10 March 2015

1 Corinthians 15:21-26

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (v. 26)

Psalm: Psalm 119:129-144


The idea of death coming from a human being (Adam) and therefore resurrection also coming from a human being (Jesus) is quite alien to our scientific age. The Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible seems helpful by describing Paul as using Adam and Christ to sum up human history through two representative humans. The reason for doing that seems to be to challenge the Corinthians in two ways, one of which resonates with our culture:

He places their resurrection as still to come (verse 23) to challenge a view at the time that they had already been raised and that they were already ruling with Christ.

He challenges a very individualised understanding of salvation among the Corinthians. That seems to chime with issues we face in our very individualised society. Paul makes it clear this is not individual - in verse 22 he writes "for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ". Individualistic salvation has a very different impact on the way people live their lives compared to communal salvation. Both Jesus and Paul have an expectation that salvation is communal. When people are healed part of that is to be restored to community (consider the lepers who are reconnected to community through being recognised as clean by the priests (Luke 17:11-19), consider Zacchaeus whose salvation reconnects him with others and puts injustice right (Luke 19:1-10), consider salvation coming to whole households (eg Acts 16, especially verse 31).

At the end Paul personalises death as an enemy to defeat and that kind of language is also very prevalent in our society - think, for example, of the language we use around cancer (fighting battles, win/lose etc). Whenever we read of destruction of enemies by Jesus, it is important to bear in mind how Jesus teaches and practises defeating enemies. We see on the cross and throughout his teaching that enemies are defeated through love, forgiveness, reconciliation and self sacrifice.

To Ponder

  • How do you feel about salvation as communal rather than individual? How does that fit with your experiences of Christian community?
  • In what ways do you find language about fighting or defeating death helpful, or not?
  • In what ways might Paul's teaching help people (and you) have a healthier attitude towards death?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dave Warnock

Dave Warnock is a Methodist minister in the Leicester North Circuit based in Syston, Leicester. He is passionate about lots of things (including Scripture, discipleship, gender/sexual equality, pacifism and cycling) and loves being part of the Methodist people.