The Doctrine of the Resurrection

Why does the Christian religion depend on Jesus’ resurrection? How could we prove the resurrection of Jesus? Did the Old Testament give us any reason to hope for Jesus’ resurrection? 

            In the resurrection of Jesus, the doctrines of “God’s character and purposes, creation, humanity as the covenant servant, and Christ as Lord and Servant—converge.”[1] It is impossible to overstate the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. Michael Horton wrote:

There can be a church in history only because in this same history the Lord who became the servant was the servant who became Lord. Of course, Jesus Christ was always Lord in his consubstantiality with the Father, but he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead …” (Ro 1:4). There is a church because there is one who stood in his resurrected flesh and declared, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” (Mt 28:18–19).[2]

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 521.

Everything which God’s people now experience flows from the resurrection of Christ. Death, the great fear of this life, has been defeated and awaits its execution (Heb. 2:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:23-26). 

Hope for the Resurrection–Is there a doctrine of the Messiah’s resurrection in the Old Testament? 

            The New Testament affirms that Jesus’ resurrection was necessary and “according to the Scriptures.”[3] Sadly, the Old Testament expectations of Jesus’ resurrection are largely neglected. Many, even among conservative scholars, claim that the New Testament writers and early Christians adapted or twisted the Old Testament Scriptures to fit their new belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Fortunately, this is not the case. The New Testament writers and early Christians can be trusted with their handling of the Old Testament and the Old Testament’s message about the resurrection of Jesus. 

            Jesus said that his own resurrection was prefigured by Jonah’s “resurrection” from the fish (Matt. 19:39-40). This connection is strengthened when Jonah’s song in Jonah 2 is compared with Psalm 69 which definitely has Messianic expectations (Ps. 69:9, 21). When Peter preached the great sermon in Acts 2, he cited Psalm 16:8-11 as prophetic proof of Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter also used Psalm 110 as further prophetic proof of Jesus’ resurrection. 

In Isaiah 53, the suffering servant died bearing the sin of the people (53:4-5, 8-9). Despite his death, the prophet said, “he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities” (53:10-11).  He “poured out his soul to death” as “he bore the sin of many” but still “he makes intercession for the transgressor” (Is. 53:12) 

Evidence for the Resurrection–Is there evidence to believe Jesus was raised from the dead? 

The New Testament contains a great deal of evidence for the resurrection of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 is one of the great chapters of the Bible and is the great chapter on the resurrection outside the resurrection narratives themselves. In 1 Corinthians 15, we are given more than sufficient evidence to believe in the resurrection of Christ. First, it was the Gospel preached by Paul who previously tried to end the church (1 Cor. 15:1a). It was the Gospel received by individuals who could have disproved the claim by producing the corpse of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1b). The resurrection was also guaranteed because it was “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). There were individuals who were willing to risk and give their lives because they were so confident in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5-9). 

The Gospel record detailed narratives of the event as a real event (Matt. 28:1-20; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-53; J. 20-21:25). The book of Acts is a description of the lives lived by the first Christians because of their strict confidence in Jesus’ resurrection. “The Epistles depend entirely on the assumption that Jesus is a living, reigning Savior who is now the exalted head of the church, who is to be trusted, worshiped, and adored, and who will someday return in power and great glory to reign as King over the earth.”[4] As the Bible closes in Revelation, Jesus is presented as the resurrected Lord who will come again to vindicate his people and punish those who are outside of Christ. 

Nature of the Resurrection–What was the resurrection like? 

            The word translated “resurrection” (ἀνάστασις) has to do with “being made to stand again.” It does not refer to a noncorporeal (strictly spiritual) existence. That is experienced by those in the realm of the dead presently (Lk. 16:19-31). The resurrection has to do with a raising again which requires the uniting of the spirit with a glorified or spiritual body.

            The resurrection refers to more than just coming back from the dead. Lazarus and others had been raised from the dead, but they died again. The resurrection, as we use the term, refers to that reunion of spirit with a glorified body from which it will never be separated. Jesus spoke of those who are in the tombs who will be raised when they hear his voice (Jn. 5:28).[5] “Jesus’ body was still a physical body, it was raised as a transformed body, never able again to suffer, be weak or ill, or die; it had “put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53). Paul says the resurrection body is raised “imperishable … in glory … in power … a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42–44).”[6]

            We should not think that the spiritual body means a completely noncorporeal body. Paul often used the word “spiritual” (πνευματικός) to refer to that which is of the Spirit This has to do with things that are not affected by sin because they have been recreated by the Spirit (Rom. 1:11; 7:14; 1 Cor. 2:13, 15; 3:1; 14:37; Gal. 6:1 Eph. 5:19). Jesus had a body which could be touched (Matt. 28:9), inspected (Jn. 20:20-27; Lk. 24:39); and could eat (Lk. 24:30; Acts 10:41). The resurrection body was not exactly like the pre-resurrection body. It was able to appear and disappear (Lk. 24:31, 36; Jn. 20:19, 26). It was not immediately recognized (either because of purposeful “camouflage” or some other difference in the resurrection body from the pre-resurrection body (Matt. 28:9; Jn. 20:19-20, 26-28; 21:7, 12; Lk. 24:33, 37). 

Theological Implications of the Resurrection–What does the resurrection mean to you?

            Jesus’ kingship has been affirmed by the resurrection. When Paul quoted Isaiah 45:23 and attributed it to Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8, he demonstrated that Jesus is King. This priestly kingship was already prophesied in Psalm 110. God has installed his king on his holy mountain and now demands universal homage (Ps 2:6; 45:6–7 [with Heb 1:8–9]; 132:11; Isa 9:6–7; Jer 23:5–6; Mic 5:2; Zec 6:13; Lk 1:33; 19:27, 38; 22:29; Jn 18:36–37; Ac 2:30–36).”[7]

Christians have been born again through the resurrection of Christ (1 Pet. 1:3). Paul described it as being “made alive together with him” (Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 3:1). Christians are raised again with Christ spiritually when they are baptized (Rom. 6:4) and look forward to the physical resurrection as well (Rom. 6:5). Christians, like Paul, live “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). 

            Christ’s resurrection ensures Christians’ justification. In Romans 4:25, Paul taught that Jesus was “raised for our justification.” Grudem explained that “By raising Christ from the dead, God the Father was in effect saying that he approved of Christ’s work of suffering and dying for our sins, that his work was completed, and that Christ no longer had any need to remain dead.”[8]

            The resurrection of Christ is even more powerful when the Christian’s union with him is considered. Paul repeatedly makes much of the Christian’s “in Christ” relationship. Christians are “in Christ” therefore we are “his body, the church.” Being “his body” means that Christians suffer with Christ, are crucified with Christ, raised with Christ, and exalted with Christ. Christians will be raised just like Jesus was raised (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Cor. 15:12-58). 

            The resurrection of Christ also focuses the Christian on what this life should truly be about. After the intense discussion about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-57, Paul said based on what I have been saying for 57 verses you “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Christians should focus on things that are above rather than things that are below and transient (Col. 3:1-4). This demands active service for Christ and also the rejection of sin (Rom. 6:12-13). 

              [1]Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 521.

              [2] Ibid., 521.           

              [3] Horton noted that “This pattern, ‘whom you crucified, [but] God raised from the dead,’ appealing to Old Testament prophecies, and announcing salvation in no other name, marks all of the sermons in Acts (4:10–12, 24–30; 5:30–32, 42; 7:1–53; 10:39–43; 13:16–39; 17:30–32; 26; 25:19; 26:4–8; 26:22–23; 28:20, 23–24). Ibid.,, 523.

              [4] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 608.

              [5]This resurrection of the body, though it is a glorified body, demonstrates that physical things are not necessarily evil.

              [6]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 609.

              [7]Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 524.

              [8]Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology, 615.

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