1 Corinthians 15:20-28 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 15:23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. 15:24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 15:26 The last enemy to be eliminated is death. 15:27 For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. 15:28 And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all. NET
1 Corinthians 15:51-58 Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – 15:52 in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 15:53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 15:54 Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 15:55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting” ? 15:56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 15:58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. NET
April 24, 2007—the fifth anniversary of our first daughter’s birthday. Hannah Kathryn Wallace lived a short two weeks with an undiagnosed ‘minor’ problem turned major. Her sister Kathryn Elizabeth was born 13 months later. By the time Kathryn was 3, we had often discussed Hannah’s life and I wanted her to be a part of commemorating her sister’s birthday. Yet living in Singapore in an apartment without a garden or yard, I was unsure how to continue our yearly tradition of planting flowers on her birthday. As the afternoon progressed I was feeling like a horrible mom who forgot her daughter’s birthday. I decided to share my feelings with Kathryn just before afternoon snack. Suddenly Kathryn bolted out, “Mom, can we eat an apple right now?” “Sure”, I said curiously. Healthy snacks are not usually her first suggestion. “Why do want an apple?” “Because planting an apple tree would be the perfect present for her birthday!” I could think of nothing better. So we shared an apple, acquired 9 seeds, and impromptu took them to her ‘garden’ downstairs to plant them. No matter that apples don’t grow in Singapore. Never mind that she planted them in a shallow bit of dirt in an area designed for shrubs and flowers. Her enthusiastic idea was the perfect remedy for our day of remembering.
After our experiment, I realized that my desire to plant flowers (or now trees!) on Hannah’s birthday is wrapped up in the resurrection. Though she can’t articulate it, Kathryn senses this too. Beyond sentimental platitudes, flowers and plants remind me that life will win the day. If Christ has not been raised, then my apple tree, my hope, my daughter’s short life—seem meaningless. Does the resurrection really matter that much? If it does, why do I so seldomly feel the weight of its significance? What impact is the resurrection supposed to have on our daily lives?
Suggested Study Schedule
Day 1: Read/Skim all of 1 Corinthians to get a feel for the breadth of topics covered in this book
Day 2: Read Acts 18:1-17 to read about the Corinthian environment
Day 3: Read 1 Corinthians 15 to see the context for these 2 sections of verses.
Day 4: Read Isaiah 25:6-12 and Hosea 13:1-14 to see the context for the “death” references
Day 5: Answer the “discussion questions”
Day 6: Answer the “application questions”
Day 7: Spend time in prayer and praise meditating on His resurrection
Context for 1 Corinthians:
First Corinthians is written by Paul to the church of Corinth probably during his 3rd missionary journey around 56 or 57AD. Corinth was a major trading port, and the prosperity brought luxury and immorality. The “Corinthian life” came to be synonymous with a life of wealth and involvement in pagan prostitution1. Paul addresses many practical issues in this letter, including divisions, lawsuits, immorality, marriage, idol and public worship, the nature of love, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection. Paul evangelized in this region and founded the church here, detailed in Acts 18.
Context for 1 Corinthians 15
This chapter is Paul’s defense of the resurrection. The concept of the resurrection was not accepted in Greek culture, where the ‘spiritual’ was exalted over the physical body. Also, prevalent teachings claimed there was no life after death. Chapter 15 is the last issue Paul addresses before the close of the book. The two smaller sections we will study this week come from chapter 15, yet are best understood in the context of the whole chapter.
Other passages highlighting Christ’s/our resurrection:
Romans 1:4; 4:19-25; 6:5-11; 8:22-25; 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Phil 3:8-12; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 3:21-22
Discussion Questions: Grasping the Meaning
1. In 15:20, Christ is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” What is the meaning of the “firstfruits” analogy? (Read more about this Old Testament practice in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.) Why does Paul use it here, referring to Christ?
2. In 15:21-22, what occurred “in Adam”, and what has occurred “in Christ”? Why does Paul compare the two in this passage?
3. What is the order of events described in 15:23-28? What do you think is the point of the specific order?
4. What does Christ’s resurrection have to do with the destruction of His enemies and death?
5. In the end, who does the Son submit to? What does this last phrase, “that God may be all in all” mean2?
6. In 15:51, what does it mean when Paul says “we will all be changed”? How will this change come about, and what kind of change?
7. What is the meaning of “Death has been swallowed up in victory” and “Where, O Death, is your sting3”? What light do Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 shed on this passage?
8. Explain “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law4.” Why does Paul mention this in the context?
9. What is Paul’s key pastoral application point for his whole discussion of the resurrection5? (See verse 15:58.)
Application Questions: Grasping the Heart
1. The following passages also draw specific application for the Christian life from the truth of the resurrection. How do these Scriptures tell us to ‘apply’ the resurrection? Which of these most encourages you?
· Romans 4:25- 5:1
· Romans 6:4, 11
· Romans 8:22-25
· 2 Corinthians 4:14
· 1 Peter 1:3-4
2. The first-fruits analogy from 1 Corinthians 15 is also pictured in Romans 8:22-25. How might the use of this analogy in these passages help you process thoughts and expectations of this life versus life after the resurrection?
3. We all look forward to our new bodies! What might we discern about our new resurrection bodies from the appearances of Christ in the gospels after His resurrection? (See Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:30, 39; John 20:20; Acts 10:41.)
4. What are your feelings about the limitations of your body? How does the resurrection of Christ as the “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” encourage your thoughts about your current body?
5. “Death is swallowed up in victory?…Where, O death, is your sting?” When have you most felt this sting of death? In light of this, what do you think it will be like to say with finality, “Death, where is your sting?” Journal your thoughts and emotions. As we have much to learn from others, take a moment to share with one another some of the deepest lessons He has taught you through your losses.
6. When I first pondered 15:58, I was surprised by Paul’s application for this passage. Rather than saying, “Therefore, be encouraged”, he says, “Therefore, work!” Why and how do you think Christ’s victory over death is to inspire our labor for His kingdom? How can you purpose to apply verses 15:57 & 58 as a unified set?
7. Share with one another what truths have been most meaningful to you. Spend a moment writing down the insights you have heard from others during this study that have enriched your own perspective.
8. Christ, the victorious and resurrected One. What about this week’s study has made Him appear more glorious or beautiful to you? Write a prayer expressing worship in view of your deepening understanding of His resurrection, as well as one application you will take away from this lesson.
Group prayer requests
We cannot live long before death blows a personal sting. How we long for the day we can say, “Death, where is thy victory”! We love the images of you painted in these verses, victoriously presenting yourself to the Father as a ‘down-payment’ of the abundant crop! Help us not to grow weary, but to persevere in laboring for your harvest as we wait for your glorious return! Draw our hearts to long for that day!
Nelson’s Book of Bible Maps and Charts, 386.
The New Living Translation reads, “so He will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.” The Revised Standard Version reads, “that God may be everything to everyone.”
3 John Piper states, “Swallowing—this means that death gets an apparent victory, just as with Jesus, but in the end, it is triumphed by (my words) a ‘bigger fish’. Sting—a sharp painful thrust against our soul when we die…like the absence of the lethal poison in a scorpion. It stings you and tries to kill you, and it can’t.” The Mighty "Therefore" of the Ultimate Victory God Gives Us in Christ, Sermon on January 8, 2006 at http://www.desiringgod.org//, accessed on July 21, 2007.
4 In the same sermon above, Piper says, “This punishment, this legal sentence of misery, has force…because the law of God tells us what to do and renders God’s curse if we rebel—which we all have done. So what makes death terrifying is our sin, and what gives that terror such force is that the entire law of God stands behind it.”
5 Several words in this verse lead us back to the “firstfruits” analogy. The word for “firm” implies ‘rooted/grounded’. The word for “outstanding” is a picture of an abundant crop. The word for “in vain” is used in the parable of the servant who came to check on the vineyard. The slaves beat him and sent him away empty. Via the Old Testament concept of firstfruits, each of these words in 1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us that He will bring forth the entire harvest!