Much of 1 Corinthians centers on issues of personal behavior involving rambunctious church members. After tackling each of those problems, Paul turns his attention to a question of doctrine, one that looms before him as the most important issue of all. People are challenging the Christian belief in an afterlife. Death, they say, is the end.
Throughout history, many people have taken such a position. In Jesus’ day, a Jewish sect called Sadducees denied the resurrection from the dead. Doubters persist today, such as Black Muslims, Buddhists, Marxists and most atheists. Some New Age advocates present death as a natural part of the cycle of life. “Why resist it or consider it bad?” they ask.
No Fairy Tale
The Corinthian church soon learns not to voice that opinion around the apostle Paul. To him, life after death is no fairy tale, but rather the fulcrum of his entire faith. If there is no afterlife, he thunders, the Christian message is a lie. If there is no afterlife, he has no reason to continue as a minister, Christ’s death is merely wasted blood, and Christians are the most pitiable of all people.
The Bible presents a gradually developing emphasis on the afterlife. Old Testament Jews had only the vaguest conception of life after death. As Paul points out, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changed all that, giving the world decisive proof that God has the power and the will to overcome death. First Corinthians 15 weaves together the threads of Christian belief about death. With no hesitation, Paul brands death “the enemy,” the last enemy to be destroyed (see 1 Corinthians 15:26).
This chapter often gets read at funerals, with good reason. As people gather around a casket, they sense, as if by instinct, the unnaturalness and horror of death. To such people, to all of us, this passage offers soaring words of hope. It shows how death is finally conquered and becomes not an end, but a beginning.
How does a belief in the afterlife affect your life now?