Is 1 Corinthians 15 the Rapture, the Resurrection, or Both?
First Corinthians 15 is mainly concerned with speaking about resurrection. Throughout the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul is responding to questions the Corinthians have sent him in a previous letter we do not have in the New Testament.
Most of the chapters break on the beginnings of these discussions and answers to their questions. Paul also uses the natural breaks of “On the matter of” or something along those lines. Paul opens by reminding the Corinthians that he preached the gospel to them and they believed (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). This will be further explained as we continue through the chapter.
Paul goes right into the kernel of the gospel of what he preached (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Jesus’ resurrection is a key part of the gospel. So Paul will expand on what he preached and they believed throughout the rest of the chapter, talking about resurrection not just of Jesus but of believers.
He gives the evidence of how many people witnessed the resurrection of Jesus beginning with Peter and then continuing to everyone else (1 Corinthians 15:5-10). One of the problems in Corinth was that some of the saints were saying there is no resurrection of the dead, even though Jesus was raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12).
If Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead, then the apostles, their preaching and teaching, and the belief of the Corinthians is null and void (1 Corinthians 15:13-15). He further makes the point that if Christ is not raised, the Corinthians are still in their sin and all of the saints who have already died had died in vain (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).
In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the doctrine he taught when he was with them. Christ has been raised from the dead. Similar to Romans 5, Paul talks about how Jesus brought the resurrection of the dead while Adam brought death through sin (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
Then Paul gives a succession of events at the end of time. And this may be part of the answer to your question. But I will answer it slightly here and at the end of 1 Corinthians 15. Paul Allen the order of the end times. Christ is raised first in the first century AD, and then the saints when he returns in his second coming (1 Corinthians 15:23).
After Christ’s second coming, the end will come where Jesus reigns and takes all of his enemies and puts them in subjection under himself (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). The last enemy that will be destroyed is death itself.
Paul brings up a curious practice probably by the Corinthians as being baptized for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29). This is strange and has never been mentioned in all of Scripture before now. It is most likely something the Corinthians were doing. He doesn’t say anything good or bad about the practice. That’s why it is such a curious thing to us today. We have no context for it.
He further describes his own personal life as he faces death and danger every day for the sake of his mission in Christ and the Christians that he visits in their churches (1 Corinthians 15:30-32). Then he quotes a proverb and we might as well enjoy our day today if there is no resurrection, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
He concludes his argument by calling out the Corinthians for all their sinning because they don’t think the resurrection exists (1 Corinthians 15:33-34). He tells them that bad company ruins good morals. This is another saying or proverb. But he is telling them to stop having friends that cause them to sin. We don’t live for today. We live for eternity.
For the rest of the chapter, Paul will attempt to explain what the resurrection of our bodies will look like. We’re still on the subject of the resurrection, and we’re talking about the end times resurrection, the resurrection that happens at the second coming of Christ.
For this reason, Paul is both talking about resurrection of the body and when it will happen, during the rapture of the church, the catching up of our bodies to be with the Lord who comes in the clouds. So let me go through this last half of the chapter for clarification.
Paul begins by talking about how we will be raised by putting it as a question in the mouth of someone who is contrary to his arguments. While the Greek culture of philosophy asked the “why” questions, the Roman culture asked the application “how” questions.
Paul explains that the resurrection body looks different than the physical body. He uses the illustration of a seed when it is planted in the ground and the end result of the plant above ground (1 Corinthians 15:36-41). Every entity has a different type of body, including the heavenly bodies Christians receive for eternity.
To use another way of communicating, Paul then switches to talking about the perishable bodies we have now, the ones that don’t last and decay in the earth, and the imperishable bodies we will receive that last for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). He concludes his teaching about perishable and imperishable by once again referencing Adam and Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
Paul turns to speaking about a mystery and the victory we receive through resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). The ministry is that not every Christian will sleep (die) but we will all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:50-52).
Then he goes further to explain the change as much as God has revealed it to him. This is where the rapture comes in for 1 Corinthians 15. I will explain that in just one moment. Paul says that this change will happen so fast that it will be within the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:52).
When the trumpet sounds, first the dead in Christ will be raised, and then those who are still alive will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:53-54). And in this change we will conquer sin and death once and for all (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
Paul further explains the theology behind his outburst of victory and praise to God. After quoting some Scripture from the Old Testament, Paul says that the sting of death is sin. It is our sin that leads to death theologically. And the law tells us what sin is (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). He finishes the chapter by talking about encouraging one another with these matters (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Now why do I say that this last part is about the rapture? Compare the language of the last trumpet, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and the changing of our bodies at the second coming of the Lord with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The same two-tier system of resurrections occurs in this passage. First the dead in Christ are raised, and then we who are alive at the coming of Christ will join them in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
And there’s the same language of the trumpet sound that begins this transformation (1 Thessalonians 4:16). After the dead in Christ are raised first, we who are still alive when the Lord returns will join him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
We know this passage is speaking of the rapture because the verb “caught up” in Greek is the same word for the Latin verb for rapture. This is where the doctrine of the rapture comes from. So we see that both of these passages, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are speaking of the same event, the resurrection during the rapture.