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1 Corinthians 15:12-23: A Resurrection Perspective Print E-mail
Easter Season
Sunday, 12 April 2009

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I would venture to guess that most of you believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. You believe that Christ really died and was really buried and that He really came back from the dead. There are many who do not believe this (some who even claim to be Christians). They may believe in some sort of resurrection, but they do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead. Yet, I donít think I have ever met a professing Christian who denies Christís bodily resurrection. Thus, I assume that most of us this morning believe it as well.

April 12th, 2009

Trinity Baptist Church

William Marshall

1 Corinthians 15:12-24

For those who would deny Christís resurrection Paul points to its historicity in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. He argues that it is a central part of the gospel and that it was witnessed by more than five hundred people. Yet, there was a problem in Corinth (actually many problems if you consider the whole letter). Look at verse 12. Some in Corinth were claiming that there was no resurrection of the dead. Seemingly, they were not denying the resurrection of Christ, but the bodily resurrection of His followers. They believed that Christ was raised, otherwise Paulís argument makes little sense, but they did not believe in a more general resurrection. He corrects this error by pointing out the problems of denying a general resurrection (v. 12-34) and by explaining what our resurrection bodies will be like (v. 35-57). I want us to look at the part of his argument that deals with the denial of the resurrection of believers.

Before we jump in, let me set before you why I think this passage is particularly important for us. In one sense, we do not deny the resurrection of believers like some in Corinth were doing. We believe in the resurrection of Christ and we believe in the resurrection of believers. At least we would all claim to believe in a future resurrection. Yet, it seems to me that we often struggle to live that belief out in our lives. Sure, we know that this is not our home, that there is a heaven to come, that our future is secure in Christ. But how much does this knowledge impact the way we live from day to day? I want us to keep this question in our minds as we walk through this portion of Paulís argument in 1 Corinthians 15. I want to return to it at the end. First, letís look at Paulís defense of the resurrection of believers.

If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised (v. 12-13, 16).

Paul lays out a logical argument to combat their denial of the resurrection of the dead. Look again at verses 12-13. He argues from general to particular: ĎIf people are not raised from the dead (general), then Christ has not been raised (particular).í His logic is simple and straight-forward. You cannot claim to believe in Christís resurrection and deny that resurrection is possible. We are not told exactly why they are struggling in this area. Many options have been suggested ranging from a belief in Greek philosophy to an over-realized spirituality (Ďwe have already been raised spirituallyí)1. Whatever caused the error, Paul is pointing out here that logically it denies the resurrection of Christ. He states this conclusion again in verse 16. He wants them to know that they cannot have it both ways. Either the dead are raised and Christ has been raised or the dead are not raised and Christ has not been raised.

If Christ has not been raised, then problems abound (v. 14-19).

For argumentís sake, Paul allows their false conclusion to stand: the dead are not raised and Christ has not been raised. He then goes on to answer the all important question: what would it mean if Christ were indeed not raised from the dead? He answers with six consequences.

First, if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain. Look at verse 14. The word translated Ďvainí carries the idea of empty or useless. Basically he is saying that they have wasted their time preaching and that any who have heard them preach have wasted their time as well. Without the resurrection of Christ, their message was hollow and meaningless. If there is indeed no resurrection of the dead and Christ has not been raised, then we should all go home.

Second, if Christ has not been raised, then our faith is vain. Look at the end of verse 14. Not only is the message itself empty, but any belief in the message is empty as well. These are strong words indeed. Without the resurrection of Christ, any belief in Him is worthless.

Third, if Christ has not been raised, then the apostles (and all who have preached the message that they delivered) have lied about God. Look at verse 15. The apostles preached that God had indeed raised Christ from the dead. If what these Corinthians are claiming is true, then they have lied about God. They have become false-witnesses. Likewise, all who have joined with them throughout the history of the Church in preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, are false witnesses as well.

Fourth, if Christ has not been raised, then we are still in our sins. Look at verse 17. Paul has already noted that our faith is in vain and here he calls it futile. Going on, he tells us that we are in fact still in our sins if indeed Christ has not been raised. If Christ is still in the grave, then we have no hope that our sins have really been paid for. In Romans 4:25 Paul says that Christ was raised for our justification. If then He has not been raised, then we remain guilty before God. We must not miss the importance that Paul is placing on the resurrection of Christ. If He is indeed still dead, then we are still dead in our sins with no hope of new life.

Fifth, if Christ has not been raised, then all who have died in Christ are lost. Look at verse 18. If our sins have not been forgiven and we have no hope of resurrection, then those who have already died in Christ have no hope either. They have perished and their death is the end of their story. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians: For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (4:14). If we do not believe that Jesus rose again, then we have no hope for those who have already fallen asleep.

Finally, if Christ has not been raised, then we are to be most pitied. Look at verse 19. In one sense, this verse is a summary of all that has come before it. Without the resurrection of Christ, we preach and believe in vain, we lie about God, we are still in our sins, and we have no hope for those asleep in Christ. All of this leads Paul to conclude that of all people we are to be pitied the most. Why is this so? For a couple of reasons. First, if Christ has not been raised, then everything we believe and hope in is nothing but a lie. We are wasting our lives by believing the gospel and hoping in Christ. Anyone willing to give their life for a lie is to be most pitied. Second, Paul is likewise referencing the fact that the suffering and difficulty that we face because of Christ is pointless. Paul knew the cost of following Christ. Many in Corinth knew this as well. If Christ has not been raised, then such suffering is foolish. As he will go on to say, if Christ is still dead, then we should eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (see v. 32). If temporary fleeting pleasure is all there is, then we should give ourselves to it. If Christ has not been raised, then there is no reason to give our lives away for His sake. I should note that Paul is not saying this because the Christian life is so terrible and all those not following Christ have better lives. Rather, he is simply stating that without the resurrection, our lives, our suffering, our faith, our preaching, everything about us as believers would be pointless. Thus, we are of all people most to be pitied, if indeed Christ has not been raised.

If Christ has been raised, then those in Christ will be raised (v. 20-24).

Paul has laid out a pretty sobering argument thus far. He has shown us just how pointless our lives would be if Christ is still in the grave. But he does not stop there because he knows that Christ has indeed been raised. Look at verse 20a. Glory to God, Christ has been raised. Our preaching and our faith are not in vain. We have not been lying about God. We are no longer in our sins. Those who have fallen asleep will be raised first when He returns. We are not to be pitied. This is the glorious good news of the resurrection of our Savior.

But Paul does not stop there for he wants us to see an important connection. Look at the rest of verse 20. He calls Christ and His resurrection the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The firstfruits represented the beginning of the harvest each season. The people of Israel would offer these at the Temple and thank the Lord for the good crop. Thus, it was a sign of what was to come, namely the full harvest. Paul says that Jesusí resurrection is a sign of what is to come. He is the beginning of the resurrection harvest. Paul goes on in verses 21-24. Using the headship imagery, Paul teaches that all of those in Adam face death because of sin. Yet, in the same way, all of those in Christ have new life because of His obedience. Christís resurrection bears witness to this fact. He will continue to destroy every enemy and ruler and power until all are brought into subjection, including death itself. Thus, our resurrection is part of the consummation of Godís plan of redemption. And we can sure that it will come, because Christ has been raised. He is the firstfruits of the full harvest to come.

Paul teaches that Christ was indeed raised from the dead. Likewise, he corrects the error that there will be no bodily resurrection, which he will continue to explain throughout chapter 15. Yet, as we close, let me return to the question I asked earlier, namely how much does the knowledge of our future resurrection impact our daily living? Look at how Paul tells us it should impact us in verse 58. The knowledge that we too will be raised with Christ should encourage us to follow faithfully after Christ. It should liberate us from the slavery to comfort and ease and self which is so prevalent in our culture. It should free us to give away ourselves, our lives, our time, our stuff, for the glory of Christ. We need to remind ourselves every day that through faith in Christ we will be raised when He returns. We need to stop spending our lives on things that do not really matter in the end. Our belief in Christís resurrection should lead us to believe in our own by grace through faith. And the belief in our own resurrection should change the way we face every day of our lives. May it lead us to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord (our) labor is not in vain. Amen.

1 For more see Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), p. 715-17

~ William Marshall ~

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