Well again we return to the subject that is at hand, the subject of resurrection. We began to look at that last Sunday night, and we’re looking to understand that subject at 1 Corinthians, chapter 15; 1 Corinthians, chapter 15.
I told you last week that Christianity is the religion of resurrection. To a greater extent than it is anything else, Christianity is about resurrection. It is about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the resurrection of believers to dwell with Him forever in heaven. But what most people don’t know is that it is also about the resurrection of the ungodly to receive a body suited for eternal punishment. Christianity is a revelation of God’s intension to raise everyone eternally. We will not be disembodied spirits, we will be spirits in a new body suited for eternal life. And when we look at resurrection we have to go to the high point, and that is the resurrection of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; and it is because of His resurrection, the demonstration that He had the power over death, that we believe our resurrection will come.
Scripture is clear: every human being from Adam to the last mortal will rise from the dead, even the children of the devil. The unbelievers of all ages will be raised from the dead with bodies suited for hell. Believers will be raised from the dead and given bodies suited for heaven. Resurrection then is the destiny of every human being, and it is no other than the Lord Jesus Christ who will do the raising. He will unleash His divine power to raise the dead. We read about that in John, chapter 5, where we read that God has committed to Him all judgment, and given Him the priviledge of raising the dead – some to life and some to condemnation.
What the Bible says about resurrection is not the typical religious belief. In fact, there are many who would reject whole-heartedly the notion of resurrection. Some religions and even some Christian cults teach a soul sleep that when you die your soul goes to sleep and perhaps, some would say, may awake at a later time. Others would say, even some religions, that for most people, in fact, all people who are unbelievers, there will be no resurrection, there will be termination. That is to say they will die and go out of existence – complete extinction. There are other religions who believe in reincarnation – you just get recycled. You come back the same soul in another form. Might be a rat, might be a cow, might be a human being, but for sure if you messed up in this life you’re coming back as something worse; and the cycle can keep going downward, but it never ends.
And then there is the ancient belief, along with termination or extinction or reincarnation, there’s the ancient belief of absorption. It’s not only ancient, it’s very popular even today. Hindus and Buddhists teach absorption. What in the world does that mean? What it means is that when you die your body goes out of existence permanently, and your soul, your self, is absorbed back into the deity, that the universal deity from which we all are a spark is the deity to which the spark returns, as if a little spark landed on the sun and was completely engulfed in the massive sun itself. Absorption teaches that you lose your personal identity when you die. You, for all intents and purposes, go out of existence as you, and you’re merely absorbed back into the deity from which you once came as a spark.
This is not just something that is taught by Buddhists and Hindus, this is something taught by “Christians.” A well-known English Christian minister who, of course, was an unbeliever, very famous man by the name of Leslie Weatherhead wrote a lot of books. He said this: “Would it matter if I were lost like a drop of water in the ocean, if I could be one shining particle in some glorious wave that broke in utter splendor and in perfect beauty of the shores of an eternal sea?” That’s absorption. That was taught by a Christian minister and believed by many.
None of that is true. The Bible does not teach soul sleep. It does not teach any form of termination. It does not teach any form of reincarnation. It does not teach any form of absorption. You as you will live forever in a resurrected form with your own identity intact. And I remind you of Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Everything that is now dust – that is all who have returned to dust, their mortal bodies in decay – will be raised to everlasting life or everlasting contempt.
Now, remember, the Corinthians were having a problem with this because the Greeks didn’t believe it. The Greeks did not believe in bodily resurrection. They believed in the immortality of the soul, that the soul would live forever with a certain identity of its own, but that the body was evil. This is philosophical dualism that whatever is material is corrupted because it’s evil, and the worse possible thing to ever imagine would be that when you die you get another body, because bodies in themselves are evil. So in Corinth the dominating cultural idea of the immortality of the soul and the extinction of the body was then brought into the church by people who’d been converted from that Greek culture come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but were struggling with the idea of physical resurrection.
So Paul writes in this 15th chapter the most thorough, comprehensive doctrinal treatment in the entire 1 Corinthian letter. It’s primarily a letter about practical life in the church, although there are some great theological truths. But there is nothing parallel to this chapter where you have this long-drawn-out extensive treatment of resurrection; and we remind you that the reason he takes such pains to do this is because believers are having trouble believing that. And you remember I pointed it out last time, just by way of reminder, that when Paul was talking to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Greece and talking about the resurrection, they were shocked.
In Acts 17:18, “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers” – Greek philosophers – “were conversing with him, and some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’ – because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus,” – that’s a hill – “saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?’ – this teaching about resurrection – ‘For you’re bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.’ (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time inn nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)”
That’s what philosophy always does, because philosophy never gets to the answer, so it just waits for something new. And here was this new teaching coming from this man about resurrection. In verse 31 of the chapter he says, “God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” The Judge of all men is going to be one who Himself was raised from the dead. He will be the very one to raise all humans.
Verse 32, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We’ll hear you again concerning this.’” This is new. This is connected with a strange deity. This is not normal. But it is the very heart of Christianity. God is gathering for Himself an eternal family who will live forever in His presence in glorified bodies. What will they be like? We’ll see that later in the chapter. I’d suffice it to say they’ll be like Christ’s own resurrection body. Paul says that in Philippians 3.
Jesus declared that He was the resurrection and the life. He declared that, “If you destroy this body, in three days I’ll raise it up,” and He did just that. We saw this morning He controlled His dying and He controlled His rising. He has the power of life and death. He said, “No one takes My life from Me; I lay it down of Myself and I will take it up again. And because I live,” – He said – “you will live also.” So Paul, in this chapter, explains in tremendously rich detail the significance of resurrection. Let me read the opening 12 verses.
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preach to you, unless you believed in vain. 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. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” That is his opening statement. “You already believe Christ was raised from the dead. How can you say there is no resurrection from the dead?”
As I pointed out last time, the Bible is the story of life and death and resurrection, and that includes not only human beings but the entire creation, because we are told the Lord will destroy this universe, it’ll melt with fervent heat, and He will create a new heaven and a new earth. There will be a resurrection for the entire universe as well as all the humans who have ever lived in it. As Christians then, we have to proclaim this: we have to proclaim to all men that they will be raised from the dead and given a body suited for hell to feel the pain of eternal punishment if they do not embrace Christ.
It was Solomon Stoddard who was the father-in-law of Jonathan Edwards who said, “The dread of eternal damnation is the most and perhaps only effective means to lead sinners to true humiliation by a sense that their sin is deplorable in the light of God’s holiness.” He then went on to say, “We must preach so that there is the possibility of God-awakened conviction of sin.” And then he said, “Follow that with the hope that Christ’s grace is the only way to be delivered from that eternal judgment.”
Well, certainly, the contemporary church has lost touch with that. We don’t believe that the only effective means to lead sinners to true humiliation is to preach hell as over against God’s holiness. We have to preach that. But even for us as believers – and that’s what this chapter’s directed to, the church – we as believers need to fix our hope on the coming resurrection, and we’ll see why as we go through this chapter.
We kind of wrapped up last week by referring to Colossians 3, “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth, for your life is already in heaven with Christ.” We’re not very heavenly-minded, even as believers. We get all caught up in this world, all caught up in our mortality, all caught up in what the physical can be, with little thought for what is eternal.
In 1 John, chapter 3, we are given a wonderful promise: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, but it has not appeared as yet what we will be. But we know that when He appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him just as He is.”
Your future as a believer is to be raised to have a body like the body of the risen Christ; that’s your hope. You can rearrange this one, but the truth is you need a completely new body to dwell in a new heaven and a new earth. We need to be more resurrection-minded, less preoccupied with this world. So Paul wants us to understand the centrality of resurrection, so he opens in the verses that I read you with five distinct lines of testimony to the resurrection, and he starts with the resurrection of our Lord, because as I saw – as I showed you in verse 12, “If Christ is preached that He’s been raised from the dead and you already believe that, then why are you questioning resurrection?” That’s going to be the focal point of his argument. So he opens in the beginning eleven verses with a line of testimony, that Christ has risen from the dead. It is powerful testimony.
First – and we looked at this briefly last time – is the testimony of the church. Let’s look at verses 1 and 2 just to review. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
And what is the gospel? Go down to verse 3: “Christ died for our sins. He was buried,” – verse 4 – “He was raised on the third day,” – that’s the gospel. “I preached that gospel to you; you received that gospel; you stand in that gospel.” In other words, “You have settled your soul in that truth. You have built your life and destiny on the foundation of that gospel. You have therefore necessarily affirmed that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, showing that He was really dead, and that he was raised on the third day. You already believe that.” He takes them to what they already believe to show them what they necessarily then and consequentially must believe.
Acts begins like this, the book of Acts: “The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”
For forty days after the resurrection our Lord appeared again and again and again and again, proving His resurrection. “You believe that,” he says to the Corinthians. “You believe that. You affirm that. You are believers in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is part of being a Christian. It’s Romans 10:9-10, “If you believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, and confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, you will be saved.” You can’t be a Christian if you deny the resurrection. And there are many “liberal” Christians who call themselves Christians, and even ministers, who do not believe in the resurrection.
Paul says to the Corinthians, “Your very existence as a true church is because you believe in the resurrection.” And then in verse 2 he adds this: “If you hold fast the word which I preach to you,” – that is the gospel word about death and resurrection – “unless you believed in vain.” Paul strengthens his point that you can’t be a Christian without believing in the resurrection by saying, “If you do not believe in the resurrection your faith is vain, useless, empty.”
Believing in the resurrection – listen – does not necessarily bring salvation, but not believing in the resurrection does necessarily bring damnation. The devils believe in the resurrection. Satan believes in the resurrection. The world is full of “Christian people” influenced by the fact of Jesus’ resurrection; they may believe it, but they have not repented, confessed Jesus as Lord and been saved. So to say it again, believing in the resurrection does not necessarily bring salvation, but not believing in the resurrection does necessarily bring damnation.
The Corinthians had been transformed; salvation was on display. Their faith was not fake, their faith was real. All you have to do is go back to chapter 6 and verse 9 where Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” In other words, “Your salvation has taken place through your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s evident by the transformation of your life. You no longer live the way you used to live.”
So the very existence of the church and the transformation of every true believer is proof of the resurrection. Christ is alive and He is transforming those who believe in Him. He had the power to rise from the dead, and He has the same power to give life to dead sinners and deliver them from their damning patterns of life. All true Christians know. All true Christians believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and are living illustrations of spiritually endowed resurrection power; and that’s a foretaste of this special physically endowed resurrection power that we’ll experience in the future. So Paul’s first argument is that the church, the very existence of transformed people, demonstrates that Christ is alive, because if they have been transformed, it’s because they believe in His resurrection, and He as alive transformed their lives.
Testimony Number Two: The testimony of the Scripture. Verse 3, “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, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Now that opening verb “I delivered to you” is a verb that needs some attention. Paul is simply saying, “I passed on to you what I received.” This is what the apostle did, he passed on what he had received. This is how he viewed everything that came to him from God that he disseminated to believers.
Back in chapter 11 when he was giving instruction about Communion, the Lord’s Table, he said, “For I received from the Lord that which I delivered to you.” So there he says it in reverse, “I received from the Lord, I delivered to you.” Here he says, “I delivered to you what I received from the Lord.” The message that Paul gave was from the Lord, it wasn’t a humanly concocted message.
Look for a moment at Galatians, chapter 1. Galatians, chapter 1, really a powerful chapter. Paul introduces himself and addresses the churches in the province of Galatia. Pick it up in verse 11: “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was please to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Three years later I went to Jerusalem and became acquainted with Cephas and the apostle.”
“What I am teaching you, what I am telling you, I did not receive from any man.” Remember, he was on the Road to Damascus to persecute Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks, blinded him, called him, saved him, and then taught him by direct revelation for three years in Nabataea and Arabia, after which having been prepared by that revelation he introduced himself to the apostles. And what was the message that was delivered to him? It was this, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
Here is a Jew who is well-verse in the Old Testament Scriptures. He is a fastidious, zealous, fanatical Pharisee. He knows his Old Testament, educated by the finest Jewish scholar Gamaliel, educated in the finest schools and synagogues; he knew his Old Testament, and he was taught by the Lord Himself that the death of Jesus, the burial of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus was all in the Old Testament. Resurrection is promised in the Old Testament, not just the resurrection of the saints, as I read you in Daniel 12:2, but the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
And, by the way, a little phrase in verse 3: “I delivered to you as of first importance, as of first importance,” – prótos, prótos: first thing, the most essential reality, the primary thing. What is the primary thing? What is the primary message of the gospel? Christ died; He was buried; He was raised on the third day.
Those are the three salient truths of the gospel. Those are the first things, those are the priorities, and the phrase “for our sins” explains why: for our sins. He didn’t die as an example, He didn’t die as a well-intentioned martyr, He didn’t die showing that you could triumph over evil, He died for our sins. Isaiah said that, didn’t he? That’s according to the Scripture.
You say, “Where is that in the Old Testament?” It’s in Isaiah. It’s in Isaiah 53, among other places, but certainly Isaiah 53. We’ve gone through some of this in the past. Verse 4: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; chastening for our well-being fell on Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” The Lord caused the iniquity of all to fall on Him.
The Lord was pleased,” – verse 10 says – “to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering.” The Old Testament said the servant of the Lord. They all knew it was the Messiah in Isaiah, the servant of the Lord. The Messiah would come and He would be slain for the sins of His people.
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. And there’s a whole lot of other pictures of His death all throughout the Old Testament in the sacrificial system that runs through all of the books of the Old Testament. This is the message of first importance. The Old Testament predicted the Messiah would come and die for the sins of His people. The Son of God came, died in our place for our sins, took our punishment, satisfied God’s divine wrath so that God could forgive us. And then He was buried, He was buried. Why is that important? Because it proves He was dead. It proves He was dead.
Verse 31 of John 19, “The Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies wouldn’t remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and they might be taken away.” Break their legs, they can’t push themselves up anymore, and they’ll soon be asphyxiated.
“So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they didn’t break His legs. One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” His heart had been literally pierced. There was no question that He was dead. These were experts in death; that’s what they did. He was dead.
Then verse 38 says, “Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. Pilate granted permission.” Pilate sent for information before he granted that permission to see if he was dead. He wanted to be sure that he was dead before he gave him to this man.
Mark 15:44, “Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.” He was buried, He was buried. There’s no specific scripture in the Old Testament that tells us about His burial, and that’s why it doesn’t say buried, according to the Scriptures. But if you’re dead you’re buried, and they knew when someone was dead, clearly dead, unmistakably dead. There could be no error at that point.
Then further reading in John 19, “Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight, and they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews; and they laid Him in the tomb.” They handled His body. They piled a hundred pounds of spices on His body. They wrapped His body around and around and around and around. Clearly He was dead.
It’s of essential importance that His death was established. It was established by the Romans, by the centurion, and even by those who cared for His body. He was dead, so He was buried. But He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
What scriptures talk about His resurrection? Well, you could go back to Isaiah 53, that wonderful, incredible statement: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see and be satisfied.” He will see His offspring. He will prolong His days.” Wait a minute; if He’s dead, how will He see His offspring?
When we were studying Isaiah 53 I pointed that out. We would all like to live long enough to see the subsequent generations that come after us. We’d like to know what our children’s children’s children’s children look like. We don’t see that; we die and leave this world. But our Lord purchased a family in His death and He will see His offspring. God will prolong His days. He will see and be satisfied. Not only that, “He will allot Him a portion with the great. He will divide the booty with the strong.” In other words, God will eternally reward Him, which indicates there has to be a resurrection.
When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, if you remember that sermon in Acts, chapter 2, it essentially was an explanation of Psalm 16. Peter’s preaching and he says, verse 24 of Acts 2, “God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, ‘I saw the Lord always in my presence. He’s at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad, my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because You will not abandon my soul to hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’” That’s Psalm 16 predicting the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And they preached the resurrection throughout the book of Acts. They preached the resurrection.
Acts 4: “They were speaking in the temple, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and Sadducees came to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail.” That didn’t change anything.
Down in verse 10, Peter said, “Let it be known to all of you and all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by this name this man stands here before you in good health.” Speaking of the Messiah and quoting again from Psalm 118, “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, which became the chief cornerstone.” “You rejected Him, but He became the chief cornerstone.” “And there is no salvation in anyone else; no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved.” They preached Jesus and the resurrection as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures.
In chapter 10, Peter preaches in the book of Acts – just a couple of illustrations – verse 38, he opens his mouth and says, “You know Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things that He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sin.” Prophets bear witness.
Remember on the Road to Emmaus, beginning at Moses, the prophets, and all the Holy Writings, He spoke of His suffering and His glory. Suffering and then glory implies resurrection. This is the message that the apostles preached through the book of Acts. It’s all according to the Scriptures.
Testimony Number One: Paul says is the very existence of the church. They all believe in the resurrected Christ, and therefore they believe in resurrection, and then the testimony of Scripture. And then, thirdly, the testimony of certain eyewitnesses. This is very, very important to the apostle Paul. Starting in verse 5, “He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me,” – and we’ll get to that in a moment.
Starting on the very day of the resurrection, according to Luke 24, He met two of His disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and He was alive. And He went to their house with them, and He sat at table with them, and He revealed Himself to them, and they declared that their hearts burned within them to commune with the risen Christ. Then that very night of His resurrection He appeared in the upper room to all the gathered apostles, with the exception of Judas who was long gone, and Thomas was not there.
Human courts have always functioned best when provided with eyewitness evidence, especially intelligent, competent, objective, sound-minded eyewitnesses. So Paul appeals to this. The eyewitnesses are to be trusted. He appeared to Cephas, Cephas – that’s Peter, that’s Peter. He appeared to Peter. Cephas is Aramaic for “rock.” Greek is petros, Peter. This is the first apostolic eyewitness.
Luke 24:34, “The Lord is risen” – says Mary – “and has appeared to Simon.” The Lord appeared first to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, then to the women at the tomb, and then the first apostolic appearance to Simon Peter. How gracious is that since Peter was the one who denied Him three times. This is the beginning of restoration.
Thomas Arnold, fourteen-year head of the Rugby Academy in England, author of three volume History of Rome was appointed Chair of Modern History at Oxford in the past, said this: “The evidence for our Lord’s resurrection has been examined by tens of thousands of persons who have gone through it piece by piece. I myself have done it many times, not to persuade others, but to satisfy myself. I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort than that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”
The great theologian Charles Hodge said, “It is the best authenticated event in ancient history.” He was seen. He appeared literally. He appeared to Peter; and not just Peter, then to the twelve, even though there are only eleven – Judas has left – they still sort of carry that name, and one will be added to take Judas’ place early in the book of Acts. He appeared to them.
He appeared to them again and again and again. That Sunday night of His resurrection, the following Sunday night after His resurrection, and this time Thomas was there; and then time and again, as I read you earlier, in the book of Acts. Over a period of forty days He kept appearing and appearing and appearing to them again and again.
In Acts, chapter 1, verse 21, “Beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” The apostles are saying, “We have to add somebody to take the place of Judas.”
“They put two men forward, and they prayed” – verse 24 ‘You, Lord, know the hearts of all men, show which of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ They drew lots, the lot fell to Matthias; he was added to the eleven apostles.” But the requirement: He had to be a witness with us of the resurrection.”
These are quality men. These are the best of men. These are not marginal eyewitnesses, these are the apostles, and they had repeated, repeated Communion with the risen Christ. That’s the quality. The quantity comes in verse 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.”
Five hundred eyewitnesses, the majority of which are still alive. Some have died, but the majority are still alive. Testimony everywhere, eyewitness testimony. We don’t know exactly where that happened. There may be good reason to think it was in Galilee, because that seems to be where that number of disciples actually existed, rather than in Jerusalem where there were but one hundred and twenty in the upper room.
And what was the message of the five hundred? “He’s alive. He is alive.” They were eyewitnesses. All the apostles who were objective men, the crowd of five hundred – massive testimony. And they’re still around to continue that eyewitness testimony.
Finally in verse 7, “He appeared to James.” Probably not the apostle James or James the son of Alphaeus. Most likely this is James the brother of our Lord, the brother of our Lord. Why do I say that? Because in Galatians 1 – we were there earlier – when Paul says in verse 19, “I went to Jerusalem.” He said, “I didn’t see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”
So he did see James, the Lord’s brother, and that may be the James he’s referring to here. This is important if it’s the Lord’s brother, because they didn’t believe in Him. They actually thought He was crazy, according to Mark 3. But they had come to believe in Him after the resurrection.
So all the apostles – that would be uppercase apostles, lowercase apostles like James the Lord’s brother. Uppercase apostles would be the twelve and the one added; lower case, messengers of the church, preachers, could be a lot more folks. All kinds of eyewitnesses in every direction; the Lord is appearing to them over a forty-day period after He came out of the grave. The evidence is mounting to establish the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Then in verse 8 – and this is important – he turns to the testimony of a special witness, and this brings a new level of objectivity. Somebody might say, “Well, look, we expect the apostles to fabricate the resurrection, that’s what the critics have always said. The apostles wanted it so badly they made it up,” which, of course, is a lie; they didn’t expect it at all. But there are some who say, “They were His followers, they wanted it so badly that they created it, they invented it, they concocted it. So their testimony is questionable.”
To settle that issue we come to verse 8: “He appeared last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” “Not only did I see Him, not only did He appear to me, but He turned me from a persecutor into a preacher. He transformed my life.”
Now, just to understand what he means by this: “as one untimely born.” What is that in verse 8? Literally tō ektrōmati. Ektrōma means a premature birth, or an aborted fetus. In other words, it referred to a birth that wasn’t correct, it wasn’t in the right time. It was early, it was premature, or perhaps even late and stillborn. Paul says, “I’m a miscarriage. I’m like an abortion.”
What are you saying, Paul? “I’m saying I’m not the person who would invent the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was on my way to persecute Christians when He appeared to me. You want objectivity, there’s objectivity.”
Literally he says here – uses a definite article – he says, “Last of all, to me, the abortion, me: dead, vile, lifeless, a worthless piece of flesh, persecutor of the church. To me He appeared. To me He appeared. I didn’t have any expectation of that.”
Back in chapter 9 he says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Yes, he saw Him on the Damascus Road. But that wasn’t the only time he saw Him. Our Lord appeared to him on a couple of other occasions as well. And, by the way, the Lord didn’t appear to anybody but Paul until He appeared finally, at the end of the first century, to John. So when people say the Lord appeared to them, you can be sure it didn’t happen.
And it was an act of grace, verse 10: “By the grace of God I am what I am. It was grace that didn’t prove vain, because in the end that grace transformed me, and I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
“I was the least, I – nothing but an abortion, nothing but a vile, useless, dead thing, the least of all apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, anti-Christian, anti-Christ. I didn’t invent His resurrection. Why would I do that? I didn’t have a hallucination.” This is problem if you’re going to say the disciples invented it, because Paul says, “He came to me, and I was an unbelieving, Christ-rejecter.” Shocking. “I had no reason to invent that.”
He says, Galatians 1:22, “I was still unknown to the churches of Judea; but they kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.’” His incredible story of conversion comes in the 9th chapter of Acts on the Damascus Road. It’s a shocking, stunning account of how the Lord picked him up and made him the apostle to the Gentiles and the author of thirteen books of the New Testament.
So, look, did Jesus rise from the dead? You have the testimony of the church. The very fact that the church exists, it exists because they believe in a risen Christ. You have the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures predicting this, and Jesus brought it to pass. You have the testimony of multiple, multiple eyewitness, and then you have the testimony of a special, completely indifferent witness – the testimony of a transformed unbeliever.
And then one other line of testimony: the testimony of the common message. Verse 11: “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” What do you preach? “If Christ is preached” – verse 12 – “that He’s been raised from the dead, that’s what we preach. We preach that Christ died for our sins” – back to verse 3 “that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day.” This is the testimony of the common message: “They all preach the same thing, whether it was I, the untimely born apostle, or all the others, we preach the resurrection of Christ and you believe the resurrection of Christ.”
Then he brings it to conclusion in verse 12: “Now if Christ is preached, that He’s been raised from the dead, how do some among you say there’s no resurrection of the dead?” This is just a powerful, powerful argument. “You’ve all heard the preaching of Christ who died and rose again. You have believed it. If Christ is risen, why are you questioning resurrection?” He rose and He is the first fruits of all who sleep.
Verse 13 he says, “If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised. And if He hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith is vain, we’re all false witnesses and liars. You believe Christ was raised, and so you already believe in a bodily resurrection.” The resurrection of Christ is the first fruits, the prototype of the resurrection of all believers to eternal glory. More next time; let’s bow in prayer.
Father, again, it’s such a powerful portion of Scripture, and we feel like we’re trying to get a grip on it and pour into it all that it deserves; we always fall short. Lord, we don’t question the resurrection of Christ. You have granted us the truth concerning it in Scripture. You’ve granted us the faith to believe it. You’ve overpowered our spiritual deadness and ignorance. You’ve given us light and life. We glory in the resurrection of Christ; and because He lives, we will live. The first resurrection starts with Christ and encompasses all believers throughout all history. We’ll all be raised with bodies like His.
This is our message to the world: there is a life to come, you will live forever, you will have a body suited for heaven if you believe Jesus rose from the dead and confess Him as your Lord. And that is our shining hope, and, Lord, it’s because we have that hope of resurrection, a glorious resurrection into eternal joy that we set our affections on things above and not on things on this earth. Lift us to the heavens above. May we not get trapped in the passing temporary vanities of this life. Help us to live with heaven in view and to rejoice already in what You’ve prepared for us, which You’ve guaranteed by giving us Your Holy Spirit.
We thank You for the great and glorious hope and promise that awaits us. Give us eager hearts to that end so that we may live lives that are so preoccupied with heaven that the first thing on our lips is to talk not about earth, but about heaven, even with those who don’t know, but desperately need to know. We are citizens not of this world but of Your kingdom. Heaven is our home; our Savior is there, our Father is there, our life is there, our hope is there, our reward is there, our true friends are there, all that You’ve prepared for us eternally is there. May we live in the light of that with joy and anticipation. Help us, Lord, to do that, we pray in our Savior’s name. Amen.