Theme: Like him we rise.
This week’s lessons teach us the consequences of disbelief in a bodily resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:12-34
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.
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.
Why does chapter 15 take a downward turn after verse 12?
What is the first consequence of not believing in a bodily resurrection?
Read what Jesus had to say to the Sadducees, a Jewish sect which did not believe in the resurrection of the dead: Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38.