What If There Was No Heaven?   1 comment

What if there was no heaven? John Lennon asked us to imagine it and he didn’t think it would be hard to do. He thought it would bring peace on earth.

“Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.”

Image result for image of heavenHave you ever allowed yourself to think about that question. I think about it every time I hear Lennon’s song. What if everything I believe is a fairy tale, or worse yet, a malicious lie? What if Lennon was right? Of course, if there really is no heaven and the resurrection is a shame, life itself is an exercise in existential futility.

Which was Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34. If the bodily resurrection is only an empty dream and this life is all there is, Christians are to be pitied. We’re living in the world where you only go round once in life, so you’d better grab all the gusto you can, but we don’t because we believe a lie. Without the resurrection, our world is compassed about by “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Fortunately, since Christ was raised from the dead, and His kingdom culminates in the defeat of death, we don’t actually live in existential futility.

Christ’s resurrection provides hope

Paul claimed that if we have no future, we have no forgiveness of our sins in the past, and we have no advantage over unbelievers in the present.

15:12 Now if Christ is being preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? (1Corinthians 15:12)

Paul used so much ink on the topic of the resurrection because some Corinthians argued that there was no future physical resurrection. They denied that believers will experience resurrection. Paul argued since Christ has been raised, resurrection obviously is possible, but more, it is an essential part of our faith. However, before Paul could drive home this point, he conceded the possibility that Christ has not risen.

But if there is no resurrection of the deadthen not even Christ has been raised. (1Corinthians 15:13)

Paul disclosed seven disastrous consequences if there is no resurrection from the dead.

And if Christ has not been raisedthen our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Alsowe are found to be false witnesses about Godbecause we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raisedthen not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is uselessyou are still in your sins. Furthermorethose who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christwe should be pitied more than anyone. (1Corinthians 15:14-19)

First, if there is no resurrection Christ has not been raised from the dead. For the sake of debate, Paul granted there was no resurrection of the dead. Logically, no one has or ever will rise from the dead, which means that not even Christ has been raised, because He was a human being like you and me.

The erroneous Corinthians were not denying the resurrection of Christ per se, only the future resurrection of believers, but you really can’t have it both ways. You can’t believe in the resurrection of Christ and deny the eventual resurrection of believers, for resurrection is a single package. Thus, Paul introduced Doubt #1.

Second, if there is no resurrection our preaching is stupid (15:14).

There are some highly distinguished religious professors who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As a child, I took it for granted that Easter meant that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I now see Easter very differently. For me, it is irrelevant whether or not the tomb was empty. Whether Easter involves something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.” Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998), 129-131.

Dr. Borg won many awards when he was a professor of religion at University of Oregon. Despite his education and giftedness, Dr. Borg was wrong. The gospel Paul preached at Corinth proclaimed Christ’s literal resurrection (15:3-5). Paul reminded the Corinthians that they had received this gospel, stood on this gospel, and were being saved by this gospel (15:1-2). Thus, as far as Paul was concerned, if there is no resurrection there is nothing worth preaching! This remains true today. Eloquence, persuasion, humor, and passion make for wonderful sermons, but if the speech does not contain the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it cannot accurately be labeled “preaching”. Every thing stands or falls on the truth of the assertion that God raised Christ from the dead.

Third, if there is no resurrection our faith is worthless (15:14, 17). Regardless of how vibrant the outworking of faith, the core of Christian belief and life is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Christ did not rise from the dead faith has no foundation; it is empty and useless. The gospel is not good news but a hoax that has no real power to change lives or to do anything else except to deceive.

Fourth, if there is no resurrection we are false witnesses of God (15:15). Those who proclaim that Christ rose from the dead speak in God’s name what they know to be untrue. Christianity is not a system of philosophy or a moral code, but the declaration of what God has done in Christ. If the dead are not raised then the whole gospel is a sham and those who preach it are liars.

Fifth, if there is no resurrection we are still in our sins (15:17). In Romans 4:25, Paul asserted Jesus was raised “for our justification.” In other words, if Jesus failed to rise from the dead we are still dead in our sins.

Sixth, if there is no resurrection those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (15:18). If Christ has not been raised, then those who “fall asleep in Christ” are no different from unbelievers, who are consigned to ruin (1:18). Who wants to think of their relatives and loved ones who have trusted in Christ rotting with nowhere to go?

Seventh, if there is no resurrection we are to be pitied more than all human beings (15:19). I’m sure you’ve probably heard some people say even if Christianity is not true, the Christian faith is still the best way to live. “Even if it turned out Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and there was no such place as heaven, I would still have no regrets about living the Christian life.” You might have said that yourself at some point. Yet, the apostle Paul absolutely disagreed with that position. He wrote in 15:19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ has not risen, Christians are the most miserable people in the world.

When drug companies develop a new product, they run tests with two groups of people. They give one group the new tablets, and they give the other group an identical-looking product that is a dummy. They do this to verify the efficacy to their new drug. The mind is powerful, and some people feel better just having taken a tablet, although the tablet has no substance that could change the body. It’s all in their minds. If Christ has not risen, Christians are like people who have swallowed the placebo. They are confessing some change that has no substantial basis. Like the dummy drug, such faith would not do anything except within the individual minds of these people. In medical research, the placebo group is still dying of cancer. In the faith realm, Christians are still headed to the worm farm and nowhere else.

Christ’s resurrection guarantees victory

According to Paul, Christ’s resurrection makes the resurrection of believers both necessary and inevitable. Those “in Christ” must arise since Christ arose. Christ’s resurrection set in motion the defeat of all God’s enemies, including death. His resurrection demands our resurrection since otherwise death would remain undefeated.

But now Christ has been raised from the deadthe firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Corinthians 15:20)

“But now” are two of the sweetest words in the Bible, for they are often followed by words of comfort and hope. “But now” Christ has been raised from the dead as the “first fruits” of those believers who have died. The imagery of “first fruits” links with the Feast of First Fruits in the Old Testament. At the beginning of the grain harvest, the Israelites brought the first sheaf harvested and dedicated it to the Lord. This offering assured the Israelites that the rest of the harvest would follow. Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection—the first person to be raised from the dead permanently. His resurrection assures us that someday there will be a complete harvest.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. For just as in Adam all dieso also in Christ all will be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:21-22)

Adam’s sin brought death (see Romans 5:12-21) and Jesus Christ’s resurrection offers life to those who believe. The word “all” is used twelve times in 15:22-28. Consequently, some argue that all people will eventually be saved. This is typically called “universalism.” However, the “all” that will be made alive with Christ refers only to those who have fallen asleep in Christ. Paul was only speaking about the Christian dead, not about a general resurrection.

The imagery of “first fruits” implies that Christ’s resurrection sets in motion a series of events that will culminate at His coming.

But each in his own order: Christthe firstfruitsthen when Christ comesthose who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Fatherwhen he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. (1Corinthians 15:23-24)

Every Christian is going to receive a brand-new body, but every one must wait his or her turn! The key word here is “order.” The word translated “order” (tagma) is a military term that refers to rank or order. Paul was describing a military parade passing by, with each corps falling into position at the proper time. Throughout history, different Christians fall into their place in the parade at their appointed times.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjectionit is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to himthen the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to himso that God may be all in all. (1Corinthians 15:25-28)

Paul quoted Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6 to support his arguments about the Messiah’s reign. The point Paul made is that God empowers Christ to accomplish His purposes. Christ is equal to the Father but chooses of His own accord to submit to His Father so that He might receive glory.

Christ’s resurrection gives purpose

Otherwisewhat will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at allthen why are they baptized for them? Why too are we in danger every hour? Every day I am in danger of death! This is as sure as my boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord.  If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raisedlet us eat and drinkfor tomorrow we die.  (1Corinthians 15:29-32)

I don’t know about you, but verse 29 has got to be the most confusing verse in the entire New Testament. Paul’s words here are so difficult that scholars have devised around 40 proposed interpretations. I decided not to bore people with an analysis of the various interpretations, but just touch lightly on a couple of the more controversial theories. Mormons, for example, have baptized millions upon millions of dead people by proxy in Mormon temples so that they might be saved, including Christians, pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and even avowed atheists.

As a result of this belief, the Mormon Church has amassed the greatest collection of genealogical data anywhere in the world, with billions of names in millions of family trees traced back as far as they can find even scant records. Hundreds of full-time employees do the research, which is recorded on over a billion pages of documents, all stored in a multi-million dollar underground vault system in a canyon near Salt Lake City. Now the information is available on the internet. After researchers come up with new names, hundreds of volunteers go through baptismal rites, hour after hour, day after day, in some fifty Mormon temples. They don’t hold services in those temples, you know; they are only for secret temple rites, including proxy baptisms. Many of your ancestors have been baptized in absentia in a Mormon temple, without either their consent or yours or mine.

All of this activity is based upon this one verse of Scripture which when you examine it, proves to be a very shaky foundation for such a practice, which flied directly in the face of Scriptures that clearly teaches that after death comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27), not a second chance if someone happens to be baptized for you. Therefore, I believe this verse deserves careful re-examination.

Theory – When new believers in Corinth were baptized, they credited their salvation to the gospel message they had heard or received from one or two of the apostles whom were now dead. They did this because they wanted these deceased apostles to receive greater reward in eternity for the work they had done. This seems to be the best view for four primary reasons. First, this interpretation is based upon a literal understanding of the terms “baptism,” “for,” and “the dead.” Baptism refers to a literal act for new believers; the word “for” means “for the benefit of;” and the phrase “the dead” is identified with physically dead people (see 15:6). Second, the Corinthians liked to associate themselves with the ministry of certain apostles (1:12-13; 3:4). This would explain why some of them were baptized “on behalf of” some deceased apostles. Third, some of the Corinthians did not believe in a resurrection (15:15-16). In refuting this, Paul referred to their practice of baptizing for the dead. Their practice contradicted their beliefs. Lastly, Paul had previously mentioned eternal rewards (3:13-15), the Corinthian desire to bring honor to the apostles (1:13-17), and how the Corinthians themselves would be part of Paul’s apostolic reward when he stood before Christ (3:10; 4:14-15). This reward can only be received in the resurrection, and if the Corinthians wanted the dead apostles to receive the reward they were ascribing to them by baptizing new believers for these apostles, resurrection was necessary.

Paul nowhere denounced the practice of baptizing for the dead, which is one reason I think the Corinthians were claiming “I am being baptized as a ministry from Apostle X.” I think Paul would have scoffed at the idea that a proxy baptism on behalf of someone already dead had any effect at all. We know from other Pauline writings that he view baptism as a symbol of joining Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. He didn’t see any saving grace in baptism. It was merely a first step of obedience in the Christian life … which means it would be silly to do it after someone was dead.

Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus One case of Paul’s dying daily was fighting with “beasts” at Ephesus (15:32). It is nearly certain that the “beasts” are not wild animals. As a Roman citizen, Paul would not have fought with wild animals. Furthermore, he would have likely mentioned these beasts in all of his lists about his own personal suffering. It’s likely Paul wrote about the many who opposed him in Ephesus. It would make no sense for Paul to face his opponents head-on and endanger his life if there were no resurrection.

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

This is a quote from God’s people who are suffering in the midst of an Assyrian siege (Isaiah 22:13). They figured they had nothing to lose since they were going to be destroyed. If there is no resurrection then we might as well live for the present, in unadulterated hedonism.

So, of what use is the resurrection. Paul explained the reason he served God was because of his personal assurance of the resurrection of his body. Paul went through incredible suffering and pain in the course of his ministry. He was tortured, ship-wrecked, temporarily blinded, stoned — If there were no resurrection of the dead, he would be foolish risking his life for nothing. Paul’s boast in the Corinthians referred to the fruit of his apostolic labor and suffering (9:1-2). Paul felt deeply attached to this church. Note the expression of Paul’s basic satisfaction with his Corinthian converts despite the many things for which he had to rebuke them.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Sober up as you should, and stop sinning! For some have no knowledge of God – I say this to your shame! (1Corinthians 5:33-24)

Paul commanded the Corinthians to stop being deceived. He then quoted a well-known cliché. “Bad company corrupts good morals.” God’s people are susceptible to deception, especially from friends and fellow church members. It is dangerous to keep company with fellow Christians who are not characterized by consistent Christian living. Hanging around with people who claim to know Christ, but who are themselves far from the Lord can be more dangerous than spending time with non-Christians. We are inclined to be vulnerable to inconsistent thought and actions, to let down our guard, if the Christians around us are materialistic, sensual, loose talking, freethinking, irreverent persons. Remember, water flows downhill. Birds of a feather flock together. If we lay down with dogs, then we will get up with fleas. It is inevitable that evil companions warp good morals. This is why we should care about who our children “hang out” with. Similarly, you need to be careful about who influences you.

Paul commanded the church to be sober-minded and to stop sinning. Some of the Corinthians had been duped into believing that this life is all there is—you only go around once. Paul says such people have no knowledge of God. They are agnosia (“ignorant”) of God. We get our English word “agnostic” from this Greek word. Paul was saying, “Some Christians can live like functional agnostics.” Beware of such people! The crying shame of the church today is the glaring difference between what we believe and how we behave. There is little correlation between doctrine and deeds or creed and conduct with some Christians. High talk and no walk is a problem. We quote the Bible by the mile and live it by the inch.

What you believe about the resurrection controls how you live your life, how you spend your money and use your time—how you invest yourself. People who think wrongly invariably behave wrongly. Yet, you and I must remember, we will one day stand before the Lord to answer for our lives. We should live accordingly.

One response to “What If There Was No Heaven?

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  1. Bravo!

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