The importance of the Resurrection of Christ to our salvation

The central teaching of Christianity is that our sins are forgiven by the death of Christ—indeed, we can only be saved by trusting in His sacrifice. This is taught all over the New Testament. For example, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us … ” (Galatians 3:13); cf. Romans 5:6; Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 2:24. But someone might ask why the Resurrection was necessary; didn’t Christ actually pay for our sins by dying? Was some part of our forgiveness left undone while He was still in the tomb, but then completed when He was resurrected?1

Scripture should be interpreted by Scripture

A first principle in understanding the Bible is that Scripture should be interpreted by Scripture. This means that any verse on the death of Christ should be interpreted in the light of all the other verses on the subject, including those that connect His death and Resurrection.

Paul gives us a definition of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, with two main points:

  1. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures and was buried (thereby confirming that He was undeniably dead).
  2. He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Our salvation therefore depends on both of these facts, which we can call the anthropocentric or ‘man-ward’ aspect and the theocentric or ‘God-ward’ aspect of the Gospel. All the verses about salvation in the New Testament fit one or other of these aspects, or both. Those verses that cover only one aspect are complementary rather than contradictory to the others.

The Gospel as it relates to man’s sin

Let us first consider the ‘man-ward’ aspect of the Gospel, i.e. how God deals with our sin. Sin is rebellion against the declared or revealed commands or purposes of God.2 This rebellion is an insult to God’s holiness, and God declares all such behaviour and attitude to be worthy of death, as illustrated by God’s warning to Adam that if Adam disobeyed the command God had given him, Adam would incur the penalty of death (Genesis 2:17). Cf. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

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From this aspect, Christ’s death was essentially a judicial matter—paying the prescribed penalty for all of mankind’s rebellion against God. This was vicarious, i.e. one person on behalf of another, and in this case it was God the Son, on behalf of all believers. Those Bible verses that mention only the death of Christ are dealing with this aspect, e.g. “He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2—propitiation = that which turns aside another person’s anger). Cf. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) and “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6b).

Other verses deal with the fact that Christ’s death was “according to the Scriptures”, i.e. it was the fulfillment of a prophecy or of a ‘type’ foretold in the Old Testament. E.g. “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7), “You were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18–19), etc. Because the writers of these verses are dealing with Christ’s death as it affects mankind and our sinful state before God, there is no need for them to mention the Resurrection. Thus, in comparing Christ’s death with the sacrificial lambs of the Old Testament, there was no resurrection of the lambs, so in 1 Peter 1:18–19 Peter emphasizes the death of Christ rather than His Resurrection (although he then goes on to discuss this).

The Gospel as it relates to man’s ongoing relationship to God

This is what we have called the ‘God-ward’ aspect of the Gospel. In His death, Christ exhausted the penalty due to all mankind for our sin, and so His death created a new value, namely a free pardon, which He did not need for Himself, but which he obtained for others. In His life, Jesus was victor over sin, and because he had gained this victory, it was not possible that sin (or death, the penalty for sin) should win in the end, by His staying dead. Hence Peter says in Acts 2:24, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

These two things, the free pardon and victory over sin, which Christ gained for us, are both communicated and imparted to us by His being alive. There is no communication with a dead person, much less can a dead person impart anything to us.

Without Christ, we would still be in sin mode. That is, we would have no power to overcome sin in our lives or to live God-pleasing lives, because this power comes only from Christ living within us who believe. Thus, Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20), dwells in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17), and enables us to do all things (Philippians 4:13). All this would be impossible, if Jesus had not risen from the dead.

It was also necessary for Christ to rise from the dead before he could baptize believers in the Holy Spirit (John 15:26; 16:7b; Acts 1:5), and bestow spiritual gifts to men (Ephesians 4:7–8). Another way of saying all this is that the Resurrection of Christ is essential for the application of the salvation from sin provided by the death of Christ to each Christian’s ongoing Christian life.

How can I know for sure that I’m really forgiven?

There is another important meaning to Christ’s Resurrection, which can be expressed like this. I am a sinner under penalty of death, and Christ died on the cross for me. So what! Does this fact satisfy Almighty God? Am I really forgiven? If so, how can I be sure?

The Bible says that yes, we can know that God accepts Christ’s death in our place and that we are forgiven—because of Christ’s Resurrection. The supreme value of the Resurrection of Christ is that it shows God’s perfect satisfaction with the work of Christ in atonement for our sins. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a).

Conversely, by the Resurrection of Christ, God rejects all other proposals regarding mankind’s salvation, including good works, New Age philosophies, beliefs about reincarnation, the upwards-and-onwards fantasies of evolution, religious rules and regulations, and all other human initiatives. None of these cuts any ice with the holy God who, in the person of Jesus Christ, has Himself already paid the ultimate penalty for mankind’s sin. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Other aspects of the Resurrection

The Bible presents the Resurrection of Christ as the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, both in the preaching of the apostles, given in the book of Acts, and in the writings of the Apostle Paul and others. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19, Paul says that, if the resurrection of Christ did not occur, preaching is in vain, faith is in vain, the apostles were false witnesses, the Corinthians were still in their sins, believers who have died have perished, and Christians are of all people most to be pitied.

The resurrection of Christ is also presented in the New Testament as a supreme example of God’s power. Paul says that Jesus Christ “was declared to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). In Ephesians 1:19–20 he says that the resurrection of Christ was a demonstration of “the immeasurable greatness of God’s power”. Paul prayed that believers might know “the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.

Paul also describes the Resurrection of Christ as a guarantee of our own resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22–23; cf. Romans 6:5). In the Old Testament, the firstfruits were the first crops of an ongoing harvest and were dedicated to God (Leviticus 23:9–10). So, Christ, the firstfruits, is God’s pledge of the resurrection of the godly who die “in Christ” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The Day of Judgment

If the Resurrection of Christ is so important, why do liberal theologians and others attack it so vigorously?

Answer: There is one other aspect to the Resurrection of Jesus which, possibly more than any of those already mentioned, is the reason for the continuing attack on this doctrine by those who choose not to believe it. By the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, God has given assurance to all men that there will be a future Day of Judgment, and the Judge will be the Lord Jesus Christ. “He [God] 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.” (Acts 17:30–31).

The Creator God who imposed the sentence of death on the world after Adam sinned, also died on the cross to pay that penalty. He rose again to be the Saviour of all who put their faith in Him, and He will one day be the Judge of all mankind. The Gospel thus cannot be preached in isolation from the whole Bible, beginning with Genesis 1, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Can I really believe all this? Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus declares that it is so.

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