1 Corinthians 15:19-28


Note the frequency with which forms of the verb "to raise" and the noun "resurrection" occur in this chapter. The use of the perfect passive "raised" is limited to Jesus and occurs in verses 4, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, and 20. Scripture states that Christ was raised. He is preached as the resurrected Christ. If His resurrection be denied then there is no resurrection. Preaching and faith are empty and vain, if He be not raised. But most emphatically, CHRIST HAS BEEN RAISED. God raised Him, verse 15 (twice). Five times the chapter speaks about the dead being raised, verses 15, 16, 29, 32, and 35. The manner of raising is mentioned four times, verses 42, 43, and 44. The phrase "resurrection of the dead" is used four times, verses 12, 13, 21, and 42. No less than twenty times this chapter speaks about the resurrection of the dead.

For the Egyptians and for the Sadducees religion was only of the dead. The Greeks denied the resurrection of the body. And, finally, anyone who rejects Christ Crucified but not Resurrected has no more hope than that which Paul mentions in verse 19: "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (RSV). Life can be grim, dreary, and difficult. But the guarantee of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in Christ Jesus cheers the Christian, the one who lives his life by the faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave His life for him.

1 Corinthians 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Verse 15 drew a conclusion from verses 12-14. In that case it was that, if some of the Corinthians were correct in their observation, both the Apostles and God Himself have proved to be liars, a dreadful thing to say. Verse 19 draws a conclusion from verses 16-18. In verse 15 we did not have a fact condition (condition of reality). Here we do. To make the protasis clear, add something like this: "as verse 18 maintains." 

Robertson-Plummer: The first and last words 'in this life' and 'only,' are emphatic; nevertheless, they should not be taken together: 'in this life only.' Better would be: 'If we are having only hope in Christ in this life,' or, 'If in this life we are hopers in Christ and have nothing beyond.' In other words, if all that Christians have got is hope in Christ, without possibility of life with Him hereafter, what can be more pathetic?

AAT gets at the true sense: "We should be pitied more than any other people." The point is delusion.

Morris: If there is no resurrection they are pitiably deluded men.
Lenski: Their death reveals that this their hope was an illusion . . . The perfect participle conveys the idea that at one time they embraced this hope, and then they clung to it until they died . . . A Christianity without a risen Christ is worse than none . . . Paul's logic is as sound and as inevitable as the negative syllogisms of Jesus in John 8:39-40.

Paul shows, in both verses 18-19, how the false teaching of some in Corinth clashes with inspired truth.

1 Corinthians 15:20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Despite the fact that Christ was raised from the dead and that many people saw Him alive after His resurrection there are always people who deny the resurrection of the dead. They try to make false witnesses of those who saw Him after He was raised. They deny the fact that the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection go hand in hand. They leave man sunken in his sin and guilt. They take all the hope and cheer out of Christianity.

Paul emphatically asserts again what is asserted in verse 4. "First fruits" is a new element here.

Franzmann: Christ is the beginning and the guarantee of the full harvest of the resurrection of the dead.

Note that the perfect passive is used of Christ's resurrection and in this chapter is limited to Christ. He continues permanently in His exalted state, never to die again. He is the first fruits of those who are asleep in the sense that though we have two cases of resurrection in the Old Testament and though Jesus raised at least three in the New Testament, they died again. But Jesus is the first and only person in history to be raised never to die again.

Morris:  First fruits comprised the first sheaf of the harvest, which was brought to the temple and offered, Leviticus 23:10ff. In a sense it consecrated the whole harvest. Moreover, first fruits implies later fruits. Both thoughts are to be the point here . . .  Them that sleep  is a perfect participle denoting the continuing state of the faithful departed.
Lenski: 'First fruits' has no article, since the term is general. The figure is current in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 16:15; Romans 11:16; 16:5; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4. Its connotation is that of certainty: as certain as Christ was raised, so certainly shall we be raised. For as the first sheaf cannot be harvested and offered unless the entire harvest is ripe and ready, so Christ cannot be raised unless all of us believers are ready to be raised also.

AAT renders this verse: "But now Christ did rise from the dead, the first in the harvest of those who are sleeping in their graves." 

1 Corinthians 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

God told Adam that he would die most certainly if he would eat of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17). And this is applied in Romans 5:12. But in Romans 5:18 Paul adds that through One (Christ) justification passed to all men. Here we have a different application. "Man" is common to both parts of the parallel: "Through man death -- through man resurrection of the dead." "For" is explanatory.

Morris: If Adam's sin had far reaching consequences, so had Christ's resurrection. It concerned not Himself only, but also all those who should believe on Him . . . Paul's repeated by man points to the reality of the incarnation. Christ was as truly man as was Adam.

Note that none of the five nouns in this verse has the article. The quality of each noun is stressed. AAT capitalizes the second Man in this verse, which, of course, indicates that Christ is spoken of.

1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

"For" in verse 21 indicated that verse 21 explained verse 20. And the  "for" in this verse indicates a clarification of verse 21. Furthermore, we have correlatives "die -- rise." This time we do not have "man" for the correlation but rather the actual names of the two "men." The first "all" means all men without exception. The second "all" is limited to the believers. How can we say that? Because the context demands it. The verses preceding and those which follow force us to limit the second "all" to believers.

Note that "all die" is present tense because death is constantly occurring among men. But "made alive" is future passive and obviously points to the final resurrection on the last day. How do we explain the two prepositional phrases introduced by "in." They simply denote relationship. The first "in" phrase denotes the relationship of descent. The second denotes the relationship of faith. Note that both Adam and Christ are articular. In both cases it means something like "the well-known." They are each in a class by themselves.

Lenski: The one 'in' is a natural, the other 'in' is a spiritual connection. The one by natural descent from a sinful progenitor, who by his sin brought death and dying upon us all; the other by a spiritual regeneration through faith in the Redeemer, who conquered sin and death and by his resurrection brought life and immortality to light . . . Paul discusses the bodily resurrection of believers only.

Every time we go to a funeral, every time we hear of a death, we ought think of this verse. The first part is a solemn reminder and the second part is wonderful comfort.

Morris: Just as Adam's sin brought untold consequences of evil, so Christ's atoning work brought untold consequences of good . . . In the first half it refers to the whole of mankind, for all are  in Adam. But in the second it is more limited, applying to all those in Christ. The verse gives no countenance to universalism . . .  be made alive refers to more than resurrection as such. It includes the thought of the abundant life that Christ brings all who are 'in' Him.

But here it refers primarily to the resurrection of the body.

1 Corinthians 15:23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

From here to the end of verse 28 Paul speaks only about the resurrection of believers or comfort for such believers. The unbelievers do not come into view except that all powers which oppose God are and will be conquered. Note that the first word in this verse is capitalized denoting a shift in thought and yet a continuation of thought. Paul is speaking only of two: Christ and all Christian.

The translations of the first part of the verse are interesting. AAT reads: "But everyone in his own group." TEV reads: "But each one in his proper order." NEB:  "But each one in his proper order." 

Paul is clarifying the second part of the previous verse. In so doing he harks back to a word which he had used in verse 20: "Christ, the first fruits of those who sleep." He repeats it here but places "first fruits" first: "The first fruits, Christ." This goes back to His resurrection from the dead which is the cause of the resurrection of all believers. This is indicated by that which follows. NIV reads: "Then, when he comes, those who belong to him." The "in" phrase in the first part of the verse denotes numerical and causal order. The "in" phrase in the second part of the verse is temporal.

The word 'Parousia,' denoting Christ's second coming, is well-known to every student of theology. This word has received much attention in the last several decades, some very good, some very bad. The resurrection of the body is such a comforting doctrine. But the world rejects this teaching as just so much fancy. Furthermore, our sinful flesh tempts us to doubt it. And so, in all simplicity in this verse, verse 23, Paul comforts the believer with the thought that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead 2,000 years ago is God's pledge to make us certain that those who belong to Christ (genitive of possession and relation) will, at the time of His second coming, be raised from the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

Our English versions, with the exception of the NASB, begin a new sentence at this point. NASB reads as follows: "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom of the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power." 

The Nestle-Aland Greek text also has a comma at this point. Perhaps a comma favors the millennial view of this text. There are those who are of this opinion. The question is are verses 23-24 speaking of three or two items? The millennialist insist on three. However, verse 23 speaks of "turns" not "times." It is a matter of order, not of times. There can be no resurrection of Christ's people unless Christ causes it. It is as much causal as it is temporal. Furthermore, verse 23 speaks of "turns" whereas verse 24 speaks of "times," the end, the very end at which time the two happenings take place. Paul is not speaking of a succession of items. And finally, those who see the millennium in verse 24, wrongly say that verse 24 speaks of the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unbelievers or of the ungodly. But Paul is speaking only of the resurrection of the believers.

The simplest way to understand this verse is that it happens at the time of the second coming. What happens? Christ hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. At the consummation, Christ's victory will be total and complete.

Morris: Paul's though is that Christ will at the last have full and complete authority over all things and all men, and that He will then 'deliver up' this authority, this rule, to His Father . . . All that opposes God will then be subdued . . . in that day there is no governing power of any kind that will not be completely subservient to Him.

Paul is not speaking of a third order in verse 24 but rather of complete victory which is of great comfort to the Christian.

1 Corinthians 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

"For" explains. It does not explain a "third order" but the necessity of overcoming all enemies. The antecedent of "he" is Christ. "Must" denotes the necessity of prophecy, of God's holy will in the prophecy at Psalm 110:1. He must rule until He has put all enemies under His feet. Note that Paul has added the word "all" to the prophecy. Total victory is meant. God has determined this and therefore it is absolutely certain. Sometimes we think that the wicked will triumph. But such a thought is wrong. Verses 23-28 are pervaded by the thought that God is total Victor over all forces of evil.

Lenski: With this reigning as King thus absolutely complete Christ shall return his commission to the Father who gave it to Him.

1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

"Death" is the subject but is placed last for emphasis.  "Last enemy" has no article in Greek and thus is made more vivid. "Destroyed" is variously rendered "destroyed, defeated, abolished." 

Morris: 'Destroyed' is in the present tense, and the use of this tense for future action strikes a note of vividness and certainty.

Christ conquered death but we must all still pass through it. Not until God's children rise to life eternal will death be gone forever. But then all evil powers, sin and Satan, will be conquered and so will death. The world is a morgue. Think of the millions who have died and are buried. Think of the millions, the billions who are alive but who are bound to die! But when the believers rise, death itself shall be gone forever.

1 Corinthians 15:27 For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.

From Hebrews 2:5-9 we know that Psalm 8 in its entirety, is Messianic. Luther considered it Messianic throughout. So did our fathers in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Lenski did not consider Psalm 8 as Messianic except in the sense that Christ has restored fallen man to his former estate. In this verse  "for" is causal.  "Because God has put all things under Christ's feet." The Greek changes from the aorist to the perfect passive. This indicates the lasting subjection which God has caused. The last part of the verse informs us that God, who subjected all things to Christ, is the exception.  "It is clear" means "it is plain" or something like "it hardly needs to be said." 

1 Corinthians 15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Here the entire section reaches its climax. It is a striking and an arresting sentence which leaves us breathless. The final purpose clause "in order that God might be all in all" controls all that goes before. God will be all supreme, even to Christ, the Christ incarnate even though in the state of glory. He is not saying that Christ will cease to be King of Kings. He is not saying that Christ will cease to be true God. He is not saying that Christ, according to His divine nature, is inferior to the Father.

ATT reads: "But when everything has been put under Him, then the Son also will put Himself under Him who put everything under the Son so that God will be everything in everything." This verse speaks as it does to assure us, once for all, of the total victory of Christ over all enemies. Even the Son will subject Himself to God in order that God may be all in all. A mysterious, unfathomable thought but one which comforts us and which shows us how dearly our brother, Jesus, loves us.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 83-86. Used with permission.

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