Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 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. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Yesterday we examined some explanations for the idea of being baptized for the dead as found in 1 Corinthians 15:29. There is yet another explanation that I will mention briefly. Some have said that it has to do with our being baptized for Christ who has died, i.e., in honor of Christ who has died. The problem with this explanation is that Christ is singular, and the terminology of this particular portion of 1 Corinthians 15 is plural. Paul is referring to numerous people so that does not seem to fit.
In my opinion, I think what Paul is speaking of here is that which lies behind baptism. By that public rite, you are identified in an open way with Jesus Christ. I think that is the basic meaning of the word baptizo. Baptizo means “to dip,” as in the dipping of a cloth in the dying process, but baptizo means “to identify.” This term talks about identification.
If that is the case, what Paul is saying here is that we are to be identified with Christ as dead men–that is, those who have heard his call, who have picked up their crosses, and have started on the way to Golgotha after him because he says that is what we are to do. If that is what it means to be a Christian, it means to be a “marked” man or woman. What is the use of doing that? Why should we say, “I want to be Christ’s man,” or “I want to be Christ’s woman,” if the dead do not rise? If there is no resurrection, that is crazy. Let us live life for what we can get out of it. Let us eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we are going to die and death lasts a long, long time. Let us get what we can now.
Of course you understand that Paul is not recommending that. Paul is saying that there is a resurrection. Christ has been raised, and being raised, he is the first fruit of those that sleep so that all that were united to him in saving faith will follow. So, we do not look forward to nothingness at the time of our death. We do not even look forward to a meaningless, vague existence–some philosophical continuation of mind, some nirvana state. No, we look forward to God’s continuing with us as he began with us. We will have a personality with individuality, possessing a body, soul, and spirit, although changed, because we are going to be lifted up and made like Jesus Christ. And such change includes being made like him in his resurrection body. That is our destiny. That is a personal and a very glorious thing.
I am sure that there are people who have listened to these claims of Christianity and have said, “I can understand what you are talking about, but it really is not what I have faith in. I’ve heard these things, but Christ is not my savior. I am not united to him in a way which will result in a resurrection.” It is always my hope that through the church and its services many would come, people from all walks of life and all kinds of experiences. If you have not put your faith in Christ, I want to say that the Gospel invitation is always open. You do not have to wait for a special rite. You do not have to be baptized. You do not have to wait for a special opportunity to join a church. You do not have to wait for any invitation other than that which Jesus himself gives.
He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). If you come, all he asks is that you acknowledge that you are a sinner and that you are serious about following him. You will find that as you are joined to him in that kind of supernatural belief, which comes from him, the union that God himself makes between you and Jesus Christ is an unbreakable thing. God never begins a thing and then changes his mind later.
When he unites you to Christ, you may go through a lifetime and not understand things well, though you should. You may even be very muddled in your spiritual thinking, but in the final analysis it does not matter, because what matters is not what you know about God, but that God knows all about you and has done what is necessary for your salvation. So, if you have not done that, I give you that invitation which is, at the same time, also the command of God and the command of Jesus Christ. Turn from your sin and turn to him. Find that these marvelous truths really are the essence of the meaning of history and the meaning of personal existence. You will find these truths are yours as well.