Return to the Resurrection

The Theological Significance of the Resurrection of Christ

It is that time of year again. We Christians are gearing up for Easter services in our churches, Easter egg hunts in our yards, and Easter clothes on our children. As with Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we put forth a concerted effort to commemorate the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, culminating in dying on the cross and rising from the grave.

This is that important time of year when we return to the resurrection.

But, how important is the resurrection? The late Marcus Borg, a leader of the Jesus Seminar (see here, here, and here), wrote:

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 involved something remarkable happening to the physical body of Jesus is irrelevant.[1]

Many saw Borg as an authority in New Testament theology and featured him regularly on documentaries about Jesus. However, his estimation of the resurrection stands in stark contrast to, say, the Apostle Paul:

“And 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; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And 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. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

Here’s the thing…

Paul does not treat the resurrection as one more doctrine in a long list of Christian dogma. He talks as if it were foundational to the whole Christian faith. To read Paul, we are led to believe that the resurrection is not just a date on the Christian calendar, but the single event that vindicates our entire Christian life.

Every Easter we return to the resurrection of Christ for our annual remembrance of the hope Christ has secured for us, but the resurrection is a hope we should return to every day.

Christ’s resurrection indicates who he was.

As we read through the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ ministry, we see him persistently claiming deity. Many think Jesus was being vague or cryptic and not really claiming to be God, but the religious leaders of the day knew exactly what he was saying. Multiple times, his Jewish audience attempted to stone him then and there, crying blasphemy (John 8:48-59; 10:30-33). It was a charge of blasphemy that was ultimately the indictment with which they brought Jesus to trial.

Plenty of people throughout history have claimed to be God. Curiously, many still do. However, Jesus is “declared to be the Son of God with power,” not just by his claims about himself, but “…by the resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4)

The religious leadership of Jesus’ day had numerous problems on their hands. Jesus called them out on charges of hypocrisy, corruption, and even unbelief. So when Jesus was put to death, the Sanhedrin assumed their problems died with him. Nevertheless, when Jesus rose, substantiating his claim to deity, he did so with all the authority that comes with that claim.

Jesus’ disciples had given up everything to follow him, staking their lives on his claims. When Jesus was buried, the disciples assumed their hope was buried with him. However, when Jesus rose, proving that he was who he said he was, he demonstrated that he not only had the words of life but that he was “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Christ’s resurrection validates what he did for us.

In the passage mentioned earlier, Paul argues that if Christ did not rise from the dead then we are yet in our sins with all the condemnation we deserve. But, how could this be if Jesus had died on the cross, paying for our sins?

Daniel Wallace explains this way:

[F]orgiveness was costly (the cross), but because of the resurrection, there should not be lingering guilt for sin. If God slew his own son and kept him in the grave, every time we sinned the guilt would be too much! We’d say, “It’s because of sins like this that Jesus is no longer with us!

But the resurrection means that no sin is so heinous that we cannot forgive ourselves. Some of you have done some pretty foul things in your time. The empty tomb means that they’re forgotten and forgiven!

Paul explains further in Romans 5:9-10:

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

If we are justified by Christ’s blood and reconciled by Christ’s death, we are “much more” reconciled by his risen life. The resurrection is the ultimate “furthermore.” Our Savior shed his blood for our sin and died to pay its wages. Furthermore, he has risen, conquering death and securing for us eternal life. The resurrection is validation that the sacrifice he made on our behalf has been accepted by the Father as “paid in full.”

Christ’s resurrection vindicates what he promises to do.

Through his resurrection Jesus is justified in promising that he will “give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

Through his resurrection, Jesus lays claim on our sanctification, so that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Through his resurrection Jesus receives our trust that he will bring about a new heaven and a new earth, promising that he will “wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:4-5)

So, let’s return to the resurrection.

It is understandable to spend a season of our year, remembering Jesus’ humble birth. But, Jesus didn’t stay a baby. It is understandable to spend a Sunday, envisioning Jesus’ sorrowful death. But, Jesus didn’t stay dead.

No, Jesus rose. He is alive and well, and he lives forever more. That reality calls for more than a seasonal remembrance; it calls for a daily transformation. So, when we conclude our Easter program and our pastor closes his Easter sermon, let’s return to the resurrection. The Monday after Easter Sunday, let’s return to the resurrection.

Every longing, every anxiety, and every pain should draw us back to the empty tomb to recall our Savior’s words, “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.” (John 11:25-26)

Is this just a formal holiday, or a theological reality? What hope do you find in the resurrection of Christ?

[1] Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 129-31.

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