The resurrection of Christ is the central event of the Christian faith and, indeed, of all world history. If Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead after three days, Christianity is false and all people remain dead in their sins (1 Cor. 15:14–17).
The New Testament testifies that three days after being crucified under Pontius Pilate, Jesus rose from the dead bodily. During His earthly ministry, Jesus frequently predicted that He would die and then rise again (Matt. 20:17–19; John 2:13–22), and He fulfilled this prediction on the first day of the week after His death (Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12).
Jesus’ resurrection must be understood against the background of the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. For instance, Isaiah 53 predicts that the Messiah would die to atone for sinners but also that He would see the results of His work—the salvation of God’s people—and be satisfied. Only by dying and rising again could the Messiah both atone for sin and see that His atonement accomplished its intent. Second Samuel 7:1–17 reveals that one of David’s sons will rule and reign over all things forever. Since Jesus is this promised Son of David, then He can only rule and reign forever by rising again after dying.
In addition to predictions of the Messiah’s resurrection, the Old Testament also predicts the resurrection of all people on the last day. Specifically, it foresees that the righteous—those who have trusted in the Lord—will be raised bodily to enjoy eternal life in a new heaven and earth, while the wicked—sinners who have never trusted in the Lord—will be raised bodily to suffer eternal punishment in hell (Job 19:25–27; Isa. 25; 66:22–24; Dan. 12:1–2).
The New Testament connects these teachings on the resurrection, telling us that the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah inaugurated the last days, the final era of God’s plan of redemption that will be consummated in the new heaven and earth (Acts 2:1–41; Heb. 1:1–4; Rev. 21). Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the righteous and the firstborn of the dead: He is the first of God’s righteous servants to be resurrected from the dead unto glory, and His resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all God’s people (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20–28; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). Christ bears these titles not because He was the first person ever to rise from the dead. After all, others had been resurrected before Him. However, Jesus is the first person to be raised from the dead, never to die again. That is one reason why He has preeminence over all things.
Importantly, Jesus did not rise again as a mere spirit. His resurrection was also not merely in the minds of the Apostles who had a subjective awareness of His spiritual presence, nor was Jesus’ resurrection the raising of their consciousness to a new level of love or other spiritual affection. Jesus rose again in body and soul. His resurrection is an objective, verifiable truth and not something ephemeral that could never be proved or disproved. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we could produce His body. However, to this day, no body of Jesus has ever been recovered. The New Testament books provide historical documentation of the event, and they all agree that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, that one or more angels was present at the empty tomb, that the women were the first to hear of the resurrection, and that the disciples had trouble at first believing that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead. Jesus’ appearance to multiple people at the same time after the resurrection also makes it impossible that the event was fabricated. Some differences exist in the various accounts of the resurrection, but the accounts can be reconciled. In fact, the differences help confirm the historicity of the event. If every account were identical, we might suspect that one person made up the story and then enforced how it was told. Differences in the story because of different people experiencing it and then telling it from different perspectives confirms the accuracy of the reports. No one was trying to ensure the details were identical because more than one person saw and recounted the events. The events were not made up but witnessed.
The resurrection of Jesus is vital for several reasons. First, it demonstrates that Jesus was a teacher of the truth and a prophet. What He predicted actually occurred. Second, it confirms that Jesus was innocent of all sin. Death could not hold Jesus, and that is only because He had no personal sin of His own. People die only because they are born in sin, and without sin, there would be no death. In His death, Jesus fully paid the penalty for His people’s sins, so they could not keep Him in the grave. Finally, the resurrection of Jesus proves that God accepted His atonement for our sin. He was raised for our justification. Because He was a perfect offering for sin, God accepted His death as the true and complete atonement for our sin, and He showed this by bringing Jesus back to life.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked together in order to raise Jesus from the dead (John 10:17–18; Acts 2:32; Rom. 8:11; Eph. 1:15–23). If He had not been raised, we would still be in our sins and would have no hope in this world. Because He has been raised from the dead, we who trust in Him alone for salvation will surely live forever, and we can look forward in hope to the renewal of all creation (Rom. 8).
By vindicating Christ in His resurrection, the Father declared His acceptance of Jesus’ work on our behalf. Our justification in this theological sense rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ, so the reality of that transaction is linked to Christ’s resurrection. Had Christ not been raised, we would have a mediator whose redeeming work in our behalf was not acceptable to God.
The cause of death is Adam, and we die in him: hence Christ, whose office it is to restore to us what we lost in Adam, is the cause of life to us; and his resurrection is the ground-work and pledge of ours. And as the former was the beginning of death, so the latter is of life.
Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:21
[Jesus] knew His Father would grant to Him all things which He asked, and would raise Him from the dead.
Dialogue with Trypho
The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honor; and be made conformable to his own glorious body.