Imagine if you woke up in the morning to discover this breaking news on your social media feed and across every major news network: the body of Jesus Christ has been discovered in a tomb near Jerusalem. If somehow this news could be verified, it would mean the end of the Christian faith and a complete repudiation of the Bible’s claim to divine inspiration. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul examines the ramifications of this if it were to be true. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul defends the doctrine of the future, bodily resurrection of believers from the vantage point of Christ’s bodily resurrection. The ESV Study Bible informs us, “Many people in the ancient Greco-Roman world believed that death extinguished life completely or led to a permanent but shadowy and insubstantial existence in the underworld. The concept of a physical, embodied existence after death was known mainly from popular fables and was thought laughable by the educated.” These Corinthian believers wanted to deny the future, bodily resurrection of believers while still accepting the bodily resurrection of Jesus, because it wasn’t popular in their culture. Paul helps them connect the dots of their faulty reasoning. In order to bring home the necessity of a future, bodily resurrection of believers, Paul imagines out loud what it would mean if Jesus had never physically rose from the grave.
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 reads, “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 from 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.”
If Christ be not raised…
Gospel preaching is a waste of breath
The first result of no Easter Sunday would spell the demise of all gospel-centered preaching. The gospel is hardly good news if the Messiah was crucified as an Enemy of the State and his lifeless remains are rotting in a tomb today. Who would boldly herald that kind of a morbid message? And who would gather Sunday after Sunday to hear someone preach about a Messiah that once lived long ago but is now long dead. This reveals the problem with a church service where preaching is not the central event or where the preaching has been degenerated to a load of moral principles simply because its untenable to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Such church’s will perpetually dwindle because after all, who wants to go to church every Sunday to hear that?
The faith of believers has no grounding in reality
So with preaching forever gone, authentic faith would also be gone. The object of our faith as Christian’s is the event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. If Christ lived an outstanding life, then died never to rise again, it would prove he was only a man and would make all faith in him a foolish endeavor. We cannot eliminate the resurrection of Christ without eliminating the very basis of saving faith. If Christ be not raised, then he did not accomplish what he claimed to accomplish at the cross and he was not who he claimed to be.
The Prophets and Apostles are a bunch of liars
Not only would preaching and faith be rendered pointless without Christ’s resurrection, but also the Bible itself. Paul includes himself when he says, “We are even found to be misrepresenting God”. For those aware of the New Testament’s explosive copying and distribution in the early centuries of the church know this all hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The main reason the message of the New Testament spread like wildfire throughout the known world was because there was sufficient evidence to believe the body of Jesus had physically risen from the dead. There is a kind of preaching and living that is not possible apart from an authentic and life-altering event as the resurrection of Christ. Men who would tirelessly preach a lie about Christ’s resurrection in the face of relentless persecution and go to their bloody deaths with that message still on their lips are a mystery indeed. Maybe one or two men would devote themselves to such a wasted life of preaching this false message if they themselves thought it were so but the evidence was minimal, but not all the Apostles would have joined such a band. If the Apostles were lying about the resurrection of Christ, then the Old Testament prophets were as well. Who would study a Bible claiming divine inspiration if the supposed God who inspired it was not faithful to keep the very promises he made throughout it?
We are dead in our sins
Perhaps the saddest truth of all is to consider that if Christ be not raised, we are still dead in sins. Not only would our Sunday mornings be different and our Bibles be gone from the shelves and our faith be vain if Jesus’ lifeless body lay in a tomb, but we would have no life in our souls either. Easter means not only that Jesus is physically alive from the dead, but that all who trust in Jesus are spiritually alive from the dead. If Christ is dead, so are we. If this were true that every glorious text in the Bible that gives the “before” and “after” of our salvation would stop at the “before”. Titus 3:3 would read not, “For we ourselves were once foolish…”, but, “For we ourselves are still now foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Ephesians 2:1-3 would not say, “you were dead in…sins in which you once walked”, but rather, “And you are still now dead in the trespasses and sins in which you still walk, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all still live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”
Deceased believers are gone forever
Every Christian funeral would be sapped of all hope if the body of Jesus itself also lay in a tomb still. The words of comfort believers give one another when their loved ones who are in Christ have died would be eliminated. We wouldn’t be able to comfort the grieving spouse by saying, “Well, at least we know your godly and believing husband is now gone forever and you’ll never see him again. Praying for you to come to terms with this.” Such a statement would go unsaid because it contains no hope. While we are not to envision heaven being just a great, big family reunion of the redeemed, if there were no saints going there it would not be heaven. Also, who would follow a faith that honestly believed this life was the only good to be enjoyed. If every Christian’s life ended at the tomb, we would be better off living for the maximum worldly pleasure in this short and vain life we are given.
Christians are a hopeless and pitiable group
Lastly, Paul reasons that no Easter morning would mean Christians would win the award for being the world’s most hopeless and pitiable group. There is no hope if there is no bodily resurrection. There is only pity. We feel sorry for people who give their lives to a faith that we know is based upon lies. Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and even Jews who don’t see Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament are pitied by us now and so we try to reach them with the glorious news of Christ. But imagine if Christ be not raised, Christians would be the first on that list as a group of people to be pitied.
Imagine life without a risen Savior. It would be a hopeless waste of existence with no silver lining on the dark clouds of suffering because of no hope beyond our coming expiration. Yet I praise God that we do have a hope on which we can cling. In the very next verse, the Apostle Paul says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20a). Paul abruptly puts an end to this morbid and yet important pondering to declare the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus has risen from the dead and reigns in glory at the Father’s right hand, gospel preaching is no longer a waste of breath, but is perhaps the most fruitful thing we can do in this life. Because Jesus is alive, our faith is not ungrounded, but has a sure footing in this historical event. Because Christ has risen, the prophets and Apostles were not lying, but were declaring the pure truth of God and our Bibles are to be cherished. Because Jesus’ body has been lifted up to glory, we are no longer dead in sins, but our souls have been raised with Christ and our bodies will at His return. Because Jesus is alive forevermore, our loved ones in Christ who have gone before are not truly dead, but are now reigning with Christ in glory. Because Jesus is died and rose again, Christians are not a hopeless and pitiable group, but a hope-filled people who live as authentic and bold witnesses to the only hope there is in this world…the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Do you have this hope reader? If not, turn from your sins and trust in this Jesus, who alone gives eternal life. If your hope is set on the risen Christ, let it be expressed in the way you live. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!