1 Corinthians 15:12-19 March 24, 2019 Lord’s Day Worship Sean Higgins
The sermon starts at 14:15 in the audio file.
Or, The Consequences If Christ Is Not Raised
The resurrection of Christ is not only a historical event, it is the hinge of our faith. This paragraph, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, is a logical linchpin that demonstrates how the wheels of preaching and believing, and the wheels of forgiveness and eternal life, all fall off unless Christ is raised from the dead.
I really have enjoyed working through this paragraph because of Paul’s logic. I’ve been teaching an introductory logic class for my first time this school year, and just a week ago we got to the lesson on hypothetical arguments, the “if…then” arguments. There are at least six different hypothetical or conditional arguments in these verses. His argument here is about the consequences if Christ has not been raised from the dead.
He builds on this logic twice in the paragraph. Note the repetition in verses 13 and 16, and then a repetition in the first part of verse 14 and 17. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised….” As I said, he cycles through this logic twice, with related, but different conclusions.
We might wonder, however, after reading through verses 1-11, why Paul even goes through this. The gospel preached by Paul and the other apostles (verses 1, 2, 3, 11), the gospel believed by the Corinthians (verses 1, 11), included Christ being “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared” to Peter and the Twelve and a number of witnesses (verses 3-5). The death and resurrection of Christ is the center of the gospel message and the center of God’s work and couldn’t be left out.
So why were some of the Corinthians having trouble? Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, which He was, as evidenced from the previous paragraph by Paul himself and others, [then] how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? We don’t know who the some were; were there many of the “some”? Were the “some” were leaders or not? We do know that they were Corinthians, and they were apparently Christians, identified with the church enough for Paul to call them some of you, and he was writing to the believers. But if they didn’t believe that Christ was raised from the dead, then what did they believe?
It is possible, though again we don’t know for sure, that some of them thought Christ was raised but that He was the only one. Paul argues in the next paragraph, verses 20-28, that Christ is “the firstfruits,” with more to follow necessarily (secondfruits, thirdfruits, etc.). But in verses 12-19 Paul’s repeated logic concerns Christ’s own resurrection. Maybe it was an issue of being raised not in body but only in spirit. Perhaps this is why Paul talks about “heavenly bodies” and “earthly bodies” later in chapter 15 (verses 35-41). Popular Greek philosophy and mythology in Paul’s day didn’t believe in physical resurrection of flesh and bones. In Plato’s Phaedo, Cebes says that most people fear that at death there is no more existence of body or soul. Socrates tries to argue that the soul is immortal but the body doesn’t continue. In Eumenedies by Aeschulus, Apollo says that if once the blood is gone there is no resurrection (Garland). This is why we’re not surprised that when Paul preached to the Athenians, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” (Acts 17:32).
In this paragraph Paul begins with their false universal premise that: No people are raised from the dead people. And Paul argues the particular from the universal (subimplication): if none are, then certainly Christ couldn’t be. This is the particular he argues from twice, starting in verse 13 and again in verse 16. There are multiple consequences coming in the two parts; the “theological dominoes” fall (Garland).
Every if/then in from verse 13-19 uses a construction called a hypothetical syllogism, and uses the form modus ponens (valid): putting forward the antecedent.
If P then Q. P. Therefore Q.
I’d put it: If this, then this. If this, then that. If that, then dang.
Taking the belief of the “some” that there is no resurrection, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t believe that no man rises from the dead but believe that Christ did. Christ was God, but also man. This is a universal negative, and if it applies universally then it must apply to every individual in the set, including Christ. Paul moves from their premise and shows what that means in three ways.
First, preaching has no truth content. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain. The key word is vain, kenos, meaning “empty,” hollow, without substance, having no basis. It is similar but not quite the same as the word “futile” in verse 17. Paul started this letter talking about the foolishness of preaching; the gospel word of the cross makes no sense to the natural man. Here, the gospel word of the resurrection offers nothing for a man to hang onto; it’s a Trojan horse with no soldiers inside. All Paul’s work to receive and preach, to pass on the message was a work to pass on nothing.
Closely connected to empty preaching would be empty faith. If Christ has not been raised then, second, your faith is in vain. This is faith like teeth biting into a dream. This is faith like walls resting on nothing, certainly not anything solid or stable. The object of faith is not the rock of truth but mist and clouds.
And it’s worse than that. If Christ has not been raised then, third, 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. All those preachers, including Paul, would be exposed as false prophets. The apostles as messengers are really manipulators. They are liars, and the worst kind of liars: religious liars. They speak falsely on behalf of God, speaking as commissioned by Him, with His authority, with a message that is empty.
The God who raises the dead doesn’t exist. He is an idol, a fiction. If Christ has not been raised, we believe in an empty lie.
Rather than repeat “resurrection of the dead,” Paul picks up “raised from the dead from the end of verse 15. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. It is striking that he starts over with the same hypothetical argument as before. This time the consequences are a little different and more personal.
And if Christ has not been raised, [then] your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Rather than two consequents, I think the construction presents one consequent with a built in explanation (there is no “and” in Greek in verse 17). The result of a still dead Christ is not just that faith is empty but it is futile, it has nothing to grasp and it is incapable of producing results. There’s no content and no benefit; it’s useless.
The last phrase of verse 17 clarifies the most serious uselessness: your faith is futile, [with the result that / so] you are still in your sins. No raised Christ, no deliverance from judgment. He doesn’t go into an extended explanation here, but this is important salvation truth about forgiveness. “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (verse 3), but how would we know if God was satisfied with that sacrifice? If Christ died, and remained in that state of deadness, wouldn’t that be understood as Him continuing to bear the penalty for our sin? The proof of full payment being made and received is Christ’s resurrection.
Elsewhere Paul wrote that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Our justification, that is, our being counted righteous depends on our believing “in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Apart from the resurrection, faith is futile because there is no forgiveness.
Either sin and death have dominion, or the resurrection has dominion. It’s an inescapable logic: one or the other.
If Christ is not risen from the dead then we are living unforgiven, and if Christ is not risen from the dead then we have no eternal life. If Christ has not been raised then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. Faith is futile because the dead are really dead and will stay dead. The ones who have fallen asleep are those who died, and if they fell asleep in Christ it means that they were believers. The promise of the gospel is eternal life, of fellowship with God forever. And note the assumption of our resurrection as being tied up in Christ’s resurrection, as later verses in the chapter will make explicit. If Christ is still dead, then any who believed in Him are still dead. The word perished is a word opposite of salvation, a word that refers to the lost, the ruined, the damned. There is no hope of seeing our believing loved ones in the future if Christ is not raised.
The final verse of the paragraph tags onto the problem of death; faith is futile if it’s only for this life, and makes us most to be pitied. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. Paul doesn’t dance around this consequence. We can say that we don’t really lose anything by believing in God and living “good” lives compared to those who don’t believe. There are, and have been, apologetic arguments made to that effect. It is not what Paul says.
If we don’t have hope beyond death then we really don’t have anything better than some of the other religions, or the more moral humanists. An unbeliever can try to live according to moral standards, he just can’t give account for those standards, and so he is inconsistent, even if we would say it’s a better inconsistency.
But Paul says that if Christ is not raised, then we who believe He is raised are living consistently with an empty, futile, and pathetic lie. We think we have forgiveness, we don’t. We think we will live with God, we won’t. We try to live righteously for no good reason. So we are of all people most to be pitied. Can you imagine that being the case?
> Behold, these are the wicked; > always at ease, they increase in riches. > All in vain have I kept my heart clean > and washed my hands in innocence. > For all the day long I have been stricken > and rebuked every morning. (Asaph, Psalm 73:12–14)
Think about some of the characters living in the first-century, polytheistic context of the Corinthians and Paul. In that religious world the gods fought among themselves and no guarantee to escape their notice so that they wouldn’t get jealous and take out their capricious wrath on you. No amount of worship guaranteed a god’s favor in the Greek or Roman or Egyptian pantheon. So really, Christians are more pitiable than Oedipus? Paul says Yes. If Christ has not been raised, then we believe in a useless disgrace.
The logic is “simple, clear, inescapable,” and it is worse than “an absurdity. It is the height of tragedy” (Lenski).
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (verse 20), and that continues to be good news for the world.
If Christ is not risen and all we believers have is hope in this life only, we are pitied people. But if Christ is risen and we believers have hope in this life and eternity, then who are the pitiable people? Some group is really vulnerable, really miserable, really pathetic, and there’s only two groups. Beloved, Christ is risen and you are not the pitiable. Live like an amen to that.
> Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5, ESV)