9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
The break between the previous post and this one is arbitrary, because verse 9 takes up right where verse 8 ended. Paul is not defending himself here; instead he is placing emphasis on the grace of God toward him as manifested through the resurrected Christ.
Anthony Thiselton issues a corrective and a clarification to verse 9 when he disagrees with NIV’s phrase “do not deserve to be called an apostle”because the translation “deserve” suggests that by better moral behavior he could have qualified for the title of apostle. Paul fully understands that by human reckoning he was not qualified to be called an apostle, but Christ made him one as a gift. “Paul [has] theological awareness that he cannot ‘reach up to’ of ‘aspire to’ his calling; he accepts it as a gift of grace.” God’s grace has nothing to do with our worthiness; its whole basis is Christ crucified for our sins and resurrected to give us new life. That is God’s gift to all who will accept it.
Few verses bring more good news to us than 1 Cor. 15:10a — “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” For cultural and historical reasons, the concept of grace is hard for American Christians to fathom. Our tendency is to ask what someone must do to receive grace. But grace is God’s kindness, God’s gift. Think about it: kindness is about the giver, not the recipient. That is what makes it kindness! God gave Christ for our salvation while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:10). The resurrected Christ summoned Paul to faith and apostleship while Paul was on a journey to capture Christians for execution.
Everything about Paul flows from the kindness of God through Jesus Christ. “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10a). Paul’s very identity was rooted in Christ, and so is ours. But equally important is knowing that God’s grace transforms us on a continuing basis: “his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Cor. 15:10a). After Paul accepted God’s grace, he became even more engaged in doing what Christ asked of him than any of his new colleagues.
Pay careful attention to the balance of what Paul says. God did not do these things without Paul, nor did Paul do any of it without “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10b). God could easily do everything without us, but he does not choose to do so.
The tradition that Paul has recounted about the death and resurrection of Christ included all the people Paul named (1 Cor. 15:1–10). (By “tradition” we mean the historical account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that was accepted among those who witnessed the events and was carefully handed down to those who followed them.) All played a role in passing the story down. Paul received the tradition from others and passed it to the Corinthians, who responded to Christ by faith (1 Cor. 15:11).
Having reconstructed the foundational message of Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul next expands their knowledge with further vital knowledge about the resurrection and how it relates to our lives (1 Cor. 15:12–58).
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: 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, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Paul “stresses the continuity of tradition” in 1 Cor. 15:3. The essentials of Christian faith did not begin with Paul and did not end with the Christians in Roman Corinth — or with us! Note with greatest care the matters “of first importance” (verses 3–8):
“that Christ died for our sins” (v. 3)
“that he was buried” (v. 4)
“that he was raised on the third day” (v. 4)
“that he appeared [to many] . . . .” (vs. 5–8)
David Garland explains the first point by saying: “Christ’s atoning death is a central tenet of the faith (Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:32; 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Cor. 5:14–15; Eph. 5:2; Titus 2:14; cf. Gal. 1:4). This death was not a sad misadventure but something God destined for him because of (or ‘with reference to,’ ‘concerning’ . . .) the sins of humankind.” The Romans presented the death of Jesus as that of a rebel, a man guilty of treason — though Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, knew better. The leaders of the Jews saw the death of Jesus as the necessary elimination of a dangerous threat. What Paul gives us is God’s viewpoint on the reason Christ died, the view which will stand. If this were a murder mystery showing on PBS, the final scene would show the reason Christ died to be: us — each of us individually and all of us together. Our sins had doomed us, apart from the death of Christ on our behalf.
The second point, Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15:4a), relates to his death. Garland says, “Death and burial are interconnected in Scripture. This detail verifies the reality and finality of Christ’s death.” An empty tomb can mean many things, but burial quite simply tells us that death has occurred.
The third point will prove crucial in chapter 15, because it describes the resurrection of Christ. In 1 Cor. 15:4b, Paul probably makes a deliberate choice to use the Greek perfect tense to say “he was raised” (NIV). Since the entire chapter is about the implications of Christ’s resurrection, Paul used the perfect tense here “to emphasize the results or present state produced by a past action.” As a result, Gordon Fee concludes that Paul is “implying that he [Jesus] was both raised and still lives.” Oh yes he does!
The tradition Paul is reciting also provides the extra details that Jesus was raised “on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4b).This resurrection on the third day was exactly what Jesus told his disciples would happen (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). One vital lesson for us is that God is totally faithful to his promises. We will see later in chapter 15 that the resurrection of Jesus was the precursor of our own future resurrection as believers in Jesus Christ. God will prove equally faithful to raise us!
Cephas is the Aramaic name for Peter (John 1:42). The tradition Paul is recounting includes appearances by the resurrected Christ to individuals and groups (1 Cor. 15:5–8). Paul notes that many eyewitnesses to the resurrection are still alive — making verification possible — but “some have fallen asleep” (verse 6), the encouraging Christian term for dying. Thiselton says, “Paul did not think of the resurrection ‘as some sort of [indescribable] truth beyond history; rather, it was an event . . . for which historical eyewitness testimony was readily available.’” Even more encouraging, Thiselton adds, “The metaphor of falling asleep . . . to denote the death of Christian believers carried with it the grammar of being awakened at the resurrection.”
The fact that Jesus appeared to “James” (1 Cor. 15:7) is interesting. Fee reminds us that “This James is the Lord’s brother, who, along with his other brothers, ‘did not believe in him’ during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 7:2–9) but who appear with the disciples after the resurrection.” The resurrection of Jesus transformed people in his own time and still does today.
One final phrase requiring explanation is Paul’s reference to himself “as to one abnormally born” (1 Cor. 15:8). Thiselton accepts “the meaning ‘a prematurely born dead fetus’ which figuratively reflects a use found in the [Greek Old Testament] to denote dire human wretchedness.” Paul looks back on his life at the moment Jesus appeared to him and considers his condition. Even though he had been highly educated in the Law of Moses, Paul not only failed to identify Jesus as the Messiah but also actively persecuted those who had committed themselves to Jesus, his assembly of believers that we call “the church” (1 Cor. 15:9). Viewing the gravity of this failure, Paul compares himself metaphorically to a “prematurely born dead fetus,” a figure of dire spiritual wretchedness. But the appearance to Paul by the resurrected Christ brought life-giving grace to the dead. Paul was never the same again.
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
Commentator Anthony Thiselton affirms the idea that 1 Corinthians 15 is the climax of the book because it completes the theme of God’s grace given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Most interpreters see the Christians in Roman Corinth as believing in the resurrection but not fully comprehending its importance to their salvation and spiritual condition. Paul starts with the common ground of their faith in what he had proclaimed to them about Christ and then extensively expands their understanding and ours.
As often, Paul sums up his entire message about Christ crucified and resurrected with the term “the gospel” (1 Cor. 15:1). Paul gave his message about Christ, the Corinthians believed, and the result is that they still stand on that faith (Greek perfect tense, stressing current results). This positive thought continues through the first part of verse 2: “through which also you are being saved” (New Revised Standard Bible).
Like any preacher, Paul does not want to give false assurance of salvation, so he introduces some qualifications in the second half of verse 2. All the benefits he has just named are theirs assuming they were serious about their original commitment to Christ (“if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you”). The second possibility that would negate the benefits is that they had not understood their commitment in the first place. Thiselton says, “Here Paul envisages the possibility of such a superficial or confused appropriation of the gospel” that certain Corinthians might hold only an “incoherent belief” in Christ. This result is not an instance of believing “in vain” (NIV) but rather believing “without careful thought” or “in a haphazard manner.” We have a duty toward those who might be in that trap! Make sure they give their allegiance to Jesus.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
At no point is Corinth closer to our daily experience than it is here! One myth of America is that we have the — God-given — freedom to do as we please. The Corinthian believers held the same idea and were equally wrong. Before some of you take offense at that, see what Paul tells them on behalf of Christ.
First, we will look at the Corinthian Declaration of Independence: “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 6:12a). This phrase has rightly been placed in quotation marks by the NIV, not because the Greek text does so — New Testament manuscripts have no punctuation — but because almost all commentators believe this was a slogan in the Corinthian church. To make sure you understand the phrase as a slogan, the words “you say” have been added by the NIV translators.
Paul begins his critique of the Declaration by saying “not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12b). Anthony Thiselton describes Paul’s approach: “[Paul] transposes debates about ‘liberty’ and ‘what is permissible’ into the different key of ‘what is helpful.’” Gordon Fee takes the next step by saying, “Truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those about me.”
But how do these commentators know that the word “beneficial” applies first to others? They are peeking at the hidden cards by looking ahead to 1 Cor. 10:23–24, where Paul explicitly makes the application to the good of others: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ — but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”
So, the age-old debate between seeking my own good or seeking the good of others has been decisively settled by Jesus Christ, who gave his life on the cross for the salvation of all, even his enemies (Phil. 2:3–8, Rom. 5:10–11). Our identity as those united to Christ, those “in Christ,” demands that our freedom also be limited by primary concern for others.
Another possible misdirection of our freedom in Christ is that it might be hijacked by clever arguments to justify indiscriminate sexual indulgence. The second half of verse 12 — and Paul’s response to it in subsequent verses — seems to suggest that the Corinthian application of the slogan “I have the right to do anything” was primarily to justify their sexual exploits. Paul first makes an implicit warning (“I will not be mastered by anything”) about the well known power of sexual activity to master the one engaging in it. We call this power “seduction.”
In 1 Cor. 6:13a, Paul again seems to be quoting an idea used by the Corinthians to bolster their conclusions: “’Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’” David Garland outlines what the Corinthians were trying to say: “Just as eating food belongs to our fleshly, transitory human condition . . . and has no effect on our soul or eternal destiny, neither do sexual relations.” You can imagine an immature believer arguing that since we are already going to heaven — clearly a spiritual matter — what difference does it make if we bodily indulge ourselves however we like.
But that way of thinking — when applied to the body — is a complete distortion of our freedom in Christ! In the second half of verse 13, Paul is crystal clear that the body of a believer must not be used for sexual immorality because the intended use for our bodies is “for the Lord.” So, we see that Paul has made up his own slogan to counter theirs: “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Paul elsewhere describes our bodies as weapons (Greek hoplon in Rom 6:13) to be placed in the hands of God (Rom. 6:12–13). The phrase “the Lord for the body” probably means that the Holy Spirit indwells us and that we are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16 and 6:19).
The fact that God has current plans for our bodies is shown by the bodily resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 6:14). God will also raise us from the dead, a subject that will be explored in detail in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The Holy Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11) so that we can serve God now, and one day we will rise to live with him forever. God’s promise to resurrect us makes it plain that he cares about our bodies and how they are used both before and after our bodily resurrection. The use of our bodies is a spiritual matter from start to finish!
This post begins a series on Romans 1-5. The subtitle is “The Significance of the Resurrected Son.” I hope you enjoy it!
Partial Outline of the Romans 1–6 (C.E.B. Cranfield)
I. Superscription, address and salutation (1:1-7)
II. Paul and the Roman church (1:8-16a)
III. The theme of the epistle is stated (1:16b-17)
IV. The revelation of the righteousness which is from God by faith alone — “He who is righteous by faith” expounded (1:18-4:25)
1. In the light of the gospel there is no question of men’s being righteous before God otherwise than by faith (1:18-3.20)
a. Man under the judgment of the gospel (1:18-32)
b. Jewish man is no exception (2:1-3:20)
2. The manifestation of the righteousness that is from God in the gospel events (3:21-26)
3. All glorying is excluded (3:27-31)
4. The case of Abraham as confirmation of the statement that glorying has been excluded (4:1-25)
V. The life promised for those who are righteous by faith — “shall live” expounded (5:1-8:39)
1. A life characterized by peace with God (5:1-21)
a. Peace with God (5:1-11)
b. Christ and Adam (5:12-21)
2. A Life characterized by sanctification (6:1-23)
The significance of the resurrected Son
If we look at church steeples or at interior areas near the pastor, we will see the cross, the symbol of Christ’s death. Nowhere will we see any symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. God’s good news for humankind has always been about both the cross and the resurrected Son, yet Christ’s church has been slow to grasp this.
The cure for this imbalance is not to put less emphasis on the cross but to enhance understanding of how important the resurrection really is. The resurrection of Jesus Christ authenticated his sacrificial death for our sins and provided the power to resist sin (Rom. 6). Further, it is as our risen Lord that Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 7:25).
(ESV) Romans 1:1-6Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
This remarkable letter begins with a name that stands among the top ten in human history ? Paul. In calling himself “slave” (1:1, NET), he immediately declares his utter commitment to the one who summoned him ? Christ Jesus. New Testament scholar Douglas Moo says: “’Slave of Christ Jesus’ is patterned after the familiar OT phrase ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ of Yahweh.” That puts Paul in the company Moses, David and the prophets.
In saying he has been “set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1), Paul mentions the likely theme of his letter ? the gospel, a term not accurately understood by many Christians. In evangelical circles, “the gospel” is often seen as a brief set of ideas shared with non-Christians to which they may respond with faith in Jesus as their savior. That understanding of the word gospel is far too narrow to fit Paul’s meaning.
To understand the word gospel as Paul used it, we will first look at its lexical meaning. The Greek euangelion means “good news,” originally news of victory. Both NLT and HCSB use the phrase “good news” in their translation of Romans 1:1. [We get our English word “evangelism” from the Greek euangelion.]
It is obviously important to consider what gospel would have meant to Roman citizens. NT scholar C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For the inhabitants of the Roman Empire it had special associations with the Emperor-cult [worship of the Emperor as a god], since the announcements of such events as the birth of an heir to the Emperor, his coming-of-age, and his accession, were referred to as [euangelia].” Since gospel had these secular associations for Romans, Paul expressed it as the “gospel of God” (1:1) to distinguish it from the Roman civil idea; then he elaborated the broader meaning in the immediately following verses.
Summarizing Paul’s statements about the gospel in Romans 1:2-4, NT scholar Grant Osborne says: “First, he tells us it was promised beforehand in the Old Testament. . . . Second, the heart of the gospel is the Son of God as descended from David. . . . The gospel centers on God’s designation (better than NIV’s declared) of Jesus as his divine Son.” To this we should add some other things — chiefly justification by faith — but to show the breadth of Paul’s concept of gospel we must consider that he even adds judgment when he speaks of the “day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (2:16).
Moo delivers what I consider the correct conclusion about the theme of Romans when he says, “My own outline reflects what I think is the theme of the letter: the gospel.” The ESV Study Bible says, “The theme of Romans is the revelation of God’s judging and saving righteousness in the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The NIV Study Bible agrees: “Paul’s primary theme in Romans is the basic gospel, God’s plan of salvation for all peoples, Jew and Gentile alike.”
Now that we have considered the theme of Romans — the gospel concerning Jesus Christ — we will focus our attention on Romans 1:3. Above all else, what God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures was “concerning his Son.” The remainder of 1:3 focuses on Jesus’ physical descent from David, which was necessary for him to qualify as the promised Messiah (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Isa. 11:1, 11:10). Using his famous contrast between flesh and Spirit, Paul next adds to Jesus’ title of Messiah another title that comes in the spiritual realm; NET says that Jesus was “appointed the
Son-of-God-in-power” (1:4, NET) by virtue of his resurrection from the dead.
This is a very important point: Jesus has eternally been the Son of God, but he took on added authority after his resurrection. Moo summarizes, “What Paul is claiming, then, is that the preexistent Son, who entered into human experience as the promised Messiah, was appointed on the basis of . . . the resurrection to a new and more powerful position in relation to the world.” This explains why Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection to say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat. 28:18). He was announcing his new status!
Osborne notes that “Jesus Christ our Lord” culminates verses 3-4,” and then he adds: “This incredible passage tells us that the Gospel is all about Jesus — Messiah, Son of God and Lord of all creation.”
If you think Paul has merely been exercising his theological skills, get ready for his powerful application. Paul has revealed the supreme power of the resurrected Jesus. Now he reminds his Roman readers that this exalted Lord has appointed Paul his apostle “to bring about the obedience of faith” (1:5) among all nations, including the Christians in Rome! Zap! Roman Christians certainly understood imperial politics, and Paul represents a ruler far above the emperor.
The phrase “obedience of faith” (1:5) is subject to various interpretations. Osborne summarizes the most probable one: “Obedience is the natural result of a faith relationship with Christ, and faith always produces obedience.” NT scholar Ernst Käsemann says, “When the revelation of Christ is accepted [faith], the rebellious world submits again to its Lord [obedience].”
Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Jesus made this audacious statement because he knew that he would rise from the dead and that our faith in him would bring us the same result.
1. Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. How important does Paul say the resurrection is to your faith?
2. Read Psalm 2 about the enthronement of Christ as King. How is the Son-of-God-in-power received by the rulers and nations? What does the final verse mean to you personally?
In the days of the Roman Empire men and women would aspire to be named a “friend of Caesar.” We have the greater privilege of being the friends of Jesus Christ, the Son-of-God-in-power. That is worth celebrating!
 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 40-41.
In the lush, misty hills of Vietnam lies the A Shau Valley. In this picture postcard setting rises a hill with a harsh American name — Hamburger Hill. A name well earned.
In 1969, during the Vietnam War, American paratroopers had assaulted the North Vietnamese who were entrenched atop Hamburger Hill. For nine straight days the battle-hardened enemy beat back the American attack. Finally, on the tenth bloody day, the assault forces drove the enemy off the summit. To win that height, 430 American soldiers had given their lives, and many who stood on that summit thought of friends suddenly ripped from this world.
Within hours after the hard-won victory, orders arrived from headquarters, directing that the hill be abandoned because that specific position had become strategically worthless. Someone had decided that it wasn’t needed. The paratroopers greeted those orders with burning rage; for the first time in American military history the troops almost mutinied.
This tragic story demonstrates that each of us wants to live for something; we don’t want to live or die in vain. Whether knowing it or not, every person searches for meaning and purpose for their life.
It may strike you as a mystery that Paul connects meaning and purpose for our lives with the resurrection of Christ, but that’s exactly what he does in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul tells us that, because of Christ’s victory over sin and death at the cross, you and I can live for him in full knowledge that we do not live in vain. As we put our faith in Jesus Christ and then live for him in a way that is pleasing to God, we are making an eternal investment that we will never regret.
Such meaning and purpose in Christ will prove vital at several crucial points in our earthly lives. Research reveals that at about ages thirty, forty, and fifty, men look back over their years and take stock of their lives. An evaluation that looms even larger comes sometime after age sixty, when virtually every man evaluates his life and judges whether it has been worthwhile or wasted.
If his backward glance reveals drifting purpose and faded value, then his later years may be spent in bitterness and regret. But a life of purpose, meaning, and lasting value can give a sense of closure that allows a person to face the last years with a satisfied feeling inside. How true that should be for believers!
Jesus among the Dead
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. (Luke 23:50–54)
In Joseph of Arimathea we find a godly man, “waiting for the kingdom of God.” Surprisingly, we find that he held membership in the Sanhedrin, the ruling Council comprised chiefly of Sadducees and teachers of the law. The Sanhedrin had orchestrated Jesus’ death, so it is doubly surprising that one of its members approached Pilate to ask for his body. The explanation lies in the fact that Joseph had become a secret disciple of Jesus (Matt. 27:57).
I want to concentrate for a moment on the fact that Jesus was truly dead. That may seem strange, but some have tried to deny the resurrection by claiming that Jesus was not really dead at the time. But to say that, one must deny the statements of the biblical record. The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead; he had caused them no end of trouble.
They spared no pains in accomplishing that goal. They had stood among the crowd around the cross to confirm that their efforts had been crowned with success. You can be sure that no member of the Council went home that day before satisfying himself that Jesus was dead.
Consider the Romans as well. Once Pilate had given the death sentence, Jesus was taken by Roman troops out to the cross to be executed. The Romans had executed thousands of Jews in this manner and knew how to do the job. So the Sanhedrin watched while experts carried out their will.
The Roman centurion declined to break Christ’s legs to hasten his death, after confirming with a spear point that he had already died. When Pilate received Joseph’s request to bury Jesus, he did not grant it until he had personally asked the centurion in charge to confirm that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44–45). Only then did he give the body to Joseph. We can be sure that the body Joseph took down from the cross had no vestige of life in it.
A Short Tour of the Tomb
Try to use your imagination for a moment to picture the tomb in which Jesus was buried. Being a man of wealth, Joseph placed Jesus in his own freshly made tomb cut from rock (Matt. 27:57–60). The tomb probably had a round opening leading to an antechamber about ten feet square. In this area the mourners made final preparation of the body.
The walls around the room usually contained shelves cut from the rock; these shelves were used to hold each of the bodies placed in the tomb. In this way, whole families could be buried together, much as is our own custom.
The door of the tomb consisted of a large round stone, rolling in a stone groove to control access to the doorway. These closure stones weighed many tons and were often accompanied by a smaller stone, rolled up against one side to prevent the large stone from moving in its track.
Joseph probably put Jesus in his own tomb not only out of personal kindness, but also because he was sorely pressed for time. Jesus died about three o’clock in the afternoon, and very little time remained before the sun would set and the Sabbath would begin.
Because no work could be done after sunset, Joseph had to move quickly to obtain Pilate’s permission to take Christ’s body down from the cross and to place it in his tomb. In all probability, Joseph did not finish the preparations of the body that he had hoped to accomplish. That would explain what happened next.
Vigil of Sorrow
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:55–56)
These loyal women had been with Jesus for a long time, and they didn’t leave his body until they had seen exactly where Joseph had put it. Some skeptics have claimed that the tomb was later empty because the women found the wrong tomb. But the women knew exactly where to look.
Besides the women, Joseph was assisted in his hasty preparation by Nicodemus (John 19:39). At least two members of the Sanhedrin had trusted in Christ and were honoring him in his death.
Jesus among the Living
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:1–3)
The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word that means seventh. The seventh day was Saturday. Jesus was crucified on Friday, the sixth day of the week, and the women did not return to the tomb until the first day of the following week, which was Sunday in our terminology. As God-fearing people, they did not work or journey on the Sabbath day, Saturday.
Jesus had said that he would rise on “the third day,” and he stayed in the tomb for parts of three different days. His body was placed in the tomb on Friday, the first day, and was unobserved in the tomb on Saturday, the second day. He departed from the tomb alive on Sunday, the third day.
As the women were walking on their way to the tomb, they expected that the stone would present a big problem (Mark 16:3). They didn’t know it, but God had removed an even bigger problem than that from the scene. On Saturday, the religious leaders had obtained Pilate’s permission to post an armed guard at the tomb. They remembered what Jesus had said about rising on the third day, and they wanted to prevent any theft of the body that might be used to spread such a lie (Matt. 27:62–66).
With Pilate’s permission, they posted a guard and then placed a seal, probably on the boundary surface between the large stone covering the door and the small stone beside it. The seal meant that the tomb was not to be opened without Pilate’s permission.
But God opened Christ’s tomb without his permission! While the women were still approaching the tomb, an angel of the Lord had arrived and thrown the stone aside. He also frightened the guards to the point that they first collapsed in fright and later ran away to report to the chief priests (Matt. 28:2–15).
Those guards would only have run away from mortal danger, because a Roman guard could be executed for abandoning his post. The religious leaders not only paid them to spread an erroneous story, but also promised them that they would keep Pilate from punishing them. Luke tells us only that when the women arrived, they found that the stone had been rolled away and the body of Jesus was gone. He does not mention the guards, because they had already fled.
An empty tomb in itself doesn’t mean a whole lot; that could exist for any number of reasons. The town in which you live probably has some empty tombs. The reason this empty tomb is so important is that God has revealed to us why it was empty. God spoke first through angelic messengers and later through his risen Son, appearing alive before his followers. The empty tomb means little, but the living Savior means everything.
A Forwarding Address
4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:4–8)
After his death, fear and despair overwhelmed most of Christ’s disciples. Only a few, like the women and the two Sanhedrin members, dared to move in public. Most of Christ’s disciples hid themselves, trembling at the possibility that the authorities might arrive and haul them off at any moment. They were looking back at those last few years and thinking that it had all been in vain. They thought they had found the Messiah, but he had been taken away from them, and they were left with regret and fear.
In every description of the disciples, both male and female, we find that they were very slow to process what had really happened. Christ’s death so shattered them that they struggled to begin accepting that he had truly risen from the grave. Using the remainder of Luke’s account, let’s consider for a moment how they gradually changed from despair to confusion, to shock at his appearing, and finally to triumphant joy.
An Amazing Transformation
Two of the first disciples Jesus encountered were making a journey to Emmaus. Jesus supernaturally prevented them from grasping who he was as he probed them on the events of the previous days. Then Jesus rebuked them for being “slow to believe” all that had been told to them beforehand (Luke 24:25). The women had fled straight from the tomb to the men to tell them what had happened, but the men had responded with unbelief and scorn.
Later in the day, after Jesus had appeared to Peter and James as well as others, all the disciples had gathered and were still having a hard time believing what they had seen. That’s when Thomas made his memorable statement that he would not believe that Jesus had risen unless he could see the nail marks in his hands and put his finger there (John 20:25).
A week later Jesus appeared in their midst and called on Thomas to “stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Only then did they all accept what had occurred. Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.
Luke ended his account of Christ’s life by describing how the disciples worshiped Jesus and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy (Luke 24:52). In his sequel (Acts 1–8), Luke described how those who had hidden in fear of death went out with tremendous boldness to witness all over Jerusalem, and elsewhere, too. An incredible reversal took place in their attitudes and behavior because they had been with their risen Lord.
I want to present what I see as the leading reasons that the resurrection of Christ must have happened exactly the way the Scriptures tell it.
First of all, Christ’s opponents could never produce his body to refute the claims of his followers. You can imagine how quickly this popular movement would have dissipated, if they had only brought his dead body before the crowds. You can also be sure that the Sanhedrin that plotted so carefully to put him to death searched far and wide to try to produce his body.
They thought they had solved their problems when they put him to death, but he didn’t stay where they put him. The leaders could not just produce another body, because Jesus had been seen by too many people, and his appearance was quite well-known. Thousand of Jewish worshipers came to Jerusalem from around the Mediterranean world to worship at Passover, and many of them had observed Jesus firsthand.
Second, whenever you see a big effect, you should look back earlier to find a big cause. Only big causes produce big effects. Let me explain. The explosive spread of Christianity within the hostile environment of Judaism and Roman persecution is what I would call a big effect. Christianity first arose in a Jewish setting that found it absolutely abhorrent.
The Romans did not hinder Christianity much in the early days, but they did later when it became apparent that the Christians would not worship the Roman pantheon of deities. That was considered treason in the eyes of many Romans. For most of the Roman world to become Christian within two centuries after Christ’s death constitutes a big effect. Can you really get such a big effect from someone lying dead in a tomb? No, to get such a big effect requires a cause as big as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The resurrection filled Jesus’ disciples with explosive zeal because they knew that even if they lost their lives, they had not lived in vain. They had something to live and die for.
Third, Paul and James, the Lord’s brother, would never have trusted Jesus as their Messiah apart from his appearing to them after the resurrection. Only an encounter with the resurrected Lord could change Paul from a murderous persecutor of Christ’s disciples into an equally zealous proponent of Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 9). The same is true for James (see John 7:5 about the unbelief of Jesus’ brothers).
The apostles and others were willing to die for their faith because they knew that the resurrection was true. Liberal scholars have claimed that the apostles fabricated Christ’s resurrection because the church wanted to believe that it had happened. But such views run into fatal psychological difficulty when we realize that these men had to lay their lives on the line for what they were saying. People simply will not die for a lie.
If the apostles had conspired to fabricate a resurrection lie, they would have produced a more airtight story. They would not have written four Gospels that tend to stress different aspects of the event from different viewpoints. To sell a lie, it would have been far easier to invent one simple story and get everybody to spread the tale.
But the apostles didn’t worry about that. They were telling the truth. They knew their story hung together; they had been there to see it! Further, a fabricated story would never have included women as witnesses, because Jewish society did not accept their testimony about anything. Finally, a fabricated story would have contained no evidence of residual unbelief (Matt. 28:17). But God need not feel insecure just because few people don’t believe. He could afford to tell the truth and not worry about unbelief.
The Domino Effect
Even some believers hesitate to accept the resurrection because it does not fit well in a modern world that feels skepticism toward the supernatural. But the fact of the matter is that the resurrection links up with other things that Christians desperately want to believe. Paul connects the reality of eternal life with the reality of Christ’s physical resurrection (Col. 2:13). If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then there is no such thing as eternal life. That’s a loss few Christians would be willing to accept.
Paul also links the resurrection of Christ to the power God has given us for Christian life (Rom. 8:11). Without the resurrection, sin still reigns over our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12), and we remain dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17).
I have given you only a few examples among many of the importance of the resurrection. These things are theologically connected to the resurrection by the writings of the New Testament. Like dominoes in a row, if the resurrection falls, then other things that Christians value dearly fall as well. Believers cannot reasonably choose to defend only those parts of the Scriptures that they find comfortable. The whole thing stands or falls together. God says it stands!
The Resurrection and You
Use the following applicational ideas to drive home the truth of the resurrection in your own life.
1. The resurrection of Christ proves that God has accepted his sacrifice for our sins. The penalty for our sins has been paid in full.
I agree that my entire guilt before God has been taken away.
2. The resurrection of Christ brings every believer a new power to live for God. The dominating power of sin has been broken. In Romans 6 and 8 we are told that believers share the same kind of power that raised Jesus from the dead. Only by our access to this power can we successfully resist the domination of our sinful nature. Peter tells us that God has “given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Pet. 1:3). Through the presence of his Holy Spirit, God has given us all that we need to live our lives unto him.
I agree that God has granted me power through the Holy Spirit to live for him.
Are you taking advantage of this resource that God has provided, or has your behavior remained unchanged since you trusted Christ?
3. We can respond to Christ’s resurrection with thankfulness that living for God is not a futile gesture. Managing our lives for him will have eternal significance. Perhaps you will find it appropriate to express yourself in prayer thanking God right now.
A Final Word
At the midpoint of the Civil War, a solemn journey brought Abraham Lincoln to the scene of the bloodiest battlefield, Gettysburg. Here, in a hard-fought battle, tens of thousands of Union soldiers were slain in the hills and fields near the town. Lincoln had come to dedicate a national cemetery to honor the Union dead.
He gave the very short speech that we call the Gettysburg Address. He looked back at the awesome loss of life and noted that these men had made the ultimate sacrifice that anyone could make. They had given their own lives for a cause that they believed in. But when they perished, they did not know whether or not they had died in vain.
Lincoln said that only by winning the final victory could the Union make those men’s profound sacrifice worthwhile. He challenged all present with the responsibility to win the war so that their dead companions would not have died for nothing. Two more bloody years of doubt passed before that question was finally answered.
No one who believes in Jesus Christ will ever have to face such doubt. Jesus tells us that the final victory has already been won. He settled that first by dying for our sins and then rising from the dead. As we continue our struggle, our fight in life, we can do so without ever worrying that it will prove a waste.
With Paul, I reach this conclusion: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58).
A classic example of this: Hugh J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot (New York: Bantam, 1971).
Revelation 20:4–6 Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (NET Bible)
A rough sketch of the Millennium
It only takes a glance at the face of a child, crushed by finishing second, to know that our culture is cruel for insisting that first place is all that matters. At times there is more discussion going on about how to determine the best college football team than there is to figure out how to feed those going hungry. That is a measure with our obsession to be first.
Fortunately for us, the one time it is essential to be first — taking part in the first resurrection — is within the reach of anyone. It requires giving your life to Jesus. Finishing second is for those who prefer an eternity of suffering. Will you be among the first to rise?
Revelation 20:4 is an enigma, and other parts of the Bible must come to the interpreter’s rescue. In particular, Jesus has promised that the twelve apostles will judge Israel in the kingdom while sitting on thrones (Luke 22:30). That may partly explain who are “those who had been given authority to judge” (20:4).
Before you get to thinking that you will spend the Millennium at the French Riviera, consider that Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:2a that Christians will also be involved in judging the world. Besides, the Riviera probably falls with Babylon. :)
Consider too that the “camp of the saints” (20:9) should reasonably include all who take part in the first resurrection. Accordingly, Grant Osborne says, “All the saints — those persevering during the OT, NT, church age, and tribulation periods — will be present during this final period of history.”
The rule of all the saints with Christ during the Millennium requires that the faithful dead must be resurrected. Revelation 20:5 calls this the first resurrection. It adds that the rest of the dead — who by elimination must be the unbelieving dead — will not rise until the end of the Millennium. Osborne explains that for unbelievers who die, the next conscious thought will be when they face God’s judgment at the great white throne (20:11–15). Craig Keener points out that the resurrection to damnation is so horrible that it is given the name second death (20:6; 20:14) rather than second resurrection. That is a somber thought indeed.
When discussing the honor and blessing due those who take part in the first resurrection, John explains three advantages (20:6): (1) the second death cannot touch them; (2) they will represent God and Christ to the people as priests; and (3) they will rule with Christ for a thousand years. I plan to ask for Bariloche (Argentina) and Mount Hood (Oregon), so, hands off! [Both feature mountains and lakes, and God made them beautiful.]
Of course, the world will offer you many alleged ways to be first, and the Scriptures support the idea that sin may be pleasurable for a time (Heb. 11:25). The problem with that path is that it ends with the second death rather than the first resurrection. That is not acceptable!
When Jesus was executed as a capital criminal, it appeared that he was anything but first. But Paul explains:
As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.