Jesus' Resurrection Changes Everything
Four years ago, I traveled to Turkey with a brother. Sitting in the Istanbul airport one evening, we met an English-speaking Iraqi flying home to visit his family. He learned we were Christians; and we asked him if he had heard about Jesus. “Yes!” He even had church friends that he met while attending a university in Arizona. He repeated the stories of Jesus healing, loving, even dying on the cross. He thought Jesus was very special.
At some point, though, we continued the story for him: “…and you know Jesus rose from the dead, too?” His facial expression suddenly changed from a more surface-level sharing of common interests to something that really mattered. “Wait!” he exclaimed, “Jesus rose from the dead?!” We replied, “Yeah! That’s the rest of the story. Your church friends told you that, right?” He answered, “No, I hadn’t heard that part of the story. But that would change everything. I’d think that the disciples found that to be really important!”
Quite the understatement, I’d say! Jesus’ resurrection makes all the difference in the world! I’ll soon give seven answers showing what makes the resurrection so significant. But before I do, I need to make a couple clarifications.
What Jesus' Resurrection Is
First of all, the following seven answers assume that many folks know what the resurrection of Jesus is. If you don’t, here it is very briefly. When the Bible speaks of the resurrection of Jesus, it’s not talking about a state that he entered immediately following death. It means new bodily life after a period of being dead.[i] In Jesus’ case, he rose to new bodily life on the third day being dead.[ii]
But Jesus’ resurrection is more than mere resuscitation. Jesus rose from the dead with a transformed physical body. It was still his own physical body.[iii] But it’s also a transformed body, a spiritual body, a glorified body, a heavenly body, no longer subject to death and decay and corruptibility. It has put on immortality.[iv] In this way, Jesus’ resurrection is unique. Others like Lazarus came back to life only to die again (John 11:40; 12:10). But not Jesus. He rose never to die again.[v]
The Truthfulness of Jesus' Resurrection
A second clarification is this: the following seven answers also embrace the truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. Our access to the resurrection of Jesus is really no different than the access we have to nearly all historical events: we access historical events through the witnesses that were present and the testimony or records they left behind for us to read.[vi]
In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we have the records of multiple eyewitnesses to the empty tomb in which Jesus’ body was laid, including several women, Peter, John and, ironically, even the soldiers who were guarding it.[vii] We also have the records of eyewitnesses to whom the resurrected Jesus appeared for forty days until he ascended into heaven.[viii] Paul lists people off like Peter, James, the Twelve, five hundred other brothers—most of whom were still alive when Paul was writing (1 Cor 15:5-7). So we’re not left with just the potentially open-ended testimony that the tomb was empty. We also have the complementary testimony that these witnesses also saw the resurrected Jesus and heard him and touched him and ate with him for forty days.[ix]
That means the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a religious idea: Jesus didn’t just rise in our hearts. His resurrection isn’t just a mythological story from which we glean timeless truths to live by. Jesus’ resurrection is a historical claim that everyone must face to their own salvation or their everlasting condemnation. It’s not something you can ignore. That will become all the more clear as we now walk through our seven answers.
1. Jesus’ resurrection means that God is faithful to his word.
God spoke of Jesus’ resurrection in the Old Testament (Luke 24:45-46). Isaiah 53 speaks of God’s Servant suffering, dying, and then rising to receive the spoils of his victory and claim his offspring (Isa 53:10-12). Psalm 16:10 points to Jesus, the true Davidic King who rises victoriously over death (Acts 2:22-28). Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so Jesus was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matt 12:40). Over and over, God promised to raise his Messiah.
In the resurrection of Jesus, God proves faithful to his word. As Paul put it, “we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32). Without Jesus’ resurrection, God’s promises to us would mean nothing. But with Jesus’ resurrection, we see God’s faithfulness to his word. We have a concrete hope that God will fulfill his promises to us, because they’re bound to a person who can never die. Our faith isn’t blind; it’s linked to an object, to a person who is risen as a seal to God’s faithfulness to his word.
2. Jesus’ resurrection means that Jesus himself is righteous.
In 1 Timothy 3:16 Paul reminds the church of the gospel. He calls it “the mystery of godliness.” But focus on the first two lines of this confession: “[Christ] was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit.” This vindication isn’t just a reference to Christ being anointed by the Spirit in his earthly ministry. It’s a reference to Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Rom 1:4). When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit, he vindicated Jesus. He showed the world that Jesus was the righteous one after all.
As long as Jesus stayed dead, his righteousness was in question. Death is God’s judicial response to sin. The reason death holds people in the grave is that people are sinners. Thus, when Jesus’ lifeless and limp body was laid in the tomb, the question was this: did the world that crucified him pronounce the right verdict of criminal and blasphemer?[x] The resurrection shouts “No!” By resurrection, God vindicated his Son from the wrong verdict pronounced by the world. By resurrection, God proves Jesus’ righteousness. What does that mean for you? Let’s go to our next answer and find out.
3. Jesus’ resurrection means that Jesus’ people are forgiven and declared righteous when they believe.
If Jesus’ resurrection proves his innocence, vindicating him as the only righteous one, the question becomes this: then why did he die? The Bible’s answer is that he died for sins that were not his own. The world’s verdict against Jesus was wrong. But God’s verdict against our sin was right. It deserved death. Jesus willingly took that death upon himself in our place. Romans 4:25 brings this out.
First, “[Jesus] was delivered up for our trespasses.” Jesus died for the sins we committed, not sins that he committed. Second, “[Jesus was] raised for our justification.” An unraised Christ means an unjustified sinner. But if Jesus has been raised, then our sins are truly taken away and we have a righteousness with God’s stamp of approval. What God declares of Christ in his resurrection body—namely, that he is righteous—he also declares of us when we trust in him and receive his righteousness by imputation.
4. Jesus’ resurrection means that his people are free to live for God.
Romans 6:4, 10 says, “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life…For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, there’s an objective, historical reality: Christ died and was raised from the dead. But then there’s also a mysterious union between Christ and his people, such that what happens to Christ in the past makes necessary what happens to his people as they’re united to him by faith in their own lifetime. Christ’s historical resurrection transforms our present experience when we believe in him. Because he still lives to God, his people can live to God. When you’re united to Christ, moral transformation occurs.
5. Jesus’ resurrection means that our resurrection is “already and not yet.”
Jesus’ resurrection breaks the one, final, end-time resurrection into two episodes. Episode one, Jesus rises. Episode two, his people rise. When the Bible says that God raised Jesus from the dead (i.e., all the dead ones), it’s not just saying that Jesus beat death itself but that he also beat everybody else out of the grave. He is the “firstborn” from the dead (Col 1:18), or the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15:20).
In other words, the final resurrection has already begun in Jesus’ resurrection. It’s not here in full, of course. It won’t be until we get our resurrection bodies. But it has already begun; and that affects us in the present experientially. Ephesians 2:6 can say that even now the believer is raised up with Christ and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We’re already raised and not yet raised. We’re raised invisibly now with Christ when we believe—our inner man, our soul has been raised with him—but we still wait to be raised visibly, bodily, when Christ returns again.
This is why the New Testament does two things simultaneously. On the one hand, it gives many moral exhortations to believers. Why? Because in terms of who we are in Christ, we’re already raised. We’re already seated with him. We have the ability in Christ to live out the new moral order of Christ’s future kingdom. On the other hand, the New Testament keeps pointing us beyond to the age to come, when our own physical bodies will finally be raised to be like Jesus’ glorious body.
6. Jesus’ resurrection means that God’s new creation is also “already and not yet.”
1 Corinthians 15:45 picks up this theme: “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” The world has suffered a curse since Adam plunged humanity into sin. But the Bible also promises a day of future glory, a day when the curse is lifted, a day when thorns and thistles give way to a Garden-paradise, a day when weapons of war turn into farming implements. It’s the anticipation of a new world order, a new creation, where we enjoy the rule of God on earth.
Jesus’ resurrection is the inauguration of that new creation. By rising from the dead, Jesus becomes the new and final Adam who establishes a new humanity dominated by the Holy Spirit. That has personal dimensions: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). It also has cosmic dimensions: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). So, we’ve already entered the new creation as believers, and we’re also waiting for the new-creation fullness.
Yes, we still see the remnants of the old order all around us. But the key move has been played: God raised Jesus from the dead. As Hebrews 2:8-9 says, “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to man. But we do see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death…”
7. Jesus’ resurrection means that he will come again to judge the world.
Acts 17:30-31: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The immorality and wickedness of this world sometimes seems unbearable. With the saints of old we cry out, “Why, O LORD, do the nations rage? Why do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 2:1; 10:1). God’s answer to us is Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection shows that we do live in a world in which righteousness will finally prevail, in which good will ultimately win, in which life will swallow up death. Jesus will sit on his great white throne. From his presence earth and sky will flee away. The dead, great and small, will stand before his throne. The books will be opened (Rev 20:11-12). Jesus will get the final word.
Are you right with him? His resurrection does not allow us to approach him neutrally. It’s not something that we Christians commit ourselves to as a way of merely easing our troubled conscience. It’s not something that we can just keep to ourselves, as if it helps us to get through life personally but really has no bearing on any others. Rather, Jesus’ resurrection says that all are accountable to him, and that means that everything about our lives matters.
Will You Be The Same?
What does Jesus’ resurrection mean? A whole lot. It means that God is faithful and Jesus is righteous. It means that Jesus’ cross really provided the forgiveness of sins and that Jesus’ vindication assures us of a right standing with God when we believe in him. It means that our resurrection and God’s new creation is already here and yet still coming. It means that one day, everybody will bow to Jesus’ righteous rule on earth. He can’t be ignored; he must be adored.
Truly, our Iraqi friend that we met at the airport got it right: Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. History can never be the same. And now, having heard of what the resurrection means, will you be the same?
[i]Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29; 1 Cor 15.
[ii]Luke 24:1, 21; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor 15:4.
[iii]We know that from places like Luke 24:39-42. Jesus says, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (cf. John 20:27; 21:13-14). This makes Jesus’ resurrection much different from ideas like reincarnation in other religions—it’s his own physical body.
[iv]Acts 13:34; 1 Cor 15:42-49, 53; Phil 3:21; 1 Tim 1:10.
[v]1 Cor 15:45; Heb 7:16; 2 Tim 1:10; cf. Acts 1:9.
[vi]E.g., Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24.
[vii]Matt 28:1-12; John 20:1-18.
[viii]John 20:24-29; Acts 1:1-11.
[ix]Luke 24:41-43; John 21:1-9; 1 John 1:1-3.
[x]E.g., John 18:29-31; 19:4.