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Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) (1): The Bedrock of Christianity

J Griffiths, Port Talbot

Resurrection by its very meaning is linked with the human body. It means "sitting" or "rising up". The subject is introduced here in 1 Corinthians 15 as Paul's response to a letter from the Corinthian assembly. He had learned by experience that the Greeks of Athens did not believe in resurrection any more than did the Sadducees (Acts 17.31-32). The problem at Corinth centred on a group identified only as "some" (15.12,34,35), of whom Paul writes, "some have not the knowledge of God". Their disbelief prompts this exceptional chapter from the inspired apostle, concerning the bodily resurrection of Christ and Christians.

The Fact of the Resurrection Demonstrated -

The Living Proof (vv.1-11)

Subjective Proof (vv.1-2)

The Corinthian believers were themselves the living proof of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. They had received the gospel message Paul preached to them, and had been saved. That message was, "Jesus, and the resurrection" (Acts 17.18). Salvation is based on two necessary actions: confessing Jesus as Lord, and a heart-belief that God has raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 10.9). Thus, an integral and essential part of the gospel, instrumental in salvation, is the bodily resurrection of Christ. The very same power exerted in raising Christ from the dead is that which quickens (makes alive) sinners who were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 1.19,20; 2.1).

Objective Proof (vv.3-11)

(a) Written Evidence of a Prophetic Character (vv.3-4)

Leviticus 23.10: "A sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest". The Feast of Firstfruits is placed between Passover/Unleavened Bread and Pentecost. So the resurrection of Christ comes between "Christ, our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor 5.7), and the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Hence, Paul's use of the term "firstfruits" (1 Cor 15.23); Christ the firstfruits is risen! He is the guarantor of the harvest to follow.

Psalm 16.10-11: "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (sheol); neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life". Peter quotes these verses in Acts 2.27-28 in the context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 26.19: "Thy dead…shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise". The resurrection of Christ does not stand in isolation. It is to be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead. Paul will unveil to us the order of events in this process of resurrection later.

Isaiah 53.10: "He shall see his seed (posterity), he shall prolong his days (longevity), and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand (prosperity)". These things are consequent upon His sin-offering; a tacit acknowledgement of resurrection.

Psalm 22.22-23: This psalm demands resurrection between verses 22 and 23. The earlier verses record the sorrows of Christ in crucifixion, the latter the song of Christ in glorification. It is His glorious resurrection that makes the connection between the contrasting parts.

Jonah 1.17; 2.10; Matthew 12.40: These references indicate that Jonah's spending over three days and nights in the belly of the great fish illustrates for us the death of Christ and His resurrection after three days.

Genesis 22.1-14; Hebrews 11.17-19: Isaac's experience on Mount Moriah is revealed to be a type of our Lord's resurrection from the dead.

These prophetic utterances and events of the Old Testament not only give us evidence in writing, supporting Christ's resurrection, but actually foretell such an event hundreds of years before it happened. Prophecy is history recorded in advance and only possible if we see God's hand in the divine inspiration of Scripture.

(b) Witness Evidence of a Public Character (vv.5-11)

Over a period of 40 days the Lord gave evidence of His resurrection by appearing to His followers on thirteen recorded occasions. His first appearance was to Mary and the other woman. Why then is Peter placed first and the women excluded here? Paul is bearing public witness to the resurrection. At the time of writing, testimony given by women and children would not have carried much weight, hence his witnesses are male: six categories - three individuals and three groups. His appearances were exclusively to His followers. The last the world saw of Christ was upon the cross. The next the world will see of Him will be at His coming in glory as their Judge.

"Seen of Cephas": Peter, probably third in sequence to see the Lord after Mary and the other women, is named first in this public forum. This chronological record is probably Luke 24.34. Peter is first, due to his prominence as the apostle to the circumcision and because of his leadership amongst the disciples. He was their chief spokesman. "Then Peter and the other apostles…said…The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree…And we are his witnesses of these things" (Acts 5.29-32).

"Then of the twelve": As a result of Judas' suicide and Thomas' absence, only ten at most were present on this occasion. "The twelve" was a semi-technical expression for the disciples irrespective of their exact numbers. Their testimony was valued for they knew Jesus as no others did (Lk 24.36; Mk 16.14; Jn 20.19). "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses" (Acts 2.32).

"He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once": Jesus had told His disciples that they should meet Him at a mountain in Galilee after His death and resurrection (Mt 26.32; 28.16; Mk 16.7). Most of the five hundred were still alive when Paul wrote his treatise. The facts could easily be checked. The number of people at this sighting and the extended timescale rule out the possibility of hallucinations which some sceptics have proposed. The testimony of above five hundred men, and possibly women and children in addition ("his witnesses unto the people", Acts 13.13), ought to prove conclusive to all but the most hard-boiled sceptics. .

"He was seen of James": Which James? Though the context is not conclusive, when Paul visited Jerusalem he met only with two men, Peter and James (Gal 1.18-19). These are the two individuals who, with Paul himself, constitute the three personal witnesses to Jesus' resurrection in these verses. James was the half-brother of Jesus and a pillar of the Jerusalem assembly. He also chaired the defining conference in Acts 15. Paul would not use the testimony of an "obscure" James, when this man was ideally suited to Paul's purpose in this epic chapter.

"Then of all the apostles": This would have been on the occasion of our Lord's ascension (Lk 24.50-51; Acts 1.6-9). "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4.33).

The events of Acts 2 show that they had grasped the significance of the Lord Jesus' teaching about His resurrection. Peter stands up with the eleven in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.14-40). The preaching results in 3,000 being saved (v.41). Here are men who are on fire for Christ. What has changed? There can only be one explanation that fits the facts. Jesus is alive! He is risen!

"Last of all, he was seen of me also": Paul was the darling of the sect of the Pharisees, Gamaliel's brilliant protégé. Empowered by letters of authority from the High Priest, he was single-handedly exterminating the followers of this new cult, these people "of this way", until, at one fell stroke, he was stopped in his tracks by the glorified Man he was persecuting. Christianity's greatest opponent becomes its greatest exponent. The "chief of sinners" has seen the risen Christ and declared his undying homage - "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?". Though his apostleship came later than that of the others, his credentials are impeccable. Note the use of the word "all" in this connection - "last of all" (1 Cor 15.8), "least of all" (Eph 3.8), and "laboured more abundantly than they all" (1 Cor 15.10). In 1 Corinthians 15.10 Paul also writes of how wonderful God's matchless grace is. It ennobles Paul: "But by the grace of God I am what I am"; it energises Paul: "I laboured more abundantly than they all"; it enables Paul: "the grace of God which was with me".

Paul, having seen the risen Lord on the Damascus road, cannot be silent. He witnesses to the resurrection at Antioch in Pisidia, before the Sanhedrin, to Agrippa, Felix, Festus, and at Mars' Hill, Athens.

This section concludes with an unequivocal testimony to the resurrection of Christ as proclaimed by the apostles. Resurrection is a vital plank of their gospel message. He is risen - fact not fable; miracle not myth!

To be continued.

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