Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2019
Lesson 44: 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 (ESV)
Resurrection: Fact and Promise
One of the classic movies people are fascinated with at the Christmas season is the one with Jimmy Stewart called It’s a Wonderful Life. The main character gets to see how life would be different for his friends and town if he’d never been born. The movie’s not even close to being faithful to what God says in the Bible about angels, and good deeds, or about heaven and God’s grace. But it’s a good example about the importance of being responsible in our place in the world, about friendship and loyalty, and doing what’s morally right even when it gets hard. And it’s a classic about how “What ifs” can make for an intriguing story.
Fiction writers have used that theme many times, speculating what it would have been like if Hitler won World War II, if the South seceded from the Union, if a particular person did one little thing differently.
The “what if” the Apostle Paul engages in here in 1 Corinthians 15 isn’t just idle speculation. He doesn’t raise the question to entertain us, or to bring up intriguing theories. He asks this basic what if to make us realize the importance and certainty of Christ’s resurrection.
It’s a what if that demonstrates the hope and certainty of what really is and really did happen. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, there would be no hope, no assurance of a life beyond the grave, and no real meaning to anything beyond just living for ourselves like animals.
Evidently there were some in Corinth
who didn’t accept the idea of a resurrection.
12. Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
The fact of the resurrection of Jesus was so well known and accepted then that it didn’t need to be proven or defended. The writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were circulating at very early times. Hundreds personally saw and heard the resurrected Jesus speak to them.
In the first three verses of the book of Acts Luke writes, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
Evidence abounded then. Skeptics attacked, but weren’t able to discredit what was obvious.
The Roman story was that the guards at the tomb fell asleep and the disciples stole his body. That was so self-contradictory that it never gained any traction. How could these trained Roman soldiers all fall asleep at the same time? How could they know who sole his body if they were asleep?
Hundreds of people saw Jesus alive after the resurrection. It all fit perfectly with what had been written hundreds of years earlier in the Old Testament.
Also, the changed lives of men like Peter and Saul of Tarsus were strong evidence that this wasn’t a myth, it was a startling reality.
Evidently there were some in the church who were influenced by Greek ideas popular then. They may have accepted Christ’s resurrection as historical fact. There was no other way to explain the events and evidences known so widely a that time. But still, some didn’t believe that a human should expect to be raised from the dead. To certain philosophers, a resurrection for a dead body was plainly impossible.
But if in fact Jesus rose from the dead, then the claim that there can be no resurrections is disproven. If it can happen once, then it’s not impossible. And this “once” was a very special “once”. It proved the power that makes it possible for others to be raised up too. It laid a firm foundation for the hope that’s always been part of God’s promise.
The idea of a Christianity without a real resurrection isn’t new, and it’s still with us today. Many of the large main-line Christian denominations deny the idea of a literal resurrection.
There was a time when ministers were more open and honest about their unbelief. In the 1960’s the fad was to say that God was “dead”. What they meant was that we have evolved to where we don’t need to believe in God anymore. The human need for him was dead.
I talked with one minister of a medium sized liberal Presbyterian church in this area. This young minister didn’t believe the Bible was always true. He didn’t believe in a literal resurrection, and said there probably wasn’t any kind of literal god.
I asked him if he preached that from his pulpit. His answer was even more shocking than his unbelief. He said that the ordinary people who go to church are just ignorant and superstitious, so you have to use god-words to comfort them, and to teach them to be kind.
He said that if you tell them that god was a dead idea, they wouldn’t bother to come to church anymore, and he’d be out of business. He believed that the church can be very effective using god as a good cover story so they can change society and make people feel good about themselves.
This minister very openly told me that he wouldn’t tell his people the truth. He didn’t believe there was such a thing as actual “truth” anyway.Besides, his people couldn’t handle those kinds of ideas. The ignorant church goers still needed to believe in truth and in some kind of god.
So they preach and teach an edited kind of Jesus. They only tell what they believe are moral, social, and spiritual lessons. They don’t believe that historic truth is important. They celebrate the resurrection, but behind the words they mean something else. To them it’s just a nice myth that teaches victory over fear, and the hope of fresh starts.
I was listening a while ago to a priest being interviewed on Television. He agreed with the host that it’s not important if the events in the Bible really took place. Some, the host said, were probably confused reports and exaggerations. They both agreed that the Bible is there for moral and spiritual lessons, but it’s history isn’t always true and doesn’t need to be.
The curriculum of the more liberal Seminaries has only a few very superficial Bible courses. If they don’t know what it says, and they only know it from paraphrased translations, and by what others tell them about it, they can’t possibly know how things fit together so perfectly in Scripture.
So many in the time of Paul and many now call themselves Christians, but they have no interest in a literal and physical resurrection of Jesus, or of believers. The resurrection they celebrate is just a literary symbol, empty of real power and hope.
We live in a world of “selective skeptics“.
– Some things are accepted without any evidence. Other things are doubted that are obviously true.
– Some find it easy to believe the Gospel of Judas which is an old 2nd century manuscript. It’s a disputed document, written by Gnostics long after Judas died.
– Some believe the offensive Gospel of Thomas with the child Jesus out of control striking his playmates dead. It’s a fake book written hundreds of years after the people involved were all long gone.
– Some actually believe made up theories about Jesus faking his death, and secretly fathering a child with Mary Magdalene.
– The movie based on the old book The Davinci Code entirely re-writes history. It ignores not only the Bible, but all the actual documents history is based upon. They present the Council of Nicea conspiring to promote a Jesus who wasn’t really human. But one of the reasons for the council was to prove his true humanity and deity together.
People believe these poorly documented theories and speculations more easily than they accept the actual gospels written at the time when the witnesses were still alive. They were already in circulation in the early church, and accepted by those who were there as witnesses to know what’s honest and accurate. The Books of the Bible were written by respected writers like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
It’s easier for the fallen soul to believe what it thinks will make him feel better, and what frees him to do things the Bible directly calls sin.
To understand the biblical idea of Resurrection you need to know what it means by death. Human death fundamentally means separation. In physical death the body and soul are separated. A person is spiritually dead when he’s separated from fellowship with God. Human death of both kinds is a penalty that comes from sin.
Adam represented the whole human race in Eden. When he sinned, his guilt passed on to all humans who would descend naturally from him. This inherited guilt is the barrier that keeps us alienated from God. The only just way to remove the barrier is to pay the penalty demanded by the guilt. But our offenses are so great, that no human can pay the debt, even by suffering for all of eternity. So God the Son took on a full but innocent human nature. He represented his people as the Second Adam. When he suffered infinitely and died on the cross, he paid the price of his people’s guilt.
Resurrection is the evidence that the debt was paid. If death is separation, resurrection is the undoing of death. It ends the separation.
Spiritual resurrection is when a redeemed person is brought back into fellowship with God. All who are spiritually resurrected will also be physically resurrected one day when Jesus returns in judgment. The body of those redeemed will be re-constituted in a glorified state, and joined with the soul again in glory.
Paul’s logic is absolutely sound. He goes on to say …
13. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
15. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
He’s showing the unacceptable conclusions that have to follow if Christ wasn’t resurrected. If resurrection never happens as the philosophers were saying, then Christ couldn’t have been resurrected.
Christ’s resurrection silences the critics and doubters. When you prove even just one case, then you disprove the universal negative. If there was even just one resurrection, then it’s wrong to say that resurrection is impossible.
The real death of Jesus was evidence that he’d taken on our sins – the guilt became his. His resurrection is evidence that our debt was fully paid.
But “what if” Jesus wasn’t raised? Then a whole cascade of consequences have to be accepted:
– The preaching of the Apostles would have been hollow, empty, and without truth and substance.
– Then faith is just an empty thing too.
– And all the witnesses who have been respected so much are liars: Paul, the rest of the Apostles, Jesus too, and all those witnesses of verses 5-8. By directly saying that God did something he didn’t do they are all indicted as liars, false-witnesses, violators of the 9th commandment.
Paul draws it together:
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 futile and you are still in your sins.
18. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If the dead can never be rise up, as these unbelievers insist, then Jesus couldn’t have been raised up either. But that contradicts all the evidence! All they believed in would have been for nothing. Sin would remain on our record, and there’s no hope as God said their would be. Then all who have died in Christ have no salvation from damnation.
So why then, is this modern gutted form of Christianity so popular? It tries to make each person feel good about himself while he remains in his sins. It makes him think he doesn’t answer to a holy God.
What if there was no hope beyond the grave?
19. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
It’s tragic enough to think of no promise of life beyond this brief time we have on earth. But to have lived for a false hope, serving false standards and a false god would be most pitiful.
Yet if Christ isn’t resurrected in our place, then all of Christianity is a lie. If it’s all a lie, then we’re to be greatly pitied having lived a lie.
The whole point is that without any doubt Jesus Christ has been raised. There’s no other explanation that fits the historic evidence God preserved for us. There’s no other way to explain the dramatic changes in lives. There’s no other choice but to accept God’s own word in Scripture.
How pitiful are the lives of so many who live without this power and hope.
Paul is actually suggesting that we need to replace the “what ifs” with “since thens”
Since Christ is risen, there are some obvious positives:
There’s a solid foundation for the message of the gospel. It’s not just another set of beliefs, or just another of the worlds religions. Christ came exactly as God said he would. He fully paid for the sins of his people, and rose up again from the dead.
Resurrection is not only possible, it’s a proven and accomplished fact. Since he rose, his people will too. His mission was to represented them in his atonement.
The true Christian faith is far from empty. Its firm foundation provides a confidence that what we know from the Bible isn’t just a fantasy, a wish, or some hollow set of ideas made up by councils. It’s the truth of God, sealed with Christ’s blood, confirmed by an empty tomb, and implanted into our hearts by the work of a Living Savior and the Holy Spirit — if we have faith in the risen Christ.
Since he rose from the dead, the barrier of sin must have been removed. With the debt paid, and the penalty satisfied, nothing can separate the believer from God. Those who have already died in Christ have not perished. They live on with him awaiting the great day of Resurrection.
When each life here is finished, and someday when we are all with the Lord, there will be a great resurrection and an unimaginably wonderful eternity will begin.
1 Corinthians 6:14, “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.”
If this iss true, we are not “most pitiable”, or “most miserable” as the older King James Version says. Our message is absolutely true, and it’s messengers are neither deceived, nor liars. Christ did rise from the dead, and that means his people will too.
Instead of being of all men most pitiable, he makes us the most enviable people. We have what the world craves but can’t duplicate. We are the recipients of it by grace — it’s undeserved, unearned, therefore can’t be lost. And we are bearers of this message to bring it to others.
We’ve heard those who talk about what they would do if they had millions of dollars. They talk of quitting their jobs, buying all sorts of good things for themselves. But most of them also mention helping others in some way. Maybe for some it’s to justify their selfish fantasies of unbounded riches and self-indulgence. There’s something that persists even in the fallen heart that knows the obligation of helping others, of voluntarily sharing what you have.
As a redeemed believer, you have the most needed thing every neighbor, relative, co-worker, and friend needs. You have the truth of God in the resurrected Christ. Share it.
The resurrection of Christ didn’t happen to give us a holiday.
It wasn’t to set up a season on the calendar for pilgrimages, fastings, and ceremonies. It had nothing to do with Spring, bunnies, colored eggs, or chocolate .. as enjoyable as they maybe. In fact the only regular celebration commanded for the New Testament church is the weekly Sabbath which was fixed to Sundays to remember Christ’s resurrection.
But it’s helpful and natural to remember special events regularly. This is why we celebrate the birth of Christ every year at Christmas, and his victory over the grave on Easter.
The early church seems to have gathered at the Passover time every year. It was to remember what their Savior did for them when he died as the Lamb of God, and rose up from the dead in victory over sin and death.
This resurrection event was very real, and produced astounding results. It’s cosmic in it’s scope, and central in the whole history of the created universe.
As those redeemed in Christ, we have this very real assurance. It’s not a wish or fantasy — It’s a true confidence in an indisputably certain promise of God. Resurrection means that one day, if we show evidence of his grace by our faith in him, we will be with Christ and his people forever.
1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,”
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)