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"If the Dead Do Not Rise"
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Wednesday AM Bible Study
February 27, 2008
Theme: Paul logically presents the consequences of denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
In the first eleven verses of this chapter, Paul makes it clear that the preaching of Christ's bodily resurrection is essential to the gospel. And now—since some in the Corinthian church were denying that the dead are raised at all (v. 12; 33-34)—he deals with the consequences of denying the resurrection of Christ to the faith itself.
Many today, who claim to be a part of the church of Jesus Christ, are denying the bodily resurrection of Christ—in one way or another. Some teach that the disciples simply lied and created a fabrication in order to bolster the faith of those they preached to. Others say that they were confused, or simply saw a vision of what they 'thought' was the resurrected Christ. Still others say that Christ didn't really die at all, but simply swooned and recovered in the dampness of the tomb. And others "spiritualize" the matter; and say that it was His spirit and not His body that rose, or that He simply symbolically rose "in our hearts". All of these different alternatives—whatever form they may take—constitute a denial of the preaching of the apostles of a literal, bodily resurrection; and their effect is to 'cut the feet' out of from under the message of the gospel itself.
Paul faces this denial head-on; and in characteristically logical fashion, shows what is truly at stake in a denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
I. TO DENY THAT THE DEAD ARE RAISED IN GENERAL IS TO DENY THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST IN PARTICULAR (vv. 12-13).
A. Paul uses the present tense of the verb to say that Christ is (habitually, or in an ongoing way) "preached" by the apostles "that He has been raised from the dead" (v. 12). But apparently, the denial that was being made was that the dead can be raised at all in a general sense. Some were saying that "there is no resurrection of the dead". And yet, that Jesus Christ was literally, bodily raised from the dead has already been affirmed by Paul as an essential part of the message of the gospel (vv. 1-11).
B. If, then, it is conceded that the dead are not raised, then it follows that Christ Himself is not raised (v. 13). In other words, to deny any resurrection at all is to deny the great, singular event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
II. AND IF CHRIST WAS NOT RAISED, CERTAIN THINGS LOGICALLY FOLLOW (vv. 19).
A. The apostolic preaching would be "empty" (v. 14). The gospel that Paul had just described in verses 1-11 would be without any value. Not only would the basic message of the gospel itself be "empty" (since the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is key to it), but so also would everything else be empty that the apostles had to teach (since the authority for everything else they taught hinged on the claim that Jesus rose from the dead). To deny the apostle's message on this one key point is to deny every point that flows from it. There would cease to be any credibility to the New Testament, since it is the written testimony of those who were witnesses of Christ. In fact, since the claim is that Christ rose from the dead "according to the scriptures", there would cease to be any credibility to the Bible as a whole. Our Bibles would therefore be a waste of time to read—and certainly not worthy to be obeyed.
B. The Christian faith would be "empty" (v. 14). There would be no point at all in believing the gospel message, or in anything that the Christian faith demands of us in terms of practical holiness. A pastor once asked his congregation for a raise of hands of how many would still be Christians if it were undeniably proven that Jesus Christ had not been raised. Almost all the hands in the church went up. He told them that not a single hand should have gone up; because if Jesus didn't raise, their would be no point in being a Christian at all.
C. The apostles would be liars (v. 15). They would then have made the claim that Jesus rose from the dead when, in fact, He did not. In fact, they would have been more than liars. They would have been horrible blasphemers. They would have made the claim "against God" that He raised Christ when He did not—if, in fact, the dead do not rise. The apostles should then not only be disregarded, but positively shunned; and the New Testament rejected as a diabolical fraud.
D. Our faith is "futile" (v. 16-17). It would be "vain" or "ineffective". Without the resurrection, to place one's faith in Jesus Christ would do absolutely nothing. We would be no better off than those who simply place their faith in a rock. We would be placing our faith in an historic event that never occured. In fact, our situation would be even more distressful; because it would mean that we are still in our sins. Jesus' death could not be shown to have accomplished anything for our justification (Romans 4:25). We would still be lost and without hope of ever having favor with God
E. Our brothers and sisters who died would be forever destroyed (v. 18). Paul encourages believers to grieve for brothers and sisters who are "asleep" in the Lord; but not without "hope", because they will be raised (1 Thess. 4:13-14). But if the dead are not raised, neither is there any hope. Paul expands on this argument in verses 29-32.
F. We of all people would be most pitiable (v. 19). There would be absolutely no advantage to being a Christian if the dead are not raised—and if, consequently, Jesus was not raised. In fact, there is every disadvantage in the world! We suffer loss and persecution; and we deny ourselves much of the short-term pleasures this world offers (see v. 32). We take suffering to ourselves that is pointless to suffer.
III. BUT PRAISE GOD—CHRIST IS RISEN (v. 20).
Paul just couldn't stand it any longer! He had to burst forth in praise that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He is the "firstfruits"—that is the first of more to come—"of those who have fallen asleep". Because He lives, we will live also. (Paul expands on this more in the verses that follow; but we just couldn't stop without affirming the good news!!)
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