Summary: If Christ did not rise, his death was pointless and our faith is foolishness.
Imagine hearing someone give a word of revelation like this from the First Church of Corinth on Easter morning: We have become new creatures in Christ. He has sent his Holy Spirit who has made us spiritual beings. The resurrection of Jesus Christ that we celebrate is a sign to us of our own spiritual resurrections. How do we know we have achieved a new spiritual state? Look at our spiritual gifts. We speak the tongues of angels; we receive special revelation unknown to man’s wisdom. Surely, God’s Spirit is within us, making us new in Christ and setting us free from the temporal laws of this world. Someday we shall know full freedom when our spirits are set free from our bodies. It is that freedom we long for – to be rid of our bodies. Do not look for a physical resurrection. That would mean being bound again. No, our true resurrection – the resurrection of our spirits – has already taken place. No physical body will rise again; our spirits long for true freedom, unhindered by bodies.
Thus spoke prophets and teachers at Corinth. And they added interesting application. Since the body is destined to be destroyed, then laws pertaining to what could not be done with the body no longer mattered. Sexual immorality? How can there be sexual immorality of the body when the body had no value? What matters is the spirit, and clearly the Corinth believers were okay in that regard, considering how rich they were in spiritual gifts.
It is to such teaching that Paul responds, saving his greatest powers of reason and eloquence to refute a heresy that struck at the very heart of the gospel.
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.
Paul has just established as definitely as possible that Jesus’ body was raised from the dead. The Corinth saints had heard this message, believed it, and staked their salvation on it. They do not question Jesus’ resurrection. How then have they missed the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and their own resurrection still to come?
Here, again, is the argument of these heretical teachers. The body is temporal. It was not made to be eternal, and, indeed, only hinders the freedom intended for the eternal spirit. Thus, there is no physical resurrection of the dead. They are not coming back to life on this earth, and certainly not in human form.
Wait a minute, Paul says. To make that argument is to undermine the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection, which was a physical resurrection. It was his body that rose, his body that was seen by many witnesses. I saw him. If you are saying that there is no resurrection of the body, then Jesus’ resurrection never took place. And if it did not happen, here are the consequences you must accept.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
Our preaching and your faith are useless. Paul will elaborate in a moment about their faith being in vain. The point here is that his engaging in the preaching ministry serves no purpose if Christ was not raised. He is not in the ministry to form religious societies. He is not creating a religion that uses resurrection imagery to get connected with our divinity. His preaching makes sense, and possesses power, only on the basis of a historical, physical resurrection.
And it is the same for their faith, by the way. The gospel is mortally harmed if Jesus’ physical resurrection did not take place. Remember the three-fold definition: Jesus died for our sins; he was buried; he was raised on the third day. Remove the third event, and the previous two serve no purpose. Believe what you want; but without the resurrection, everything else falls down.
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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
This is the most serious charge that can be made against an apostle and any minister – to misrepresent God. Back in chapter 4, Paul wrote: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1-2). And, he notes that he will be judged by God. If the resurrection of Christ is not true, God will judge him as a false apostle.