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.
– 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 –
When Paul spoke to the Corinthians about Christ’s resurrection, the first thing he addressed concerning Christ’s resurrection is the plausibility of resurrection itself.
In the Greco-Roman world, the most educated did not believe in life after death. The notion of a physical, embodied existence after death was laughable. And so, Paul had to defend the idea of resurrection in general, so that he could affirm the resurrection of Christ in particular.
The same sort of thinking occurs today. Well-schooled atheists deny Christ’s resurrection because they hold to a materialist view of the world. At the same time, many live for the weekend, the next ball game, or the next item to check off the bucket list. For them, the resurrection is not a matter of metaphysics but utility. They do not see the “cash value” of Christ’s resurrection and thus they remain quagmired in indifference.
In Fact, Christ Has Been Raised from the Dead
Addressing this indifference, Paul makes the historical point that Christ was raised from the dead, and that this makes all the difference in the world.
Writing as one who has encountered the risen Lord, Paul says: “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. . . . And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (vv. 13-14, 17).
In short, if there is no resurrection, then the whole ‘Jesus thing’ is a farce. Paul says that if there is no resurrection, then it would be better to eat, drink, and be merry (15:32). In other words, live it up, drink it down, sleep around, and get the most out of your short life. It’s all coming to an end and since there is no after life, what you do here doesn’t really matter.
But of course, Paul is writing to affirm the opposite: The historical, factual, falsifiable reality is that Christ was raised from the dead. Earlier in 1 Corinthians (15:3-8) Paul referred to 500 eye-witnesses who saw Jesus, touched Jesus, and talked to Jesus for forty days after his resurrection. He points to them to support his claim that Christ is risen; the tomb is empty; and the world must give an account to him. For this reason, he exposes the foolishness of denying the resurrection or worse believing that Christ was raised but living like it makes no difference.
“I Pity the Fool”
Paul stresses the importance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to pitied.” In other words, if Christ has not risen from the grave, then Christians are the greatest fools—forsaking the pleasures of this world, thinking that they might gain heaven. But immediately, he affirms the cosmic reality: “Christ has been raised from the dead.” Therefore, those who live like he is absent or entombed, are the most to be pitied, because in their folly and shame they are storing up wrath on their heads by living as if judgment is a myth.
Just the opposite is true, though. Paul testifies to Christ’s bodily resurrection as an historical fact, with theological meaning: The Son of Man who died for sins now sits at God’s right hand to with all authority to judge humanity. Indeed, it is the theological significance of the resurrection that awakens (or should awaken) those who only live for today.
Therefore, as we the followers of Christ prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the grave, take time to think about the way you are living. Do you make decisions that only make sense in light of his resurrection? Or do you, like the world, live indifferently to Christ’s resurrection?
May the risen Christ awaken us from our slumber, so that we may see and savor his resurrected glory—both now and in the age to come.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss