Every Christian knows that the resurrection of Jesus is important. But the true significance of the resurrection can be lost in the repetition. It’s as if we’ve talked about it to the point that we assume everyone already gets it and we don’t need to explain any further. This week I want to go back to basics in making sense of the resurrection. Can we know it happened? Why is it important? Why was it necessary?
How Do We Know the Resurrection Happened?
Many Christians and skeptics alike assume that without the Bible we have no way to defend the resurrection. We are asked to name one non-biblical source for this miracle, and they think we are defeated. The reality is that Christianity is in line with science and history, on top of having the authoritative word of God.
Drew has already written extensively on the Minimal Facts approach, so I won’t go into great detail here (Part 1, 2, 3). Suffice it to say, we have a lot of historical data on Jesus of Nazareth. There is so much data that the vast majority of ancient historians agree on many of the essential details of the gospel narrative. Most of the details of the gospel are not disputed even by secular scholars. The only hotly contested details are the ones that involve miracles or the supernatural.
However, these non-miraculous details, such as Jesus being crucified, the tomb being empty, the transformation of the apostles, James the brother of Jesus, and later the apostle Paul, leave little room for any explanation besides a miraculous resurrection. Any alternative theory requires one to lay down rationality. To believe in a convoluted conspiracy by the apostles or mass hallucinations are no more rational than a miraculous resurrection.
What’s So Special About the Resurrection?
Why do we care so much about the Resurrection? It’s one thing to show that a miracle happened, but another to show why. Why do Christians say that their entire religion hinges on this one event? Paul makes it very clear: If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17). There’s plenty of other miracles in the Bible, even some people rising from the dead. What’s the big deal?
Simply put, not all miracles are created equal. First, from a historical standpoint, no other miracle has this much evidence or eyewitnesses. It’s a lot more difficult to make a non-biblical case for something like surviving Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, or the destruction of the walls of Jericho.
Second, from a theological standpoint, it’s always important to ask what the point of a miracle was. Typically, they serve to confirm a particular message, such as Moses bringing the law, or Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal. We must examine both the miracle itself and what is said before and after the miracle about its purpose. If someone rises from the dead, I want to hear what they have to say. Jesus was building up to his death and resurrection throughout the gospels. (John 2:19, Matthew 16:21, 17:22, Mark 8:31)
Jesus made a specific prediction, and it happened just as he said. This validates his claims of divinity and authority. If my brother started proclaiming himself to be God and messiah, I’d be as skeptical as James was. But if my brother started performing miracles, predicted that he would die and rise again 3 days later, and then I witness it all happening, it may be time to reconsider.
Why Was the Resurrection Necessary? What Exactly is the Gospel?
All of that still doesn’t really explain why the resurrection was necessary. This wasn’t simply God showing off. Especially in the apologetics community, it can be easy to get so deep into arguing that the resurrection happened, that we fail to explain what the point of it was. More than just a verification of his identity, the resurrection was the ultimate demonstration of both God’s love for us and his victory over sin and death. We don’t say Jesus is the only way to Heaven because we’re arrogant bigots. It’s because Jesus is the only one that solved our sin problem. It’s not controversial to say that humans are guilty of great evil. God’s perfect justice requires payment for our evil. The standard is not, don’t be Hitler and you’re fine. The standard is to be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus not only paid the debt that we owed, but declared the victory over death itself. This is not merely a man returning to life, as incredible as that is. The resurrection of Jesus is the creator of the universe declaring once and for all that death has been defeated, and all who understand and believe it are welcome to be with him for eternity. This is not only the cornerstone of Christianity, but the single most important event in the history of humanity. That day, the greatest invitation of all time was sent out. Will you accept it?
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