Fifty years ago, a scholar by the name of Rudolph Bultmann caused a storm by proposing, among other things, that the resurrection of Jesus cannot be regarded as an historical event. He wrote, "If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord The resurrection itself is not an event of past history. All that historical criticism can establish is the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection" (Kerygma and Myth, I, p. 42).
We reject such statements. There would be no Easter faith without the historical fact of the resurrection. Indeed, without the resurrection as a fact of history, the Christian faith is empty and worthless, no matter what personal value it might hold.
In 1 Cor. 15, Paul begins with the question of resurrection in general - "some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead" (v. 12b). But, he reasons, if there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ has not been raised; and, if Christ has not been raised, three conclusions of devastating consequence for the Christian life must follow.
He says, "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised" (vv. 14,15).
If Christ has not been raised, every preacher, teacher, missionary in the world is - wilfully or ignorantly - perpretating a hoax, and misleading people to trust in a delusion, not simply with respect to the resurrection as a fact of history, but with regard to the gospel that depends on it.
Without the resurrection of Christ as an historical fact, the Christian gospel is merely "the opiate of the people", a sort of "pie in the sky when you die" that keeps you contented but has no substance.
Bultmann said this is all the Easter faith is - "nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord". Of course, it is true that they did come to believe in the risen Lord, but was that faith a phantasy, hallucination or delusion?
No resurrection - no gospel!
Paul goes on, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (v. 17).
This spells out the implication of what I have already said. If Christ has not been raised, then every person who has trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and, on the basis of faith in Christ, has been assured that his sins are forgiven, is in fact miserably deluded - "you are still in your sins". You have not received forgiveness, your guilt remains. You thought you had found the way of peace and reconciliation - how wrong you were!
If Christ has not been raised, we certainly do not know what way there might be for salvation and forgiveness of sins - we are still in our sins!
No resurrection - no salvation!
Paul continues, "Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (vv. 18,19).
Christianity is not "pie in the sky when you die." But it is true that Christians believe that this present life must be lived in the perspective of eternity. For example, the Christian is to set first God's Kingdom and his righteousness over such things as food, drink and clothing (Mt. 6.33). The Christian is to take the narrow gate and hard way, because these lead to life (7.13,14). The Christian is to have a mind which is set on heavenly, rather than earthly, things, putting to death earthly desires and appetites (Col. 3.1ff).
If Christ has not been raised, there is nothing beyond the grave. The rigours and denials of this life have been for nothing. The greatest hopes and aspirations of this life have been for nothing. If we have had hope for this life only, with no reason to expect anything after this life (as would be the case if Christ has not risen from the dead), what a pitiable state we are in!
No resurrection - no hope!
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (v. 20).
What a tremendous significance the resurrection has for the Christian! We have good news - for ourselves, for our fellows, for the whole world! All who believe in Christ can be certain of forgiveness of sins! The hope of an even fuller life beyond the grave is strong and solid!
What an awful state we would be in if Christ has not been raised!
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!"
Hallelujah! With confidence, believe it, live it, share it!