How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ? In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 the Apostle Paul tells us that the resurrection of Christ (along with His death and burial) is “of first importance” (ESV).
The Apostles were first and foremost to be witnesses of the resurrection. Acts chapter one tells us that this was not only one of the main qualifications in order to be an apostle (i.e. to have been with Christ throughout His earthly ministry and to have been a witness of His resurrection); but it was also in another sense a summary of their calling – an apostle was called to be “a witness to his resurrection” (v.22) – that is, to bear witness to it!
Acts 4:2 tells us that the priests and the Sadducees had Peter and John arrested “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” It wasn’t just that they told people about the Lord Jesus Christ in general, but that they preached His resurrection, and the resurrection unto life of all who believe in Him for salvation. Acts 4:33 later tells us, “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
So in some way the message of the apostles could be summed up as their testimony to Christ’s resurrection. It was of primary importance in their teaching and preaching. Read through the epistles in the New Testament and you will find a vast multitude of references to Christ’s resurrection, both to the truth of it, as well as to it’s significance for all who believe in Him.
For example, if you read through the book of Romans with an eye toward Paul’s references to Christ’s resurrection, you may be surprised at how often he brings up that very subject. He does so practically throughout the entire epistle!
Paul all but begins his great epistle of the gospel with a reference to Christ’s resurrection. In Romans 1:1–4 he writes,
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (ESV)
First, he tells us that he was “a servant of Christ Jesus” (v.1). This obviously implies that Christ Jesus was alive. (One really can’t be a servant of someone who is dead and in the grave.) But then he adds that he was “set apart for the gospel of God” (v.1). And what is the gospel about? He says that it concerns “his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (v.3-4, Italics added). So the gospel is about the risen Christ!
In Romans 4:25 Paul tells us that Christ was “raised for our justification.” Christ’s death on the cross atoned for our sins, and is the basis of our justification, but we are not justified by a dead Savior – He had to be raised from the dead in order for us to be justified in Him! As Herman Bavinck puts it, Christ’s resurrection is “the Amen of the Father upon the Finished of the Son” and “the public declaration of our acquittal.” (The Wonderful Works of God, p.351)
In Romans 5:10 he writes, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (ESV, Italics added) When Paul speaks there of our being “saved by his life,” it is clear that he has Christ’s resurrection in mind, and His ongoing life and ministry on our behalf. The writer of the book of Hebrews makes a similar statement when he writes, “Consequently, he [that is, Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)
Then again in Romans 6:4 Paul adds that “We were buried therefore with him 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.” Here we see that it is not just our justification which is closely related to Christ’s glorious resurrection, but our new life and sanctification as well! Believers are raised with Christ in His resurrection to new life, so that we now “walk in newness of life.”
Paul goes on in a similar line of thought in the very next chapter, where he writes, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4, ESV)
And then in Romans 8:11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Simply put, Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own future resurrection for all who are in Christ. Or as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “the resurrection of Christ is the sure pledge of our own blessed resurrection” (Q/A 45).
But wait – there’s more! In Romans 8:33–34 he writes, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (ESV) The resurrection of Christ and His ongoing ministry of intercession on our behalf at the right hand of God, makes our salvation in Him all the more sure!
Lastly, Paul reminds us that true saving faith in Christ involves a sincere belief that He has been raised from the dead! In Romans 10:9–10, he writes, “[B]ecause, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (ESV, Italics added)
So the gospel, from beginning to end, has to do with, not just Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, but also with His glorious resurrection! Christ’s resurrection makes all the difference in the lives of believers. It is involved in our justification, sanctification, and future glorification! And it is a wellspring of comfort and assurance for believers, because it means that our Redeemer “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)
He is risen! He is risen indeed!