15:47 —He is Adam, i.e. He is the Progenitor and Head of a race. And He is the last Adam, for He is never to be succeeded by another head. In Him God has reached perfection and finality. God be praised for this! We are amongst the heavenly ones who are of His order.

Let it be emphasized in our minds that He is not only “last Adam,” but also “the second Man.” This latter expression shows that between Adam and Christ no man is counted. Cain was not the second man. He was only Adam reproduced in the first generation. So were all men—only Adam reproduced in their various generations. But when Christ was born, He was not Adam reproduced. By the “virgin birth,” under the action of the Holy Ghost, the entail was broken, a new and original Man appeared worthy of being called “the second Man.” He, in His turn becoming the Head of a new race, He stands forth as “the last Adam.”

Now we all started as children of the earthy Adam, bearing his image. Brought to Christ, we have become subjects of the Divine workmanship and find ourselves transferred from the earthy to the heavenly. That transference however has not so far touched our bodies, for we still bear the image of the earthy, and consequently our bodies decay and are subject to death and the grave. In resurrection we are to bear “the image of the heavenly.” We are to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, not only as to our characters, but as to our very bodies. Most glorious fact! How are the dead raised up? In a condition of perfection and glory such as that!

Do not let us overlook the fact that, though we must wait for the realization of this perfection, we have not to wait in order to be under the headship of the last Adam, to be linked up with the second Man. The end of verse 1 Corinthians 15:48 does not say, “such are they also that shall be heavenly”—but “that are heavenly.” We ARE heavenly. Is not that wonderful! Does it seem too wonderful? Are we inclined to shrink from it? Do we feel that its implications are very sweeping and make demands upon us which we cannot face? Well, let us beware of paring down the truth to suit our low walk. Behaviour which is low, and carnal, and earthly, and worldly, does not befit those who are heavenly.

With verse 1 Corinthians 15:50 the Apostle passes on to speak of the great moment when the change from things earthy to things heavenly shall reach our bodies. We are going to inherit the kingdom on its heavenly side and find ourselves in a scene of absolute incorruptibility. We cannot enter there in our present “flesh and blood” condition, to which corruption is attached.

“Behold I show you a mystery,” he says. These words indicate that he is going to announce something hitherto unrevealed. That there would be a resurrection of the dead, that the Lord was coming, they knew. They had not hitherto known that when the Lord came He would raise the dead saints in a condition of glorious incorruptibility and change the living saints into a like condition. It seems that saints of Old Testament days conceived of resurrection as being a raising up of the dead to a glorified life on earth. It is certain that they had no knowledge as yet of the resurrection out from among the dead, which believers are to enjoy at the coming of the Lord. Until the truth of the heavenly calling of saints, of the calling out of the church, came to light, the moment had not come for the full truth as to resurrection to be made known. This orderly progress of doctrine can be noted all through the New Testament.

Now it is plainly revealed. We shall not all “sleep” (i.e. die) but we shall all be changed, whether alive or dead at the moment when the Lord comes for His saints. The change will involve the swallowing up of all that is mortal or corruptible about us, in life and in victory. We shall “all be changed,” you notice, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”—not in many, or at least several, different moments, as would be the case if by a partial rapture, or series of partial raptures, the church is destined to enter into its glory.

The mighty change will be wrought instantaneously by the power of God, at the “last trump.” In verse 1 Corinthians 15:29 believers were considered as soldiers stepping into the ranks by baptism to take the places of their fallen comrades. In verse 1 Corinthians 15:52 we see them all—whether in the ranks still, or fallen out of them by death—put, in one moment at the last trump, beyond death and corruption. Their warfare will be over. They will never need another trumpet blast for ever!

As regards ourselves, the saying of Isaiah 25:8 will be fulfilled when we are changed bodily into a condition of immortality and incorruptibility. This illustrates what we have just said. The Old Testament has in view the victorious resurrection power of God exercised on earth. Our Scripture brings to light a greater fulness of meaning, lying dormant in the verse until the Gospel day was reached. When the saints reach the image of the heavenly, death will be swallowed up in a victory that none can deny. Our Scripture, you notice, does not speak of the “rapture,” the catching up of the saints. For that we must turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18.

The sense of how great the victory of that day will be, moves the Apostle to an outburst of exultation. He flings a triumphant challenge to death and “the grave”—or more strictly “hades.” The fact is, the victory is already ours. It has been won in the resurrection of Christ which has been so fully established in this chapter. The resurrection of saints is merely the outworking of that victory, and we can treat it as being as good as done. The victory is ours today—thanks be to God!

With what tremendous force does the closing exhortation of the chapter come! “Therefore—.” Behind that word lies all the weight of the glorious truth established in the earlier 57 verses of the chapter. Having entertained doubts as to the truth of resurrection they must have become unsteady, easily moved, slack, and inclined to subscribe to the motto, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

Resurrection however is a glorious certainty. Christ is risen, and we, being of His heavenly order, are to join Him in His heavenly likeness. These things being so, THEREFORE an unmoveable stability becomes us. Instead of fooling away our time eating and drinking, we are to abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that nothing really done for Him shall be lost. All shall be found again as fruit in the resurrection world.

Are we living in the light of that resurrection world? We may recite the creed correctly, and have resurrection as a prominent item in it; but if our souls really have it full in view, we shall be diligent and untiring workers in the service of the Lord, as He may be pleased to direct us.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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