Sadly, many of us have accepted a version of the Gospel which emphasizes spiritual things over physical things. Somewhere along the line, Christians started following in the footsteps of Greek philosophers like Plato, accepting the idea that our physical bodies are a relatively unimportant part of human existence. Therefore, we seem to think the Gospel is about being freed from our bodily existence. However, if we pay careful attention, we will see that the resurrection of Jesus single-handedly destroys that myth.
God Raised the Messiah
The resurrection of Jesus proves God keeps his promises. Through the prophets, God promised that he would raise Israel from the dead (e.g. Ezekiel 37). There may have been an element of metaphor in his promises, but how else could men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob experience the blessings God had promised to them unless God literally and bodily raised them from the dead? Many Jews in the first century believed on the Last Day, God would do exactly that, raise his people, Israel, from the dead.
Jesus claimed to be the embodiment of Israel. He lived his life not only as a faithful Israelite, but as a faithful representative of Israel. The life he lived, he lived for his whole people. And the death he died, he offered on behalf of his whole people.
So, when God raised Jesus from the dead, God was keeping his promises to Israel. He was raising his faithful people from the dead, beginning with the one who was completely faithful, the one who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice. If God had abandoned the faithful King of Israel to decay in the grave, God would not be the keeper of promises. But God did raise him up and proved himself again to be a keeper of promises.
On the Third Day…In Accordance with the Scriptures
As I said in the first post of this series, when Paul says the Messiah’s story is “in accordance with the Scriptures,” he doesn’t mean in accordance with the New Testament, nor does he mean he had found some proof-texts in the Old Testament. I believe Paul means the Messiah being raised on the third day is perfectly in line with the themes and patterns running all the way through the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Messiah’s resurrection is accordance with:
- Jeremiah being raised up out of the cistern
- Daniel being raised up from the lion’s den
- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being raised up from the fiery furnace
- Joseph being raised up from the pit
- Jonah being raised up from the depths of the sea (on the third day)
These stories from Scripture aren’t predictions, or even necessarily foreshadows, they are simply illustrations of God’s character. God delivers his people from death. God keeps his promises. God will not abandon his faithful people to the grave. God rescues those who put their faith in him.
But also consider passages like Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22. Passages like these, when read contextually, drive home the fact that the resurrection of the Messiah is exactly the sort of thing God should be expected to do. In Psalm 22, the psalmist believes (like all of Israel at times) that he has been forsaken by God. However, neither the psalmist, nor the people of Israel, nor Jesus have been forsaken by God. The psalm says by rescuing the one who felt forsaken, God drew the world to himself (vs. 27-28):
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nationsshall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.”
God will establish his kingship over all the nations of the earth by rescuing the one who feels forsaken. So, by raising up the Messiah, God has done exactly the sort of thing he had promised to do from the beginning.
He Appeared to Many
There were apparently people in Corinth who thought the idea of a coming resurrection was foolish. Some of the people in the church were saying, “There is no resurrection of the dead.” Paul’s primary point in 1 Corinthians 15 was to refute that idea and prove not only that the dead would be raised, but that the resurrection of the dead had already begun with Jesus. (We will talk more about that idea next week.)
In order to prove his point, Paul emphasized how many people saw Jesus after he had been raised from the dead (vs. 5-8):
- He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve
- He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians)
- He appeared to James, then to all the apostles
- He appeared also to [Paul].
Paul understood something we all need to understand, Christianity stands or falls on one thing: the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus has been raised from the dead, Christianity is true and everyone should be a follower of Jesus. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, Christianity is a hoax and no one should be a follower of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus is our apologetic. Christianity does not stand or fall on the historicity of the seven days of creation, the Flood, or the Red Sea crossing. I’m not saying those things events didn’t happen, but they are not the linchpin of our faith. The event on which our entire faith stands or falls is the resurrection of Jesus.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus invites scrutiny and examination. The apostles did not simply claim the Messiah’s spirit had appeared to them after his death. They did not claim to have had a vision or a dream that Jesus was living on in a spirit-form. They claimed (in fact, hundreds of people claimed) that Jesus’ dead body came back to life, walked out of the tomb, and that they saw him, touched him, had meals with him, and that he continued to reign–in resurrected bodily form–from heaven.
Think about it: If the apostles had been making up this story, why would they say Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead? Why wouldn’t they simply say he had been raised from the dead in a spirit form, but his body was in the grave? The only logical explanation is, they said it because it was the truth; and it is the one truth on which all of the others hang.
I love you and God loves you,
P.S. If you haven’t already done so, make sure to read the other articles in this series, “What is the Gospel?” and subscribe to the e-mail list so you don’t miss “Part Four: In Christ We Will All Be Made Alive.”