“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain,
and your faith is also vain” — I Corinthians 15:14
The fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is fundamental to our Christian faith because it deals with the foundation of the Person and Work of the Savior, doctrines necessary to be believed for salvation. Holy Scripture specifically mentions that believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is included in saving faith. Speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ, the Apostle Paul tells us that the imputation of righteousness to Abraham, by faith alone, was written not for his sake alone “but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe in Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:24). Later this same apostle again connects saving faith to the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ declaring: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). Therefore, anyone denying the resurrection of Christ (or the doctrine of the general resurrection of the dead) is rightly judged an unbeliever (cf. I Timothy 1:19-20; II Timothy 2:18-19).
Why the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential to saving faith is clearly seen in how the fact relates to the Person and Work of the Savior.
Consider His Person. He is, from eternity, the second person of the Holy Trinity, eternal God with the Father and the Holy Ghost (Matthew 17:5; Romans 9:5; I John 5:20; John 1:1-2). As the Only-Begotten of the Father, the Son of God possesses all the divine attributes (including omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence; Matthew 28:20; John 21:17; Matthew 28:18; Hebrews 13:8). In the fulness of time, the eternal Son of God became true man when He took into His divine person a true human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Galatians 4:4-5; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; John 1:14). At the very moment of conception, all the divine attributes were also communicated to or shared with His human nature (Colossians 2:9), although during His state of humiliation He did not always and fully use them (Philippians 2:5-8). As the God-Man, Christ, the Anointed One, was able to do all that was necessary to redeem mankind in His threefold office as our Prophet, Priest and King.
Why was it necessary for our Savior to be both true God and true man in one undivided and indivisible person? First of all, it was necessary for Him to be true man to take the place of the human race under God’s Law (Galatians 4:4-5). Secondly, He had to be true man so that He could suffer and die under the penalty of the Law, the punishment which the fallen human race deserved (Hebrews 2:14-15; Romans 6:23a). Why was it also necessary for Him to be true God? First of all, He had to fulfill the Law with the righteousness sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s justice for all men ( Romans 5:19). Secondly, His suffering and death had to be sufficient to redeem all men from the guilt and penalty of sin (Psalm 49:7-8; Mark 10:45). Finally, He had to be true God in order to defeat both death and the devil (II Timothy 1:10; I Corinthians 15:55-57; I John 3:8b; Hebrews 2:14-15)! Christ accomplished all His work as the God-Man, for which we must be humbly and profoundly grateful, “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature; for by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. … For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight” (Colossians 1:12-17, 19-22).
How then does the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning relate to His person? Holy Scripture declares that the resurrection confirms His true identity as the incarnate Son of God, “Jesus Christ our Lord, which was …declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4).
How does Christ’s bodily resurrection also relate to His three-fold office as our Prophet, Priest and King? Consider Him, first of all, as our Prophet: As our Prophet, He revealed Himself by word and deed — by His preaching and by His miracles — as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world. His resurrection, which is also the testimony of His Word (“declared to be…,” Romans 1:4) was His greatest miracle and the greatest miracle of all time; and it was foretold by Him many times, both indirectly and directly (John 2:19-22; Matthew 12:39-40; 16:21; 17:9; 20:19; 26:32; 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34, 14:28; Luke 18:33; 24:7). The fact that He made good on His promise proves that He is our divine Prophet, the True Prophet of God, to whom we should “hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15)!
Consider Him also as our Priest: His resurrection proved that God the Father was fully satisfied by His perfect keeping of the Law for mankind (active obedience) and His atoning suffering and death for their transgressions (passive obedience). The Father accepted both His work and His sacrifice for the redemption of the entire world! Since He died, “the Just for the unjust” (I Peter 3:18), bearing the world’s sin and guilt “in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24), His resurrection proved He fully paid the debt! His bodily resurrection proves the vicarious atonement (Isaiah 53; II Corinthians 5:15a, 21) and the objective justification (v. 19). He atoned or made full satisfaction for the guilt of all men by giving that perfect ransom of blood for the whole world (I John 2:1-2; Hebrews 10:14). On the basis of this work (“in Christ”), God the Father has declared the entire ungodly world, from Adam to the last soul ever born, reconciled unto Himself and righteous in His sight (II Corinthians 5:19)! Salvation has been obtained for all in Christ, “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for [because of] our justification” (Romans 4:25). God the Father accepted the ransom of His Son on Calvary as payment in full for all sinners, once and for all, not as a symbolic sacrifice as earthly high priests offer, “but this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). The Apostle Paul speaks to the relationship between Christ paying for our sin (as proved by His resurrection) and the denial of the doctrine of the resurrection (in general) and of Christ’s resurrection (in particular) in I Corinthians 15: “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (vv. 16-20). Follow St. Paul’s Scriptural logic given to him by the Holy Ghost through verbal inspiration, and you will clearly see the point. The key line for our purposes is “If Christ be not raised.” Two immediate consequences inevitably follow, namely, “your faith is in vain,” that is, useless, to no profit at all, and “ye are yet in your sins” because Christ would have failed to atone for them! Sin left unpaid would have kept Him dead! There would be no vicarious satisfaction, no universal redemption, no objective justification, no reconciliation of the whole world! We would have no hope beyond this life! Thanks be to God that Christ IS risen from the dead!
His resurrection on the third day also manifests the victory which He obtained over death and the devil for the sake of the entire fallen human race! It proves that He overcame death for sinners! In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (2:14-15). His resurrection proves that He gained this victory, “whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24).
The resurrection of Christ also relates to His office as our divine King. His resurrection is the guarantee that He will also raise up our bodies on the Last Day to enable us to live and reign with Him in life everlasting! Our King lives, and so shall we! Our King, the risen Christ, our Victor over death, has “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20), those who died in saving faith. The fact of the resurrection of Christ assures us that all believers in Christ, although having suffered temporal death, shall not suffer eternal death but enjoy eternal life! “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Savior assures us: “I am the resurrection, and the life. He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die [shall not die eternally]” (John 11:25-26a). The Savior declares to His own: “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). He comforts us with His victory: “Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen! and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:17c-18). We give all praise to God for this Gospel certainty: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively [i.e. living] hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5).
This also is our God-wrought confidence, that the very bodies of those “which are fallen asleep in Christ” (I Corinthians 15:18; I Thessalonians 4:15-16), though decayed, will not have been “consumed” for all eternity but will rise again on the Last Day (Job 19:25-27) to live with Christ in a glorious, everlasting life, “knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus and shall present us with you” (II Corinthians 4:14). We know that the souls of all true believers in Christ will return with Him on the Last Day to be reunited with their raised and glorified bodies. “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [come before] them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Therefore, to deny the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ is to deny His saving work, to say that He failed to accomplish the very purpose of His incarnation, life and death; for “this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). Without Christ’s resurrection we have no Savior, no salvation, no hope for the next life, no hope for those already dead, no hope at all! We would be the most miserable of all men if we believed on “Christ the failure”! We would not have anything to live for! Our Christian life would have no purpose, no power, no motivation at all. For our new life is directly connected to the success of Christ’s saving work, as our Baptism shows: “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5). We would not know the empowering love of Christ, “for the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:14-15).
Satan knows that the fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection is essential to our Christian faith and has been attacking the doctrine unceasingly. He has done so not only by raising up those who deny the resurrection of the body (Sadducees, Modernists) but also by moving men to try to cover up the historical fact when it happened, using bribery and false witness (cf. Matthew 28:11-15). Already in the time of the early apostolic age, Satan used false teachers to attack the doctrine. The Apostle Paul makes reference to them in these words to Timothy: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker, of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus, who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already and overthrow the faith of some” (II Timothy 2:15-18). Those two errorists spread false doctrine like gangrene and overthrew the faith of some of the early Christians. Their deadly error was to say that the resurrection was already past – over and done with! How they explained this is not indicated. But in this example we see how Satan uses all sorts of variations to deceive souls. Satan does not care what lie a person believes as long as that lie is deadly and supplants the truth, the saving truth of God’s Word! How we are to combat Satan’s lies is obvious and the Apostle pointed that out to Timothy: By using “the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15). This is our weapon of offense, the spiritual sword, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17); for “[God’s] Word is Truth” (John 17:17).
Our Savior Himself set the perfect example for us in dealing with those who deny the doctrine of the general resurrection of the body when He refuted the Sadducees and successfully avoided the hypothetical spiritual trap they had set for Him: “Then came to Him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked Him, saying, ‘Master, Moses wrote unto us, ‘If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.’ There were therefore seven brethren; and the first took a wife and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. And the third took her, and in like manner the seven also. And they left no children and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of them is she? For seven had her to wife.’ And Jesus answering said unto them, ‘The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage; but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead neither marry, nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him.’ Then certain of the scribes answering said, ‘Master, Thou hast well said.’ And after that they durst not ask Him any question at all” (Luke 20:27-40). Our Savior stopped the mouths of those gainsayers with but one Bible reference (Exodus 3:6)! One stroke of “the Sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) was all He needed to refute them! We have the very same weapon, God’s Word! We are to use it with full confidence and not “trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead” (II Corinthians 1:9c, 10:3-5).
Holy Scripture makes it perfectly clear that the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential to our faith and eternal salvation, as St. Paul declares: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4).
Love’s redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won.
Lo, our Sun’s eclipse is o’er;
Lo, He sets in blood no more.
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal!
Christ has burst the gates of hell!
Death in vain forbids His rise;
Christ has opened Paradise.
Lives again our glorious King!
Where, O Death, is now thy sting?
Once He died our souls to save!
Where thy victory, O Grave?
(TLH 193, 2-4)
— E. J. W.