The resurrection is a doctrine that has had too little attention among us Evangelicals. We rightly focus on Jesus’ death as the central doctrine of our faith. Jesus has died on the cross, paying the penalty for our sins, which will save us from the wrath to come. Jesus also rose from the dead – true. But would the logic of the gospel be disturbed if I left out the resurrection? The problem is sin; the solution is Jesus’ death on the cross. Would it matter if I left the resurrection out of my Christian thinking and evangelism?
In recent times Josh McDowell and many others have used the resurrection for apologetics. They have shown that historically the resurrection is very believable and more plausible than the alternative theories (as to what happened to Jesus’ body; eg the swoon theory). These apologetics have been very useful. However it is the gospel that saves, not apologetics. You cannot argue someone into the kingdom of God.
In the Old Testament the resurrection refers to the day when God will judge the world. This creation will come to an end. The new perfect creation will begin. Everyone will be raised from the dead, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (). The resurrection is what will happen at judgement day.
When Jesus spoke about his resurrection it would have sounded to the disciples as if he was saying that he would rise on the last day along with everyone else in the new creation. There was no idea of a single person who would rise from the dead before everyone else. However this was necessary. There needs to be time for the gospel to go out into the world so that people can hear it and be saved.
Jesus’ resurrection spells the end for this creation; it shows us that judgement is nigh; and it means that the new creation is just around the corner. In , after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven he poured out his Holy Spirit (). Through the resurrection of Jesus the Holy Spirit has come. And it is the Holy Spirit that takes the words of the gospel and convicts people of their sin and turns them to God. If Jesus died on the cross but did not rise from the dead we would not be forgiven our sins. It is through his resurrection that we receive the Holy Spirit, which makes the death of Christ effective in us. Thus we are justified through the resurrection of Jesus. As the gospel is preached Jesus’ resurrection announces the coming judgement and the new creation and itself achieves the new birth by which those who repent are saved. The resurrection justifies us and is a crucial Evangelical doctrine.
(By the way this doctrine has much to offer on the debate regarding limited atonement. Those who hold to limited atonement collapse the work of Jesus down to the cross alone. The Scriptures are clear in many places that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. The reason that his death is not effective for everyone though, is that it is through the resurrection that his Holy Spirit is poured out, making the death of Christ effective in the individual sinner. This happens for some only, not for everyone.)
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25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.