The historical fact of the resurrection is the very foundation for the Christian faith. It is not an optional article of faith—it is the faith! The resurrection of Jesus Christ and Christianity stand or fall together. One cannot be true without the other. Belief in the truth of Christianity is not merely faith in faith—ours or someone else’s—but rather faith in the risen Christ of history. Without the historical resurrection of Jesus, the Christian faith is a mere placebo. Worship, fellowship, Bible study, the Christian life and the church itself are worthless exercises in futility if Jesus has not been literally and physically raised from the dead. Without the resurrection, we might as well forget God, church and following moral rules and “feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Cor. 15:32).
On the other hand, if Christ has been raised from the dead, then he is alive at this very moment, and we can know him personally (see 1 Cor. 15:4). Our sins are forgiven (see v. 3), and he has broken the power of death (see v. 54). Furthermore, he promises that we too will be resurrected someday (see v. 22). We can trust him because he is sovereign over the world (see v. 27). He will give us ultimate victory (see v. 57), and he has a plan for our lives (see v. 58).
The Centrality of the Resurrection
The resurrection has been the focus of the church since its inception. The New Testament book of Acts, which tells the story of the beginning of the Christian church, illustrates this well:
• In the first chapter the 11 apostles were trying to find a replacement for Judas. One criterion for the selection of an apostle was that he “must become a witness with us of His [Jesus’] resurrection” (Acts 1:22, NASB).
• In Acts 2:23-24 Peter gives his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. The keynote of his address was, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (NASB).
Paul refers to the resurrection of Jesus 53 times in his letters. Most of these texts assert the primacy of the resurrection, the assurance it gives us of our own future bodily resurrection or both. He emphasizes the centrality of the resurrection in his letter to the Thessalonians: “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10, NASB, emphasis added).
British scholar N.T. Wright explains how central the resurrection has been in the life of the church:
There is no form of early Christianity known to us—though there are some that have been invented by ingenious scholars—that does not affirm at its heart that after Jesus’ shameful death God raised him to life again. Already by the time of Paul, our earliest written records, the resurrection of Jesus is not just a single detached article of faith. It is woven into the very structure of Christian life and thought.
Atheist Gerd Ludemann Gets It Right
Even Gerd Ludemann, an atheist scholar who has severely criticized the Gospels for their supernatural content, recognizes the importance of the resurrection to Christianity. He explains, “The resurrection of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion. . . . Evidently everything quite simply depends on the event of the resurrection of Jesus.” We may disagree with Ludemann about the fact of the resurrection, but he hit the nail on the head regarding its importance.
To say that Jesus, his early apostles and the Christian church has placed significant emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection is to put it mildly. Everything Jesus taught and lived for depended upon his death and resurrection. All the promises and prophecies in the Bible depend on the resurrection. The whole history of God’s plan to restore his relationship with man and woman depends on the resurrection. It is not overstating the facts at all to say that the resurrection of Jesus is the single most important event in the history of the world. Your life and mine depends on the resurrection.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.