In our passage for study we look at a particular point in Paul's argument against those who believe in a spiritual resurrection of the dead, but not a bodily resurrection. Paul's argument is a simple one; if we deny the bodily resurrection of believers, then we deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and by implication, we end up denying everything we believe in.
v12. In the opening verse Paul states, for the first time, the substance of the false belief held by some of the members of the Corinthian church. They had come to believe that "there is no resurrection of the dead." They obviously believed in the Greek notion of a spirit afterlife where the soul leaves the body after death, but did not believe in a bodily resurrection of the dead. Paul questions how it is that the Corinthians doubt the notion of a bodily resurrection when the gospel, which they have come to believe in, rests on the truth that Christ rose from the grave with a body which the apostles were able to see and touch.
v13-14. In v20-28 Paul makes a connection with v1-11. The gospel, in which the Corinthians believed, focuses on the resurrection of Christ, whose life-giving power gives life to their being, both now and in the future. In this section, v12-19, Paul sets the stage for the loss of this "life". If the dead are not raised then, by implication, Christ was not raised, v13. If Christ is not risen, then the gospel is a worthless message, and a useless focus for faith, v14.
v15-16 Paul now extends the argument further. If Christ has not been raised (on the basis of their argument that the dead are not raised) then the apostolic gospel is a lie. "We are bearing false witness in God's name, as those sent from God", Gordon Fee. Worse than that, it is a lie which implicates God.
v17. Paul goes on to draw out another implication of their position. If Christ has not been raised, then "you are still in your sins." To deny the resurrection is to undermine Christ's redemptive work which rests on both a cross and an empty tomb.
v18. And what of those who have already died? Their end is clear. If our justification is realized through the resurrection of Jesus, and yet Jesus has not risen from the dead, then those who have already died are lost in their sinfulness and therefore lost eternally.
v19. Paul now comes to his final punch line. For a believer to deny the resurrection of the dead is to deny the resurrection of Christ. By taking this stance, not only have some of the Corinthian believers set aside the hope of their future resurrection, but they have lost their present hope in Christ; they have lost forgiveness of sins, their right-standing in the sight of God and thus their eternal salvation.
When it comes to the resurrection of the dead, Christians end up taking numerous positions. Popular belief has us rising as a spirit from the body after we die. We float about as ghosts, or go to the spirit world, to purgatory, hell, heaven, .... you name it! At the other end of the spectrum, liberal theologians, such as Willi Marxsen, see the resurrection of Jesus as a theological interpretation rather than a historical event. Jesus, the source of life, becomes alive in the minds of those who believe in him. So, a general resurrection in some future day, is but a theological statement, a belief in a life-giving God.
Against such woolly notions, the apostle Paul establishes an integral link between the resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection. The failure of the Corinthians to take the bodily resurrection of Christ seriously had led to their denial of a bodily resurrection of believers, a stance which served to undermine their very salvation. To devalue the factual nature of Christ's resurrection is to undermine our own eternal salvation.
We can easily devalue the resurrection of Christ. Like Willi Marxsen and his ilk, we can deny the historical resurrection of Jesus. Sadly, this is not an uncommon stance in some Christian circles. If we are going to take the apostle Paul's argument seriously, to deny a bodily resurrection of the dead is to deny the substance of our faith. It is to call into question the validity of our salvation, and this because our justification is effected through the resurrection of Christ.
We can also devalue the resurrection of Christ by inadvertently leaving the truth of the resurrection out of the gospel. This is not an unusual practice. A gospel message which fails to proclaim the bodily resurrection of Christ may well invalidate the salvation of those who respond to it. If the seeker does not believe in a risen saviour, how are they saved? The life-giving power of Christ's resurrection is available to those who rely on a risen Lord.
The message of the cross, of a crucified Christ (messiah), which is a "stumbling block" to some and "foolishness" to others, involves both a dying and a rising. When we hear and believe that message we are saved. We are saved through our identification with Christ in both his death and resurrection.
Here then is the gospel - "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." If we fail to grasp the centrality of Jesus' resurrection, we endanger our salvation. If we fail to proclaim his resurrection, we endanger the salvation of those who hear.
1. If Christ has not been raised, what are the consequences?
2. Is a bodily resurrection of Christ essential for salvation? Discuss.
3. In what way is Christ's resurrection denied today, both openly and inadvertently?
4. In what way is the resurrection of Christ integral to the gospel message?