How the resurrection of God’s anointed changes everything (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)

“The resurrection changes everything.” That’s the message we hear as we celebrate Easter. What do we mean? Was this really the point in history when everything began to turn around, when God began restoring everything he intended in the beginning?

Yes, it is that central. The earliest Christian creed declared this of primary importance: that Messiah died on account of our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he has been raised up on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Maybe your translation used the world Christ rather than Messiah. Both words mean “anointed.” But “Christ” can only refer to one person, so that disconnects it from the many kings in the Scriptures who were messiah. We lost that in translation.

The point of this early creed is Jesus as the anointed in continuity with the Scriptures. Let’s look to the Scriptures to see how this works.

God’s people had struggled to follow the Lord without a human king. They were a nation under God’s sovereignty as a result of the Sinai covenant, but they kept wandering off, becoming subject to other powers. Without a human to lead them, everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

So they asked for a king like the nations, giving up their uniqueness a people ruled by God (1 Samuel 8:5, 20). Samuel anointed Saul, so they were now ruled by the Lord and his messiah (1 Samuel 12:3, 5). The human king embodied heaven’s reign on earth, as the Lord’s messiah. Yes, that’s literally the word in Samuel 16:6; 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23 and 2 Samuel 1:14, 16; 19:21; 22:51; 23:1.

Well, that was the ideal anyway. In reality, Saul and David both struggled with the power entrusted to them.

Nevertheless, the Psalms assert that the earth was now under the joint reign of the Lord and his messiah (Psalm 2:2). David is his messiah (Psalms 18:50; 20:6; 28:8). Later kings were also your messiah (Psalm 84:9). Or at least that’s how it should be. They end up under Nebuchadnezzar’s kingship instead, concluding that God must be very angry with your messiah (89:38). The enemies have mocked you Lord … and your messiah (89:51).

After the kingdom fell, there are few references to the Lord’s messiah. Daniel 9:25-26 promised a time after Jerusalem was rebuilt when the messiah, the ruler comes, but tragically, the messiah will be put to death (Daniel 9:25-26). Now, this text is a favourite among those who love chronological puzzles, but the real puzzle might be why the coming king would suffer the same fate as Josiah, the last king appointed by God whose death came to symbolize the death of the kingship (2 Chronicles 35:22-25, since the only kings after Josiah were appointed by other powers). Daniel was discussing the demise of the covenant, but he doesn’t try to explain how the coming messiah’s death could restore the covenant between heaven and earth.

So, that’s the backstory for the credal statement that the messiah died on account of the sins of his people, in accordance with Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3). That’s the backstory for the claim that after he was buried, God’s anointed ruler for the earth has been raised up on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures (15:4).

There may be hints in the prophets about God resurrecting his people in his messiah. God said he would restore his fallen nation on the third day (Hosea 6:2). God rescued a prophet who had been entombed for three days (Jonah 1:17). But the creed of 1 Corinthians 15 is referring to the cosmic metanarrative of all Scripture: God’s reign being restored to the earth, through his anointed.

Majestically, the Lord’s anointed restores God’s sovereign authority not only to the nation that lost it, but to the whole earth. That’s the global significance of the creed in 1 Corinthians 15.

Humans were designed in God’s image, to exercise his dominion (Genesis 1:26-28). God honoured humans as rulers over the works of your hands, with everything under their feet (Psalm 8:5). So, when God raised the son of man out of death, God was reinstating his creational purpose. Since God’s anointed ruler has indeed been raised up from the dead … in the anointed all people will be made alive … for God put everything under his anointed (15:20, 22, 27).

The whole problem with history has been people grasping power that should have been in God’s hands, and using that power to harm and control each other. From Egypt’s Pharaoh to Judah’s King Manasseh to Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar, that is what’s wrong with the world according to the Scriptures.

But God’s anointed is doing something that completely reverses the problem of human sin. The crucified king has been raised up, installed as God’s anointed ruler for the earth. He is overturning every form of rebellion against God’s authority — every dominion, authority and power.

God’s anointed is not seeking his own power. That’s why he is able to do something no other ruler has ever done: in the end he hands the kingdom over to God the Father (15:24). God’s anointed has then restored everything into God’s governance, so God may be all in all (15:28).

By handing the kingship back to his Father, the Son has resolved even the concession of having an anointed in the first place, a concession that could be viewed as rejecting God as king (1 Samuel 8:7, compare Judges 8:23).

We lose all of that when we translate anointed as “Christ,” disconnecting it from the story of the Scriptures. It’s of primary importance that we tell the good news proclamation of the Lord and his anointed.

What others are saying

Joshua W. Jipp, The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020), 313, 326:

Jesus’s messianic identity is both the presupposition for and content of New Testament theology. While each author engages messianic texts, traditions, and motifs in their own creative and unique way, the result, I suggest, is that Jesus’s messianic kingship functions as a root metaphor or basic assumption for reading the New Testament in a way that other important images do not. …

The confession “Jesus is the Messiah” is the starting point for the early Christian interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel. This conclusion is witnessed to by a diverse array of literary forms and expressions, including: confessions, hymns, scriptural types and quotations, exegetical argumentation, speeches, and intrapersonal dramatic dialogue. And while the NT draws upon a host of biblical texts to articulate Jesus’s identity and mission, the repeated and consistent appeal to certain texts was dependent upon the conviction that Jesus was God’s incarnate, crucified, risen, and enthroned Davidic Messiah (esp. Gen 49:8–12; Num 24:17; Pss 2; 89; 110; 132; Isa 11). The retrospective messianic reading of the OT held together in paradoxical fashion the affirmation that Jesus was God’s true messianic king and inaugurator of God’s kingdom and that Davidic kingship was revealed not through naked power and force but through the embodiment of faithful and righteous suffering.

Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 806–807:

The phrase “according to the Scriptures” has posed even greater difficulties. Since neither the tradition of the third day nor the resurrection is well attested in the OT, several theories have been offered: (a) that it modifies “on the third day” and refers to some specific OT texts; (b) that it refers either to early Christian attempts to write passion and resurrection narratives or to Testimony Books containing OT citations that were interpreted prophetically as referring to the third day; (c) that it reflects a popular Jewish belief that corruption set in only after the third day, so that Jesus was raised on the third day to fulfill a passage in the Psalter (16:9–11 [LXX]) that his body would not suffer “corruption”; (d) that it modifies only the verb “he was raised” and does not include “on the third day”; and (e) that it has the same force here that it did in line 1, asserting that the OT as a whole bears witness to the resurrection on the third day. This latter seems the most likely option. If so, then an early tradition saw the combined evidence from two Psalms (16:8–11 and 110:1) as bearing witness to the Messiah’s resurrection (cf. Acts 2:25–36); and that it happened “on the third day” was probably seen in terms of the variety of OT texts in which salvation or vindication took place on the third day.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

3 thoughts on “How the resurrection of God’s anointed changes everything (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)”

  1. I was looking at this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 when I noticed verse 5:
    ” and that he appeared to Cephas,[footnote: Peter] and then to the Twelve.” [NIVUK]
    How do we explain “Twelve”? Judas Iscariot is not included – the names of 11 disciples are given in Acts 1 v13. Did Paul think that Matthias had already been appointed or was he using “Twelve” as a generic term for the (principal) disciples irrespective of the actual number?


    1. Hi Steve
      Agreed, Judas was definitely not present. I don’t think we need to hypothesize about Matthias: it’s more that the believers understood who “the twelve” referred to, even if only 11 remained.
      Just checked what Gordon Fee has to say in this NICOT commentary (Eerdmans, 2014, page 809), and that’s the approach he takes too:
      “… the reference is to an appearance such as that found in John’s gospel (21:14). The use of the term ‘the Twelve’ is a clear indication that in the early going this was a title given to the special group of twelve whom Jesus called to ‘be with him’ (Mark 3:14). Thus this is their collective designation; it does not imply that all twelve were on hand, since the available evidence indicates otherwise.”
      Doest that help?


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