Notes on 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

1 Corinthians 15:12‑19  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Having thus shown the immense care with which God had provided witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, as it was preached by the apostles, and believed by all Christians, he now proceeds to reason from it to the resurrection of the dead, and also from their denial of the resurrection to its effect on Christ and the gospel.
"But if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from [the] dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of [the] dead? But if there is no resurrection of [the] dead, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, then also empty [is] our preaching, and empty also your faith; and we are also found false witnesses of God, because we witnessed concerning God that he raised the Christ, whom he raised not, if indeed no dead are raised. For if no dead are raised, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, vain [is] your faith; ye are yet in your sins; then also those that fell asleep in Christ perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are most to be pitied of all men.” (Vers. 12-19)
Philosophy may issue in dualism, pantheism, or materialism; it may make reason or experience the sole criterion of truth; it may glory in the creative imagination of a Plato, or the pure reason of an Aristotle; but Stoics and Epicureans mock and evade the resurrection, which displays the power of God in the scene of man's total nothingness and corruption. Of the soul they may boast. It is man's soul; and its capacity, its intellect, may be as great in the wicked as in the righteous. But God alone can raise the dead. Man has not even the idea. Even the well-read Pliny (Nat. H.) denies the possibility: Revocare defunctos ne Deus quidem potest. Then Oriental thought, which ever thinks of matter as essentially evil, and therefore makes liberation from the body the highest blessing, would help in the same direction those who attach weight to such speculation. Christ, Christ risen from the dead, is not only the death-blow to all these workings of human intellect, but establishes, as the great fact presented by God to faith, victory over evil in Him who bore its consequences, in the righteous judgment of God, that He might deal in sovereign grace with man, give the believer power morally by the Holy Ghost meanwhile, and associate him openly and triumphantly with Christ in the same risen condition ere long, and forever.
We can understand, then, the effort of Satan to bring in among the Christians doubt and denial of the resurrection of the dead. As the seal of Christ's grace and glory, of the miracles He wrought, and the truth He taught, His resurrection is all-important; no less is it the proof of Satan vanquished, of redemption accepted, of God glorified, even as to sin, and sins borne in Christ's body on the tree. It is the power of the new and inner life, and it is the object and spring of the most glorious hope, in which the Christian and the church look to be blessed with Christ in heavenly places, and this in fact, as now in title, Christ having already borne God's judgment for the believer, who has passed from death into life.
In vain, then, did reason object to a state of incomparable superiority to the present, or even to the past, before sin entered, and spoiled the work of God on earth. In vain did it scorn the reunion of soul and body, as if it must be a hopeless imprisonment, a going back, and not forward, and everlasting degradation for the spirit after its emancipation. Christ risen is the completest possible answer, wherein God gives us already to behold by faith man according to His counsels of glory, flowing from His love, and founded on His righteousness: not an idea, but a fact, attested as none ever was since the world began, for precision, and competency, and fullness, as well as certainty, those witnesses alone being excluded which were incompatible with its nature, and which constituted therefore a moral impossibility.
It is impossible to read the Acts of the Apostles without seeing that the resurrection of Christ was the all but unvarying testimony presented to souls, Jews or Gentiles: not merely that He died for our sins, but that God has raised Him from the dead. To say that there is no resurrection of dead men is evidently to set that aside. (Ver. 12.) It is the introduction of Christ which brings every reasoning of man in divine things to the test. The universal message, the gospel to every creature, is that the Savior is raised from the dead after suffering for sin. The denial of the resurrection denies not merely the future hope of the saints, but the standing fact of Christ, the mainspring of God's good news. For it is plain that, if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, what becomes of the apostolic preaching? what of the faith of saints in Corinth, and everywhere else? (Vers. 18, 14) He had told them before that there is salvation by the gospel for such as held fast the truth preached, unless they believed heedlessly, or at random (εἴκη, ver. 2), in which case they would be as ready to give up as to receive. Now he goes farther, and, instead of speaking of their subjective state as a light reception of the truth, he points out that, if Christ has not been raised, as the gospel declares, the preaching of the apostles was objectively as empty (κενόν) as the faith of the saints. But there is something more precise still: “and we are also found false witnesses of God, because we witnessed concerning God that he raised the Christ, whom he raised not, if indeed no dead art raised.” (Ver. 16)
The resurrection of Christ is thus vital and fundamental. It is no accessory privilege, nor proof ex abundanti, which can be lopped off, leaving the stock of divine grace unimpaired. If it is not true, the foundations are gone, the gospel is worthless, God Himself misrepresented, and the witnesses impostors. The immense fact of resurrection was one which Christ not only predicted over and over again, but on it staked the truth of His mission and Sonship. It is the manifestation of that power of deliverance from death and judgment which is the present joy of the Christian, as it is the brightest witness to the efficacy of atonement, and the pledge of glory with Christ at His coming again. Hence too, if it be not true, the chosen witnesses are convicted of falsehood, because their testimony belies God in attributing to Him the raising up the Christ, whom he did not raise, if in fact no dead are raised.
It will be seen how persistently the apostle binds together the resurrection of Christ and of the dead. This is no accident, but the fruit of God's grace and wisdom, who would associate every hope and ground of confidence for His own with Christ; as indeed the Christian is truly united to Him, and knows it. “For if no dead are raised, neither hath Christ been raised; and if Christ hath not been raised, vain [is] your faith; ye are yet in your sins; then those also that fell asleep in Christ perished.” (Vers. 16-18) Again, he argues that, if no dead are raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if He has not, vain (ματαία) is their faith, in the sense of being without purpose, and without effect; or, as the next clause teaches, “ye are yet in your sins.” The consequence is, of course, no less serious for the believers already passed away: “then also those that fell asleep in Christ perished.” Inferences so shocking as to saints that are gone, as well as for their own souls, yet flowing legitimately from any principle; are no slight evidence of its falsity. But if the conclusions are so inadmissible, who could accept the premises which make them not only just but inevitable?
Thus the future, according to God, is lost, and we are reduced to a hope in Christ for this life only. But if this be all, the Christian, instead of the happiest, is of all men most to be pitied; for he certainly falls under special trials because of his faith in Christ, which is nevertheless fruitless, and leaves him in his sins, if no dead rise; for in this case Christ has not been raised, and perdition must be the portion of all that sleep in Him; they suffer in the present, and they have lost their hope for the future. None can be more pitiable. (Ver. 19)