Summary: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of Christianity. If there was no resurrection then there is no Christianity. Period. Want to know why it is so important? Paul's got that answer.
Plain and simple, the gospel of Jesus Christ stands or falls on the resurrection. The resurrection is the culmination of what we call “the Christ event,” which includes the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection, the gospel is meaningless.
For some reason, the Corinthians had begun to doubt the resurrection. And in Chapter 15, Paul brings them back to reality. It’s a long chapter, so we’re going to break it up into two pieces: verses 1 through 34, then 35 through 58.
In this first half, Paul reminds them of his credentials to bring a gospel of salvation, the fallacy of rejecting the resurrection, and how the resurrection is part of God’s plan of creation, fall, redemption, and renovation. Finally, he points out a practice some were doing (wrongly) that would be foolish if the resurrection were not true.
1 – 2
These are pretty strong words. Either Paul is deluded, a master con artist, or an actual official representative of Jesus Christ. He reminds the Corinthians that it was the revelation of the gospel to him from the Lord Jesus that they received. They received all of it—and you can’t just break it into the pieces you like.
That’s what a lot of people like to do. They want Jesus to be a good person who lived an example of a good life for us to follow. Or they want Jesus to be a miracle worker who can be summoned to do our bidding at will. They want Him to be a rule setter—giving us some hard and fast rules so when we obey them we can feel good about ourselves. Some want him to be so loving that He just winks at sin and evil and says “Oh, come on into my Father’s kingdom!” Some want the good parts without the realization that it all centers on a sacrifice for evil—and that the resurrection is the proof that that sacrifice took.
That’s why Paul says “unless you believed to no purpose.” What use are all the good sayings if we are left in this evil state? What good are the rules if we can’t ever hope to really do them? The issue of sin, sacrifice, and salvation through the resurrection is the whole deal. If not for that, you are basically wasting your time.
3 – 8
Paul mentions two crucial elements to the veracity of the resurrection: Old Testament Scriptures and eyewitness accounts.
Vs 3 &4 mention the propitiatory nature of the Messiah’s death, and about His burial and resurrection on the third day.
Isaiah 53:5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.
This suggests that He was pure, for only a “spotless” lamb could be used in the sacrifice. The lamb also had to die (Exodus 12:5-6 ).
Isaiah 53:9 They made His grave with the wicked, and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.
Raised on the third day
Jesus said about Jonah being three days in the belly of the fish (Matt 12:40 ) that he too would be three days in the earth.
Psalms 16:9-10 Therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also rests securely. 10 For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your Faithful One to see the Pit.
It is vitally important for us to understand that everything Jesus did was foretold as part of God’s master plan. None of it happened by accident and God didn’t make it up as He went along.
Paul mentions six groups of individuals. He starts with Peter, whom the Lord confronted in Luke 24:36 and John 20:19 , then the 12—a reference to the Apostles as a group, and not twelve individuals (Judas wasn’t with them, nor was Thomas at the time). The event where 500 saw Him at once is only recorded here but should surely put to rest any notion that the resurrection was an “inside job” where those closest to Jesus snuck in and stole His body them claimed that He was alive. James, the Lord’s brother, didn’t believe at first, but joined the group and later became leader of the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James. And lastly, Paul, who met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9 ). He refers to his birth as a “miscarriage” because he did not come to faith in the “normal way.”
The great thing about the time Paul was writing was that many of the people Jesus had appeared to were still alive and could corroborate his story.