In the book of Corinthians, Paul writes from Ephesus back to a church he had already established in the city of Corinth. And he uses this exchange of letters with that congregation to encourage them but to also instruct them on important doctrinal matters. One such point was the importance of understanding and believing in the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul begins his argument for the confidence in the resurrection by summing up the key doctrinal points to the Christian faith: that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was resurrected. Simply put, that is what Christianity all comes down to, Christ dying for our sins and resurrecting to overcome death.
Many people outside the church want to assert that these points have only been made after the passage of time. The claim is that only over many generations has this become what Christians believe in. So it is important to stop on this point to consider the implications of when Paul is writing this. It has been estimated that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around AD 55 or 56 based on his missionary journey timeline. That means it was written only twenty-two years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and, as Paul tells in his letter, while most of the 500 witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were still alive. However, we have to consider further that Paul is writing this to remind the Corinthians of things he had already taught them back in AD 50 when he first established the church there. Therefore those things had been taught to Paul already before he began his missionary journey. In fact, it is safe to presume that Paul had learned those facts at his conversion in roughly AD 32, only two years or so after Christ’s resurrection. So we see that these crucial points of church doctrine were established immediately after the events took place, not many generations later as some people try to claim. We can have confidence that those things really happened; Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was resurrected.
Those facts are confirmed further in that they not only happened, but they happened publicly. All other world religions rely on the single account of one man’s private revelations. Christianity relies on multiple accounts of one man’s public actions. The miracles Jesus performed were in public, among crowds of both friend and foe. The trial of Jesus before Pilate was in public where the crowds cried out for Jesus to be crucified. His crucifixion was in public, beside two criminals, carried out by Roman soldiers (John 19:34). And his death was in public, affirmed by the soldiers piercing His side, Pontius Pilate himself (Mark 15:44), and the Pharisees (Matt. 27:65-66).
That just affirms to us that Jesus was real, had the power to work miracles, and died. But that doesn’t make Him the conquering Savior over sin and death. That would have to come through His resurrection. Now, Jesus could have simply claimed that He would be resurrected spiritually, where no one could prove or disprove whether it really occurred. He could have then just told the disciples to have hope and faith that His Spirit was living on in eternity even though they could not confirm that. But Jesus claimed that He would rise physically, something that would be obvious to everyone, something that could be proven evidentially. So was that in public too? In 1 Corinthians 15:2-8, Paul lists all the people that witnessed the physical resurrection: Peter, all the disciples, 500 people at once (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this), James (the half-brother of Jesus and founder of the Jerusalem church), and then Paul himself. But the Gospel accounts fill in more witnesses than even that, as if that wasn’t enough. We know Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), Mary (Matt. 28:1), and disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13). The resurrected Jesus walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, and touched them – all physically confirming His physical resurrection. We know the tomb was empty because the Pharisees were trying to bribe the guards to lie about why it was empty (Matt 28:12-13). And we know all of this was common knowledge because Paul, while speaking to King Herod Agrippa (Acts 6:7), that “this thing was not done in a corner.” Peter says the same to the Pharisees when preaching in the temple (Acts 4:8-14). These facts about Jesus are common knowledge because it was all done in public by the Pharisees themselves and witnessed by hundreds of people.
Paul points all of this out to the Corinthians in order to reaffirm to them that there is the resurrection of the dead. Because, after all, as Paul says, without the resurrection, the faith of the Christian is a giant waste of time. He says, “If in this life only we have hope, then we are to be pitied more than any other.” Why is that? Because everything we do as Christians is out of the idea that there is a resurrection. If there is not, then Christ wasn’t raised from the dead. If Christ was not resurrected, then our faith is useless, we are false witnesses of God, and more importantly, we are all still dead in our sins.
But because Christ did die and was resurrected, then we do have hope. Our faith is solidly grounded on truth. We are true witnesses of God’s love and His mercy. The preaching of this truth is true and it brings life and hope wherever it is preached. But most importantly, we are forgiven and cleansed from our sins.
The Christian life is not to be the most pitied because it is the only life with hope.
Stay tuned for more on the resurrection...