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.
What are the qualifications of an apostle? First, an apostle had to have seen the risen Lord; and second, an apostle had to have been commissioned by the risen Lord. In the case of the early disciples, they had been with the Lord during the three years of his public ministry, and then he had appeared to them after his resurrection. In Paul’s case, he had not been among that band of disciples, but Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus to commission Paul as an apostle.
There were people who said that Paul could not be a true apostle because he was not part of the original group, so Paul had to defend his apostleship. It is from his defense that we know what the qualifications of apostleship were, because when Paul defended his apostleship, he said, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord? Has he not called me to be an apostle?” He spells out the qualifications, and this is why he talks about apostles here. He was saying that those who were following the philosophical mood of the day by denying the resurrection were really saying that the apostles were lying. If there is no resurrection, Jesus is not raised and therefore they did not see him in his resurrection form.
Here he is not talking about the emptiness of their faith. Rather he is talking about the futility of it, that is, that such faith does not work. It is clear what he has in mind because when he wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile,” he adds, “you are still in your sins” (v. 17). Therefore, Paul says, if Jesus is not raised, then our sin has not been forgiven. That is because when Jesus Christ lived here in the days of his flesh, he prophesied that he was going to die for our sin–the innocent Lamb of God–and that God, three days later in evidence of that, would raise him from the dead. This is why Paul can say, as he does toward the end of the fourth chapter of Romans, that Jesus was crucified for our sin and raised again for our justification.
The Resurrection was proof that God accepted his atonement. If he had died and never come back, we could have said, “Well, we don’t know. Maybe he removed our sins, maybe he didn’t.” Furthermore, if you think through it carefully, Jesus had said that God was going to raise him from the dead after three days. If he said that it would happen and it did not, he was mistaken, and that means that he was not the perfect sacrifice. So, when he died on the cross, he was dying for our sin. He did not have to die for his own sin. If he had had to die for his own sin, then our sin is still on us and not punished in Christ. We are still in our sins.
Paul is seeking to counter the thinking that it does not make a difference whether you hold to such things as miracles or a literal future resurrection. What matters is doing well in the present. Paul says it does not work that way in Christianity. Since God is perfect, salvation must be perfect also, and it all fits together. We do not always understand how, but it does. He says you are in great danger when you begin to weed one thing out–even one little thing.
Paul gives another consequence in verse 18. He says, “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” It involves those who have already died in the faith. If there is no literal resurrection and Christ did not rise, then he did not pay the price for their sin either. All of those who have gone before have perished.
His last point is that, in addition to everything he has said before, if there is no resurrection we are doomed to misery even in this life, because the path that we are called upon to tread is not always a pleasant one. If we are following Christ, we set our value on things to come and not on this earth. Instead of piling up treasures here, we seek to pile up treasures in heaven. But if there is no resurrection, there is no heaven. If there is no resurrection then faith is worthless, and we are to be pitied for following such a ridiculous superstition.