Lesson 37: "If. . .If. . .If in This Life Only We Have Hope. . ." (I Corinthians 15:19)
I Corinthians 15:12-19
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. This is lesson number 37. Welcome again! Back to the grind. In Cor. 15, we read the first 12 verses in our last lesson. Chapter 15 is about the resurrection of the dead. Some at Corinth had questioned the resurrection; we learned this in verse 12. Paul does a very thorough discussion of the resurrection in this chapter. You will undoubtedly find this one of the most fascinating chapters in the whole book. Take the time to learn well Paul's arguments presented here. Burn Paul's discussion deeply into your memory; it can give you a real sense of direction and purpose. Christianity is not just good stories for little children and something for the old folks to while away their time. Christianity is our vocation (Eph. 4:1). Christianity is not an avocation; Christianity is not some side line or hobby. Paul called it our vocation. So, get it up front. It's the most important thing in your life.
By way of review, you will remember that in the first 12 verses of Chapter 15, Paul summarized and reviewed very systematically what he had taught the disciples at Corinth during the 18 months he was with them — that Christ died for our sins, that Christ was buried and rose again the third day, that our Lord was witnessed by many in his resurrected body, and that he ascended to heaven on the 40th day. Paul said hi verse 11 that he preached the very same gospel or good news that all the apostles taught, and what they ALL TAUGHT was what the Corinthians had believed and obeyed. Then Paul tossed out that soul-searching question in verse 12:
Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?"
That's where we got to in out last lesson. Then in verses 13-19, where we shall read in just a moment, Paul began a series of "ifs". In other words, Paul was saying think it through. IF, as you say, there is no resurrection.... IF Christ be not risen.... IF the dead rise not.... IF we have hope only in this life.... If, if, if! In other words, what are the consequences? What is the bottom line if... if... if we examine your theory that there is no resurrection of the dead? Paul is saying please examine that view. We have said before "if is a subordinating conjunction - connecting the previous thought to a condition or set of conditions. So Paul is saying, suppose for a moment the set of conditions you contend were really true. What's the bottom line? Are you ready? Let's read verses 13-19. Let's begin in verse 12. We'll re-read verse 12 and then read down through verse 19. Please read. Here we go.
12 Now if Christ be preached that he
rose from the dead, how say some
among you that there is no
resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the
dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our
preaching vain, and your faith is also
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses
of God; because we have testified of
God that he raised up Christ: whom
he raised not up, if so be that the dead
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith
is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep
in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in
Christ, we are of all men most
All right, what's Paul's conclusion? If there is no resurrection of the dead, you are just wasting your time in this Bible study. Christianity itself hinges upon a resurrection of the dead. If one takes the resurrection of the dead out of Christianity, then Christianity is spiritually bankrupt. The resurrection of the dead is the cardinal doctrine of the Christian system. If you do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, you cannot even be a Christian. It is an inconsistency to claim to be a Christian and at the same time claim not to believe in the resurrection. Make no mistake about it! If God did not raise Jesus from Joseph's tomb at Golgotha, the whole Christian system and the Bible itself collapses under that supposition. It is the most fundamental doctrine of the Bible. Jesus himself said so. Do you remember Matt. 16:18? Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church...." Do you remember that? What was the rock in that verse? Jesus was referring to Peter's statement, Peter's confession back in Matt. 16:16, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Peter said. Then in referring to Peter's statement, Jesus said that his church, or his kingdom, the Church of Christ, was (and is) built or structured upon the foundation that Jesus was (and is) God's Son, just as Peter had said. If that is not true, then the reciprocal of Jesus' own statement is that there is no foundation for the church ~ there is no place for it. It is either true or it is false. Whether you accept that or reject that, defines whether you have faith or whether you do not have faith in the Bible sense of that word. This is the very fundamental concept behind baptism. Baptism? You heard me right. Baptism! At a later time Paul said to the Romans, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized [that's past tense] ... baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized [past tense] into his death?" (Romans 6:3) Now, here's Paul's conclusion. "Therefore ..." What does "therefore" mean? "Therefore" means here is the conclusion. What's the conclusion Paul? "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. [Why Paul?] For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be [shall be ~ did you get that? We shall be] also in the likeness of his resurrection." Just as Jesus arose from the dead, we shall arise from the dead ~ also, A-L-S-0 (Romans 6). It is the built-in doctrine and meaning of baptism. So Paul said to the Corinthians (verse 12), "how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" That's like saying you have completely missed the point. Now we want to go over that text (verses 10-19) step-by-step, but before we do ~ and while that baptism connection is fresh on your mind - let me make you aware that Paul did not go into all the detailed description of baptism here in I Cor. 15 as he did in Romans 6 that we just looked at. The baptism connection is implied in Paul's discussion here in I Cor. 15. Don't miss it! If there is no resurrection from the dead, then the doctrine of baptism is a false doctrine. If there is no resurrection, then why be baptized? Paul in effect asked that question at the end of verse 29 — "if the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?" Do you see the connection? Some today have missed the point of that question as much, if not more so, than some of the Corinthians missed the point of the resurrection. We'll get back to that question, but right now put your eyes on verse 13. "IF...." You got it? "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen...." Now that is Paul's conclusion. There is no question mark at the end of that sentence. It's a declarative statement. Paul's conclusion is that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is still in the grave someplace! It all goes together. It all rises and falls together. You cannot pick and choose the doctrines you want to believe and skip what you don't like. That's the concept of denominationalism and that's what makes denominationalism wrong. Just that simple! It's what Jesus taught. You cannot pick and choose. You cannot believe in Jesus and accept Jesus and reject the resurrection of the dead. It all comes in one and the same package. You must buy the whole package or reject the whole package. You cannot get a committee together and make up a creed book to suit you, pick and choose style. If you should put into that creed book more than what's in the Bible, you have put in too much and you are adding to - Rev. 22:18. If you put into that creed book less than the Bible teaches, you do not have enough and you are taking away from God's word ~ Rev. 22:19. If you put into your creed book just exactly what is in the Bible, you do not need the creed book. It turns out to be a copy of the Bible. It is a package deal! Accept it or reject it. That's the way it's presented. You see, some among the Corinthians wanted to get out their scissors and whack off that part about the resurrection of the dead, but Paul said oh no you don't, it won't work. "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen...." so make up your mind. Which is it? Then "If Christ be not risen [verse 4], then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain." "Vain" means empty. There is nothing to it. Zilch! Zero! Worthless! If Christ be not risen, preaching is nothing and faith is useless. It's just that simple! Now, which is it? "Yea" (verse 15) it's worse than empty and worthless. It's a lie! Paul said "we are found false witnesses of God." The "we" in that verse refers to the apostles. To be an apostle, one had to be a witness (Acts 1:22, John 15:27). If the apostles preached that Jesus was resurrected from the dead when he wasn't, the apostles were just flat out lying. Paul affirms in the last part of verse 15, "we have testified of God that he raised up Christ...." There was no two ways about it! The apostles had not taught maybe, possibly, or perhaps Christ was raised from the dead. Paul said, "we [the apostles, verse 15] have testified of God that he raised up Christ." Paul said, that's what we taught and that's what we're still teaching. Get it straight. If it didn't happen, "we [the apostles] are found false witnesses of God...." so, Paul is saying Christianity is worse than just empty and worthless if it is not true.
Then, lest someone should think they could pick and choose, Paul said in verse 16, "if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised...." Declarative statement! You can't take one without the other. Now, it's either a lie or it's the truth! You've got to decide. There's no on-the-fence position. Jesus said (Matt. 12:30), "He that is not with me is against me...." Jesus will not accept a lukewarm position (Rev. 3:16).
Verse 17, "If Christ be not raised ... ye are yet in your sins" — you are lost! Make no mistake about it. Non only are we lost (verse 18), but Paul affirmed that those in the grave that have preceded us in death are lost also. They have perished forever. You can't have it both ways. You can't be half-way-in and half-way out! You can't have one foot in the church and the other over in Satan's circle someplace. Either Christ was raised from the dead or Christianity is the biggest farce ever palmed off on man. So, don't soft-pedal it! Paul didn't make any bones about it.
The final "if — verse 19. If the hope of heaven is just some made-up story to console people in this life and there is no resurrection from the dead, Christianity is simply a cruel joke. There's no consolation about it. Worldly people allow for themselves a comfortable life and deny themselves no pleasures. If there is no resurrection, it's the only reasonable philosophy. Paul phrased it like this: "if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die", verse 32. If... if... if! Now get a handle on this. In verses 13-19, Paul said "if about a half dozen times. Paul with his "iffy" set of conditions in these verses showed the bottom line if one accepted the thinking of those among the Corinthians who said there is no resurrection of the dead. However, in verse 20 Paul turned his discussion around with "but" — in contrast to this "if business. The fact of the matter is (verse 20) "But now is Christ raised from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept." Thus, those among the Corinthians who said there is no resurrection of the dead were wrong, positively wrong. Paul states categorically that Christ was raised and that further, there is a resurrection of the dead. Not only is there a resurrection, but those that sleep in the graves of this old earth will also be raised. Jesus said in John 5:28-29:
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is
coming, in the which all that are in
the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have
done good, unto the resurrection of
life; and they that have done evil,
unto the resurrection of damnation.
The resurrection of the dead is a foregone conclusion with those that believe in Jesus. Jesus' resurrection from the tomb on that Sunday morning, we read about in Matthew's last chapter and in Mark's last chapter, is a proof, a sign, and a down payment on the promise and claim that Jesus made. The scribes and Pharisees who sought a sign from Jesus were told in Matt. 12:39-40:
39 and there shall no sign be given ...
but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
40 for as Jonas was three days and three
nights in the whale's belly; so shall
the Son of man be three days and
three nights in the heart of the earth.
Did you notice here in verse 10, Paul said that Christ "became the first fruits of them that slept". Grapple with that a minute. The word "first fruits" here is an Old Testament term. You may need to read Leviticus 23:9-14 for a contextual definition of this term. The first fruits were a ceremonial beginning of Israel's harvest season. Thus, when Christ came forth from the grave it was the ceremonial beginning of the great general resurrection harvest that is to follow.
We've not covered very many verses in this lesson, but get a good firm grip on what we have covered. In the first 12 verses, Paul defined the gospel he taught and that the Corinthians obeyed. That gospel definitely included a resurrection of the dead. In verses 13-19, Paul said in effect to remove the idea of a resurrection of the dead from that gospel of Christ simply corrupts and bankrupts the gospel. In verse 20, Paul reassured us that Christ did arise from the dead and that was just the beginning of the general resurrection to follow. In the minute or two we have left, please consider the man (Paul) and the other apostles who taught that gospel. If you read the first four books of the New Testament critically, after Jesus was put in the tomb on Friday evening and over Saturday (the Sabbath day), the eleven apostles were highly disappointed and became very despondent and gave up all hope, really. When they got news that Jesus had appeared to some on Sunday morning, they were simply astounded. Thomas not being present when Jesus appeared to the group the first time ~ that first Sunday evening - still would not accept it was true until he was confronted by Jesus face-to-face. The apostle Paul was a persecutor of Christians as he pointed out up in verse 9. To accuse Paul and the other apostles of fabricating the resurrection story as some have done, is incredible. What advantage would these men have gained by fabricating the story of the resurrection? Instead of gaining an advantage, they were persecuted the rest of their lives for the cause of Christ. In II Cor. 11:23-25, Paul said he was:
23 in labours more abundant, in stripes
above measure, in prisons more
frequent, in deaths oft.
24 Of the Jews five times received I
forty stripes save one.
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once
was I stoned, thrice I suffered
shipwreck, a night and a day I have
been in the deep;
And that's not half of the quote. For Paul and the other apostles to endure such things for a false gospel is just more than I can believe. The resurrection of Jesus Christ stands at the heart of Christian doctrine. Think about it. Until our next lesson, have a good day.