In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 Paul hypothetically discussed “for if Christ is not raised.” Read, listen, or watch to learn what it means for believers if Christ was not raised, and what it means for unbelievers that Christ was raised.
Table of contents
- We All Have Doubts
- What It Means for Believers
- For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer’s Preaching is Worthless
- For If Christ Is Not Raised New Testament Authors Are Liars
- For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer’s Faith Is Worthless
- For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer’s Sins Are Unforgiven
- For If Christ Is Not Raised the Dead Cease Existing
- For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer Should Be Pitied
- What It Means for Unbelievers
- Because Christ Was Raised an Unbeliever’s Works Are Worthless
- Because Christ Was Raised New Testament Authors Are Watchmen
- Because Christ Was Raised an Unbeliever’s Sins Are Unforgiven
- Because Christ Was Raised the Dead Live Eternally in Hell or Heaven
- Because Christ Was Raised an Unbeliever Should Be Most Pitied
We All Have Doubts
Having doubts is common. Sometimes we have doubts about insignificant things like our orders at restaurants or the clothes we put on. Other times we have doubts about more significant things: “Should I have taken this job, moved here, made this purchase, or married this person?” You should not have this last doubt, because as soon as you’re married your spouse became the right person.
The Corinthians were having doubts about, of all things, the resurrection!
1 Corinthians 15:12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Paul makes a logical point: “If you believe Christ was raised from the dead, you should believe Christians, or those in Christ, will be raised from the dead as well.”
Why Gentiles and Jews Doubted Christ’s Resurrection
Gentiles doubted the resurrection, because of their pagan philosophies and religions. When Paul was at Athens he preached about the resurrection, and Acts 17:32 says, “When they heard [Paul preach the] resurrection of the dead, SOME MOCKED.” They mocked because they thought everything physical was bad, and couldn’t believe God would raise physical bodies from the dead. John MacArthur said the idea was “repulsive and disgusting” to them.
The Jews struggled with resurrection because of the Sadducees., who didn’t believe in anything supernatural. Acts 4:1-2 says, “As [Peter and John] were speaking to the people…the Sadducees [were] greatly annoyed because [Peter and John] were…proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” The Sadducees were prominent Jewish religious leaders, more than likely they influenced the Jews not to believe in the resurrection.
What Makes People Heretics?
If they doubted Christ’s resurrection, they wouldn’t be believers, because there are certain non-negotiables in the Christian life, and Christ’s resurrection is one of them. People who deny Christ’s resurrection are heretics. The Corinthians had many problems, as the previous 14 chapters reveal, but they weren’t heretics.
One fourth of professing Christians don’t believe in the resurrectionfrom, which means one fourth of professing Christians are heretics. Unfortunately, most of the articles said, “one fourth OF CHRISTIANS don’t believe in the resurrection.” This language is terrible, because it implies people can be Christians AND NOT believe in the resurrection. So, it’s worth noticing I said “one fourth of PROFESSING Christians” deny the resurrection. This one fourth must not be familiar with these verses, because Paul explains the terrible problems associated with doubting the resurrection. He plays a game with the Corinthians: “Let’s pretend Christ was not raised.”
What It Means for Believers
For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer’s Preaching is Worthless
1 Corinthians 15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
Paul is working backward. If there’s no resurrection, then Jesus hasn’t been raised from the dead. If Christians can’t be resurrected, then Christ couldn’t have been raised.
The Greek word for vain is kenos, which means “empty.” It’s related to the word for “emptied Himself” in Philippians 2:7, where we get the doctrine of the kenosis, that at the Incarnation Christ emptied Himself.
We’ll talk more about our faith being vain after verse 17, when Paul says the same thing. If Christ wasn’t raised, then preaching vain or empty. Every Gospel presentation, sermon, Sunday school teaching, Bible study, funeral message promising people their loved ones were in heaven and they would see them again, were vain. They were empty without the resurrection. And it’s not just preaching that’s in vain…
For If Christ Is Not Raised New Testament Authors Are Liars
1 Corinthians 15:15 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.
I preach Christ’s resurrection, but if Christ wasn’t resurrected, I’m not a liar. I’m deceived, and I’m deceiving others. The New Testament authors are the liars because they claimed to be eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ, when He wasn’t resurrected:
1 Corinthians 15:4 that he (this is Jesus) was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas (or Peter), then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep (they died). 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me…11 Whether then it was I or they (referring to the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection he just mentioned), so we preach and so you believed.
Paul listed several people who said they saw Christ after His resurrection. But if Christ wasn’t resurrected, they were lying. They would also be some of the worst deceivers who ever lived. Think of the thousands of martyrs who went to their deaths and the countless others who sacrificed so much living for Christ, because they believed with these men.
Regarding the twelve apostles lying, Charles Colson said:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
If you’re deceiving people, when you’re about to be tortured or killed, that’s when you throw up your hands and admit you were lying.
For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer’s Faith Is Worthless
1 Corinthians 15:16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17a And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…
Verse 16 sounds familiar because Paul said the same thing back in verse 13. He repeated it because it’s that important to consider what they’re saying: if people aren’t resurrected, then Christ couldn’t have been resurrected. Verse 17 also sounds familiar because Paul said this back in verse 14. He wants us to understand how worthless our faith is without Christ’s resurrection.
Years ago, a woman was cutting my hair and I saw a Chinese symbol on her arm. I asked her what it meant, and she said, “Faith.” I was immediately curious because I thought she might be a Christian. When I said, “Faith in what?” it seemed to catch her off guard. It took her a moment to come up with an answer, but finally she said, “Just faith. Believing. Faith in yourself.”
Her answer captures a common belief that simply having faith is good. The problem with this thinking is faith is only as good as the object we put our faith in.
The Importance of the Object of Our Faith
For example, when you drive, you demonstrate significant faith. You get into a vehicle that contains gallons of flammable gasoline. You start the vehicle and have faith that it won’t blow up even though parts of it became very hot and had sparks. If you aren’t driving, you have faith in the driver that he or she will get you safely to the destination. You also have faith in other drivers on the road. You head toward traffic in the opposing lane and believe that they won’t drift over even a few feet and crash into you head on.
Fail Army is a collection of videos of an army of people failing. They climb something but end up falling, drive something but end up crashing, or carry something but they end up dropping it. These people had misplaced faith in their ability to do certain things.
It doesn’t matter how much faith you have, if you put that faith in the wrong thing, you fail. If we put our faith in Christ, but He was not raised, our faith is misplaced. It is worthless. Christ didn’t do what we thought He did. We put our faith in the most significant event that’s ever happened, but it never happened.
For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer’s Sins Are Unforgiven
1 Corinthians 15:17b and you are still in your sins.
Jesus’s death made Him like everyone else, but His resurrection set Him apart. Maybe you are saying, “But what about other people who were raised from the dead, such as Lazarus? Weren’t they like Jesus?” There’s a difference between being raised from the dead and resurrected. Lazarus, and others, were raised from the dead, only to die again. Jesus was raised from the dead, never to die again. He was resurrected.
His resurrection set His death apart, because His resurrection showed that He died a sinless man. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Because Jesus didn’t sin, He couldn’t remain dead. As Peter preached on Pentecost, “God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by [death]” (Acts 2:24). Death could not hold Jesus, because of His sinlessness. When He was resurrected it showed His victory over sin and death, and He passed that victory along to us.
Jesus’s Death or Resurrection for Our Sins?
We say Jesus died for our sins, and He did, but it was His resurrection that forgave us and saved us:
Acts 5:31 [Peter said], “God exalted [Jesus to] his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and FORGIVENESS OF SINS.”
Peter is talking about forgiveness of sins, so we would expect him to mention Christ’s death. But he mentioned Jesus’s resurrection and ascension because His resurrection demonstrated His victory over sin and death.
Romans 4:25 [Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses and RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION.
We would expect Paul to say Jesus DIED for our justification, because we know He died for our sins. But Paul said He was raised for our justification, because His resurrection demonstrated He died as our sinless substitute.
This is why Paul asks the Corinthians to consider what they are saying if they deny the resurrection. They’re also denying that their sins are forgiven.
For If Christ Is Not Raised the Dead Cease Existing
1 Corinthians 15:18 Then those also who have fallen asleep (or died) in Christ have perished.
In this context, “perished” doesn’t mean going to hell. It means ceasing existing. If there’s no resurrection, annihilation becomes the reality for everyone. All we have to look forward to is this life, which is what Paul says in the next verse…
For If Christ Is Not Raised a Believer Should Be Pitied
1 Corinthians 15:19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
If there’s no resurrection, we have hope in this life only because this life is all there is. The pronoun “we,” which Paul uses twice, refers to Christians. If this is the only life there is, “we” are worse off than everyone else and should be the most pitied:
- We waste our time serving and worshiping Christ.
- Everything we do is false and foolish.
- We believe lies and live based on those lies, making us deceived and gullible.
- We deny ourselves, give up earthly pleasures, and forfeit enjoyment to live holy lives for no reason.
- Every sacrifice we make has been worthless.
- We suffer with no hope of glory in the next life.
Christianity is the cruelest hoax ever played on humanity and we are the victims of it. We could’ve been living for the moment. Our motto could’ve been: “Eat, drink, and be merry.” Instead, we gave it all up for a Man who’s still dead in the grave. It’s all for nothing! For that, we should be the most pitied.
I heard about an elderly woman who went to church her whole life, but then heard someone on the radio deny Christ’s resurrection and she believed the man’s argument. She concluded that everything she lived for was untrue. Then in her hopelessness she committed suicide.
What It Means for Unbelievers
Because Christ Was Raised an Unbeliever’s Works Are Worthless
1 Corinthians 15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
This is the dramatic change! The other side of these verses is that because Christ WAS raised, the opposite of everything previously written is true.
Firstfruits were the first produce of a harvest indicating a greater harvest to follow. To say Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, or are dead, is to say that because Jesus has been raised from the dead, and all those in Him will be raised as well.
We are saved by grace through faith and not by works:
Ephesians 2:8 By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is NOT YOUR OWN DOING; it is the gift of God, 9 NOT A RESULT OF WORKS, so that no one may boast.
If unbelievers don’t repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ, they’re going to be judged by their works. God will look to see if their works have been good enough to get them into heaven. Revelation 20:12 and 13 both state “[unbelievers will be] judged according to their works.” Then Revelation 20:15 says they will be thrown into the lake of fire, because nobody’s works could ever be good enough to get them into heaven. In that sense, works are worthless. If our works could be good enough, then Jesus died for no reason!
Because Christ Was Raised New Testament Authors Are Watchmen
Ezekiel 33:3 The watchman blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life.
Watchmen did just what you would expect: they warned the people. They were responsible for telling the truth. But they weren’t responsible for people’s responses.
Because Christ was raised from the dead, the New Testament authors were preaching the truth. They saw the resurrected Christ and served as watchmen because they told people what they saw. They warned people what would happen if they didn’t repent. But they can’t control how people respond to this truth.
Because Christ Was Raised an Unbeliever’s Sins Are Unforgiven
Acts 4:10 God raised Jesus from the dead…12 And THERE IS SALVATION IN NO ONE ELSE, for THERE IS NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
If unbelievers reject Christ there is no other way for their sins to be forgiven. There is no other way for them to be saved. There is no sacrifice they can offer or religion they can follow. They will die with their sins unforgiven and stand guilty before God.
Because Christ Was Raised the Dead Live Eternally in Hell or Heaven
Matthew 25:46 Jesus said, “[The unrighteous] will go into eternal punishment (referring to hell), but the righteous into eternal life (referring to heaven).”
If Jesus wasn’t raised, then nobody would be raised. We would all cease existing as already discussed. Because Jesus was raised, believers and unbelievers will all be raised. Every person who has ever lived will be sent to one of these locations to spend eternity. Your response to Christ’s sacrifice determines which location.
Because Christ Was Raised an Unbeliever Should Be Most Pitied
1 Corinthians 15:19 [Unbelievers] have hope in this life only, [and they] are of all people most to be pitied.
Because Christ has been raised, this is how verse 19 can be reversed for unbelievers. This life is an unbeliever’s only hope. This is all they have. Even if unbelievers could live 700 years, they will spend eternity in hell, and how can you not pity them when that’s their future?
No matter what they do in this life, no matter how much they accomplish, no matter how good they think they are, if they reject Christ, it all means nothing.