Our study has brought us to the great chapter of the New Testament on the Resurrection, the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. In the first eleven verses of the chapter Paul reminded the believers at Corinth what they had been taught; namely, that the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. Then, according to the Scriptures, he was buried and raised again on the third day, and he was observed by up to five hundred people, most of whom were still living at the time of his letter. So, anyone in doubt about the truth of the Resurrection needed only to go and talk to those who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ.
Now, as we look at verses 12 and following, if we view this section in terms of the emotional flow of the chapter, we would have to say this portion takes a downward turn. Paul has already talked positively about the Christian Gospel, about Christ’s death for our sins, his burial, and his resurrection – all according to the Scriptures and substantiated by witnesses. Now he treats the negative side by writing about the consequences of denying the Resurrection. The emotional flow of this portion of chapter 15 fluctuates. It goes back up when he speaks positively of how the Resurrection fits into the whole scope of God’s activity in history, but then Paul finishes back on a negative note when he brings in this unusual subject – at least unusual to us – about the baptism of the dead. It is plus and minus, back and forth, up and down – a style of argument the Apostle Paul uses other places as well, most characteristically in the middle chapters of the book of Galatians where he does precisely the same thing.
He presents the down side by indicating that there were people in their midst saying that there is no resurrection, that bodies don’t rise. He wanted them to consider the consequences of accepting that philosophy. Paul realized that some of the Corinthian believers were tempted to go along with it because it appeared to fit in with the thinking formed by their background and the ideas historically put forth by the scholars in their midst. Paul cautioned them to think clearly about it, because if it is true that the dead do not rise, then a number of very unfortunate consequences follow.
As I read these verses, verses 12-19, I found that every verse, except for verse 16, states a different consequence. (Verse 16 is simply a repetition of a consequence that came earlier.) Verse 13 states that if there is no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised. This is the first great problem. If you are going to deny the resurrection in general, in order to be consistent, you have to deny the resurrection of Jesus as well. It was probably not the case that the church in Corinth had come to the point of denying the resurrection of Christ. If they were denying the resurrection of Jesus in particular, Paul would have passed on to another consequence without mentioning this one.
Very likely there was a situation in the church where some believed that, although Christ had been raised from the dead, such resurrection did not apply to believers generally. Such thinking may not have been prevalent at the time of Paul’s writing; however, many did come to it later, thus proving what Paul was saying. It is inescapable. If there are no resurrections, then Jesus did not rise. One might say, “Well, Jesus was God, therefore he was exceptional.” Yes, he was God, but we are not talking about the resurrection of his Godhead, we are talking about the resurrection of his body and that is the issue. Christ’s bodily resurrection means that new bodies rise. If you deny one, then you have to deny the other.