Relying on the Resurrection (Easter Sunday 2017)

Famous author and critical thinker C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said that Christianity can either be true and vital or untrue and useless, it cannot be both and it cannot be somewhere in the middle, containing elements of truth and elements of falsehood.

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.
C.S. Lewis
The same can be said of the core Christian claim that Jesus, the perfect Son of God who was ‘in very nature God’ (Philippians 2:5-11), died and rose from the grave on the third day, conquering death once and for all by taking the sins of his people upon himself, cancelling their debt before God and rising from the dead.

On Good Friday, I wrote about some recent conversations I’ve had with some who seek to ‘soften’ the message of the Bible by denying the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ work on the cross. Unfortunately, I’m also aware that there are some today who seek to deny that Jesus rose fully from the dead, instead saying that he rose only spiritually or figuratively, not literally and physically.

There is, of course, nothing new under the sun as far as heresy is concerned, and this denial of the resurrection has been refuted on many occasions by scholars far better qualified than I am. With that said though, it is important to remember why the resurrection of Christ is so central to what we believe as Christians, and how appropriate it is to do so each year on Easter Sunday.

As far as Jesus was concerned, the belief of his people in his bodily resurrection was vital, as seen in multiple places including:

Jesus said to her, 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. Do you believe this?

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We will pick this up again below when looking at our resurrection hope.

The Testimony of the Resurrection in the Truth of Scripture

Firstly, it seems important to point out at this stage that in order to argue against doctrines like substitutionary atonement and historical events like the resurrection, adherents to these beliefs (lack of belief may be a better term) are faced with a need to twist, ‘reinterpret’ or ignore the many passages of scripture which disagree with their views. In doing so, they question and essentially deny the inerrancy of scripture and its sufficiency and reliability as the final authority for the Christian.

It is not possible in this short article to do justice to the huge amount of work that has been done to understand and unpack the historical accuracy of the resurrection of Jesus. However, it is important to note that the eye witness accounts in the gospels, the prophecies given by Jesus about his death and resurrection prior to it taking place (for example see John 2:18-20) and the post-resurrection testimonies of the apostles (such as Acts 3:15 and 4:33) mount a strong case for the reliability of the traditional Christian teaching on the resurrection. Detractors often try to use alleged ‘contradictions’ in the eye witness accounts to argue that these accounts cannot be trusted. One only needs to ask four people from different backgrounds with differing levels of involvement to relay the same events and it is not hard to explain that the so called ‘contradictions’ are not really contradictions, and they certainly don’t harm the reliability of the Bible. They are natural products of people’s differing perspectives and do not negate the truth of the matter being presented.

The Bible tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that all scripture is God-breathed and is therefore useful (and of course reliable) for us as believers. This includes the passages about the bodily resurrection of Christ.

For more information on inerrancy, the transmission of the text of scripture and its reliability I’d recommend a number of resources including:

Our Resurrection Hope (or ‘Eschatological Implications’)

Ultimately, what we believe about the resurrection has a flow on effect throughout the rest of our theology. The resurrection of Christ as the ‘first fruits’ from among the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20) paves the way for the resurrection of all believers at the time of Christ’s return and the final judgment. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul spells out the absolute importance of the resurrection and the hope that it offers to us as Christians.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

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 15:3-19 (ESV)

It is therefore an eschatological issue that has direct implications for not only how we see the future in terms of the last days of the current age, but also how we live our lives now – as those who have been set free from bondage to sin and death and as those for whom death no longer necessitates fear (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

When Christ returns in glory and the dead are raised, he will usher in a new age for believers; an age in which there will be no sin, no decay, not death, no pain, no mourning, and no separation from God.
Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”
Instead we will be with him face to face, as we were created to be – and all things will be put to right. Now that is something worth looking forward to, a hope worth relying on, and something incredible to celebrate this Easter!

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)

As we come to the end of another Easter season, the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58 should ring in our hearts and minds as we press on and run the race with perseverance and joy. The word ‘therefore’ points to the statement that we have been given the victory through Christ and so we are called to be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, for our labor is not in vain.


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