Even though we rightly emphasize the death of our Savior and its satisfaction of God’s wrath against His people, we must never discount the importance of our Lord’s resurrection. Had Jesus remained dead and buried, there would be no good news at all. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Knowing that we would still be in our sins if Jesus were not resurrected is key to understanding the purpose and benefits of His rising again on the third day. These benefits are outlined in question and answer 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism, in its exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. Citing 1 Peter 1:3–5 as one of its proof texts, the catechism says the first blessing we receive from Jesus’ resurrection is that He makes “us share in the righteousness he obtained for us by his death.” Having overcome death, Jesus can now share what He achieved with us.
Our Lord’s resurrection accomplished many things, but we begin to see its significance only when we understand its connection to our justification. Many people were crucified in the first century. If Jesus had stayed dead, His crucifixion would have had no more significance than the crucifixions of the thousands of unnamed and forgotten individuals in that era. But in rising to life on the third day, Jesus proved that death had no rightful claim on Him. Sinners suffer the just sentence of death, and their bodies lie in the grave until the final judgment (Gen. 2:15–17; Dan. 12:1–2; Rom. 6:23). But death had no rightful claim on Jesus because He was not a sinner. The Father’s resurrection of Jesus from the dead proves that Christ earned the perfect righteousness we need in order to be declared righteous before God.
This is the living hope about which 1 Peter 1:3–5 is talking. Christ’s perfect righteousness is real, and it is imputed to us through faith in Christ alone. Unlike the impenitent, who are estranged from God, we have a secure hope that we have been justified before the Lord because our Savior lives today and has secured a righteousness that He shares with all who trust in Him alone. Jesus’ resurrection proves that those who believe in Him are clothed with His merit and safe from the just wrath of God.
Jesus’ death is not significant because He was a good man who died but because He was a perfect man who died and rose again. The resurrection is certain proof that death has no rightful claim on those who obey God perfectly and, therefore, that it has no rightful claim on those who are declared just by faith alone. Christ’s resurrection proves His obedience, thereby confirming our safety from God’s wrath when this merit is imputed to us.