One of the core doctrines of Christianity is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are central to the gospel accounts. It was at the heart of the apostle’s proclamation and writings. And for most of the history of the church, these core doctrines were seldom questioned.
Yet today, there are many within the Christian community who question the reality of these events and the necessity of believing in them. This article will take a quick look at evidence for Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as why they are so important to us.
Did Jesus Really Die on a Roman Cross?
The question is not ‘Did Jesus die’. Few would dispute that death takes us all in the end. The real question is whether or not Jesus died on a cross as described in the gospels. The popular press periodically publishes articles that question the historicity of Jesus. Others question the method of his death. Most of these publications pass themselves off as scholarly works that rise above the myth of Christian origins.
But in contrast to the popular press, it appears there are few serious biblical scholars, of any background, who deny the existence of Jesus of Nazareth or his crucifixion on a Roman cross. Dr. William Lane Craig, in his article “Establishing the Crucifixion of Jesus”, says that “This historical fact [the crucifixion] is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.” After quoting a number of biblical scholars he concludes by saying, “The crucifixion and the death of Jesus is something that is simply not in dispute by historians today.”
There is really no reason to question Jesus’ death by crucifixion. It is a well-established historical fact. Those who would question this do so, not on the basis of historicity, but in support of an agenda to discredit the gospel accounts and the foundation of the Christian faith.
Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
Did Jesus come out of his grave alive on the third day? This is a fundamental belief of orthodox Christianity. But a belief that is rejected by many today, including some in the more liberal Christian traditions. There have been a number of theories put forth to attempt to explain away the empty tomb.
In his article “The Resurrection of Jesus”, Dr. Craig offers four facts about the resurrection of Jesus as well as multiple reasons for accepting them as facts. He claims that the majority of scholars writing on the resurrection agree that these are established historical facts, not just biblical claims.
- After his death, he is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
- On the Sunday following his burial, his tomb was found empty by a group of women.
- On multiple occasions with differing circumstances, different individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the grave.
- The original disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Even when having every reason to believe otherwise.
These four ‘facts’ about the resurrection can give us assurance that our belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not just folklore or myth. But that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Other explanations for these ‘facts’ have been given. But none are as probable as the message of the angel to the women at the tomb. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matt. 28:6 NIV).
Why Is Jesus’ Resurrection Important?
While we can reasonably hold to the resurrection of Jesus, some might question its significance. What difference does it make if Jesus bodily rose from the dead? Why is his physical resurrection at the heart of the gospel message proclaimed by the apostles as well as the Church throughout its history?
I believe that Paul indirectly gives us an answer to this question in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. It appears that there were some believers in Corinth who questioned the reality of a physical resurrection of believers. At the heart of Paul’s response to them is the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, including its importance.
Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15:12-28 goes something like this:
- If there is no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised from the dead.
- And if Christ has not been raised, then
- Your faith and our preaching are in vain.
- We are still in our sin.
- We are to be pitied above all people.
- But Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of the dead.
- And when Christ returns, we who have believed will also be raised from the dead.
This argument for resurrection concludes with why Jesus’ resurrection is important for us. If Jesus was not resurrected, then we have no hope beyond the grave. But because Jesus has been raised, we can look forward to our own resurrection. Christ is the first fruit of the harvest that is to come, the resurrection of believers.
It Impacts Our Lives Today
But Jesus’ resurrection means more to us than just a future after this life is over. It has relevance for today. In Ephesians 2:4-7 Paul tells us that God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” We are still waiting for the resurrection of our bodies. But in the meantime, those who are ‘in Christ’, have experienced his resurrection. We have been raised with him. And, ‘in Christ’, we now sit with him in the heavenly realms.
Colossians 3:1-3 also expresses this truth that we have been raised with Christ. And, when Christ returns in glory, we will come with him. But as he continues in the next few verses, Paul makes it clear that this resurrection life we are looking forward to is not for the future only. It should have an impact on our lives today.
We have died ‘in Christ’ and now have a new life. And that new life should be reflected in what we do today. He tells us to put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature and to put on the new self. Live as one who has been raised to a new life.
Of First Importance
At the beginning of Paul’s defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he included what is considered an early creed of the church, probably established within just a few years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He identifies this as of first importance. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built.
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NIV
He was buried
He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
And he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve.”
This article was first published at BibleStudyTools.com on April 25, 2021