1 Corinthians 15:3-4
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul summed up the essence of the gospel in the statement: “For I delivered to you as of first importance that which I also received, 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.”
That is the gospel! That is the good news!
It may be stated in other ways quite more eloquently, more fully, and in more detail, but everything is summarized in the marvelous declaration that “Christ died for our sins…was buried…and was raised on the third day.” The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are three events that forever changed the course of human history. Together, these events comprise the greatest event in human history.
CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS
Paul stated in I Corinthians 15:3 “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture.” This verse contains three very important facts.
First, the fact that “Christ died.” That is history!
Second, the fact that “Christ died for our sins.” That was necessary!
Third, the fact that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” That is accuracy!
Consider these three very important facts in reverse order, considering first what the Scriptures record about Christ’s death, considering second why His death was necessary, and considering third the historical/physical aspects of His death.
Consider first the fact that the death of Christ was “according to the Scriptures.”
Throughout the New Testament, the apostles appealed to two areas of Christ’s life to establish His Messiahship. These areas are the resurrection of Jesus Christ and fulfilled Messianic prophecy.
The Old Testament, written over a 1500 year period, contains several references to the coming Messiah. Ray Stedman comments, “To read the Old Testament is to be gripped by the feeling that Someone is coming! All the prophets speak of Him, all the sacrifices point to Him, all the longings and dreams of men are of someone who will come and solve all their problems. But when you close the Old Testament, He has not yet arrived.”
The references to Christ in the Old Testament are specific in regard to His birth, life, death, and resurrection (see Acts 2:22-32). All of these prophecies and references were fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ and solidly confirm His credentials as Messiah. For the moment however, we are concerned with those Messianic prophecies concerning the death of Jesus Christ. Consider the following:
Psalm 41:9 prophesied that the Messiah would be betrayed by a friend. This was fulfilled when Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ (see Matthew 10:4).
According to Zechariah 11:12, the Messiah would be sold for thirty pieces of silver. This was fulfilled when Judas Iscariot was paid thirty pieces of silver for betraying Christ (see Matthew 26:15).
Prophecy also recorded that the Messiah’s betrayer would throw money into God’s House. This was fulfilled when Judas Iscariot threw the thirty pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed to hang himself (see Matthew 27:7).
Prophecy further stated that the betrayal money would be used to buy the Potter’s Field (see Matthew 27:9-10). This was fulfilled when the religious leaders took the money that Judas had thrown into the sanctuary and bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers.
In these prophecies we see that the Messiah would be betrayed by a friend for thirty (not 29) pieces of silver (not gold) and that the money would be thrown down (not placed) in the House of the Lord and ultimately be used to buy the Potter’s Field. All of these prophecies were accurately fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Time will not permit us to look at all of the Messianic prophecies that were fulfilled at the time of Christ’s death, but the following list contains a few of the many prophecies:
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be forsaken by His disciples (Zechariah 13:7). This was fulfilled in Mark 14:50.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be accused by false witnesses (Psalm 35:11). This was fulfilled in Matthew 26:59-61.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:12-19.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be wounded and bruised (Isaiah 53:5). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:26.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be smitten and spat upon (Isaiah 50:6). This was fulfilled in Matthew 26:67.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be mocked (Psalm 22:7-8). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:31.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would fall under the weight of the cross (Psalm 109:24-25). This was fulfilled in Luke 23:26.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16). This was fulfilled in Luke 23:33.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:38.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would make intercession for His persecutors (Isaiah 53:12). This was fulfilled in Luke 23:34.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be rejected by His own people (Isaiah 53:3). This was fulfilled in Matthew 21:42-43.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be hated without a cause (Psalm 69:4). This was fulfilled in John 15:25.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah’s friends would stand far off (Psalm 38:11). This was fulfilled in Luke 23:49.
Prophecy stated that people would shake their heads at the Messiah (Psalm 109:25). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:39.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be stared upon (Psalm 22:17). This was fulfilled in Luke 23:35.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah’s garments would be parted and lots cast for them (Psalm 22:18). This was fulfilled in John 19:23-24.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would suffer thirst (Psalm 69:21 fulfilled in John 19:28) and have gall and vinegar offered to Him (Psalm 69:21 fulfilled in Matthew 27:34).
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would cry out regarding being forsaken (Psalm 22:1). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:46.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would commit Himself to God (Psalm 31:5). This was fulfilled in Luke 23:46.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah’s bones would not be broken (Psalm 34:20). This was fulfilled in John 19:33.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah’s heart would be broken (Psalm 22:14). This was fulfilled in John 19:34.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah’s side would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10). This was fulfilled in John 19:34.
Prophecy stated that darkness would come over the land (Amos 8:9). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:45.
Prophecy stated that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9). This was fulfilled in Matthew 27:57-60.
All of these prophecies were accurately fulfilled in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth thus confirming Him as the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of God. The fulfillment of these prophecies shows that Christ indeed died according to the Scriptures. These 29 prophecies from the Old Testament which speak of the betrayal, trial, death, and burial of the Lord Jesus Christ were spoken at various times by various voices during the five centuries from 1000-500 B.C., and yet all of them were literally fulfilled in Jesus in one twenty-four hour period. Thus, “Christ died according to the Scriptures.”
Consider second the fact that “Christ died for our sins.”
This is a statement of purpose. Christ “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Christ died according to the Scripture. That is accuracy! But Christ died for our sins. That was necessary!
The death of Christ was necessary because the Scriptures declare that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:2) and carries with it a death penalty (Romans 6:23a).
Jesus came to pay the penalty that we were obligated to pay. He came to be our substitute by taking our place on the cross. We must however, accept what He has done on our behalf before we can enter into a right relationship with God. We must accept the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23b) which God offers to all men.
This gift can only be accepted or rejected, we cannot work for it. We receive it by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). We must place our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-10) in order to receive eternal life and enter into a right relationship with God (John 3:16 and 1:12).
Consider third the fact that “Christ died.”
Jesus Christ died an actual physical/historical death. Let’s consider some of the physical/historical aspects of His death. According to the Scripture (Mark 15:15 and Matthew 27:26), Pilate turned Jesus over to be scourged prior to His crucifixion. The Jewish limit for scourging was forty lashes, but they usually administered only thirty-nine lashes (in case of a miscount). Paul stated in II Corinthians 11:24, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” Jesus however, was whipped by the Romans and not the Jews, and the Romans set no limitations.
A victim was usually stripped of clothing and tied to an upright post, exposing his back to the lictors. The instrument used by the scourgers (or lictors) was called a “flagrum” (or “flagellum”). It was a whip-like instrument with several leather thongs of different lengths with pieces of bone and metal attached at intervals. Such an instrument literally laid open the back of the victim, lacerating veins, muscle, and tissue, and chipping bones. The victim’s back was usually a mass of bleeding flesh.
According to Mark 15:15-20, Jesus was mocked by the Roman soldiers after He had been scourged. The Roman soldiers put mock royal garments upon Jesus along with a crown of thorns, beating Him on the head, spitting upon Him, and abusing Him violently. The soldiers then stripped Him of these garments and clothed Him with His own. The stripping off of the mock garments must have been excruciatingly painful as they had undoubtedly come into contact with His bleeding back. After these things, Jesus was led away to be crucified (see Mark 15:20).
Crucifixion was a form of torture perfected by the Romans. It was a form of execution “designed to produce a slow death mixed with maximum pain and suffering” (Edwards). Josh McDowell writes that the pain of crucifixion included dizziness, cramps, thirst, starvation, fever, tetanus, the pain of untended wounds, difficulty in breathing, and much more. All of this was intensified to a point at which the victim could barely endure the pain and agony, but stopping just short of the point of relief of unconsciousness and death.
Marcus Tillius Cicero, the famous Roman orator, spoke of the horrifying cross saying, “Even the mere word, cross, must remain far not only from the lips of the citizens of Rome, but also from their thoughts, their eyes, their ears.” After enduring a sleepless night without food, the mockery of three Jewish trials and three Roman trials, a scourging and mocking by Roman soldiers, Jesus was led away to be nailed to a cross. Jesus suffered all of these horrible things and then cried out “It is finished,” breathed His last and then died (see Luke 23:46 and John 19:30).
After the death of Christ, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus (see Luke 23:50-52). Before Pilate could release the body however, he required official certification of Christ’s death. This certification of Christ’s death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers who had gone to the execution sight to break the legs of the victims to expedite their death. When these soldiers, who were not unfamiliar with the signs and evidences of death, came to Jesus, “they saw that He was already dead, and they did not break His legs” (John 19:31-33).
John tells us that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). McDowell comments that this proves death by crucifixion and rupture of the heart. Had Jesus been alive when the Roman soldier pierced His side, blood would have spurted out with every heart-beat, but it did not, it merely flowed out. Thus, “Christ died [in this terrible manner] for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
CHRIST WAS BURIED
Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that after Christ died “He was buried.”
First, consider where Christ was buried.
Some eight hundred years before the death of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (see Isaiah 53:9). According to Matthew 27:57-60, on the evening of Christ’s death, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph “gathered up courage” (see Mark 15:42-43) and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. After ascertaining that Jesus was already dead, Pilate “granted the body to Joseph” (see Mark 15:44-45).
Joseph then took the body of Jesus, wrapped Him in a linen cloth, and placed Him in his (Joseph’s) own new tomb (see Matthew 27:59-60). According to Matthew 27:60 and Mark 15:16, this tomb had been “hewn out in the rock.” It was not a natural cave. It was an excavation in the rock. The tomb had a resting place for the body cut out of the rock. The stone outside of the tomb was large and had been cut to such dimensions as to form a tight seal around the mouth of the tomb once rolled into place. And so Christ was buried in a rich man’s tomb according to the Scriptures.
Second, consider how Christ was buried.
According to John 19:38-40, after Joseph was granted permission to take the body of Jesus, he was joined by Nicodemus, who helped him prepare the body of Jesus for burial according to the Jewish customs of the day.
John 19:39 records that Nicodemus brought with him “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.” Joseph and Nicodemus then straightened and washed the body of Jesus. Once this was done, they took linen wrappings (strips of linen cloth about a foot wide) and wrapped the body of Jesus from the ankles to the shoulders (see comments on Lazarus in John 11:44). The “mixture of myrrh and aloes” were of a gummy consistency. These spices were placed between the folds of the linen wrappings and served as both a preservative and as a cement to glue the linen wrappings into a solid covering.
According to John 20:7, the head of Christ was wrapped with a separate piece of cloth. [See again in John 11:44 that the face of Lazarus was also wrapped around with a cloth.] This fact argues against the Shroud of Turin being the burial cloth of Christ. When John and Peter arrived at the empty tomb, they noticed “the face-cloth, which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself” (John 19:4-8).
Third, consider what was done after Christ was buried.
After the body of Christ had been prepared for burial, a large stone was rolled into place, tightly covering the entrance to the tomb. Regarding the size of the stone, a marginal note in one of the earliest manuscripts states that the stone was of such proportions as to require twenty men to roll it away. Two Georgia Tech engineering professors who toured the Holy Land calculated that it would require a stone weighing no less than one and one-half tons to cover the doorway of the Garden Tomb.
According to Matthew 27:62-66, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and asked that the tomb of Christ be secured until the third day because they remembered that Christ had said, “After three days I am to rise again.” Pilate, who was as concerned as the Jews that there be no more trouble, gave the Jews a Roman Guard. A Roman Guard was comprised of sixteen soldiers, each well armed and trained to protect six-feet of ground. In addition, each man in a Roman Guard was cognizant of the fact that failure to successfully fulfill an assigned duty was punishable by death.
Matthew 27:66 states that “along with the guard they set a Roman seal on the stone.” This was an extra precautionary measure that was taken to prevent anyone from tampering with the contents of the tomb.
A seal was set by stretching a cord across the face of the rock and sealing it on either end with a sealing clay. This sealing clay was then stamped with the official signet of the Roman governor. [See Daniel 6:17 for an Old Testament example of “sealing.”] Breaking or violating the Roman seal was a serious offense, bringing upon the lawbreaker the weight of Roman law and the terror of Roman wrath. That seal was far more sacred to the Roman soldiers who guarded the tomb than Israel’s law or the concern of the Jewish religious leaders. They would not risk jeopardizing their lives by allowing anyone to tamper with the seal. Thus was Christ buried.
Mgr. E. Le Camus comments, “Never had a criminal given so much worry after his execution. Never had a crucified man been granted the honor of being guarded by a squad of soldiers.” Jesus was dead and securely buried in a rich man’s tomb…or so it seemed!
CHRIST WAS RAISED
Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:4 that after Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and was buried, “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Something happened on the third day, something so great that it changed the course of human history from B.C. (Before Christ) to A.D. (Anno Domini – “the year of our Lord”). Something so dramatic happened that it completely changed eleven men’s lives so that all but one died a martyr’s death. That something was an empty tomb, an empty tomb that a fifteen minute walk from the center of Jerusalem could have either confirmed or disproved. Consider the following facts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
First, the Roman seal was broken.
The seal that had been stretched across the face of the stone and represented the power and authority of the Roman Empire was broken! Who would be brave (or foolish) enough to break the Roman seal. Certainly not the Roman soldiers who knew the penalty of such a crime, and certainly not the disciples who had displayed signs of cowardice and hidden themselves (see Mark 14:50). Only John was present at the crucifixion.
Second, the empty tomb.
Paul Althus comments that the resurrection proclamation “could not have been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned.” Christianity had its beginnings in the one city in the entire world where it could have been forever stopped had the tomb not been empty. The Jews, the Romans, and the followers of Jesus all knew that the tomb was empty. J.N.D. Anderson comments, “There was no point in arguing about the empty tomb. Everyone, friend and opponent, knew that it was empty. The only questions worth arguing about were why it was empty and what its emptiness proved.”
Third, the large stone covering the entrance of the tomb was moved.
The stone probably weighed no less than one and one-half tons. Mark 16:4 records that the stone “was extremely large.” Regarding the position of the stone on that first Easter morning, the Gospel writers used the following words:
Matthew used the Greek word “kulio” which means “to roll.” (See Matthew 27:60).
Mark used the word “anakulio.” (See Mark 16:3-4). The word “kulio” used with the preposition “ana” means “to roll up or upward,” suggesting a slope or incline at the tomb’s entrance.
Luke used the word “apokulio.” (See Luke 24:2). The word “kulio” used with the preposition “apo” means “rolled away from” (in the sense of distance) from the tomb.
John used an entirely different Greek word to describe the position of the stone (see John 20:1). John used the word “airo” which means “to pick up and carry away.”
Thus, it would have been virtually impossible for the cowardly disciples to roll away the stone by virtue of its size and the presence of the Roman Guard.
It would also have been impossible for a man to push it away from the inside as is suggested by the proponents of the “Swoon Theory,” who posit that Jesus did not die on the cross but merely swooned (or fainted).
Proponents of the Swoon Theory hold that Jesus was revived by the cool dampness of the tomb, somehow managed to get out of the linen wrappings (remember that Jesus gave instructions for Lazarus to be unbound when He raised Lazarus from the dead – John 11:44), walked on feet that had been pierced through, pushed the stone away with hands that had borne the weight of His entire body while on the cross, fought off an entire Roman Guard, and then appeared to His disciples as the Lord of Life!
No, it was a power far greater than any human power that moved the stone far away from the entrance of the tomb.
Fourth, consider the fact that the Roman Guard went A.W.O.L.
Something happened on that first Easter morning that made the Roman guards like dead men and frightened them away (see Matthew 28:4). After the stone had been rolled away and the Roman Seal broken, the guards fled to the chief priests and reported to them what had happened. The chief priests then bribed them to say that the disciples had stolen the body and assured them that should the event come to the governor’s attention, they would keep them out of trouble (see Matthew 28:11-15).
Fifth, the grave-clothes were still in the tomb.
When Peter and John arrived at the tomb, they saw the linen wrappings lying there with the face-cloth rolled up in a place by itself (see John 19:4-8). The first thing that struck Peter and John was not the empty tomb, but rather the empty linen wrappings. The linen wrappings were undisturbed. They were lying in the tomb like an empty cocoon. The body had vanished from within the linen wrappings.
Sixth, consider the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.
According to 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus appeared to many people after His resurrection, friends and foes alike. He appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, Peter, the Emmaus disciples, to over 500 people at one time, to James, Stephen, Paul, and John (while on Patmos).
In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul inserted the little phrase, “most of whom remain until now.” Paul was stating that the majority of those who saw Christ after His resurrection were still alive and available for questioning. These post-resurrection appearances were not hallucinations as some skeptics have suggested.
According to the field of psychiatry, hallucinations are individualistic, subjective, and tend to recur with regularity over an extended period of time. Yet over 500 people saw the same thing at the same time and at the same place, thus arguing against the individualistic and subjective nature of hallucinations. In addition, the post-resurrection appearances took place over a forty day period and then abruptly stopped, thus arguing against the long-term recurrence of hallucinations.
Finally, consider the fact that it was the women who saw Jesus first.
McDowell sees this as an “authenticating feature” of the resurrection because according to the Jewish principle of legal evidence, women were invalid witnesses and did not have the right to give testimony in a court of law. If the resurrection accounts had been contrived, then the fabricators of the account would not have included women in the story, at least not as the first witnesses.
Thus, Christ was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The tomb of Confucius is still occupied. The tomb of Buddah is still occupied. The tomb of Mohammed is still occupied. But the tomb of Christ is empty. The resurrection confirms the Messiahship of Jesus. It confirms the fact that Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God who came to make a way for man to be reconciled to God. The empty tomb is the silent witness to the resurrection of Christ which has never been refuted.
The Romans and Jews could not produce the body of Christ or explain where it went. Those who suggest that the disciples stole the body cannot explain how these cowardly men, who fled when Jesus was crucified, could have mustered the courage to fight off a Roman Guard and steal the body.
In addition, they cannot explain why such men would then devote their entire lives to a lie and die a martyr’s death for a lie. No, the lives of these men and countless millions of others throughout history have been changed because Jesus Christ is alive.
McDowell notes that it is not because of the insufficiency of the evidence that men reject the resurrection, but rather in spite of the sufficiency of evidence. When it comes to the resurrection, notes McDowell, the burden of unbelief is far greater than the burden of belief. The difficulties of belief may be great, but the absurdities of unbelief are greater. In the words of the great hymn , “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today, I know that He is living, whatever men may say.”
Evidence That Demands A Verdict
by Josh McDowell
The Resurrection Factor
by Josh McDowell
Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith
by Josh McDowell and Don Stewart
“On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ”
by William D. Edwards, M.D., et. al.
Article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986