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1 Corinthians 15:20-34 Study Guide: Living in Light of the Resurrection

Community Group Study Guide — Living in Light of the Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:20-34

Main idea:
Paul continues his discussion about the reality and results of the resurrection. Since Christ has defeated death, his victory is shared with his people who are united to him. Likewise, the resurrection of Jesus produces a response in the people of God as they fight complacency and walk in newness of life. 

Study Information:
In our last study guide we learned about all the things that would be missing from the Christian life if the resurrection did not happen. Paul continues that thought in this text of scripture as he shows that a believer’s union with Christ means that as Jesus went first in the resurrection and has defeated death, so too followers of Jesus will await resurrection and can walk in newness of life here and now as a result of their connection to Christ. 

The Problem of Death
1 Corinthians 15:20-22
With the entrance of sin into the world, so followed death. God warned Adam in the garden that to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would lead to death and so with sin’s entrance came separation from God and physical death. All people have to learn to deal with the reality death and for the most part world religions break up into three basic views. One view believes that when we die we just cease to be, so grab whatever you can from this life. A second view views the soul going on to some sort of life after death. This is likely the view the Corinthians defaulted to since their Greek worldview saw the physical world as bad and the immaterial as good. But the final view is what Christian teaching affirms and what Paul is trying to help us understand, after death we await resurrection of not only our soul but also our bodies. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:20-21 that in Adam all died, but in Christ all shall be made alive with resurrected bodies. Death has been defeated through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. 

Paul uses the image of union with Christ to help us understand the importance of the resurrection and our faith in Christ. Paul describes Christ as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. First fruits were the beginning of the harvest and came to represent the whole entire crop; if the first fruits were good it was a sign that the rest of the crop would be good too. Christ goes first in the resurrection from the dead and that is a sign that all those who are “in him” will also raised to new life. This resurrection will take place when Jesus comes back, in the meantime believers who have died have “fallen asleep” and are in Christ’s presence but are still awaiting their resurrection bodies (2 Corinthians 5:8, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49). This resurrection will be like Jesus’ resurrection, both soul and imperishable body united together for eternity. If you’re in Christ you can have hopeful expectation that death has been defeated and is not the end. 

Christ’s Victory
1 Corinthians 15:24-28
What happens at the end when Christ comes back? Paul tells us in verse 24, Christ will hand the kingdom over to God the Father. The image Paul uses is one of complete victory over demonic forces and enslaving powers like sin and death. We’re told in 1 John that the reason that Jesus came was to destroy the work of the devil and that will be accomplished once and for all at the end (1 John 3:8). The resurrection of Jesus is the sign and assurance that victory is at hand. God the Father has given Christ all authority and he will reign victorious; his kingdom is not at risk. The last enemy standing is death and Christ has destroyed its power; meaning that everyone in Christ inherits life eternal and even though we will experience physical death that is not the end. 

This can be difficult to believe sometimes and doubt creeps in, but final moments of our earthly lives will not be the last experience we have. Whether you’re in Christ or not you will one day stand before God either in judgement for sin or experiencing reconciliation with God in the full. Death does not have the last laugh or the final victory rather death is swallowed up by life. As one commentator wrote, for believers the resurrection means endless hope, but for those who are not in Christ it is a hopeless end. Christ is not one of many potential saviors, he is the savior who has ultimate victory and to be found in him is invaluable. 

Living in Light of the Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:29-34
If Jesus has defeated death and rules all things, how then ought you to live in response? He begins this section with some confusing comments on baptism of the dead, which appears to address a mistaken practice occurring in the Corinthian church but then he shifts to some clear application for all believers. There are two views worth mentioning in regards to what’s happening in verses 29-30. One view is that “baptized on behalf of the dead” is a reference to when someone in the Corinthian church came to faith but died shortly after without having been baptized and then another would be baptized on their behalf as a way to represent them. This view sees baptism as a prerequisite for salvation and puts it into the realm of ritual more than the New Testament does in other places. For example, mormons look at these verses and will baptize on behalf of their ancestors, regardless of whether they had genuine faith or note. It appears that the Corinthians were not in that same situation, but its possible they still deviated from what we’d call acceptable practice with baptism. Another view is that Paul is extending his argument about “what if Jesus was not raised?” Think about this, if Jesus was not raised from the dead and you were baptized “in the name of Jesus” you’d be baptized in the name of a dead human and not the living God. But, that is not what baptism actually is in a Christian sense. Baptism matters because Jesus in fact rose from the dead and baptism points to new life in Christ. So although we’re not 100% sure what this practice is referring to, the conclusion Paul comes to is that Christ has been raised from the dead and baptism points to this reality.

Next we’re given three applications for how to live in light of the resurrection. First, do not be lulled into chasing after a comfortable life. Verse 30-31, “we are in danger every hour” meaning that faith in Jesus will cost us all something on a day to day basis. The example Paul gives is when he faced wild beasts at Ephesus. It is unlikely that these were literal wild beasts because as a Roman citizen he’d be sparred the arena and it is unlikely he would have survived. Rather, often in the Hebrew scriptures adversaries were described as “beasts.” Paul speaks to how we face opposition to our faith and that it is worth it because of the resurrection. You will get push back to your faith in Christ, but God is authoring new life in you and change that is worth the pushback we face. Second, do not be deceived, do not buy into the message of this world that this life is all that there is (verse 32). Surround yourself with people who push you to walk in Christ and to live in a way that pursues the new life that the resurrection brings; “bad company ruined good morals” meaning that the people around us shape what we pursue. Finally, Paul tell us to “wake up” and connects that to no longer sinning. Your knowledge of God is a huge asset in fighting sin and walking in new life. The resurrection means that you can walk in victory and newness of life. Set your alarm, wake up, when you see sin in your life take it seriously; God has given you the resources through the church community, his word and the Holy Spirit to fight it and walk in new life. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 15:20-34

How does this passage speak about death? Where did it come from, what kind of power does it have and how has Christ defeated it?

What does it mean for a believer to be “in Christ” and for Jesus to be the first fruits of the resurrection?

Of the three applications discussed in this study guide: do not chase after comfort, surround yourself with people who walk in Christ and wake up to your sin; which of those are you pursuing now and what does that look like?