"If Christ Be Not Risen"
One of the three fundamental facts of the gospel is the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the other two being His death and burial (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This historical event however became a matter of dispute by some among the early Christians, the chief of whom were Hymenaeus and Philetus.
Paul said about these two professed Christians in 2 Timothy 2:18 that they taught the denial of the rising of Christ from the dead saying that “the resurrection is past already”. They probably reasoned from the raising with Christ that occurs in baptism (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12) and concluded that this was the real resurrection, and therefore there was no such thing as the raising of the body of Christ or that of any other man who dies.
With their teaching, Hymenaeus and Philetus caused some to lose faith in Christ. Paul said that they “overthrow the faith of some” (v. 18).
The church at Corinth may be viewed as the epicentre of the doctrine of the repudiation of the resurrection of Christ in the first century, because Paul devoted the subject of the resurrection a lengthy part of the epistle he wrote them, namely the entire 15th chapter in the book of 1 Corinthians. In that discussion, the Apostle took on the false teaching and challenged the proposition on which it was predicated. He said, “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12)
Paul used this rhetorical question to transition from establishing the fact of the resurrection of Christ positively to proving it negatively in an effort to dispel all doubts concerning its reality. In the latter method, he made the case for the resurrection using the fruit-test principle that Jesus taught in Matthew 7. By this principle, any teaching can be studied by examining the logical conclusions that it warrants. Jesus said, referring to false teachers and their resulting doctrines, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (v. 20).
Now, Paul argued that “if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen,” and “if Christ be not risen” the conclusions listed below must follow.
(1) Preaching is vain (v. 14)
This means that preaching is profitless, the word “vain” translating the Greek term for “empty.”
(2) Faith is vain (v. 14)
In the New Testament, “faith” is used to refer to Christian living (2 Corinthians 5:7); this means that Christians submit to and live by the Lord Jesus’ commands. But if Christ is not raised, those commands are useless and Christian lifestyle meaningless.
(3) The Apostles are found to be false witnesses (v. 15)
This would make them proclaimers of, in today’s language, “fake news”. The suggestion is that, if Christ is not raised but the apostles had been out asserting that He was, that means that they had been engaged in telling people a lie.
(4) Faith is vain (v. 17)
Paul used “vain” twice – the word appears the first time in verse 14 and signifies something that is without foundation. The Apostle didn’t mean to be redundant but rather intended to convey, with the use of “vain” in the second instance, the idea that faith is baseless if Christ is not raised from the dead. This statement amounts to saying, when connected to the previous, that believers’ faith is based on a lie. How terrible this would be!
(5) Christians are still in their sins (v. 17)
This, in my judgement, is the most serious implication. If Christ is not raised, then the price for sins has not been paid and thus man is under divine condemnation (Romans 8:1). And if sin has not been removed, sinners will die carrying their sins with them to the grave.
(6) The dead in Christ are perished (v. 18)
If sin is working against man to condemn him, those who have lived the life of a Christian striving to obey Christ’s commands and depriving themselves of the pleasures of this life would have made all this effort for nothing, because they will be sentenced to eternal condemnation at the judgement anyway.
(7) Those who only hoped in Christ are most miserable (v. 19)
If Christ is not risen, then man is faced with nothing in his future but death and destruction of his body.
But Paul concluded his argument with a reaffirmation of the resurrection of Christ as a fact of history. He said, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (v. 20). In other words, the resurrection of Christ marked the beginning of the general resurrection that is to come. Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). We can count on these words of Christ.