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Everything Depends on the Resurrection

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 15:1–28

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical fact, but it is not simply a historical fact. It is an essential part of the biblical gospel, and it is the assurance of a coming resurrection of all who believe in Christ.


One author wrote that without the resurrection of Christ, “Christianity would be nothing more than a religious fairy tale, powerless to save one lost soul.”[1] And I would absolutely agree.

When Paul wrote this letter called 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was not yet complete. The church was still young, and there were false ideas floating around. Some in the church at Corinth, while acknowledging Jesus’ bodily resurrection, were rejecting the idea of a future resurrection of believers.

Paul refutes this false teaching and then shows us how Christ’s resurrection is connected to our future resurrection. They are inseparable—you cannot believe one without believing the other.

Now in this chapter, Paul is going to make three declarations. First, Christ’s resurrection is essential to the gospel:

I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved. (verses 1-2)

The “gospel,” or good news, Paul had brought to Corinth was received by his readers, bringing salvation to them. But then he adds this: “if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” Here is how you can know your faith is genuine: you hold fast to the gospel of faith in Christ alone.

That is a warning for all of us. Be sure that your faith is genuine, not some shallow, passing commitment. The evidence of true, saving faith is persistence in it—holding fast to the gospel of Christ.

And what exactly is the gospel? Paul states it clearly here, and by the way, he is careful to write that this gospel was not his invention. This is truth he received from God. He is simply the messenger boy. Here is the true gospel:

That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve [and many others]. (verses 3-5)

These truths are essential to our gospel message to the world: Jesus Christ literally died; His burial was the proof of His death. He literally rose from the dead, and that was proved by the many eyewitnesses to whom He appeared after His resurrection—including Peter, the other disciples, and, Paul writes here in verse 6, “more than five hundred brothers at one time.” Paul affirms that many of these witnesses are still alive as he’s writing this letter to the Corinthians.

Did Jesus die because He miscalculated His audience and failed to fulfill His dreams? No! Paul writes here in verse 3, “Christ died for our sins.” This is why He died! Apart from this crucial truth, His death and resurrection have little meaning. In fact, we know from history that the year Jesus died, more than 1,000 other victims were crucified by the Roman government. But Jesus was not just another man. He was the Lamb, dying to pay the penalty for our sins. And that is why we call His death the gospel, which means “good news.”

Paul specifically informs us that the resurrected Lord appeared to Cephas, or Simon Peter. Imagine how sweet that meeting was, considering how brokenhearted Peter had been for having denied the Lord.

Paul also mentions that Jesus appeared to His half-brother James, who would become the pastor/teacher of the church in Jerusalem. How sweet that meeting must have been, because we were told earlier that James and the other half-siblings of Jesus did not believe He was the Messiah (John 7:5). Well, after the resurrection, apparently, they all believed.

Paul then writes in verse 8 that Jesus appeared to him as well. This took place on the road to Damascus.

Now here is Paul’s second declaration: Christ’s resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Again, some in the early church were saying that Christ rose from the dead but there was not a future resurrection of believers. Paul counters that in verses 12-13:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

In other words, to deny resurrection in general is to deny Christ’s resurrection.[2] And if Christ did not rise from the dead, Christianity is not good news after all. Paul says our “faith is in vain” (verse 14); those who have preached the gospel were lying (verse 15); we are still unforgiven (verse 17); believers who have already died no longer exist (verse 18); and we have no hope beyond this life (verse 19).

So, how important is the resurrection of Christ? It is entirely and eternally important! In fact, Paul makes a third declaration: Christ’s resurrection is central to God’s eternal plan.

Paul uses a Jewish festival as an illustration. In verse 20, he says that Jesus is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

At the Feast of Firstfruits, the Jewish people took the first crops of their harvest and presented them to God, thanking Him for full the harvest that was to come. So, Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruits of a harvest of resurrected believers who have already fallen asleep—that is, already died.

So, what hope do we have that they will rise from the dead? The empty tomb of Jesus Christ!

Paul then makes an analogy between Adam and Jesus:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (verses 21-22)

Death came upon humanity through the sin of one man, Adam. In contrast, through one man, Christ––the God-man—comes resurrection.

And when is this resurrection going to happen? Paul gives us the sequence of events, starting in verse 23. First came Christ, the “firstfruits.” Later comes the resurrection of “those who belong to Christ,” and this occurs “at his coming.”

But Christ’s return has two phases. First, He comes in the clouds to take His church at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4); and second, seven years later, after the tribulation period, Jesus comes—not for us but with us and not to the clouds but to the earth—to establish His thousand-year kingdom on earth (Revelation 19).

We are told in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, that it is at the rapture when living believers are taken to join the Lord in heaven in new, transformed, resurrection bodies. At the same time—actually a split-second before—the “dead in Christ will rise.” These are believers of this church age who have died prior to the rapture. Their decayed bodies will be reconstituted and resurrected, to be joined with their spirits, which, immediately upon their death, had gone to be with the Lord. We are all taken away to heaven.

Then after the tribulation, when Jesus returns with us, there is going to be a resurrection of the Old Testament believers, as well as the bodies of those who came to Christ and then died during the tribulation period. They will be raised and given glorified bodies when Christ returns to the earth as reigning King.

So how important is the resurrection of Jesus? Your resurrection depends on it. The coming rapture of the church depends on it. The coming kingdom of Christ depends on it. The future victory of Christ over the nations of the world depends on it. And a future, eternal heaven and a new earth depends on it.

Everything depends on the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

When the great scientist Michael Faraday was dying, he was asked about his speculations for a life after death. Faraday, a follower of Christ, responded, “Speculations! I know nothing about speculations. I am resting on certainties. Because He lives, I shall live also.”[3] We can have that same assurance because Christ rose from the dead.

[1] Tim LaHaye, Jesus: Who Is He? (Multnomah Books, 1996), 221-22.

[3] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations (Assurance Publishers, 1979), 311.

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