‘Tis the season to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what if the resurrection of Jesus Christ never took place? Paul answers that question in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a crucial element of the gospel, without it there would be serious consequences.
If there were no such thing as a physical resurrection then Christ would not be risen (v.13). And to get around such a claim, the disbelieving Corinthians probably claimed that Christ was not really a man, or was not fully a man. They would have assumed that he was divine but He could not possibly have been human, and therefore only appeared to be human. So therefore, he did not die, he only appeared to die. According to this view, His appearances between the crucifixion and the ascension were simply continuing manifestations that only seemed to be bodily.
But this does not square up with what the gospel writers, Jesus Himself, and the apostles taught. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly live and ministry are of a person who was entirely human. He was born to a human mother, and He ate, drank, slept, became tired, was crucified, was stabbed, bled, and died. And at His first appearance to the Twelve after the resurrection He made the point of having them touch Him in order to prove that He was not simply a spirit.
Christ was fully human; He physically lived, died, and lived again. Therefore if there is no such thing as a physical resurrection, not even Christ has been raised.
If there be no resurrection then preaching the gospel would be vain – worthless (v.14). For the heart of the gospel is Christ’s death and resurrection “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ 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” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
Apart from the resurrection, Jesus could not have conquered sin or death or hell, and those great evils would be forever man’s conquerors.
Without the resurrection the good news would be bad news, and there would be nothing worth preaching. Without the resurrection the gospel would be an empty hopeless message of meaningless nonsense. The gospel would be a sham. Unless our Lord conquered sin and death, making a way for men to follow in that victory, there is no gospel to proclaim.
Now if the gospel is a sham, so is the faith that it produced (v. 14) A dead savior could not give life. If the dead rise not, Christ did not rise, and we will not rise. If there is no resurrection than the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 would instead be the hall of the foolish. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and all the others would have been faithful for nothing. They would have been mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, afflicted, ill-treated, and put to death completely for naught. All believers of all ages would have believed for nothing, lived for nothing, and died for nothing.
If Christ be not raised, then all witnesses to the resurrection and all preachers of the resurrection would be liars (v. 15). They would be pseudo-witnesses, claiming falsely to be from God and witnessing falsely against God that He raised Christ. To deny the resurrection is to call the apostles and every other leader of the New Testament church not simply mistaken but willfully mistaken, – liars. There is no possibility that such a mistake could have been innocent or naive.
If Christ was not raised from the dead, they not only were not sent by God with a message from Him, but were liars who would have had to conspire together in order for their lies to have been consistent and harmonized.
If the apostles, the prophets, and the New Testament writers lied about the heart of the gospel why should they be believed about anything else? Why should their moral teachings be considered inspired and lofty if they so blatantly falsified their teaching about Jesus’ resurrection? All New Testament truth stands or falls together based on the resurrection.
But also those witnesses would have testified, preached, and taught a lie for which they were maligned, beaten, imprisoned, and often martyred. Such self-sacrifice, however, is not the stuff of which charlatans are made. People do not die to preserve a lie.
And although Paul does not specifically say it, it clearly follows that if the resurrection were not true than Christ Himself lied, or at best was tragically mistaken. In either case, He hardly would have been qualified as the divine Son of God or the world’s Savior and Lord. Jesus would have not been Victor but victim. Or if the New Testament writers completely misrepresented what both Christ and the apostles taught, then the New Testament would be a worthless document that no reasonable person would trust.
If Christ be not raised, then all men would still be in their sins (v. 17).In verse 16 Paul restates his argument. A dead Christ would be the chief disastrous consequence from which all the other consequences would result. The next consequence is both personal and serious. After repeating the consequence that believers’ faith would be worthless, or vain, the apostle points to the obvious additional result that believes would be no better off spiritually than unbelievers. Christians would still be in their sins just as much as the most wicked and unbelieving pagan.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then sin won victory over Christ and therefore continues to be victorious over all men. If Jesus remained dead, then, when we die, we too will remain dead and damned.
And if we remain dead, then death and eternal punishment are the only prospects of believer and unbeliever alike.
The purpose of trusting in Christ is for forgiveness of sins, because it is from sin that we need to be saved.
If Christ was not raised, His death was in vain, our faith in Him is in vain, and our sins are still counted against us. We are still dead in trespasses and sins and will forever remain spiritually dead and sinful. If Christ was not raised, then He did not bring forgiveness of sins or salvation or reconciliation or spiritual life, either for now or for eternity.
But God did raise Jesus from the dead. “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25).
Because Jesus does live, we too shall live (John 14:19).
If Christ be not raised, then all former believers would have eternally perished (v. 18). All who fall sleep is a common euphemism for death. And if Christ is not risen then every saint, Old Testament and Christian, who had died would have forever perished. Obviously the same consequence would apply to every saint who has died since Paul wrote. That would include Paul himself, the apostles, Augstine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Moody, and every other believer of every other age would spend eternity in torment, without God and without hope. Their faith would be in vain, their sins soul have been unforgiven, and their destiny would be damnation.
If Christ be not raised, then Christians would be the most pitiable people on earth (v.19).In light of the other consequences, the last is obvious. Without the resurrection, and the salvation and blessings that it brings, Christianity would be pointless and pitiable. Without the resurrection we would have no Savior, no forgiveness, no gospel, no meaningful faith, no life, and no hope of any of those things.
To have hoped in Christ in this life only would be to teach, preach, suffer, sacrifice, and work entirely for nothing. If Christ is still dead, then He no only cannot help us in regard to the life to come but He cannot help us now. If He cannot grant us eternal life, he cannot improve our earthly life. If He is not alive, where would be our source of peace, joy, or satisfaction now. The Christian life would be a mockery, a charade, a tragic joke.
The Christian has no Savior but Christ, no redeemer but Christ, no Lord but Christ. Therefore, if Christ was not raised, He is not alive, and our Christian life is lifeless. We would have nothing to justify our faith, our Bible study, our preaching or witnessing, our service for Him or our worship of Him, and nothing to justify our hope either for this life or the next. We would deserve nothing but the compassion reserved for fools.
But we are not to be pitied You don’t need to worry, Christ did rise. He is risen. He is risen indeed. To God be the glory!