1 Corinthians 15:1–28 (NKJV)
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.1 Corinthians 15:1-11
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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 toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
This chapter moves quickly from the discussion of the spiritual gifts in chapter 14. Although it flows from the general teaching tone of the entire book, Paul here addresses the issue of resurrection directly. There has been a movement within the Corinthian church to doubt or even deny the resurrection. For some, the idea of a corporeal or bodily resurrection was illogical. Paul set out to remind them of the miraculous and complete resurrection promised by God. He begins this chapter with a rehearsal of the teaching already given concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He describes Jesus’ resurrection, and the witnesses of His life on earth after His death and resurrection. This was no fable, legend, or myth. It was a highly-attested event, known by many. Paul then even includes himself in the list of witnesses, born out of time, but nevertheless a witness of the life of Christ after His resurrection (the Road to Damascus event). He thanks God for His grace in allowing Paul this privilege and the ministry to which he was called.
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.1 Corinthians 15:12-19
Paul here moves into the debate over the resurrection of Christ and–by extension–the resurrection of believers who believe in Christ. If they preached Christ resurrected, how is there no resurrection? If there is no resurrection, the Christ is not raised. If He has not risen, then the preaching of the church was useless and empty. As a matter of fact, the church’s message was false, and they were false prophets. If Christ is not risen, then their faith was futile and all the sins were still listed on their account. All who had died were finished, and the hope of eternity was moot. Without the resurrection, there was no hope, and men were in a pitiful state.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.i Corinthians 15:20-28
Paul then reverses field and reminds them, “Christ is risen from the dead…!” Because Christ has risen, He is the firstfruits of all who have died, and His resurrection has made all the dead hopeful for the life to come. Christ first, and those who will rise at His coming afterwards is the order of resurrection. Christ started the resurrection process that will culminate in the great resurrection. Then He will reign over all the earth and all things, including death, will be under His feet. Then God will reign over all the earth again. He is God Almighty and the Great Potentate even now, but He will be reigning over the restored and redeemed world then. That is the hope of resurrection, when all things will be redeemed, and the righteous through Christ will be resurrected in His presence. This is why Christianity delivers hope. This is why Jesus is different from all others who would claim to be the Savior. Jesus has the power to save, resurrecting power, power to bring that which is dead back to life, and life eternal!