The Dead Cannot Rise?
First Corinthians 15 is known as the resurrection chapter of the Bible. The reason is that it’s all about the subject of the resurrection of Christ which the Apostle Paul set out to defend there. He did that with a six-point rebuttal of the opposing view that had begun to spring up in the church at Corinth concerning the fact that Christ rose from the dead.
The Apostle’s question in verse 12 indicates that the antithetical views amounted to a repudiation of the resurrection. He asked, “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?”
Paul observed, with this rhetorical question, that some Christians had lost faith in the reality of the resurrection of Christ and were denying it. This fundamental truth of the gospel had yet been preached to them by the Apostle, and they had believed it (Acts 18:8). But they now believed that the dead cannot rise. Who were they? We don’t know as their names are not mentioned. They may have been saints under the influence of the doctrine of the Sadducees, a religious group that existed in the days of Christ, which did not believe in the resurrection of the body (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). They may have been followers of Gnosticism, a Greek philosophy whose tenets stated that the spirit of man is good, but the body evil, and consequently all that is left to man to do is seek to develop the spirit (1 John 4:2).
Paul’s defense began with an affirmation that a number of people had seen the resurrected Christ. He said, “He [Christ] was seen by Cephas [Peter, emphasis mine], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (5-8). Paul thus argues, implicitly, that the testimonies of eyewitnesses constitute direct evidence of the resurrection of the Lord.
The Apostle Paul then proceeded to show the consequences of the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection as follows.
First, Paul said, if the resurrection is impossible then Christ is not risen (13). And that means Christ was a mere man, but the Scripture contains evidence to the contrary. Romans 1:4 says that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”. In other words, the resurrection of Christ is the proof Christ is deity; He died never to die again (Hebrews 1:3, 4:14; Ephesians 1:20). So, to hold that Christ did not rise from the dead is to deny one of the fundamentals of Christianity.
Second, if it is held that Christ was not raised from the dead it must follow that preaching is vain (14). It is useless to preach since the resurrection is the core of the gospel message. The Apostles’ preaching was thus “empty” (NKJ). It was meaningless.
Third, another consequence is that faith is also “empty”. Christians in Corinth believed in their own resurrection based on the resurrection of Christ. Jesus declared that he would rise from the dead (Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22). But if He did not rise, that means Christians have been lied to by Jesus and that makes the Lord an impostor. The Apostle, also, have been “found false witnesses of God” or, simply stated, they have been engaged in telling lies to their audience (15). They have gone places asserting that God has the power to bring the dead back to life and has raised up Christ, but their declaration was untrue.
Fourth, the death of Jesus is the only sufficient payment for sin and the pardon of sin is dependent on His death and resurrection (Luke 24:46-47). But if Christ has not risen, “ye are yet in your sins” (17). This means that sin remains unpardonable, and every sinner therefore is in a hopeless position.
Fifth, first century grieving Christians who mourned their fellow saints or loved ones that had suffered for their faith in the Lord were comforted with the hope of the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But if Christ is not risen, the dead “in Christ are perished” since there will be no resurrection for them. Those who died as Christians will be destroyed and go down to perdition (18).
Finally, if all men do in this life on earth is hope in Christ, and yet there is nothing to it, then they are to be pitied (19). This means that after a man or woman has faced troubles in this earthly existence, they still will endure the disappointment of the nonexistence of eternal life.
It would be sad for a person to embrace a doctrine that involves all these consequences. The truth is, a true Christian would not be associated with them. “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19)