May 22, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #9: The Problem of the Resurrection of Christ and of Believers, 1 Corinthians 15.1-15.58  

Lesson 9.2: The Importance of the Resurrection
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19


1 Cor 15.12-19 (KJV)

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 vain.
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 rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
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 miserable.



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?

Now if Christ
This verse is the focal point of the first nineteen verses, and the first part of the verse, “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead,” takes you back to what the apostle said in the first eleven verses, where he stated the direct evidence for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And from here, he goes on to demonstrate that the dead would indeed rise, by showing how it followed from the fact that the Lord Jesus had risen, and by showing what the consequences would be for those who deny it. The whole argument is based upon the fact that the Lord Jesus had risen. If that one fact was agreed upon, he shows that it must, by necessity, follow that his people would also rise.

be preached
“Now if Christ be preached that he arose from the dead,” as he was by the Apostle Paul, during the months he was at Corinth, and by all the rest of the apostles wherever they went. The word “preached” seems here to include the idea of preaching that is believed; or preaching that demonstrates that He did rise. If this was the doctrine on which the church was based, that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, how could the resurrection of the dead be denied?

that he rose from the dead,

I am speaking for Paul now: “Bearing in mind that we have preached Christ to you, and that you have received this doctrine with faith, why is it that some of you are now saying that there is no resurrection of the dead, although we have shown that his resurrection is the proof and pledge of our own future resurrection?” Was there some false teacher, or teachers, among them, who was attempting to incorporate Mosaic rites and ceremonies with the Christian doctrines, and even to blend the doctrine of the Sadducees with the Gospel of Christ. It appears pretty evident that that is the situation that existed in Corinth; therefore, Paul wrote this chapter to refute this mongrel Christianity, and overturn this bad doctrine.

The certainty of Christ's resurrection was so solidly embedded in the convictions of the people of the apostolic church that here Paul made it an argument proving the resurrection of all the dead. That was a hope which was stubbornly denied by the Greek philosophers—“When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later” (Acts 17:32; NLT),—as well as the Jewish Sadducees.  As Hodge declared, this verse proves that some of the Corinthians were denying a general resurrection for all Christians (and all people), while admitting through necessity the resurrection of Christ. Paul stated that the resurrection of Christ was proof of the resurrection of all. This is the first in a series of arguments proving the validity of the Christian hope of the resurrection. The philosophical conceit which Paul laid to rest by these arguments was: "The Greek idea of the immortality of the soul ... that after death the soul escaped from the body to be absorbed into the divine or continue a shadowy existence in the underworld."

“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead,” is a true statement.

how say
“How say,” or “how can anyone say?” The man Paul is referring to can be described as the head of the contrary faction, and evidentially he has some disciples. The first thing Paul does in this refutation is to remind them of his mission, which his opposers were sure to question. Next, he is careful to let the Corinthians see that he does not uphold the doctrine of the resurrection merely to oppose their new leaders, since it was the very same doctrine which he had preached to them at their first meeting, before any false Apostle appeared among them, and misled them about the resurrection. Their false Apostle was a Jew, and he appeared to have been judaized; and Paul may have suspected him of sadduceeism?—Because it is clear that he was emphatically opposed  to Paul, which must have been due to some very great difference in opinion, since there are no signs of any personal provocation.

The unbelief of the Sadducees probably sprang from the philosophical idea that all matter was essentially evil, so that the soul would be better off when set free from the body; thus the doctrine of the Resurrection was something they just could not accept. The Corinthians, however, accepted the Resurrection of Christ as a fact, and the Apostle argues that they cannot logically deny the fact of the resurrection of the dead, since Christ's Resurrection is a particular case of it.

When Paul asks the question, “How say some among you that there is no resurrection?” he is looking ahead to verses thirteen through nineteen. He has established first of all that resurrection is an essential fact of the gospel. The resurrection of Jesus proves there is a resurrection. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. Next he will speak about the logical consequences of denying the resurrection.

Sadducee (Definition)—a member of a Palestinian sect, consisting mainly of priests and aristocrats, that flourished from the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D. and differed from the Pharisees chiefly in their literal interpretation of the Bible, rejection of oral laws and traditions, and denial of an afterlife, the resurrection of the dead, the existence of angels, and the coming of the Messiah.

some among you
Who these men were is not certain, but there has been no small amount of speculation regarding their identity; therefore, the false teachers at Corinth may have been one of the following:
1. Hymenaeus and Philetus, or one of their followers, since this was a notion they promoted.
2. The followers of Simon Magus and Cerinthus, who denied the resurrection.
3.  Someone belonging to the sect of the Sadducees, who though they believed in Christ, retained their old principles, one of which was that there is no resurrection of the dead.
4. The Epicureans particularly would be likely to endorse this idea, since they denied altogether any future state.
5. Gnostic philosophy denied the resurrection of the dead.
6. It is most probable, I think, that the denial of the resurrection was the result of reasoning after the manner of the Greeks, and the effect of the introduction of philosophy into the church. This has been the fertile source of most of the errors which have been introduced into the church.

Although the Holy Spirit  has not revealed who these people were, it is certain that there were “some among” the Corinthian believers who opposed Paul on this basis; and it is highly probable that they were members of the church there; and who not only held this notion privately, but talked about it publicly, declaring before the whole church that there would not be a resurrection of the dead. Some other members of that church, though not all, were persuaded to agree with this bad principle; therefore, the apostle asks how they could NOW believe these false teachers, after he had preached it to them, and so completely proved to them, that Christ was risen from the dead; and if that is true, then it is out of question that there is NO resurrection of the dead. Their notion, as it is expressed here, was not only that there would be no resurrection of the dead, but that there never was. The apostle's purpose is also to prove the future resurrection of the dead, and his method was to prove the resurrection of Christ, for the reason that His resurrection involves the resurrection of his people; because, the saints not only rose in, and with Christ, as their head symbolically, which is the sense of the prophecy in Hosea 6:2—“After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight” (Hosea 6:2; NKJV)—but because He is their head, and they are members of Him, therefore as sure as He the head is risen, so will the members also rise. Furthermore, Christ's resurrection, in a sense, is imperfect, until all the members of his body are raised: because, though the resurrection of Christ, personally considered, is perfect, yet it is not, spiritually considered; and it will not be perfect until ALL the saints are raised, of whose resurrection Christ's is the epitome and the pledge. Their bodies will be raised and made like Christ's, by virtue of their union with Him. Besides, He became incarnate, obeyed, suffered, not for himself, but for His people, so he rose again on their account, so that they might rise also; which if they should not, one purpose at least of Christ's resurrection would not be accomplished: add to this, that the same power that raised Christ from the dead, can raise others, even all the saints; so that if it is true that Christ is raised, it should not be thought incredible that all the dead shall be raised; and particularly when it is observed, that Christ is the efficient, procuring, and praiseworthy cause of the resurrection from the dead, as well as the pattern and deposit for it.

that there is no resurrection of the dead?
This means that the dead cannot rise. How can it be thought that there can be no resurrection, when it is an accepted fact that Christ rose? The argument here is twofold:
1. That Christ rose from the dead was one “case” of a fact which demonstrated that there “had been” a resurrection, and of course that it was possible.
2. That the connection between Christ and his people was such that the admission of this fact involved also the doctrine that all his people would also rise. This is the argument Paul states in the following verses.

Those in Corinth who opposed Paul probably thought that the resurrection was “impossible.” His reply to this opinion was in accordance with the principles of inductive philosophy, by demonstrating a fact; that such an event had occurred, and that consequently all their objections could not stand. Facts cannot be overcome by supposition; and when a fact is established, all the obstacles and difficulties that stand in the way are overpowered and defeated. So Paul, in accordance with these principles, simply had to establish the fact that someone had been raised, and that met all the objections which could be made against the doctrine. It would have been in accordance with the philosophy of the Greeks to have gone into a philosophical discussion to show that it was not impossible or absurd, and this might have been done. It was in accordance with the principles of true philosophy, however, to establish the fact, and to argue from that, and as a result meet all the difficulties at once. The doctrine of the resurrection, therefore, does not rest on a metaphysical subtlety; it does not depend on human reasoning; it does not depend on analogy; it rests just as the sciences of astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, botany, and natural philosophy do, “on well ascertained facts;” and it is now a well understood principle of all true science that no difficulty, no obstacle, no metaphysical subtlety, is to be allowed to destroy the conviction in the mind which the facts are competent to produce.

Why then, has Paul taken so much care to prove the resurrection of Jesus? It wasn’t because the Corinthian Christians did not believe Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, he makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15:11 that they did believe it—“Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach (the resurrection) and so you believed” (1 Cor 15:11; NKJV). Then why was it important? The Corinthian Christians were not denying Jesus’ resurrection; they were denying our resurrection. They were influenced either by Greek philosophy (which considered the resurrection undesirable, thinking the state of “pure spirit” superior), or by the thinking of the Sadducees (which thought the world beyond to be just wishful thinking). The bottom line is that the Corinthian Christians believed we lived forever, but not in resurrected bodies. Remember that resurrection is not merely life after death. It is the continuation of life after death in glorified bodies, which are our present bodies in a glorified state.

13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:

But if there be no resurrection of the dead,
Now Paul begins a series of “ifs”—“if there be no resurrection of the dead.” Paul faced the fact. My Christian friend, don’t hide your head like an ostrich under the sand and say, “Well, we can’t be sure about the Resurrection, so let’s not say too much about it. Let’s walk as if we were walking on eggshells.” My life rests on a foundation; that foundation is the Rock, and the Rock is Jesus Christ. He came back from the dead. Paul is not afraid that Christ might not have risen from the dead. He puts down these “ifs” in order to demonstrate the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“If” the resurrection is thought to be impossible and absurd, then it must follow that Christ is not “raised.” He was dead and was buried. He had lain in the grave three days. His human soul had left the body. His body had become cold and stiff. The blood had ceased to circulate, and the lungs to breathe. In His case there was the same difficulty in raising him up to life that there is in any man; and if it is believed to be impossible and absurd that the dead should rise, then it must follow that Christ has not been raised. This is the end result which Paul states as the outcome resulting from denying this doctrine. Paul shows them that the consequence of denying this doctrine, or upholding the general proposition “that the dead would not rise,” led to the inevitable denial of the fact that the Lord Jesus had risen, and consequently to the denial of Christianity altogether, and the total destruction of all their hopes. There was, moreover, such a close connection between Christ and his people, that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus made their resurrection certain, which is the idea advanced by the following verses:

• 1 Thess 4:14 (KJV) “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” That is, if we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, we ought also to believe that those who have died while having faith in Jesus will be raised from the dead. The meaning is not that the fact of the resurrection depends on our believing that Jesus rose, but that the death and resurrection of the Savior were connected with the resurrection of the saints: that the one followed from the other, and that the one was as certain as the other. The doctrine of the resurrection of the saints so certainly follows from that of the resurrection of Christ, that, if the one is believed, the other ought to be also.
• John 14:19 (KJV) “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” As surely as I will rise from the dead, so will you. My resurrection will be the proof and pledge of yours. And because I live a life of intercession for you at the right hand of God, you will live a life of grace and peace here, and a life of glory hereafter.

then is Christ not risen:
The apostle argues from the general, to a particular case; from the general resurrection of the dead, to the particular resurrection of Christ; and from a repudiation of the one, to a repudiation of the other; because what does not agree with the whole, does not agree with the part; and what is true of the whole, is true of the part; but if the resurrection of Christ is not true, there are many absurd effects that must result, and which the apostle spells out next.

If something is totally impossible, there cannot be even one occurrence of it. In this and the following verses the Apostle shows the logical consequences of disbelief in the resurrection, or, rather, the consequences that would follow were there no resurrection. These consequences, he concludes, are unthinkable or absurd, and, therefore, he argues that the premises which produce them are false.

The first consequence of denying the resurrection is that “Christ not risen” and is still in the grave. The nature of Paul’s argument here does not suggest that his opponents in Corinth acknowledge the resurrection of Christ, only that it led to an unthinkable conclusion for any genuine believer—“If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ is not risen.” They are linked together. And it is on the basis of the resurrection of Christ—Paul is going to say later on—that Jesus Christ is the firstfruits. That means there will be more to follow. He is the firstfruits, and later at His coming there will be the resurrection of those who are His.

14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.

And if Christ be not risen,
What if there is no resurrection? And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. And we have witnessed falsely for God, because we have testified that God raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up; if in fact the dead do not rise. Because, if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! And those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If our hope in Christ is limited to this life, we should be pitied more than any of God’s creatures.

The absolutely fundamental nature of the resurrection of Christ and the legitimate consequence derived from it are stated here and in the verses that follow. So-called "modernists" who pretend to be Christians while denying the resurrection are not Christian at all in any New Testament sense.

then is our preaching vain,
The meaning of vain, as it is used in this verse is: “without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless.”

“And if Christ is not risen, then is our preaching” without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless, which is another consequence which must result if it is true that there was no resurrection, and consequently that Christ was not risen. The core of their preaching was that Christ was raised up; and all their preaching was based upon that being an undeniable fact. But if that were not true, the whole practice of Christianity was worthless, and Christianity was a burden that should be avoided. It would be a “sham” to insist that the Christian religion was from heaven; it would be useless to proclaim a system that has a dead Savior, since it could save no one.

“Then is our preaching vain”—not simply because some falsehood has been mixed in, but it is a completely erroneous belief. The question is what remains if Christ has been swallowed up by death—if he has become extinct—if he has been overwhelmed by the curse of sin — if, instead of conquering the evil one, he has been overcome by Satan? In short, if the foundation of the building has failed, the building must also fail; likewise, if Christ is dead, your faith in Him is without any real significance. And “our preaching  is vain”—false, empty, delusionary, unprofitable, and useless; not only that part of it which concerns the resurrection of Christ, but ALL of it; including preaching Christ as the Son of God, which was the subject of the apostle's ministry—it serves no purpose, if He is not risen; because one significant proof of His sonship depends upon His resurrection, which is the declaration of it; because who can believe He is the Son of God, if He is in the custody of the grave? One reason why He could not be detained by death any longer than was necessary, was because He was the Son of God, and the collateral and guarantee of his people, and had paid their whole debt of sin: so the preaching of his incarnation, obedience, sufferings, and death, is of no use and no avail, if he has not abolished death, and brought life and immortality first to himself, and then to His people.

and your faith is also vain.
If Christ is not raised, then “your faith is also vain”—it is unprofitable, useless, and groundless, because you have believed a false doctrine; faith in a dead Savior is both preposterous and pathetic.
If Christ was not raised, he was an impostor, since he repeatedly declared that he would rise:
• Matt 16:21 (KJV) From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
• Luke 9:21-22 (KJV) Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
His whole religion depended on that. The system could not be true unless Christ had been raised, as he said he would be; and belief in a false system could be of no use to any man. The argument here is one that speaks to all their feelings, their hopes, and their belief. All their convictions required that the system was true. Were they, and could they be prepared to admit that a doctrine which involved the consequence that all the evidences which they had that the apostles preached the truth were misleading, and that all the evidences of the truth of Christianity which had influenced their minds and won their hearts were false and deceptive? Admitting this supposition, would destroy the principal evidence of Christianity. If they were not prepared for this, then it followed that they should not abandon or doubt the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.

If it was discovered that the apostles were false witnesses for God; that they pretended to be God's witnesses for truth, and to work miracles by His power, and all the while they are only deceivers and liars for God, the religion of Christ would be branded “false.” The same would happen if in his name, and by power received from him, we say something is fact that in reality is false. And this would make us the most useless men in the world, and our ministry the most useless thing in the world? What good could we do, if we knew our religion stood on no better foundation than this? What purpose would our preaching serve? All our works would have been done in vain? We can have no good expectations in this life; and we could have none beyond it. If Christ is not raised, the gospel is a joke. This supposition would make the faith of Christians vain, as well as the work of its ministers:

If Christ is not raised, “faith” in Him is “vain,” because there is no solidity of faith, where there is no hope of a future life. If the gospel ended with the death of Christ, nothing would remain but despair, because He cannot be the author of salvation to others, if He has been defeated by death. We must therefore bear in mind, that the entire gospel consists mainly in the death and resurrection of Christ, so that is where we must concentrate our attention, if we desire to progress in the Christian life, and present the hope of eternal life to others; otherwise we will remain barren and unfruitful—“For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8; KJV).

Perhaps you belong to a church which denies that Christ arose from the dead. If Christ is not bodily raised from the dead, then our preaching is vain. Not only that, but our faith is vain also. You might just as well drop your church membership. It’s no good. There is no reason to go to church or to hear a sermon if Christ is not raised from the dead.

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 rise not.

“Yea” means yes; certainly—“But let your communication be, YEA, YEA; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. (Matthew 5:37; KJV)

and we are found false witnesses of God;
“Yea, and we are found” can be restated as “We are; or we shall be proved to be. It will follow, if the Lord Jesus was not raised up, that we have been false witnesses.”

“Of God” as it is used here means “Respecting God.” It will be found that we have stated something that is not true about God; or have said that he has done something which he has not done. Nothing could be regarded as a greater crime than this, no matter what the subject under consideration might be. To bear false witness against a man, or to say that a man has done what he has not done, is regarded as a serious crime, which has been designated slander. How much worse is it to bear false testimony against God!

As McGarvey said, "It was not an issue of truth or mistake, but of truth or falsehood." There can be no middle ground in judging the words of that group of people who bore witness to Christ's resurrection and then went through out the ancient empire, meeting with hatred, rebuke, persecution, poverty, and in the end sealing their testimony with their life's blood. It was either truth, or it was a bold calculated lie which perpetrated upon mankind the greatest hoax of all time; and the known character and behavior of the blessed apostles makes it impossible to believe the second alternative.

The expression, “false witnesses of God,” may be understand in two way—either they lied by using the name of God under a false pretext, or they were discovered to be liars, when testifying about what they had received from God. The second of these is the most serious, because it involves a crime that is much more heinous. Now, therefore, he teaches that, if the resurrection of Christ is denied, God is made guilty of falsehood, because the witnesses have been chosen and equipped by Him.

The apostle had related, in the forgoing verse, the disadvantages to the Christian religion, if it is true that Christ had not risen; but what is more serious is how it would affect us—our faith would have been misplaced—the whole doctrine of the gospel would become useless and worthless, and we would lose all hope of salvation. But this would be absolutely absurd—that the Apostles, who were ordained by God to be the messengers of His eternal truth, were exposed as persons who had deceived the world with lies; because this would be inclined to dishonor God, and cause the faithful to question the gospel. No thoughtful skeptic now-a-days regards the Apostles as impostors. Their character, as well as their sufferings, forbids this; but he would say they were victims of a blunder—they only imagined they saw the risen Lord. But the idea of this never enters St. Paul's mind; as far as he was concerned it was absolutely impossible that they could have been mistaken.

because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ:
“Because we have testified of God,” or rather, “against” God, because our evidence has been “against” Him. We have stated that which is not true; and this is “against” God. It is implied here that it would be a “crime” to testify that God had raised up the Lord Jesus if he had not done it; or to assert that God had done something which would be “against” his character, or which would be improper for him to do. This would be a crime against God:
1 Because it would be wrong to bear any false witness against God, or to say that he had done what he had not done.
2 Because “if” the Lord Jesus had not been raised up, it would prove that he was an “impostor,” since he had declared that he would be raised up; and to say that God had raised up an impostor would be the same as calling Him a liar, and would do Him a great dishonor.
Christ's resurrection is viewed in the New Testament as having been accomplished by the Son himself (John 10:18)—“No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18; NKJV). Facing His Jewish detractors in the audience, He assured them that they could not kill Him. They had already tried to do so on two previous occasions. He was completely beyond their reach, even though they were close enough to hear His voice. Leaving no doubt, Jesus told them emphatically that He would give up His life on a unilaterally voluntary basis. He declared that He alone had the power to give up His life. Included in that divine power was the innate power to take up His life again under direct command from the Father Who had sent Him for such a glorious purpose. What claim to absolute equality with the Father could exceed what Christ said on this occasion? The entire godhead was involved in the resurrection, because the Holy Spirit is said to have participated in His resurrection, and that is affirmed by Romans 8:11—“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” That Spirit in us is a pledge that God will raise us, even as Christ was raised from the tomb.

whom he raised not up,
Paul is saying "we have testified against God,” since we have passed on a false testimony that came from God, that Christ was raised from the dead, when He is not risen; which must be the case, if there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul’s reasoning in this matter may have gone like this: If there is no principle resurrection, then Jesus did not rise from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then death has power over Him and has defeated Him. If death has power over Jesus, He is not God. If Jesus is not God, He cannot offer a complete sacrifice for sins. If Jesus cannot offer a complete sacrifice for sins, my sins are not completely paid for before God. If my sins are not completely paid for before God, then I am still in my sins! If Jesus is not risen, He is unable to save.

if so be that the dead rise not.
“If the dead rise not;” or rather, if there is no resurrection, and indeed, can be none. If this general proposition is true that there can be no resurrection, then it will apply to Christ as well as any others, and must prove that he did not rise. The “argument” in this verse is this:
1 If it was denied that Christ was raised, it would prove that all the apostles were false witnesses; men of the worst character; false witnesses against God.
2 The apostle seems to have presumed they “could not” believe this. They had too much evidence that they spoke the truth; they had an unwavering respect for God, and a constant desire to bear witness of him, of all He said and had done; they had conclusive evidence that they were inspired by him, and had the power of working miracles; they were too fully convinced of their own honesty, truth, and holiness, to ever believe that they could be false witnesses against God. They had plenty of opportunities to know whether God did raise up the Lord Jesus; and as witnesses they had no inducement to bear a false witness against God.

All the apostles were liars if Christ had not risen. Every one of these men was a false witness if Christ is still in the grave. Have you ever noticed that men do not die for that which they know to be a lie? Men do die for a lie, but only if they think it is the truth. For instance, millions of men died for Hitler because they believed in him. The apostles testified that they saw the risen Christ, and they were willing to die for that declaration. I’ll let you decide if they were right or wrong. But men do not willingly die for what they know is a lie.

16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:

For if the dead rise not,
This verse is a repetition of 1 Corinthians 15:13, to emphasize the argument that the Christian faith in the Resurrection rests on a historic fact, and not on a philosophical theory. It is repeated here, evidently, partly because of its importance and partly to demonstrate the absurdities that would result from such a conclusion. It was a great and momentous truth which would “bear” repetition, that if there was no resurrection, as some believed, then it would follow that the Lord Jesus was not raised up; but there is more to this than that. The whole purpose of Christ's entry into our world with its sufferings and death, which was consummated by his glorious resurrection, was to conquer death upon behalf of all humankind; and, if such a thing as the resurrection of people was impossible, Christ would never have undertaken the mission in the first place.

then is not Christ raised:
“IF CHRIST IS NOT RISEN, YOUR FAITH IS FUTILE; YOU ARE STILL IN YOUR SINS!” If there is no resurrection, because it is something that even God cannot work it out, then Jesus did not rise from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then death has power over Him and has defeated Him. If death has power over Jesus, He is not God. If Jesus is not God, He cannot offer a complete sacrifice for sins. If Jesus cannot offer a complete sacrifice for sins, my sins are not completely paid for before God, and neither is yours. If my sins are not completely paid for before God, then I am still in my sins, and so are you! If Jesus is not risen, He is unable to save.
In other words, if there is no resurrection, the only alternative is atheism, in view of the fact that one would have to believe that, although there is a God who is wise and just, nevertheless the purest and greatest life that was ever lived is no better in the end than the life of an ordinary man. Furthermore, what worse, we would be False witnesses, because we testified that Christ‘s resurrection is a fact because we saw Him after he was dead—walking, talking, and even eating, when we knew that our testimony was a falsehood. But could five hundred persons agree in this allegation? And if they did, is it not likely that someone would discover the charlatan, since he could have nothing to gain by keeping the secret. On the other hand, he might gain fame and fortune by reporting such a swindler. But, such a thing never happened, and it never will. The testimony, therefore, concerning the resurrection of Christ, is undeniably true.

17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.

And if Christ be not raised,
Believing in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely mandatory for all those who hope for salvation; therefore, all individuals, institutions and even churches which deny it have a hope that is NOT in agreement with the Word of God. There is no salvation which does NOT have at its core the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He was raised from the dead, and many other essential conclusions based upon the primary fact of our Lord's divinity.

This supposition, “if Christ be not raised,” were it true, would make the faith of Christians vain (ineffective), as well as the work of its ministers. If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; and your sins have not been paid for; you are still a guilty sinner and condemned to spend eternity in hell; because it is only through His shed blood and His death and sacrifice that you can be forgiven—“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7; NKJV). This is truly glorious, but we are not to suppose that this is all the benefit which we receive from His death, or that this is all that constitutes redemption. It is the main, and perhaps the most important thing. But we also obtain the hope of heaven, the influences of the Holy Spirit, grace to guide us and to support us in trials, peace in death, and perhaps many more benefits. Still forgiveness is so prominent and important, that the apostle has spoken of it as if it were everything. But, consider this, perhaps His blood had been shed, and his life taken away, without ever being restored, what evidence could we have that through Him we have justification and eternal life? If He remained under the power of death, how could He have delivered us from its power? And how useless a thing is faith in him if we make this supposition! He was delivered for our sins, but He must rise for our justification, or else we are wasting our time because we have nothing to gain from putting our faith in Him. There can be no justification or salvation if Christ had not risen.

Another absurdity arising from this supposition is that all those who have died while having faith in Christ have perished, if there was no resurrection; they cannot rise, if He is not risen, and therefore they are lost. How awful it would be to die believing you are safe, only to discover that you are not fit for heaven, because you are still in debt for your sins.  It is clear from this that those among the Corinthians who denied the resurrection also denied that there would be a future time of judgment; they considered death to be the destruction and extinction of man, and not merely of the bodily life, since they did not believe man possessed a spirit. For that reason, the apostle concluded the total loss of those who slept in Jesus, from the supposition that they would never rise or that they had no hope in Christ beyond their present life. The supposition that there is no resurrection, and no life beyond the grave, only leads to the conclusion that dead Christians are quite lost. How useless a thing is a faith and religion based upon this supposition!

your faith is vain;
“Your faith is vain (frustrated),”—“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor 15:14; KJV). The meaning of this verse is that their faith was vain, “because,” if Christ was not raised up, they were still unpardoned sinners. The pardon of sin was connected with the belief in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and, if he was not raised, they were still in a state of sin, because a dead Redeemer could not be a Redeemer at all.

Christ's resurrection is the pledge of his Divine power. He was "raised for our justification"—“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25; KJV). Today, He is seated at the right hand of God, where He reins as Prince in the kingdom of God; It is only "as a Prince and Savior" that "God hath exalted him to give repentance and forgiveness of sins"—“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31; KJV). This means that Jesus is actually carrying out the office of a Prince or a King, at the right hand of His Father. It was well known that the title Prince, or King, was one which was applied to the Messiah. It means that he has dominion and power, especially the power which is necessary to give repentance and pardon sins.

ye are yet in your sins.
“Ye are yet in your sins” means your sins have not been pardoned. They can be forgiven only by faith in Him, and by the effectiveness of his blood. But if he was not raised, he was an impostor; and, of course, all your hopes for pardon by him, and through him, must be misplaced. The line of reasoning in this verse consists of an appeal to their experience as Christians and their hope in Christ. It may be expressed this way:
1. You have reason to believe that your sins are forgiven. You cherish that belief on the basis of evidence that is satisfactory to you. But if Christ is not raised, that cannot be true. He was an impostor, and sins cannot be forgiven by Him. Since you cannot admit that your sins are not forgiven, you cannot accept a doctrine which requires faith in the resurrection.
2. You have evidence that you are not under the dominion of sin. You have repented of your sins, are no longer involved in those sins, and are leading a holy life. You know that, and cannot be persuaded to doubt your salvation. But all that is to be traced to the doctrine that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. It is only by believing that, and the doctrines which are connected with it, that the power of sin in your heart has been destroyed. And since you “cannot” doubt that under the influence of “that truth” you have been enabled to break off from your sins, you cannot accept a doctrine which would include as a consequence that you are still under the condemnation and the dominion of sin. You must believe, therefore, that the Lord Jesus rose; and that, if he rose, others will also. This argument is also good now, so long as there is evidence that the dominion of sin has been broken, through belief in a risen Savior.  Therefore, every Christian is, in a sense, a witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a living proof that a system which can bring about such great changes, and produce such evidence that sins are forgiven as that which can be clearly seen when a sinner is converted to faith in Christ, must be from God.

There is another line of reasoning that is slightly different from that just mentioned, and it goes like this: If Christ has not risen from the dead; there is no proof that he has not been put to death for a good reason. If he were a criminal, God would not work a miracle to raise him from the dead. If he has not been raised from the dead, there is a presumption that His death was justifiable; and, if so, He has made no atonement; and you are still in your sins, and under their power, guilt, and condemnation. All this reasoning of the apostle goes to prove that at Corinth, even among those false teachers, the innocence of our Lord was accepted as fact, and the reality of His resurrection was not questioned.

18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.

Then they also
This verse contains another consequence of denying the resurrection; that all Christians who had died had failed to find salvation, and were destroyed.

Which are fallen asleep in Christ
“Which are fallen asleep in Christ” means they have died as Christians—“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep” (1 Thess 4:15; KJV). The meaning here is, that those who would be alive at the coming of the Lord Jesus, would not be 'changed' and received up into glory before those who were in there graves were raised up. The object seems to be to correct an opinion which prevailed among the Thessalonians that those who were alive when the Lord Jesus returned would have a great advantage over those who had died. What they supposed that advantage would be—whether it was the privilege of seeing him in person, or that they would receive higher honors in heaven, or that those who had died would not rise at all, is not report, nor is the source of this idea known. It is clear, however, that it was producing an increase of their sorrow over the death of their Christian friends, and for this reason it was very important to correct the error. That’s why the apostle states that there could be no such disadvantage, for the simple reason that the dead would rise first. This was all well and good for the Thessalonians, but not for those Corinthian believers who could not accept the doctrine of the resurrection. Paul did not have any good news for them—they had loved ones and friends who had faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who had died either by martyrdom or natural death. They perished, because their hope was without foundation, and their faith did not have reason and truth for its object. Their bodies dissolved into the earth, where they finally decomposed and were destroyed, in spite of the promise Christ made them, that he would raise them up at the last day (See John 5:25, 28, 29; John 11:25, 26).

are perished.
“Are perished” means they are destroyed, because they are not saved. They hoped to have been saved by the intrinsic worthiness of the Lord Jesus. They trusted in Him; that He was a risen Savior, and placed all their hopes of heaven on Him; but if he did not rise, Christianity was only a delusion, and they have failed to make it to heaven, and have been destroyed. Their bodies lie in the grave, and return to dust without the prospect of a resurrection, and their souls are destroyed. The “contention” here is mainly an appeal to their feelings: “Can you believe it is possible that the good people who have believed in the Lord Jesus are destroyed? Can you believe that your best friends, your relatives, and your fellow Christians who have died, have gone down to hell? Can you believe that they will spend eternity with the murders, adulterers, liars, homosexuals, and the God-haters? If you cannot believe that, then the only alternative is that they are saved. And, if they are indeed saved, you “cannot” embrace a doctrine which has as a “consequence” that they are still in their sins.” And this argument is still sound today. There are multitudes that have been made good men by the gospel. They are holy, humble, self-denying, and prayerful lovers of God. “They have come to love Him through belief in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Is it possible that they will be destroyed? That they will perish with the blasphemous, and immoral, and dishonest? That they will go down into the pit to live with the polluted and the wicked? “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). If it “cannot” be believed to be so, then they will be saved; and “if” they are saved it follows that the system which saves them is true, and, of course, that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. There is something else that should be said at this point; that a denial of the truth of Christianity requires the belief that Christians will perish like everyone else; that all their hopes have been in vain; and that their expectations were mere delusion. Therefore, the man who is an infidel “believes” that his religious friends, his sainted father, his holy mother, his lovely Christian sister or child, is duped and deceived; that they will go down to the grave and that will be the end of them; that their hope of heaven will vanish, and that they will be destroyed along with the sacrilegious, the impure, and the lovers of self. And if unfaithfulness demands “this” kind of faith from its devoted followers, it is a system which strikes at the very happiness of social life, and at all our convictions of what is true and right. It is a system that is causing the best hopes of people to wither and die. “Can” it be believed that God will destroy those who are living to bring Him honor; who are pure in heart, and faithful in life, “and who have been made to be that way by the Christian religion?” If it cannot, then every man knows that Christianity is not false, and that unfaithfulness is not true.

If there is no reason to believe in the resurrection of the dead, there is no reason to believe in the immortality of the soul, or a future glory, so you might as well believe that the soul perishes with the body, and that there is no existence after death. But if one’s faith insisted that the soul survives and lives without the body for all eternity, it must be in a state of misery, if Christ is not risen, because it must be in its sins; and cannot be sanctified or justified, and consequently it will never be glorified, therefore the whole being may be said to have perished; the body perishes in the grave, the soul in hell. But God forbid that this should be said about those, who have either died for Christ, or in him. Is it possible that those that are in Christ, which are united with Him, body and spirit, would ever perish? Or those that are asleep in him be lost? No, because God will bring those that sleep in Jesus with Him, at the last day, and they will be with Him forever, and will be happy for ever.

19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

This verse can be translated as follows: “If our hope in Christ is for this life only (and if he is still dead, and has not yet risen), we are more pitiful than all other men, because we have been deceived. We have made sacrifices, and been persecuted, and our faith and convictions have been ridicule by others on account of our belief and hope in One who does not exist, and therefore can neither help us here, nor reward us hereafter.

It is true that knowing Jesus and loving Jesus can make this life better. But sometimes it will make life worse. We can appreciate some of the hardship Paul lived with, when we understand what he means when he writes, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Paul thought, “With all I have endured for Jesus Christ, if there is not a resurrection and a heavenly reward beyond this life, I am a fool to be pitied.” Can we, who live in such a safe and comfortable world, say the same thing? I read that Paul can write this because of the suffering and disappointment that he had to endure and the suffering he saw others undergo, and because he had persecuted Christians to the point of death before he became a believer in the Lord Jesus.

The object of a believer's hope is not any creature, man, or angel; it is not a lifeless idol; it is not pleasure, or gratification, such as gold and silver; it is not personal righteousness; it is not any external privilege, or profession of religion; but instead of these, a believer’s hope rests in Christ alone as a surefire Savior and Redeemer, and in his person, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice. And what do they hope for in him, except an endless supply of grace here, and glory in the hereafter; the forgiveness of their sins, justification before God, eternal life and salvation. There are good reasons to hope in him and they are encouraged to do so; but if their hope in him was only in this life, or while this life lasts; if they had no hope for the time after death; that they would live again, and their bodies would be resurrected. Or if their hope in Christ was confined to this life, and does not reach to the things of another life, such as eternal life, and the glories of another world, they would be more deserving of pity than any other class of people. Because:
1. No other people had such high hopes, and, of course, no others could experience such great disappointment.
2. They were subjected to more trials than any other category of people. They were persecuted and hated, and subjected to hard labor, and privation, and want, on account of their religion; and if, after all that, they were to be disappointed, their condition was truly deplorable.
3. They do not indulge in the pleasures of this life; they do not give themselves, as ethers do, to the enjoyments of this world. They voluntarily subject themselves to hardship and self-denial; and if they are not admitted to eternal life, they are not only disappointed, but they are cut off from the sources of happiness which their fellow-men enjoy in this world.
4. On the whole, therefore, there would be great disappointment because of failed hopes, and trials, and poverty, and want, and because it all counted for nothing. And no condition could be imagined to be more deplorable than where a man was looking for eternal life, and for the sake of it he was subjecting himself to a life of want, and poverty, persecution, and tears, only to be disappointed in the end. But that does not mean that a man who lives a life of virtue and piety cannot be happy; it does not mean that, even if there were no future state, a man would not be more happy if he lived by Christian principles than if he lived a life of sin; it does not mean that the Christian cannot find happiness in “religion itself”—in loving God, and in prayer, and praise, and in living a pure life. In all this he has enjoyment and even if there were no heaven, a life of virtue and piety would be happier than a life of sin.

It needs to be pointed out that Paul only applies this principle to Christians. He writes, “We are of all men the most pitiable.” For the unbeliever, this life alone gives them their only chance at pleasure, and whatever happiness they can find now is all the happiness they will ever know. How different for the Christian! Do you see how important the truth of the resurrection is! This is not some fringe doctrine, to be believed if someone likes it. If you do not believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead in a resurrection body the way the Bible says He did, you have no right to call yourself a Christian. This is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. “Everything depends on our retaining a firm hold on this doctrine in particular; because if this one totters and no longer counts, all the others will lose their value and validity.” “If Jesus rose, then this gospel is what it is professes to be; if He did not rise from the dead, then it is all deceit and delusion.” (Spurgeon)

When you know what rests on the resurrection, you know why “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
i. The divinity of Jesus rests on the resurrection of Jesus—“And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4; KJV).

ii. The sovereignty of Jesus rests on the resurrection of Jesus—“For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living” (Romans 14:9; KJV).

iii. Our justification rests on the resurrection of Jesus—“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25; KJV).

iv. Our regeneration rests on the resurrection of Jesus—“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3; KJV).

v. Our ultimate resurrection rests on the resurrection of Jesus—“But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11; KJV).

vi. “The fact is that the silver thread of resurrection runs through all the blessings, from regeneration onward to our eternal glory, and binds them together.” (Spurgeon)

If there is no principle of resurrection, then the whole Christian life is a pitiful joke! If we don’t have something beyond this life to look forward to, why hassle with the problems of being a Christian? It is true that being a Christian solves many problems; but it also brings many others. Paul, (like the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes) saw little ultimate value in life if there is only this life to live.

There are some respected Bible scholars who suppose that this refers to the apostles only, and that the implication is, that if there was no resurrection, they, of all people would be pitied the most, since they had exposed themselves to such a variety of dangers and trials, in which nothing could sustain them but the hope of immortality. If they failed in that they failed in everything. They were regarded by unbelievers as the most vile of the human race; they suffered more from persecution, poverty, and danger than other people; and if, after all that, they were to be deprived of all their hopes, and particularly their expectation of the resurrection, their condition would be more appalling than that of any other people. But there is no good reason for supposing that the word “we,” here, is to be limited to the apostles, for two reasons:
1. Paul had not mentioned the apostles specifically in the previous verses.
2. The argument demands that it should be applied to all Christians, and the declaration is as true of all Christians as it was of the apostles.