By Sam E. Stone
Often 1 Corinthians 15 is described as the “resurrection chapter” of the Bible. Tom Friskney wrote, “There is no other chapter like this in the whole Bible; the hope of Christianity resides within it. . . . We may wonder why Paul has waited until now to discuss it. . . . It is not last because it is least, but because it is greatest and that it might remain with them to produce the hope and assurance needed in Christian lives, then and now.”
Vital Gospel | 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
To the Greeks, the human body was simply a prison for the soul. They saw death as the release of the soul from its captivity. They flatly denied the possibility of a bodily resurrection. Paul moved directly to challenge this view, reminding the church of the importance of Christ’s resurrection. To do this he went back to his earliest teaching there. The message he preached was received by them as foundational.
Leon Morris explained, “First of all is probably not concerned with time but with importance.” The resurrection had first place in Paul’s preaching. Morris continued, “According to the Scriptures indicates that the gospel was no afterthought. . . . The saving death of Christ was something foretold long before in sacred Scripture (Isaiah 53).”
Dramatic Evidence | 1 Corinthians 15:5-11
Next Paul reminded the church of the evidence confirming the resurrection. Here he mentioned six appearances of Jesus after the event. Twelve are recorded in the New Testament, but even those were not all of them. He appeared over a 40-day period (Acts 1:3).
Jesus appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. The Twelve is Paul’s condensed reference to the group of apostles initially chosen by Jesus. Judas had committed suicide, and Matthias (his replacement) now served in that role. The 500 people who saw Jesus at the same time could be referring to the time when the Great Commission was given (Matthew 28:10, 16-20). Though a few of those who saw him then had since died, the great majority were still alive as Paul wrote and would freely bear witness to having seen the resurrected Lord.
Paul’s humility is shown when he spoke of his own inclusion in the witness list. He described himself as abnormally born, making himself the least of the apostles since he had persecuted the church of God before his conversion (Acts 9:3-6; 22:6-10; 26:12-18). Friskney added, “This sense of Paul’s being ‘the least of the apostles,’ or ‘the least of all saints’ (Ephesians 3:8), or the ‘chief of sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15) is very commendable. . . . He kept before himself an appreciation of the present, tempered by a picture of his past.”
Living Hope | 1 Corinthians 15:20-22
Verses 12-19 are omitted from the printed text. The apostle went on to show how without the resurrection all hope is futile for the Christian. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (v. 13). The false teachers who had disturbed the faith of the Corinthians in reality could offer nothing. There is no such thing as a partial or limited resurrection. Instead the apostle declared boldly, But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.
He cited an Old Testament concept—the imagery of firstfruits (Leviticus 23:17, 20)—as evidence of what will take place. Christ’s resurrection is a pledge promising the completion of the harvest. Believers will be raised. Jesus was raised, never to die again. He is called the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:14-18). He demonstrated absolute superiority over death and “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). Death is the consequence of the sin of the first Adam (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 5:12). However his action had been cancelled by the last Adam being raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:45).
The Corinthians had not realized how serious a matter it was to admit the impossibility of any resurrection. By doing so they made the resurrection of Jesus a fiction; and if his resurrection was fictitious, then Christian preaching and faith were both empty vanities (McGarvey).
Without the resurrection our sins remain (v. 17). If our trust in Christ is misguided, there is nothing left. No one can save us from our sins. Instead we have an immortal future. Easter means something very personal for us. God will give each of us a new body one day (v. 40). With a new spiritual body, we then will be ready to enter Heaven (vv. 50-53).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.