Last time, we looked at the apologetic that Paul began for the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the time closed, last time, we began to focus on the resurrection, the proof that God did what He said He was going to do, in that Jesus lived a perfect life, allowed Himself to be crucified, and while doing so, took the unmixed wrath of God so that we would not have to taste it ever. After taking a break and resting on the Sabbath, God the Father, the Scriptures tell us, raised Christ from the dead, showing that Jesus not only paid the price for our wrongdoings, but that He also broke sin’s power in our lives, so that we no longer had to be afraid of death for sin. What do you mean, Gerry? Show us where it says that! Okay!
Acts 4:10 tells us that when Peter and John healed the lame beggar that sat at the gate of the Temple, they gave this explanation: “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead [emphasis mine]—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.” So which member of the Godhead raised Him from the dead? I don’t know, it just says God here. I don’t think it was God the Son, or it would have said “rose [Himself] from the dead” in active voice. It says He “was raised,” the passive voice, that is, an action being performed upon an object or person. Well, can we look anywhere else? Well, YES!
Romans 8:11 can help us reason it out. Remember, The Son did not rise by Himself, as per the above statement. This verse says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” Here, it speaks of the “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus,” which we could interpret as the Holy Spirit. This can be reasoned to mean that it was NOT the Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead specifically, so by process of elimination we end up with God the Father. Okay, somehow that just feels like you’re saying the Holy Spirit has no power to do so. I didn’t say that at all. All of the members of the Godhead are God and have all of the attributes of God, one of which is omnipotence. Any of them could have done this. But not just any one of them did.
Galatians 1:1 tells us directly. “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)…” God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. I find this significant, personally. I do not understand the division of labour within the Godhead, but I know that there is one God and He (His chosen pronoun, not mine, though I wouldn’t try to change it anyways) has three persons. Not aspects or “modes,” because I am not a Modalist heretic. They all play different and altogether appropriate parts in the drama that has been human history, for God knew what was going to happen with men before He ever created us. Our human minds sometimes have difficulty understanding this because God is SO much bigger and more complex that the smartest man whoever lived couldn’t get a handle on Him. Read the book of Ecclesiastes if you don’t believe me. It drove Solomon nuts, at least temporarily.
However, there are things we can see, and sometimes pretty easily. Regardless of which member of the Triune God was responsible, God’s anointed One rose from the grave on the third day. As we learned last time, this is history’s most credibly established fact, and is also the most hotly contended. WE closed last time with three questions that people must answer in their rush to dismiss their own accountability to their Creator, whose wrath is coming to consume all those that are not His, and you can only become His if you will repent of your sins and believe that Jesus in fact paid the price for YOUR sins. Those questions were: 1) Who moved the stone? 2) What got into the disciples? And 3) Where was the body (of Jesus)? We concluded that the resurrection of Christ from the Dead by the power of God was in fact a reality that cannot easily be denied.
This week, we are going to focus on the reality of that resurrection, because it really is the central point of Christianity. If you can take that fact out of Christianity (and a lot of really smart people have tried and all have failed, some becoming Christians themselves, Josh McDowell among them for the record – he was an atheist), then the whole religion and practice thereof crumbles. Paul moves beyond the logic and proofs offered last time and just begins to talk about it as a reality. I broke the chapter down as follows:
KV20a: The Reality of the Resurrection
20-24: The Order of the Resurrection
25-28: The One that Performs the Resurrection
29-34: Incentives for the Resurrection
As you now know, I actually called this section of text, “The Reality of the Resurrection.” For all of you that like it when I get all logical and make the pieces come together, you may be disappointed to learn that I’m just going to assume that the resurrection is a fact this evening, because we spent some time last week to establish the fact. I’m doing that mostly because that’s what Paul is doing, and we haven’t got 4.5 hours for the study, we’re livestreaming, and I’m not Justin Peters, who just released a 4.5-hour video that I watched on Monday. I can honestly say that you aren’t going to be disappointed at this text, because there are some issues that will require our logic and reason just like the rest of the book so far. Why would a logical and reasonable man like Paul give anyone a vacation from his accustomed reasonableness? Nor should he, Beloved! So buckle up, because here we go.
KV20a: The Reality of the Resurrection
20a: But now Christ has been raised from the dead…
Last week, we looked at proofs of the resurrection of humans from the dead. Such a thing has examples through human history and we briefly mentioned a few, and then I hinted that there will be more in the future. I’m going to leave that aspect to the next study, when we look at that text, but I can honestly say that every human that has ever lived will someday be raised from the state we call death. They aren’t all going to be considered what God calls alive, though. And I’m not talking about stupidity like Zombies. And yes, I know that the US Military has a publicly accessible document of protocols for a zombie apocalypse. It’s still stupidity, because what walks around on the planet is actually under God’s control. If He were to allow it, it would be to accomplish His own ends.
What we are considering tonight is the reality that the resurrection from the dead means to us, and the details and rationales that may surround it. Jesus is certainly the most notable person to have risen from the dead, and it is His resurrection that makes ALL resurrections possible, whether they occurred before the time He actually walked the earth, or later when we get to that text, which should be next week. Let’s jump in here.
20-24: The Order of the Resurrection
This grand resurrection of which Paul speaks can be viewed as a single event that has been stretched over all of human history. The reason I say that is because it is the resurrection of Jesus that makes all other resurrections possible, whether past or future. Think of the way the saints of the Old Testament were saved – they believed in the coming Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God. We New Testament Believers are saved through the same Messiah. Because God is really outside of time and knows the end of things from before the beginning, this is made possible. But there is an order to it, and Paul explains that in these verses. Let’s see what He means.
20: But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
- We see Paul here starting with what I consider the key to my understanding of this text. But NOW, Christ has been raised from the dead. The phrase, “but now” is a clue that the context of the remark comes from what has immediately come before it by way of comparison. You will recall from last time that what comes before this is a discussion of what the Faith would look like if there was NO resurrection. “But NOW, Christ HAS been raised from the dead.” This paragraph is a continuation of Paul’s logic and into reality.
- Paul also uses the phrase, “the first fruits of those who are asleep.” Christ is the first fruits, clearly, and that makes a great deal of sense. The feast of First Fruits” was a Jewish sacrificial festival where the first fruits of the crops were offered to God as a thank offering, and that this is fulfilled in Christ should be a surprise to none of us. Interestingly, that feats is celebrated at Pentecost. Pentecost is known in the Christian world as the day that the Church was born, incidentally. I’ll just mention it here as Paul has, but it is worth a study all on its own, but is not our subject this study.
- “Those who are asleep” refers to believers that have died, essentially. If you will read carefully, Jesus never talks about unbelievers in the sense of having fallen asleep. We know that they are dead. And if you wonder what that might mean, follow me to Rev. 20:11-12. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” This passage, for the new reader, begs a question: Where are the living? They are not there. They were dealt with a a separate time as believers and followers of Jesus. This is the final judgement on humans. They may be standing by watching, but it doesn’t actually say. And if you wonder what the actual standard of judgement is, you can find God’s moral law in Exodus 20. And if you wonder what the qualification for a pass into eternal life is, verse 15 tells us: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Is your name in that book? Is your name in that Book? Is your name in that book for sure? If you’ve been forgiven, and your name is written, then raise your hands, praise the Lord! My friends, the Lord has provided a way of escape for those that are willing to turn to Him.
21: For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
- Paul is speaking the logic we have become familiar with over time as the logic of sin and redemption. Adam sinned, and death entered humanity through that sin. It was made manifest when Cain murdered his brother Abel, but it entered the realm of humanity when Adam sinned by eating the fruit God said not to eat. And because we are all Adam’s offspring, we all have that problem. So it is with the resurrection. Jesus died and God raised Him from the dead – and all men will be resurrected from what we call death. We will all rise from the grave. As the Apostle’s Creed says, “Some to death, some to life.”
22: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
- More of the same, right? Adam gave all humans death. Jesus will give life to all that will turn to Him. And no one will be forced to it, unlike death.
23: But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,
- Here is where the order starts. Having instituted resurrection as a principle, He now tells about the order that the resurrection has. This is not necessarily a chronological rank, incidentally. The first one resurrected (in rank of importance) is Christ, again called the first fruits. I need to say a word to folks that claim that Christians are the first fruits – please be very careful how you say that – it is true, and Scripture supports that, but it is Christ who is the fulfilment of the feast under the law, and the rest of us only hold that position because of Him. This isn’t some weird thing that makes us overcoming champions. He is the champion. We only win with Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, Jesus said in John 15:5. Christ is the first one raised.
- Who is next? Those who are Christ’s at His coming! Who is that? Beloved, that’s US! Those who belong to Christ, living or dead, it seems, will be resurrected! And anyone who is alive and on the earth when this happens goes with that! Again, we’ll leave that for next study.
- What else is that saying? It’s saying that Christ is returning, Beloved. This is not a poetic allegory, it WILL happen! And for those that think I’m talking about a “secret rapture,” again, you’re rushing ahead. You don’t know what we’re going to discover about that, so wait for that.
24: then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
- After that, apparently the END comes. And that opens the door for a discussion of Eschatology, or end things, last things. What end is this talking about? This is talking about the end of the universe and the beginning of the eternal state of things. The New Heaven and New Earth wherein only righteousness dwells. We already looked at the prophetic text in Rev. 20. The Great White Throne Judgement, where all unbelievers are dealt with completely and finally. That end. Because after that, He will hand the kingdom over to God the Father.
- When does this happen? When He, God the Son, has abolished all rule. Even His own, because He will surrender that to God the Father. When He has abolished all authority. Again, when all of creation will submit to Him, He will submit to the Father. And Power. When all other power used against Him is shown to be useless, He will surrender His own power to God the Father. When there is only one power, there will be only one authority, and subsequently one rule, that rule will be God the Father, and there will not need to be any other.
What Paul is getting at here is that Not only is resurrection a reality, but there are even rules and order to it, and it means that we need to look at our next thought unit.
25-28: The One that Performs the Resurrection
I suppose it goes without saying somehow that the resurrection is a supernatural event. Science (real science) will tell us that cells have what is called a senescence point, that is a point at which aging cells stop being able to divide, and that means the body’s ability to repair itself comes to a stop, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Most human cells will divide for a period of time between 55 and 100 years or so, with most people falling inside that range somewhere in terms of life span. Accidents that can prematurely end a life notwithstanding, this is just part of the human condition since the fall. What this means is that dead tissue, once it has died, will remain dead. Some science fiction authors like Mary Shelley wrote very interesting things about electrical power being able to reanimate dead tissue. The monster that Doctor Frankenstein created was literally stitched together and then reanimated by a lightning strike. It doesn’t work that way. All lightning will actually do is cook the tissue as the proteins denature starting around 57 or 58 degrees Celsius. Yet, was that not a resurrection of sorts?
Throughout history, there has always been some kind of belief in a bodily resurrection. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt had their bodies mummified so as to preserve it against that eventuality. Today, this is only understood as a natural phenomenon, and images of zombies come to mind. But as I stated a moment or so ago, resurrection is a supernatural process. GOD must do it. Because otherwise – well, Frankenstein and zombies. Let’s hop into that.
25: For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
- Remember, this is kind of a continuation of a theme here. Who is the He that must reign? It is the First in the rank and order of the resurrection, Christ. The context here comes from v.23 earlier, because this thought unit is related directly to the one before it. For a moment, I entertained making this a part of the preceding paragraph, but I still think there is enough different information and emphasis to make a distinct thought unit here.
- That word “reign” is the Greek basileo, literally to rule as sovereign. The note in Vine’s for this specific reference is that this is used in the sense of Christ ruling even though He was rejected by the Jews. He is the King of kings and Lord of Lords, and yet he was rejected by Caiaphas as the enemy of the Jewish people. He was delivered over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion. They killed Him. He didn’t stay dead! He was raised from the grave, and now sits on the throne of the universe with God the Father.
- His reign shall last until He has put all enemies under His feet. The image evoked by the phrase is the Sovereign standing over the defeated enemy with His foot on top of them as they lie prone on the ground, by the way. At least that’s what I see.
26: The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
- With that imagery in mind, of a victor standing over his prone and defeated enemy, Paul records this complete sentence. “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” Wow. Think about what this means in terms of what it says according to logic. First, death is an enemy. It is something that is not meant or intended for man, and in the previous though unit, we considered that one man in his disobedience to God brought it upon man, and it came in doing what it does – killing all of us. When I was in the Insurance world, we had a statistic that people were amazed by somehow, because it is a clear truth. The actuaries (the guys that price the insurance) said it this way – “The mortality rate is ultimately 100 percent.” The statisticians say it like this – “The ration of people who will die is one out of one.” That’s life – nobody gets out alive. Death is an enemy, and is seen as such, and has been since man has been on the scene.
- Second, Death WILL BE ABOLISHED! Of all the powerful enemies of humanity, death is the most powerful, and will claim all of us barring a direct intervention of God. Yet for all that power, it is TEMPORARY! It will be abolished – and has in fact already been defeated in that the believer has no reason to anymore fear it. We don’t have to be afraid to di, beloved. Maybe the how, because I’m a wimp and don’t like pain, but not the event itself. I don’t want to shame my Lord when I die, if I should die in pain. Moving on.
27: For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.
- The first thing to note in this verse is that Paul is quoting Psalm 8:6, which reads: “You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet…” Psalm 8 is a Messianic Psalm, meaning the “he” referred to here is the Messiah, who in Greek is called Christ. That would be Jesus. Have you got the impression that this is stated like it has already happened? You should. This is God’s way of telling us that this is a done deal.
- The verse is making an exception though. For the one that has all things put in subjection under his feet doesn’t have everything under his feet. The one that does the putting under his feet is excepted. What does this mean? That God the Father placed all things in subjection to God the Son. More, it means that when Jesus has completed His own part of conquering everything, it will have excluded God the Father. Next verse.
28: When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
- In fact at the very end when it is all finished, Jesus will do as He has always done, and that is submit to God the Father. This isn’t actually a new idea. Even when Jesus was here, He was doing that. See what it says in John 5: 19-23: “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
- I know this is not what the passage is saying entirely in its own context, but it factually shows that Jesus was doing what God the Father was doing. Let me rephrase that appropriately – Jesus, in doing what God the Father showed Him, was submitting to God the Father.
- I don’t know what form this grand and what seems to be a final submission will take. Will it be an event with ceremony? You can ask brother Dan who knew me in university if I said stuff like this back then. “Sounds like a party to me!” Will it be a solemnized surrender? Perhaps – but I cannot help but think that all the people that will be present will not only know what is going on, but will wholeheartedly agree with such a surrender and submission. It actually sounds like a great reason for a royal celebration for all of the sons and daughters of the King!
What I’m seeing here is that this thought unit talks about the One that did the resurrecting, God the Father. He is the One who Isaiah saw when he was called as a prophet, and he served as prophet under four kings (Uzziah aka Azariah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah) before king Manasseh ordered him to be sawn in half (from top to bottom). He is the One that called Jeremiah, who saw the destruction of Jerusalem, who the people of Israel had to stone to get him to stop prophesying bad things about them (there was a better way, bet they chose not to repent). It is the same Ancient of Days that called Ezekiel, who was murdered with a knife after confronting a man about his adultery. It is the same Holy One that called Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Joel, and all the other prophets. It is THIS GOD that sent HIS SON to KNOWINGLY AND VOLUNTARILY DIE as a vicarious subsitute for our sins. This is God the Father Himself, the Great Architect (and no, I am NOT a Mason) that designed the universe for His Son to create. He has all the power to do this and more – and it is HE that raised Jesus from the grave. It is He that will change our mortal bodies, whether living or dead, into immortal and living beings in a future resurrection of glory. Praise His Name for all of His power and majesty! Praise the King. Hallelujah!
29-34: Incentives for the Resurrection
Any longtime followers of this Bible study will certainly not be surprised if there is a gospel incentive here, because that is what Paul was all about, and wrote about in every letter in some fashion, even if obliquely like in Philemon. It should come as no surprise that Paul, the prime purveyor of the Gospel to the Gentiles, would dangle incentives to being a believer and entering into this resurrection. In fact, we would be appropriately shocked if he did not. This is a simple enough text, but its language is surprising, because it is less than precise in places, which is surprising for Paul. That makes understanding it more complex than some of the other places in Scripture that Paul wrote. With that said, let’s dig right in.
29: Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?
- The first thing to notice is that it starts with the word “otherwise,” which is a conjunction of course, but it is one that indicates a comparison between ideas, and so is sensitive to the context of what came before? The verses immediately before this provide that context, and they talk about how the Lord Jesus Christ will in the end when it has all been conquered, willingly submit to God the Father. Well, that’s no help in our understanding, is it. That isn’t a question. That means we have to go back to the original thread as it were, and that was in the last study in our discussion of how the resurrection actually had to have happened and is central to Christianity. That actually makes a comparison-like conjunction here make sense. That would make a line of reasoning sound like, “The resurrection had to have happened, because if it didn’t (otherwise), ‘what will those do who are baptized for the dead?'” Wait – what? Baptized for the dead? What in the world does that mean?
- Well, commentators are all over the map. I have an idea of what I think it means, and I’ll tell you what that is and why I think that, but I first have to tell you what it definitely is NOT. A particularly well-known cult that says it is Christian but really is not, believes that this means that WE can be vicariously baptized “in place of” the dead. Now, that IS actually within the translation matrix for the preposition hyper (or huper), but the meaning directly contradicts what the Scripture says about baptism, and what it says about justification by faith. That particular version of what this means is unironically moronic. Just like that cult’s priesthood.
- The preposition hyper is a very imprecise preposition, it seems. It can be translated as for, by, over, exceedingly, more than, in place of (we just looked at that), or even because of, which I prefer here as the one that makes sense but doesn’t violate the idea of justification by faith or the idea that each believer needs to be baptized in obedience to Christ. What this evokes is the idea that people are baptized because of the dead. Perhaps like Stephen, whose illegal execution Paul actually witnessed. In his dying, Stephen gave testimony to God and the goodness of Him, and how He was standing (probably to receive His beloved Stephen at the time of His death!). That was Acts 8. What’s the firs thing that happens in Acts 9? Saul of Tarsus is radically saved by the risen Christ and becomes Paul the Apostle (okay the person who would become the Apostle). Why do I think this is the likely meaning of Paul? Well, back in the days of Paul, baptism had become synonymous with being a believer, that is a follower of Christ. If you think about this, only real believers under persecution would be baptized, because when you make that kind of witnessable, public declaration of your faith, it’s pretty tough to back out, isn’t it! Again, that was a statement, not a question! Baptism in those days = Christianity. Since that time, we’ve had all kinds of time to confuse the issue with things like being vicariously baptized for your dead relatives that you would want to see again in heaven, whether they should be there or not. That i
- However, this idea of baptism being synonymous with Christianity does NOT break anything. How many people do you know that came to Christ as the result of someone who has died? In a sense, we all have – because Christ died for us – and He was raised from the dead! As such, so are we – but in real terms. Baptism is a visual representative of that.
- Think about what the ordinance of baptism really is. Using the real world symbol of a body of water, which symbolizes both the Word of God (Jesus, see John 1:1) who does the work of propitiation and expiation for sin, and the Spirit of God who does the work of the change to your nature, you die to the world and join Christ in death as you go down into the water. Then you stay there, right? NO! That’s a joke I tell to baptismal candidates! (We hold you down till the bubbles stop so we can know the devil’s really gone!) No, you are lifted out of the water, and you join Christ in resurrection. All of this is highly symbolic, conveying NO saving grace at all, but it is the first act of Christian obedience. Jesus Himself was baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River! Does that make a baptism performed in the Jordan of more spiritual significance than one performed in Bethany’s baptismal tank? NO. It is only a symbol. If an unregenerated person (an unbeliever) is baptized anywhere, he or she is still an unbeliever – all they got was wet.
- Now think about what this verse is saying according to what I believe to be correct. The second part of this verse says, “If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they baptized because of their testimony to the world?” If there is no resurrection, there was no purpose for their witness, and no purpose for the ordinance of baptism, says Paul, and he says so right here. That makes baptism, or becoming a Christian, one who escapes the wrath of God and participates in this resurrection a desired, make that an incentivized concept. And this fits in to the rest of the narrative in the chapter without stretching anything out of any kind of context. See the next verse.
30: Why are we also in danger every hour?
- Paul isn’t demanding here to know the reasons that he faces danger every hour. He is asking that if there is no resurrection, why are we doing all this? This is Paul’s rhetorical way of asking things, which we have seen all over his letters, including earlier in this one. He’s saying some thing like, “Look, if there is no resurrection, why would I bother? It’s because there IS a resurrection, and it’s going to be a good thing.”
- And he really was in danger because of these things. You know, this was written from the road while on a missionary journey. The Roman persecution of Nero was the only thing that hadn’t come to fruition yet. This was after his visit to Thessalonica where they drove him away, and after Lystra where they stoned him and left him for dead. Berea was mentioned by way of contrast, because rather than just getting mad because he wasn’t keeping the traditions of the Pharisees, they search the Scriptures, at the time the Old Testament, to see if what Paul was saying was so – and they found it to be correct in large part. Paul was decidedly in danger just from that. And there was more, but that’s in 2 Corinthians where this humble man is forced to defend himself by giving his real credentials.
31: I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.
- Paul is using the Greek nee here for “I attest,” and this is a word that is used as an attestation to an oath, kind of like when Jesus would say the word truly. This is like Paul saying “truly.” But to what is he attesting?
- The upshot here is that he swears he dies daily. What Paul is saying here because of the Greek is that he dies with Christ every day, and that is my current understanding. It is the rest of the verse that makes me think this.
- Why? Because Paul is actually boasting that the Corinthians are the proof of his apostleship, and that in that work of Christ that was assigned to Him, he died to his own self, his own desires, and certainly his sins every day. This is speaking by way of bragging about it about his new nature in Christ, and he is incentivizing that new nature as another perk of those who will experience that resurrection.
32: If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE.
- We are not certain if Paul actually fought literal wild beasts at Ephesus, though there is some tradition that supports it. The speculation is that he fought bulls at the public games to Artemis (Diana) as a prisoner. (Survive the beasts, you go free.) The Romans called this Damnatio ad Bestias, or Condemnation to Beasts, and certainly was part of the games. In fact, some think that the adjective “wild” was added to differentiate this from what the majority of commentators and I myself think. I don’t actually favour this, because Paul as a Roman could not have legally been forced to fight wild animals, and we have seen a pattern that when it suited his (and God’s) purposes, Paul used his status as a Roman to his advantage. I favour the idea that Paul is describing his confrontation with the mob incited by Alexander the coppersmith, and they all chanted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians for 2 hours straight.” Paul could have been using the metaphor of wild animals because of the danger that he and his companions would have been in.
- Building on the above idea, Paul may have been speaking about or including some of the Greek philosophers he would have encountered there as wild animals that seek to tear a man apart but at the level of false understanding through vain philosophy. This is given some credence by the rest of the verse, because Paul quotes Epicurus in it.
- The ultimate battle though, and Paul explains this in a few places, is not with flesh and blood. His clearest description of this is in Ephesians 6, and talks about the principalities and powers of the air, the demonic and dark forces behind all the animosity of that incited crowd or even that philosophy he would have encountered. Any or all of these in some combination would also satisfy the use of “wild beasts” by Paul regarding his experiences in Ephesus. What Paul is saying is something like, “If the dead are not resurrected, then why would I want to do any of this?” And I think that the vain philosophers have more to do with the whole picture than some others from my analysis of this text. Next verse.
33: Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”
- You see, this verse only makes sense if he is speaking about people in the previous verse, particularly those followers of Epicurus, who were at heart hedonists. For the record, hedonism is from the Greek hedonee, meaning “pleasure.” I mean, without the Gospel, that is really the only alternative worldview, isn’t it? Solomon went this way in Ecclesiastes, and you can read about how the meaninglessness of it all drove him nuts. If you need to find it, it’s immediately after the Proverbs in the Old Testament, which follow the Psalms. But why say this here? It comes from the context of what Paul has just said, which was something like, “Don’t listen to the Epicureans.”
- Also, this living for pleasure as the highest ideal is a deception, according to this verse. Another word for deception is LIE. Don’t believe it, and don’t hang around with those who believe it or practice it (the working out of their believing). If you do and you are a believer, they will eventually corrupt your good morals. And beloved, this is completely consistent with Paul’s own theology. Christians have a new nature, and should have the ability to say no to their ungodly desires. And if something is causing you to fall into sin, put that thing, or practice (not the person), or proximity to death. Deny the enemy the opportunity to exploit your weakness and grow in strength by doing so! Those things in this case happen at the same time. If you have a problem with porneia, then stop using it! If you have a problem with gluttony (a covetous desire for food combined with a lack of self control in the eating), then go on a diet, and get some help and educate yourself about the kinds of foods you CAN have! Learn some self control. If you have an issue looking at 18-year-old guys and having homosexual fantasies, stop looking at their naked pictures on the web! It’s pretty simple. Notice I did not say easy.
- If you continually expose yourself to an opportunity to sin, then because we are all weak, and because we are all sinners, we WILL sin. And John Owen would frown, because that is the exact opposite of the mortification of sin that Paul commands in Romans. Bad company (or association) WILL corrupt good morals. Don’t let the flashing lights fool you.
34: Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
- Paul follows up that statement that kind of seals the deal for my own understanding of the context of this wild beast thing in Ephesus being a combination of the philosophers Paul encountered there, along with the mob who were also all demonically energized (they chanted the same phrase angrily for 2 hours) in Ephesus just from the words that Paul uses and what we know of what Paul was like from history and an analysis of this text. That phrase is (as opposed to the bad company that corrupts good morals), “Become sober-minded as you ought…” All that stuff I was on a tear about in the previous verse? I wasn’t making that up.
- Stop sinning! You have a problem with this or that sin? Then cut it out, says Paul. However, it is the reasoning for this cessation of sinful activity that should grab our attention. It is sobering and it is shameful all at the same time.
- “…for some have no knowledge of God.” This has a double meaning, perhaps. The first and obvious meaning is that Christians do not know God and cannot tell people about Him and how to walk with Him. Beloved, they call it the New Birth. Babies are naturally without a lot of knowledge, and they have to learn literally everything. This is not any different, and in some ways its harder, because we have to UNLEARN our sinful habits, and that’s where the business of mortifying sin comes in. But if you are in a place, and Corinth is described as just such a place, that you are not growing, that is a shame to every member of your congregation for not being serious about their own growth. We’ve all been in churches like that.
- The second, and although more speculative than the first, is just as possible in Corinth, is that there are actual unsaved people in your gathering, and they have never heard the Gospel. As one brother says, “In other words, just like the United Church of Canada.” What do you expect that has had an actual atheist as its moderator, and still employs a church pastor who doesn’t believe in God? Still think it can’t happen? Then why does our provincial government need to licence people to perform marriages? Just wait, my friends, they are coming for everyone else. That lady still has a job because she sued the United Church by the way. I don’t care what flavour of Christian you are, the lions think all of us taste good. Methodists, Pentecostals, Independents, Presbyterians, and Baptists – they’re coming for all of us. Just as an aside, you don’t actually have to register your church with the government. Of course, you can’t benefit from tax-exempt status, but that shouldn’t matter. That’s Caesar trying to bait us to register. If you don’t see that, I’m sorry for you. When the cops show up to close us down, I’ll just grab my coat and leave. The location or building isn’t the church, the church is the called-out-of-the-world group of people you are with. And if they throw me in jail for running an underground unregistered church, then God has ordained that I have a prison ministry. But in this space of grace, we are still allowed to operate as a registered charity, so I’ll stick around. But to let those unregenerate, unwashed, LOST people to continue to sit in your congregation without preaching the Gospel to the every chance you get – that’s shameful.
- “I speak this to your same,” says Paul. Let’s look for a moment at Revelation 3. I don’t usually do this, but I need to explain something about this whole topic as it presents itself today. You need to understand what the church has become. Look here in Revelation 3:14-22:
- “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
- The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
- ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
- Has anyone here heard the idea that one can fit the churches into a kind of a prophetic history of the church, starting with Ephesus, where they left their first love, Jesus? Well, you can. It isn’t a new idea, either. Andrew Miller’s Church History is arranged in this fashion. It is useful to consider the model at least. Ephesus was the church in the beginning of the movement. Smyrna is the church under persecution. Pergamum is where the church marries the world. Thyatira is the opulence of the Catholic Cult that came out of Pergamum. That makes Sardis the church of the Reformation, which is a bit of a scary thing, but then comes Philadelphia, the church of brotherly love, where the dead formalism of the reformation (perhaps the modern Lutheran movement) is left and love is understood to be the main operating principle of the church, which also needs right doctrine and right practice as found in the Scriptures. This all ends in Laodicea. Do you know the Greek roots of the words that make up the city name of Laodicea? They are Laos, the people, and Diocesia, meaning the realm or domain. We significantly get our English word “Diocese” from it. In verse 20 of our text in Revelation, where do we see Jesus in relation to the church? OUTSIDE. Why? It is no longer His church. It is the “people’s” church. They dictate what happens, not an adherence to His Word. Beloved, THAT is where we are at least coming to in Church History. Maybe we should have a conference on this. Seven Letters to Seven Churches. What do you all think? Maybe we can do that when the Lockdown lifts.
- My point here is that THIS is a GREAT shame today. Beloved, we have people like this sitting in our midst. We do a fair job of preaching the Gospel to them when we can as well. We need to do better. Otherwise, we need to start lining up for the eye salve with the rest of the Laodicean Christians.
Now that’s our text this evening, but I need to say that next week, we will see a whole new set of things connected to the resurrection, and some of next week will bring up another set of controversies that the church still faces because what I have learned from history is that not everyone learns from history. When someone commits heresy and goes off into error, that error is always refuted by spiritual authority by means of the Scriptures. However, that error doesn’t go away, and it serves the enemy’s purpose of putting up a counterfeit to the truth to draw people away from Christ. That is tragic, but it also serves God’s purposes, in that His actual people, those who will follow His Son regardless of cost, whatever that may be, are revealed, and are even warned, and taught to practice that gift of the Holy Spirit that we need today more than ever, the gift of discernment.
It is the Holy Spirit that gives this gift, as seen in the first part of Chapter 12, it is operated effectually only by love as we saw in chapter 13, and it is only used effectively if it is used in order, as we saw in chapter 14. Why are these things used? Well, according to chapter 15, to show that Jesus died to pay the price for our wrongdoings and was raised from the dead by God the Father to show that it is true, and that we may now all repent and follow Jesus as our Lord and King! This has some interesting meanings, and we’re going to look at them briefly next time.