1CORINTHIANS 15:1-11: THE REAL PHYSICAL RESURRECTION OF JESUS
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
In 1Corinthians 1 to 14 Paul has dealt with many issues that were troubling the church in Corinth. Some of these issues were practical, dealing with their behaviour, other were doctrinal, dealing with what they believed. Now in Chapter 15 he addresses an important final issue – questions concerning the resurrection of the dead. It is obvious that there were some people in the church in Corinth who were saying that there is no physical resurrection. This denial impacts not only our understanding of what happens to believers, but also our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What we believe about the resurrection of Christ is critical. If we are wrong at this point the gospel falls to pieces. If we are wrong at this point, if we deny the resurrection of Christ, then we have no basis for believing that he is the eternal Son of God, and we have no basis for believing that his death saves us from sin and its judgment.
In this chapter Paul is fighting for the survival of the Gospel.
‘I want to remind you of the gospel…’
In the context of misunderstanding or of false teaching Paul goes back to the foundation – the gospel. Anything that is contrary to the gospel is to be put aside.
The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’.
‘ … the gospel I preached to you’
This is the original and authentic gospel. The tendency of humans is to add to or take from the gospel, reducing its power and removing its goodness, so that it is no longer ‘gospel’, no longer ‘good news’.
Check out these scriptures:
What do they teach about false teaching?
‘which you received’
The original gospel proclaimed by the apostles is the gospel originally received by these Corinthians. They did not at the beginning receive a watered-down and powerless ‘gospel’. They received the true gospel in all its fullness and power.
‘and on which you have taken your stand’.
Believing in Christ involved a deliberate and significant change that set them apart from the cultural norm. It was not a decision that one would make lightly. Nor was it a temporary decision. To really believe in Christ is to believe in him in a permanent way – to believe in him forever. [The Greek verb is in the Perfect Tense, referring to a completed action in the past the results of which remain in place.] Any ‘faith’ that ceases in a final way has by that action demonstrated that it never was real faith.
‘By this gospel you are saved …’
A watered-down ‘gospel’ cannot save anyone, especially a ‘gospel’ that has removed the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But the Gospel originally preached to the Corinthians and received by the Corinthians was the full and complete Gospel that actually does save.
‘… if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.’
This proviso distinguishes between true and false believers, and, of necessity, between those who are saved and those who are not. A false believer holds the truth very lightly and is quite ready to swap the true Gospel for a diluted or altered ‘gospel’. False believers have no real idea of what it is that they have heard and appear to have believed.
Study these scriptures:
The presence of false believers within the visible, physical ‘church’ is evident in these texts:
Matthew 13:5-7, 20-22
Matthew 13: 24-28, 36-43
John 2:23-25; 6:60-71
Because a false believer has not really understood who Jesus Christ actually is and what Jesus Christ actually accomplished by his death, the false believer can very easily swap the true Gospel for a corrupt or diluted ‘gospel’. False believers do not ‘hold firmly’ to the Gospel.
‘Otherwise you have believed in vain.’
Belief that does not hold firmly to the truth is ‘in vain’. That is, it is without reason, without point, without purpose. It is empty. It is a meaningless belief. It is an ineffective belief. Such belief that lets go of the truth does not save and cannot save.
By these introductory comments Paul warns us to hold fast to the truth. Such holding fast authenticates our claim to believe in Jesus Christ, because no one who really knows Jesus Christ would ever let go of him, and no one who really knows the complete salvation granted through his death to those who believe in him, would ever let go of him.
True believers know that in receiving Jesus Christ and his Gospel they have received the ultimate – that any substitute ‘Christ’, any substitute ‘gospel’, is inevitably and of necessity inferior.
A. A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE GOSPEL 15:3-4
The Gospel contains two central truths:
 That the real human being, Jesus of Nazareth, is also the Son of God who is in all respects equal to God the Father. All that the Father is, the Son is also. Thus Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God without reduction or change to either his humanity or his deity.
 That the death of Jesus Christ is a substitutionary, sin-bearing, sacrificial death, on the basis of which those who believe in him are forgiven, acquitted [justified], and reconciled to God, redeemed [set free] forever from sin’s guilt, judgment and condemnation and from the wrath of God.
Both of these essential truths fall to pieces if the real, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ did not occur.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead all of his teaching about his equality and unity with God the Father is false. If he died and stayed dead he was just another man claimed by the common enemy of all humans – death. He is merely another human being. The same as the rest of us; nothing more.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the biblical teaching that he died as our substitute for our sins is false, and we are not saved. If death held him he, like the rest of us, died because of his own sins. If death held him he is powerless to give us life.
In his brief summary of the Gospel in 1Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul does not emphasise these two essential truths, but focuses on the fact of the real, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, because by that resurrection the two essential truths of the Gospel are confirmed.
A.1 ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …’
The substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Christ is predicted in the Scriptures from Genesis 3 onwards. This prediction is in the form of both word and symbol.
Check these Scriptures:
In what way do these texts predict or anticipate the substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ?
How did Jesus Christ refer to his sin-bearing death?
How did the apostles describe the impact of the death of Christ?
Romans 3:22-25; 5:6-10
Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14
Note also that Paul identifies Jesus as ‘Christ’, that is ‘Messiah’. That the Messiah died for our sins is a concept quite foreign to the popular expectations of a Messiah who would deliver Israel from her political enemies. The concept of the Messiah dying was incongruous, hence Peter’s heated response when Jesus spoke of his death [Matthew 16:21-23]. Jesus did not come to re-establish the physical nation of Israel nor to restore Israel to her former glory. He did not come to conquer the Romans or any other political power that might rule over Israel. He came to conquer sin and to deliver not only Israel but people from every tribe and nation, bringing them into his eternal, spiritual kingdom through his sin-bearing death.
A.2 ‘… that he was buried …’
The burial confirms the death. It was a real death, of the real human body, of Jesus Christ. The fact of the real death is attested by the action of the Roman soldier reported in John 19:31-35. The ‘blood and water’ that flowed from Jesus’ side when the soldier pierced him confirms that he was already dead at that point.
Confirmation of the real death and the burial of his corpse is important, because some of those who deny his resurrection maintain that he was not really dead, but had simply swooned or lost consciousness, and was mistakenly assumed to be dead. Some even infer that he was drugged in a deliberate ploy to fake his death which would be followed by a fake ‘resurrection’. [Note: Lee Strobel addresses questions about the real death and real resurrection of Jesus in his excellent book The Case for Christ.]
A.3 ‘… that he was raised again on the third day according to the scriptures.’
The verb is in the Perfect Tense. Christ was raised and remains in that state. He is alive forever.
By word and symbol the Old Testament anticipated the resurrection of the Christ:
Check these Scriptures:
Jonah 2:6 [see Matthew 12:40]
Before his death Jesus Christ taught that he would rise from the dead on the third day [Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33]. Even his enemies knew that he had taught this [Matthew 26:27:63] and for this reason they put a seal and a guard on the tomb.
The four Gospels report the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day [Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20 & 21]. During his resurrection appearances to his followers Jesus twice explained the necessity for his death and resurrection from all the scriptures [Luke 24].
The apostles testified to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, including it as an essential component of the Gospel they proclaimed:
Study these Scriptures. What do they teach about the resurrection?
Acts 2:24, 31,32; 3:15,26; 4:2,10,33; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30-37; 17:18,31,32; 26:22-23
Romans 1:4; 4:24,25; 6:4-9; 7:4: 8:11; 10:9
Colossians 1:18; 2:12
1Peter 1:3,21; 3:21
Revelation 1:5,18; 2:8
B. WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTION 15:5-10
Paul lists as witnesses of the resurrected Christ - Peter, the Twelve, more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, James, all the apostles, and Paul himself. Jesus ‘appeared’ to all of these. Most of them, Paul says, were still alive at the time he was writing. In other words, if people doubted Paul’s word, they could actually go and talk with those to whom the resurrected Christ had appeared.
Paul understands Jesus’ appearance to him as different from his appearance to the others. To them Christ appeared before his ascension and return to glory. To Paul, Christ appeared after his ascension and glorification. Up to that time, Paul, then called Saul, believed Jesus to be nothing more than a human being who had rightly been condemned and killed as a blasphemer. Like his fellow Pharisees he did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. But when the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus [Acts 9] Paul had a complete change of mind. From that point onwards he proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who had indeed risen from the dead and who by that resurrection validated all that he claimed to be and all that he claimed to do.
Paul describes himself as:
The least of the apostles, not even deserving to be called an apostle because he had persecuted those who believed in Jesus.
The recipient of the grace of God, by which he was converted, and by which he was appointed as an apostle.
One who, by that grace and because of that grace, worked exceedingly hard in the work of the Gospel.
Read Acts 9:1-30. Answer these questions:
What made Paul change his mind about Jesus?
Why did he become a preacher of the Gospel?
What was the core content of the Gospel he preached?
How did his former associates react to this change?
Concluding this opening section of his discussion on resurrection, in which he has affirmed the real physical death of Christ for our sins, the real physical burial, and the real physical resurrection, testified by over 500 witnesses, Paul states:
This is what we preach.
This is the Gospel preached by Paul and by the other apostles. Any alteration, any denial of either the real physical death of Jesus, or of the real physical resurrection of Jesus, is not the Gospel.
This is what you believed.
This is what the Corinthian believers had originally believed when they first heard and received the Gospel.
For Paul, that settles the questions being raised in Corinth about the concept of resurrection. It is a non-negotiable truth.