I Corinthians 15:12-20
The resurrection is one of the Christian doctrines that is “of first importance” (I Corinthians 15:3,4).
The ultimate sign (Matthew 12:38-41)
Jesus was always being asked by sceptics to perform some miracle ‘on demand’ to prove His claim of being the Messiah. And He always refused to be pressurised into doing so. (He did of course perform many miracles – but the sceptics were never satisfied!) Still today, critics refuse to accept the evidence of the Gospels and are never short of ‘alternative’ explanations for the miraculous.
The problem of course is that it is all ‘ancient history’; and especially today, when we are used to investigating things by scientific means, it can be difficult for people to accept something on the basis of eyewitness testimony alone.
But Jesus did offer the Pharisees one sign: the sign of Jonah (Romans 1:4). For just as Jonah ‘died’ and then ‘returned from the dead’ to preach to the Ninevites, so Jesus would die and be buried for three days, yet return to initiate the preaching of salvation to the whole world. Here is the nearest thing to “proof” that Christianity can offer, because there is evidence for the Resurrection.
The historical fact (Acts 2:32)
Judaism and Christianity are both religions with a historical basis. We do not just believe a set of doctrines and follow a particular moral code; rather, we believe that certain events have happened in the past that have changed history and therefore have implications for our lives in the present. For the Jews, this was (and still is) the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, commemorated annually at Passover. For us, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If these events did not actually happen, then our faith is completely without foundation. As Paul points out, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God…” (I Corinthians 15:14,15)
There seems to be little doubt that Jesus’ body did disappear from the tomb. The Jewish authorities, desperate to stamp out the new “cult” of Jesus, would have paid a fortune to know its whereabouts. But within two months of the crucifixion, the apostles were preaching that Jesus was raised from the dead – and nobody could disprove it.
The implications (Romans 4:25)
Jesus was not the only good man in the history of the world to be put to death unjustly, or for a cause that He believed in, or for challenging the status quo. How would His death be different from that of any other martyr, if it were not for what happened afterwards?
He and His followers have always insisted that He died “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Hebrews 9 explains how the rituals of the Day of Atonement prefigured what Jesus would accomplish. The high priest could enter God’s presence only with the blood of a sin offering; otherwise, like Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, he would be struck dead. The people would wait anxiously outside the Tabernacle (or Temple) until he re-emerged alive and well. In a similar way, Jesus’ resurrection is the evidence that His sacrifice was accepted and that we can indeed enter into a relationship with God. Without it we could have no assurance of forgiveness.
Life after death (Philippians 3:20,21)
Jesus’ resurrection is the only evidence that we have for what will happen to us when we are resurrected. “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2) Because He was raised with a physical body (not as a ‘ghost’ – Luke 24:37-43), we know that we also will be raised with physical bodies – although they will be somewhat different in nature from our present bodies, just as Jesus’ body was different (I Corinthians 15:35-49). Most importantly, we shall never die – for “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54)