As we continue studying what Paul has to say about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34, he begins with a really bizarre comment. In verse 29 he mentions that the Corinthian Christians were practicing baptism for the dead. I am not going to be able to provide you the definitive answer on what that one is all about. Scholars don’t know what it means for certain, and none of the options I reviewed are totally satisfying. It is the only place in the NT that something like this is mentioned. It could simply be that the Corinthians felt you could get baptized additional times for people who were already dead, thus hoping the dead people could be saved after death. Paul’s point was not to fully explain baptism for the dead. Paul’s point is that whatever baptism for the dead is, it is futile if there is no such thing as resurrection of the dead.
Basically he is saying, “You Corinthians practice baptism. Do you realize that baptism is based totally on faith in the belief that resurrection is true? Look at the symbolism in baptism. You go under the water to symbolize Jesus’ death. Baptism would be pretty terrible if you just symbolized Christ’s death. How long can you hold your breath? What makes baptism so meaningful is the after you go under, you also come back up, symbolizing new life in Christ because of his resurrection!”
As Paul continues to show the Corinthians why resurrection is so vital, in verses 30-32 he gives an example of his own life. Because he believes resurrection is true, he gives himself fully to cause of Christ. Look at how intense he is in verse 31. When he says, “Just as surely as a I glory over you in Christ” he is basically giving, one commentator writes, “an affirmation based on something of ultimate importance to them: ‘I swear by all that I hold dear’ that this is true.”
In other words, Paul is trying to communicate emphatically that because Jesus has been raised, it is a game changer. We often talk about how because of 9/11 the world changed. Paul is saying something like that. Jesus’ resurrection was so momentous an event that it not only changed the world but it should change our lives as well. Paul shows how it changed his life. He now knew the meaning of life, that Jesus was God, that Jesus won the victory and thus we should give ourselves fully to him and his kingdom because we and the hopefully many, many more we can reach for him will experience both the abundant life of Jesus now and eternal life in heaven. Resurrection motivates us to mission!
This is why, if you remember our study through the book of Acts last year, the apostles were constantly talking about the resurrection. I encourage you to do a little personal study project. Read through the book of Acts and make a note of how often the resurrection of Jesus comes up. The resurrection of Jesus is the main theme of the preaching of the early church, as recorded in Acts. And of course it would be. They had seen Jesus die, and then come back to life! It was the dividing line of their lives. Everything in their lives was now either before he rose again, or after he rose again.
At the end of verse 32, though, Paul quotes from Isaiah, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. In other words, if there is no such thing as resurrection, then party it up! Be selfish. Jesus died, and a dead savior is no savior. Therefore, we don’t need to follow Jesus’ teaching. Maybe the Corinthian Christians were acting like that.
That’s why in verses 33-34 Paul gives them a call to holiness and passion for the kingdom, as he has already said, because the resurrection is true.
Skim back to verses 3-8, where Paul writes Jesus really did die, but he rose again. The miracle truly happened! There were plenty of people who had a strong interest in stopping this new Christian movement. Primarily the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. All they had to do to stop the movement was produce Jesus’ body. The movement was entirely dependent on that one claim, resurrection. As we just heard earlier from Paul. If Jesus didn’t rise, our faith falls apart. So if you want to destroy Christianity, like the religious leaders did, then produce the body. They never did. In fact there were many people, Paul says, who Jesus appeared to who were still alive at the time of the writing of letter who could affirm that he really did rise again.
Because he did rise again, then we have a mission! All religions have missions and hopes for the people who follow them. What makes Christianity different? The resurrection! We have a living and active God, we have a God who became human, died and came back to life. Why? Because he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. Because he wants to rescue humanity because he loves us and wants our very best. The resurrection means God is able to be a living and active part of our lives.
Because of the resurrection, because Jesus is alive, Paul has a plea for the Corinthians and for us, starting verse 33 with a quote from the Greek poet, Menander. Menander wasn’t a Christian. Why would Paul quote a line from a play by Greek poet? Because the Corinthians would have been familiar with that play. This shows Paul’s heart to connect with the Corinthians in a way that would be meaningful to them.
Interestingly, the scholars tell us that this little quote was from a section of a play that encouraged sexual companionship. Much like the contemporary idea of friends with benefits or polyamorous relationships. Sexual freedom. Scan back to what Paul said in 1st Corinthians chapter 6 about the sexual looseness of the Corinthian culture and pagan worship. Paul is saying, “Do not be misled by this!” If we give ourselves to the wrong understanding of pleasure seeking, we’ll forfeit our ability to serve the Lord.
Come back to your senses he says! Pursue holiness. It is better by far. And God desires our best.
In conclusion, if resurrection as a concept is true, it is vital that we Christians believe that Jesus rose again. And if Jesus rose again, our response should be a vigorous pursuit of holiness and discipleship, of getting to know God’s character, living that out and sharing it.
If resurrection as a concept is not possible, then we should close up shop. We Christians should sell our church buildings, disband, and give our lives to tell people to stop believing a lie.
But if the resurrection is true, well, that truly changes everything, and we should put aside everything for the cause of Christ. We should practice sacrificial love just like Jesus did. That is what Jesus gave us…and that is what we our actions should show as well. Living sacrificially so others can experience new life.
So is the resurrection truly true? Check back to the next and final post in this series as we’ll try to answer that question.