What Every Christian Must Know about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Volume 30, Issue 2, February 2024

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/Teacher Southern View Chapel

In the famous scene from the movie A Few Good Men, Col. Jessep says, “You want answers?” Lt. Kaffee says, “I think I’m entitled.” Jessep repeats, “You want answers?” Kaffee retorts, “I want the truth.” To which Jessep says, “You can’t handle the truth.” Perhaps the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of those truths that few seem to be able to handle. To be fair, even the apostles who had lived with Jesus for three years had a difficult time believing in the resurrection, and none more so than Thomas.

Note first of all Thomas’s skepticism: “But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24-25). I don’t think he was unwilling to believe. Thomas had invested three years of his life in following Jesus, whom he believed to be the Jewish Messiah as promised in the Old Testament. But somehow Thomas had never grasped the reality of the cross, even though Jesus had spoken of it often. And so, when Jesus was crucified, all of his hopes were dashed. Now comes trickling back to the disciples a word that Jesus has resurrected; He was alive and had appeared to some. Jesus had also spoken to his disciples at least three times about the resurrection, but they seemed totally blindsided when it happened. Thomas had been disappointed by Jesus once before, at the cross.  He was not prepared to get his hopes up again and face more disappointment. He would not be one of the gullible types who were taken in by every rumor and conspiracy theory.

What changed Thomas? The irrefutable proof of the resurrection changed Thomas: “After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28). So certain he becomes that Jesus is alive, he exclaims Jesus to be his Lord and God. No Jew in the first century would ever make such a statement unless they knew they were speaking to the true God of the universe. Otherwise, it would have been blasphemy. It was the resurrection that made all the difference in Thomas’s life, and it was the resurrection message that the apostles took with them everywhere they went. Every message focused not merely on the crucifixion but on the resurrection as well. What is it that everyone needs to know about the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

We Need to Know that the Resurrection Really Happened

In his book, Scandalous, D. A. Carson offers some interesting insight:

Perhaps part of our slowness to come to grips with this truth lies in the way the notion of moral imperative has dissipated in much recent Western thought. Did you see the film Titanic that was screened about a dozen years ago? The great ship is full of the richest people in the world, and, according to the film, as the ship sinks, the rich men start to scramble for the few and inadequate lifeboats, shoving aside the women and children in their desperate desire to live. British sailors draw handguns and dire into the air, crying “Stand back! Stand back! Women and children first!” In reality, of course, nothing like that happened. The universal testimony of the witnesses who survived the disaster is that the men hung back and urged the women and children into the lifeboats. John Jacob Astor was there, at the time the richest man on earth, the Bill Gates of 1912. He dragged his wife to a board, shoved her on, and stepped back. Someone urged him to get in, too. He refused: the boats are too few, and must be for the women and children first. He stepped back and drowned. The philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim was present. He was traveling with his mistress, but when he perceived that it was unlikely he would survive, he told one of his servants, “Tell my wife that Benjamin Guggenheim knows his duty” – and he hung back and drowned. There is not a single report of some rich man displacing women and children in the mad rush for survival. When the film was reviewed in the New York Times, the review asked why the producer and director of the film had distorted history flagrantly in this regard. The scene as they depicted it was implausible from the beginning. British sailors drawing handguns? Most British police officers do not carry handguns; British sailors certainly do not, why this willful distortion of history? And then the reviewer answered his own question: if the producer and director had sold the truth, he said no one would have believed them.  I have seldom read a more damning indictment of the development of Western culture, especially Anglo-Saxon culture, in the last century. One hundred years ago, there remained in our culture enough residue of the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice for the sake of others, of the moral imperative that seeks the other’s good at personal expense, that Christ and non-Christians alike thought it noble, if unremarkable, to choose death for the sake of others. A mere century later such a course is judged so unbelievable that the history has to be distorted (pp. 30-31).[1]

People are conditioned by their experiences, their friends, the media, and the very culture in which they live, to believe what they want to believe. The facts and the truth matter very little; they have their “own truth,” which is a complete lie. That is why when it comes to the truth about the resurrection, most are not prepared to believe it, and no amount of evidence will convince them. Still, the evidence for the resurrection is there, and we will briefly rehearse some of it.

Firstly, the tomb is empty. We find no record of anyone questioning the empty tomb.  Neither the Roman soldiers, the Jewish leaders, friends, nor foes of Jesus ever challenged this fact. Any one of them could walk a few blocks and check the tomb out for themselves. But if they did, they found Jesus was not there.

Secondly, there was no reason for anyone to take the body of Jesus. The Romans didn’t want it. The Jews would have produced it in a moment if they had it to stop the disciples from preaching the resurrection, and the disciples had no means of taking the body since it was under guard.

Thirdly, Jesus really did die. Some skeptics throughout the ages have conjectured that Jesus did not die and eventually freed himself from the tomb and simply walked away, convincing everyone who saw Him that He had resurrected. This is utter nonsense. How does a man beaten by whips nearly to death; crucified on a cross; stabbed with a spear in the heart; having his face, mouth, and nose wrapped in garments and spices; and laid in a tomb without food or water for three days suddenly start feeling better, unwrap the garments on his body and face, move a massive stone uphill from a cave, overpower armed guards, walk miles on pierced feet, and show himself to His followers in such excellent condition that they think He has a resurrected body? The resurrection is far more plausible.

Fourthly, His followers spread the word of the resurrection and started the Christian faith right in the city in which all of this took place, and yet no one refuted their claims. Fifthly, the disciples so believed in Jesus’s resurrection that they were willing to be persecuted and be martyred for that belief. More than that, they were willing to convince their family and friends of the resurrection, knowing that they too could face the same fate.

Additionally, the eyewitnesses’ lives were transformed. Peter went from hiding in the dark to preaching to a multitude. All the disciples became as bold as lions in their proclamation of the gospel. These relatively insignificant men and women turned the world upside down within a generation as they told of the cross and resurrection. The apostle Paul went from persecuting the infant church to becoming its greatest evangelist after he encountered the risen Lord.

The traditions of the Jewish people were radically changed by the message of the resurrection. The Jews who came to Christ, who were steeped in tradition and desirous of keeping the Law, began to gather on Sundays instead of the Sabbath and slowly left behind the Jewish food laws and other rituals.

Finally, the external verification of the cross and resurrection abounds in ancient, non-Christian sources. The evidence for Jesus’s resurrection is insurmountable.

We Need to Know the Purpose of the Resurrection

Why did Jesus resurrect from the dead? Why did He not simply ascend into heaven, return to His former position of glory, and leave His body behind? Master’s Seminary’s Biblical Doctrine lists twenty achievements. I will pinpoint just three today.

We start with the fact that Christ’s resurrection secured the defeat of our greatest enemies: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 1:13; 2:15). At the resurrection, Christ conquered all the demonic powers and put them on public display as defeated enemies. The battle is not over, but Satan is a defeated foe. It is not unusual in war for a defeated enemy to fight on. During the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein and Iran were defeated the day the Americans showed up, but Hussein continued to battle for weeks. In addition, Christ did what no one had ever done before; He conquered death itself. Death could not hold Him in the grave: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15). A “spiritual” resurrection would not be a defeat of physical death. The great resurrection hymn, “He Arose”, nails it.

Verse 1

Low in the grave He lay,

Jesus my Savior,

Waiting the coming day,

Jesus my Lord!

Verse 3

Death cannot keep its Prey,

Jesus my Savior;

He tore the bars away,

Jesus my Lord!

Chorus

Up from the grave He arose,

With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,

He arose a Victor from the dark domain,

And He lives forever,

With His saints to reign.

He arose! He arose!

Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Next, the resurrection also confirmed Christ’s deity: “who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:4). Paul wants us to know that at some point in time, Jesus became the “Son of God with power.” This is a difficult verse, and we must analyze it carefully. First, the word “declare” is the key. It means “appointed” (Net) or “designated” (LSB). Jesus was appointed the Son of God with power at some historical point. But hasn’t the second member of the Trinity always been the Son of God? He is eternal; there has never been a time when He was not God, never a moment when He was created. So, what does this mean? The answer is found in the phrase “with power.” It does not say He was appointed “the Son of God,” but “The Son of God with power.” He was the Son of God as a helpless baby in a manger, but not with power. He was the Son of God hanging on a cross but not with power. When was He appointed the Son of God with power? At the resurrection from the dead. It was at the resurrection that the deity of Jesus Christ was put on public display. Jesus’s identity was demonstrated at the resurrection. No one could doubt any longer that He was the Son of God.

Finally, the resurrection made our justification possible: “He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). This means our sins are forgiven:

He was raised to assure us that in the sight of God, we are indeed without sin.  In other words, Christ’s resurrection had as its purpose to bring to light the fact that all those who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior have entered into a state of righteousness in the eyes of God.  The Father, by raising Jesus from the dead, assures us that the atoning sacrifice has been accepted; hence, our sins are forgiven.[2]

We Need to Know What the Resurrection Made Possible

It made possible our access to God: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Because Jesus lived and experienced all that we face, He is fully able to understand our greatest needs and aid us in the time of our temptations and weakness. But more than that, He is now alive to keep that doorway between us and Father open, and He is interceding on our behalf: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus has invited us into the very presence of God, and He personally ushers us through the door. If I wanted to meet with the president of the United States at the White House, I would be turned away unless some important person, say his Chief of Staff, introduces me to him. I would need someone to intercede for me. That is what Jesus does for us with the Father, otherwise, none would be granted access. John 14:6 says it clearly, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’.”

Secondly, it made possible our regeneration, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3). Our regeneration, our born-again status, and our living hope is all dependent upon the resurrection of Jesus. No resurrection; no eternal life. We are simply lost in our sins with no resurrection, no hope.

Finally, the resurrection made possible our bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). Notice two things that are involved in changing our destiny. The first is Christ’s past accomplishments on our behalf: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (15:20-22). Verse 20 is refreshing. In verses 12-19, Paul has painted a very gloomy picture of both our present life and life after death, based on the assumption that Christ has not been raised from the dead. Paul told us there that if Christ has not resurrected, then our faith in God is worthless (12-14); we have no authoritative Word of God because the apostles are liars (15); our sins have not been forgiven (16, 17); those who die have no hope of a future life but simply perish (18); and we are pitiful people for having lived our whole lives embracing a lie (19). However, as Paul comes to this section, he starts with the words “but now.” He is saying, but now let us come back to reality and look at things as they really are. As we do, all the gloom will vanish as fog vanishes under the rays of the sun. Enough of this nonsense, Paul says. The fact of the matter is that Christ has been resurrected. So, instead of worrying about what might have happened had Christ been unable to conquer death, we now can focus on what was accomplished because Christ has been resurrected. If you believe that God raised Christ from the dead, and there is no doubt that He did, then you must also realize that Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of the Christian.

In verses 21 and 22, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Paul tells us exactly how this works. Death came upon the whole human race because of the sin of one man, Adam. Therefore, life needed to be made available through a man. However, since all men are sinners and doomed to die, the Son of God became a man—the God-man, the perfect sinless man—so that He might die for our sins and be resurrected to give us eternal life. But only those “in Christ” are given life both spiritually and physically. Spiritual life now, and eternal, physical life at the coming of Christ. If you believe that Christ’s resurrection guarantees your future resurrection, then you also believe that God has a wonderful future planned for you which includes our bodily resurrection (15:23). Paul will explain how this works in great detail in later verses. But here, we note that this resurrection will take place when Jesus comes.

Conclusion

Strangely, in the State of Theology 2022 survey, two-thirds of Americans claim they believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, this belief has relatively little impact on their everyday lives. Most of these resurrection believers sit home from church week after week, seldom crack open their Bibles, exist in defiance of the clear and direct moral commandments of God, and live as if they were divine, rather than for the glory of God. There is a huge disconnect between what most claim to believe and how they live. They don’t connect the dots between the resurrection and salvation or living for the glory of the resurrected One. The resurrection is not merely a nice doctrine that gives us comfort when we need it, nor is it a historical event we celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is at the very foundation of all we believe and all we have in Christ. Michael Horton summarized this truth well:

In the panel discussion I participated in, Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”), like Maher, reduced all of religion to what I call the Realm of Fuzzy Things, like teddy bears and comfy blankets. Fear of death is religion’s fuel, he argued, following a long line of atheistic apologists. Or maybe it’s like fake headlights to scare us into a blind leap. Regardless, it’s all basically wishing upon a star, Nye argued. There’s no need to engage specific beliefs—just dismiss the whole religion thing with one easy stroke.

“Yes, I agree with almost everything Bill has just said,” I responded, to the astonishment of the mostly secular audience. “Now could I mention the resurrection of Jesus Christ?” For the next thirty minutes I laid out the historical case, and Bill, for all his erudition, had no answer. He was visibly frustrated He had come with a stump speech dismissing religion as the “opiate of the masses”. He wasn’t prepared for historical arguments, much less scientific ones. Any Christian could have made the case that I laid out that day, and many do make it every day. It was totally unremarkable on my part. But when it comes to religion, secular fundamentalists are as ill-prepared for logic, reason, and historical argumentation as their real or imagined religious counterparts. For both, the world is a very simple place. No deliberation, nuance, or reasoning is necessary, since We are smart and They are stupid.

When it is not perverted by culture warriors on the right and the left, Christianity is inherently oriented to make reasonable arguments rather than emotional blackmail. Christianity is not based on feelings or moralistic platitudes and political visions of grandeur ensuring that Our Team can stay in power. Its symbol is a cross, planted in the middle of history, with a resurrection three days later as the beginning of the new creation. That is either true or false, but it’s not fantasy. We like being the underdogs. We are at our best when folks think they have us in the secure half nelson wrestling hold. They don’t—not because we are smarter or better, but because the facts are on the side of Jesus Christ (p. 16).[3]


[1] D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), pp. 30-31.

[2] William Hendriksen

[3] Michael Horton, Recovering Our Sanity, How the Fear of God Conquers the Fears that Divide Us (Zondervan, 2022), p. 16.

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