1 Corinthians 15:1-12
Moreover, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;
I. ITS PLACE IN THE CHRISTIAN CREED.
1. What did Paul mean by the resurrection of Christ?
(1) He meant His rising from the grave with a body glorified or made fit for the heavenly life He had entered. Flesh and blood cannot enter upon that life, but must pass through a process which entirely alters its material.
(2) But yet he always speaks as if there were some connection between the natural and the spiritual body, and regards the body of Christ as that into the likeness of which the bodies of His people are to be transformed. Now we can only suppose that the body which was laid in the sepulchre was transformed into a spiritual body by a process which differed from that which is to operate in ourselves only by its rapidity. We do not understand the process, but all along the line which marks off this world from the spiritual world mystery broods. There are in nature many forces of which we know nothing, and it may one day appear to us most natural that the spirit should clothe itself with a spiritual body. As the life that is in the body now assimilates material and forms the body to its particular mould, so may the spirit hereafter. Paul refuses to recognise any insuperable difficulty here.
2. What was the position occupied by the Corinthians?
(1) In that day the resurrection was denied by materialists, such as the Sadducees, who believed that mental and spiritual life are only manifestations of physical life and dependent upon it. But many who opposed materialism held that the resurrection of the body if not impossible was at all events undesirable. To be free from all connection with matter was an essential element in their idea of salvation.
(2) In our own day the resurrection of Christ is denied from both points of view. It is said that Christ lay in His grave, and the elements of His body have passed into the bosom of nature, as ours will before long; but His spirit lives, perhaps in us. On the other hand, it is said that although the body of Christ remained in the tomb, His spirit survived death, and lives a disembodied but conscious and powerful life. But what the apostles saw was a veritable body that could stand handling and whose lips and throat could utter sound. Besides, if we accept either view we are at once confronted with the difficulty that Christ's glorification is not yet complete. If Christ now sits at God's right hand in perfect human nature, it is not as a disembodied spirit, but as a complete person in a glorified body. And it must also be remembered that the primitive faith and restored confidence in Christ to which the very existence of the Church is due, were created by the sight of the empty tomb and the glorified body.
3. Consider the place which our Lord's risen body had in Paul's conversion. The idea of a crucified Messiah had been abhorrent to him, but from the moment when he saw the risen Lord he understood, with the rest of the disciples, that death was the Messiah's appointed path to supreme spiritual headship. So from the first Paul put the resurrection of Christ forward as an essential and fundamental part of the gospel he had received. "If," says Dr. Fairbairn, "it be true that no living Christ ever issued from the tomb of Joseph, then that tomb becomes the grave, not of a man, but of a religion, with all the hopes built on it and all the splendid enthusiasms it has inspired." It is not difficult to perceive what it was in the resurrection of Christ which gave it this importance.
(1) It was the convincing proof that Christ's words were true, and that He was what He had claimed to be. "Destroy this temple," He said, "and in three days I will raise it again." As Jonah had been lost for three days and nights, but had thereby only been forwarded in his mission, so with our Lord. In order that His claim to be the Messiah may be understood, it was necessary that He should die; but in order that it might be believed it was needful that He should rise. The apostles evidently accepted the resurrection as God's great attestation to the person and work of Christ. It changed their own thoughts about Him, and they expected it would change the thoughts of other men. They could now confidently say, "He died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification."(2) There is disclosed by it a real and close connection between this world and the next. There is no need now of argument to prove a life beyond; here is one who is in it. It is "by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that we are begotten again unto a lively hope."(3) In it we see at once the norm or type of our life here and of our destiny hereafter. Holiness and immortality are two inseparable aspects of the Divine life we receive from Christ. His Spirit is the source of both (Romans 8.). The hope that uplifts and purities every part of the Christian's character becomes a living hope, full of immortality, in all who are now actually drawing their life from Christ. Therefore does Paul so continually hold up to us the risen life of Christ as that to which we are to be conformed.
II. ITS PROOF. As a preliminary to the positive evidence here adduced, it may be remarked that we have no record of any contemporary denial of the fact, save only the story put in the mouths of the soldiers by the chief priests. The authorities resolved there should be no tampering with the grave, and accordingly had set their official seal upon it and placed a guard to watch. Their action after the resurrection proves that the tomb was empty, while their previous action proves that it was emptied by the actual rising of Jesus. So when Peter affirmed it before the Sanhedrin no one was hardy enough to contradict him; or why did they not prosecute the disciples for breaking the official seal? What hindered them from bringing proof that there had been no resurrection? If the body was still in the grave nothing was easier than to produce it; if the grave was empty, as they affirmed, because the disciples had stolen the body, no more welcome handle against them could have been furnished to the authorities. But they could not in open court pretend any such thing. It is admitted on all hands that the disciples had a bona fide belief that Jesus had risen; how was that belief produced? To this there are three answers.
1. That the disciples saw our Lord alive after the crucifixion, but He had never been dead. This answer is plainly inadequate. —
(1) As not in harmony with the facts. His death was certified by the surest authority. Though the soldiers see that Jesus is dead, they make sure by a spear-thrust, and Pilate would not give up the body until he had received the necessary certificate that the sentence of death had been executed.
(2) As an explanation. The Person the disciples saw was not a crushed, defeated man, who had death still to look forward to, but one who had passed through and conquered death, and was now alive for evermore.
2. That the disciples only thought they saw Christ, e.g. —
(1) Some clever and scheming person may have personated Jesus. Such personations have been made, but never with such results. Imposture, in fact, does not fit the case before us at all; and the more we consider the combination of qualities required in any one who should personate the risen Lord, the more we shall be persuaded that the right explanation of the belief in the resurrection is not to be sought in this direction.
(2) The disciples simply believed that such a soul could not become extinct. Quite so, they of course believed that His spirit was in paradise, and for that very reason fully expected to find His body in the tomb: which they did not.
(3) Renan's account of the growth of this belief is that "the world, accustomed to attribute to its great men superhuman virtues, cannot admit that they have submitted to the death common to all. When Mahomet expired Omar rushed from the tent, sword in hand, and declared that he would hew down any one who should dare to say that the prophet was no more. Heroes do not die. So Jesus had lived so entirely in those who surrounded Him that they could but affirm that after His death He was still living." M. Renan forgets, however, that Omar was followed by Abu Bekr, who said, "Whoso hath worshipped Mahomet, let him know that Mahomet is dead, but whoso hath worshipped God that the Lord liveth and doth not die." Then, again, none of the apostles said that their Master was not dead. Besides, all these hypotheses omit altogether to explain how the disciples disposed of the tomb of our Lord, in which, according to this hypothesis, His body was still quietly reposing. Is there, then, no possibility of the disciples having been deceived? Had the belief in the resurrection depended on the report of one or a few who were anxiously looking for the resurrection of Jesus, then these might have persuaded themselves they saw Him. But what we have here to explain is how several persons, at different times, in various moods, came to believe they had seen the risen Lord. He was recognised not by persons who expected to see Him alive, but by women who went to anoint Him dead; not by credulous, excitable persons, but by men who would not believe till they had gone to and into the sepulchre. The resurrection formed no part of the Jewish creed regarding the Messiah; and the idea that the disciples were expecting it is contradicted by the narrative. There was not one person to whom our Lord appeared who was not taken wholly by surprise.
3. There remains, therefore, only the explanation that the disciples did see Christ alive after He had been dead and buried. The men who said they had seen Him were men of probity, whose lives and conduct are only to be explained by their having been brought in contact with the spiritual world in this surprising and solemnising manner. The testimony of Paul is conclusive. It is simply inconceivable that he should have abandoned all his prospects and entered on a wholly different life without carefully investigating the chief fact which influenced him in making this change. No saner or more commanding intellect ever headed a complex and difficult movement. There is no one of that generation whose testimony to the resurrection is more worth having, and we have it in the most emphatic form of a life based upon it. In fine, no one who takes a serious interest in all this evidence can deny that it would be quite sufficient to authenticate any ordinary historical event. The majority of the historical events are accepted on much slenderer evidence, and the evidence for this can be refused only on the ground that no evidence, however strong, could prove such a miracle. But those who reject it are compelled to accept a miracle equally astounding, viz., that those who had the best means of ascertaining the truth and every possible inducement to ascertain it, should all have been deceived, and that this deception should have been the most fruitful source of good, not only to them, but to the whole world.
(M. Dods, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;