Christ’s Resurrection & the Apostolic Gospel
Devoted to the Apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2.42) as we Christians want to be, we need to make sure that Christ’s resurrection has as much significance to us as it had to the Apostles. In 1 Corinthians 15, we have a passage where we are reminded how important Christ’s resurrection was and how important that event should be to us.
As we come to this passage, we need to be aware that the Corinthians had evidently come to believe that life in the Spirit meant ridding one’s self of the body as something inferior: bodily resurrection was, therefore, a contemptible idea. In 1 Corinthians 15, then, Paul is determined to establish the resurrection of Christ and His people as a “common denominator of doctrine” that he and all Christians should have in common.
Paul writes in 15.1-2, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” Notice first the weightiness of the Apostolic gospel: its truth affects our past (“which you received”), our present (“in which you stand”), and our future (“and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you”). The gospel is of “consequence beyond measure” to those who receive it.
In 15.3-10 the Apostle continues to stress the truth that Christ’s resurrection is central to the Apostolic gospel. In doing so, he appeals to the OT Scriptures as the ground of his proclamation. Clearly, he was “set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom 1.1-2).
Strikingly, in 15.3, Paul says he gave first priority in his preaching to content that was not original with him: “I delivered to you … what I also received.” And what content did he receive? The announcement “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried.” Notice that the death of Christ that Paul preached was a particular kind of death: it was “for our sins”: not sins of His own, for He had no sin. His death, then, was that of a penal substitute. Moreover, His death was “in accordance with the Scriptures.” That is, the writing prophets of God (e.g., Isaiah 53) predicted His death as an event predetermined and foreknown by God (Acts 2.23; Ps 40.7 // Heb 10.7). And don’t miss the detail: “and was buried.” His burial underscores both that His dead body was not stolen (Matt 28.13) and that His body was no apparition (after all, it is dead bodies that are buried, not spirits).
In 15.4b-10 the Apostle resumes his rehearsal of his core preaching by highlighting the truth of Christ’s resurrection and post-resurrection appearances. At least two important points need to be stressed.
Notice first that the Apostle says in 15.4b, “that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Over the centuries, scholars have struggled — many in vain — to find the OT Scriptures to which the Apostle refers. Their fundamental problem is they have not known what to count as evidence. Paul points the way in Rom 4.16-25: God’s gift of procreative life to childless Abraham and Sarah was a lesson in the greater resurrection of the Seed to come. Similar lessons appear in the Prophets (e.g., Jonah’s deliverance from death at sea [Jonah 1-3]; Israel’s return from exile [Ezekiel 37]) and the Psalms (e.g., Ps 16).
The testimony of Scripture to Christ’s resurrection, says Paul in 15:5-7, is corroborated by the testimony of eyewitnesses: “and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then … to more than five hundred brothers at one time …. Then … to James, then to all the apostles.” Don’t pass over the numbers Paul mentions: more than 500 people saw, heard, looked upon, and/or touched the resurrected Jesus (cf. 1 John 1.1)! Yes, Thomas and others among the original disciples (John 20.24-29; Matt 28.17) were initially skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection. But, friends, if you had asked them how they overcame their skepticism and came to “know He lives,” they most definitely would not have said, “He lives within my heart.” No, they would have said, and did say, in effect, “by the visible, audible, and tangible evidences of His resurrection.” Christian, never forget: we have more than 500 eyewitnesses who testify that Jesus was and is alive and well.
The Apostle concludes by citing his own witness in 15.8-10: “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” Clearly, Paul views himself as both the last and the least eyewitness: last, because no one followed him; least, because no one was more unfit than he. But don’t miss this point: Paul’s transformation from persecutor to eyewitness was itself proof of Christ’s resurrection.
In closing, Paul refocuses our attention once more in 15.11, “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” The resurrection-centered gospel that Paul preached is the one preached by all of the Apostles. With the Corinthians, then, we should get this: we are not unique, and we should not dare to be unique. Through all generations of Christ’s Church, those who are His have received the same gospel, and its common denominators are Christ’s death for our sins and Christ’s resurrection. This Resurrection Sunday, let’s be sure to keep Christ’s resurrection central to the gospel we proclaim. In this we shall manifest our devotion both to the Apostles’ doctrine and to our Lord!