What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?

Apr 2015    

“… if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is [our] faith… And if Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”


1 Corinthians 15:14-19

Mahatma Gandhi, born 1869 in India, was a great moral teacher who modeled non-violent resistance that changed a nation. Gandhi led nationwide campaigns to ease poverty, expand women’s rights, build religious and ethnic harmony, end “untouchability,” and brought the independence of India from foreign domination. He showed love for animal life through his vegetarianism.

Gandhi died in 1948, but many would say that his teaching lives on today in those who embody his practice of non-violent resistance. In a sense some would even say that Gandhi himself lives on in this way. Is this what Christians mean when they say “Jesus lives on”?

While it is true that Jesus’ teaching does live on in those who follow Him, Jesus’ followers have always understood that this is not enough.

In fact, as the apostle Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 “… if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is [our] faith… And if Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

The issue of whether Jesus rose bodily from death is of the utmost importance to Christians (Luke 24:39). If Jesus did not rise (from the dead) then Christianity itself is dead. With Jesus’ physical resurrection, everything changes: there is hope beyond the grave and there is the assurance of life everlasting.

The context of Jesus’ life
Jesus made some astonishing claims about Himself – including that He alone was the way to God (John 14:6). Jesus was sentenced to death for blasphemy – for claiming to be the Son of God (Matthew 26:63-66). Therefore, it would seem that either Jesus died accursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23) or that God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus serves as God’s stamp of approval on all that Jesus said and did: Jesus really was who He claimed to be – the One sent from God to die in our place that all who trust in Him might live forever with God. This is why the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus is so important and why it ought to make a difference in our lives.

The difference it makes
It is always sad when a loved one passes away. Whenever we think about them, we reflect upon the times shared together and upon the influence that they had in our lives.

As Christians, we grieve our loss, but not without hope. For we believe that just as Jesus died and rose again, so too will we be raised from the dead. We have the assurance that all who have trusted in Christ are now with Him and that, one day, we will all be reunited together forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

As believers we cannot but share this truth with all those around us – the wonderful hope that we have in our risen Saviour Jesus and the reality that one day soon “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and [that] there will no longer be any death” (Revelation 21:4, NASB).

Good Friday is the time-honoured celebration reminding us of how much Jesus has achieved on our behalf. We have forgiveness from sins because of His death and the daily strength to live God-honouring lives because of His resurrection. We need to seize the opportunity to share this good news with all those whom the Lord brings our way this Easter.

In addition, let us remind our children, who enjoy Easter eggs, of the meaning behind them. Just as a baby chick hatches to new life from its shell, so is Christ risen from the tomb!

How can we show that Jesus rose from the dead?
As presented in my previous article (MM March 2015, p.24), if Christ has been raised from the dead then there is hope beyond the grave, there is the promise of life everlasting. Yet what evidence is there that Jesus really rose from the dead?

Jesus’ death
After being flogged by Roman soldiers, Jesus was crucified upon a cross and died (Mark 15:15). To confirm His death, a spear was thrust into His side. (Modern medical knowledge agrees that all this would have resulted in Jesus’ death.)1

Extra-biblical sources also confirm that Jesus died. For example, Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, wrote that “Pilate, at the suggestion of principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross.”2 The Roman historian Tacitus, when commenting upon Jesus’ followers, stated that “Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate.”3

There are multiple independent attestations that following his death Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Matt 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51; John 19:38). Being a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin is like being a modern-day Member of Parliament. He was a public figure, and the location of his house would have been known by others so that the facts could have been verified.

The empty tomb
Jesus’ tomb was said to be have been found empty by women. Sadly, in 1st century Jewish culture, women were not considered reliable witnesses (Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8; Josephus, Antiquities, 4.8.15). It would have been embarrassing for the early followers of Jesus to admit this detail was discovered by women. Nevertheless, this is actually strong evidence that Christians did not make this up and that they have accurately recorded what happened.

Furthermore, the Jewish leaders of the day also acknowledged the empty tomb by stating that Jesus’ body was missing (Matt 28:11-15; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30).

Disciples’ belief of Jesus’ appearances
Atheist scholar Gerd Lüdemann admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”4 Those convinced of these appearances included skeptics such as “doubting” Thomas (John 20:24-29), James (the brother of Jesus), and enemies such as Saul of Tarsus (1 Cor 15:3-8).

Various people having witnessed appearances of Jesus at numerous times and places lends strongly to the credibility of the event. Given that 1st century Jewish belief about the afterlife only anticipated someone rising from the dead at the end of the age, Jesus’ resurrection in the midst of history stands in contrast to this expectation.

Various explanations on how to best explain the above facts have been offered such as: 1) the disciples stole the body and lied, or 2) that Jesus did not actually die on the cross but only fainted, or 3) that the disciples merely saw hallucinations of Jesus alive, and so forth. But none of these theories better accounts for the evidence than the explanation that God raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 3:26).5

Christ is risen! In this, Christians rejoice, knowing that death has been conquered by Jesus our Saviour. It’s why we celebrate Easter. It’s what we celebrate every Sunday. He is risen indeed!

1 Edwards, William D., Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” JAMA 1986; 255:1455-1463. Available at http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/deathjesus.pdf
2 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996). Ant. 18.63-64.
3 Cornelius Tacitus, Annales (Latin), ed. Charles Dennis Fisher (Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library, 1906), Annals 15.44.
4 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.
5 For those interested in more details about this, I would recommend Habermas, Gary R. and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004.

Background picture by Palokha Tetiana/Bigstock.com

David Jonathan Graieg is a Masters of Theology graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary (2012). He is currently serving as an adjunct lecturer at East Asia School of Theology and attends Wesley Methodist Church. He runs a monthly Reasonable Faith Apologetics meeting in Singapore. David is happily married to Grace, and they have three young children: Sophie, Charlotte and Elizabeth.


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