You know, he wrote this:
- 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 this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
It's that last phrase which really shakes things up, in terms of the Gospel. The Greek word there comes from a root which means "readiness to help those in trouble". So when Paul says, "we are of all people most to be pitied", he is saying that if people have trouble, we have the most trouble, and have most cause to need others' help if there is no resurrection.
This is a two-fold matter for Paul. Because, on the one hand, his concern is the work of Christ to save us from sin -- that's the Gospel, right? Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture. So the first meaning, or the primary meaning, which Paul is advancing here is that unless Christ was raised on the third day, our sins are still our sins in full force, and Hid death has no value in that respect.
But listen: the balance of 1 Cor 15 is not about the forgiveness of sins. It is about the fact of the resurrection. Consider Paul's summary of the problem here:
- What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals." Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
He is not saying that we have hope in a disembodied afterlife -- an airy, ethereal Heaven where we walk on the clouds. He is saying that we have hope in the general resurrection in which all thing are made new. This is exactly the point of his exortation:
- I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Our hope is not in coming out of the other side of death with a post-death residence for our spirit: our hope is in the the final victory over sin and death which is manifest in the resurrection. Our hope in Christ is that we will receive through Him and with Him the New Heavens and New Earth in which we will reside forever.
Think about that this weekend as you are in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day. Jesus is not about gaining a life in an invisible realm: He is about God's work to make all things new.