“If Christ Be Not Risen”

“Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” —I Corinthians 15:20

THIS MONTH THE Christian world will again commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In our text the Apostle Paul informs us that in his resurrection Jesus became the ‘firstfruits’ of them that ‘slept’ in death. In commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, we are reminded of the fact that the Christian hope of life beyond the grave is based upon the promises of God to restore the dead to life. We are also reminded that the Christian religion is the only one which does teach the resurrection. Necessarily this is the case and for the very obvious reason that no other religion admits the reality of death. All other religions claim that there is no death. Certainly, if there is no death there can be no resurrection of the dead. The vast majority of those who profess faith in the Christian religions, however, do not believe in the reality of death. Like the heathen, they insist that death is merely the gateway into another form, or cycle, of life.

But this philosophy is not in agreement with the writings of the Apostle Paul. He wrote, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (I Cor. 15:17,18) The word ‘perish’ is a very strong one. The Greek word from which it is translated means ‘to destroy fully’. That which is destroyed fully is no longer in existence. Such is the state of the dead, and such would continue to be the state of the dead unless there is to be a resurrection. No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God.”—I Cor. 15:14,15

“Your faith is vain,” wrote Paul, if “there be no resurrection of the dead.” Have we analyzed the desolating implications of this statement? A vain faith would be an empty, useless faith—a faith that would have no foundation, nothing to justify it. It would be like having faith that we could be cast into the depth of the sea without being drowned, or be pierced through the heart with a knife without being injured. “The just shall live by faith,” the Bible tells us, but who could live by a ‘vain’ faith? (Heb. 10:38) There would be no life-giving virtues in a vain faith.

The Christian’s faith is based upon the promises of God, but of what value are those promises if there is to be no resurrection of the dead? Jesus told the Sadducees that the resurrection of the dead was implied when God identified himself to Moses at the burning bush as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” for, Jesus explained, “he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Exod. 3:6; Luke 20:37,38) Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, yea, the Lord’s people in every age, ‘live unto him’, even in death, not because there is no death, but because there is to be a resurrection of the dead.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets believed that there would be a resurrection of the dead. They worshiped and served Jehovah because they had confidence in his promises that in his own due time he would ‘bless all the families of the earth’ by restoring them to life, and giving them an opportunity to live forever on a perfected earth. It was their faith in God and in these promises that gave them the courage and strength to endure “cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”—Heb. 11:36-40

These suffering but faithful servants of God did not receive the fulfillment of the promises God made to them. They did not expect to receive them in this life. They endured, not for present advantage, but for a future reward. They suffered and died, refusing to accept deliverance at the hands of their enemies, “that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (vs. 35) But how vain all this suffering would have been ‘if there be no resurrection of the dead’! What a mockery God would thus have made of their faith! How utterly useless their faith would have been!

Think of David’s position: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Ps. 23:4) David could say this because he had faith that no matter what happened then, eventually he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever”—that wonderful ‘house’ in which Jesus said later, there were “many mansions.” (Ps. 23:6; John 14:2) David expected to be resurrected from the dead and dwell in God’s earthly ‘mansion’. But David’s faith and faithfulness would have been in ‘vain’ if there were no resurrection of the dead.

Take the case of the three young Hebrews whom Nebuchadnezzar threatened to cast into a “burning fiery furnace” if they refused to bow down and worship the image which he had set up. Their defiant reply to the king was, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”—Dan. 3:17,18

God ‘will deliver us out of thine hand, O king’. The three Hebrews were not sure just how their God, Jehovah, would do this. But they had faith to believe that he was abundantly able to fulfill all his good promises, and would do so. Knowing this, they were willing to leave themselves in his hands regardless of the immediate outcome of their defiance to the king. Why? Because they believed that if it was the will of their God for them to perish in the flames of the fiery furnace, they would be brought forth from death in that ‘better resurrection’ of promise. But what if there be no resurrection of the dead? Then their faith also was vain.


In Jesus, who in the resurrection became the ‘firstfruits of them that slept’, we have the most wonderful of all examples of a genuine, strength-providing, living faith in the resurrection of the dead. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [death]” was the expression of his faith that the Heavenly Father would raise him from the dead. “Thou wilt show me the path of life,” continues the prophecy concerning Jesus, “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”—Ps. 16:10,11

In Hebrews 12:2 the Apostle Paul writes concerning Jesus, that for the “joy that was set before him” he “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Thus Paul confirms the fulfillment of Psalm 16:11, that Jesus was shown the “path of life,” and that in the resurrection he was highly exalted to the right hand of the throne of God, where, in the presence of his loving Heavenly Father, there would be joy, or pleasures, forever. For Jesus, even as for all his footstep followers, the path of life is the “narrow way” that “leadeth unto life.” (Matt. 7:14) Jesus was not only shown this way, but was given strength to walk therein—with no small part of that strength stemming from his faith in the promises of his God not to leave his soul in hell, but to restore him to life in the resurrection.

But think of the tragedy of a faith like that, had it been a vain faith! Hanging on the cross, Jesus said with strong faith, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit [my life].” (Luke 23:46) Jesus committed his life to his God with the faith that it would be restored to him in the resurrection. Nor was Jesus’ faith vain, for we have the blessed assurance that “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”—I Cor. 15:20


In the upper room the night before Jesus was crucified, his disciples were saddened by the remarks he made which they properly understood to mean that he expected to leave them. Then Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”—John 14:1-3

“Ye believe in God, believe also in me,” said Jesus. How misplaced their faith in Jesus would have been, and in the Father also, “if so be that the dead rise not.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” Paraphrasing his words, we could hear Jesus say: “Yes, I am going away, but it is for your sake that I go. After I have prepared a place for you, I will return. Then I will take you to myself, and you can be with me.” But how vain would have been this promise if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. How could a dead Savior go away to prepare a place for his disciples? And how could he return and receive them to himself, if his soul, his life, had been left in hell, in death?

“These things I have spoken unto you,” Jesus said to his disciples, “that in me ye might have peace.” (John 16:33) But how shallow would have been this peace had the promises Jesus made to his disciples all been voided by his remaining in the tomb! Jesus knew that his followers, his disciples, would have tribulation in the world. Jesus himself had tribulation in the world. The religious world was even then about to crucify him. “But be of good cheer,” he said, “I have overcome the world.”

Jesus had turned his back upon the world and all that the world had to offer, because he believed the promises of his Heavenly Father to raise him from the dead and to exalt him to his own right hand. Because of these promises he had sacrificed all things earthly, and had laid up for himself treasures in heaven. But these treasures would be of no more value than empty bubbles should he not be raised from the dead. Jesus asked the question as to what it would profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul or life. (Matt. 16:26) But it would be even a greater tragedy to give up the world, sacrificing everything in the service of God, and then lose life besides, because of not being raised from the dead. Paul reached the proper conclusion when he wrote, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die”—that is, let us get out of life what we can, “if the dead rise not.”—I Cor. 15:32

Why should we suffer persecution and tribulation in the world by being faithful to the Lord and to the truth if there is to be no resurrection of the dead? Instead of being of ‘good cheer’ in the world despite its opposition, we would be, as Paul expressed it “false witnesses of God,” and “of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:15,19) But now IS Christ risen from the dead.” (vs. 20) This is the great fact that transforms what otherwise would be a vain faith, into a blessed and comforting assurance that gives us hope—not in this life of vanity, but in that which is to come—a faith that enables us to ‘see’ the invisible things of God, the things which are truly important, weighty, and enduring.


Once again, this April, we are reminded that Christ IS risen from the dead. Indeed, how could we ever forget that this is true? We do not forget! Every precious promise of God is made sure by the fact that Jesus became the ‘firstfruits of them that slept’. If this is not true, “what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” (vs. 29) “Know ye not,” Paul wrote, “that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”—Rom. 6:3-5

We are invited to suffer and die with Jesus that we might live and reign with him. Accepting this invitation, we are ‘buried’ with him, in faith believing that we will be resurrected to live with him. But how could this be if Jesus himself was not raised from the dead? Not only so, but being co-sacrificers with Jesus prepares us to share with him in the great future work of blessing the entire dead world of mankind. Our death baptism is a baptism which will accrue to the benefit of the dead. As Paul explained, we are being ‘baptized for the dead’. But why should we be baptized with Jesus, suffering and dying as he did, and on behalf of the dead world, if the dead rise not at all? Obviously, we would be wasting our time, and worse.

“Why stand we in jeopardy every hour?” Paul asked, “if the dead rise not at all?” (vss. 29,30) To Paul, practically ‘every hour’ was one of danger and threat so far as his flesh was concerned. All of this could have been avoided, in fact would have been avoided, but for the glorious ‘vision’ of truth given to Paul on the Damascus road, assuring him that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead. “He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time,” Paul testified. (I Cor. 15:8) He knew then, and more clearly as the truth continued to unfold to him, that because Jesus was raised from the dead, all those who suffered and died with him would also be raised from the dead. This being true, it was worthwhile—yes, a thousand times worthwhile—to ‘stand in jeopardy every hour’.

The death of the flesh meant little or nothing to Paul since he was assured that in the resurrection he would receive divine life and be with Jesus in the place which he went away to prepare. Later in his life, being warned by the Holy Spirit that bonds and imprisonment awaited him in Jerusalem, the brethren, with tears, endeavored to dissuade Paul from going into this danger spot. In reply he said, ‘What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”—Acts 21:13

Paul was willing and ready to suffer and to die at Jerusalem because he had absolute confidence in the promises of God to resurrect the dead—to raise up the little flock in the first resurrection to life, and to reign with Christ; and to restore the world to life in the general resurrection which, as Martha testified, would take place in the “last day.”—John 11:24

Paul was particularly energized by the promises pertaining to the first resurrection to the divine nature. To have part in this would be to share in Christ’s resurrection—a glorious hope indeed. Nothing in the present life could compare with the fulfillment of this hope. He was willing to suffer, and did suffer the loss of all things, “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”—Phil. 3:8,10,11

Paul knew that the promises of the resurrection were sure. He knew this because Jesus had been raised from the dead, and had become the firstfruits of them that slept. This assurance was not only for the followers of Jesus, but for the world as well. As Paul said to the Athenians on Mars’ Hill, God has given assurance unto all in that he has raised Jesus from the dead. (Acts 17:31) Few of the Athenians believed what Paul said concerning the resurrection of the dead. “Some mocked,” we read, “and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” (Acts 17:32) Millions in the professed Christian world today are like those Athenians. They take part in the Easter celebrations, but are quite willing to wait for another year to hear again of the resurrection.

But it was not so with Paul. It is not so with the true disciples of Christ today. Christ IS risen from the dead, and both the church and the world are to be raised from the dead. This brings every trying experience of life into proper perspective, and gives us a true sense of values when estimating the worth of the trivial earthly things which we have the privilege of sacrificing in the Lord’s service. It helps us to realize that even the most severe trials of life are but ‘light afflictions’ and of momentary duration, compared with the “eternal weight of glory” which will be ours in the ‘first resurrection’ if we continue faithfully to lay down our lives in the service of our God.—II Cor. 4:17

From the prison in Rome, and in the shadow of the executioner’s axe, Paul wrote to Timothy, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if. we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.” (II Tim. 2:11,12) Yes, it was a faithful saying that those who died with Jesus would live with him. It is a faithful saying because it is the promise of God, and as Jeremiah wrote, addressing Jehovah, “Great is thy faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:23) We can depend upon the Lord. He never changes. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” even as it is written of Jesus.—Heb. 13:8

Jesus trusted the Heavenly Father. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” he said. His faith was not in vain. Jesus was raised from the dead. And if we needed more than the promises of God to give us assurance, we have this miracle of miracles as a further testimony of his faithfulness. Thus every faithful saying of our Heavenly Father assuring us of divine life with Jesus is made doubly sure by the fact that the Creator’s mighty power was exercised “when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places; far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”—Eph. 1:20-23

“How say some among you,” Paul asked the brethren at Corinth, “that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (I Cor. 15:12) How could anyone hold a view like this since Christ was raised from the dead. Yes, Christ IS raised from the dead. Therefore, our faith is not vain; nor is our preaching vain. In testifying that God raised Jesus from the dead we are not ‘false witnesses’. Since Christ was raised from the dead, we are not in our sins, for he was raised for our justification. Throughout the age, those who fell asleep in Christ did not perish. Those who die in Christ now do not perish, but in their resurrection, which takes place instantly, they are changed into the divine nature, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”—I Cor. 15:51,52

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, as soon as all his body members have proved faithful unto death and have been exalted to glory and immortality, “then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (vss. 54,55) The saying of the prophets, and of Jesus, and the apostles, that there will be, as Peter stated it, “times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:19-21), in which mankind will be resurrected from the dead, is also ‘faithful’ because God hath spoken it. It is his promise, his saying, and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus.

Since our faith and our preaching would be ‘vain’ were it not that Jesus had been raised from the dead, think of what the fact that he has been raised should mean in our Christian lives! Has this great truth actually revolutionized our lives? We are walking in newness of life, being baptized into his death! Old things have passed away, and all things have become new! ‘Now IS Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept’.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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