I CORINTHIANS 15:5-11. "And that he (Jesus) was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6: 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. 7: After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8: And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. 9: For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet 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 which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11: Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed."
Every Christian believes the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a fact. Christianity ultimately rests on that. Yet there are some who have not yet come to Christ for salvation who ask, "Did Jesus Christ actually, literally, and physically, rise from the dead?"
Thatís the theme of this chapter, and it gives us some very positive answers to that question. As we read it, weíll see that there is a whole chorus of voices from the 1st century that state clearly and positively that it was Jesus who rose from the dead.
The person closest to Jesus during His earthly ministry, who lived and walked with Him daily for over three years, was the Apostle John. In his first epistle, he wrote this: ďThe one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life.Ē 1 John 1:1. [From the New Living Translation]
Luke wrote, in Acts 10:40-41: "Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead."
It was unmistakably Jesus. He was recognized by the marks of crucifixion still on his body, in His hands and feet. He bore the mark of the thorns in His brow, the others crucified that day never were crowned with thorns so it couldnít have been one of them.
Encounters with Him by the believers were frequent. They declared they have never been the same since. When He rose from the dead, it completely changed their lives.
The resurrection has always rested on the eye witnesses accounts of those who saw Jesus alive from the dead. The most powerful line of evidence that we human beings know anything about is eyewitness evidence and the resurrection of Jesus is supported by eyewitness evidence, the same kind that is used in every courtroom in America. When we believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the basis of the accounts of people who saw and talked to Him, itís very difficult to escape the logic that we must also believe in His present existence.
Paul already gave us a brief review of this line of evidence in verses 1-4 in this chapter. There he stated that the resurrection is an integral part of the gospel itself by tying the fact of the resurrection in with the fact that Christ died for our sins.
He wrote that ďChrist died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:Ē
The combination of the predictions from the Old Testament and the experiences reported by those who knew and spent time with Jesus are proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul continues this line of testimony in 1 Corinthians 15:5-6; "And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6: 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."
According to the Gospel record the actual first appearance of our Lord wasnít to Peter but to Mary Magdalene. Paul is recording here that Peter was the first one of the apostles to see Jesus after the resurrection. In the Gospel accounts, Mary Magdalene was first at the tomb on that Easter Sunday morning and she mistook Him for the gardener. When He spoke to her she realized that this was the Lord, and she held Him by the feet and worshipped Him. Then He sent her to tell the disciples He had risen.
We donít know when and where exactly our Lord appeared to Peter. Iím sure Peter was the apostle who was hurting the most at this particular time. He had denied His Lord on the night before the crucifixion. Three times he had professed that he didnít even know Him, and he supported it with curses and oaths. Then, when he realized what he had done, he went out into the night and wept bitterly. You can imagine how Peter must have felt as he watched Jesus being crucified and for the three terrible days and nights that He lay in the grave. He must have suffered some awful pangs of guilt over his denial of Jesus.
I think thatís why Jesus sought him out first. He found him while he had this awful sense of guilt and forgave him. That is how Jesus treats the sinner. He finds us while we are in a state of guilt with no other way out and forgives us.
John tells us that later on, in Galilee, Jesus restored Peter to his place of ministry again. I believe every Christian has some small understanding of how Peter must have felt, because the Lord has done this with each one of us a number of times. When we didnít have any right to be forgiven at all, He still forgives us.
Several of the Gospels record the appearance of Jesus to Peter without describing the event while Paul lists it as the first appearance of our Lord to His apostles.
Jesus made another appearance, this time to all the disciples. Paul is very likely grouping several appearances together that the Lord made to the disciples. He appeared to two of them on the Emmaus road that first afternoon after His resurrection when He appeared as a stranger and then later identified Himself to them as they broke bread together. They returned to Jerusalem that same evening and met with the apostles and told them that the Lord had appeared to Simon also. That same evening He appeared suddenly in the midst of the apostles. (Judas, of course, was gone, and Thomas was absent.) He actually sat and ate with them at that time and showed them His hands and feet. One week later, when Thomas was present, Jesus appeared again. This time He invited Thomas to put his finger in His wounds so he could establish in his own mind that this was the Lord.
Luke recorded these two meetings but we donít have the details of some of the others. I know that one or more of these meetings occurred on a mountainside in Galilee. Before His crucifixion the Lord told His disciples He would meet them in Galilee after the resurrection. He sent the women at the tomb to tell the men to meet Him there, according to Matthew 28:10: "Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me."
We donít have a direct account in the Scriptures of all the meetings that Paul mentions although there are some brief references to several others. Other appearances are mentioned in a phrase or two in the Scriptures and that suggests that Jesus appeared to His disciples several more times during the forty-day period before He ascended.
Jesus appear to more than five hundred brethren at one time before His ascension.
1 Corinthians 15:6: "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."
In every generation since the cross there have been those who try to prove that Jesus did not really rise from the dead physically. There is a society in Britain today that meets every two years, if my memory serves me rightly, for the sole purpose of disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So far, they have had no luck, just feeble suggestions that prove to be false.
Iím sure that word of His resurrection spread fast throughout the believing community at Jerusalem, and everybody who could headed for Galilee. I would of. I sure wouldnít have wanted to miss the most exciting of all Christian meetings!
We have a brief reference to another meeting in the closing words of Matthew where our Lord appeared in Galilee and gave His disciples the Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
Jesus gave these words, not only to His disciples there, but to all the generations of believers since. We are commanded to preach the gospel to the farthest reaches of the earth.
Paul wrote this letter about 25 years after the crucifixion and most of the eye witnesses were still alive. Some had fallen asleep, as he said, but if the Corinthians wanted to check it out, there were still many hundreds of people who were there and had seen Jesus and could bear testimony to the resurrection.
Paul mentions another appearance that is not reported in the Gospels:
1 Corinthians 15:7a "After that, he was seen of James;" The "James" mentioned here is undoubtedly the half-brother of Jesus, the oldest remaining son of Joseph and Mary and who had grown up with Jesus in Nazareth.
John tells us in his Gospel that His brothers didnít believe that Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection and I can understand why.
It would have been very hard to believe that somebody you made mud pies with, ran through the fields with and went skinny-dipping with and all these other things that kids do was the Son of God, the Creator of all the universe.
His brothers didnít believe in Him during His earthly ministry, but the sight of their half brother being crucified and then appearing from the grave, just as He had told them He would, surely convinced them that He truly was the Messiah.
We donít know just when Jesus appeared to His brothers but it would have been fascinating to have been there and heard what He said, and how He revealed Himself to His family. This same James wrote the Epistle of James in our New Testament and also became the leading spokesman for the church in Jerusalem.
When you read Jamesí short letter youíll see how reverently he refers to the Lord Jesus. Twice he calls Him the "Lord Jesus Christ," and once the "Lord of Glory," so James was solidly and firmly convinced that Jesus was the Christ and that He had risen from the dead.
Then Paul lists another appearance of Jesus:
1 Corinthians 15:7b.- - "and then of all the apostles." Very likely, this is the occasion recorded in the first chapter of Acts. It would surely have included the five hundred or more disciples as well as the eleven apostles. Our Lord led them out to the Mount of Olives were where they could look out over the city of Jerusalem, and He began to teach them. While He was speaking they saw His body rise from the ground and He ascended up into the heavens where a cloud received Him out of their sight. They stood there gazing into the sky until two strange men, [they realized later they were angels] said to them, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven," Acts l:11. With that our Lord disappeared into the clouds and took His seat at the right hand of God.
This ended the post resurrection appearances, except, as Paul goes on to say:
1 Corinthians 15:8: "And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."
This appearance was on the Damascus Road when Paul, known then as Saul of Tarsus, filled with hatred for the Christians, was trying to eliminate them and their beliefs. Suddenly he was blinded by a light brighter than the sun and was thrown to the ground. Acts 9:4-5: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest:" Paul never forgot that scene nor the words of Jesus telling him that by persecuting the church, he was persecuting Jesus himself. Paul acknowledged Him as Lord right there. Paulís conversation changed his life, but try as he might, he never seemed to be able to forget that at one time he had an awful hatred of Christians.
He also uses this phrase from verse 8 concerning himself, "one born out of due time." By that, he meant that he didnít come to spiritual birth in the usual way. He thought of his salvation in terms of a miscarriage. He may have thought that he didnít deserve to be saved, that he should have been cast out like a child born too soon to live.
Maybe he contrasted his unique spiritual birth to that of the apostles who were "born again" in the normal way. They had been "born again" by hearing the word from the Lord, and believing it.
Or, he may have reasoned that, rather than having been born for the present time, it would have been better if he had been born at a time when he could minister the gospel to his fellow Jews later during the Great Tribulation.
But Paul's experience, being different than that of the apostles, may account for the fact that he had a difficult time accepting the changes in his early Christian life. He spent three years in Damascus and Arabia and another seven years in his home town of Tarsus before the Spirit of God led Barnabus to Tarsus to find him. That is when Paul began his long ministry.
In Verses 9-10, we have his own evaluation of his ministry. "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet 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 which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
He humbly claimed "Iím the least of the apostles because the others, the ones our Lord called, believed when they heard, but I persecuted the church. Not only did I not believe, I arrogantly and defiantly opposed God," He saw himself as having forfeited every possible right to be an apostle. But his spiritual qualifications overcame that and he said, "nevertheless I am what I am." And he knew what he was. He wrote that he was only a sinner, saved by the grace of God.
By the time he wrote this letter, he was a well-known apostle of Jesus Christ and had spent years in preaching the Word of God in the most difficult places on earth. He was the most remarkable missionary that ever appeared on earth and now, he asks, ďhow could somebody who had no qualifications for Godís service achieve something like that?Ē He wrote that it was not him, it was "by the grace of God which was with me" that did it.
He believed that the grace of God was without a doubt the greatest truth, and the grace of God is the gospel. Our risen Lord can come and live in a human heart in any scene, in any age, in any generation, and reproduce His character and His life through the ordinary, natural things that a human being does. That is the grace of God. It overcomes all the failures and the weakness and uses us in simple and effective ways, wherever we are.
I hope this encourages you. If Paul, who had been the persecutor of the church and the most ardent enemy of Christ, was now the greatest apostle of all, and God was using him everywhere around the earth, He can still use you. You may feel that youíve lost every right to be used of God, but Paul is the great example that God can and will use any believer who makes themselves available to Him.
Weíre not turned loose as Christians to mobilize all our best human resources and do what we can for God. Weíre filled with a risen Christ who wants to use His power, through us, to transform humanity from within through the gospel message. That can bring fantastic changes in society and social structures as the gospel does its work.
Paul sums this all up in Verse 11. He says: "Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed." It didnít make any difference which apostle preached the gospel, it was always the same gospel. Thereís no difference between Paul's gospel and Peter's gospel. Peter preached to the Jews and Paul went to the Gentiles, but good news of the gospel was the same.
When you believe that Jesus died for your sins,
that He was buried, and that He arose again the third day, something happens.
This is how these Corinthian became believers. Paul says, he preached the gospel and they received it.
And when you receive Jesus, changes begin.
John tells us, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God," John 1:12.
That eternal change occurs when you receive Jesus.
Itís been fifty six years since, as a young man of 21, I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I still remember clearly how I felt and the changes that occurred in my heart immediately. They began to fade after a while, and while I was never really far from the Lord, I wasnít living and representing Him as a professing Christian should. When I really began to walk with the Lord, I found that the risen Lord was still present and still making changes in me.
The eye witness record of the resurrection of Jesus would stand up even in our shaky courts of law today. The recorded Word of God, so dependable and truthful, proves to me as a believer in Jesus Christ, that I, too, will be bodily resurrected with His shout from heaven.
The church could never have existed through all these centuries had Christ not risen from the dead.
It has become the ultimate testimony to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
We serve a risen Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord.
He powers the church -- not our feeble efforts.
He uses His power to display His love and grace through us.