Theology Of The Resurrection

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Is the resurrection important? What was the purpose of the resurrection? What did it mean? Why did it have to happen? In this post I'll be discussing the theology behind Christ's resurrection.

Is the resurrection important?

It is an understatement to say that the resurrection is important. The resurrection is the linchpin of the Christian faith. In fact, it is the most important event in the life of Jesus, in Christianity, and in the whole scope of history. Without it, the whole course of history, both secular and redemptive, would be completely different.

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19 ESV, emphasis mine)

These are strong words from Paul. He understood that if the resurrection didn't happen, then our “faith is futile.” To be even more blunt, without the historical, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity is a lie. I admit that I don't particularly like writing that, but this is exactly what I meant in the previous series post where I said that Christianity is based on historical facts. The implication of this (on the “negative” side) is that if these historical events, especially the resurrection, didn't happen, then Christianity falls. In other words, if someone delivers up the bones of Jesus tomorrow, then we are sunk and are to be pitied for our failed belief. This is how important the resurrection is!

The Purpose and Preaching of the Disciples

The importance of the resurrection can also be seen in the purpose and preaching of the disciples. First, what were the requirements and the goal of adding an apostle to replace Judas? Acts 1:21-22 tells us that Judas' replacement had to have been with Jesus and the disciples beginning at Jesus' baptism all the way to his ascension into heaven. The replacement had to be there for Jesus' entire ministry. Why? Because he must become with the other disciples a “witness to his resurrection.” This is the primary purpose of not just Judas' replacement, but of all the disciples. That they would be eyewitnesses to the resurrection and that they would share what they witnessed – they would give their testimony – with everyone they met.

The disciples knew how important their witness was and so they guarded it carefully. They likely realized how hard it was to believe in any resurrection (e.g., the Sadducees), so when it came to replacing Judas, they needed to find someone with the best witness possible. It had to be someone who was there for every part of Jesus' ministry. In all of history, only a select few could be eyewitnesses and give testimony to these events for the rest of the world and for all time, so it was important that the witness experienced the whole of Jesus' ministry so they would be a trustworthy voice to the resurrection.

We also see the importance of the resurrection in the preaching of the disciples. They knew that what they witnessed was not only important for their time, but for all time. When Peter preached in Solomon's Portico, he said, “and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15 ESV). Acts 4:33 says that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Again, in one of Peter's sermons, he said, “but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:40-43 ESV). Paul also knew of the importance of his witness. In Antioch he preached, “But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:30-33 ESV).

There is no question as to the importance of the resurrection. Peter knew it, Paul knew it, and the rest of the disciples knew it. It was their purpose and it was central to their preaching. First and foremost, the resurrection really happened and they were witnesses to it.

What did Christ accomplish in the resurrection?

What was the purpose of the resurrection? What did it mean? Why did it have to happen? All of these questions are closely tied to one another and have similar, if not the same, answers. John Piper wrote a book called Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die. A similar book could probably be written for the reasons Jesus was resurrected. But instead of exhausting fifty plus reasons, I'll hit the primary ones, dividing them into two groups. The first group describes overall things the resurrection accomplished and the second group refers to more specific things that affect an individual believer's life. First, the general reasons.

The resurrection...

  • declared Jesus to be the true Son of God. Romans 1:4 says that Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” It was the resurrection that proved Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God.
  • fulfilled what was promised to the OT fathers. All the promises that God made to the fathers (e.g., Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc.) were fulfilled in the resurrection. “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33 ESV). These promises are ones of salvation, blessing, redemption, and the spread of God's glory.
  • gives assurance to all of the final judgment. God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31 ESV). In the resurrection all people have been given assurance - have been put on notice - that one day there will be a final judgement.
  • enabled Jesus to sit at the right had of the father to rule over his kingdom.  “The working of [God's] great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19-23 ESV). When Jesus was raised from the dead and then ascended into heaven, God seated him at his right hand to rule over everything. Christ's resurrection signified that he is king over all.

Next are the more specific reasons which all fall under the category of “union with Christ.”

Union With Christ

When I say “union with Christ,” I am talking about the central reformed doctrine surrounding soteriology (i.e., salvation). Scripture continually and consistently points to Christ as the mediator of our relationship to God. Therefore, if we are in Christ, then we gain the benefits of a relationship with God where he is pleased with us and we are righteous before him. Because of the resurrection, the benefits to those who are in union with Christ have been made complete.

The resurrection...

  • enables Christ to intercede on our behalf. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV). It is a simple enough concept that if Christ was still in the grave, there is no way he could intercede on our behalf. But because he has been resurrected, he is able to intercede for us.
  • is the basis for believing in our future resurrection and glorification. “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:14 ESV – see also 2 Corinthians 4:14 and Philippians 3:10-11). It is because of the resurrection that death has lost its victory and has lost its sting. We can now believe that we will be resurrected to glory because of Christ's resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
  • gives us a living hope. Because we are in Christ and he has been resurrected, we have hope that we will receive “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:3-5, 20-21). And if that couldn't get any better, we also have assurance that our hope is living because Christ is living.
  • is an incentive for us to turn from sin and live rightly. Our sanctification, the continual work of God's grace in us so that we will more and more die to sin and rise to newness of life, is made possible by the resurrection. “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:9-11 ESV – see also Colossians 3:1-4).
  • is for our justification. The basis for our justification, where the wrath of God towards our sin is satisfied and the righteousness required is supplied, is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Righteousness “will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25 ESV – see also Romans 10:9-10 where we are justified by belief with our heart that Jesus has been raised from the dead). The resurrection is part of the basis for our justification; it plays a vital role in saving us!

Another way to look at all of these reasons is from the negative side of it. If Christ wasn't raised, there would be no proof that he was the son of God. If Christ wasn't raised, the promises to the OT fathers would not have been fulfilled. If Christ wasn't raised, no one would have assurance of final judgment. If Christ wasn't raised, Christ wouldn't be king over all creation. If Christ wasn't raised, he could not intercede on our behalf. If Christ wasn't raised, we would have no reason to believe in our future resurrection and glorification. If Christ wasn't raised, we would have no living hope. If Christ wasn't raised, we would have no sanctification. If Christ wasn't raised, we would not be justified before a holy God. Thank God that Christ was raised!

This post is part of the the resurrection series (click to view the other posts in this series).