By Aaron Marks
The resurrection of Christ is not only the most pivotal event in Christianity, but in the history of the world. It is the grand crescendo of the work of Christ. For it validates Christ's witness, divinity, and the sufficiency of his atonement. It is on this one fact that Christianity either stands or falls; our faith, preaching, spiritual life, and eternity rest on the truth of the resurrection. If the resurrection of Christ is false, then Christianity would take its place among all other religions as nothing more than wishful thinking and philosophical speculation.
1 Corinthians 15 is devoted entirely to the doctrine of the resurrection. In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, John MacArthur notes that it is the most extensive treatment of that doctrine in all of Scripture. Contextually, it is likely that Christians in Corinth had been heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. The predominate belief of their day was that matter was the source of evil, therefore denying the existence of a body in some future state. This was problematic because Scripture teaches that not only did Christ raise from the dead, but that the dead will be raised also. According to Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 15, these two things are inextricably linked. They stand or fall together. If you deny that Christ was raised, then there is no hope of a future resurrection, and if there there is no resurrection of our body, then Christ was certainly was not raised. So if we say that we are Christians, but deny the resurrection, then we are guilty of a blatant contradiction.
It's perplexing to think that there are people who claim to be Christian, yet deny the resurrection. In verses 12-19, Paul lists 6 dramatic consequences if there was no resurrection, namely, that there is no Christianity without it.
1. Preaching Would be Futile
“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? 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.
Here we have Paul’s link between the two resurrections: If one is true, then both are true. But if one is denied, then both must be rejected. He follows by listing his first consequence: if Christ did not raise, then our preaching is in vain.
All of Christ’s claims rest on his resurrection. It was the validation of his witness, divinity, and sacrifice. But if he did not raise, then all of that is subverted. If he is dead, then there is no power, no hope, and no salvation to declare. We would be guilty of preaching false hope about a dead savior who cannot really save. There would be no good news to herald, because death and evil would remain man’s conquerors.
2. Faith Would be Futile
“14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…”
Not only would our preaching be meaningless, but our faith would be as well. Our believing would have no effect. We know, according to Scripture, that by faith in Christ we are justified, adopted, sanctified, and glorified. But without Christ raising, then none of those things are a reality and we have believed and trusted for nothing.
3. Witnesses and Preachers are Liars
“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.
Christ, his witnesses, and preachers would all be blaspheming heretics. Paul is not arguing for atheism if Christ did not raise, rather, those who dare proclaim such a thing would be bearing false witness against God. We would be attributing something to God that he did not actually do.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “3 concerning his Son [Jesus], who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
Christ himself predicted his own death and resurrection on a number of occasions. So if he did not raise, then our only resolve is to dismiss him as a liar and heretic. Likewise, we would have to reject all of the New Testament because Apostolic teaching is based on the foundation that he died and rose from the grave.
4. We Would Still be in our Sin
“16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
Our regeneration depends on the resurrection:
1 Peter 1:3 says, “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,”
Ephesians 2:5 says, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”
If Christ did no raise from the dead, then there is no power to raise sinners from spiritual death to spiritual life. We would remain radically corrupted sinners, slaves of unrighteousness, and sons of disobedience. There would be no power to awaken our dead souls.
Not only does our regeneration depend of Christ’s resurrection, so does our justification.
Romans 4:23-25 says, “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem explains that when God raised Christ from the dead, he was displaying that he approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, and that his work was completed. There was no more debt that needed to be paid and no more punishment to be endured, for the wrath of God was satisfied. But if Christ did no raise, then we could conclude that his sacrifice did not satisfy the wrath of God, leaving us in our sin and justly deserving of punishment. There would be no justification, no imputed righteousness or payment for sin. If Christ did not raise, then God would be just to count our sins against us.
5. All Saints Would Have Perished
“18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.”
All of the Old Testament saints who trusted in the promise of the coming Messiah would have eternally perished if Christ had not risen.
6. We Would be the Most Pitied of all People
“19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If Christ did not raised from the grave, we would be the most pitied people for devoting our lives to a hope that disappointed.
But Christ did raise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20)! Unlike all other religions in the world, we do not visit a shrine or a tomb to mourn the death of our founder, instead we gather together to celebrate the victory of Jesus our Savior and King who does not rest in a grave, but rules from a throne in heaven. That is what we come together on Easter Sunday to remember, celebrate, and declare. We do not have to doubt that our faith and preaching is in vain. Since Christ has raised, he is who he said he was and the gospel has true life-giving power. By it, we are guaranteed that those who are untied with Christ will be raised with him in spiritual life and that we can be assured of our justification, adoption, sanctification, and future glorification.
Christ is currently ruling and reigning from his throne in heaven, reconciling all things to himself in preparation for his final return. In those days there will be no more sin, sickness, pain, or sorrow. And just as Christ was raised, we too will be raised and given a fully transformed body no longer subject to death and evil (1 Cor. 15:20-24). Amen.