A Christian friend once asked me, “Does it really matter if Jesus was raised from the dead?” Can we still have the Christian faith without the resurrection?
Let’s see what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. There was apparently a group of teachers in Corinth who were teaching against a final resurrection. But, says Paul, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor 12:13). But if Christ has not been raised then “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 12:14).
If Christ was not raised:
- The apostles were “false witnesses of God” (1 Cor 12:15) since they made the resurrection the foundation of their faith. And if they are false witnesses about the resurrection then we cannot trust any of their testimony.
- “Your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 12:17). Jesus took the penalty for our sins on the cross, but it was His resurrection that proved Christ’s divinity. And His divinity is necessary for his sacrifice to be sufficient to cover the sins of the entire world. If he was not divine, his sacrifice could not cover the sins of the world, nor my sins, nor yours.
- “Those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (1 Cor 15:18). Without the resurrection we don’t have a foundation for hope after death. Those who die are lost forever.
- “We are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Christians are called to daily take up their cross and follow Jesus. The Christian life is one of sacrifice, which Paul knew first hand: “I face death every day… If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained” (1 Cor 15:31,32). Indeed, if Christ has not been raised then we should be hedonists: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Or, to put in another way: YOLO.
But, since Christ has been raised:
- Not only has Christ been raised, but his bodily resurrection is available to those who put their faith in him. Why? Because He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:20)
- The reign of death which came through Adam has been overcome by the resurrection, ushered in by Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Christians are not merely children of Adam and inheritors of sin and death, but children of God, living now with his resurrection life (1 Cor 15:22).
- Christ has defeated every enemy. In his death he disarms Satan by paying for our sins. In his resurrection he proves his power over death itself (1 Cor 15:23-26).
- Our mortal, perishable, dishonorable, and weak bodies will be clothed with immortality, glory, and power (1 Cor 15:42-44).
- Our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:59). What we do on this earth matters because it matters for eternity.
Must it be a bodily resurrection? Can’t we have the same sort of hopes with a mere spiritual resurrection? No. The Christian hope is not only a hope of being rescued from a fallen world (though it is), but of the redemption of the physical world, including the redemption of our physical bodies. Our final hope is not that our spirits will go to heaven to live with God, but that God will dwell with us on a new earth. We don’t have this final hope, though, if we don’t have the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.