The Resurrection of the Dead

The Resurrection of the Dead

We noted last week that given that some of the believers of the church in Corinth had forgotten, and were thereby neglecting the fundamentals of the faith, Paul felt the need to feed them yet again with the milk of the Gospel 101. Paul had to declare to these believers what he had received “as of first importance,”[1] namely, that according to the Scriptures, Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from death on the third day.[2] And having reminded the Corinthian believers of these basic, fundamental, foundational truths, Paul went on to note that not only had Christ’s death and resurrection occurred as it had been foretold in the Scriptures—for he did indeed die for our sins; he was indeed buried; and, most wonderful of all, the One who has ever been the Lord and Giver of Life[3] rose from death, thereby conquering even death!—but the risen Christ then returned to and was beheld by those who had known and loved him prior to his dying. He appeared to Peter,[4] and the 12,[5] and over 500 brothers and sisters at the same time,[6] and to Jesus’ half-brother, James,[7] and to all the apostles,[8] and finally, to Paul.[9]

Having established how the promises of God in the Old Testament were fulfilled and accomplished in Christ coming in the Person of Jesus living, dying, and rising from death, Paul, in our passage this morning, turned to correcting the Corinthian church for teaching falsely not about Christ’s resurrection but about the resurrection of the dead in general. He began by stating in verse 12, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” The Corinthian believers’ problem seems to have been not that they were denying that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but their problem seems to have been that they didn’t believe anyone else could possibly rise from death. Whereas they couldn’t deny that the risen Christ had appeared to all those we just listed, they hadn’t understood what the implications of Christ’s rising from death were for those who know, love, and follow him. They appeared to be arguing that, yes, Christ was risen from the dead but the rest of us mere mortals cannot rise. Jesus was a special case but surely no one else who dies is capable of rising from death as he did.

Therefore Paul challenged the Corinthian church’s misunderstanding by adding a philosophical cap to his theological one in order that he might better address these believers who were living in a city in Greece, a country at the heart of Greek philosophical thinking. So in verse 13 he began to present his argument by noting, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” If your protasis, the condition you’re putting forth, is: “There is no resurrection of the dead,” then your apodosis, the consequence of that main conditional clause, cannot be “but Christ has risen from death.” No, Paul says, given that Jesus Christ was not only fully God but was also fully human, the “no resurrection is possible” proposal would contradict not only the historical prophecies and fulfillment of those prophecies in history in Christ but, what might be even worse to a philosopher, to argue against the resurrection from death would also contradict the very logic they were setting forth. For Jesus Christ, as one who was fully human, would be incapable of rising from death if there is no resurrection of the dead. The “no resurrection” proposal would require that given the impossibility of resurrecting from death, not even Christ rose from death, for Jesus Christ was fully human. In fact, in his letter the apostle John made this very point and went so far as to state that if someone didn’t believe this, then they couldn’t call themselves followers of Christ. To use John’s own words,

4 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.[10]

Our testimony is not simply that Jesus Christ was God but also that Jesus Christ was fully human; that the eternal Christ, the eternal Son of God, has come in the flesh in the person of Jesus. Again, the challenge the Corinthians were posing wasn’t a denial of Christ rising from the dead, but a denial that anyone else could rise from the dead. Yet if Jesus Christ was not only God but was also human, then his resurrection from the dead couldn’t be maintained if the dead are incapable of rising.

Paul next goes on to state the consequences of such faulty belief—namely, there’s no point in believing in Christ if he didn’t rise from death. Again, if the Corinthians were correct, that no person could rise from death, then neither did Christ rise from death. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Again Jesus Christ wasn’t simply fully God but also fully human, therefore if he rose, then the possibility of others rising exists; if he didn’t rise, then there’s no possibility of others rising. And so starting with verse 14, Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Paul’s entire ministry has simply been a matter of blowing around a lot of hot air in his preaching. If Christ didn’t rise from death, then we might as well follow whomever we want and believe whatever we want. For if Christ didn’t rise from death, he was a fraud. He was just a man, moral maybe, but completely out of touch with reality for having taught

that he was the only way to the Father;

and that there was no salvation possible but through him;

and that he was the life who had come to conquer death;

and that before Abraham was, he was;[11]

and that he was the resurrection and the life and that whoever believed in him would be given the eternal life he freely offered to all who were willing to receive it.

For these were the things that Paul and the other apostles gave their lives over to teach. But if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, Jesus’ life was a lie and his followers’ lives were—and are—but a cruel joke.

But Paul didn’t simply dedicate his life to teaching these truths. He also risked his life to bring these truths to others. As we noted last week, Paul’s entire life was changed after encountering the risen Christ. Prior to personally meeting and speaking with him on the Damascus Road Paul persecuted Christians. Yet the risen Christ who appeared to him was so tied to his followers that he asked Paul why he was persecuting Christ himself. For when Paul asked him who he was, this is what he answered: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”[12] And from that point forward Paul sought to lead others to Christ no matter the cost. Listen to this partial list Paul himself presented of some of the ways he had suffered for his dear Jesus:

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.[13]

It’s evident that Paul was so convinced of the truth of who Jesus was—and that he had risen from death and would raise those who lived and died for him—that he was willing not only to suffer but also to die in order to tell others the good news and truth of who Christ was and what his death accomplished.

Therefore Paul argued that if Christ isn’t risen from death, then first, not only was his preaching useless, but, second and what would naturally follow, so, too, was the faith the Corinthians professed as a result of Paul’s preaching useless. For without the resurrection, there is no Christianity; without the resurrection, we are still in our sins; without the resurrection, Satan wins; without the resurrection, there is no eternal life; without the resurrection, our faith is in vain and there is no point in believing in or loving or following Jesus Christ.

And Paul goes on to make a third point in verse 15 for not only is his preaching useless if Christ has not been raised from death; not only is believing in his preaching useless; but “More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.” Now you would think that the significance of one’s faith and preaching being in vain would suffice to make Paul’s point about the terrible repercussions entailed if Christ had not risen from death. But the fact that Paul was so concerned about his reputation being on the line tells us something about how important truth was to him. Paul wasn’t making up what the risen Christ had told him. As he states in his letter to the churches in Galatia, “11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”[14] Truth mattered to Paul. Truth was important to Paul, as it was to the Corinthians Greeks to whom he was writing and as it should be for all people, especially Christians. In Paul’s day, truth and one’s reputation mattered. A lot. Yet if Christ had not risen from death it would mean that Paul had lied; that he was a false witness rather than a true witness; and not only would it mean that he had been a false witness, but that he had been a false witness about a truth of highest importance and consequence for he would have been a false witness about God since he had testified about God that he had raised Christ from the dead. Paul and all of Jesus’ apostles were nothing if not men and women[15] of truth—and I’m using “apostle” here to refer not only to the twelve but to all those to whom the risen Christ had appeared. And in their commitment to being bearers of truth, these apostles were following in the steps of Jesus who said of himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[16] So we may choose to believe that Jesus and Paul and the rest were mistaken, but we cannot believe that they were liars for they had built their entire lives and staked their entire reputation on living out the truths that they had received from Christ and gone on to profess and proclaim to others.

So, again, Paul was attacking head-on the assumption on the part of some of these Corinthian believers that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead. In this these Corinthians were not unlike the Jewish sect of the Sadducees who similarly didn’t believe in the resurrection from death.[17] But, again, given that Jesus Christ was not only God in the flesh but also fully human then if there is no resurrection from the dead then God “did not raise [Jesus] if in fact the dead are not raised” (end of v. 15). You can’t say that dead humans are not raised while also maintaining that Jesus was raised. Again, this is an all-or-nothing proposition. If the dead are not raised, then neither did Jesus rise from death. But if the dead can be raised, then those who believe in Jesus will similarly be raised from death by God.

Paul addressed this at such length because he wasn’t quibbling about a minor fact about the reality of our lives. As he continued to argue, almost monotonously, in verse 16, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.” The actual possibility of dead humans rising to eternal life has to be conceded if one is to believe that Christ has risen from death. And if one denies that the dead are able to be raised, there’s no point in following Jesus Christ. For according to Paul there are two consequences to such a denial: First, verse 17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” As Paul notes elsewhere, the wages—the price, the effect, the result—of sin is death.[18] And if Christ has not risen from death, our sins have not been dealt with. If Christ has not been raised, we will all eternally die. Last week we saw how we all have need for a Savior for we all suffer the effects from the Fall. We see this not so much in the fact that we all go around seeking to do as much harm as possible but more so in the small things: Why is it so difficult for us to be kind? Why can it be so hard to treat others as we would like to be treated? Why are we so impatient and easily angered at times? Why do we struggle to know and believe in and love the God who made us in his image? Who made us for himself? Why is it so difficult for us to love each other and care for those around us? Again, the answer is, because we are all sinners; because we’ve all suffered the effects of the Fall; and therefore we all have a need for salvation from our sins; we all have a need to be declared righteous in Christ; we all have a need to be changed by Christ’s Holy Spirit indwelling us; we all have need of Christ, our Savior. Paul’s point is sobering: if the dead are not able to be raised by God, then that savior would not be Jesus Christ for the proof that Jesus conquered sin, death, and the devil centers around not only his death on the cross for our salvation but also in his resurrection from death. Without the resurrection, Jesus was but a man; without the resurrection, we are still in our sins; without the resurrection our faith indeed is futile and we are without hope.

And second, not only are we are without hope but, verse 18, “[t]hen those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” If Christ has not been raised, then we are lost and so, too, are those who have already died in the faith. Again Paul underscores this in verse 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I’ve stated this before but it’s worth noting again that the earthly part of our journey is the short part of eternity. And though we, upon placing our trust in Jesus Christ are granted dual citizenship—called to care for this world and those around us while we are here on earth yet called to live according to the values of God in heaven until he calls us home to himself—if all we had was hope in this life while living as if we were destined and made for God in heaven, we would be “of all people most to be pitied” for we would be living a pipe dream. We would be allowing the values of a heaven that doesn’t exist determine how we live now; we would be living deluded lives; we would be acknowledging a false hope if there is nothing to look forward to once we die; if there is nothing to look to beyond our earthly existence.

Ron and I learned this week that one of our former seminary professors, Ken Swetland, died of a heart attack at the age of 82. Since we had seen him earlier this month and talked about wanting to have him and his wife visit Linebrook some Sunday and then join us for lunch, hearing of his death came as a sad surprise to us for we had been looking forward to getting together. Yet though Ken’s death represents a loss to us—not to mention his wife and children and all who knew him—we know he is not lost. Though to our eyes Ken may be asleep, never to awaken again this side of heaven, we know that his eternal rest is a living rest for he is now alive with Christ, the Savior and Lord he followed and pointed others to throughout his life. Though we continue to see in a mirror dimly, Ken is seeing Jesus face to face; though we know in part, Ken has begun to know fully even as he is fully known;[19] though we continue to walk by faith, Ken is now walking by sight. For Ken’s hope, trust, and faith in Christ have carried him over to his true and final home with Jesus, his Savior and Lord.

Paul, after listing the many negative consequences if Christ has not been raised, next affirms this very point in the final verse of the passage we’re considering this morning. As verse 20 states, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Listen to what one commentator[20] notes concerning the implications of what Paul is stating here,

At harvesttime the Israelites were required to bring an offering from the first part of the crop (Lev. 23:10[21]). This offering was a token of the whole harvest, that all belonged to God. Jesus is called the “firstfruits” because His resurrection and the resurrection of believers are closely related events. Jesus was “the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23[22]), acting as our representative. His resurrection caused us to be raised spiritually (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:6[23]), and at the same time guarantees that we will be raised bodily.

Jesus is the first of many who will be raised from the dead. As he rose, so will those who follow him rise.

Brothers and sisters, because Christ has risen from death, we can know that Scripture is true for our hope is grounded on the solid rock of what God has disclosed to us in his written and risen Word;

Because Christ has risen from death, then preaching—telling others the wonderful truth that God loves them, and in the person of Jesus Christ came to save them—isn’t in vain but is the most important news we could ever share with them;

Because Christ has risen from death, we who have placed our faith and trust in him have had our sins taken away by him by his death on the cross;

Because Christ has risen from death, we who follow him have been sent his Holy Spirit to conform us into the holy image in which he made us, and by this Spirit we can learn how to better love him and those around us;

Because Christ has risen from death, Satan, our ancient foe, has been conquered and can no longer cause us eternal harm for he and all evil will one day be destroyed;

Because Christ has risen from death, all who followed him and have died are with him now and for all eternity;

Because Christ has risen from death, we, when we die, will similarly rise from death;

All of this is true for to follow Christ; to be in Christ as Paul often liked to state,[24] means that our following him will result not only in our dying as he did, but also in our rising as he did. Dear sisters and brothers, the resurrection of the dead is real. It was real for Jesus; it will be real for all who place their faith in him. For those who belong to him are given his very life by means of his Holy Spirit who, as we often note, unites us with Father, Son, and himself and unites us with one another. And this union will survive our earthly death; and this union will continue for all eternity.

Let us pray.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:3.

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:4.

[3] See, e.g., Genesis 2:7: Job 33:4: Nehemiah 9:6: John 1:3–4: Acts 17:25: 1 Timothy 6:13:

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:5.

[5] 1 Corinthians 12:5.

[6] 1 Corinthians 12:6.

[7] 1 Corinthians 12:7.

[8] 1 Corinthians 12:7.

[9] 1 Corinthians 12:8.

[10] 1 John 4:1–3.

[11] John 8:57–58: 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”


[12] Acts 9:5b.

[13] 2 Corinthians 11:24–31.

[14] Paul’s testimony may be found in Galatians 1:11–24: 11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.  19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

[15] E.g., though not one of the twelve apostles, Junia is a woman named by Paul as one of Jesus’ apostles and Paul’s fellow-laborer for the Gospel. Romans 16:7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” As noted in the Crossway ESV Study Bible note for 1 Corinthians 15:7, “One of the qualifications for apostleship was seeing the risen Lord.” The cross-reference provided is 1 Corinthians 9:1: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?” If correct, it is likely that Junia was one of the 500 brothers and sisters, mentioned in verse 6 of 1 Corinthians 15, to whom the risen Christ appeared.

[16] John 14:6.

[17] See Matthew 22:23–33: 23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

[18] Romans 6:22–23: 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[19] 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

[20] The Reformation ESV Study Bible note on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

[21] Leviticus 23:9–10:The Lord said to Moses, 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest….”

[22] This is part of Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. Acts 26:22–23: 22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

[23] Romans 6:4: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.; Ephesians 2:4–7:But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

[24] See, for example, Romans 6:11:In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.; Romans 8:1:Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,; Romans 12:5:so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.; 1 Corinthians 1:30:It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.; 2 Corinthians 5:17:Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!; Ephesians 2:10:For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.; 1 Timothy 2:10:Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.