Without the cross and empty tomb, there is no Christian faith. Christ’s death and resurrection are that integral to Christianity. But the cross often seems to take center stage. In Corinth, Paul focused his strategy on preaching Christ crucified. And the cross, the picture of Jesus’ sacrifice, is ultimately the symbol that represents Christianity.
But that shouldn’t take away from the victory of Jesus rising from the dead. In fact, it’s the resurrection—not the cross—that has its own triumphant holiday celebrated by Christians and non-Christians all over the world. So what is it about the resurrection that’s so essential to Christendom?
Why the resurrection matters
Toward the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul addresses the resurrection’s significance:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, New International Version).
Paul illustrates why it’s essential that Jesus rose from the dead, and he does it by pointing out what it means if the resurrection never occurred.
If Jesus hadn’t conquered death, the following is true:
1. Jesus is not who He says He is
Among the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah are predictions of a resurrection (Psalm 16:9–11, Psalm 118:17–18, Job 19:23–27). When Jesus revealed Himself to be the Messiah (John 4:25), He didn’t shy away from those prophecies; He reinforced them.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18–19, NIV)
The resurrection is the exclamation mark on Christ’s entire ministry. As many have pointed out, without the resurrection, Jesus can’t be trusted—he’s a liar or a lunatic.
2. The apostles are all false witnesses
Jesus made many post-resurrection appearances. He came to the disciples multiple times and even appeared to more than 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:3–9). It’s critical to note that most of the people who Jesus supposedly appeared to were still alive as His story was being circulated and written. This means that they were available to deny or corroborate this resurrection tale.
If Jesus didn’t come back from the dead, that means that the apostles were all liars, and that they were part of the most elaborate conspiracy in history. Every single person had to be in on the hoax, and they had to stick to the story under the threat of death—even when denying it would save them from execution.
As Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless ....”
3. We’re all still in our sins
Paul saw a direct connection between the resurrection of Jesus and the sufficiency of His death to atone for our sins. If we’re still in our sins, it means we’re still under condemnation, still separated from God, still guilty.
When Jesus rose again on the third day, it was the public announcement that God was fully satisfied with the sacrificial death of his Son. The writer of Hebrews confirms that God was pleased with this offering:
“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9, NIV).
4. Those who died believing in Jesus still died
Paul paints a depressing picture of a resurrectionless faith. He says that those who have “fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” Imagine spending your life serving Christ to discover that death is still the end. Thankfully, death doesn’t have the final word. In the resurrection, Christ conquered death, and in Christ we do, too!
Paul goes on to explain this to the Corinthians:
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20–21, NIV).
5. Christians should be pitied
Paul’s last words here are compelling, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If life ends at the grave, the things Jesus asks from us don’t make a lot of sense. Why should we love our enemies? Why should we become living sacrifices? If death is the end, life has no ultimate significance. We can’t trust that our existence offers any real meaning, mercy, or justice.
But if Christ is raised, this life is only the beginning. The resurrection becomes a vow that promises us an eternal existence in the presence of the God who created us. An empty tomb means that Christians shouldn’t be pitied, they should be envied!
Too good to keep to ourselves
The resurrection means that reconciliation with God and new life are possible. If Jesus conquered death, then everything He said about forgiveness and eternity is accurate. This news is way too important not to share!
If you’re looking for help sharing the gospel with your friends and family, download a free copy of Bringing the Gospel Home. It gives tips and strategies for sharing the good news with the ones you love.