The Good News of the Resurrection

Growing up in a typical Southern Baptist church, I was taught from a very early age that Jesus died to take the penalty for my sins so that I would not have to face that penalty, and thus God could uphold his righteous opposition to sin even while forgiving me for my sins.  This doctrine, known as “penal substitution” (because Jesus bore my penalty as a substitute in my place) was standard teaching among evangelicals when I was young.

And this teaching is entirely right and biblical, as I have argued here.  One problem area that remains for many evangelicals, however, is harmonizing the resurrection of Jesus with this understanding of his death.  If the death of Christ on the cross has put away my sins, then what does the resurrection actually accomplish?  Wouldn’t the death of Jesus have been sufficient all on its own?  Does not good Friday make Easter Sunday little more than an extra bonus?

It is my contention that any view of the cross that renders the resurrection superfluous is an unbiblical view, for it is clear from Scripture that our salvation is tied just as much to the empty tomb as it is to the cross.  Without the resurrection, the gospel is meaningless.  Without the resurrection, we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Without the resurrection, the death of Christ on the cross does not take away sins, which is the key to understanding the cross in the first place.  How can we fit all of these concepts together?

Our churches must recover a biblical understanding of the meaning of death.  Death is divine condemnation for sin (Genesis 2:16-17).  It is a legal penalty decreed and enforced by God.  The universal reality of death testifies to the universal reality of our guilt before God (see Romans 5:12-19).

And Jesus came as a sinless one who died.  He did not die for his own sins but for ours.  He came under the condemning sentence of the law in death, falling under the curse of God as he hung on the tree (Galatians 3:10-14).  Jesus died under condemnation, even though he never committed a single crime in his life.

So here’s the key: if Jesus had remained dead, he would have remained condemned before God.  If Jesus had remained in the tomb, he would have remained under the divine curse.  And if the divine curse has the final word, we cannot be saved.  We need a Savior who has been justified, declared righteous before God.  Only in union with such a Savior can we who are guilty receive the imputation of righteousness to ourselves and so inherit eternal life.  If we are united to a dead Savior, we are united to a condemned Savior, and thus we are destined to receive the same condemnation that he received.  But if we are united to the one who was raised from the dead, justified before the divine court as God’s obedient Son, we stand to inherit the same life he has received.

Far too many Christian funerals these days speak of the death of a Christian believer as his or her ultimate hope.  To be sure, there is hope for the Christian in death.  We have hope that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).  But this hope is only for an intermediate stopping point on the way to resurrection.  Our ultimate hope is not that we will die, “fly away” to Heaven and leave our bodies to rot under the curse of death forever.  Our ultimate hope is that we too will come out of our graves, publicly vindicated as those whom God has declared righteous by virtue of our union with Christ by faith.

Without the resurrection, there is no forgiveness of sins.  There is no hope of eternal life.  There is no gospel at all.  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).  Happy Easter!

This entry was posted in Doctrine of Salvation, Eschatology, The Cross of Christ. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Good News of the Resurrection

  1. Raj Rao says:

    There is also something else which the resurrection enables… and thus far I have only been able to find one article online which is helping me understand this.

    With the Fall came not just the fall of humanity, but so also the Fall of all Creation. Hence Romans describes a Creation subject to futility and thus groaning.

    How do I understand a groaning creation? We see the entropy (i.e. disorder) increasing. We see our cars rusting. We find the need to pull out weeds from our gardens. We need to kill off pests.

    Going even further we see happenings in nature that are quite unnatural. Take for example, incidences of gang rape among apes or the female praying mantis biting off the head of her mate upon copulation. What else? Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, etc. Nature is fallen. (Carnivory even may be on account of this fact.)

    So if there is no resurrection, nature also remains fallen. With the resurrection begins a change in nature itself, starting with the physical flesh of Jesus Himself being transformed i.e. redemption.

    They say redemption is a drama. Perhaps Jesus’ bodily resurrection signals that the closing acts have begun. There is a new order dawning.

  2. I think that is exactly right. This issue, then, would also dovetail with the subject of my previous post: the young earth view as the one that accurately presents the creation–fall–redemption–new creation storyline of Scripture.

    According to Romans 8:18-25, The creation was subjected to futility as a result of the Fall. It was cursed when Adam abdicated his throne. But it eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God (i.e., the resurrection of believers to reign over creation). Christ, being the firstfruits of the general resurrection, represents the re-establishment of the reign of humanity over creation. It is thus the beginning of the healing of creation from the curse.

  3. markmcculley says:

    I Tim 3:16–”He was manifested in the flesh, justified by the Spirit”

    I Peter 3:18–”being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit”

    Romans 6:10–”For the death Christ died He died to sin, once for all time, but the life He lives He lives to God.”

    Robert Haldane on Romans, p184; “The justification of His people was begun in His death and perfected by His resurrection. He wrought their justification by His death, but its efficacy depended on His resurrection.”

  4. markmcculley says:

    Warnock (Raised with Christ) asks some good questions about the connection between the death and resurrection of Christ, and left me with several texts to keep pondering.

    For example, I Peter 1:11 tells us of the Spirit’s prediction of “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” I Peter 3:21 speaks of an “appeal for a good conscience, through the resurrection.”

    The gospel is not the death without the resurrection, or the resurrection without the death. The good news about one is good news about the other. Warnock quotes Calvin to this effect: “When in scripture death only is mentioned, everything peculiar to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synecdoche in the term resurrection.” (Institutes 2:16:13, p 75 in Warnock).

    Mr. Warnock does well to give us the Ephesians 4:8 quotation of Psalm 68: 18—“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. In saying, He ascended, what does it mean but that he also descended…?” Warnock: “Paul explains that, in the one word ‘ascension’, the descent from heaven is implied.”

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