Building on the introductions to Paul’s missionary journey at Corinth and the issues he faced there, we find the apostle beginning the most substantial portion of his First Epistle to Corinth, chapter 15. Here he is concerned with correcting errant views on the Doctrine of Christ’s Resurrection and subsequently the bodily resurrection of believers. We may recall that the city was largely a melting pot of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. The influences upon the city were from Greek culture, as well as Roman, Jewish, and that of all those who had access to the city through its two major sea ports.
Also, we may recall the details of this missionary journey were captured for us in Acts 18 where we saw one of the fundamental objections to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel was Christ’s resurrection.
It is this pillar of the Gospel that he aims to expound upon as he introduces 1 Corinthians 15:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.“ 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
His discourse on the defense of this precious doctrine of the resurrection begins with a review of the Gospel, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you.” It is the foundation of this gospel message that we are principally interested in examining in this post.
Paul begins by way of reminding the Corinthians of the gospel message that he preached to them and the impacts that it has had upon them. Namely that it is this gospel which they received, upon which they stand, and through which they are being saved. We may note here, in verse 3, the reference by Paul to the present on-going aspect of salvation.
He buttresses these statements of assurance with an exhortation unto perseverance in the faith, “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain“. This is by no means an affirmation that believer’s may lose their salvation, rather it is a declaration that true faith will persevere, will continue believing and continue holding fast, will continuing being saved. Whereas those of a false faith, A la 3/4 of the soils in the parable from Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 and those in 1 John 2:19, fall away and prove their profession a shame.
After this prologue, which really could serve as the introduction to its own letter, the Apostle breaks down what this gospel message includes, principally the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.“ 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
The first pillar of the gospel mentioned in our passage is the death of Christ. The death of Christ is the purpose for which He came into the world. It is the manner and means through which God has redeemed a people for Himself. Note here the application of His death, i.e. for our sins. The little word “for”, huper in the Greek, is significant for its usage in connection with the substitutionary death of our Lord.
This first pillar is supported with an appeal to the authority of Scripture. Clearly, the reference to the Scriptures here is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Christ’s death. It is inclusive of ALL previous divine revelation of God as recorded in Scripture, but may also specifically refer to such passages as Gen. 3:15, Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, etc.
Second, we see the pillar of the burial of Jesus. This may seem insignificant as compared to our Lord’s death and resurrection, however it affirms the first and anticipates the second, therefore serving as a critical link between the two. His burial states emphatically that He died, thereby meeting the demands of the law and ultimately satisfying the wrath of God for all those who would believe.
Remember also that the burial of Christ was a point of controversy and thought by the Romans to be an opportunity for Christ’s body to be stolen such that the propagation of the “lie” of his resurrection would be made greater than the “lie” of His declaration of being God’s Son (Matthew 27:62-66). Furthermore, the burial of Christ is a critical pillar because it serves as an apologetic against those who deny the burial of Christ, such as Islam, or those who assume only a spiritual resurrection.
Finally the significance of the burial may be seen in the place in which Christ was buried, namely a Garden. This brings full circle the idea of the first Adam’s death (spiritually and then physically) in the first Garden and the Last Adam’s burial and subsequent resurrection (physically and then glorified) in the Garden (See also Romans 6:1-4). It therefore is a connecting point of biblical themes all of which have their yes and amen in Christ.
Third, and the final pillar of the gospel foundation described in this passage, is the resurrection of Christ on the third day, again in accordance with the Scriptures. The resurrection of our Lord is the validation of His declaration that He is the Son of God, His life of perfect obedience, His defeat of death, and His fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption (John 19:30). It is the proclamation of victory over sin, death, and the devil. It signals the inauguration of the reversal of the curse of sin and death, the enthronement of the King, and as we will see the firstfruits of all subsequent resurrections. Furthermore, the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection and inclusion of it into the Gospel is the basis for the bodily resurrection of believers. Therefore, this final pillar is not tangential to Paul’s forthcoming argument for the resurrection of believers, but is indeed its foundation.
One additional point to be noted concerning the second reference of “according to the Scriptures”. This fascinating detail is again affirmation of submission to the authority of Scripture and a testament to its fulfillment. Taken individually, it highlights several key prophecies of Christ resurrection. Most notably that of Jonah (1:17, cf Matthew 12:40), Hosea (6:2) , and those made by the Lord Himself (Matt. 12:40, John 2:19; Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19).
The Apostle Paul, by way of Divine inspiration is laying the foundation of the Gospel upon which he will build his doctrine of the bodily resurrection, first of Christ, which we have seen here, yet ultimately of believers. Though there is much disagreement over sections of this mighty chapter dealing with the millennium, the kingdom, and aspects of the eschatology of resurrection, these foundational pillars of the Gospel are non-negotiable.
This is the gospel which has been preached. Have you believed it? Are you standing upon it? Are you being saved by it? If so, hold fast to it.
For the Glory of God
**Image Credit: http://www.kevinbrownlee.com/2012/01/21/81/