In this passage in First Corinthians 15, Paul is explaining the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was chosen by God to open new thoughts that no one had ever explained before that time. Christ had overcome spiritual death for all who would come to Him and accept Him as their Savior and that has changed the history of the world.
The resurrection is definitely a part of Godís good news for the believer. Itís promised in this chapter as something we can rest our faith on. Earlier in this chapter, Paul gave a list of eye witnesses, those who saw Jesus alive after His death, to supported this testimony and then he described what life would be like if Christ had not been raised from the dead. Verse 19: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."
Verse 19 has a negative sound but, beginning with Verse 20, Paul makes some positive statements. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he looked ahead to the ultimate affect of the resurrection of Jesus and to the promise of some remarkable things from the resurrection.
The first is the guarantee of the physical resurrection of the bodies of all who believe in Jesus, which was evidenced by the physical resurrection of Jesus Himself.
Verses 20-23. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22: For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23: But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming."
We can get a key to this passage in the fact that ďfirst fruitsĒ is mentioned twice. Paul is making a comparison to the ritual that was given to Israel in Leviticus 23 where, at The Feast of Unleavened Bread described there, the offering of the first fruits of the harvest would be made. The Jews were to bring a sheaf of grain, the first of the harvest, to the priest, who would wave it before the Lord. Scripture likens Christ to this in Verse 20. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."
The Jews at Corinth would understand this passage sooner than we who are not too acquainted with Jewish customs. In the feasts of Israel, God had given a prediction that the resurrection of Jesus would be the first fruits of the harvest of many souls. In those feasts, the Passover came first, followed the next day by the Sabbath, and on the day following that the Feast of Unleavened Bread where the first fruits were offered. The harvest of the rest of the ďfruitsĒ would come later.
Christ, as our Passover, was crucified, and the day following His crucifixion was the Sabbath, and the day following that, the day the first fruits were to be offered, He rose again. His resurrection demonstrated that, as sure as the first fruits were the proof that there was going to be a harvest at a later time, the resurrection of the believers would also come later.
Itís important to realize that Jesus was the first human being ever to be resurrected from the dead. There were people who returned from the dead, but they werenít resurrected. Itís important to understand this, because resurrection means more than merely coming back to life. Lazarus and others who died before Christ and were raised again to life, died again, but Christ is the first fruits of all who will be resurrected from the dead to die no more.
Weíre all familiar with stories of people who "died" and had certain experiences, and then "came back to life" to tell about them. Sometimes the term "resurrection" is used in those stories, but that is not resurrection. If they "came back," it was to the same life they left. But thatís not resurrection.
Resurrection brings us to a quality and a dimension of life we have never lived before. Itís not simply a return to an existence as we know it now, itís an existence weíve never known before. Jesus was the first one to be resurrected from the dead. It was the same Jesus, He came in a real body, but He came back to a different level of life and His resurrection is a sample of the resurrection that awaits the believer.
Paul gives us very logical proof that the resurrection of the believer is an absolute certainty in verse 21: ďFor since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.Ē Death passed to our race because of the fall of Adam, but all who are part of the new creation, the new race in Christ, will also participate in the resurrection of the dead. Verse 22. ďFor as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.Ē He is talking about believers, those who have already fallen asleep in Christ.
Back in Verse 18 he said, "Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ;" and again in Verse 20 he speaks of "them that slept;" and in Verse 23, "they that are Christís." So when he says, "in Adam all die," he isnít talking about the unbelieving world, although it is true that they all die in Adam, but he is talking particularly about believers.
Believers die because our bodies are part of Adamís race, but our soul lives on and is said to ďbe with the LordĒ immediately when we die. We are "in Christ," and those "in Christ shall all be made alive.Ē By man (Adam) came eviction from the paradise of Eden; by man (Jesus Christ) also comes passage back into Paradise, by means of His resurrection. His resurrection made the believerís resurrection just as certain as death.
Itís a rather sobering thing to realize that weíre all dying right now. We begin to die the moment weíre born, and the process just keeps rolling on. We can cover up the outward appearances for a while, but the inward process canít be stopped. You donít have to do anything to die. You donít have to work at it, although some of us do. Itís not up to us to die, time will take itís course and it will happen.
Those who die in Christ have the life of Christ inside them and canít remain in that state. The unsaved do not have the life of Christ in them and can only rise by the voice of Christ at the resurrection of the unsaved dead.
The good news is that itís not up to the believer to be resurrected. Just as surely as death is at work in us in Adam, life is at work in us if we are "in Christ."
Just as certain as there is death, itís just as certain that the believer will be resurrected from the dead and brought into a quality and level of life that we have never known before.
Once we pass through the experience of death into resurrection, like our Lord did, we will never die again. Christ having once died, Paul says in Romans, never dies again, and we share His existence. He is the first fruits of the great harvest and we are a part of that harvest.
Weíre taught in other Scriptures that thereís a resurrection of both the just and the unjust, but the "resurrection to life" involves only those who are "in Christ."
Death is at work in all of us, but for one generation there will be some who will never die.
When will that happen? Paul answers that in Verse 23: ďBut every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.Ē
And that time is described in I Thessalonians 4:16-17: ďFor 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.Ē
Thereís your answer; "at His coming." For almost two thousand years, every generation of believers has hoped they would be the ones that would be alive when Christ returned.
That hope is really high in many of us today because of the things that are taking place in the world. We see the nations gathering in what may well be the final scene before the Lord returns. No one can say for certain. But, for two thousand years those who expected to escape death by the return of Christ have been disappointed. They have all experienced death and passed into glory through death but they will be resurrected "at His coming."
Iím not able to give you a definite answer on how the time of one who is asleep in Jesus is spent until He comes to meet us in the air. Some good Bible scholars have differing opinions on the question so Iím not about to put forth a statement I canít back with scripture. I just know that Iíll be looking forward to that wonderful moment when "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout to meet me in the air."
In Verse 24, we have more information. Itís a description of the final scene in time after Christ has reigned for 1,000 years of peace and righteousness on the earth. He will have completed His work, subdued His enemies, cast the devil and death and Hades into the lake of fire (as is recorded in the book of Revelation), and then He will deliver the kingdom back to the Father. Verses 24-26. "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. 25: For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
The reign of Christ doesnít begin when he subdues his enemies. He is in control now. The Biblical truth is that He does reign now, and He will continue to reign until his enemies are made His footstool. When we run up against oppressive governments and severe limitations to our freedom and, as is the case in some parts of todayís world, violent persecution of the Christians, weíre to remember that all this takes place under the overall authority of Jesus Christ who said, after He rose from the dead, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth," Matthew 28:18.
He permits this kind of thing to happen to accomplish His purposes. The church has always prospered most when it is under the severest oppression.
In the Old Testament, God raised up the Babylonians and the Assyrians and brought them against Israel. He allowed Jerusalem to be taken; He allowed the Israelites to be taken into captivity, not because that was the way He wanted things to happen on earth, but because that was necessary to teach His people the lessons they needed to know.
One important truth we often forget is that God gives even those who hate Him everything they have and allows them to do everything they do. God brings these things to pass for a reason and Christ has the authority to allow them to happen.
Verse 26: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." Death will be done away with even for unbelievers by the resurrection of the unjust dead.
Death is the separation of the body and the soul. While the believerís soul is described as asleep in Jesus, the unsaved personís soul will be alive and suffer untold torment forever in hell.
Death isnít going to disappear from this earth until we come to the time described in the book of Revelation when a new heaven and a new earth come into existence. Satan brought in sin, and sin is death and they will have to be utterly destroyed first.
Death is present on the earth now and will still be present during the millennium when Christ rules on earth and peace and righteousness prevail on earth. At that time, Isaiah says, "the child shall die a hundred years old," Isaiah 65:20.
Death will be an unusual experience during the millennium, when someone one hundred years old will still be a child as far as the possibilities of his life span are concerned -- he could live the entire thousand years. At the close of His millennial reign, our Lord will subdue His enemies, this earth will be burned up with fire, and death will finally be destroyed and cast into the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14: "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."
Godís sentence of death given in the Garden can only end when death and hell are cast into the Lake of Fire. The unsaved, those who reject Christ in this life will live eternally in the everlasting fire of hell. Matthew 25:41. "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
And, for the devil, Revelation 20:10. "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
For the believer, Christ's victory over death, evidenced by His resurrection, proves that death will finally be destroyed.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56: The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57: But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Another scripture that backs up this statement is found in Hebrews 2:14. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he (Christ) also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
Verses 27-28 describe this end and speaks of when the kingdom is restored to God the Father: Verses 27-28. "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. 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."
Here is the description of the end of Christ's work as a mediator between God and man. During this present time, our Lord Jesus is singled out, as it were, from the other persons of the Godhead as the supreme object of worship, and we are invited to worship Him and give Him honor.
Because of our Lord's faithfulness, Philippians 2:9-11 tells us that ďGod also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11: And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Ē
In Revelation 5, the whole universe is seen gathering around the throne in heaven, worshipping Christ as the Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world. Theyíre, saying, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," Revelation 5:12.
There is a time coming when the work of the Son in subduing a lost creation will be finished. When the full results of the atonement of the cross have been completed and all the harvest of the earth is gathered, the Lord Jesus will return the kingdom to the Father so that God, as the Trinity, will be everything to every one.
Revelation 21:1-7. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2: And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3: And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5: And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6: And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7: He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son."
There is no mention of the Trinity here in this description of the eternal state. The individual work of the Holy Spirit is done and the individual work of Christ is finished. There is nothing more to fulfill, and the Godhead will again be in the original state and the believerís eternal dwelling place will be with God in the new heaven and the new earth.
For the first time since the Garden of Eden, all Godís people will understand the mystery of the Trinity. We know the Bible teaches there are three persons in the Godhead and they are equal in glory and honor. Our mortal minds canít understand how they can comprise one God and yet be three persons all working with the same goals.
I donít think anyone understands the Trinity now but the time is coming when the Triune God will be back in itís original state and all believer will understand the makeup of God and He will be our ďall in all,Ē He will be everything to every one.
God has given us an opportunity
to spend eternity with Him in all His glory.
It was through the sacrifice made by His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.
Jesus died there for our sins
and only through our repentance and sincere faith in that finished work
can we attain Godís forgiveness
for our sins and inherit eternal life with Him.