1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15:1

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

The gospel. In the first part of this letter, Paul emphasized the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:8). “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). But in the second part of this letter, Paul turns his attention to the resurrection. See entry for 1 Cor. 15:3.

1 Corinthians 15:2

by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

(a) You are saved, if you hold fast. Salvation is something to experience here and now. If you want to experience the power of God in your life, you need to hold fast to the word that was preached. Grace comes by faith. Paul is not threatening your eternal security (which hinges on God’s faithfulness rather than yours; see entry for 1 Cor. 1:8-9).

(b) The word which I preached to you was the word of God (2 Cor. 2:17) or the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). Jesus is the word of God, the word of life, and the word made flesh (John 1:1, 14, 1 John 1:1). Just as we reveal ourselves by what we say, God reveals himself in Jesus (Heb. 1:3).

(c) Believed in vain. The context is the resurrection. Some were saying that Jesus was dead or that his resurrection was merely metaphorical (1 Cor. 15:12). “Believe that,” said Paul, “And your faith is useless. You are believing in vain” (see 1 Cor. 15:14, 17). In contrast, the gospel that Paul preached revealed a risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:4, 15).

A dead Jesus saves no one, but a resurrected Jesus who has been exalted to the right hand of God and given a Name above all names, is a mighty Savior indeed. We overcome life’s trials by seeing Jesus who is above all and has been given a Name above all. His Name is greater than cancer and Covid and anything else that may harm us.

Further reading: “Believing in vain

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, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

(a) He was raised on the third day. To those who were questioning the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:12), Paul offers an emphatic response. Jesus resurrection was foretold by the prophets and witnessed by hundreds (1 Cor. 15:6).

The resurrection is no minor issue. It is the very heart of the gospel, for if Jesus has not been raised, your faith is worthless and you are still in your sins (1 Cor. 15:17). Paul did not preach a dead martyr, but a living King. Jesus is not in the tomb but on the throne!

(b) According to the Scriptures. Old Testament prophecies that foretold the death and resurrection of the Messiah include Psalm 16:10, 22:16, 18, 118:17-18 and Is. 53:7, 9.

1 Corinthians 15:5

and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

(a) Cephas or Simon Peter (John 1:42).

(b) The twelve. Technically, Jesus appeared to fewer than twelve disciples after he rose, for Judas had already left their company (John 20:19). However, “the Twelve” was the name of the original group of disciples.

1 Corinthians 15:6

After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

In the early years of the New Testament church, it was not uncommon to meet someone who had personally seen the Risen Lord. There were hundreds of eye witnesses, and many of them were from Galilee where Jesus did most of his ministry (Matt. 28:10). When Paul wrote this letter some 25 years after the resurrection, most of these eye witnesses were still alive.

1 Corinthians 15:7

then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;

(a) Then he appeared to James. This was not James the son of Zebedee, but James the half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:7). Once upon a time, James had been opposed to Jesus’ ministry (John 7:5). Just as Paul tried to take Christians by force, James had tried to take Christ by force (Mark 3:21). Then James saw the Risen Lord and everything changed. Like Paul, James became a new man, a leader within the church, and a writer of epistles.

(b) Then to all the apostles. Since Paul has already mentioned the twelve original apostles (1 Cor. 15:5), who are these other apostles who saw the risen Lord? Nobody knows. (Barnabas? Andronicus and Junia?) What we can say is that the risen Lord appeared to many people and some of them became apostles.

1 Corinthians 15:8

and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

One untimely born. Paul was not born too late to witness Jesus’ earthly ministry. When the Sanhedrin stoned Stephen, he was a “young man” (Acts 7:58), which means he was under the age of 40. He was old enough. Yet young Paul did not see the risen Lord when everyone else did and he didn’t witness the Lord’s ascension into heaven. Nevertheless, he had a personal encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus.

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