The turning point of all history hinges on three days. The crucifixion and resurrection are the greatest demonstrations of God’s love, holiness, and power. All of Christianity defines itself by these two events. The resurrection would not have happened if Jesus had not died on the cross but Christianity would be a hopeless religion if Jesus did not rise from the dead.
PREACHING THE GOSPEL (1 Cor. 15:1-2).
The apostle Paul was fearless when opportunities to share the gospel wherever they might be. It did not matter the trouble it would put Him in. Proclamation of the gospel had no equals in comparison of importance. Paul reinforces this in his letter to the Corinthians as he again “declares” the gospel that was preached to them before (vs. 1). Paul makes it known to them that he had already given them the good news of the gospel and that they had received.
Important to Paul was that they “stand” in that gospel (vs. 1). The Greek word histemi can be translated as to “maintain,” “establish,” “be in place,” “continue,” and “be firm.” Paul was encouraging his readers to be steadfast in gospel and not easily moved from it for any reason. A person can be confident in the Gospel and place all their trust in it.
Paul reminds also that it is by the gospel that the Corinthians are saved (vs. 2). It was not that Paul’s preaching was able to save but that the gospel is the message of one who can and does save those that hear it and obey it. Paul warns that they are saved by it if they keep or continue in it’s teaching “unless ye have believed in vain” (vs. 2). Implying that not all that heard him listened and truly took the message to heart and obeyed the gospel call to faith and repentance.
THE RESURRECTION WITNESS (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
Paul understands that he was not an eyewitness to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus back into heaven. He does however lay out key eyewitnesses in sequence of events until he receives the gospel. Paul did this in order to give his testimony of the resurrection a strong foundation.
The apostle Paul assures those at Corinth that they have received the same gospel that he has received. In no way has he added or taken away from it. Even though their way of “receiving” was through the mouths of others it was still as valid and truthful as those that were eyewitnesses.
Paul appeals to the fulfillment scriptures as guarantee. “That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (15:3) and by doing so offers proof to the reality of the resurrection. “Paul puts the testimony of Scripture above that of those who saw the Lord after His resurrection”(Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible Oak Harbor, 1997).
Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies and one particular is that of the resurrection. Paul asserts that Jesus “rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). Some may ask where this prophecy is located as it is not easily seen. Jesus pointed out that the resurrection after three days was prophesied through the experience of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-41.
Important in any trial is the inclusion of eyewitnesses. Paul begins to list those that were key eyewitnesses of Jesus’ physical body after the resurrection. Paul invites the people of Corinth to check his sources. He calls out Peter by the Syrian translation “Cephas” (15:5) and the other disciples.
Jesus also made post-resurrection appearances to others. Most notable was at the ascension of Christ into Heaven in Acts 9:4-11. Five hundred eyewitnesses could testify to that wondrous event but there were some that had died or what was referred to as “fallen asleep”(1 Cor. 15:6).
Paul refers to another time when Jesus “was seen of James” (15:7) and likens it to his own experience of being “seen of me also” (15:8). The James referred in in 15:7 appears to be James the Lesser, not the disciple but the half-brother of Jesus that would later be the church leader at Jerusalem. Apparently, he to did not believe in Jesus until a miraculous appearance of Jesus after the ascension like Paul’s visitation (Acts 9:1-18). The post-ascension appearances gives us a better understanding of Paul’s phrasing, “as of one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). It was after Jesus’ own earthly ministry that Paul entered into the church.
PAUL’S LIFE AS A WITNESS (1 Cor. 15:9-11).
Paul continues to describe his feelings toward his own life. It was because of his horrible treatment of the church before Christ that made him feel as “the least of the apostles” (15:9). The regret of his previous actions and feelings toward the Church made him feel even unworthy of the title of apostle.
The grace of God though makes Paul’s life a powerful testimony and proof of the resurrection of Jesus. It was only by the grace of God that Paul was now where he was. Three times Paul uses the word “grace” in verse 10. Paul may have had a regretful past but the grace of God changed all of that. It was because of that gift of grace that Paul went on to labor so hard and show that he had been changed. To counter any thought that he was working on his own he again shares that it is the grace of God with him.
With a foundational group of eyewitnesses Paul reaffirms his position that the gospel that was preached to them was trustworthy. It did not matter “where it were I or they” (15:11) infers that whoever preached from out of those eyewitnesses would have given same account. It is a reminder that though there are four gospels and there may be many witnesses to Jesus, there is still only one gospel message.
JESUS IS THE GREATEST GUARENTEE (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Paul quickly addresses that central to the gospel message is the resurrection and that some are dismissing it as though it did not happen (cf. 15:12-19). Paul shares that this would make everything that Christ came to do of no importance if in the end He did not rise from the dead. People would still be in their sins and even if they could be forgiven they would have no hope of a resurrection themselves. This is because Christ is the “first fruits of them that slept” (15:20). There were a few resurrections that happened before Christ’s in the Old and New Testament. None of those however were like Christ’s resurrection. Those resurrections were followed by another death at some point in that persons life. Jesus’ resurrection was one to life forevermore (cf. Rev. 1:18). The believers present life is not only comforted by the resurrection but the future life in eternity is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Death was not part of the original creation in the Garden of Eden. “By man came death” (15:21) infers that Adam as a vehicle for sin also was the avenue through which death entered into our existence (cf. Rom 5:12-21). Just as death entered into our life by man, Jesus the Son of God becoming man brought to us the “resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21).
Death still comes to all and none escapes it grasp but thanks be to God that we “shall all be made alive” (15:22). This is the present hope of a future reality. “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory” (15:54b-55). Jesus guarantees a final victory.