The Gospel and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ From the Dead – 1 Corinthians15:1-11

20 Apr

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 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; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 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. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The truth never loses its power. People, however, often lose their grip on truth. The struggles in the Corinthian church made it clear to Paul that they needed to refocus their attention on the gospel. He brought his letter to a close with a vigorous proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They were wandering; Paul called them back to the center. Like the Corinthians, we can’t afford to stray from Christ. Every claim about Christianity has roots in his resurrection. What we believe about this life and the afterlife depends on what Jesus did with death. God’s Word calls us back to the center

In this final section of the letter, Paul gave a masterly defense of the resurrection of Christ and its importance to the Christian faith. The gospel message that he had preached to them, that they had received, on which they had taken their stand was the message that had saved them. Paul wanted to remind them of that gospel, because apparently some (probably false teachers) had been distorting it. In fact, some of the Corinthians had come to believe that there would be no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Not only was the church in Corinth having problems with unity (as Paul tried to clear up in the previous chapters), it was also dealing with basic problems of theology. This, too, would tear apart the church. As an apostle who had himself seen the risen Christ (15:8), Paul took these Corinthian believers back to the basics of the message that they had welcomed and received. Because acceptance of that gospel had saved them, they should hold firmly to it.

To do otherwise would mean that they had believed in vain. If they could be so easily swayed to other messages, tangents, and untruths, then perhaps what they claimed as belief was not belief at all. If the faith they thought they had could not assure them of salvation, then that faith was worthless. The Gospels do not explain the Resurrection; the Resurrection explains the Gospels. Belief in the Resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith. John S. Whale


Paul’s devotion to the Word of God and to the good news of the gospel causes him to be as alert and vigilant as an anti-virus program. There is one “file” (so to speak) which is always searched out by the virus of false teaching, and that is the “gospel” file. Every action, every teaching, is scrutinized by Paul to make sure it does not seek to modify or set aside the “gospel file.” Thus, when certain teachers insist that Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses, they find immediate opposition from Paul, who would not allow men to corrupt the “gospel file” (see Acts 15:1-1). When some insist that Titus be circumcised, Paul will not allow it, for the sake of the gospel (Galatians 2:1-5; see 5:3). And when Peter stops sitting at the Gentile table and begins to sit with the Jews, Paul publicly rebukes him (and those who followed him) for his (their) hypocrisy, because his actions imply that Jewish Christians are better than Gentile Christians—and this Paul recognized as a corruption of the gospel (Galatians 2:11-21).

It should come as no surprise then that before Paul takes on the error of the denial of the resurrection of the dead, Paul first lays a foundation for his argument by reiterating the gospel. Whatever practice or teaching Paul might encounter, he always judges it by the gospel he and the apostles preach. That gospel must never be corrupted or altered in any way. Several characteristics of the gospel are emphasized in verses 1-11, which we can summarize.

(1) The gospel is not a message devised by the minds of men, but a revelation from God, received by the apostles and delivered to men by them (see 15:1, 3, 11).

(2) The gospel is the only message by which men are saved and by which they stand (15:1-2).

(3) The gospel is “good news” concerning the grace of God, which informs men concerning the only way they, as undeserving sinners, may experience the forgiveness of their sins (15:3, 9-10).

(4) The gospel is the message which is based solely upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, the One who died for our sins on the cross of Calvary, who was buried, and who was literally and bodily raised from the dead on the third day (15:3-4).

(5) The sacrificial death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ are events which were prophesied in the Old Testament, foretold in the Gospels by our Lord, and then fulfilled by Him as God’s promised Messiah.

(6) The gospel is the message which is of the highest magnitude of importance (15:3).

(7) The gospel saves and keeps only those who receive it and hold fast to it by faith (15:1-2).

(8) The gospel is false and our faith is vain if any element of it is proven to be false (15:2; 12ff.).

(9) The gospel is established on the literal, bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, as witnessed by more than 500 people.

When Jesus spoke of His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary, He always spoke of His resurrection as well. The enemies of our Lord knew this, and from the day of His resurrection attempted to pass it off as a deception perpetrated by His followers (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15). Paul wants his readers to remember that the resurrection is based upon the most irrefutable evidence possible—the eyewitness testimony of over 500 people on various occasions and over a period of time.

Paul does not appeal to circumstantial evidence to prove the resurrection of Christ from the dead but rather to the testimony of more than 500 eyewitnesses, most of whom are still alive at the time he writes this Epistle to the Corinthians. Few facts in history have been so well attested. The Corinthians should be reminded of the firm basis which the resurrection of our Lord has in history. Luke, the great historian, sums it up in these words: “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” (Acts 1:3).

The resurrection is a matter of great import to the apostle Paul. Few men can claim to have been more impacted by the resurrection of our Lord than Paul. First, the resurrection of our Lord was the means by which Paul was converted from an enemy of Christ to a true believer. Three times in the Book of Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26) Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus is reported. This appearance of the risen and glorified Christ blinded Paul, stopping him in his tracks, and led to his conversion. No wonder Paul saw the resurrection of our Lord as such a significant event. It turned Paul’s life upside-down.

The resurrection was important to Paul in yet another way—the resurrection appearance of our Lord to Paul on the road to Damascus was the means by which Paul was qualified to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. You will recall that Judas, the disciple who betrayed our Lord, killed himself, leaving a vacancy among the apostles (see Matthew 19:28; Acts 1:15-26). The disciples chose not to wait for “what the Father had promised” (Acts 1:4) and went ahead to select two men who seemed qualified as candidates to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:12-26). It is my opinion that it was not Matthias whom God had appointed to this position, but Paul. I believe Paul’s words in our text (15:7-11) indicate that he was appointed as the replacement for Judas.

Who would have ever imagined such a thing? The apostles were those whose task it was to be witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 1:22; 2:32). How could Paul (or anyone else who had not been with the eleven disciples) possibly qualify? What seemed humanly impossible was possible with God. He arranged a private resurrection appearance for Paul. It was as a result of our Lord’s post-resurrection appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus that Paul was qualified to be an apostle.

Just how important was the resurrection of our Lord to Paul? It was not only the basis for his salvation and apostleship, it was a constant theme in his preaching (Acts 17:30-31; 24:15, 25). It was the reason for Paul’s imprisonment and trial before Caesar (Acts 23:6; 24:21; 26:6-8; 28:20). No wonder Paul is so emphatic about the resurrection of our Lord and about the error of those who say there is no resurrection of the dead. The gospel is the starting point and standard for all Christian teaching and practice. Paul takes us back to our origins to reinforce the vital role which the resurrection of our Lord plays in our salvation and Christian life.

Paul is recapitulating the good news which he first brought to the Corinthians. It was not news which he had invented but news which had first been delivered to him, and it was news of a Risen Lord.

In verses 1 and 2 Paul says an extremely interesting series of things about the good news.

(i) It was something which the Corinthians had received. No man ever invented the gospel for himself; in a sense no man ever discovers it for himself. It is something which he receives. Therein indeed is the very function of the Church. The Church is the repository and the transmitter of the good news. As one of the old fathers had it, “No man can have God for his Father, unless he has the Church for his mother.” The good news is something that is received within a fellowship.

(ii) It was something in which the Corinthians stood. The very first function of the good news was to give a man stability. In a slippery world it kept him on his feet. In a tempting world it gave him resistance power. In a hurting world it enabled him to endure a broken heart or an agonized body and not to give in. Moffatt finely translates Job 4:4, “Your words have kept men on their feet.” That is precisely what the gospel does.

(iii) It was something in which they were being saved. It is interesting to note that in the Greek this is a present tense, and not past. It would be strictly correct to translate it not, “in which you have been saved,” but, “in which you are being saved.” Salvation goes from glory to glory. It is not something which is ever completed in this world. There are many things in this life which we can exhaust, but the meaning of salvation is something which a man can never exhaust.

(iv) It was something to which a man had to hold tenaciously. Life makes many an attempt to take away our faith. Things happen to us and to others which baffle our understanding; life has its problems to which there seems no solution and its questions to which there seems no answer; life has its dark places where there seems to be nothing to do but hold on. Faith is always a victory, the victory of the soul which tenaciously maintains its clutch on God.

(v) It was something which must not be held haphazardly and at random. The faith which collapses is the faith which has not thought things out and thought them through. For so many of us faith is a superficial thing. We tend to accept things because we are told them and to possess them merely at secondhand. If we undergo the agony of thought there may be much that we must discard, but what is left is really ours in such a way that nothing can ever take it from us.

15:3-4 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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.NIV Paul had received the gospel message from Christ himself, as had all the other apostles; then he passed on to all his listeners that same message. These words indicate the careful and literal way that Christian teachers passed on tradition from one generation to the next.

The central theme of the gospel is given here. It is the key text for the defense of Christianity. The three points that are of first importance are as follows:

  1. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Without the truth of this message, Christ’s death was worthless, and those who believe in him are still in their sins and without hope. However, Christ as the sinless Son of God took the punishment of sin, “dying for sin” so that those who believe can have their sins removed. The phrase “according to the Scriptures” refers to the Old Testament prophecies regarding this event, such as Psalm 16:8-11 and Isaiah 53:5-6. Christ’s death on the cross was no accident, no afterthought. It had been part of God’s plan from all eternity in order to bring about the salvation of all who believe.
Paul restated the gospel because there were unbelievers in the Corinthian church. Most churches contain people who do not yet believe. Some are moving in the direction of belief, and others are simply pretending. Impostors, however, are not to be removed (see Matthew 13:28-29), for that is the Lord’s work alone. The Good News about Jesus Christ will save us if we firmly believe it and faithfully follow it. The preaching of the gospel, then, accomplishes two purposes: (1) The message offers salvation to those who have not yet responded; and (2) the message challenges believers to remain faithful.
Pray for the communicators in your church. Perhaps you are one yourself. Remember that every believer is a living sermon. Pray that the gospel will be heard and understood clearly in your fellowship.
  1. He was buried. The fact of Christ’s death is revealed in the fact of his burial. Many have tried to discount the actual death of Christ, from the false teachers of Paul’s day to false teachers today. But Jesus Christ did die on the cross and was buried in a tomb. (For more information on the facts of Jesus’ death, see the Life Application Commentary Mark, in Mark 16:9, the chart called “Evidence That Jesus Actually Died and Arose”)
  2. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Christ “was raised” permanently, forever; his Father raised him from the dead. He came back to life from being a dead person in a grave “on the third day” as noted in the Gospels (Friday afternoon to Sunday morning—three days in Jewish reckoning of time). This also occurred “according to the Scriptures.” Jesus had quoted the prophet Jonah: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 niv; see also Jonah 1:17) to show the connection to “three days” as prophesied in the Old Testament. Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110 also foretell the resurrection of the Messiah.

15:5 He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles.NLT Jesus made several appearances to various people after his resurrection, some of which Paul included here. He first mentioned the appearance to Peter, noted in Luke 24:34 (see also Mark 16:7). Peter had denied his Lord and then had wept bitterly (Mark 14:72). Jesus forgave Peter and still considered him to be one of his disciples. Jesus had great responsibilities for Peter to fulfill in the church that had not yet been born.

Jesus had also been seen by the twelve apostles. The expression “twelve apostles” was a title for the original disciples—sometimes they are called “the Twelve.” But this title doesn’t always signify that twelve apostles were present. By the time of the Resurrection, Judas Iscariot and another apostle, Thomas, were not present at Christ’s first appearance. These appearances are recorded in Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-31.

     There will always be people who say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Those who seek to deny the Resurrection are neither courageous nor novel in their thinking. They have nothing but hopelessness and despair to offer those who believe them. Their efforts simply highlight the importance of Christ’s victory.
     Paul wrote that many people saw Jesus after his resurrection: Peter; the disciples (the Twelve); more than five hundred Christian believers (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this, although some had died); James (Jesus’ brother); all the apostles; and, finally, Paul himself. The Resurrection is an historical fact. Don’t be discouraged by doubters who deny the Resurrection. Be filled with hope because of the knowledge that one day you, and they, will see the living proof when Christ returns.

15:6 After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now.NLT This event is recorded nowhere else. It most likely occurred in Galilee, and the sheer number of eyewitnesses, more than five hundred, should cause doubters to stop and think before dismissing the Resurrection accounts of a few followers. All these people saw him at one time, and at the time of Paul’s writing, most of them were still alive. Paul could appeal to their testimony to back up his own.


Jesus appeared to

1. Mary Magdalene Mark 16:9-11;
John 20:10-18
2. The other women at the tomb Matthew 28:8-10
3. Peter in Jerusalem Luke 24:34;
1 Corinthians 15:5
4. The two travelers on the road Mark 16:12-13;
Luke 24:13-35
5. Ten disciples behind closed doors Luke 24:36-43;
John 20:19-25
6. All eleven disciples (including Thomas) Mark 16:14;
John 20:26-31;
1 Corinthians 15:5
7. Seven disciples while fishing on the Sea of Galilee John 21:1-14
8. Eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee Matthew 28:16-20;
Mark 16:15-18
9. A crowd of 500 1 Corinthians 15:6
10. Jesus’ brother James 1 Corinthians 15:7
11. Those who watched Jesus ascend into heaven Mark 16:19-20;
Luke 24:50-53;
Acts 1:3-9

15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.NRSV This James is Jesus’ brother (actually, half brother), who at first did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (John 7:5). After seeing the resurrected Christ, he became a believer (as did Jesus’ other brothers, Acts 1:14). James ultimately became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13). He also wrote the New Testament book of James. (For more information on James, see the Introduction to the Life Application Commentary James.) This next mention of all the apostles must describe an event separate from that recorded in 15:5, as well as designating the James mentioned here from the two apostles of that name.

In Paul’s list of appearances of the Risen Lord two are specially interesting.

(i) There is the appearance to Peter. In the earliest account of the Resurrection story, the word of the messenger in the empty tomb is, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” (Mark 16:7). In Luke 24:34 the disciples say, “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon.” It is an amazing thing that one of the first appearances of the Risen Lord was to the disciple who had denied him. There is all the wonder of the love and grace of Jesus Christ here. Others might have hated Peter forever, but the one desire of Jesus was to set this erratic disciple of his upon his feet. Peter had wronged Jesus and then had wept his heart out; and the one desire of this amazing Jesus was to comfort him in the pain of his disloyalty. Love can go no further than to think more of the heartbreak of the man who wronged it than of the hurt that it itself has received.

(ii) There is the appearance to James. Without doubt this James is the brother of our Lord. It is quite clear from the gospel narrative that Jesus’s own family did not understand him and were even actively hostile to him. Mark 3:21 tells us that they actually sought to restrain him because they believed him to be mad. John 7:5 tells us that his brothers did not believe in him. One of the earliest of those gospels which did not succeed in getting into the New Testament is the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Only fragments of it remain. One fragment, preserved by Jerome, reads, “Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth unto the servant of the priest, went unto James and appeared unto him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the Lord’s cup until he should see him risen again from among them that sleep).” So, the story runs, “Jesus went to James and said, ‘Bring ye a table and bread.’ And he took bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it unto James the Just and said unto him, ‘My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among them that sleep.’” We can only conjecture what lies behind this. It may well be that the last days turned James’s contempt into wondering admiration so that when the end came, he was so torn with remorse for the way in which he had treated his brother that he swore that he would starve unless he came back to forgive him. Here once again we have the amazing grace and love of Christ. He came to bring peace to the troubled soul of the man who had called him mad and who had been his opponent.

It is one of the most heart-moving things in all the story of Jesus that two of his first appearances, after he rose from the tomb, were to men who had hurt him and were sorry for it. Jesus meets the penitent heart far more than halfway.[1]

15:8 Last of all, I saw him, too, long after the others, as though I had been born at the wrong time.NLT One of the credentials to be an apostle was to have been an eyewitness of Jesus Christ. Paul could call himself an apostle (1:1) because he had seen Jesus last of all . . . long after the others. This event is recorded in Acts 9:3-6. The phrase “as though I had been born at the wrong time” (literally, “miscarriage”) means that Paul’s opportunity to see Jesus Christ was a special case. The other apostles saw Christ before the Resurrection; they lived and traveled with him for nearly three years. Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles, yet Christ appeared to him.

15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.NIV As a zealous Pharisee, Paul had been an enemy of the Christian church—even to the point of capturing and persecuting believers (see Acts 9:1-3). Here Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of the magnificent grace of God in drawing sinners out of sin and into his kingdom. By calling himself the least of the apostles, Paul was not putting himself down (see 2 Corinthians 11:5; Galatians 2:11). Instead, he realized that although all of the apostles had been drawn from sin, Paul had actively persecuted the church of God. He fully realized the depth of the error and sin from which he had been saved, so much so that he knew he did not even deserve to be called an apostle. Only God’s grace had handed him such a privilege and responsibility.

Paul felt unworthy to be called an apostle of Christ. Though undoubtedly the most influential of the apostles, Paul was deeply humble. He knew that he had worked hard and accomplished much, but only because God had poured kindness and grace upon him. True humility is not convincing yourself that you are worthless but recognizing God’s work in you. Take God’s perspective on who you are and acknowledge his grace in developing your abilities.

15:10-11 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.NIV Neither Paul nor any of the apostles could take credit for achieving the position of apostle. They had all been called to that position by the grace of God. Only by God’s “grace”—his undeserved favor poured out on sinners—was Paul saved and enabled to serve. And Paul certainly did so! He wrote of having worked harder than all of the other apostles. This was not an arrogant boast because he knew that his hard work was a result of the grace of God that was with him. Because of his previous position as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5) and his previous occupation of persecuting Christians, Paul’s conversion made him the object of even greater persecution than the other apostles; thus he had to work harder to preach the same message. He wrote to Timothy, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 nrsv).

Whether, then, it was I or they who brought the gospel message, they all brought the same message as noted in 15:3-4. This is what we preach, explained Paul, and the apostles never strayed from that message. This is what you believed, he reminded them, so they must not stray from the message that had brought them salvation.

Finally, in this passage we have a vivid light thrown on the character of Paul himself. To him it was the most precious thing in the world that Jesus had appeared also to him. That was at one and the same time the turning point and the dynamic moment of his life. But verses 9–11 tell us much about him.

(i) They tell us of his utter humility. He is the least of the apostles; he has been glorified with an office for which he is not worthy. Paul would never have claimed to be a selfmade man. It was by the grace of God that he was what he was. He is perhaps even accepting a taunt made against him. It would seem that he was a little and an unhandsome man (2 Corinthians 10:10). It may be that the Jewish Christians who wished to impose the law upon Christian converts and who hated his doctrine of free grace, declared that, so far from being born again, Paul was an abortion. He, for his part, was so conscious of his own unworthiness that he felt no one could say anything too bad about him. Charles Gore once said, “On a general review of life we can seldom feel that we are suffering unmerited wrong.” Paul felt like that. His was not the pride which resented the criticism and the taunts of men, but the humility which felt that it deserved them.

(ii) They tell us at the same time of the consciousness of his own worth. He was well aware that he had laboured beyond them all. His was not a false modesty. But even at that, he spoke always, not of what he had done, but of what God had enabled him to do.

(iii) They tell of his sense of fellowship. He did not regard himself as an isolated phenomenon with a message that was unique. He and the other apostles preached the same gospel. His was the greatness which bound him closer to the Christian fellowship; there is always something lacking in the greatness which divides a man from his fellows.[2]

[1] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 143–145.

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Posted by on April 20, 2023 in Resurrection


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