Most Christians accept Jesus’ resurrection. But have we fully comprehended its power and impact? What does Jesus’ resurrection really mean for Christians?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was one of the most momentous events in history. By rising from the dead to return to eternal power at the right hand of the Father, Jesus fulfilled a vital part of the plan of God that has paramount importance to the life and future of every human being.
Let’s dive deeply into this subject to try to understand more fully what the truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection should mean to us.
We will begin by looking at the words of Jesus and the events leading up to His resurrection. We will then look at the impact that resurrection had on the early Church. Finally, we will conclude with seven essential beliefs that have their foundation in Jesus’ resurrection.
First reference to Jesus’ resurrection
So where does the Bible first refer to Jesus’ resurrection? The plan of God, which included both Jesus’ death and resurrection, was actually in place before the creation of man (Revelation 13:8). Still, it is obvious from biblical history that men had a very limited understanding of that plan.
In one sense, we can see the first prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection in Genesis 3:15. This prophecy shows that there would be a time when the serpent, Satan, would appear to have success in attacking Jesus (“you shall bruise His heel”). However, Jesus (the promised “Seed”) would ultimately triumph over the serpent and destroy his power completely (“He shall bruise your head”).
The fulfillment of this prophecy occurred as Satan influenced Judas to betray Jesus to the Jewish religious authorities and also influenced these leaders to have Jesus crucified (Luke 22:3-4; John 8:40, 44; Mark 15:9-13).
Even though Satan was successful in having Jesus put to death, Jesus still fulfilled His purpose for coming to earth as a human and now sits at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus’ death was necessary “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
There are quite a few other Old Testament prophecies that point to Jesus’ resurrection, but those prophecies were not really understood when Jesus began His ministry in the first century. It was only later that the apostles began to realize what those prophecies were about.
“Destroy this temple”
Early in Jesus’ ministry He went to Jerusalem, and we find the first recorded time He referred to His resurrection. He had driven the money changers and merchants out of the temple courts, and the religious authorities were upset and demanded to know by what authority He did this.
“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’” (John 2:18-20).
The religious authorities did not understand the symbolism of Jesus’ words. They focused on the physical temple, which King Herod began to rebuild in 19 B.C. While the main part of Herod’s rebuilding was completed before his death in 4 B.C., the work went on for more than 60 years after that. So they said that it had been under construction for 46 years at the time Jesus visited.
“But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said” (verses 21-22).
Disciples didn’t understand about Jesus’ coming resurrection
Jesus continued to teach His disciples about His coming resurrection, but for a while they failed to really understand. In fairness to them, they did not yet have God’s Spirit residing in them. And what about us? How many times have we read over certain scriptures and failed to fully grasp what they were saying?
“And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes [these three groups made up the official governing body—the Sanhedrin], and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Mark 8:31-33).
Jesus had strong words for Peter, who had tried to rebuke His Savior—implying he thought Jesus was wrong to talk about His coming death. But, in general, the disciples were less confrontational and more grieved to hear Him talk that way. And Jesus knew they didn’t fully understand (see Mark 9:31-32; 10:33-34; John 11:21-27).
At the end of His ministry, Jesus told His disciples, “‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’ But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:31-34).
“I am the resurrection and the life”
One of Jesus’ last teachings regarding resurrection occurred not long before His crucifixion and resurrection. This teaching was coupled with a miracle Jesus performed by raising His friend Lazarus from the dead.
Prior to bringing Lazarus back to life, Jesus told Lazarus’ sister Martha, “Your brother will rise again . . . I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:23, 25).
On this occasion Jesus resurrected Lazarus back to physical life. But Jesus also spoke of a resurrection to eternal life that He would be able to offer humans who believed on Him after He rose from the dead.
For further explanation of this teaching by Jesus, see the article “The Resurrection and the Life.”
Sealing and guarding the tomb
Over the next few days, all the things Jesus had been predicting actually came to pass. He was arrested, turned over to the gentile authorities, brutalized and crucified. In most cases that would have been the end of a leader’s movement—followers would quickly lose heart and disperse back to their homes, and life would go on as if nothing had happened.
But the religious leaders understood that there was one more thing they had to do before this would all go away. They recognized that Jesus’ teaching about a personal resurrection from the dead posed a greater danger than anything else He had taught. If His disciples could convince people that Jesus had actually been raised from the dead, there would be no stopping them.
“So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (Matthew 27:66).
This is another example of God’s incredible wisdom and power. The intent of these religious leaders was to make sure that no one could steal Jesus’ body and claim He had been resurrected, but God used their efforts to confirm the resurrection!
In spite of all of Jesus’ teaching, in spite of His assurances that He would rise at the end of three days and three nights, the disciples were still not prepared for what took place.Also consider that if the Roman authorities had accepted the full responsibility of guarding the tomb, people would have been suspicious about what had happened. After all, the Romans were notorious for taking bribes, and some would have claimed that the disciples had bribed the Roman guards to let them take Jesus’ body out of the tomb.
But, since the religious leaders themselves sealed the tomb and placed the guards, when He was gone from the tomb, no one could legitimately claim that the disciples had stolen the body. God used the efforts of those religious leaders to prove the very thing they intended to disprove.
Unprepared for the impossible
In spite of all of Jesus’ teaching, in spite of His assurances that He would rise at the end of three days and three nights, the disciples were still not prepared for what took place.
Let’s look at Luke’s account of the resurrection:
“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
“And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”’
“And they remembered His words” (Luke 24:1-8).
We encourage you to read the rest of the story of that day and the days that followed—His appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, His appearance in the midst of the disciples while all the doors were closed, His appearance to the disciples when Thomas was there, etc. The four Gospels and Acts show that Jesus proved His resurrection to them beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The impact of Jesus’ resurrection on the Church
What impact did the fact of Jesus’ resurrection have on the early Church?
The book of Acts shows how the disciples were witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and how they preached it powerfully to the world.
“And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33; see also 1:21-22; 2:29-32; 4:1-2).
The resurrection of Jesus was also at the core of the apostle Paul’s teachings. Consider one example from Paul’s life when he spoke in Athens about the resurrection.
“Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,’ because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18).
Paul then told them, “‘Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter’” (verses 30-32).
And one of the most famous passages in Scripture prophesying the resurrection of the just—1 Corinthians 15—begins with Paul’s assertion of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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 by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
What is the importance of Jesus’ resurrection for us?
Considering all this, let’s conclude by looking at seven essential biblical beliefs that have their foundation in the resurrection of Jesus.
1. The resurrection proves Jesus was exactly who and what He said He was.
The disciples saw the fact that God had raised Jesus from the dead to eternal life as God’s seal of approval—God’s backing of everything Jesus said. Previously, God the Father had referred to Jesus as His Son in whom He was “well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
After being resurrected as a glorified spirit being by the Father, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). In addition, Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled in exact detail the prophecies He had given regarding His resurrection.
2. The resurrection proves the primacy of Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus is the only one God has raised from the dead in this way. Therefore, what He said is true and is the foundation for everything we believe. Addressing this important principle, Paul wrote that the Church “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21).
Just as the cornerstone was the most important part of a building, Jesus’ instruction should be the foundation for our beliefs (1 Corinthians 3:11). Everything we believe must be in harmony with Jesus’ words.
3. The resurrection proves that the penalty for our sins has been paid in full.
The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead shows that God accepted His sacrifice and that it was fully adequate to pay the penalty of sin for all. Hebrews 1:3 notes that “when He [Jesus] by Himself purged our sins” then He sat down at the Father’s right hand—the honored position from which He now assists the Father.
4. The resurrection guarantees that God can raise us from the dead to immortal life.
Many times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as being raised “from the dead.” In most cases, the actual Greek phrase is “out from among the dead.” What is the difference? The fact that He was raised out from among the dead means that though He is raised to life, the dead still remain dead.
Some commentaries have recognized that since Scripture promises that the dead will be raised to life, Jesus’ unique resurrection out from among the other dead proves there is more than one resurrection.
5. The resurrection makes Jesus the actual, living, active Head of the Church.
Jesus Christ is not just another human being who lived and died long ago. He is not just a deceased carpenter, teacher, rabbi or prophet. He is the living, active, day-to-day decision maker for His Church.
As Paul noted, Jesus “is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). This was true in the past; it is true today; and it will remain true on into the future.
6. The resurrection guarantees Jesus’ return.
Every promise for the future is predicated upon Jesus’ return, but if He had not been raised from the dead, all promises of His rulership in His Kingdom would be meaningless. He promised He would return and said that He wanted His followers to be with Him. On the evening prior to His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3).
In the last chapter of the last book of the Bible Jesus further promised that His reward would be with Him when He returns. “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).
None of these promises regarding His return would be possible unless Jesus was resurrected.
7. The resurrection is the guarantee of ultimate justice.
If Jesus had not been raised from the dead after living a perfect, sinless life, the only conclusion we could draw is that in the end, evil permanently wins and good is destroyed. The crucifixion and resurrection powerfully demonstrate God’s mercy and justice.
Let us never forget the incredible importance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. It is the anchor of every hope we have and ultimately the anchor of hope for all mankind (Hebrews 6:17-20).
For additional reading, see “Jesus’ Resurrection: Eyewitness Accounts” and related articles.