EVIDENCES FOR THE RESURRECTION

1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11

There once was a woman who was planing to move to another city. She had already packed her furniture and she had only her dog left, a brown cocker spaniel. She placed her dog into a cage, had it crated, and instructed the movers to transport it to her new home.

When the movers had arrived at the new city, they opened the cage and found that the dog was dead. This through them into something of a panic until one of them had an idea. "We can go out and find another dog to replace this one and she will never know the difference."

With this plan, the men scoured every pet store in the city until the found a dog that looked exactly like the one that had died. They purchased him and placed him in the cage and closed it up to await the coming of the woman.

When she arrived, they opened the cage for her and, as her eyes saw the dog jumping and barking in the cage, her jaw dropped and her eyes became as wide as saucers. "Is anything wrong," they asked. Still staring at the barking dog, she replied, "Yes there is. When I put that dog in there, it was dead."

The resurrection is both hard to believe and yet is the central truth of Christianity. We believe that a man died and was placed into the ground and that He rose again from the dead. Because we believe that, we believe a lot of other things.

The Greeks had a problem in believing the resurrection. They believed in the immortality of the soul, but they never conceived in a resurrection of the body. The Greek philosophers taught that the body was evil while the soul was good. In this light, death was considered to be the final release of the soul from the body.

The body was considered to be a prison. The soul was the prisoner. They held that if a man was to be free from sin, then his soul must be free from its prison house - the body.

This philosophy was reflected in the reaction of the men of Athens when Paul preached to them on the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-32). It was when Paul mentioned the truth of the resurrection of the dead that they began to turn away and to mock.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." (Acts 17:32).

The preaching of the resurrection was a stumbling block to the Greeks in the same way that the preaching of the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RESURRECTION

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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

Paul begins with the importance of the teaching of the resurrection. Before he tells the Corinthians about the resurrection, he wants to tell them why they need to know about it. We are inclined to think that a lot of the truths of the Bible are given merely to provide filler for dry, dusty volumes of systematic theologies. That is not true. The teachings of the Bible are both relevant and important for you to know.

  1. It is Important because it makes us Brothers: Now I make known to you, brethren (15:1).
  2. Paul is speaking to "brethren." These are believers. They have heard the message of the gospel and they have believed that message and it has bound them together in a common brotherhood.

    If that is the case, then why does Paul tell them about it again? It is because they need to be reminded of it. It is the downfall of men that they forget and this is one of the reasons the church exists -- that we might remind one another of the gospel.

  3. It is Important because it is part of the Gospel: 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 (15:1-2).
  4. There is an emphasis here in the Greek text that is missed in our English translations. It is an emphasis of the word "gospel." The word is repeated in the Greek text so that we could translate this as follows: Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I gospelized to you.

    What is the gospel? It is the good news that Jesus Christ has come to earth and that He died for our sins, that He was buried and that He rose again. Paul uses four verbs in this passage. They reflect the relationship of the Corinthian believers to the gospel:

    The Gospel...

    I preached to you

    Aorist tense

    Looks to an event that took place in the past

    Which also you received

    In which also you stand

    Perfect tense

    Looks to that which began in the past but that has continuing results

    By which also you are saved

    Present tense

    Continuing action in the present time

    This is a tense in the Greek language known as the aorist. It indicates a specific point in time. It looks back to the point in time when Paul came and preached the gospel to the Corinthians. As we mentioned earlier, the word that is translated "preached" is from the root word euaggelizw and is related to the word for "gospel." A literal translation of this phrase would read: I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I gospelized to you.

    This is also an aorist tense. It looks to the point in time when the Corinthians believed. This is the tense of salvation. You do not initially receive Christ over a period of days or weeks or months or years. You come to Him in a point in time. At that very instant, you are born again and transformed into a child of God.

    Now the tense changes. This time it is a perfect tense. The perfect tense indicates action that took place in a point in time, but that has result that continue up through the present.

    Notice what Paul is saying: "I preached the gospel in a point in time, you believe it in a point in time, and then you took your stand on the gospel with the result that you are still standing upon it."

    This time we have a present tense. The result of what was preached and what you received and where you stand is that now you have a present salvation. This is important. Our salvation is not some fabricated fairy tale for the future. It is a present reality.

    You are saved today if you hold fast the word which I preached to you (15:2). Paul has stated that they heard and received and are standing and are saved. But now he adds a conditional clause. When he says they are saved, he is assuming that something is true. He is assuming that they are holding fast to the message that he preached to them.

    I am sometimes asked about the situation of one who once came to the Lord and believed the message of the gospel, but who later fell away to the point where faith was replaced by disbelief. The Bible describes such a person as one who was never really saved.

    They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19).

    There are people who hear the message of the gospel and who have an initial response that appears very positive. They are attracted to its beauty like moths to an open flame. But there is no life in them. For a short time, their lives have been changed. They are like the pig that was taken out of the mud pit and cleaned up and given a colorful bow. After a while, they are back in the pit, wallowing in the mud. The reason is that they have a piggy nature. They have been changed on the outside, but they are still the same on the inside. Eventually, what is on the inside will manifest itself.

  5. It is Important because Faith is Empty without it: Unless you believed in vain (15:2).

What does it mean to "believe in vain"? It means to believe something that is empty. It means to believe in a useless thing.

Do you see what Paul is saying? We do not have salvation if we have believed in something that is empty. We do not have salvation if we have believed in a Savior who did not rise from the dead.

Faith alone can never save you. I have heard people say, "It isnít important what you believe as long as you have faith." That is a lie. Faith by itself cannot save you. Faith is no stronger than the object in which that faith is placed. Faith in an unworthy object is useless. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He cannot save you. If He did not rise from the dead, you believed in vain.

 

THE MESSAGE OF THE RESURRECTION

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 (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Just as Paul used four verbs to express the relationship of the Corinthians to the gospel in verses 1-2, so now he uses four more verbs to describe the facts of the gospel.

I delivered to you the message you received...

Christ died for our sins

Aorist tense

Looks to an event that took place in the past

He was buried

He was raised on the third day

Perfect tense

Looks to that which began in the past but that has continuing results

He appeared...

Aorist tense

Records the events of the past

  1. The Death of Christ: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (15:3).
  2. This verb is in the aorist tense. It indicates a point in history. The death of Christ is not a myth or a fairy tale or a fable. It is a historical fact. It took place in a point in time. Jesus died FOR our sins. This is the preposition of substitution. He died instead of us. He died in our place.

    One of the modern arguments against the resurrection is known as the "swoon theory." It says that Jesus did not really die -- that He merely fainted on the cross and that he later revived in the coolness of the tomb, leading people to believe that he had risen from the dead. There are several problems with this theory.

    First, there is the testimony of the Roman soldiers. The reported to Pilate that Jesus was dead.

    And Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. 45 And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. (Mark 15:44-45).

    The Roman soldiers were professionals. They were experts in taking live people and in making them dead. Not only had they scourged Jesus and beaten Him to a pulp, not only had they mashed a crown of sharpened thorns onto His head and nailed Him spread-eagle on a cross, but they had taken a spear and had shoved it through His chest cavity to make sure that He was really dead.

    And that is not all. The corpse was then taken and wrapped in spices. This was the equivalent of placing someone into formaldehyde. It would probably kill a healthy person, not to mention a freshly crucified one.

    And that is not all. After the stone was rolled into place and the seal set upon the stone, a Roman guard was placed around the tomb. Their job was simple. They were to make certain that this corpse did not go anywhere.

  3. The Burial of Christ: He was buried (15:4).
  4. Once again there is an aorist tense. This took place in a point in time. It is a historical fact. As Paul writes these words to the Corinthians, there is an empty tomb in Jerusalem that had once held a corpse.

    Another argument used by critics of Christianity is the "wrong tomb theory." It suggests that the women went to the wrong tomb and, finding it empty, merely jumped to the mistaken conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead. This theory crumbles into silliness when it is examined in detail.

    To cover all the bases, this theory must maintain that...

    Furthermore, the tomb was clearly marked. The Roman soldiers had set a seal upon the stone. This seal marked the stone from all other stones. It was a seal of protection and a seal of authority. To tamper with such a seal would be a serious offense.

    Besides, if there had been any problem with people going to the wrong tomb, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem could have easily stopped the fledgling Christian church simply by going to the right tomb and producing the body of Jesus.

  5. The Resurrection of Christ: He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (15:4).

This time there is a change in tenses. Paul leaves the aorist tense and instead uses the perfect tense. This is the tense that indicates an event that took place in the past but which now has continuing results. Jesus was raised in the past with the result that He is alive today.

In 1965, Dr. Hugh Schonfield wrote a book entitled The Passover Plot. In this book, he theorized that Jesus did not really rise from the dead, but that His disciples came and stole the body.

This is amazing. While an entire company of Roman guards slept, we are supposed to believe that...

To believe such a theory takes a great leap of faith. On the other hand, we have ample proof that Jesus did rise from the dead. The evidence is seen in the numerous eyewitness testimony to the resurrected Christ.

 

WITNESS FOR THE RESURRECTION

...and that 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; 7 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. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

Paul gives six groups of witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. They are given in the order of their occurrence.

At the same time, we should recognize that this is not an exhaustive list. There are no women mentioned in this list. There is a reason for this. In the ancient world, a woman was not considered to be a legal witness. Paul is giving a legal presentation of the evidence for the resurrection. He is giving the kind of evidence that would stand up in a court of law.

  1. Cephas: He appeared to Cephas (15:5).
  2. The name Cephas is an Aramaic name. It means "rock." It is the same as the Greek name "Peter." It is the nickname that Jesus had given to Simon.

  3. The Twelve: Then to the twelve (15:5).
  4. The Twelve refer to the disciples whom Jesus chose while He was on earth. The term is used here, even though Judas Iscariot was no longer among them and even though Thomas was not present at the first appearing in the Upper Room.

  5. Five Hundred: After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep (15:6).
  6. We are not told when and how this appearance took place. The Gospel accounts make no mention of it. At some point, Jesus had appeared to a large assembly of believers.

    You might get two or three people to admit to a lie and even have them die for it. It is perhaps believable that twelve people might die for a lie that they know to be a lie. But here we have over 500 witnesses.

    Paul says that most of these 500 witnesses to the resurrection are still alive. The implication is obvious. If you have any doubts about the truth of the resurrection, you can go to Jerusalem and ask them.

  7. James: Then He appeared to James (15:7).
  8. There are several different people in the New Testament named James. It was a common name. It was the Hellenized form of "Jacob." In this case, it seems to be a reference to the half-brother of Jesus.

    The witness of James is especially significant because it is the witness of a skeptic. None of the brothers of Jesus originally believed in him (John 7:5). They had grown up with Him and they knew Him to be a good man, but they rejected His teaching. They could it too much to believe that this humble carpenter-turned-rabbi could be the Messiah of Israel.

    Then something happened that changed their thinking. James saw his half-brother alive again from the grave. This made a believer out of James.

  9. All the Apostles: Then to all the apostles (15:7).
  10. The last appearance of Jesus while He was still on earth was to all of the apostles. It was at this time that He gave them their marching orders. Their commission was to go out to all the world and to make disciples.

  11. Paul: Last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also (15:8).

The last appearance that Paul cites is the appearance of the resurrection Jesus to Paul himself. It took place as Paul traveled on the Damascus Road. The story is told in Acts 9:1-6. Paul, or as he was then known, Saul, was on his way to Damascus on a mission to obliterate Christianity. He has already run all the Christians out of Jerusalem and now he was seeking to do the same thing in Damascus. It was on the road that he was struck down in a confrontation with the resurrected Christ.

Paul describes his conversion experience as it were to one untimely born. It was as if he had been born violently and prematurely. Paulís salvation was something of an abortion. While the other disciples were brought gradually and gently to know about Christ, Paul was violently aborted from the womb of Judaism.

Some of us are like Paul. God occasionally reaches down and knocks us flat on our backs before we will look up. We are like the donkey who was purchased by a farmer for his work in the field. "This is a great donkey," said the used donkey salesman. "All you have to do is to talk to him and he will take orders on command." The farmer paid his price, but when he went to lead the donkey away, the donkey dug in his heels and refused to budge. He pulled and he pushed to no avail. He was about to ask for his money back when the salesman came up behind the donkey and hit him over the head with a long two-by-four. "I thought that you said I only needed to talk to the donkey," said the farmer. "That is right," replied the salesman, "But first you have to get his attention."

We are like that. There are times when God whispers to us and we refuse to listen, so He uses pain to get our attention. Have you been going through some hard times lately? Listen up! It might be that the Lord is trying to get your attention.

 

THE RESULT OF THE RESURRECTION

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 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. (1 Corinthians 15:9-11).

The vision of the resurrection made a dramatic change in the life of Paul. He who had once persecuted the church now became the great advocate of the church. He who once sought to destroy the church no planted churches all over the Roman world.

This is not a matter of boasting on Paulís part. He is not saying this in order to have you think, "What a wonderful person Paul is!" He says this only to point out the grace of God.

  1. The Principle of Grace: But by the grace of God I am what I am (15:10).
  2. The word "grace" is translated from the Greek word cariV. This is an old word in Greek writings, used as early as the days of Homer. It was used by the ancient Greeks to describe a favor that is done for a friend that expects no return. It is a favor that is freely given. It is closely connected to the idea of a gift (carisma) as well as with joy (cara). In nearly all cases, the idea of cariV was that it was a favor done for a friend.

    Aristotle, defining cariV, lays out the whole stress on this very point, that it is conferred freely, with no expectation of return, and finding its only motive in the bounty and free-heartedness of the giver. But in Pagan Greece, this favor was always conferred upon a friend, not upon an enemy. (Kenneth Wuest).

    Here lies the difference between the pagan use of cariV versus that which is used by Paul. The Greeks used it to describe the actions of an individual toward his friend. Grace was always directed toward someone who was a friend, never toward an enemy.

    This is the complete antithesis of what Paul describes in this passage. Paul describes Godís grace as coming to him when he was at enmity with God and when he was persecuting the church of God.

    There is an important principle here. Godís grace in your life did not become operational because you turned from your sins and began to seek after Him. God saved you when you were in the midst of your sins. God chose you before you ever chose Him.

    For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    Just as Paulís salvation was by the grace of God and apart from his own merit or effort, so also his Christian life continues to be lived by grace.

  3. The Power of Grace: 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 (15:10).

I have often heard one of the complaints against teaching of the grace of God that say people will not serve the Lord if they find out that everything in Christ has been freely given to them via the grace of God. The argument goes like this: "Why should I labor for Christ if He has given me everything there is to give through faith alone?"

Paul does not view this as a logical result of grace. On the contrary, he pictures the grace of God as a motivation for service. As he comes to see the wondrous and undeserving goodness that God has bestowed upon him, he is moved to labor even more greatly.

The story is told of a World War 1 general who called in his company commander into his tent and pinned a medal on his chest. "Captain," he said, "You are a hero. Now go out and lead your men up that hill." That is what God has done to us. He has chosen us and called us and saved us and sanctified us. Now He says, "Go out and live like people who are chosen and called and saved and sanctified."

How about you? Has the resurrected Christ made a difference in your life? If He has not, then perhaps it is because you have never met Him. You can come to know Him today and you can enter into the life that only He can provide.


About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?