On the third day he rose again
Having now addressed Jesus as the eternal Son of God who became flesh and was crucified for our sins, we now come to His resurrection. For Jesus’ first disciples, this event was significant enough to shift their weekly worship from Saturday (the Sabbath Day) to Sunday (which they then called the Lord’s Day). Indeed, we continue today to gather every Sunday morning to celebrate and worship Jesus as our risen Savior and Lord.
Like the crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus fixes itself as a central matter of the Gospels. All four give an account of His rising to life. Why is this? Why is the resurrection an essential doctrine of Christianity? If His death atoned for our sins, why must we also believe that Jesus rose to life?
To quote Augustine, “He [Jesus] showed us in the Cross what we ought to endure, He showed in the Resurrection what we have to hope.” No better word exists to describe the glories of the resurrection than hope, an eager and expectant faith in what is still to come. In this study, we will see that the resurrection is our trustworthy, living, and eternal hope.
OUR TRUSTWORTHY HOPE
First, we must see that the resurrection vindicates Jesus. Throughout His ministry, Jesus made audacious claims about Himself.
He declared Himself to be the Son of God, which the Jews clearly understood to be a claim of being equal with God (John 5:18).
He claimed that He was eternally existing with the Father (John 17:5).
He used God’s holy name for Himself. One of the most notable examples of this occurs at the end of John 8 after the Jews question how Jesus could claim to have seen Abraham. Jesus responds by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). Such a statement was a direct reference to the God’s self-declaration to Moses in Exodus 3.
He claimed the authority to forgive sins. Once again, this was a claim of divinity since all sin is a direct offense against God and must, therefore, be ultimately forgiven by God.
He called Himself the Son of Man in direct reference to the figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”
He stated that He would destroy and rebuild the temple (which was dwelling place of God’s presence among His people) in three days.
He claimed that Moses, the prophets, and the Scriptures all pointed to and centered around Him. In John 5:39-40, Jesus declared, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Then in verse 46, He claimed: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.”
Given all these claims, Lewis made the argument that Jesus could only be one of three things:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. …Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
The resurrection is perhaps our greatest confirmation that Jesus was who He said He was. In addition to these many claims, Jesus also prophesied repeatedly about His death and resurrection. He warned His disciples beforehand what would occur in order that they would remember His words later and believe.
And that is exactly what happened.
Upon His crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples scattered, fleeing for their lives. Yet after He rose from the grave, they each suffered horrific deaths because they would not cease proclaiming Jesus to be their risen Lord. The force and authority of these Galileans to reshape the Roman Empire could have been easily stopped if a body could have been found by the Roman authorities. Yet they could not.
But, you may ask, couldn’t the disciples have just hidden or burned Jesus’ body in order to say that He had risen? For what purpose and gain would the disciples have created such an elaborate hoax? For the vast sums of wealth that they received from those who converted to Christianity? Indeed, there is little indication that the Apostles were ever shown much more than suffering, rejection, and poverty throughout the remainder of their lives.
Furthermore, what influence or power would lying about Jesus’ rising have given them? Like Jesus Himself, they also became despised and rejected by men, the refuse of the world.
And how would they have bribed the more than five hundred people who claimed to have also seen the resurrected Jesus?
Indeed, the best and most reasonable assumption would be that these disciples saw the reality of Jesus as the Christ, as the Lamb that was slain and yet lives now and forevermore. The resurrection, more than the volumes that could have been written on the miracles and signs of Jesus, was and still is the greatest proof that Jesus was everything that He claimed to be, that He was the only Son of God. This is our trustworthy hope.
OUR LIVING HOPE
Second, the resurrection is essential because it presents to us a living Savior. Jesus not only died for our sins; He also now lives to forgive our sins. He did not simply shed His blood; He lives still to apply it for our redemption.
Too often, we can subtly begin to view Jesus as an especially important historical figure. We may affirm His resurrection, but subconsciously we don’t think of Him as being still alive today. Perhaps we consider Him as more of a purely spiritual being who returned to heaven and listens to our prayers. While it is true that the Father and the Spirit are spirit and not flesh, Jesus has eternally incarnated Himself. His resurrection did not, therefore, undo the incarnation. His body came back to life in a glorified state. He was certainly different as His interactions with the disciples reveal, but He is still flesh and blood. He ate with His disciples and allowed Thomas to touch His wounds. And He is still physically alive today. He is alive and in the flesh at the Father’s right hand.
Upon this living hope hangs our justification. After all, Paul wrote that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The resurrection is proof of our justification since it verifies Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for our sins upon the cross. It is our tangible evidence of the Father’s acceptance of Jesus as a sacrifice.
Indeed, so necessary is Christ’s resurrection to our redemption that Paul declared:
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. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)
Without the resurrection of Christ, we are still in sin. Without Jesus’ triumph over death, the atonement is incomplete. Returning to our point about Jesus’ vindication, if Jesus stayed dead, we are then lying about God and His works. We are claiming that God has offered redemption when He has not. To lie about the resurrection would be adding misrepresenting God to our ever-growing stack of unforgiven sins.
But Jesus did not stay dead. He rose on the third, living now to be “the mediator of a new covenant” with His own “sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Recall that Abel’s blood called out to God for vengeance upon Cain, and rightfully so. Jesus had even more right than Abel to call for vengeance, since He was slain not by His own brother but by those whom He created, and yet His blood cries out for forgiveness instead. In fact, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, is now our living high priest who forever lives to usher us into the most holy place by His blood. Through Christ, we can now “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
This is glorious news! With Christ as our living high priest and mediator, we have unhindered access to the Father’s throne to receive mercy and grace from His hand. Indeed, the only hinderance we face is our own pride. The hymn speaks truly when it says, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit / Oh what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / Everything to God in prayer.” To our own harm, we pridefully remain prayerless, choosing instead to handle our own problems. May we come to understand the hope and confidence that we have in Christ so that we would revel in the joy of being able to speak to God as our Father. Let prayer never be a religious duty upon our backs but rather a marvelous privilege granted to us by our Lord.
Furthermore, let us obey the summons of Paul in Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Our minds must also enter into the holy place of God. We do this by meditating upon the Word of God, by pondering it day and night.
These two actions form the means of our communion with God, which has now been renewed by the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, let us speak to God in prayer, and let us listen to Him speak through His Word.
OUR ETERNAL HOPE
Third, by the resurrection sealing our redemption, it reveals the hope of our own resurrection. Paul’s treatment on the necessity of Christ’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 is directly bound to the importance of our resurrection. In fact, Paul’s argument is that one necessitates the other. Without the resurrection of the dead, then Christ could not have been raised. If Christ was not resurrected, then we are without redemption. Our bodily resurrection is the capstone of our redemption; without it, our redemption is incomplete. And without our resurrection, as Paul says, “then those 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” (15:18-19).
There is a growing trend to make Christianity an exclusively earthly religion. Somewhat mistaking the Christian faith for secular humanism, they argue that we must focus solely upon this life and leave whatever may then come to God. Such a view is as profoundly unbiblical as the gnostic rejection of the physical. Do not allow valid differing theories of how the end will come to dissuade you from the reality that it will come. We will be resurrected like Jesus was resurrected.
This resurrection will differ from Lazarus’ rising, since he died again. Our resurrection will be, instead, to eternal life. We will be given new life, forever to live in a new creation. Such a re-creation is necessary since the Fall broke the cosmos. All of creation has been groaning for new life, to be remade.
And Jesus is the first fruit of that coming joy. His resurrection is a constant reminder that we too will be resurrected. Just as Jesus’ perishable body was raised into an imperishable one, so too will ours be. This is the swallowing up of death in victory, the destruction of its sting.
Interestingly, Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 15 with verse 58, which says, “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.” Biblical hope is never purely futuristic. It always provides fuel for present obedience. Such must the resurrection be for us. Since the resurrection of Christ has already sealed our resurrection, since the end of our story has already been written, therefore we must be unyielding in our work for Christ in this life.
What is the work of the Lord? More than anything else, it is the final command He left to His people: to make disciples. Indeed, such joy overflowed from the Apostles upon seeing their risen Lord that they could do nothing else. They could not cease speaking of the wondrous reality that had occurred before their very eyes. God Himself had taken on flesh, died in their place, and risen to life that they might live as well. How could they contain such good news within themselves! Likewise, the glorious reality of the resurrection must propel our evangelism and discipleship.
In doing so, we must guard ourselves from treating Christ as just another preference among many available. This is the temptation of our secular age, as Alan Noble warns. We can so easily begin to view Christianity as merely one of many valid ways of seeing the world. Of course, we may not consciously declare other beliefs to be legitimate, but practically that is how we live. Ever so subtly, we have begun to take the secularism bait of making belief systems a choice of the individual alone, and the result is that we live as though following Jesus is merely one path to life and fulfillment.
But the reality of Jesus’ resurrection destroys that thinking. If the Gospels are true and Jesus is who He says He is, then Jesus is truth. Not a truth. Not one of many. He is truth itself, and there is no other. This must be the nature of our work in proclaiming Christ. The only option that Jesus gives is to either follow Him or reject Him. His call through us is to take up a cross, to live a crucified life, to die daily, but also to know Him who is eternal life.
This labor will not be in vain. Jesus has already risen in victory, and one day we will be raised with Him. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Until that day, we proclaim, steadfast and immovable, that the risen Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
Do you, therefore, believe that Jesus rose to life on the third day? Do you believe in the reality of His resurrection? Do you believe that Jesus is alive today as the mediator between you and the Father? Do you believe that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees your resurrection, and are you joyfully sharing this eternal hope with others?
We believe in Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God, who rose to life on the third day, triumphing once and for all over sin, death, and the grave for our redemption.
Do you believe?