1 Corinthians 15:12-19

What if there is no resurrection? — The consequences are grave!

Having established historically the truth of the resurrection of Christ and the fact that this is the tradition that all the apostles endorsed and were preaching, Paul is now ready to move to the next step in his argument.

A doctrinal problem had developed with respect to the resurrection—not the resurrection of Christ per se, but the resurrection of believers, or perhaps just resurrection at all. In this case, we do not need to speculate on the specific issue, since Paul gives it to us: some Corinthians are saying that there is no resurrection of the dead.

Since Paul clearly taught the importance of the resurrection of the body, the only thing this group in Corinth could do was to deny his teaching by clinging to their belief that there is no resurrection of the dead.

Paul’s teaching on this is the same type of teaching that made some in Athens sneer at him when he broached the resurrection of Jesus.

  • Ac 17:29-33 [Paul speaking to the men of the Areopagus in Athens]. “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst.

The linchpin of Paul’s response to this heresy is the doctrine of the humanity of Christ and his resurrection on the third day after his death and burial. We discussed that last time. Paul expounds on the resurrection of Christ as proof that dead human beings do, in fact, rise from the dead and that Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1Co 15:20).

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

  • Some of the Corinthians were denying not that Jesus rose from the dead (they “believed” this, v11) but that people generally would be raised.
    • 1Co 15:11. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
  • Some of you say. The Corinthian believers believed in Christ’s resurrection, or else they could not have been Christians.
    • Jn 6:44. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
    • Jn 11:25. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
    • Ac 4:12. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
    • 2Co 4:14. He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
    • 1Th 4:16. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
  • But some had particular difficulty accepting and understanding the resurrection of regular people. Some of this confusion was a result of their experiences with pagan philosophies and religions. A basic tenet of much of ancient Greek philosophy was dualism, which taught that everything physical was intrinsically evil; so the idea of a resurrected body was repulsive and disgusting. More on that later.
  • This is just speculation, but perhaps some Jews in the Corinthian church had formerly been influenced by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection even though it is taught in the OT.
    • Job 19:26. After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.
    • Ps 16:8-10. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
    • Ps 17:15. I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
    • Dan 12:2. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
  • On the other hand, NT teaching in the words of our Lord himself was extensive on the resurrection and it was the theme of the apostolic preaching.
    • Jn 5:25-29. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
    • Jn 6:44. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
    • Jn 11:25. Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
    • Jn 14:18-20. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
    • Ac 4:1-2. As Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
  • Paul emphasizes four times in v12–19 that those who deny the physical and bodily resurrection of people in general also deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, even if they claim the latter is true.

13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

  • The two resurrections, Christ’s and believers’, stand or fall together; if there is no resurrection, then Christ is dead. (Also in v16)

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

  • The first effect of no resurrection is that the apostolic preaching on this is wrong. Paul has just described in brief the core of the apostolic preaching in v3ff, and one essential element is that Jesus was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
    • 1Co 15:3-6. 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. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
  • If the dead (including Jesus) are not raised, then this is a lie.
  • Another consequence of no resurrection is that our faith in Christ is in vain. There is no hope in a dead messiah!

15-16 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.

  • If there is no resurrection, then God did not raise Jesus from the dead and that means that all preachers of the Gospel are false witnesses.
  • If Jesus were still dead and buried in a grave somewhere, that would mean that death got the last word. Consequently, the one who won the battle between Satan and Jesus was, in fact, Satan, for he is the one who holds the power of death.
    • Heb 2:14. Since the children share in flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

  • Still in your sins. The proof that Christ’s death was an effective substitutionary sacrifice for sins lies in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
    • 1Co 15:3. I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
    • 1Co 11:23-26. I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
    • Ro 4:25 speaks of “Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
  • Paul taught that Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Ro 4:25). The bodily resurrection of Jesus is critical to the doctrine of justification from sin. Without the resurrection of Jesus, believers are still lost in their sins and under the wrath of the Father.
  • Since we are justified by faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Son of God, that faith, too, is useless, since it would at best be faith in a dead and buried Jesus rather than faith in the living Lord.
  • If in fact Christ has not been raised, then his death did not pay for sin, and there is no hope for life with God in heaven, as we’ll see in the next two verses.

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

  • Fallen asleep. As we saw in v6, this is a common euphemism for death. The verb κοιμάω (koimaw) literally means “sleep,” but it is often used in the Bible as a euphemism for death when speaking of believers.
    • 1Co 15:6. Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
    • 1Co 15:20. In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
    • 1Co 11:30. Many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
    • Ac 7:60 [Stephen, as he was being stoned]. Falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
    • 2Pt 3:4. Scoffers will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
  • This metaphorical usage by its very nature emphasizes the hope of resurrection: Believers will one day “wake up” out of death.
  • This is not soul sleep, by the way, in which the body dies and the soul, or spirit, supposedly rests in unconsciousness.
  • Paul believed that those who died went to be with the Lord immediately after their death and prior to their resurrection.
    • 2Co 5:6-9. We are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
    • Php 1:21-23. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
  • But he also conceived of the believer’s eternal existence as an embodied existence. If there is no such existence, then there is no eternal life.
  • If the dead are not raised, then there is no comfort or encouragement at all for the loved ones of deceased believers, for these deceased Christians would indeed miss out on the future glory.
  • If Christ had not been raised, then those who have died are lost.

19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

  • The essence of hope is that it looks forward to the future, and the ultimate future that the believers anticipate is a new heaven and a new earth, and glorified bodies like Christ’s glorified body.
    • Php 3:20-21. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
  • Most to be pitied. Why are we most to be pitied? This is because of the sacrifices made in this life in light of the hope of life to come. If there is no life to come, we would be better to eat, drink, and be merry before we die.
  • If there is no resurrection, then we are living a lie. We have a hope that will turn out to be a false hope, and that on which we set the entire focus of our lives will come to nothing. That would indeed be very sad!

 

Final notes:

Some of the believers in the Corinthian church had a hard time believing in a general resurrection. Sure, Jesus came back to life, but he’s God; that’s different. People, in general, are not raised from the dead.

What would drive people in Corinth to hold such a view? It seems most likely that these people were under the influence of some of the central tenets of Greek philosophical thinking. Traditional Greek thought divided the human being into body and soul, and the soul was considered to be in the prison of the body. At the time of death, the soul escaped the body and was free from that prison to inhabit the spiritual realm. So why would anyone want to have a body again and imprison the soul a second time? The concept of a physical, embodied existence after death was known mainly from popular fables of that time and was thought laughable by the educated.

In this section, Paul gives six disastrous consequences if there is no resurrection. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, these are all true.

  1. Preaching Christ would be senseless
  2. Faith in Christ would be useless
  3. All the witnesses and preachers of the resurrection would be false witnesses
  4. No one would be redeemed from sin
  5. All former believers would have perished
  6. Christians would be the most pitiable people on earth

Let me ask you a question that may seem a bit off topic, but I trust you’ll see the relevance of it with the explanation.

Are you more dedicated to Jesus or to truth?

I posted this question on Facebook a while ago and I got a lot of negative feedback.

I went on to ask that if Jesus turns out to not be the way, the truth, and the life, would you still be dedicated to him? If you say “Yes,” then you are more dedicated to Jesus (a false messiah in that case) than to truth. If you say “No,” then you are more dedicated to truth than to Jesus.

I suggest that we should all be dedicated to truth, following that pursuit wherever it may lead, and only follow Jesus as long as we are convinced he is the truth. If he proves not to be who he said he was, we should abandon him.

Now, I understand the negative feedback; this is a very uncomfortable discussion. In fact, it almost seems blasphemous, doesn’t it?

It’s been said “The proper way to choose which religion to join is to join whichever religion is true.” I agree with that.

Basically, my point was this: If Jesus is who he claimed to be, we should follow him and be his disciples. He deserves and demands our worship and our total obedience. If, however, he is not who he claimed to be, we should abandon Christianity as a false religion. Our pursuit of truth demands one of these two responses to Jesus and his claims.

As for me, I am fully convinced that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be—

  • He is God
  • Our holy and righteous Savior
  • The terrifying judge of all unbelievers
  • The heir of all things
  • The creator of all things
  • The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of God’s nature
  • The one who upholds the universe by the word of his power
  • The one who made purification for sins and then sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
  • The King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Therefore,

  • We owe him our total and complete allegiance, obedience, and submission.
  • We must worship him and serve him with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength.
  • As believers we are his slaves and his ambassadors, and it’s our singular purpose to strive to be good slaves and ambassadors.
  • We are commanded to think.
  • We are commanded to study and learn his Word.
  • We are commanded to be humble and contrite, yet bold in proclaiming his Gospel to the world.

Of these things, I am convinced, because I am convinced that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be. If I am wrong, however, I am of all people most to be pitied.

 

 

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One thought on “1 Corinthians 15:12-19

  1. Pingback: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 | Jono's Bible Study Notes

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