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1 Corinthians 15:1-2 & 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 by Robert Dean
Series:Resurrection and the Gospel (2009)
Duration:38 mins 21 secs

Resurrection and the Gospel Message, 1 Cor. 15:3-5; 11


1 Cor 15:3-5 NASB "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, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…. [11] Whether then {it was} I or they, so we preach and so you believed."

Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important? What is its significance? Is it just some historical event? Was it not even a historical physical event, was it just some sort of event that was imagined by the disciples, or some sort of spiritual resurrection? If it was a physical resurrection, why was that so important?


These questions are answered for us in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen. This epistle was written to a church that was founded and established by the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey. Corinth had a rather interesting culture because it was a place where many retired Roman and military people went to live. It was a port city that was known for having every form of religious option. If there was any sin happening it could be attained easily in Corinth. It was also in Greece which was a culture that had prided itself in intellectual achievements in terms of the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and on up to the first century which was dominated more by the thinking and philosophies of the Stoics and Epicureans. As a result of the influence of the rationalism and empiricism of Greek cultural thought these believers in Corinth had come to a point some time after Paul had left where they began to question some of the things that he had taught them. Their lifestyle still reflected a lot of their lifestyle before they were saved and this church was perhaps the worst church that we see in the New Testament period. It was characterized by all manner of division and sins of immorality were just looked past with no one seeming to care, and intellectually they began to try to reinterpret the Bible in terms of their Greek cultural and philosophical grid.


Throughout this epistle Paul is having to correct them, both in terms of their behavior and in terms of their thinking. When we come to 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen Paul is addressing the last issue of the epistle and that has to do with the doctrine of resurrection. They had come to doubt that there was such a thing as resurrection from the dead—physical, bodily resurrection, which is what the Scripture means when it speaks of resurrection: being raised from the dead to new life. It is a term in the New Testament that is restricted to an eschatological significance.     


1 Corinthians 15:1 NASB "Now I make known to you…" This is a present tense verb, which means he is focusing on what he is explaining to them at this particular time. He is talking to them as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has made that clear from the beginning of the epistle, and he is reminding them in essence of what he had formerly taught them in terms of the gospel. The verb there translated, "… the gospel which I preached to you," is the use of two cognate words: the gospel, euangelion [e)uaggelion], and the verb euangelizo [e)uaggelizw]. He uses these two words together so it is not simply the gospel which I preached to you but he repeats that idea, so it is the good news which he preached to them as good news. There is a repetitiveness there that is somewhat lost in an English translation. But as we study this word "the gospel" in the Scripture it doesn't always refer to that nugget of truth that a person must believe in order to be saved. In English we tend to use "the gospel" to refer simply only to that message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. But when we see the content of what is stated in "gospel presentation" in, for example, the book of Acts where the writer said "this is the gospel which I gave to you," there is a lot of information that is given in those presentations. But at the heart of it there is always this message of how God has provided the good news of our salvation, the good news that the problem that we have in life has been solved by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.


People think of that problem in different ways. Some people when they come to an understanding of what Jesus Christ has done for them are coming from a position where they are burdened by guilt. They are not as concerned about perhaps their relationship with God or regeneration or getting new life or some other aspects of what Christ did on the cross. They are coming from the position where they are feeling burdened with guilt and the message they latch on to is that Christ paid the penalty and there is forgiveness of sins, and so the guilt is wiped away. Others come to the gospel from a position where they are concerned about forgiveness of sin, and so they focus on that aspect. Others say, well how in the world can I ever get into heaven, and they learn that when we trust in Christ as savior God imputes or credits to our account the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. So what they are focusing on is the message of justification, we might say. Then there are others who recognize that somehow to get into heaven they can't get there in this mortal body and the focus is more on regeneration. Jesus focused on that message with Nicodemus. So there are different aspects to the problem that we have and there are different facets or aspects of what Christ did on the cross that relate to those other problems. The gospel is basically the good news that you recognize and you have problem X, whichever of the above it might be, and what Jesus Christ did on the cross gave you regeneration or justification or forgiveness or remission of sins; and that is what Jesus Christ did no the cross that solves my problem so that now that problem is solved and I have as a result eternal life. That is the gospel.


So when we come to these passages, for example in the book of Acts, and we analyze each of these gospel presentations—Peter is Acts 2, again in Acts 3, Peter and John, Paul later on in passages such as Acts 13 & 17—what we see is different aspects, different elements of what Christ did on the cross being emphasized, and it is often shaped and focused depending on the group that is being addressed. For example  when Paul is addressing Jews he will go to the Old Testament Scriptures and will focus on how those were fulfilled in Jesus Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, thus showing that Jesus is the Messiah. They already understand that the Messiah is going to come and solve their problems and once they understand that Jesus is the Messiah and that when they put their faith and trust in Him they are understanding all that He was to have done for them according to the prophets. But when Paul speaks to the Greeks, the Gentiles who don't have any background in Old Testament theology or the God of the Old Testament, or the prophecies that are there from the prophets, he addresses it from a different perspective. He needs to define not only who Jesus is but at the back of that he needs to define just who God is. He is not talking about Zeus, Apollo or any of the other gods in the Greek pantheon, he is talking about, for example Acts 17, the God who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. He started with creation to define first and foremost who that God is that we have a problem with. Then it is that God who resolves that problem for us.           


In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul is going to unpack for the Corinthians  some of the implications of that gospel he has taught them originally, "…which also you received [accepted in the past], in which also you stand," a present emphasis but the verb form there is a perfect tense in the Greek., which means it emphasizes an action that is completed in the past with results that continue. In this context it is emphasizing the present results of that completed action. It is focusing on their present position in Christ. One of the terms the apostle uses throughout his epistles is this term "in Christ," being "in Him," meaning that when a person trusts Jesus as their savior they are placed "in Christ." So our standing is now in Him and it is His righteousness that has become the basis for our salvation, not what we do. Cf. Romans 5:2, "this grace in which we stand." This is our present standing before God that was finished in the past when we trusted Christ as savior and we were identified with Him, and therefore we can rejoice in the hope [confident expectation] of the glory of God—ultimate salvation and being in the presence of God.


1 Corinthians 15:2 NASB "by which [grace] also you are saved..."  Notice the tense. He doesn't say "you were saved."  They were saved the first time, when they believed, but the Bible often uses the word "saved" in a way different from the way we normally use this in modern Christian jargon. We usually think of the word to mean moving from spiritual death to spiritual life, that act that Paul refers to in Romans, that justification, that time when we put our faith alone in Christ alone. In our everyday jargon we talk about that as getting saved, but the Bible uses the word "saved" in more than one sense. Sometimes it refers to that instant of justification as being saved, as Paul does in Ephesians 2:8,9. In other places he uses it to refer to that ultimate salvation which we call glorification when we die and are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. In many places he refers to our present spiritual growth because in the three sense of salvation we are saved from the penalty of sin when we trust in Christ, we are saved from the power of sin as we grow spiritually, and we are saved from the presence of sin when we depart this body and are face to face with the Lord. So Paul says here, by which [grace] also you are being saved..." That is, you are growing spiritually, you are being saved from the power of sin in your life today. Then he says, "… if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain [to no purpose]." When some see the words "unless you believed in vain" they get the idea that "you had a belief in Jesus that wasn't a saving belief in Jesus." There are those who think that you can have a pseudo belief in Jesus that doesn't save because you didn't have the right kind of works afterward. That is just a subtle form of introducing works into salvation: that somehow we validate our salvation by what we do after we are saved. It should read, "unless you believed to no purpose]."


We were saved for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify God—a summary term but it involves numerous things. We are to glorify God in our work, in our marriage, in our thought life and in the things that we do. We are to glorify God and be testimonies to His grace before men and before the angels. There is a purpose to our salvation, we are not saved simply to secure an eternal destiny in heaven, we are saved so that we can begin to grow today and be prepared for a future destiny where, the Scriptures say, we will rule and reign in our resurrection bodies with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Millennial kingdom and on into eternity.     


So what Paul in focusing on in his introduction here is that when he unpacks the gospel for them in this chapter is not a focus on their past justification, but he wants them to understand that the doctrine of the resurrection, the physical bodily resurrection of Christ, has an impact that is vital to their present spiritual life and spiritual growth.

1 Corinthians 15:57, 58 is where Paul unpacks the significance of the resurrection for us. Having gone through all of the evidence for the resurrection and the importance of the resurrection, saying that without a bodily resurrection there is no Christianity, there is no salvation, he then explains why it is so important. It has to do with the fact that in mortal bodies we cannot be in heaven, we cannot be in the presence of God, and that there is a future destiny for us with incorruptible, imperishable bodies where we will live on forever in immortality. But it is not just limited to the future bye and bye. We read in verse 57 that it gives us a present mental attitude of victory, because if God solved the greatest problem we face (spiritual death and death) then He solves all the other problems. So we dare not be pessimists, we are to be optimists on the truth of the Word of God: "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." That is a victory over death in context. Then he draws the application. [58] "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not {in} vain in the Lord." The focal point is that last phrase: because you know something. What is it that you know? What he just spent 57 verses describing—because we know that Jesus Christ died physically on the cross and that He was raised from the dead, that He received a new body that was actually composed of the molecules of His previous body (that is why the tomb was empty). So Paul says that because of this we recognize that our labor is not in vain.

The word "labor" there is a word that can also include the idea of adversity and suffering, the idea of hardship, the difficulty that we have of living the spiritual life in the midst of a pagan world, in the midst of the devil's world, when often it seems we are beating our heads against the wall and we get tired of living in this veil of tears and desperately desire for the Lord to come back. What Paul is saying is that because we know of the resurrection of Christ we know our labor—that which we go through in our spiritual growth—is not in vain. He can then command them to be steadfast, i.e. consistent in spiritual growth, being regular in Bible study where they are being fed the Word of God. That is why we were saved. We are to be immovable in our application of the Word; we are going to commit ourselves to apply the Word consistently; we are to be consistently abounding in production, and that production comes from the Holy Spirit, by walking by means of the Spirit, and the Scripture says the Holy Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—character transformation. As our character is transformed then we glorify God, and we learn that we are to serve the Lord in our lives today. We are saved in order to serve the Lord. Ephesians 2:10 NASB "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." We are saved to serve the Lord, we are saved to grow spiritually, so that our lives can honor and glorify Him.

This is what Paul unpacks from his discussion on resurrection. Resurrection isn't simply a historical fact, not just some mystical event that was made up by the disciples, not some sort of defense that the early Christians came up with; it is a physical reality. Jesus conquered death and God the Father raised Him from the dead. He had victory over death so that we can serve Him, and because we have that victory over death that gives us courage and conviction today that we are to live for Him, and that we can have this work in our lives by that walk by the Holy Spirit that honors and glorifies Him.