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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Greetings one and all and welcome to HBS.
Our Apostle Paul was called by the glorified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and then sent to preach God’s Gospel of Grace to Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel (Acts 9). Paul considered himself the “the least of the apostles” but in truth he planted more churches than any missionary, by my count he started approximately 20 churches himself, with many more born out of these by his apprentice leaders. As impressive as this is, what’s more striking is the movement that sprung up at the end of his life. Eventually, the entire Roman Empire would give way to Christianity under the reign of Constantine; he exchanged the Roman Eagle for the Cross on October 29, 312 AD.
The history of mankind was changed in dramatic fashion because of Paul’s obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it may seem strange to have to ask the question, “What is the gospel that saves,” but according to the Barna Group a striking number of Christians that were surveyed couldn’t answer this vital question, while many others merely considered the Lord Jesus Christ a “nice guy.”
The historicity of Jesus may not be in question for most Americans, but people are much less confident in the divinity of Jesus. Most adults—not quite six in 10—believe Jesus was God (56%), while about one-quarter say he was only a religious or spiritual leader like Mohammed or the Buddha (26%). The remaining one in six say they aren’t sure whether Jesus was divine (18%).
Millennials are the only generation among whom fewer than half believe Jesus was God (48%). About one-third of young adults (35%) say instead that Jesus was merely a religious or spiritual leader, while 17 percent aren’t sure what he was.
In each older generation, the belief in Jesus as divine is more common—55 percent of Gen-Xers, 58 percent of Boomers and nearly two-thirds of Elders (62%) believe Jesus was God.
Barna Group Research - Articles in Faith & Christianity, April 1, 2015
One Christian gentleman had this to say, when asked what he thought the gospel was,
“Why, it’s the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Golden Rule. If a person obeys these teachings, they’ll be fine...” I suppose a person would be, if they could do that; but here’s the thing, who can? The Sermon on the Mount demands a righteousness no person on earth can produce. The Law is not the gospel; in fact it was given by God to show mankind their need of the Gospel, i.e. a Savior. The Law, said our Apostle Paul, speaking as a Jewish convert “was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ Jesus. But after that faith is come we are no longer under the schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24-26).
I pray you studied last week’s Bible lesson and are now aware that the gospel that saves is not just any message spoken by God or by man on how we should behave. The gospel is not a call to repentance, or to improve our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise God we’ll do better in the future. These things are right and proper in their place, but they do not make up the Gospel that saves; for the gospel is not composed of good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Paul writes: for by grace you have been saved through faith (alone); and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 15:3
If you’ll read Paul’s gospel again (15:1-4), and the verses that follow it you’ll find he doesn’t quote any O.T. passages about Christ dying for the sins of all, including the Gentiles, and that’s because there aren’t any. When Paul said, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures – please be aware nowhere in the O.T. does it say Christ (the promised Redeemer /Messiah) would die and be raised from the dead again in three days for the sins of the world.
Although it’s true the O.T. contains numerous prophecies about the death of the promised Redeemer, i.e. Messiah, (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 for instance), and His resurrection (Hosea 6:2; Jonah 1:17; Psalm 16:10; and then there’s the scenario of Abraham and Issac in Genesis 22), however, all these prophecies purposely contained veiled language and in types that could not be understood, until Christ, the Antitype, appeared on the scene.
Furthermore, what the Cross of Christ had accomplished could not be revealed until God raised up the church persecutor, Saul, who would become His church planter, the Apostle Paul, the chief of sinners, i.e. the first person saved by Grace alone. Paul was unique in that he represented both Jew and Gentile, being born a Hebrew, and born a Roman citizen, and saved beyond the borders of Israel on the road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22:3, 25-26).
Paul isn’t saying here that his message about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was the fulfillment of prophecy. This would have been untrue. What he did say was it was “according to” or in accordance with prophecy or God’s Prophetic Program (Daniel 2:44-45; Jeremiah 23:5; Isaiah 60:3; Ezekiel 36:24-27; Zechariah 8:20-23, 13:9; Acts 3:21; 1 Peter 4:17). The Bereans discovered the very same thing for they soon learned by means of examining (studying) the Scriptures daily there was nothing to contradict Paul’s message and much to confirm it, ultimately, and they believed (Acts 17:10-12).
Let’s go to verses 5-8.
1 Corinthians 15
5: and that He (the Lord Jesus Christ) appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve.
6: After that He (note the capitalization – Paul is still referencing deity, i.e. Jesus Christ) appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
7: then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
8: and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me (Saul of Tarsus) also.
As far as we know, no one actually saw the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, Scripture doesn’t say whether or not there was anyone in the tomb with Jesus when His body was transformed into a resurrected body. However, there is evidence in Scripture that this transformation process occurred after His resurrection because the Apostle John records that He could pass through solid objects like doors and walls miraculously. Yet, he wasn’t a ghost. He was made up of flesh and bones.
Here’s the thing, while no one saw His resurrection, many people saw the resurrected Jesus. Our Apostle Paul now calls forth these eye witnesses to the resurrection, to set the record straight (15:12); to soothe the naysayers troubled minds, and to establish once and for all that Jesus Christ was in fact raised from the dead in a transformed, resurrected body.
He appeared to Cephas – Our Lord made a special appearance to Peter (Luke 24:34). We aren’t told much about this visit, but it’s safe to assume Peter needed special attention, i.e. counseling after he denied the Lord not once but three times. Perhaps this visit was to comfort and to restore this faithful man of God.
Then to the twelve – this refers to Jesus’ first meeting with His disciples (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25). Jesus appeared among them, even though the door to the room had been locked. You see, the twelve were living in fear at this time (John 20:19). Jesus spoke to them saying, “Peace be with you.” He then showed them His wounds, He invited them to touch Him so that they could see that it was really Him and not a spirit, and He ate with them.
Permit me to point out when Paul writes “then to the twelve,” he’s using a figurative title. At the first meeting with His disciples, Thomas was absent and Judas had killed himself, but the apostles were still known as and called the twelve.
After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time – this meeting isn’t detailed in the gospels anywhere. But it is suggested by Matthew 28:10: Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:16-17). During the 40 days after His resurrection, but before His ascension, Jesus met with His disciples and followers on many different occasions.
The #40 is mentioned 146 times in Scripture. It generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial, or probation. For example: during Moses’ life he lived for 40 years in Egypt and 40 years in the desert before the LORD God could use him as His deliverer – the man who lead His people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was also on Mt Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights on two separate occasions (Exodus 24:18, 34:1-28). The #40 can also represent a generation of man. The LORD God swore the generation of Israelites who were rescued from their bondage in Egypt would not enter His rest in Canaan because of their unbelief (Deuteronomy 1). They wandered in the desert for 40 years before a new generation was raised up and allowed to possess the land they could not.
By the way, the Bible was written by 40 different people, which means humanity is currently living in a probationary period of time (the Grace Age). This means the final 7 years of God’s Prophetic Program are still out in front of mankind waiting to be fulfilled. Make no mistake Daniel’s 70th week or the Tribulation is on the horizon. The covenants the LORD God made with Israel are going to be played out and God’s wrath will be poured out on this God-hating world.
Let’s return to verse 6:
Most of whom remain until now – to obtain one or two eye witnesses to an event is certainly an achievement but to have at the ready more than five hundred eye witnesses is compelling testimony of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “Go, ask these people who saw the resurrected Jesus. There are not a handful of self-deluded souls; there are literally hundreds who saw Him face-to-face. They knew it was Him.”
Although the Book of Acts documents the fact that only about 120 persons (men and women) were assembled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:15), there were more than 500 followers of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem before His ascension and we know He met with them in the region of Galilee.
Then He appeared to James – this would be James, the brother of Jesus, who is seen as the prominent leader in the church in Jerusalem, replacing Peter (Acts 15). However, Bible students note the change of heart in James at this particular time in his life. Jesus’ brothers were hostile to Him and to His ministry (John 7:3-5). But after Jesus’ resurrection, in the first chapter of Acts we find Jesus’ brothers are counted among His followers (Acts 1:14). Certainly, this meeting with James influenced all of His brother’s decision for Christ. Meeting any dead relative or friend, now resurrected, would have the same impact on an individual, I would think.
Then to all the apostles – this actually references several different meetings not all of which are recorded for us in the four gospels (Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49; John 20:26-31, 21:1-25). These separate meetings were important in proving to the disciples that Jesus was truly alive and the Son of God, i.e. the Messiah. At these meetings He comforted them, ate with them, and during one encounter He commanded them to remain in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 2).
Let’s go to verses 9-11.
9: For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit 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 did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
11: Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
For I am the least of the apostles – Paul would argue hard to defend his apostleship, and he did this frequently because he knew to further the gospel of Jesus Christ he had to be respected as one of God’s apostles. But he had no desire to compete with the twelve; he wasn’t interested in discovering “who was the greatest.” He would rather say I am the least of the apostles because he persecuted the church of God. Paul had sinned against God and His Church. He knew God had forgiven him, yet he remembered the greatness of his sin. Paul felt that his sins were worse than some others because he was directly responsible for the death, imprisonment, and suffering of countless Believers in Jesus’ name (John 1:12, 2:23, 20:31; Acts 8:3, 9:1-2; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6; 1Timothy 1:15;1 John 3:23, 5:13).
But by the grace of God I am what I am – here Paul gives the grace of God all the credit for the change in his life. Indeed, he was a changed man, forgiven, cleansed of all his sins, justified, and full of love when he used to be filled with hatred. He was fully aware that he did not accomplish any of this on his own – it was the work of God and the indwelt Holy Spirit. You see, the grace that saves us also changes us. No one who has an honest encounter with Jesus Christ remains the same. It’s impossible to receive the grace of God without being changed by it. These changes aren’t going to come all at once, and the changes may not be complete when we pass from this life into our eternal existence, but we will be changed for we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
His grace toward me did not prove vain - although grace changed Paul, enabling him to serve God, lost mankind, and God’s Church, Paul still labored with grace, so that it wouldn’t be in vain. If Paul had not chosen to work as hard as he did in ministering the gospel, the grace of God would still have been freely given to him, but here Paul said, it would be given in vain.
Grace, by definition, is freely given (Ephesians 2:8). But the way in which we receive God’s grace will help to determine how effective the gift of grace truly is. Paul is saying we all work in partnership with God, not because He needs us, but because He wants us to share in His work. If you remember, Paul addressed this principle when he wrote, “for we are God’s fellow workers…” in 1 Corinthians 3:9. If anyone in the body neglects their end of this partnership, God’s grace is unable to accomplish all that it might and is therefore given in vain. The results of failing to hold up our end of this partnership can be seen in the Barna Group statistics on page 1. The church is missing the target by a wide margin, which means Satan is gaining ground and winning souls.
But I labored even more than all of them –Paul compares himself to the other apostles here saying he labored harder than any of them. His record speaks for itself. Paul isn’t saying the twelve were lazy, so don’t go there. A couple of them may have been, but Paul’s not saying this. Paul is saying he was an exceptionally hard worker and suffered willingly for the Lord because he persecuted the church of God and was exceptionally grateful for God’s grace.
Yet not I, but the grace of God with me – Paul spoke honestly when he said he worked hard and suffered much for the gospel, this was in keeping with what the Lord said (Acts 9:15-16). But he was humble enough to understand that all his efforts were the work of God’s grace in him. Put another way, if someone were to ask Paul, “Do you work hard as an apostle?” He wouldn’t respond with that false spiritual expression, “Oh no, I don’t do anything, really. It’s all the work of God’s grace.” Paul would say something like, “You bet I work hard; I work harder than any of the other apostles.” But he wouldn’t “wear the T-shirt, or dwell on the subject; he’d simply leave it at that, knowing it was all about God’s grace in him getting the work done.
Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed – here Paul is saying it didn’t matter who brought the message of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, the result was the same, if the individual believed and they held fast to the word.
Let’s move on to verses 12-13.
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, not even Christ has been raised;
Here Paul teaches the Corinthians (and us) the relevance of Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection of our Lord proves there is a resurrection of the dead.
Just so we’re all on the same page, so to speak, the saints in Corinth did not deny Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We know this from his statement in verse 15:11, “so we preach and so you believed.” The problem in Corinth was some of these folks denied their own bodily resurrection (and ours) from the dead. This came about either because of Greek philosophy, which considered the resurrection something to be scorned (undesirable), thinking the state of “pure spirit” superior, or by the teaching of the Sadducees, which thought the “world beyond” to be mere wishful thinking. Bottom line: the Corinthians believed we lived forever in the next life, but not in resurrected bodies. They believed their bodies remained behind in the dust of the earth forever.
Remember what the Scriptures teach us, resurrection is not merely life after death; it is the continuation of life after death in glorified, transformed bodies, which are our present bodies only in a glorified state, just like the risen, glorified, Lord Jesus Christ’s body. He was, after all, the Firstfruits; we Believers are the harvest that awaits.
How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? The Believers in Corinth didn’t think this through. Some of them denied the reality of resurrection, while believing wholeheartedly in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul explains the resurrection of Jesus not only proves His own resurrection, but it proves the very principle of the resurrection to come.
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised – however, if these folks were correct in their assumption about the resurrection, then Jesus was still dead!
Let’s go to verses 14-19.
14: and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
15: Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not
16: For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;
17: and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
18: Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
19: If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
Suppose There Was no Resurrection
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain – In a nutshell, if there’s no resurrection; then Jesus is not raised. Paul’s preaching, as well as the other apostle’s preaching, is in vain because there is no real, resurrected Jesus, whom they willingly serve.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. There’s a lot going on in this one verse, so let’s try to follow it logically:
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then death defeated Him at the cross
If death has power over Jesus, He is not God
If Jesus is not God, He cannot offer a complete sacrifice for sins
If Jesus cannot offer a complete sacrifice for sins, we are still dead in our sins
Therefore, if Jesus is not raised from the dead, He is unable to save anyone
It gets worse, if Jesus Christ is not raised from the dead, then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If the principle of resurrection is false, then those who have died believing in Christ, died with a false hope, and are gone forever.
The bad news continues, if Christ has not been raised, then, in this life only we have hope of Christ, and we are of all men most to be pitied. If there is no principle of resurrection, our entire life as a Believer is a pitiful joke. If there is no continuation of life after death, then why are we bothering to live the Christian life now? Why not hang out with the pagans and mix it up? To quote Hillary Clinton, “What difference does it make?”
In saying this, I’m reminded of the life Paul led in suffering for the gospel. With all that he went through and endured for the cross of Christ, if there is no resurrection and a heavenly reward beyond this life, Paul would be the first to say, “I am a fool to be pitied.”
When you fully understand what rests on Christ’s resurrection, then you’ll know why
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
The divinity of Jesus Christ rests on the resurrection (Romans 1:4)
The sovereignty of Jesus rests on the resurrection (Romans 14:9)
Our justification rests on the resurrection (Romans 4:25)
Our regeneration rests on the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3)
Our ultimate resurrection rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:11)
Every true Believer can have the utmost confidence in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins, since God’s Word accurately tells us about these historical events (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, one of the central Truths of our faith, was witnessed by hundreds of people; 500 people at the same time by one account. The post-resurrection of our Lord is infallible proof that He is the Son of God and that He conquered both sin and death. By His resurrection, His work and His ministry were authenticated proving He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6) and those who deny the deity of Jesus also deny the Father (1 John 2:23).
(To be continued)
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