The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Together with the incarnation and death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as the most significant and transformative event that has ever occurred. To borrow a well-known phrase, it is the “hinge of history,” a trinity of divine actions that form the unshakable foundation of God’s redeeming purpose. The resurrection is “the backbone of the Christian gospel, the keystone of Christian doctrine, and the groundwork of Christian conduct.”[1] Christ’s empty tomb asserts the glorious fullness of our exalted Lord: “I am … the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Rev 1:17-18).[2]

The Definition of Resurrection

To be resurrected is to be bodily raised from the dead. The New Testament teaches us that just as death is universal – “death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12) – so too resurrection will be all-inclusive. The Lord Jesus pointed to a coming hour “when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (Joh 5:28-29).

This is no theological trifle. Paul tells us that “if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (1Co 15:16). If ordinary men cannot be raised, then the resurrection of God’s perfect man would be impossible too, and we would still be perishing.

The Anticipation of Resurrection

From the earliest time, God’s people believed in bodily resurrection. Job, in antiquity, confidently asserted that “after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). His contemporary, Abraham, held the same belief; regarding Isaac, he reckoned “that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb 11:17-19). And David, in the Psalms, spoke with great spiritual confidence: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psa 17:15).

This anticipation of Christ’s resurrection was foreshadowed in Israel’s Feasts of Jehovah (Lev 23). Just as the Passover intimated His death, the Feast of Firstfruits, on the first day of the week, anticipated His resurrection. Paul taught that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1Co 15:20-23).

The Demonstration of Resurrection

Both the OT and NT contain wonderful stories of God’s power in raising the dead. The brief allusion to “women [who] received back their dead by resurrection” in Hebrews 11:35 pointed backward to events in the life of the prophets Elijah (1Ki 17:17-24) and Elisha (2Ki 4:32-37). Added to these stories is the colorful narrative of a dead man that was hastily thrown into Elisha’s tomb and was miraculously resurrected upon contact with his bones (13:21).

The NT record of Christ’s life also contains three resurrections. In the city of Nain, Jesus commanded a widow’s son to rise, and “the dead man sat up and began to speak” (Luk 7:15). On another day, He raised a Jewish maiden, Jairus’ daughter (8:40-56). Later still, when sad news from Bethany reached Him, He said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (Joh 11:11). Upon proclaiming “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (v25), Jesus issued a loud command, and Lazarus walked out of the tomb, alive!

Following Christ’s own death, three further resurrections are recorded; after the earthquake there were “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep [that] were raised” (Mat 27:50-54). In Joppa, Peter commanded Tabitha (or Dorcas) to rise from the dead, which she did (Act 9:36-41), and Paul, like the prophets before him, stretched himself on the broken body of Eutychus and returned him alive to the assembly in Troas (20:7-12).

The Exception to Resurrection

It is significant that all persons, once resurrected, also died again. God’s verdict, “It is appointed for man to die once” (Heb 9:27), establishes the minimum sentence; it does not contradict the possibility of dying twice, as resurrected people in the Bible actually did. Nor does it deny the horrid reality of a “second death” for the Christ rejecter.

But there was a resurrection that was unlike all others. Paul wrote, “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” (Rom 6:9-10). And now, for those who look for His coming, there is the real possibility that we, too, will never die. Looking toward His coming, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Joh 11:25-26). Paul wrote, “The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them” (1Th 4:16-17).

The Description of Resurrection

The death of Jesus Christ is indisputable; thinking of the spear and the blood, Spurgeon said, “No man in this world was ever more surely dead than he.” So, too, His resurrection was certain. The Romans might set a seal on a closed tomb, but we set our hope on an open one! Like the earliest visitors, we hear the sweet angelic word, “He has risen,” and then, like Mary, turn to clasp His feet in worship.

He did not experience corruption of any sort in the tomb. Pristine in His impeccability, and fragrant with spikenard and precious spices, He emerged in the “power of an indestructible life” (Heb 7:16). Yes, it was a human body, but now, much more; in this resurrection body, there were new qualities, rising above material limitations, transcending natural laws within His own creation.

There were witnesses, of course – not a paltry few, but multitudes of reliable witnesses. And what did they see? They saw a living man, raised in a real human body. Did He not say to the disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luk 24:39)? Peter testified, “God raised him on the third day,” and He appeared to “witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Act 10:40-41).

Of course there were “alternative narratives” put forward to deny His death and resurrection, all of them thinly concealed fabrications of unbelief. No, He didn’t swoon. No, there was no mistake about the tomb. And no, there was no mass hallucination of the witnesses. He died. He rose. He lives!

The Proclamation of Resurrection

Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost set the agenda for every authentic gospel message. “Jesus of Nazareth [was] … crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Act 2:22-24). Pointing to David, he cogently argued that “he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (vv31-32).

The entire apostolic message was centered here. Paul memorably recorded the gospel that had been revealed to him in four short propositions (1Co 15:3-8). Christ died, was buried, was raised, and was seen; this was the sum and substance of the preached word. From his first recorded message in Antioch (Act 13:30), his preaching was permeated with the risen Christ. And still today, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).

The Implication of Resurrection

A risen Christ is essential to our salvation. Without it, Christianity is invalid; “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” (1Co 15:17-18). Thankfully, Peter reminds us that God, “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” (1Pe 1:3). We are declared righteous when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:24-25). Sanctification is now ours; “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees our future in His presence, “knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (2Co 4:14). A risen Christ confers complete security; “because I live, you also will live” (Joh 14:18-19). Do we not, then, breathe together, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!”?

[1] William Hoste, Studies in Bible Doctrine (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie Ltd., 1932).

[2] Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.