“He is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”
This old paschal greeting, common in Easter celebrations for over two thousand years, echoes down to us as the profession of countless believers. But before we mindlessly repeat this phrase, let’s stop for a moment to reflect on the resurrection of Christ and answer important questions about what we are affirming when we say this phrase and why it matters. Thankfully, we are not the first to do so; in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul addresses the Corinthian church as he answers the questions raised by the resurrection.
How do we know it happened?
To claim that someone who died came back to life is a strange and unbelievable claim, one that is naturally met with suspicion. Paul, anticipating the doubts of his audience at such a preposterous-sounding claim, justifies it by providing a list of several proofs.
- “…he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:” (1 Cor. 15:4b).
The first proof he gives is that the resurrection was prophesied in Scripture and was to be expected of the Messiah. In this chapter, Paul doesn’t quote a specific passage to show how it is fulfilled; however, turning to another passage shows us one of the scriptures he was referring to. In Acts 2 as Peter is preaching to the crowd at Pentecost he quotes Psalm 16:8-11 explaining how it foretold the Messiah’s resurrection:
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:24-32, emphasis added)
In his sermon, Peter points out how Christ fulfills these prophecies better than David because David’s flesh did “see corruption” while Christ, rising from the dead, did not. Another Scripture says: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8 ESV)
Besides these passages, many others prophesy the coming Messiah’s triumph over all His enemies and evil; thus, it is clear that if anyone could defeat death, it would be the Messiah.
- “and that he appeared to Cephas,” (1 Cor. 15:5a)
Paul’s second proof is that Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter) after His death. We know that Peter was with Jesus from the earliest days of his earthly ministry. He spent much time with Christ, eventually confessing that he believed Christ is the Son of God after witnessing Christ’s ministry and miracles (see Matthew 16:16-19). After Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, Peter personally saw and entered the empty tomb, finding the discarded graveclothes and the face covering lying folded in a corner (see John 20:6-7). After His resurrection, Christ appeared to Peter more than once, but one of those instances is recorded in John 21. While he and some of the other disciples were out fishing they saw Jesus standing on the shore, so Peter jumped out of the boat and swam to shore. On reaching the shore, the disciples saw that Jesus had built a fire and had prepared food for them to eat. Peter not only saw Jesus, but he ate a meal with Him and had a conversation with Him. As one of Christ’s closest friends during His earthly ministry, Peter was convinced that the man he was interacting with was indeed Jesus Christ, his beloved Master, who had been crucified days earlier.
- “…then [he appeared] to the twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:5b)
Not only did Peter see and recognize Christ after His death, but all of the disciples saw Him as well. While they were gathered secretly, hiding in fear of the ones who had just killed their Master, Christ appeared to them (John 20:19-29). They all saw Him, heard Him, and saw the wounds in His hands and side; Thomas understandably doubted that he was seeing the resurrected Christ until he was able to touch the wounds and feel the living body of the man He had just seen die on a cross a few days before. All of Jesus’ closest friends/disciples knew that they had seen the resurrected Christ, to the point where they came out of hiding and boldly proclaimed the truth, willing to die on the veracity of that statement.
- “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:6)
Some argue that the disciples’ claims of having seen Christ were merely lies they had agreed to spread to popularize their new religion. If that was true, they picked a bad tactic, because that is perhaps the most personally costly lie ever told – beginning soon after the resurrection Christians were relentlessly persecuted and killed for what they believed, without receiving any material benefits such as power or wealth through their claims. But Paul points out that the 11 disciples were not the only ones who died saying that they had seen the risen Christ – in fact, over 500 people were convinced they had seen Him and believed that He is the Son of God – a position that cost their lives.
- “After that, he was seen of James;” (1 Cor. 15:7a)
Perhaps the hardest person to convince was James, Jesus’ own half-brother (see Matthew 13:54-58). After living with Christ for nearly all of His earthly life, if there was any reason to disbelieve Christ’s claim to be the Son of God, a claim that every Jew would have known required absolute sinless perfection (see John 5:18, Luke 22:70-71), James would surely have seen it. Indeed, James was skeptical of Christ at first (see John 7:5), but he was eventually convinced that Jesus was the Son of God and that He rose from the dead, going on to become a pillar of the church (Galatians 2:9).
- “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:8-9)
Finally, Paul uses his own testimony as evidence of the resurrection. To go from hating Christians and actively persecuting and killing them because of the seriousness of Christ’s claims (see Acts 7:58, 8:1, 9:1-2), to preaching that same message and facing extreme persecution and eventually death for that message takes very clear and definite proof. For Paul, that proof came on the road to Damascus, when the risen Christ personally spoke to him and rebuked him for his actions in persecuting the believers, and by extension, Christ (see Acts 9:3-9). After his conversion, he went on to proclaim the same message to the astonishment of all who knew his former hatred for Christ, even in the face of attempts to kill him (see Acts 9:20-31).
Why does it matter?
After giving a defense for the resurrection by pointing to the eyewitness testimony of hundreds of individuals who gained little and lost much for believing that Christ is the resurrected Son of God, Paul goes on to explain why the resurrection matters to believers.
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)
As Paul points out, our salvation and victory over sin and death are dependent on Christ’s resurrection because we are powerless to deliver ourselves. Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul makes the same argument – because our salvation comes solely through Christ, whether or not we are saved is dependent on Christ’s power to defeat our former masters: sin and death.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Not only is our salvation dependent on Him but our hope of resurrection and eternal life is based on Christ being the “firstfruits of the dead”. All the glorious promises contained in Scripture about eternal life and our hope of eternity with Christ are contingent on this same event. Thankfully, God gives us evidence of the truth of those promises through the resurrection of Christ.
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
In gratitude and worshipful awe of the Savior who gave Himself for our sins and triumphed over them so that we may have life, let us proclaim:
He is risen indeed!
Written by NBB Alumna: Janese Hurst