He Was Raised on the Third Day in Accordance with the Scriptures
Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (I Cor. 15:1-5).
In this summary of the gospel, Paul holds together two events that we often separate. The first event is the cross – “he died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” We spent time in the last post meditating together on the cross of Christ: the Person who came, the sin-breaking power of his substitutionary death, and the plan of God that stood behind it all. And for many of us who have grown up hearing the gospel, the death of Christ on the cross for our sin may be where we are tempted to stop. When we think of the gospel, we think of the cross. But that is not where Paul stops with the gospel.
The gospel that he received (from the 12), then that he preached, and now that the church has believed is first that Christ died for our sins, and second (but inseparably) that he was raised on the third day. The gospel is the good news that Jesus came, that he died, and that He rose again. The gospel proclaims that there is salvation in Christ because our Savior is alive!
Let me give you three pairs of verses that help us hear the way the Bible connects both the cross and the resurrection at the heart of the gospel.
(1) We are not redeemed by corruptible things…but with the precious blood of Christ (I Pt. 1:19). So here our salvation is described as ‘redemption’, and it comes through the blood of his cross. But a few verses earlier, we have heard this: The Father caused us to be born again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (I Pt. 1:3). Here our salvation is described as ‘being born again’ and it happens through the resurrection.
(2) We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ whom God set forward as a propitiation by His blood (Rm 3:24). So we are justified by the grace of God bought for us at the cross. A chapter later, however, we read Righteousness is imputed to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord…He was raised for our justification (Rm. 4:25). So our justification is explicitly tied to the resurrection event.
(3) Finally, For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2). So as a preacher of the gospel, Paul has made his message ‘nothing but’ the cross. Later in our passage, however, Paul admits that Christ is preached as raised from the dead. In fact, if Christ is not raised, our preaching is empty, and Paul is a false witness, because he testified that God has raised him up (I Cor. 15:12)! This fits with the way Luke describes Paul’s ministry in Acts 17, He preached Jesus and the resurrection.
Now, when we hear the Bible talking this way, the question that we should not ask is “Which one is it Peter? Which one is it Paul? Are we saved by the cross or by the resurrection?” What Paul wants to teach us by putting vs. 4 (he was raised) right after vs 3 (he died) is that both the cross and the resurrection are of first importance. It is the empty cross and the empty tomb working together that give the gospel its power.
His death was a payment that we could never make. But it is the resurrection that shows God has accepted that payment on our behalf. It is the resurrection that shows that the value of Christ’s perfect life was greater than the debt of our sin (i.e. there is righteousness enough not only to cover our sins, but to be imputed to us!). Our gospel hope is that Christ has died to deal with our sins. But (I Cor. 15:17) if our hope for eternal life is in a Christ who is dead, then our hope is empty! We need the cross to deal with our old life, and we need the resurrection to give us new life. And this is the victory that Paul proclaims – He was buried, and he rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.”
In our fourth and final meditation, we will take this resurrection hope and see how the preaching of the ap0stles serves to unpacks the implications of the resurrection for our life.