Summary: Those who deny the truth of the resurrection are teaching a different gospel to that which we find in the New Testament.
I BELIEVE IN THE RESURRECTION
Sometimes it is necessary for Christian people to get back to the basics of their faith, to remind themselves what they are about. Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul is not teaching his readers something new, but reviewing that which he taught them from the very beginning (1 Corinthians 15:1). Perhaps now, as much as at any other time, the Church needs to remind herself of the fundamental truths of the gospel.
Despite the fact that the Corinthians had earlier embraced Paul's teaching, the Apostle was aware that other influences were disturbing their peace. There were even some amongst them who denied the fact of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12). Perhaps the Corinthians were keeping company with some Sadducees, who denied the resurrection (Luke 20:27); or perhaps with some Greek philosophers, who doubted it (Acts 17:32).
Without approving of the custom, Paul mentioned those who are baptised for the dead, indicating that “they” had the sense to know that there is a resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:29). Ultimately the element of doubt comes from outside the church, which is why Paul unashamedly quotes a warning (from a pagan source) about the company we keep (1 Corinthians 15:33). The fact of the matter is that a denial of the resurrection is both a cause and a symptom of spiritual and moral bankruptcy.
Paul does not deny that the majority of the congregation are still standing in the truth (1 Corinthians 15:1), but he still exhorts them to “hold fast” (1 Corinthians 15:2). We need to reiterate, from time to time: “This is the faith of the Church. This is our faith, and so we believe and trust.”
The gospel which Paul preached was no different from that of the other Apostles, nor was it any different from that which the Church had received. The good news is that Christ has died (1 Corinthians 15:3), Christ is risen (1 Corinthians 15:4), and that Christ will come again (1 Corinthians 15:23). All this was in fulfilment of the Scriptures.
The death of Jesus is foreseen in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. His resurrection is foretold in Psalm 16:10, and in the typological accounts of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22), and Jonah and the big fish. Our resurrection upon the Lord's return is anticipated in Job 19:25-27.
The evidence in favour of Jesus' resurrection is overwhelming. He was seen by Peter and “the twelve”; by five hundred of His followers at once (most of whom were still living when Paul wrote, and others who had “fallen asleep” and were no doubt awaiting their own resurrection); by James the brother of Jesus (who no doubt needed some convincing); then by the apostles again; and then by Paul himself “as one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). In any court of law a matter is established by two or three witnesses, but some of these people had not even believed it themselves, but now were willing to suffer for the truth of it (1 Corinthians 15:30).
The testimony is unanimous. Whether the other Apostles proclaimed it, or Paul himself, so they preached, and so the Church believed (1 Corinthians 15:11). Without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no gospel at all (1 Corinthians 15:12-13), and we are of all men most vain and miserable (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
Thankfully, we are reminded with a sigh of relief, Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen indeed. As such He is the firstfruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).
The Feast of the firstfruits was celebrated the day after the Sabbath after the Passover, and no further atoning sacrifice was necessary because the Passover lamb had just been sacrificed. In Greek the idea of firstfruits carried the idea of His having paid our entrance fee. Jesus is the firstfruits, the first sheaf offered in anticipation of the full harvest, the first resurrected as the forerunner of our own resurrection.
The first man Adam, the representative head of the human race, ushered in death through sin. In a passage which echoes Romans 5:12-21, Christ is seen as the new representative head of the human race, ushering in a new economy as the firstfruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21-23). Truly He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
Yet the resurrection of believers must await His coming (1 Corinthians 15:23). Jesus must reign until He has crushed all His enemies under His feet, and the very last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Then comes the end (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28).
Paul owned this as his gospel (2 Timothy 2:8), and was willing to suffer for it, as were all the other witnesses. Those who deny the truth of the resurrection are teaching a different gospel to that which we find in the New Testament. “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame,” warns Paul (1 Corinthians 15:34).