Can we really believe that we will live after we die? This is perhaps one of the great challenges to our thinking where faith is demanded. When we die, is there something more? For us, the question is do we go out of existence after the body dies. Some of the Christians in Corinth had difficulty understanding and believing in the resurrection of the dead. It was not that they denied that Jesus rose from the dead. They believed in that, for they were Christians and they had received and stood in this gospel message of the resurrection. But they did not fully understand what the resurrection of Jesus meant for them. Why does the resurrection of Jesus matter? What does his resurrection mean for us? The apostle Paul answers these questions in two parts. First, the apostle Paul explains what it means if there is not a resurrection of the dead (15:12-19). Then, Paul explains what it means since there is a resurrection of the dead (15:20-28).
Problem Declared (15:13)
Paul begins by stating the problem. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then this means that Christ has not been raised from the dead either. These two events go hand in hand. Paul makes a very powerful point. These two events cannot be separated. The resurrection of Christ occurred so that the resurrection of the dead would occur. The first was done to accomplish the second. If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised because that is the whole meaning of the resurrection. The point is not merely about possibility but purpose. Here is what I mean. Paul is not saying that if you think people don’t rise from the dead, then you cannot think that Jesus rose from the dead. That is not the issue the Corinthians are dealing with at this moment. What they fail to recognize is the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection. His resurrection is not a singular act. His resurrection is our hope for our resurrection. What happened to Jesus is what will happen to us. Preaching a risen Jesus means preaching that we also will be raised like he was raised. Paul’s point is that these two resurrections stand together or fall together. You cannot have one without the other. The two resurrections are bound together as one. Paul is now going to give six implications that must be accepted if there is no resurrection of the dead. This is to prove to his audience beyond a doubt that there must the resurrection of the dead.
Six Implications If There Is No Resurrection of the Dead
Verse 13 states the premise: if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. These two events go hand in hand and cannot be separated. If Christ has not been raised, then there are serious problems that we encounter.
Preaching is meaningless. Without the resurrection, then there is nothing worth preaching. The good news becomes bad news. If death is not conquered, then we have nothing to preach to the world. If we do not believe that we will be raised from the dead, then Paul asks, “What are we preaching?” Why are we telling people to believe in Jesus if the consequence is the same? What is there to declare? When you die that you are still dead? It does not make any sense!
Faith is without substance. The second implication is that our faith is without substance. Believing in such a gospel has no value. A dead savior cannot give life. The people in Hebrews 11 who died in faith would have been faithful for nothing. They were mistreated and killed for nothing. This is why Paul began this section declaring that the resurrection is the heart of the gospel. There is no gospel and there is no reason for faith if the dead are not raised.
The apostles are liars. All witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus are liars. They claim Jesus rose from the dead but must be considered false witnesses worthy of death. Then the people who wrote the scriptures are liars and deceivers. They were not innocently mistaken. They were liars. Their words are false, their writings are false, and they are not to be believed at all.
Faith is futile and we are still in our sins. No resurrection means sin won over Christ and continues to win over all people. If Jesus remained dead, then we remain dead. Therefore, the power of sin remains. The power of sin is death (1 Corinthians 15:56). If Jesus was not raised, then his death accomplished nothing for me. The resurrection of Jesus validated the work of his death in forgiving my sins. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul to the Romans:
It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:24–25 ESV)
He was raised for our justification! If Jesus rose, then the power of death is broken and final victory is assured.
Dead believers have perished. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then the destiny for all people, even believers in Jesus, is eternal torment. The phrase “fallen asleep” is a polite way to speak of the dead. It is the same as how we say that someone has “passed away” rather than “died.” But the meaning is the same. If Jesus did not raise, then the dead stay dead and there is no hope of eternal life. The human terror of death as a gloomy portal leading to oblivion and divine condemnation is justified. If Christ is not raised, then when we die we are at best rotting away and at worst in eternal torment.
We are to be pitied. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then the Christian life looks stupid. We must be pitied for our whole life has been a sham, a charade, and a joke. We deserve the compassion reserved for fools. The apostles have suffered and sacrificed for nothing. Christians have suffered and sacrificed for nothing. We have been living the wrong way if this is the only life to live. No resurrection means we need to revert back to selfish living because this is your one and only time to live. We must be pitied for not doing so for we have wasted our lives and wasted our time if Jesus has not risen.
Jesus Is Risen As The Firstfruits (15:20)
Verse 20 declares the reality. Christ has been raised from the dead. His resurrection is a fact. But here is the key: Christ guarantees our resurrection. Paul describes Christ’s resurrection as a firstfruits. The firstfruits in the Old Testament (cf. Leviticus 23:10-11, 17, 20) was not only prior to the main harvest, but was the assurance that the rest of the harvest was coming. The firstfruits were a representative sample of the crop. The full harvest could not be made until the firstfruits were offered. Therefore, the firstfruits of the harvest meant that there was more to come. Jesus’ resurrection requires our resurrection! Jesus experienced a permanent resurrection of the body, never to die again, unlike all the other resurrections we read in the scriptures. Jesus’ resurrection was the only one where the person never died again. Jesus was the first to rise and never die again. His act guarantees our resurrection, never to die again. As we noted in our Luke study but it is worth noting again, Jesus did not experience a spiritual resurrection. He experienced a bodily resurrection. They saw him and he was not a ghost. They talked with him and touched him. Jesus ate with them. Jesus rose from the grave in a bodily resurrection. The teaching that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection is powerful. It means that what happened to Jesus will happen to us. His resurrection is the proof of our resurrection. Later in this chapter Paul is going to explain how this is possible and we will save our discussion of that question for then.
Living In The Hope of Resurrection
Are we living a life in the hope of the resurrection of the dead, or are we living like the rest of the world? It is the hope of the resurrection that leads to the changed life. If we do not believe that we will be raised from the dead, then we are declaring seven things: (1) Jesus did not raise from the dead. (2) Teaching people about Jesus is pointless. (3) Our faith in Jesus has no substance. (4) The apostles and all those who witnessed the risen Jesus are liars. (5) We are still condemned in our sins. (6) Those who died in Christ have perished. (7) We should be pitied for believing what we have believed. May we never question whether we will rise from the dead. May we never doubt that there is life after death for to doubt and to question this is to doubt and question the promises of God’s word. To question our resurrection is to say that Jesus is still dead. That is the powerful implication. Since there is the resurrection of the dead, the question we must ask is: What must I do to prepare myself for the life to come? This life no longer is important except that I must use this life to prepare for the coming new life. Recognizing this changes everything I do today.
Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46 how we act now and what we do toward others determines my eternal destiny. This life determines your resurrection outcome. Will we be raised to life everlasting or everlasting torment? Jesus died and rose from the dead so you would be raised to life after you die. Put your faith in Jesus and give your life in full submission to him to obtain that hope today.