The resurrection was the supreme display of God’s power, the visible proof of Jesus’ accomplishment at the cross and is our hope for the future, just as it was for the early disciples.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were a shattered band of people who were ready to return to their old homes and their old way of life. But something then happened which convinced them that Jesus was alive, and that they had a message which could transform the world.
Those sceptics who do not believe that the Son rose from the dead need to explain this dramatic turnaround, and the disciples’ fearlessness in proclaiming the gospel – despite the terrible opposition that they faced. For Christians, the physical resurrection of Jesus is the obvious explanation for this sudden change in attitude and action.
In Acts 2:24 & 36, the first Christian preachers announced that the one whom the Jews had crucified had been raised from the dead, and that God had made him both Lord and Christ. Something must have happened to produce this conviction, and the New Testament writers are unanimous in insisting that it was the physical resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection was so important to the early church that, in Acts 1:22, only witnesses to the resurrection were considered as candidates for Judas’ replacement. Then, throughout Acts, the resurrection was uppermost in the church’s preaching and teaching.
The resurrection predicted
Matthew, Mark and Luke report that Jesus predicted his death three times, and that he linked this with the promise of a resurrection to follow after three days. The fact that Jesus made the prediction several times suggests he knew that the disciples would not grasp the idea that easily. The disciples’ problem seems to be that they had a wrong idea of Jesus’ mission: Luke 24:21 shows that their hopes were fixed on a physical kingdom, and these were shattered by the crucifixion.
All the disciples, except John, deserted Jesus and appear not to have been present at the cross. They had no faith in the spiritual purpose of Jesus’ mission, and did not remember that he had predicted his death and a resurrection. As the Gospels show that the idea of a suffering Messiah was unacceptable not just to the Jews but also to the disciples, it is not surprising that they fled when Jesus was crucified.
The resurrection accomplished
The Bible never explains how God works creatively, because we do not know, and would never be able to understand, his divine processes. So the Gospel writers do not attempt to explain how God raised Jesus from the dead, they simply report what they saw: The tomb was empty and the risen Lord appeared to individual disciples, to small groups of them, and even to a crowd of five hundred . Those people who refuse to believe in the resurrection need to provide an alternative explanation for both these facts. Those who assert that the appearances were caused by hallucination cannot explain the empty tomb, and those who insist that the empty tomb was due to fraud cannot explain the risen appearances. The Son’s risen appearances confirmed his resurrection and provided a series of occasions when he could teach his disciples about the kingdom in the light of his resurrection.
The resurrection proclaimed
In 1 Corinthians 15:3–11, the apostle Paul lists the appearances to authenticate the resurrection, describes his own experience, and then applies this in his general proclamation and application of the resurrection in 15:12–58. In this passage, he asserts that the Christian faith would be futile if Christ were not risen. For Paul, the resurrection is at the centre of his faith and his thinking, as well as at the centre of his experience.
The resurrection permeates through Paul’s teaching. For him, the resurrection of the Son was an indisputable fact of history and fundamental to his preaching. Paul, like us, had to learn about the resurrection from others, but Peter was an eye-witness. In 1 Peter 1:3 & 21–22 he shows its relationship with our new birth and our confidence in God. Peter was writing mainly to persecuted, suffering believers, and he promises them that their suffering will give way to the glory of the risen Christ. For Peter, the reality of the resurrection is the indispensable basis for hope. The apostle John was another eye-witness, and his book of Revelation centres on the risen Christ.
Without the resurrection, Jesus would have to be either a divine person who never really became human and who did not die, or a human person who was not divine, who died and did not rise. Only a resurrection guarantees the dual nature of Christ, and this is why it is vital to our understanding of the God the Son and central to our Christian faith.
We can understand the resurrection only as a supernatural act of God. Although Jesus claimed the power to take up his life after laying it down, in John 10:18, the New Testament never suggests that the resurrection was an independent act of Christ.
The power behind the resurrection was the power of God: it was a supreme display of divine power; it was the act which defeated death and checked corruption. By raising his Son from death to life, God provided humanity with a way from death to life – and this means that the resurrection is an essential part of God’s plan for our salvation.
But this is not all there is to the resurrection, for it also expresses God’s satisfaction with what Christ has done on the cross and vindicates his mission. If Christ had not been raised there would have been no visible proof that his death had accomplished anything.
On top of this, our assurance that Christ still cares for us today, and still intercedes for us, depends on his resurrection. His exalted position, his new name, his restored status, and his present activity, all depend upon his resurrection. As Paul states, without the Son’s resurrection, our faith would be meaningless and our hope would be futile.