Thank you for asking about this, my dear friend. What the Apostle Paul is relating in 1 Corinthians 15:19 is part of his argument against the false beliefs that some held in the Corinthian assembly. Apparently, there were those in Corinth who did not believe in bodily resurrection from the dead; such a belief would be a denial of one of the basic truths of our faith, and would necessarily lead to the conclusion that Christ could not have risen from the dead, and thus would render it impossible that born again Christians will one day rise from the dead. But we know that such a teaching is utterly false according to the Scriptures (verse 20 says: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”). Christ absolutely did rise from the dead on the third day, just as He said He would. The fact of the empty tomb was witnessed by many, and Christ’s appearances after His rising from the dead were confirmed by over 500 firsthand witnesses. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

Now, what does this truth of the empty tomb mean for Christians? In Romans 10:9 we see the great benefits for those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that One who died for sinners on the cross, and who rose from the dead: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” For further Scriptural proofs that believers on Christ will be raised up, I would direct your attention to John 14:1-3, and especially 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, showing that Christ Jesus will return to the clouds to gather up His saints to be forever with Him, both the dead and the living, and in that very order.

So, the Apostle Paul, seeking to refute the false teaching in Corinth, makes these points very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20.  We read in verse 12 about the specific falsehood that Paul is reacting to: “Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Paul prevailed on those who held such thoughts to realize the true force of what they were actually saying with such a false belief. If some of the Corinthians did not accept the bodily resurrection of the dead, then how could Christ Jesus have risen from the dead? Then in the verses following up to verse 19, we see Paul’s unfolding of the practical results of such false teachings about Christ: “…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…,” (verses 13-18). Going on in verse 19, we see what the logical conclusion of such a false belief must be (that is, the thought that the dead do not rise bodily) if this were true (which it is not): “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Paul’s point is that if there is no resurrection, then Christ did not rise, and Christians will not rise either; and therefore, Christians will no longer have any hope of eternal life in heaven.

Thankfully, the bottom line is this: Christ Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, bodily, and it is only because He did so that we who believe have a heavenly hope (1 Corinthians 15:20). Paul had to explain to the Corinthians that Christ’s death and resurrection was not a matter of us benefitting in a limited way, and that only while we are yet alive on the earth, because Christ Jesus died that we might have everlasting life: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.  Believest thou this?”(John 11: 25, 26). Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and in order to accomplish this, He must go to the cross to be the sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). Christ Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, and of that, there can be no doubt.  And because He lives, those who have trusted in Him as Savior and Lord shall live also (John 14:19; see also Romans 6:23; John 3:16; Acts 16:31; John 20:30-31).

I pray this is helpful to you in understanding 1 Corinthians 15:19. That verse was the culmination of Paul’s argument against a false belief in Corinth, and certainly, if the Corinthians were right, we Christians who have placed our eternal hope in Christ would be miserable indeed! Praise God for verse 20 which confirms our salvation and our heavenly hope: “…But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”  (SF)  (545.1)