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A Resurrected Savior
Spring Quarter: Justice and The Prophets
Unit 2: God Promises a Just Kingdom
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 12, 2020
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 12-14, 20-23, 42-45
Key Verses: 1 Corinthians 15:19,20
- List the key elements of the gospel as Paul sees them.
- Explain why Christ’s resurrection is the key to understanding everyone’s future.
The late James S. Stewart, minister and scholar of the Church of Scotland, once stated in the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University, “Not one sentence of the New Testament, whether of Gospels, Epistles, Acts or Apocalypse, was penned apart from the conviction that He of whom these things were written had conquered death and was alive forever.”
Easter Sunday worship services today will likely feature songs, Scripture readings, and preaching to celebrate that fact – the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Many Christians even prefer to call this Sunday Resurrection Sunday.
For the first-century church, every Sunday was Resurrection Sunday. Every week was a celebration and recognition that they served a living savior. But we are told that at least one church had problems with regard to the implications of Jesus’ resurrection.
The city of Corinth was located on the Isthmus of Corinth. That was a narrow strip of land about five miles wide that connected upper Greece with the Peloponnesian Peninsula to the south. This allowed Corinth to prosper as a trade center for goods coming from the eastern Roman Empire across the Aegean Sea to the Gulf of Corinth on their way to Italy and Rome (and vice versa). Corinth became a large wealthy city made up of a business class, workers and – sadly – slaves. Fully one half of the population consisted of slaves. The city attracted entrepreneurs from around the empire, giving the city a cosmopolitan culture and a mix of religions.
The apostle Paul’s first visit to the city of Corinth lasted 18 months in the early ADs 50 (Acts 18:11). That was some two decades after the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul ended up planting a church of considerable diversity in Corinth, which included Gentiles from many different religious backgrounds and Jews. And after Paul’s departure, the Corinthian church endured many self-inflicted problems (examples: 1 Corinthians 3:3,4; 5:1,2; 7:1-16). Consequently, he wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth in AD 56 to address these issues.
But perhaps the most serious of the Corinthians’ problems was a misunderstanding of the nature and significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul understood that the resurrection could not be neglected; there could be no compromise about it. And this issue is dealt with more completely in 1 Corinthians 15 than anywhere else in the Bible.
Key to Preaching (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
In Verse 1, Paul is going over the good news which he first brought to the Corinthians. It was not news which he had invented. Rather, it was news that had first been delivered to him, and it was news of a Risen Lord.
So Paul reminds the Corinthians that what he taught them in the past is still valid. Since they had “received” his message as truth, Paul can say that they “stand” on his preaching. One of the very first functions of the good news is to give a person stability. Thus, the Corinthians can still use his teaching as a guide for their faith and practice.
It is the continuing acceptance of Paul’s “gospel” that gives the Corinthians assurance that they “are saved” from eternal punishment for their sinful rebellion against God. Paul urges the Corinthians not to forget his gospel essentials (which he is about to review). Otherwise all their earlier commitments will be in “vain.” Vain here may mean “without effect,” that is, to no purpose. Paul is saying if there is no resurrection then their faith is vain and worthless.
In verse 3, Paul presents himself as neither the originator nor the final recipient of his message. He received his message from the Lord himself (Galatians 1:12), and his plan for evangelism has always been to deliver the gospel to faithful people who will pass it on to others.
The phrase “first importance” indicates that what Paul is about to say is of primary, bedrock, and central importance. Paul is now at the heart of the gospel message. In other words, here are the facts of the gospel Paul received and preached.
Now, we see Paul’s gospel message in verses 3, 4 and 5:
“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,”
“that he was buried,”
“that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”
“and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.”
These four independent propositions, not subordinated to one another, reflect the nature of proclamation. The propositions each are laid down without explanation. We are told that two probable factors account for this. One is that the formula seems to be a fixed form, perhaps like a creed. The second factor is that this calls to the minds of the hearers, the message they had already heard from Paul and on which there would be no reason to elaborate – it is a statement of faith most surely affirmed by them all.
However, for moderns, a few additional comments about Paul’s gospel message seem appropriate. Absolutely no one, including Paul, seeks to trivialize Jesus’ life and ministry. But for Paul, the very core preaching of the gospel requires three things: Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Though history bears witness to many unjust deaths, Jesus’ death is unique because he “died for our sins,” something no other human could do. In that regard, his death served as a propitiation, which means “something that turns away wrath” (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
And all this took place “according to the Scriptures.” God had planned the gospel events before they happened, and the Old Testament Scriptures, written centuries beforehand, bear witness to this preordained design (Acts 17:2).
Then Paul insists that proclamation of the Gospel must include the fact that Jesus “was buried.” During Paul’s ministry, lies were circulating that Jesus’ body had been stolen from his tomb. However, Paul does not tolerate such nonsense. The security surrounding that burial is well attested (Matthew 27:57-66). And no one contests that the burial took place.
Jesus’ lifeless body lay in the tomb all day Saturday. Then he was “raised” from the dead, brought back to life by the Father (1 Corinthians 15:15) “on the third day.” That is the day of the week we call Sunday.
The resurrection serves as God’s stamp of approval for all time on Jesus (compare Acts 2:29- 32; Romans 1:4). Thus, Jesus was not a madman when he claimed to be God’s Son. God had designated him as the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). That happened when he paid sin’s price by dying on the cross.
Coming now to the appearance of our Lord, Paul discusses them at great length because they guarantee the truth of the resurrection. On the other hand, this lengthy reference is somewhat striking in view of the fact that the truthfulness of Christ’s resurrection was not doubted at Corinth.
At any rate, verses 5-7 proceed to supply a list of key witnesses to certify the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ appeared to Peter by himself on that first Easter Sunday. Peter might have visited the Corinthian Church, giving him special influence there (1 Corinthians 9:5). The Twelve probably refer to the original apostolic band, even when Judas and Thomas were missing. We have no other information on the appearance of Christ to the crowd of more than 500. But Paul’s statement that “some” of these “have fallen asleep” suggests that he knew some of these folks personally and had kept track of them.
We should also take note of the importance of the words “brother and sisters.” With one exception, there is no record of Jesus appearing to any of his enemies or to unbelievers after his resurrection, only to believers. That one exception is Paul, when he was known as Saul (1 Corinthians 15:8).
The James referred to in the resurrection witnesses is one of the half-brothers of Jesus (Mark 6:3). Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him before his death, but they did afterward (Acts 1:14). The mention of James coincides with the fact of his leadership in the first-century church.
And the mention of James helps us to understand why Paul writes here “then to all Apostles” when the Twelve [Apostles] have already been mentioned. Simply stated, more individuals in the New Testament have the designation “apostle” than just the 12. James, the Lord’s half-brother, is one of them (Galatians 1:19).
Then Paul ends his list of witnesses to the resurrection with himself. He did not see the risen Jesus during the 40-day period between the resurrection and the ascension. Paul’s personal encounter of with the risen Lord came later while he was a persecutor of Christians. That encounter points out that Paul is not merely repeating stories as secondhand hearsay (Galatians 1:1, 11, 12).
Important! Paul’s status is the same as that of Peter or James. Yet he acknowledges that he came to this position based solely on an untimely and unexpected event. For Paul to be visited by the risen Christ (appeared to me also) was not in keeping with any predictable pattern, but out of the mercy and plan of God.
Key to Faith (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)
Paul has now emphasized both the centrality of Jesus’ resurrection and the credible evidence for it. However, despite what Paul taught the Corinthians, there are some in the Church who want to deny the possibility of “resurrection” while still maintaining that “Christ had risen from the death.” So Paul proceeds to refute this illogical position.
Denying all “resurrection” logically denies Jesus’ own resurrection. If we affirm his resurrection but deny the possibility of bodily resurrection for all people, then we are negating Jesus’ humanity (contrast John 1:14). And such a denial nullifies the sacrificial power of Jesus’ death that gives us new life (compare 11:23-26; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). Tragically, that would mean that we are still liable to the penalty for any sins (1 Corinthians 15:18).
Thus, the main point of these verses 12-14 is, if there is no coming bodily resurrection of all Christians then Jesus himself was not bodily raised, and that makes both the apostolic preaching and the Corinthian’s faith useless (v.14).
Certainly one of the most daring phrases in the Apostles’ Creed is this one, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Human reason has come up has come up with give guesses about what happens at death:
- Annihilation (death ends everything)
- Angelism (the immortality of the separated soul)
- Pantheism (we are simply part of the divine whole)
- Ghosts (survival of a pale holy-self)
- Reincarnation (we come back to other bodies on earth)
But the Christian boldly declares, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” God invented bodies and the self in all of its uniqueness will be preserved. Essentially, that is what is being said.
Key to Hope (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 42-45)
Paul moves from arguing about the centrality of resurrection for all believers to some specific implications of Christ’s resurrection. The agriculture metaphor of “firstfruits” suggests the choice parts at the outset of a harvest. There is no harvest produce that comes earlier than the firstfruit. And this is true of the resurrection of Christ. His is only the first resurrection of many to come (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Genesis identifies “Adam” as the first human being. As we know, he disobeyed God and brought sin into the human realm. The inevitable result of this sin was “death.” Adam is thus the prototype of a sinner under the curse of death.
However, the new prototype is “Christ” (Romans 5:14-19). Christ has overcome the power of death through his resurrection. To be sure, Jesus is the “captain” of our salvation, implying his priority and leadership. But the resurrection of Christ is not the end of God’s display of resurrection power. We will follow in due time ascending to God’s plan (1 Corinthians 6:14). And Paul ties this fact to the second coming of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Paul later deals with questions concerning the nature of the resurrection body we will enjoy. His premise is that all bodies have their own unique characteristics. Though we do not know what our resurrection bodies will be like, we can be sure God has worked it all out.
As we know, our current bodies are “natural” (subject to the physical laws of nature). But our new bodies will be “spiritual.” And, while we understand this incompletely, Paul is aware of the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to his disciples in a room with locked doors. For sure, that was something no natural body could do.
Point! Jesus did not become some kind of spiritual blob or mist. He had a recognizable body and after our resurrection we will too.
William Sangster was one of the great preachers of the 20th
Century. Toward the end of his life, he became quite ill. His vocal chords were paralyzed and he was unable to speak. On the Easter morning just before he died he painfully penned a short note to his daughter. In it he writes these poignant words: “How terrible to wake up on Easter and have no voice to shout, ‘He is risen!’ But it is far worse to have a voice and not want to shout.”
Resources for this lesson
- In what ways is the resurrection of Jesus necessary to the Christian faith?
- How do you understand the importance of the “resurrection of the body?” Please explain.
- Given culture’s growing secularism, what are some ways you can remind yourself continually of the truth of verses 13,14?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2019-2020 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 277-284.
- “The NIV Application Commentary 1 Corinthians,” by Craig Blomberg, pages 293-298.
- “The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians” by Charles R. Erdman, pages 153-161.
- “First Corinthians Christianity In a Hostile Culture” by Dan Mitchell, Mal Coresh and Ed Hindson, pages 208-218.