If there is one event that Christianity relies on more than others, it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. John Stott once said, “We live and die; Christ died and lived!” And that “died” and then “lived” is what our Christian faith is about.
As I study books of the Bible, one literary feature I look for is a “pivot.” A pivot is where you see the a significant theme shift or change in the book. One example of a pivot is in the book of Daniel when King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that no wise man or magic astrologer could interpret. So Daniel is brought in front of the mighty powerful and high ruler of the known world, King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel says, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or future tellers who can reveal the king’s secret. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future.” (Dan 2:27-28, emphasis added).[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from the New Living Translation[/ref] That’s a pivot: power from the earthly king to power to the heavenly king.
The pivot of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament predicted, the Gospels described it, and the book of Acts and New Testament letters explained what it meant. Let’s do a study of the resurrection.
The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ
I. BODY, NOT GHOST
First steps in studying the resurrection of Christ is to notice that the Bible describes him as having a real physical body. In other words, Jesus was not a “ghost.” Jesus’s interaction in the Gospel of Luke with two people walking to Emmaus tells us that Jesus had a “body” and was not a “ghost.” Jesus had appeared to these two people, was walking with them (Luke 24:15), talking with them (Luke 24:17-27), but they did not recognize him (Luke 24:16).
A. Held Bread and Broke It
28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! (Luke 24:28-31, NLT, emphasis added)
As these two people sat down to eat their meal with Jesus (still not realizing that it was him), Jesus “took the bread.” Jesus had a real body and because of that he could hold the bread in his hand.
B. Walked and Talked
32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.” 35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. 36 And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 37 But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost! (Luke 24:32-37)
The two people say that Jesus walked with them on the road to Emmaus and that he talked with them. The thing that sticks out to me here is that the two people didn’t appear to think that Jesus was different than any other person. If Jesus was a ghost, then their description of him would be very different. Yet, they simply state that he was as any other stranger might have been that was walking with him and talking with him. Then, Jesus suddenly appears in front of the two people, the eleven disciples, and others who had gathered there.
C. Touchable and Able to Eat
38 “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? 39 Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” 40 As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he ate it as they watched. (Luke 24:38-43)
Fright and fear is a natural reaction when Jesus suddenly appeared in front of the people. To prove that Jesus was not a ghost (as they naturally would think when he suddenly appeared in front of them), he told them to look at his hands and feet. I appreciate Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on these verses:
The next thing He did was to show them His wounded hands and feet (Ps. 22:16) and assure them that He was not a ghost. Songwriters sometimes mention His “scars,” but the record says nothing about “scars.” The “prints” of Calvary were on His glorified body (John 20:24-29), and they are still there (Rev. 5:6, 9, 12). It has been well said that the only work of man now in heaven is the marks of Calvary on the body of the exalted Savior. (Wiersbe, Be Courageous, p. 170)
After showing his body so that they would not think that he was a ghost, he also ate a piece of broiled fish. To have him eat and watch the food go into his body and stay in there must have been an interesting experience. Again I appreciate Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on this:
Jesus even ate some honey[ref]Wiersbe’s mention “honey” here based on the textual tradition of the King James Version (KJV) which reads “And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb”[/ref] and fish to prove to His doubting followers that He was indeed alive and real, and He even invited them to feel His body (Luke 24:39; 1 John 1:1). With our limited knowledge, we cannot explain how a human body can be solid flesh and bones and still pass through closed doors and appear and disappear, or how it can be glorified and still carry the marks of the cross. We do know that we shall one day be like Him and share His glory (1 John 3:1-2). (Wiersbe, Be Courageous, p. 170)
II. PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION
A. Jesus Appeared to Many People
Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth (as I will explain below) has the best summary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before we look at that, let’s look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, the book of Acts, and New Testament letters.
1. In the Gospels
Jesus was not in the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb with spices for Jesus, but the stone was rolled away and Jesus was not there (Luke 24:1-10; Matt 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8).
Jesus walked, talked, and ate with two travelers. Jesus appeared to the two people on the road to Emmaus and had a special appearance to Peter (Luke 24:13-32).
Jesus appeared to Peter. The disciple who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Jesus yet who denied Jesus, was given a special appearance by Jesus (Luke 24:34; cf. 1 Cor 15:5).
Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. Mary was crying when she realized that Jesus was not in the tomb (John 20:1-10), yet she then saw Jesus Christ (John 20:11-18).
Jesus appeared to the disciples. The disciples were meeting behind closed doors because of their fear when Jesus suddenly appeared in front of them (John 20:19-23).
Jesus appeared to Thomas. The disciple Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them, and eight days later after the first time Jesus met with the disciples (John 20:19-23), Thomas was with the disciples when Jesus appeared to them again (John 20:24-29).
Jesus appeared to seven disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. Seven of Jesus’s disciples decided to go fishing, and at the end of their fishing trip Jesus appeared to them and ate breakfast with them (John 21:1-23).
2. In Acts
The book of Acts starts out showing that Peter was the leader of the early church. Several of his sermons are recorded in Acts and the resurrection is a common theme in those sermons. Peter said, “Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’s resurrection” (Acts 1:22). After the Holy Spirit came to earth he said, “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this” (Acts 2:32). Preaching at the Jewish temple he told them, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him back from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!” (Acts 3:15). In another sermon at the temple, “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. . . We are witnesses of this things” (Acts 5:30, 32).
3. In 1 Corinthians
The apostle Paul provides the best summary of the resurrection in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth. If I was to suggest one passage for someone to read about the resurrection, this would be it.
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. 2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. 3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. (1 Cor 15:1-8)
As you read above, after Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to:
- Peter and the Twelve (v. 5)
- 500 people at one time (v. 6)
- James and all the apostles (v. 7)
- Paul (v. 8)
The Gospels, the book of Acts, and in Paul’s letters he talks about the resurrection.[ref]Preaching by the apostles in the book of Acts was focused on the resurrection. See Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 10:40; 13:30-37; 17:31). The resurrection was a central theme in Paul’s letters as well. See Romans 4:24ff; 6:4, 9; 7:7; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:4; 2 Cor 4:14; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20; Col 2:12; 1 Thess 1:10; 2 Tim 2:8). The resurrection is also discussed in other New Testament letters. See 1 Peter 1:21; 3:21; Rev 1:5; 2:8.[/ref]
B. Convincing Beliefs
Luke started out the book of Acts affirming the resurrection saying about Jesus,
3 During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
In other words, Jesus’s resurrection was not a hoax. He didn’t just happen to appear to a few people in hallucination or dream they had. He appeared to the apostles on several occasions, he did things that led them to believe he was actually alive, and he talked about the kingdom of God. Luke does not describe in detail the ways Jesus “proved” that “he was actually alive.” But we do know from Scripture that Jesus showed his disciples his hands and feet (Luke 24:39-40), and that he ate some fish in front of them (Luke 24:42-43).
III. RESURRECTION FOR CHRISTIANS
Jesus died, was buried, and resurrected back to life. Believers also have a resurrection back to life. In fact, there are two resurrections for Christians. Let’s take a look at each.
The first resurrection that Christians experience is a “spiritual” resurrection. The best passage that describes this is Romans 6:1-14. Paul writes, “Have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Rom 6:3-4). Paul continues, “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to live as he was” (Rom 6:5). This is the spiritual resurrection that occurs when we place our faith in Jesus Christ.
There will also be a future physical resurrection for Christians. Because of certain end times events, the physical resurrection needs a little more explanation.
1. 1 Thessalonians 4-5
When Christ returns for the rapture of the church, there will be the physical resurrection for Christians who have died. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians that when the Lord returns, “the Christians who have died will rise from their graves” (1 Thess 4:16). Warren Wiersbe writes about this verse, “When the Lord returns, He will bring the soul with Him, will raise the body in glory, and will unite body and soul into one being to share His glory forever” (Wiersbe, Be Ready, p. 96).[ref]”When we meet the Lord in the air, we shall assemble in the atmospheric heaven and from there go to the third heaven, which is the immediate presence of the Father.” (John Walvoord and Mark Hitchcock, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 79)[/ref]This is at the beginning of the Tribulation when Jesus returns for his Church (1 Thess 4:17).
2. 1 Corinthians 15
In Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth he reminds them of what he preached to them when he visited them (1 Cor 15:1-2), “Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day” (1 Cor 15:3-4). With that, “Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (1 Cor 15:20). While all believers die because we are sinful from Adam, all believers also will be raised back to life (1 Cor 15:22) when Christ returns back to the earth (1 Cor 15:23). This resurrection is a physical resurrection into a glorious body (1 Cor 15:43) that will last forever (1 Cor 15:42, 52-55).
3. Revelation 20
The future physical resurrection of believers which Paul predicts in 1 Thessalonians 4-5 and 1 Corinthians 15 is described in detail in Revelation 20 during the 1,000 year reign of Christ. Revelation 20 describes two resurrections. The first is the resurrection is a resurrection of believers who reign with Christ for one-thousand years on earth, “There is an order to the resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will bee raised when he comes back” (1 Cor 15:23). Then this first resurrection for believers happens in Revelation 20, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years” (Rev 20:6). The second resurrection is a resurrection of unbelievers to be judged at the Great White Throne Judgement (Rev 20:11-15).
IV. THE MEANING OF CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
The Power of Sin and Death Are Broken[ref]B. Resurrection Justifies Believers. Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Romans he shared, 23 And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded 24 for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Rom 4:23-24)[/ref]
But, what does Christ’s resurrection have to do with my own life? Thankfully, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ the power of sin and death are broken. Paul writes to the Romans,
We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:6-11)
Here we learn that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ, which means that the power of sin has been broken in our lives and we are no longer slaves to sin (v. 6). We were set free from the power of sin when we died with Christ (v. 7)
VI. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Christ’s death is important, but so is his resurrection.
Often in Christianity we talk about and focus on Christ’s “death” for us. Yet, his resurrection deserves as much attention as his death because it is through his resurrection that we have life. Christ’s death would have been meaningless if he had not also been raised from the dead three days later.
B. I believe in and am comforted by the resurrection of the dead.
The idea of a future resurrection for believers should be something that comforts us and assures us. It should be something we look forward to, not something we should fret about trying to know all the details of the future of what we all experience.