Paul starts correcting the Corinthians view that there is no resurrection from the dead by making two points: 1) Jesus, the man, was resurrected and 2) if Jesus wasn’t resurrected, then his death accomplished nothing and we are still guilty before God.
The majority of this letter is Paul’s response to questions the Corinthians asked him. 1Corinthians 15 is the last topic he covers: whether there is a bodily resurrection. A group in Corinth denies the idea that believers are looking forward to a bodily resurrection.
Several groups in Greek culture at that time denied or downplayed the idea of a physical resurrection. We have Scriptural evidence of this view in Acts 17:32.
15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But 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. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1Corinthians 15:1-11
- Paul begins his argument that a bodily resurrection is essential to Christian belief by pointing to fact we’ve already seen it happen in the resurrection of Christ.
- Paul is writing to people who have already made a claim to faith.
- He reminds them that the gospel they claim to believe includes the resurrection of Christ.
- Paul received the gospel directly from the risen Lord (Galatians 1:12) and later verified with the other apostles that he was teaching the same gospel (Galatians 2:1-6).
- Paul insists this fact that Christ died for our sins, buried and resurrected is central to the gospel. See Isaiah 53.
- Cephas is another name for the Apostle Peter (see John 21)
- The Twelve is a nickname for the original 12 apostles, even though there was 11 at the time the risen Jesus appeared to them.
- “More than 500 at one time” probably refers to what we call the Galilee event (Mark 16:7 and Matthew 28:16-17).
- Luke tells us the risen Lord was on the earth for 40 days and many people saw him (Acts 1:1-3).
- Paul is writing this letter about 20 years after the ascension. Many people still alive remember the resurrection.
- James is the brother of Jesus. James was not a believer before the resurrection (Mark 6:2-3; John 7:5) but church history records that he became a devout follower of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem after the resurrection.
- “As to one untimely born”: Unlike the other apostles, Paul did not know Jesus during his earthly ministry, but only met him after the resurrection (Acts 9).
- Paul argues that as a person he is no one, but God in His grace called Paul to do great things.
15:12Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. -1Corinthinas 15:12-19
- If there is no resurrection, then this gospel does not have the power to save anyone.
- If Jesus was not raised, then the apostles are liars and you are foolish to believe their gospel.
- If Jesus was not raised, then his death accomplished nothing and we are still under God’s wrath.
- If Jesus was not raised, the dead will stay dead.
- But Jesus was raised.
- Paul does not view this issue of resurrection as esoteric theology, but as fundamental to the gospel. If you deny the resurrection, you deny the gospel itself.
- Paul sees no value in believing something that is not true. Investing yourself in a lie is foolish and you are to be pitied.
- Believers are invested in the gospel because it’s true. We are looking for salvation from our sins. The gospel tells us we will find that salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ. Part of the reason we know this to be true is God raised Jesus from the dead.
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