Resurrection Evidence from the Church and Scripture
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 encourages us to hold fast to the word that we've received.
The Resurrection is the central belief for a Christian. It’s not the only truth you must believe, but you can’t be a Christian without believing in the Resurrection. This is not only one of the main points in 1 Corinthians 15, but also of Romans 10:9, which says you’ll be saved “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.”
Now, as important as the resurrection of Jesus is, it’s not the only point Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 15. See, the problem with the Corinthians wasn’t that they necessarily denied the resurrection of Christ. You can’t even be a Christian if you don’t believe that. Their problem was primarily that they denied the resurrection of the dead.
Denying the Resurrection of the Dead
In 1 Corinthians 15:12 Paul says “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
See, they weren’t necessarily denying Christ’s resurrection; they were denying the resurrection of the dead, the fact that everyone else is going to be resurrected too.
So Paul’s main purpose, understood in the context of verse 12, isn’t to prove to the unbeliever that Christ’s resurrection is true — that’s assumed. His purpose is to convince the believer that there really will also be a literal, physical, bodily resurrection of the dead.
Now, why would some believers deny the bodily resurrection of the dead? Well, because that’s what the culture around them taught and that’s what many of them believed before they became Christians.
For example, Acts 17:18 gives us this insight about the culture:
And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with [Paul]. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
It was the professional opinion of the Greeks that Paul’s preaching about a literal, physical resurrection was just a bunch of crazy talk. That’s because the Greeks believed matter is evil and only spirit is good. In their view of the afterlife only the spirit survived, and heaven for them was an escape from the “evil”, physical body.
So, the big problem Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15 is the fact that some didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. And he goes about addressing the problem by establishing in the first 11 verses what he knows all Christians believe, what they must believe: in the resurrection of Jesus. Then in verse 12 and following he aims to logically convince us of the truth of our own resurrection.
So, while establishing the foundation in the first 11 verses Paul makes 3 points, and gives 3 evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. This week we will talk about the Church and the OT Scriptures as mentioned in verses 1-4. Next week we will discuss the eyewitnesses in verses 5-11.
The Evidence of the Church
One of the greatest evidences for the Resurrection is the existence of the Church itself, because here we are, 2000 years later, still believing and trusting. That’s amazing, because if there was no resurrection, the Church would have died off in a matter of months. If there was no resurrection then those early Christians would have known it and Christianity would have never gotten off the ground.
All it would have amounted to was some small wacky cultist group the likes of those who believe Elvis is still alive roaming around Memphis. But, instead, the Church continues to celebrate the Resurrection, every Sunday, in churches around the world. This alone is one of the greatest subjective evidences that the resurrection of Jesus really happened.
So, first is the evidence of the church as 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 implies:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
He says, “I make known to you” not because he’s giving them new information but because he’s reminding them of what they already know. And what they already know is the gospel that “[he] preached to you” and that they had received. Most importantly, it’s what they were standing firm upon.
But which gospel? What’s the content? 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 tells us:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
The gospel doesn’t get any more basic than Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then was raised on the third day according to the scriptures. This is the gospel of the substitutional death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. That’s what Paul delivered and that’s what they received and it’s what Christians continue to stand upon even to this very day.
That’s an amazing testimony of the proof of the resurrection of Christ.
The Importance of “if”
Now, before we press on, let’s go back to verse 2 for a few minutes because there’s something to look at that’s very important.
He says, the gospel he preached is the gospel “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
It’s important to notice that “if” is a conditional word. If you do this, then this other thing will happen. But if you don’t, then it won’t.
Do you see what he’s saying? He’s acknowledging that they’ve received the gospel and are standing firm, but they are only saved if they continue to hold fast.
OK, that’s pretty clear, but what about eternal security and all that? Well, I absolutely believe that when God chooses to save someone he will save that person (see Romans 8:39; John 10:28, etc.). No question.
But there is always more than one perspective for looking at issues like these, one is God’s perspective and the other is from our point of view. So from our point of view, even thought God will preserve us, we must continue to hold fast because there’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t persevere.
So, putting these two truths together, a person who “stops” believing is one who never really believed in the first place. They believed in vain, as Paul says.
A genuine Christian may fall away for a time, but they will always return, because God will see to it. If not, he or she was probably never a genuine believer in the first place.
1 John 2:19 describes them like this:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
OK, we spent some time on that because it’s important for us to hear. And if you’re thinking this might apply to you then do as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” And if not, then repent and be reassured that you are.
Now, let’s get back to the evidence of the Resurrection, specifically the evidence of Scripture.
The Evidence of Scripture
1 Corinthians 15:3 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
Everything that Christians believe about the Resurrection happened according to the Scriptures. Christians didn’t invent the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, it happened according to God’s plan. Paul didn’t make it up. He “delivered” what he “received” from Christ. There was no middle man (see Galatians 1:11).
And the things Paul received were of “first importance,” namely that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and raised…according to the Scriptures.
We see an example of this in Luke 24:27 when, after the Resurrection, Jesus was walking along the road to Emmaus with two disciples who were distraught about his death. They didn’t recognize him at first which gave Jesus the opportunity to explain “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”
And what Jesus explained to them included verses about his death but also about his resurrection. He would have explained Psalm 16:10 to them...
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.
And he would have explained Psalm 22, which is mostly about the death of Jesus, but at the end progresses to describe life after death which is only possible if the Resurrection is true.
Psalm 22:24 says,
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
It only makes sense for God to have “heard” if there is a resurrection otherwise Jesus is still dead, and so are we.
Psalm 22 goes on to describe the one who died as living again and praising God in the great assembly and having a heart that lives forever which, again, is only possible if Jesus was resurrected.
Isaiah 53 is also primarily about the death of Jesus and in verse 10 we read these familiar words: “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering…” But then the passage continues “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand!”
See, it’s only possible for the person God crushed, which is Jesus, to see his offspring if there is a resurrection.
So, the Old Testament is evidence for the Resurrection, which isn’t a new teaching; it was God’s plan all along, fulfilled in Christ. And we, the living Church, continue to testify to the truth of the Resurrection. Next week we will talk about all of the eyewitnesses.
Until then, may God find us faithfully standing firm and trusting in the resurrection of Christ.