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Scripture is clear that all those who believe in Jesus the Messiah will be raised to eternal life just as He was. First Corinthians 15 goes on to describe how the Messiah’s resurrection proves His victory over sin and provides us the power to live victoriously over sin. It describes the glorious nature of the resurrection body we will receive. It proclaims that, as a result of the Messiah’s resurrection, all who believe in Him have ultimate victory over death.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NASB) — 17 and if the Messiah has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
  • John 20:9 — 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

For to you I gave over among the foremost things what I too received: that the Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Thereafter he appeared to over five hundred brothers at one time, the majority of whom remain [alive] till now (but some have fallen asleep [that is, died]). Thereafter he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Source – Literal Translation: 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

The introductory “For” makes the tradition an explanation of “the gospel” that Paul mentioned in 15:1–2. “Among the foremost things” puts the tradition among the first and therefore most important things he spoke on arriving in Corinth.

“What I too received” draws a parallel between him and the Corinthians. The parallel is designed to give Paul a sympathetic hearing on the Corinthians’ part.

“That Christ died” sets out a historical event.

“For our sins” interprets its significance. The significance is that the Messiah’s death had the purpose of erasing our sins and their deadly effects. This is the main thing about the main thing.

“In accordance with the Scriptures” refers to the Old Testament as a repository of indications that God had all along planned the Messiah’s atoning death. Paul doesn’t identify any particular passages in the Old Testament referred to by the tradition, so that emphasis falls on the point that the Messiah’s death for our sins wasn’t a last resort, much less a makeshift. The use of “the Messiah” rather than “Jesus” implies that his death and what followed it formed the climax of his mission as the one anointed by God to effect our salvation, for “the Messiah” means “anointed” and therefore chosen for a special task.

“That he was buried” comes as a natural consequence of death but more especially prepares for “he was raised.”

“was raised” indicates an action that was completed in the past but has a continuing result. In other words, Christ still lives in a resurrected state. Coming on the heels of burial, moreover, “was raised” implies that his buried body was raised in renewed life. Indeed, the very word “body” will figure prominently in Paul’s continuing discussion of resurrection.

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“On the third day” tells when the Messiah was raised and implies a counting of Good Friday as the first day and therefore Easter Sunday as the third. Foregoing comments apply also to the second occurrence of “in accordance with the Scriptures.” Paul shows no concern to clarify where, or whether, “on the third day” is included in scriptural foregleams of Christ’s resurrection. So, the emphasis stays on the point of God’s having preplanned the event.

The tradition cites the Messiah’s various post-mortem appearances as evidence that he’d been raised. The appearance to Cephas is listed first because he was the leading apostle among the Twelve, who come next on the list. Though Judas Iscariot had dropped out of the Twelve and therefore can’t have seen the raised Jesus along with his former apostolic colleagues, “the Twelve” had become a stereotyped expression that simply overlooked the exception of Judas. His replacement with Matthias may have helped the overlooking.

The appearance “to over five hundred brothers” strengthens the evidence of Christ’s resurrection with a high number of eyewitnesses.

“At one time” adds further strength by implying their agreement with each other that together on a single occasion they’d seen Christ as raised. To strengthen the evidence yet further, Paul adds to the tradition that most of the five hundred have remained alive. They can still vouch for having seen the raised Messiah at one and the same time and together.

“But some have fallen asleep” makes explicit the implication in “the majority of whom remain [alive] till now,” but also prepares for a discussion of all deceased believers’ resurrection as an awakening out of the sleep of death. As Cephas was listed before the Twelve because of his leading role among them, so James is listed before “all the apostles” because of his leading role among them.

James was Jesus’ half-brother, not James the brother of John and one of the Twelve. Since the twelve apostles have already been mentioned, “all the apostles” includes a larger number than the Twelve and adds even further numerical strength to the evidence of the Messiah’s having been raised.

Paul cites all this traditional evidence to keep his audience “holding tight” so that they’ll continue “being saved” till the end. They haven’t stopped believing in the Messiah’s resurrection. But Paul wants them to keep believing in it, because he’s going argue that if believers in Jesus aren’t going to be raised from the dead, neither was Jesus—a dangerous argumentative maneuver if belief in the Messiah’s resurrection isn’t settled and sure.[1]

[1] Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (p. 680). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.