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By Spencer D Gear

A study of I Corinthians 15:12-34 (NIV)

A few days before my friend, Allan Cooper, died in late 1989 in Bundaberg Qld., Australia, I was sitting beside his bed in Ward 2 at the Bundaberg Base Hospital. I was speaking with him and reading the Scriptures to him.

He was barely coherent. I held his hand and told him to squeeze it if he understood what I was reading. One of the passages I read was Romans 8:37-39

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

He squeezed my hand on at least two occasions. I looked at Allan’s human frame:

¨ bloated face (he was dying of cancer);

¨ eyes glazed and staring at me;

¨ he jumped with pain on at least 4 occasions while I was there.

I thought: Why am I here? What’s the point of it all? He’s in excruciating pain, knocking on death’s door. Why don’t the doctors give him an extra dose of morphine to end his misery? Euthanise him!

I asked myself some straight questions:

Why bother with the Christian life?

As a Christian, am I inflicting some magic on somebody that has no basis in fact?

Is religion, as the founder of Communism, Karl Marx, said, “The opiate of the people”? Is it a drug to stop us from facing the horrible reality of the world around us?

How can I talk of new life, eternal life in Christ, when here, for my friend Allan, is death–vicious death?

In the midst of these penetrating questions came the thunderous reply from God to my heart: RESURRECTION!

Then I turn on the TV at Easter or Christmas time, or I read books and newspapers and this is what I hear or read:

¨ To make the resurrection acceptable to modern, sceptical people, some preachers want to get rid of the supernatural. At Easter 1989, the Anglican Bishop of Durham in England, Rev. David Jenkins, said that Christ’s resurrection was a “spiritual resurrection.” It didn’t literally happen. It was only symbolic, he said.[1]

¨ Rudolph Bultmann, a liberal German, Lutheran scholar within the church (died 1976), wrote: “Jesus rose into the kerygma [i.e. the first formulations of the Christian gospel]”[2] – that is, into the faith of the first believers. Their conviction that Jesus was still with them was itself his resurrection.”[3]

¨ John Shelby Spong, former Episcopalian bishop of Newark, N.J.: The resurrection of Jesus and his appearances after the resurrection are “legends and myths that cannot be literalized. . . Resurrection may mean many things, but these details are not literally a part of that reality.”[4]

¨ Lloyd Geering, Presbyterian & University Professor in N.Z.: The resurrection phenomena are those of a “legend” and are not “historical”.[5]

More recently, we have theologically liberal scholars from the Jesus Seminar saying this:

¨ John Dominic Crossan: “When the evangelists [i.e. Matt., Mark, Luke, John] spoke about the resurrection of Jesus, they told stories about apparitions [i.e. ghosts or phantoms] or visions.”[6]

¨ Crossan again: “In I Corinthians 15 Paul begins by enumerating all the apparitions of the risen Jesus. . . Bodily resurrection has nothing to do with a resuscitated body coming out of the tomb.”[7]

¨ Robert Funk (founder of the Jesus Seminar in 1985): “The original [resurrection] appearances did not depend on the view that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. Jesus appeared in ecstatic revelations, in visions and in dreams.”[8]

¨ Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar: “Easter need not involve the claim that God supernaturally intervened to raise the corpse of Jesus from the tomb. Rather, the core meaning of Easter is that Jesus continued to be experienced after his death, but in a radically new way: as a spiritual and divine reality.”[9]

¨ Borg writes, “It seems to me that whether something happened to the corpse of Jesus is irrelevant to the truth of Easter.”[10]

Brothers & sisters: Take the literal resurrection of Jesus away and you may have a religion, liberal religion, but it is not the Christian faith. Let’s just pause for a few moments to confirm that Jesus did die and rise from the dead as events in human history and that this is not metaphor, myth, apparition or spiritual resurrection. A few points to establish that the resurrection of Jesus happened in history and the tomb was empty on Easter Sunday with Jesus walking and talking on earth:

  1. First Corinthians was written by Paul in about A.D. 53-55.[11] Jesus was crucified about A.D. 30. So, “Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 within twenty-five years of Jesus’ death, while various of the original eyewitnesses were still around to correct him” if he got it wrong.[12]
  2. In Luke’s Gospel, you find the description of Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb in ch. 24. Sir William M. Ramsay, a prominent British archaeologist of about 100 years ago, “examined the sites of Paul’s journeys firsthand and comparing them with the testimony of [the Book of] Acts.” He began as a sceptic and became a Christian after his investigation.[13] Ramsay concluded: “Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . this author deserves to be placed among the very greatest of historians.”[14] From the evidence we have about Luke, the historian, we have no reason to doubt the truth and historical fact of what he wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, including the empty tomb.
  3. These are the historical facts:[15]

Fact 1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s personal tomb [Luke 23:50ff].

Fact 2: On the first day of the week after the crucifixion (we call it Sunday), the tomb of Jesus was found to be empty by a group of his female followers (see Luke 24:1-3; Luke 23:55 identifies these as women).

Fact 3: On a number of occasions and under different circumstances, different groups of people experienced Jesus being alive from the dead after his resurrection (see Luke 24: 13ff).

Fact 4: The original disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead and were prepared to go to their deaths based on Jesus’ resurrection. (see Luke 24:44ff.). They didn’t leave to do that until they were “clothed with power from on high” by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49).

Fact 5: You must believe in the resurrection, as it happened, to be saved. Romans 10: 9-10 (NIV): “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Fact 6: 1 Cor. 15:12 says something very clearly in the Greek langauge that is somethimes lost in the English translation: ek nekrÇn eggertai. “Paul says that the preaching of the early church was that Christ was raised from out of the realm of the dead ones. The word nekrÇn does not merely mean death or the grave, but surely refers to the dead persons or corpses.”[16] This is confirmed by the second half of v. 12. “Resurrection has to do with the persons Jesus left behind when he was raised, not the relationship he had subsequently with his followers!”[17]

Fact 7: Prophecy

“How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (I Cor. 15:12)

So “what actually and historically happened to the body of Jesus”? According to John Dominic Crossan: “His body [was] left on the cross or in a shallow grave barely covered with dirt and stones, the dogs were waiting.”[18] So, “Jesus’ corpse was thrown into the common graveyard reserved for criminals and was probably eaten by dogs.”[19]

Here in I Corinthians we have it declared plainly.


1. Not even Christ has been raised (v. 13)

But Paul, the apostle, has just given us the eyewitness testimony (vv. 5-8) that Christ was seen by:


The Twelve was a general term used to refer to the group of disciples, even though Judas wasn’t there, but Matthias was the replacement (see Acts 1:26);

More than 500 brothers at the same time, most of them are still alive (for people to check with if they wanted);

James; and

All of the apostles.

But if Christ has not been raised from the dead,

2. My preaching today is useless, empty, without basis, I am wasting my time (v. 14).

If Christ is dead in the grave and has not been raised, or it is a myth, ,

3. Your faith in Christ and my trust in Him are useless.

V. 17 uses an even stronger word. Your faith and mine are futile, frivolous, trivial. Your faith is a lie if Christ is not resurrected. You and I are conning ourselves and others if Christ is still dead.

The obvious implication is in v.15:

4. We are false witnesses about God

if Jesus has not been raised.

We are telling lies in the Christian church if Jesus is still dead. It is a lie carried out in the name of God. We are accusing God of something He did not do. We are false witnesses if there is no resurrection of the dead; if Jesus has not been raised.

Do you understand how critical it is that Jesus is alive, he did rise from the dead. If Christ has not been raised, what does that mean for us who are living now?

5. You are still in your sins (v. 17).

Perhaps the Lord saved you from drunkenness. If Jesus is not alive, you are still an alcoholic. There is no hope.

Sister, you were running from God, doing things “your own way.” You are still damned in your humanism, if Jesus is not raised.

I, Spencer Gear, would be still wrapped up in his sinful self-righteousness. I’m lost forever, if there is no empty tomb.

King David is still an unforgiven adulterer and murderer.

The apostle Paul told the Corinthians who were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. He told these sinners, “That is what some of you were. But you were washed [by the blood of Christ]…” (I Cor 6:9-11).

This is all hog-wash, a sham; we are still in our sin and on our way to hell if Jesus is not raised. It is bleak indeed for the living, but it is just as devastating for the dead.

6. Those who have died as Christians are lost (v. 18).

Why? Because, as with the living, they are still in their sins. They have no future of any kind because their sins have not been cleansed.

My friend, Allan, is lost;

My godly dad, Roy Gear, and my Christian mother, Enid, are eternally damned.

Your friends who died as true believers in Christ, you will never see again. They are condemned forever, if there is no resurrection of Jesus.

V. 19 sums up the devastation: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all [people].” If Christ is not raised from the dead, we not only don’t have present forgiveness but have lost our hope for the future as well. If we have believed in a future resurrection and there is no future, then of all human beings we are most to be pitied.

The point: To deny Christ’s resurrection is to deny Christian existence altogether. Some preachers and theologians want to deny the literal resurrection of Jesus. If you had been there, you would have seen the empty tomb and you would have been able to see the real, live Jesus and touch him–even though 3 days before he had died a cruel death on a cross.

If you deny the resurrection you must face the consequences:

All preaching in all churches all over the world is useless;

Faith in Christ in the past, present and future is futile;

We are all still unforgiven sinners going to hell and there is no hope.


Nothing else but the literal resurrection of Jesus is what the Christian faith stands for. The apostle has just given us the eyewitness evidence. He names the people. Those who saw the resurrected Christ.

Professor Thomas Arnold, formerly chairman of the Modern History Department at Oxford University, England, says, “I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.”[20]

One of the greatest legal minds ever known, Dr. Simon Greenleaf, formerly Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University, examined the legal value of the apostles’ testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. He concluded that the resurrection of Christ was one of the best supported events in history, according to the laws of legal evidence administered in courts of justice.[21]

Lord Darling, former Chief Justice of England, concluded that “there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.”[22]

CHRIST INDEED HAS BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD. God declares it as true in His word, the Bible. Other evidence has proved that it is true.

Since he has been raised, I Cor. 15: 20 says he is

1. The firstfruits of those who have died.

He is the first of the harvest, serving as a guarantee of the full harvest to follow. When I see the first watermelons in the fruit stores about October, I know that around Christmas there should be plenty of them, even a glut. That’s like it is with Christ. His resurrection is the firstfruits, a down payment. The full harvest is coming.

Fully harvest of what? Acts 24:15 says there will be a future “resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” What will happen to these people? Matt. 25:46: “Then they [the wicked] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Your resurrection is guaranteed. If you have repented of your sin and trusted Jesus Christ alone as your Saviour and Lord, yours will be a resurrection to heaven. If you haven’t, it will be a resurrection to hell. Punishment, forever.

Because Christ died and rose again, the events of the end of the world are set in motion. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY CHRIST’S RESURRECTION IS CRUCIAL? In vv. 23-24 we have the order of events that lead to “the End.”

(1) Christ’s resurrection, the firstfruits;

(2) Then, Christ’s second coming with those who belong to Christ;

(3) Then the end (the finale):

(a) Jesus hands over the kingdom to God the Father;

(b) Then he brings to an end all other dominions, authority and power.

By raising Christ from the dead, God has in fact triumphed over death. Christ now rules, but despite this rule, the enemy is still at work since people still die.

That’s why the resurrection of the dead is a divine necessity. It alone is the evidence of the final overthrow of the last enemy — death itself.

Verse 26 says literally, “The last enemy is being destroyed, namely death.” As long as people die, God’s sovereign purposes are not yet fully realised. When the final enemy is defeated through the resurrection of the dead, then God becomes “all in all” (v. 28). That’s the point of vv. 23-28.

The work of Christ is the key to everything:

the resurrection of believers;

the consummation of the saving acts of God;

the defeat of all of God’s enemies.

Somebody has called this passage of Scripture, “EPIC GRANDEUR.”

In vv. 29-34, Paul, the apostle, has one last go at those in Corinth who say there is no resurrection of the dead:


1. What will those do who are baptised for the dead?

What does this mean? At least 40 different solutions have been suggested by biblical scholars. No one knows what in fact was going on. The best we can do is point to the most viable options, but finally admit we do not know. Whatever it was that was going on was a contradiction to the position that there was no resurrection of the dead.

This is one of the rare times in the book of I Corinthians where Paul addresses the Christian community in the third person plural (“those people,” v. 29), which suggests that there was a group, possibly only a few in the church, who were being baptised on behalf of some people who had already died.

Who was being baptised?

For whom?

Why were they doing it?

What effects did they think it had for those it was being done for?

We have a theological problem. How can Paul appeal, without disapproving of the action, to a practice that is in opposition to his own understanding of justification by grace through faith? Especially when faith always implies a response by the believer, and baptism is a personal response to the grace received.

We do not know. But we do know what it does not teach. It does not teach proxy baptism for the dead that was practised by the ancient gnostic heretics such as Marcion and by the Mormon church today.

“Paul did not teach that a person who has died can be saved or helped in any way, by another person’s being baptized in his behalf. Baptismal regeneration, the idea that one is saved by being baptized, or that baptism is in some way necessary for salvation, is unscriptural.”[23]

If you cannot be saved yourself by baptism, it cannot be biblical truth that you could save another vicariously by being baptised on their behalf. The Bible is clear in Eph. 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” Nobody is saved by baptism–not even living persons, much less dead ones. In fact, the Bible is very clear: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

However, Paul used this argument only in passing. His point is this: If there is no resurrection of the dead, what’s the point of this baptism for the dead that some of you are engaging in? If there is no resurrection, what’s the point of this nonsense of being baptised for the dead?

Also, v. 30:

2. Why endanger ourselves?

Why fight with the “wild beasts in Ephesus” (v. 32) if it is for purely human reasons? The “wild beasts” are probably a metaphor for those who opposed Paul and his gospel. In other words: why confront, engage in debate, with the opposition, if there is no resurrection. It’s a lost cause and a wasted cause.

II Corinthians 11:23-28:

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

If there is no resurrection, then instead of fighting those who oppose the gospel, we might as well whoop it up.

Look at v. 32:

3. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”

The pleasure loving Epicureans in the time of the apostle Paul taught and lived this philosophy. Sounds like Australia today. I recommend that this be your lifestyle and mine–to the pub, the club, Sizzler & Pizza Hut, day in and day out, if there is no resurrection. If there is no life after death, this is all there is, so let’s party and party BIG!!

Let’s apply this to us:

1. If there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ, there will be no life after death and resurrection for you and me. We are accountable to nobody. SO!!

2. Why bother with standing for Christ in the workplace?

3. Why be called a fanatical bigot and wowser because you stand for biblical truth? Why stand for right and wrong, God’s absolutes for morality when the world around wants to “do its own thing”? Why be a fool and be ostracised? Why not join the mob, get drunk, get off my face on drugs, sleep around, rebel against parents, abuse your kids, run wild and care less about anybody? Sounds like the kids and parents I work with every day.

4. Why send missionaries, like Jackie Hamill to the Philippines, or Jim Eliot to Ecuador, to be slaughtered for their faith?

Paul’s concern in vv. 29-34 is simple: We are to behave in a way that is expected of those for whom the future is both:

ALREADY — we are washed from our sins through Christ’s death. The future is both already, but

NOT YET — we wait for the final destruction of death and the final resurrection.

Ladies and gentlemen: I urge you to know Christ personally. Live as people who have a future because:







“A Russian lecturer, a member of the Communist party, was addressing a packed audience on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He spoke at considerable length, seeking to discredit it. At the end, a [Russian] Orthodox priest rose and asked if he might reply. He was warned that he could have only five minutes. `Five seconds is all I shall need’ was his reply. He turned to the audience, and gave the delightful Easter greeting, characteristic of the Eastern church, `Christos aneste‘, he cried, `Christ is risen.’ Back with a deafening roar came the traditional reply from the crowded hall, `Alethos aneste‘, `Truly he is risen.’[24]

What happened on the morning that Jesus Christ was resurrected changed history and changes your future.

Islam denies the resurrection of Christ. Judaism states that the resurrection of Jesus Christ did not happen. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Jesus’ body was discarded, destroyed, or dissolved into gasses. Jesus Seminar fellows claim it was a supposed spiritual resurrection or just wishful thinking. Are they correct? What happens if this is a hoax and Jesus was never raised from the dead?

If there were no resurrection of Christ, there is no Christianity; it’s a fable. There is no hope and certainly no future. What happened on that first Easter Sunday changed the world and your future.

Let’s conclude with this refrain from the early church. I’ll say, “Christ is risen.” You respond together with, “He is risen indeed.”

Spencer: Christ is risen.

The Congregation: He is risen indeed.


[1] In “An Interview with The Most Reverend George Carey”, former Archbishop of Canterbury, by the Episcopal News Service, Carey said, “I think if you take the issue of resurrection for example, yes you can have diverse interpretations reflected within the Church, but at the end of the day one could say very clearly that the physical resurrection has always been the normal one, the tradition of the Church and the spiritual resurrection has not been anything more than a minority view within it. And so one could always say as a leader, as I did say against David Jenkins [Bishop of Durham], the faith of the Church says ‘this'” Retrieved from: [19 March 2004]. Also at The Church of England Newspaper, “England on Sunday” : [19 March 2004].

[2] Rudolph Bultmann 1964, “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus,” in Carl E. Braaten and Roy A. Harrisville (trans. & eds.), The historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ: Essays on the New Quest of the Historical Jesus, Abingdon Press, New York, Nashville, p. 42.

[3] In Funk, R. W. 1996, Honest to Jesus, Hodder & Stoughton (A Polebridge Press Book), Rydalmere, NSW [Australia], p. 257.

[4] John Shelby Spong 1994, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco, San Franciscom pp. 235-236.

[5] Lloyd Geering 1971, Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope, Hodder and Stoughton, London, pp.58-59. The exact words were: “The later Gospels present just the phonomena we would expect if a legend were to arise shortly after the death of Paul.” He states that Hugh Anderson’s “excellent survey of the state of New Testament studies today speaks of ‘the almost complete failure of historical criticism to authenticate and establish for us the ‘history’ of Easter'” (pp. 58-59).

[6] J. D. Crossan, 2000, A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 164.

[7] J. D. Crossan, 1998, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, pp. xxviii, xxxi. The quote on p. xxxi goes on: “And neither is bodily resurrection just another term for Christian faith itself. Bodily resurrection means that the embodied life and death of the historical Jesus continues to be experienced, by believers, as powerfully efficacious and salvifically present in this world.”

[8]Funk, 1996, Honest to Jesus, p. 273.

[9] Marcus J. Borg 1997, The God We Never Knew, HarperSan Francisco, San Francisco, p. 93.

[10] Marcus Borg 1998, “The Irrelevancy of the Empty Tomb,” in Copan, P. (ed). 1998, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan) [pp. 117-128], Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 122.

[11] Gordon D. Fee 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (F.F. Bruce ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 15.

[12] Ben Witherington III, “Resurrection Redux,” in Copan, P. (ed). 1998, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan) [pp. 129-145], Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 140.

[13] William Lane Craig 1994, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, p. 220.

[14] William Ramsay 1915, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Hodder and Stoughton, London, p. 222, cited in William Lane Craig 1998, “William Lane Craig’s Rebuttal,” in Copan, P. (ed). 1998, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan) [pp. 40-44], Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 41. Another of William Ramsay’s books was: St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1895.

[15] Based on William Lane Craig 1998, “The Debate: Opening Addresses” in Copan 1998 [pp. 25-32], pp. 26-28.

[16] Witherington 1998, “Resurrection Redux” in Copan 1998, p. 132.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Crossan, J. D. 1994, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, p. 154.

[19] William Lane Craig 1998, “Opening Addresses” in Copan (ed.) 1998, p. 29.

[20]Josh McDowell, More Than a Carpenter. Eastbourne, Sussex: Kingsway Publications, 1977, 93.

[21]An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1965, 29, in McDowell, 93-94.

[22]In McDowell, 95.

[23]John MacArthur, Jr., The New Testament Commentary, I Corinthians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, 425.

[24]In Michael Green, The Day Death Died. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982, 64.


Copyright © 2009 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 January 2018

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