Editor’s Note: This past week we celebrated Easter or as many say “Resurrection Sunday,” and today’s post Dr. David Turner, professor of New Testament, reflects on why what we celebrate on this day is so central to the gospel.
The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian message. How unfortunate that church services may stress the empty tomb only on Easter Sunday, or even just through the Eastertide season. Another concern is the common way Christians summarize the gospel by mentioning only Jesus’ death. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ ministry ends in defeat and disillusionment (Luke 24:21). But everything changes if “He is not here! He has risen from the dead, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6).
The resurrection culminates the passion narrative in all four Gospels because it is at the center of redemption itself. Without it, one can only pity Jesus as a dead martyr whose lofty ideals were sadly misunderstood. With it, one must stand in awe of the exalted Messiah, the Son of the living God, who gave His life as a ransom for many, who presently reigns at God’s right hand, and who will one day return in glory to fix this broken world.
Paul bluntly stated that apart from the resurrection our faith and message are in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Thinking about how absolutely bleak and pointless any so-called “Christian” life would be without the resurrection should spur us to ponder it all the more:
- Without the resurrection, Jesus’ death would go without divine interpretation and endorsement. The resurrection amounts to the Father’s clear signal that Jesus is the powerful Son of God who has conquered death and reigns as Lord of all (Romans 1:4; 4:25). The resurrection demonstrates that Jesus’ “blood of the new covenant” saves His people from their sins. Apart from the resurrection, there would be no reason for the cup of memorial at the Lord’s Table because there would be no reason to anticipate the cup of new wine in the Father’s Kingdom (Matthew 26:28).
- Without the resurrection, none of Jesus’ promises would be trustworthy. If Jesus did not rise from the dead after promising many times that He would do so (Matthew 12:40; 16:21; 17:9, 23, 20:19; 26:32), He should be pitied or scorned, not believed and obeyed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:16-19). As C. S. Lewis said in “Mere Christianity,” He would have been deceived or a deceiver. But His most amazing promise has come true, so how can we not depend on and live by all the rest of His promises?
- Without the resurrection, there would be no apostolic foundation for the church (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ resurrection turned scattered deserters back into faithful followers (Matthew 26:31-32). The astonishing-yet-true news brought to them by the two women who first discovered the empty tomb and later by the risen Lord Jesus Himself brought the scattered disciples back into the fold and emboldened them for witness (Matthew 28:7, 10, 16-20). That same resurrection message is still powerful to transform doubters into disciples today.
- Without the resurrection, there would be no model of sacrificial living. Jesus embodied and demonstrated the oxymoron of the crucified life, that a self-centered life is misery, and that genuinely abundant living occurs only when one dies to self-interest (Matthew 10:38-39; 16:24-28; 20:26-28; 23:12). Paul developed this further, teaching us that Jesus’ followers died with Him to the old life and arose with Him to life anew (Romans 6:1-11). But this transformative model of the cross leading to the crown is a farce if Jesus’ suffering did not lead to His resurrection and heavenly reign. Paul’s basis for teaching the Philippians to live in humility and unity is simply to tell the story of Jesus, centering on how His past humility led to His future exaltation (Philippians 2:1-13).
- Without the resurrection, there would be no eschatological shalom to right all earthly wrongs and renew the world (Matthew 19:28-29). The martyrs whose blood cries out from the ground for justice would never be vindicated (Matthew 23:35; Revelation 6:9-11). The untold millions of injustices perpetrated by human beings throughout history would never be made right. There would be no ultimate reckoning for sin, and Satan would win the cosmic battle. But the resurrection guarantees that the disciples’ model prayer will be answered– the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). By raising Jesus, God showed all people that they will ultimately answer to Him for what they have done (Matthew 16:27; John 5:28-29; Acts 17:31).
To be sure, the apostolic proclamation of the gospel centered on the cross (Galatians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 2:9, 14; 9:12-14; Revelations 5:6, 9). But the meaning of the cross is at best unclear without the resurrection. Any presentation of the good news of Jesus the Messiah must stress His resurrection as the essential explanation of His death and the proof of its saving power. Any “gospel” which does not place Jesus’ resurrection alongside Jesus’ death is not the authentic message of Jesus and his apostles.
Jesus is not a dead martyr to be pitied, but a living, reigning, returning Lord to be loved and emulated, both in present suffering and in future reward (Philippians 3:10-11).
As we move past Easter and into the summer, ponder the apostles’ teaching on the power of the resurrection in passages like these:
- Acts 2:32; 3:15, 26; 4:2, 10, 33; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30 ff
- Acts 17:18, 31; 23:6; 24:21; 25:19; 26:8, 23
- Romans 1:4; 4:25; 6:4-5; 8:11; 10:9
- 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 4:10, 14; 13:4
- Galatians 1:1
- Ephesians 1:20; 2:5; 4:10
- Philippians 2:8-9; Col 2:12; 3:1-4
- 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Timothy 3:16
- Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 12:3
- 1 Peter 1:22; 3:18-22
- Revelation 1:5, 18; 2:8; 5:6-10