“If the resurrection is part of such a brief presentation of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, then it also stands, systematically, that it is key to our understanding of who Jesus is and what He did while on earth: our Christology.”
The Apostles’ Creed has long been admired, memorized, and confessed in worship due to its simplicity in form, clear statement of factual belief, and its brief summary of vital, core theological points. Christians in all ages have needed those creedal hooks upon which to hang their hats of understanding. “The third day he rose again from the dead” anchors two hooks that really are of utmost importance for Christians to believe: 1.) THAT Jesus rose from the dead, and 2.) WHEN Jesus rose from the dead. Now, as said, ALL of the Apostles’ Creed is vital. So, I don’t want to overstate this line’s priority, but, it is true, that if Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, then all is in vain–He’s not who he said he was and his death didn’t accomplish what he said it would. Indeed, as Paul said: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain… If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19) But, we believe that Christ IS raised from the dead, and that he did so “the third day,” so we are delighted to believe it, confess it, and live in light of it. We do that by connecting Christ’s rising again on the third day to four areas of our Christian life.
The Core of the Gospel
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lays out the Gospel in very specific terms. Today, many emphasize their EXPERIENCE of the Gospel as if that experience is the Gospel itself. Paul keeps it simple and tied down to historic happenings. What is the gospel?
Now, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you have received, and in which you stand… For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. Then He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain to this present time, though some have passed away. Then He was seen by James and then by all the apostles. Last of all, He was seen by me also, as by one born at the wrong time.” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-8)
This basic statement of the Gospel is wrapped around the fact that Jesus rose again the third day. And witnesses saw it.
The Continuity of the Scriptures
Paul uses the phrase “According to the Scriptures” again and again. Did Paul’s Scriptures, the Old Testament, speak seriously to the resurrection? Jesus thought so. On the Emmaus Road, after Jesus’ resurrection, two of his followers, possibly Cleopas and his wife Mary, were walking in utter dejection. He began “with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) And, along the way, he also spoke of the Scriptures, the Old Testament, needing to be fulfilled regarding his life. The Apostles thought so, too. The ending of Psalm 16:10 is used two separate times to make the point abundantly clear that Christ rose again from the dead. (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35-37)