1 Corinthians 15a
1 Corinthians 15:1-2… Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
In chapter 15 Paul addresses the doctrine of the resurrection and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Calling the Corinthians “brethren” he “makes known” to them the gospel message, but he doesn’t speak of this in the past tense, for the tense of the verb is present. This is the message that he was preaching to them then, but it’s also the message that they “received” (past tense). They received the the gospel, and they “stand” in it. The verb tense for “stand” is perfect tense which has the idea of something that happened in the past but has current and future ramifications. What they received was the foundation in which they could stand. The foundation is Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).
In v. 2 it is the gospel message of Christ crucified “by which also you are saved.” So Paul makes the gospel known, the Corinthians received it, stand in it, and are saved by it. It’s about a preacher, a message, an audience, and the gift of salvation that comes out of the whole mix as a miracle of God. But this salvation only comes to those who “hold fast the word.” Does this imply a loss of salvation if someone does not hold fast the word preached to them? Absolutely not. Paul is actually saying something along the lines of, “… if you cling to the message I preached to you, unless you have somehow practiced an empty and false faith that has no lasting effect.” The fact that the Corinthians did hold fast to their faith is proof that their faith was in fact real faith. In spite of their many shortcomings, they had a genuine faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. They just needed some guidance. There are many, however, who do not hold fast the word of God because they actually believed in vain. This doesn’t mean that they were actual Christians and lost their salvation; it means they never actually had it. Salvation is a gift from God given to those He chooses to give it to. Those who have that gift are held by God primarily, and this is evidenced by their holding on to Him throughout their lives. Jesus Christ spoke on many occasions about false “believers” – those who on the outside appeared to be Christians but who on the inside were full of deceit. Some examples of false believers are seen in Christ’s parables: the sower and the seeds (Matt. 13:1-23); the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30; 34-43); the good and bad fish (Matt. 13:47-50); the firm and sand foundations (Matt. 7:24-27); the unfaithful servant vs. the faithful ones (Matt. 25:1-30); and the tree limbs that bear no fruit and are cut off (John 15).
Food for Thought
Verses 1-2 present the first of five evidences that Jesus Christ did indeed come out from the grave three days after he was put in that tomb. That evidence is found in the converted lives of the Corinthians. They received the gospel message and were miraculously changed as a result. They were saved from their sins. Any group as decadent as they were prior to their conversion goes a long way to prove that Christ did in fact come out of that grave. Praise him for that!
Some pastors believe that they should only present the hard facts of the Bible and leave the application ideas to the hearers who posses the Holy Spirit. But Paul’s letter to the Corinthians proves otherwise. They clearly had the Holy Spirit, but they desperately needed someone to direct their paths, to correct their ways, and set them straight again. It’s not that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work on His own, but he uses pastors, authors, friends, and even children to direct us. When we fail to listen to others who speak God’s truth oftentimes we tune God out without even knowing it. When you ask Him to speak to you make sure you open your ears!
1 Corinthians 15:3-4… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The word for “delivered” is “to give.” Paul didn’t hoard what was given to him; he received the gift of salvation and gave it back to others. This was his quest until the day he died.
This message of the gospel of Jesus Christ was, in Paul’s mind, “of first importance” – it was the “priority.” And given the message he preached that Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was subsequently resurrected, this is the first and foremost important message. The phrase, “according to the Scriptures,” refers to many OT passages (i.e., Gen. 22:8, 14; Deut. 18:15; Ps. 2:7; 16:8-11; 22; 110:1; 118; Isaiah 53:8; Hosea 6:2). It was in the OT Scriptures that God had provided a spotless lamb to die on behalf of Israel so as to bring them out of Egyptian captivity (the Passover in Exodus). That event became part of the sacrificial system in Israel where animals actually bore the sins of the people as in the Day of Atonement in Leviticus (so that they themselves would not have to die immediately for their sins). Isaiah 53 describes the one who was “led as a lamb to slaughter” – who took away the sins of the people. Jesus himself berated the two men in Luke 24:25 for not knowing that the OT prophets had predicted his death and resurrection. The gospel message was clearly given long before the actual events of the cross transpired. Romans 15:4 says that OT scripture was given for instruction and for our hope.
The OT sacrificial system, where animals bore the sins of the people, was inferior to Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross – a lamb without spot or blemish. The old system was useless after Christ’s death. He died “once for all” (Rom. 6:10; Heb. 7:27; 9:12; 10:10; 1 Pet. 3:18). This was the reason the Jerusalem temple was destroyed (AD 70) and Judaism with it.
Now after Christ died, v. 4 says he was “buried.” His burial verifies that he was dead. Dr. G. Fee says, “…a dead corpse was laid in the grave, so that the resurrection that follows will be recognized as an objective reality, not merely a ‘spiritual’ phenomenon.” Pontius Pilate, who handed Jesus over to be crucified, actually verified that Jesus was in fact dead (Mark 15:43-45).
But Jesus’ life did not end there. For on the third day after his death he was raised to life. He died, was buried, and was raised to life. His resurrection is signified by the perfect tense in Greek – a tense that implies his past tense resurrection and his ongoing life. Paul does this to stress the permanence of Christ’s resurrection, for he is still alive today making intercession on behalf of the saints as he sits at the Father’s right hand.
When v. 4 says “according to the scriptures” it points to Jesus’ words about Jonah’s parallel to his life (Matt. 12:38–41), Ps. 2:7; 16:8–11; 22:22ff; and Isa. 53:10–12. Warren Wiesrbe says, “Paul also compared Christ’s resurrection to the ‘firstfruits,’ and the first-fruits were presented to God on the day following the Sabbath after Passover (Lev. 23:9–14; 1 Cor. 15:23). Since the Sabbath must always be the seventh day, the day after Sabbath must be the first day of the week, or Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection. This covers three days on the Jewish calendar.” Apart from the Feast of First-fruits, there were other prophecies of Messiah’s resurrection in the Old Testament:
Food for Thought
The first evidence of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the conversion of the Corinthians. The second evidence for Christ’s resurrection, from vv. 3-4, is the Old Testament which attests to Christ’s death and resurrection long before it actually happened.
1 Corinthians 15:5-6… And then he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 After that he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.
Beginning in v. 3 Christ died for sins, was buried, was subsequently resurrected on the third day. Then in v. 5, he appeared to Cephas – the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek “Petros,” that is “Peter.” The reason Jesus would appear to Peter first (following his appearance to the women at the tomb) can only be conjectured. First, just prior to Jesus’ death Peter denied even knowing Christ and had wept bitterly over this event. Jesus likely wanted to encourage him first and foremost. Second, Peter was the implied leader of the Twelve, and as the leader, and one of three in Christ’s inner circle (w/James & John), it makes sense that he would be the first to see the risen Christ so as to go and encourage the other apostles. Peter became the Lord’s spokesman at Pentecost in Acts 2, and the fact that he had seen the risen Lord not only qualified him as an apostle (Acts 1:22), but he was used greatly of the Lord in the expansion of the early church. His leadership as a result was undeniable to his own followers.
Jesus also appeared to “the Twelve.” This term clearly refers to the 12 disciples (even though Judas was already dead) who walked with Christ during his earthly ministry. Their inclusion in this early creed means that the early church didn’t just have to rely upon the words of Peter whom Christ had first appeared to. He also appeared to the other disciples which gave Peter’s experience much more clout. But lest one think for a moment that the testimony of the “Twelve” was biased and/or counterfeited so as to rebel against what the Jews had done to their Lord, Jesus also, in v. 6, “appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time…” Now whatever event Paul is referring to is not recorded in scripture, but when over 500 people can attest to having seen the resurrected Lord in the flesh then the message gains a great deal of credibility.
Then Paul adds an interesting phrase about the 500+ who saw the risen Lord: “most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep.” In other words, the testimony Paul speaks of could be verified in that day by interviewing the many who were still alive who saw Jesus after his resurrection. Though some had “fallen asleep,” a euphemism for death, most of them could explain exactly what they saw. This is a huge problem for skeptics today. There is nothing in history about the Jews and/or Romans of that day who actually refuted the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. As Josh McDowell has said, “The silence of the Jews speaks louder than the voices of the Christians.” It’s as if the enemies of Christianity didn’t know what to say because whatever lies they might conjure up would be far too obvious. All they had to do was go to the tomb and bring out the body, and Christianity would have died right there.
Food for Thought
Buddhists visit the tomb of Buddha. Muslims visit the tomb of Mohammed. But Christians celebrate the empty tomb of Jesus Christ because he’s not dead. This is the crux of our faith. The Jews of Jesus’ day tried to convince people that Jesus’ disciples stole his body (Matt. 28:11-15). But if this is so then why did they all go out and die the death of martyrs for something they knew to be false? Their actions prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their Lord, who was once dead was in fact resurrected from the dead.
The third evidence that Christ was raised from the dead is the testimony of witnesses who saw him. Christ’s post-resurrection appearances aren’t obscure; they are founded on fact. Any lawyer worth his salt would convict or exonerate a man on far less evidence in a court of law.
1 Corinthians 15:7-9… Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
One of the last appearances of Jesus came to “James.” Now there were two men named James who were disciples of Jesus, James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus. Both were part of the “Twelve.” The James that Paul speaks of here was James the half-brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Gal. 1:19). This James, along with Jesus’ other brothers, was not a believer in Jesus as the Messiah during his earthly ministry (John 7:5) even up to Christ’s resurrection. When Christ appeared to James after his resurrection is unknown, but what is known is how James’ life was transformed. He became an apostle and joined Christ’s disciples (Acts 1:14), then he became the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13). Soon after Paul’s own conversion to Christ, he himself met with James while in Jerusalem. This is the same James who wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name. His name is mentioned here by Paul because he was initially an unbeliever who obviously knew Jesus first hand given that they shared the same mother (Mary), and because he ascended to such a high position in the early church. Though not one of the “Twelve” James was most certainly an apostle because he not only saw the risen Lord and believed in him, he also died for believing in Christ as the Messiah.
The final person Paul lists that Jesus appeared to was himself. Paul refers to himself as “one untimely born… the least of the apostles… not fit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.” Christ’s appearance to Paul was different from all the others. All the other apostles saw the risen Lord Jesus over the 40-day time period after his resurrection and just prior to his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9). Paul, on the other hand, was unique in that he saw Jesus after his ascension. Also, unlike the other apostles, Paul initially hated the church. Just before Jesus appeared to him in Acts 9:1-9 Paul was on his way to Damascus “breathing murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” and seeking permission from the high priest to persecute anyone he found who worshipped Jesus Christ. He had already taken part in the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:58), the first Christian martyr, and he was prepared to involve himself in many more before Christ appeared to him. But when Jesus appeared to him he stopped dead in his tracks, and his life was forever changed – along with anyone who reads his NT writings.
Paul was also “one untimely born” (a term used for abortions, miscarriages, and premature births) in the sense that his life was completely hopeless before Jesus intervened. Even his conversion to Christ came long after the other apostles. Paul never walked with Jesus, and he never took part in the wonderful ministries of Jesus while he was on the earth. Even his rebirth (being born again) was untimely in that he missed so much in comparison to what his Christian brothers experienced. But Jesus did uniquely appear to him, and Paul’s subsequent conversion stands today as one of the sure-fire evidences that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead.
Food for Thought
The evidences for Christ’s resurrection are numerous. First, the conversion of the Corinthians. Second, the witness of the OT. Third, the testimony of the eyewitnesses. And fourth, the conversion Paul. How one man could go from hating a movement so intensely that he was willing to arrest or even kill anyone who made a public profession in Christ, to a man who subsequently lived and died for the same cause after seeing the Lord Jesus Christ is another solid proof that the Christian movement stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:10-11… 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. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Paul’s conversion to Christ has been a testimony for 2,000 years now as to what God’s grace can do to even those who would go so far as to murder innocent people. Paul was a murderer, and he even called himself “the foremost of all sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Now given that scripture is inspired by God, if Paul was the greatest of sinners, and he was saved by God’s grace and mercy, then there is no one in history who has out-sinned the Apostle Paul. And God saved him. Paul was continually reminded of how unworthy he was of God’s mercy and grace, but that made all he had that much more sweet. This is why he says, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Furthermore, God’s grace given to Paul “did not prove vain” – it did not prove worthless. In other words, the grace that God poured into Paul’s life did not seep through hole at the bottom, so to speak. Paul put it to good use in that he took his salvation, didn’t dwell on his sinful past, and took the gospel message to the world around him. This is evidence of true salvation in a person. Those who take God’s gift and hide it away prove that they don’t belong to our Lord (this was the behavior of the unfaithful servant in the parable of Matthew 25:1ff). They cannot say what Paul says, namely, that “God’s grace did not prove vain.”
The great apostle adds that he “labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” In what way did Paul labor more than all of the other apostles? He appears to have traveled far more than any of them in his quest to spread the gospel, he suffered more opposition in the towns where he traveled, he wrote more letters to various churches and people (as evidenced by the NT epistles with his name attached to them), and he started more churches than any other apostle. Paul’s own account of his ministry is given in detail in 2 Cor. 11:16-12:13 in his own words, but his travels and his actions are greatly detailed in the Book of Acts. Yet Paul knew, and he preached the message of the cross with the full realization that everything he did was done not from his own power and learning but from God’s power alone which was the very power producing all of his fruits. Paul took no credit for his actions, and his phraseology proves that when he says, “Yet not I but the grace of God with me.”
The apostle concludes the discourse and the proof of Christ’s resurrection in v. 11. It didn’t matter if it was Paul or Peter or James or any one of the 500 people who saw the resurrected Christ. The message of the cross was preached, and they believed. The verb tense for “we preach” is present tense with a continual aspect. The verb tense of “you believed,” however, is past tense. The literal rendering is, “So we continue to preach and you believed.” Preaching the cross of Christ is an ongoing task until the day Christ returns to the earth, but believing Christ’s message is a one time belief. We preach it continually, but we believe it once. The fact that we believe the message proves not only that it’s true, but Paul shows in the verb tense that it is a message worthy of being preached continually – even to those who already believe it.
Food for Thought
The message of Christ is what all Christians have in common, no matter what race or color. We are all one in Christ Jesus, and our faith in Christ means that we will live forever with Him in eternity. If you profess faith in Christ, do two things: First, praise the God who saved you, and give Him all the glory for your life and accomplishments. Second, don’t allow your faith to be in vain. Do something with it by mimicking Paul. Spread the good news always.