As Christians, we hold the truth of Christ’s resurrection dear to our hearts, because “he was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4.25). However, this can be a confusing doctrine, until we grasp the significance of Christ’s resurrection for us.
We are taught that it was Christ’s death on the cross that saved us. By his death, God “hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5.21). We are “justified by his blood” (Romans 5.9)—blood that was shed on the cross at Calvary, not later on the third day in a garden tomb nearby. Our Saviour himself cried out, “It is finished” (John 19.30)—there, on the cross. The “death of the testator” Jesus Christ, not his resurrection, put into force the New Testament (Hebrews 9.15-16).1
What, then, is the significance of Christ’s resurrection?
Christ’s resurrection has proved to the Church on earth that the New Testament has been put into into force in heaven.
This is what Christ himself explained, even in his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples: “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20.19-20).
This was the moment he turned their sorrow into joy! This was where Christ first fulfilled his promise (see John 16.20-22). “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27). This exposition of Old Testament doctrine, Messianic prophecies fulfilled, hardened and strengthened their new joy.
What did the Messiah teach them? That he had indeed redeemed them, and atoned for their sins, in the sacrifice of himself, according to the Old Testament Scriptures (Exodus 24; Leviticus 16; 1 Corinthians 15.3-4; Hebrews 9.11-12; 1 Peter 1.18-19).
The fact of Christ’s resurrection is not merely inferred from an empty tomb, but proved by the actual appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples. The “Lamb as it had been slain” has risen again from the dead and has shown his people his nail-pierced hands and feet and his spear-pierced side (Revelation 5.6; Luke 24.39-40; John 1.29; 19.18,34; 20:19-31)—and the Prophet himself, before his death and after his resurrection, taught his disciples the importance of these things.
The Messiah has fully paid the redemption price to save us from our sins—and he rose from the dead to declare our liberty, our salvation. To put it a different way: our Saviour, by his resurrection, brought his Church her certificate of acquittal from the high court of heaven.
The very foundation (or, rationale) of our hope and joy as Christians is the resurrection of our Saviour, for it demonstrates that God the Father has accepted his Son’s death as a full ransom for his people.
Both God the Father and God the Son confirm something to us in the Son’s resurrection. God declares him to be the Son of God with power (authority) in raising him from the dead (Romans 1.4). And the Son’s resurrection demonstrates that it was impossible for death to not hold him captive (Acts 2.24).
Christ’s resurrection is how we know that his sacrifice has paid the full price of our redemption to God the Righteous Judge of all the earth, and that God has accepted this redemption payment by Christ on our behalf. In other words, Christ’s resurrection verifies to us that he is the propitiation for our sins, and therefore we are reconciled to God (Romans 3.24-26; 5.6-11; 1 Corinthians 1.30; Ephesians 1.7; Hebrews 9.11-15).
Christ’s apostles saw for themselves—“[Jesus] Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2.24). And this they testified to their hearers, and they continue to testify to their readers: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (v.32). “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4.33).
An important part of the gospel message to both Jews and Gentiles is the resurrection from the dead (Acts 10.40) of Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all (v.36), and that the risen Christ is “ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” (v.42). Through Christ, crucified and risen, the apostles were commissioned to preach peace was both to the people of Israel (v.36) and to the Gentiles2, for “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (v.43). For “God is not a respecter of persons” whatever their nationality, “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (vv.34-35).
The apostle Paul likewise understood, and proclaimed, that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.4).
Paul combined and summarised the apostolic testimony to the Messiah’s resurrection, and emphasised that this fulfils Old Testament Messianic prophecies, and added that our risen Saviour was also seen by hundreds more of his disciples in those days before his ascension: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me [Paul] also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15.3-8).
The believer in these truths can be sure of this: “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10.9). Therefore, the joy in the Saviour, specifically in what his resurrection means for every believer in the gospel, takes hold of all our hearts, so that we joyfully3 bless God for these same truths as the apostle Peter did: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls…Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. (1 Peter 1.3,8-9,18-21).
Jesus, whose name means JEHOVAH IS SALVATION, returned from death to share his joy with his people, to mediate his own joy to the hearts of his people, as he prayed in his high priestly prayer: “And now [Father,] come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (John 17.13).
Jesus rose from the dead in order to communicate the New Covenant to his Church. By this revelation of his risen self to us (by his apostles who bear witness to us, through the inerrant and preserved New Testament Scriptures), he turns our sorrow into joy!
Jesus shares his joy with us by sharing his resurrection with us. This resurrection was preached by the apostles to the Jews (Acts 4.1-2) and to the Gentiles (Acts 17.18,29-32). This resurrection is our threefold Christian life.4 We are raised:
- To new spiritual life at our being born again (John 3.1-8; Romans 6.3-4; 2 Corinthians 5.17; Titus 3.5);
- To new physical life at our bodily resurrection (Romans 8.23; John 11.24; 1 Corinthians 15.12-57; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18); and
- This lasts forever as God upholds us in eternal life (John 3.16; Hebrews 5.8-9; 2 Peter 3.13; Revelation 21.1-5).
This threefold resurrection is really one great salvation—for God does not leave his saving work partially done: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2.4-7).
See also Mark 16.15 ; Luke 24.47; Romans 1.16. ↩︎
It is an offence against God to bless him (or, praise him) with without actually rejoicing in him, i.e. to offer God mere lip-service. True worship of God comes only from a believing heart. ↩︎