‘I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you’ (1 Corinthians 15:1 NIV)
What was the gospel Paul preached, upon which the Corinthian Christians took their stand
(1 Corinthians 15:1), are saved
(1 Corinthians 15:2), and if it is not held to firmly then they had believed in vain
(1 Corinthians 15:2)?
In the opening verses of this chapter Paul presents the thrust of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection which he says is of first importance
(1 Corinthians 15:3).
Paul believed that Jesus’ death and resurrection was according to the Scriptures
(1 Corinthians 15:3), a teaching passed down from Jesus himself
(Luke 24:44-46). The early Christian community saw that passages like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 16:8-11 were fulfilled in Jesus.
This Jesus was dead
(1 Corinthians 15:3). Eyewitnesses spoke of a spear going into his side and blood and water flowing out
(John 19:28–37) providing evidence of massive clotting of the blood in the main arteries, and is exceptionally strong medical proof of death.
Jesus was buried
(1 Corinthians 15:4) which makes no sense if he wasn’t really dead and just swooned on the cross only to be revived later.
‘raised on the third day’ (1 Corinthians 15:4). The united testimony of the four gospel writers show that the tomb in which Jesus was laid was empty
(Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20).
Then Paul proceeds to give us eyewitness testimony from a stream of witnesses (vv.5-8) which was an important way to substantiate any supposed historical happening. Substantial eyewitness testimony is amassed so that only the prejudiced would refuse to credit it.
But what are these witnesses claiming? Interestingly they are not saying they saw Jesus rise from the dead; nobody in the New Testament claims that. This is a mark of the authenticity of the gospel accounts. Surely anyone making up the story of Jesus’ resurrection could hardly have resisted claiming to have been present at the actual resurrection. But this is not the earliest Christian witness.
They make a more sober but at the same time a more far-reaching claim; they bear witness to the fact that Jesus not only died and rose, but is alive. This comes out clearly from a glance at the tenses Paul uses. That Jesus ‘died’, ‘was buried’ and ‘appeared’ are all recorded in the ‘aorist’ tense, the normal tense for a past action. But the verb translated ‘He was raised’ is in the perfect tense, which is used when a past event has effects that remain until the present. In this single phrase Paul is showing that not only did Jesus rise on the third day at a certain point in past history, but he is still alive. It was a matter of history, and a matter of experience.
This was the earliest Christian assertion about the resurrection and this is the gospel that is of first importance which the church today must proclaim.
Father, may the good news about Jesus be preached faithfully to all people at all times in all places.
Have a good week preaching the gospel.