I still remember the first time I heard Dr. Gary Habermas teach 1 Corinthians 15. He did so with a historian’s perspective and years of scholarship. Those lessons have stuck with me, and I’ve continued to cherish and learn from Paul’s letter.
Here are a few truths from Paul’s resurrection chapter that we all need to know.
One—Paul preached what he had reached (v. 3)
I used to read this verse as a throwaway line, but Dr. Habermas points out the significance of, “I passed on…what I also received.”
If Paul were writing this letter somewhere around the A.D. 150 range, it would not be terribly impressive (though even then, it would still be significant). Paul’s letter, however, was written in the A.D. 50-55 range, roughly twenty years after the events he reports—the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (v. 3-4)
Since he is describing claims he previously heard from others, then the testimony about Christ’s resurrection date even earlier than the 20-25 years of Paul.
By this point, I understand if your eyes start to glaze over, but this means that the written record that we have pertaining to Jesus Christ’s resurrection is extremely early, especially compared to other ancient historical accounts.
This becomes extremely important for the second truth.
Two—The resurrection claim is essential to Christian faith
The cross became the most recognizable symbol of Christianity, but without the resurrection, the cross means absolutely nothing.
For many Christians raised in the church, that statement can seem blasphemous. The cross is our major symbol because Christ died on a Roman cross for our sins, but Paul readily clarifies, Jesus’s death means nothing without the empty tomb. In verses 14, 17, and 19, he uses really strong terms to drive that point home. Without the resurrection, Christian faith is “in vain” and “worthless.” Believers emphasize, as we should, the death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice that paid for our sins. If Christ has not been raised, however, then “you are still in your sins.”
Paul does not mince terms. The Christian faith falls without the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which magnifies the above historical point. Paul isn’t pinning the hopes of his message three hundred or even one hundred years after the death, burial, and resurrection. He’s making this claim within the lifetime of those who were eyewitnesses, encouraging the Corinthians to investigate.
The disciples witnessed the empty tomb and encountered their risen Lord, and that changed everything for them.
Three—The resurrection gives humanity hope
As first-century Jews, the disciples did not expect the Messiah to accomplish what Jesus accomplished. Their sights were set on a political savior who would overthrow the oppressive Roman Empire and bring the world to justice. What they initially missed was the need for the Messiah to work first in humanity to save us from our sin problem. If the Messiah only brought judgement against evil and not make a way for salvation, no one would be able to stand. The only option would be death for all who’ve committed sin.
So after Christ’s death in our place, He rose again to show that He had defeated the dominion of sin and death. Now, those who trust Christ have hope. Jesus allows us to share in His victory over death. As Paul reiterates, Christ was the first, and we will join Him when God’s kingdom of love, mercy, and righteousness is established (v. 23-24). This is not only a hope for personal salvation but a hope that all that’s wrong with the world will be restored. Or, to paraphrase Sam The Lord of the Rings, every sad thing will come untrue.
So, celebrate Easter this weekend with that hope in mind, and if you’ve never heard and believed the good news of Jesus Christ, now would be a good time to do so.
“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.” | Romans 10:9-10 CSB