From the start of this blog I have focused on beginning passages in the Bible to make key points. We’ve looked at Genesis 1, the first five verses of each of the gospel accounts, and the first chapter of Mark. Now that a significant amount of time has been spent in those texts, I would like to move on from those initial chapters to a core idea instead. That being, the Gospel itself.
Since this is my first post that is explicitly focused on the Good News of Christ, I want to examine a pivotal passage that conveys many of its claims. Specifically, the ones that were taught shortly after Jesus rose from the dead. It is said by many that there are statements in 1 Corinthians 15 that originated from within just a few years after Jesus’ resurrection . They was received by the apostle Paul and shared with the saints in the city of Corinth. Although the actual text is longer than what is quoted below, nearly all of the main ideas I want to discuss are found in just these three verses. The passage reads as follows,
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
There are four main absolutes that the apostle shares in the text above. Almost all of them begin with the phrase, “that he.” They are,
- 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
- That He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve
For Christians, all of these are of great importance, and at least the first three must be affirmed in order to be faithful. One remarkable aspect of them is that nearly all were prophesied hundreds of years before they took place. We’ll examine each of these truths, and see how the prophecies about them match up with what happened centuries later. I think it will be a great study, and I hope you are encouraged by it!
That Christ Died for Our Sins According to the Scriptures
The first major truth of the Gospel is the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. When Paul says that Christ died, he was speaking of Him as the Messiah (John 1:41). He affirmed that we have sinned, and that Jesus died to pay the price for those transgressions.
This death doesn’t make sense to many, especially since Jesus appeared to be a righteous man. Even non-Christians may admit that He seemed to be one of the most righteous men who ever lived. Another stunning fact about Him is that He didn’t die for His own sins. He died for sins that were not His own. In so doing, He demonstrated a love for those who did not deserve it. Us included.
This great death was foretold by the prophet Isaiah,
“But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5)
As the first half of the verse teaches, there would be one who would be pierced and crushed. Remarkably, it is not the only place where such graphic details are found. One of the psalms is even more explicit. It reads, “For dogs have surrounded me. A company of evildoers have enclosed me. They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psa. 22:16).
By reading the New Testament, we learn that the person prophesied about in these verses was Jesus Christ. All four gospel accounts describe His excruciating death. Even though His agony was incredible, He was still willing to be the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Such a sacrifice is magnificent, but there is an additional statement from 1 Corinthians 15:3 that needs to be highlighted. Part of the Good News of Christ is that He died for our sins. Another fact that Paul brings out is that it had to be done according to the Scriptures.
In the quote from Isaiah it was said that He was pierced for our transgressions. Psalm 22 told us that His hands and feet would be pierced. These repeated references to being pierced are of critical importance. Jesus could only be the promised Messiah if He died in a manner that fulfilled what was said in those passages.
As Jesus was sacrificed, His hands and feet were pierced through, thus fulfilling parts of both Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. The same Psalm contains many other details about His death. It also describes how His strength would be dried up like a potsherd and that His tongue would stick to the roof of His mouth (Psa. 22:15). Such phrases sound like someone being thirsty. John’s account indicates that this happened to Jesus. In the Gospel of John the Lord is recorded as saying, “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28).
Back in the Psalm, we find the words, “They divide my garments among them. They cast lots for my clothing” (Psa. 22:18). This is described as happening in multiple gospel accounts. Mark tells us, “Crucifying him, they parted his garments among them, casting lots on them, what each should take” (Mark 15:24).
The man of Psalm 22 was also spoken of as being ridiculed and mocked. In the prophecy it reads, “All those who see me mock me. They insult me with their lips. They shake their heads, saying, 8 ‘He trusts in Yahweh. Let him deliver him. Let him rescue him, since he delights in him’ ” (Psa. 22:7-8). In the Gospel of Matthew we find the same sort of things being said,
“Likewise the chief priests also mocking with the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders, said, 42 ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself. If he is the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now, if he wants him; for he said, “I am the Son of God.” ‘ 44 The robbers also who were crucified with him cast on him the same reproach” (Matt. 27:41-44).
Although I think the connection between the prophecies in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ death, have now been clearly demonstrated, I would be remiss if I omitted a particular phrase from our discussion. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quotes from the first half of the first verse of Psalm 22. The psalmist, and Jesus, both say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psa. 22:1; Matt. 27:46).
That He Was Buried
The second statement that the apostle Paul says is that “He was buried.” Of the four, this is the most straightforward. It may not seem like it should matter. I mean, if one is dead, isn’t it obvious that he or she would be buried?
Yeah, that is true, but surprisingly the explicit mention of Jesus’ burial is also important. The Scriptures not only speak of the Lord’s death, but also His burial. Returning to Isaiah 53, it says, “They made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:9).
As the gospel accounts tell us, Jesus was crucified between two robbers (Mark 15:27). He was treated like a common criminal, and died on the same day as those next to Him. The two thieves had broken various laws, and were punished for their deeds. In death, they would have been treated like others who committed the same sins. The difference with Jesus was that a number of people did not consider Him worthy of death. Charges of blasphemy and breaking the Sabbath were made against Him, but some still viewed Him as the Son of God. One such individual was Joseph of Arimathea.
After Jesus’ sacrifice, this man went to Pilate and asked for His body (Mark 15:43). Joseph’s request was granted. Bringing fine linen, he wrapped Jesus in it and laid Him in a tomb which had been cut out of a rock (Mark 15:46). The tomb was originally for himself, new, and in a garden (Matt. 27:59-60; John 19:41). It, and the linen garment, would have been very expensive. After His dead, Jesus wasn’t treated like a common criminal. He was buried with the rich, just as foretold in the Scriptures.
That He Was Raised on the Third Day According to the Scriptures
Excluding their prophetic details, Jesus’ death and burial were what we might expect for a natural man. We now come to something that is outside the normal world. In 1 Corinthians 15:4 the apostle Paul recalls the resurrection of Christ. Like the other events, they are according to the Scriptures.
In the last two verses of Psalm 16 we are told, “For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption. 11 You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forever more” (Psa. 16:10-11).
On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter uses Psalm 16:10 as a prophecy of Jesus rising from the dead (Acts 2:29-31). It is noteworthy that verse 11 also alludes to another aspect of Jesus’ resurrection. In the psalm, King David says, “In your right hand there are pleasures forever more.” This is extremely similar to what we are told elsewhere. Later in Peter’s life he writes a letter to the saints who are dispersed to various places. At the end of one chapter he describes the suffering of Christ, and how baptism is an antitype, or counterpart, which now saves us. Right after speaking of that, he refers to the resurrection of Jesus and teaches that He is at the right hand of the Father:
“This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to him” (1 Pet. 3:21-22, emphasis added).
This should give us great encouragement. Not only was Jesus raised from the dead, but He was also given the favored place with the Father. Both of which were foretold in Psalm 16.
That He Appeared to Cephas, Then to the Twelve
Of the four main truths taught in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, this is the only one that may not be explicitly foretold. At least not according to what is said in the apostle’s writing. Even if that isn’t the case, the fact that the Lord appeared to the twelve should strengthen our faith.
One powerful aspect of the Gospel of Christ is that, for some, it was not exactly based on belief. What I mean by that is that when the first sermon was preached at Pentecost, the apostles did not simply believe that Jesus rose from the dead. They knew He did.
Between the four gospels, there are multiple accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples. They saw Him with their own eyes. This wasn’t just once or twice. He appeared to them repeatedly over the course of forty days (Acts 1:3). As 1 Corinthians 15:5 explains, all the apostles saw the risen Lord with their own eyes. They looked right at Him. When they proclaimed Jesus for the first time, they said what they knew about the resurrection, not what they believed.
Of course, for us today that is different. In order to be a Christian you have believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Not because we know from our own experience, but rather because of the testimony of the Word of God and the apostles who knew who they saw after the resurrection.
Although we don’t have a specific prophecy for the apostles seeing Jesus, we do have one that seems to point to it. Back at Isaiah 53:9 the suffering servant’s grave was described. The verses that follow also speak of His death. Some examples include,
- When you make his soul an offering for sin (vs. 10)
- Because he poured out his soul to death (vs. 12)
What’s incredible is the text’s additional comment about this servant. In verse 10 we read, “…he will see his offspring. He will prolong his days…” (Isa. 53:10). This doesn’t make any sense if one dies and stays buried in a tomb. On the other hand, if we affirm that Jesus saw His disciples after His resurrection, then it is quite reasonable.
Each of the gospel accounts testify of the apostles seeing the risen Lord. Likewise, He sees them and teaches them further before ascending to heaven. By recognizing that Jesus saw His disciples after He was raised from the dead, we also know that His apostles saw Him too, just as was described in 1 Corinthians 15.
Prophecies and Truths
Through all this, we have been able to examine all the main truths found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Having done so, I hope you have a greater excitement for the relationship of this text with those that were written so long ago it. I know that while I was preparing this study, I was impressed by the necessity of Jesus to die in a specific manner in order to fulfill some of the prophecies. In addition to that, there are a few other things that strike me about this passage:
- The claims were focused on one person, Jesus Christ
- They were taught from within just a few years of His death
- These truths were prophesied hundreds of years before their fulfillment
- The apostles saw the Lord after He rose from the dead
What excites me about the above is that the testimonies of the apostles were so strong, and the prophecies so detailed, that it is logical that the truths in our text would be recorded so early. As I mentioned before, the statements in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 originated from within a few years of Jesus’ resurrection. They were not old enough to be legendary developments, and if anyone tried to lie about the resurrection, Paul and the other apostles could teach against the error. Even if they couldn’t respond to every false teaching, the writings of the prophets give us strong evidence for these core truths of the Gospel of Christ.
Images UsedThree Crosses With Light Shining Behind Them by geralt from Pixabay.
Good Friday Crucifixion Stained Glass Window by Didgeman from Pixabay.
The Burial of Christ by Gustave Dore from Creationism.org.
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Gustave Dore from Creationism.org.
Death Burial Resurrection Rocks by congerdesign from Pixabay.
1 – Does the “1 Corinthians 15 creed” date to about AD 30? from beliefmap.org and located at https://beliefmap.org/bible/1-corinthians/15-creed/date.