Summary: If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the past two thousand years have been the greatest tragedy and travesty of human civilization.
There is enough credible eyewitness testimony and extra-biblical evidence to verify the historical significance and fact that the event of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as written in the Scriptures and secular history is true. The resurrection evidence can be presented in any objective court of law. One would think that when presented with this obvious conclusion that there would be no reason for questioning or dismissing the case, but Paul has the skeptics in mind when he gives the logical sequence of events that would unfold should Jesus still be dead.
Not everyone bought into the truth of Jesus dying and then being raised from the dead by the power of God the Father. Paul lists the unthinkable alternative if the body of Jesus were still in a tomb somewhere near Jerusalem.
Some of the members of the church in Corinth were questioning the idea of a bodily resurrection because of the Greek philosophical belief that the body was seen as limited, corrupted, and evil while maintaining that the soul, being eternal, was good and welcomed its release from the corrupt flesh of this mortal life. This belief was also a part of a heresy known as Gnosticism that would invade the church later in the first century and be addressed by the apostle John in his letters.
Paul asked the Corinthians why they would want to deny the resurrection of the body when to do so meant denying that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself rose from the dead. If His resurrection did not occur, then there was no sense in either believing or preaching that Jesus did rise from the dead. The entire idea would be a waste of time, thought, and effort. The Gospel message is founded on the fact of the resurrection. Preaching about Jesus would not have even been in the mind of the disciples if He was dead. The very thought of Him would have been repulsive as they would have cursed and denounced Him as a deceiver, liar, fraud, and, as C. S. Lewis stated in “Mere Christianity,” seen as “the devil of hell.”
For Jesus to have declared Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” as well as the Promised Redeemer, only then to die like anyone else, would be the vilest act of unspeakable cruelty that could ever come upon human history. The twelve and the others who followed Jesus would have felt like utter fools, and would have never believed anyone else who claimed to be the Messiah of Israel, and would have been sure to sway anyone else they knew away from that person, no matter how sincere or “holy” he might have appeared.
Another point to consider is that if the Lord Jesus had not risen, then the very message and belief in salvation would be nothing but worthless drivel. The promises of Scripture, if not the entirety of the Bible, would be nothing but a historical novelty, if in existence at all. Anyone who had trusted in Jesus for salvation and then died would have done so believing a lie and would be in hell forever, rightfully cursing God for not providing the very means by which to escape so horrible a fate (Acts 4:12).
If Jesus had been just a man, His claims of Deity and Oneness with God would have indeed been blasphemous. Without the death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Lord Jesus Christ to make all things new, we are doomed and rightfully consigned to eternal misery and torment for our sins. We cannot come before God in any self-conceived idea of “righteousness” (Isaiah 64:6). There is only ONE way to Him, and that is through the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross for our behalf (John 14:6, 19:30, 20:28-31; Romans 5:6-11).
Dead men do not command living followers to die for them, and if Jesus is still dead, then the work I have personally devoted my life to is a big, fat nothing burger in terms of study, discipline, motivation, sorrow, happiness, and purpose.
If Jesus is a rotting corpse somewhere in the deserts of Judea, then generations of followers have wasted their time, talents, and lives chasing the words of just another deluded sage of ancient Middle Eastern history who may not have even existed, as some skeptics claim.
The twelve all lived and died for Him, though, because His promises ARE true. He DID rise from the dead, and because Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, and rose again, the world as a whole should rejoice. For He provides us access to God, the promise of eternal life (John 3:16), freedom from the bondage of sin (Romans 8:1-2), mercy, grace, a purpose for life, and a future free from the curses of the world and the evil schemes of the devil. But if all we are doing in this world is keeping up appearances while Jesus molders in the grave, then we are of all people most miserable, as Paul wrote, and all we CAN do is eat, drink, and be merry while we wait to die in misery and hopelessness (1 Corinthians 15:19,32). He has not left that option open, however, to anyone who wants His peace, joy, and mercy (15:20).
There’s still room at the cross for you, and He waits for you with open arms.