What if Christ Had Not Been Raised From the Dead? – 1 Cor. 15:12-19

22 Apr

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

Christians attempting to share their faith are often shocked by the world’s denial of the possibility of Resurrection. The gospel remains an irritating and upsetting challenge to the commonly held views of life and death. Christians are convinced that Jesus’ resurrection did happen, and that it changed everything. The Christian faith comes from Christ’s experience, not people’s individual feelings or desires. The conviction of the Resurrection gives believers hope for the future.

15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?NIV The gospel message the Corinthians had received and believed included the basic facts recorded in 15:3-4: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (niv). The words “if it is preached” mean “since it was preached.” The Corinthian believers had accepted the message of the gospel because of the promise of the Resurrection—a fact central to the Christian faith. In order to believe in their own resurrection, they had to believe that Christ has been raised from the dead. If they had believed that, why then were some of them saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? Such a belief contradicted the entire gospel message.

The exact beliefs of those who stated this “no resurrection” are unknown. They may have held the Greek view that matter was evil and, therefore, no physical body would rise. Most Greeks did not believe that people’s bodies would be resurrected after death. They saw the afterlife as something that happened only to the soul. According to Greek philosophers, the soul was the real person, imprisoned in a physical body, and at death the soul was released. There was no immortality for the body, but the soul entered an eternal state. Or they may have taken an overly spiritualized view of the present state as Christians. They were “spiritual people,” so the body would be unnecessary. Christianity, by contrast, affirms that the body and soul will be united after resurrection.

The church at Corinth was in the heart of Greek culture. Thus many believers had a difficult time believing in a bodily resurrection. Paul wrote this part of his letter to clear up this confusion about the resurrection.

15:13-14 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.NIV Paul argued that if the resurrection is not possible, then Jesus is still in the grave.

If Jesus is still in the grave, then the apostles’ preaching is useless because they preached a risen Savior. If Christ has not been raised, believers’ faith is also useless. Why believe in a dead “Savior”? If Jesus is still dead, then his Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

Martin Luther


sacrifice did not appease God for believers’ sin, and believers have no advocate with the Father (Hebrews 7:25; 8:1). They also have no Comforter in the Holy Spirit, for he was to come when Christ returned to glory (John 16:5, 13-15). They have no hope of eternal life if not even their Savior gained eternal life. They have no reason to believe a gospel message, centered on Resurrection, if there is no resurrection of the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the central fact of Christian history. On it, the church is built; without it, there would be no Christian church today. Jesus’ resurrection is unique. Other religions have strong ethical systems, concepts about paradise and afterlife, and various holy Scriptures. Only Christianity has a God who became human, literally died for his people, and was raised again in power and glory to rule his church forever.
Why is the Resurrection so important?
·       Because Christ was raised from the dead, we know that the kingdom of heaven has broken into earth’s history. Our world is now headed for redemption, not disaster. God’s mighty power is at work destroying sin, creating new lives, and preparing us for Jesus’ second coming.
·       Because of the Resurrection, we know that death has been conquered, and we too will be raised from the dead to live forever with Christ.
·       The Resurrection gives authority to the church’s witness in the world. Look at the early evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts: The apostles’ most important message was the proclamation that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead!
·       The Resurrection helps us find meaning even in great tragedy. No matter what happens to us as we walk with the Lord, the Resurrection gives us hope for the future.
·       The Resurrection assures us that Christ is alive and ruling his kingdom. He is not legend; he is alive and real.
·       God’s power that brought Jesus back from the dead is available to us so that we can live for him in an evil world.
Christians can look very different from one another, and they can hold widely varying beliefs about politics, lifestyle, and even theology. But one central belief unites and inspires all true Christians—Jesus Christ rose from the dead!
The bodily resurrection of Christ is the center of the Christian faith. Because Christ rose from the dead, as he promised, we know that what he said is true and that he is God. The Resurrection affirms the truthfulness of Jesus’ life and words. The Resurrection confirms Jesus’ unique authority to say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Because he rose, we have certainty that our sins are forgiven. Because he rose, he lives and represents us before God. Because he rose and defeated death, we know we will also be raised. Christ’s resurrection guaranteed both his promise to us and his authority to make it. We must take him at his word and believe.

15:15-16 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.NIV If Christ has not been raised from the dead, not only would the apostles’ preaching be “useless” (15:14), but the apostles themselves would be considered liars—false witnesses about God—because they had been preaching about God that he raised Christ from the dead. The apostles had been telling people that God raised Christ from the dead. However, if resurrection is impossible, if the dead are not raised, then Christ was not raised. This point is repeated from 15:13 to drive home the point. The Corinthians had to understand the logical implications of the position they had chosen. To no longer believe in the physical resurrection was to throw away the entire gospel message. They could not claim to be Christians without believing in the Resurrection.

15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins.NLT Again Paul proclaimed that if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless (see 15:14). They have no reason to have faith if they take the Resurrection out of that faith. In addition to taking away the hope of future life with God, refusing to believe that Jesus rose from the grave means that Christians are still under condemnation for [their] sins. If Jesus died and was never raised, then his death did nothing to accomplish justification. God raising him from the dead showed acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice. If God left Jesus in the grave, then the sacrifice was not accepted and no one has received cleansing from sin. The condemnation for sin is death (Romans 6:23). To still be under condemnation means that all people will be given the ultimate penalty for their sins.

Why does Paul say believers should be pitied if there were only earthly value to Christianity? In Paul’s day, Christianity often brought a person persecution, ostracism from family, and, in many cases, poverty. There were few tangible benefits from being a Christian in that society. It was certainly not a step up the social or career ladder. Even more important, however, is the fact that if Christ had not been resurrected from death, Christians could not be forgiven for their sins and would have no hope of eternal life.
 In many places in the world today, those who believe in Christ still pay a heavy price. Some are dying for their faith. But for many, Christianity is little more than a convenient faith. If following Christ doesn’t place you at odds with the world around you in some way, examine the depth of your roots.

15:18-19 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ have perished! And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.NLT Christians carry with them, even through persecution and death, the promise of eternal life with God. Yet if Christ was never raised from the dead, and if there is no hope of resurrection, then all who have died believing in Christ have perished! If all the preachers lied (15:15) and no one will be raised, then not only is faith meaningless for this life, it is meaningless in death. Those who believed in Christ believed a lie; those who died because of persecution for their faith perished for no reason. The consequences of believing the lie that there will be no resurrection shake the very foundations of the Christian faith. Paul pointed out the silliness of the argument—if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world. If the only promise of the Christian faith applies to this life, then why believe in it? Why believe in a faith that brought—in this culture and even still in many places in the world—persecution, sorrow, death, ostracism, separation? Without the resurrection, there would be no hope for final judgment and justice or hope for a final dwelling place with God. There would be nothing but death to look forward to. If the end is the same for everyone, why not live like the pagans in sensual pleasure (15:32)? Why deny oneself? Why be miserable if the other choices bring the same result?

It was not the resurrection of our Lord which was denied by some at Corinth, but rather the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of men. The denial of the resurrection of the dead is a denial of Scriptural teaching:

1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3).

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:24-27).

28 “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul does not turn us to these texts or others like them, but rather to the gospel which he has just declared and which the Corinthians have received. Paul reasons from the resurrection of our Lord. If Christ has indeed risen from the dead, then how is it possible for anyone to reason that there is no resurrection from the dead? To say that there is no resurrection of the dead, and yet to affirm that Christ rose from the dead, is a logical impossibility. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then we must also conclude that Christ did not rise from the dead either.

The Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead are wrong on many counts. Paul chooses to begin with the most significant error in verses 12-19. He reasons that a denial of the resurrection of the dead is, of necessity, a denial of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Since God has provided undeniable proof for Christ’s resurrection, and since Paul and more than 500 others are witnesses of His resurrection, no one can logically say that there is no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. The Corinthians are logically wrong because they hold two contradictory statements to be true at the same time. First, they hold the resurrection of Christ from the dead to be true. Second, they hold the resurrection of anyone from the dead to be false. They must choose one or the other. Logically one cannot affirm and deny the resurrection of the dead at the same time. In denying the resurrection of the dead, some of the Corinthians are wrong, dead wrong!

The conclusion they reach—that the dead are not raised—is not logical, given the resurrection of our Lord from the dead. Furthermore, the implications of such a conclusion are astounding. Paul first rejects their conclusion as illogical; now he challenges the implications of their conclusion that the dead are not raised. What if Christ had not been raised from the dead? What would the implications of this conclusion be? In a word, they would be horrifying.

If Christ was not raised from the dead, then the gospel, outlined in verses 1-11, is false. The resurrection of our Lord was proclaimed by Paul and the apostles as one of the foundational truths of the gospel. Further, since the apostles[1] preached Christ crucified, buried, and raised again from the dead, their ministry would be vain if Christ did not actually rise from the grave (verse 14). It would be vain in the sense that these men risked their lives and made monumental sacrifices for a message that was false and which had no saving power. Both the message of the apostles and their ministry would be rendered useless if the proclamation of our Lord’s resurrection were proven false.

Not only would the apostles’ preaching topple if the resurrection of Christ had not occurred, but the faith of those who believed their message would also be undermined. The gospel Paul preached at Corinth is the gospel which proclaimed Christ’s resurrection. It is also the gospel the Corinthians received, by which they are being saved, and in which they stand (14:1-2). If Christ did not rise from the dead, their faith is without foundation; it is empty and useless.

As Paul’s argument unfolds, it gets worse. Up to this point, the apostles’ ministry and message have been shown to be worthless. Now in verse 15, Paul shows that the denial of Christ’s resurrection puts the apostles in an even more serious dilemma. If the gospel they have been preaching is a false gospel, then these men are actually in serious trouble with God. They are “false witnesses.” They have misrepresented God, making false claims about Him by proclaiming that He raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. They have defamed God. From an Old Testament point of view, the apostles would be exposed as false prophets (Deuteronomy 13 and 18:14-22), and this they would be, if Christ had not risen from the dead.

Things get worse for the Corinthians, as well as the apostles, if indeed Christ did not rise. Their faith in Christ would be worthless, for they have trusted in a dead man, a man who staked the integrity of His ministry and message on His resurrection (see Matthew 12:38-40; 27:62-64). If Christ was not raised from the dead, then His death on Calvary was meaningless, and the Corinthians are still condemned sinners. Take away the resurrection and you pull the rug out from under the atoning work of our Lord. It is not merely the death, but the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord which saves sinners. To deny the resurrection of our Lord is to condemn men as sinners, without hope of forgiveness and eternal life. And so those saints who have already “fallen asleep” (verse 18) have no hope beyond the grave. They are dead and gone. In this sad state of affairs, brought about if Christ did not rise, Christians should be pitied for their stupidity, not persecuted.

Paul attacks the central position of his opponents at Corinth. They said flatly, “Dead men do not rise again.” Paul’s answer is, “If you take up that position it means that Jesus Christ has not risen again; and if that be so, the whole Christian faith is wrecked.”

Why did Paul regard a belief in the Resurrection of Jesus as so essential? What great values and great truths does it conserve? It proves four great facts, which can make all the difference to a man’s view of life here and hereafter.

(i) The Resurrection proves that truth is stronger than falsehood. According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus said to his enemies, “Now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth.” (John 8:40). Jesus came with the true idea of God and of goodness; his enemies procured his death because they did not want their own false view destroyed. If they had succeeded in finally obliterating him, falsehood would have been stronger than truth. On one occasion the Earl of Morton, regent of Scotland, sent for Andrew Melville, the great Reformation leader. “Ther will never be quyetnes in this countrey,” said Morton, “till halff a dissone of you be hangit or banished the countrey.” “Tushe! sir,” said Melville, “threaten your courtiers in that fashion. It is the same to me whether I rot in the air or in the ground. … Yet God be glorified, it will nocht ly in your power to hang nor exyll his treuthe!” The Resurrection is the final guarantee of the indestructibility of the truth.

(ii) The Resurrection proves that good is stronger than evil. Again to quote the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is represented as saying to his enemies, “You are of your father, the devil.” (John 8:44). The forces of evil crucified Jesus and if there had been no Resurrection these forces would have been triumphant. J. A. Froude, the great historian, wrote, “One lesson, and only one, history may be said to repeat with distinctness, that the world is built somehow on moral foundations, that in the long run it is well with the good, and in the long run it is ill with the wicked.” But if the Resurrection had not taken place, that very principle would have been imperilled, and we could never again be certain that goodness is stronger than evil.

(iii) The Resurrection proves that love is stronger than hatred. Jesus was the love of God incarnate.

“Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine.”

On the other hand, the attitude of those who procured his crucifixion was an almost virulent hatred, so bitter that in the end it was capable of ascribing the loveliness and graciousness of his life to the power of the devil. If there had been no Resurrection, it would have meant that the hatred of man in the end conquered the love of God. The Resurrection is the triumph of love over all that hatred could do. This very beautiful poem sums up the whole matter.

“I heard two soldiers talking As they came down the hill, The sombre hill of Calvary,

Bleak and black and still. And one said, ‘The night is late, These thieves take long to die.’

And one said, ‘I am sore afraid, And yet I know not why.’

I heard two women weeping As down the hill they came,

And one was like a broken rose, And one was like a flame.

One said, ‘Men shall rue This deed their hands have done.’

And one said only through her tears, ‘My son! my son! my son!’

I heard two angels singing Ere yet the dawn was bright,

And they were clad in shining robes, Robes and crowns of light.

And one sang, ‘Death is vanquished,’ And one in golden voice

Sang, ‘Love hath conquered, conquered all, O heaven and earth rejoice!’”

The Resurrection is the final proof that love is stronger than hate.

(iv) The Resurrection proves that life is stronger than death. If Jesus had died never to rise again, it would have proved that death could take the loveliest and best life that ever lived and finally break it. During the second world war a certain city church in London was all set out for harvest thanksgiving. In the centre of the gifts was a sheaf of corn. The service was never held, for, on the Saturday night, a savage air raid laid the church in ruins. The months passed and the spring came, and someone noticed that, on the bomb site where the church had stood, there were shoots of green. The summer came and the shoots flourished and in the autumn there was a flourishing patch of corn growing amidst the rubble. Not even the bombs and the destruction could kill the life of the corn and its seeds. The Resurrection is the final proof that life is stronger than death.

Paul insisted that if the Resurrection of Jesus was not a fact the whole Christian message was based on a lie, that many thousands had died trusting in a delusion, that without it the greatest values in life have no guarantee. “Take away the Resurrection,” he said, “and you destroy both the foundation and the fabric of the Christian faith.”[2]

[1]Our preaching” in verse 14, followed up by “we” in verse 15, must refer to the apostolic preaching of the gospel.  It is not just Paul’s gospel which falls if the resurrection of our Lord did not happen; it is the gospel proclaimed by all the apostles.

[2] William Barclay, ed., The Letters to the Corinthians, The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1975), 146–149.

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Posted by on April 22, 2023 in Resurrection


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