By John E. Ward
The Reality of the Resurrection
Christians all over the world recite the Apostle’s Creed, which states, among other facts, “We believe … in the resurrection of the body.” That is a reality based upon the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus that is documented in all four Gospel accounts. It also forms a major theme in the proclamation of the apostles as recorded in the book of Acts.
It is no understatement, then, to say, in the words of the British historian Arnold Toynbee, “If the body of one Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, can be produced, then Christianity will crumble into a lifeless religion,” or as Wilbur Smith declared, “The resurrection of Christ is the very citadel of the Christian faith. This is the doctrine that turned the world upside down in the first century and that lifted Christianity preeminently above Judaism and all the pagan religions of the Mediterranean world.”
It is the physicality of the resurrection of Jesus that provides the proof of and pattern for the believer’s resurrection. The apostle Paul recognized this as much as anyone ever has. In the great resurrection chapter of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul forcefully challenges objections that were being raised in his day to dispute the physical resurrection of the body. Objectors argued that bodily resurrection is impossible, suggested that the mechanism of resurrection makes no sense, and hinted at the appalling nature of a body’s being physically raised from the grave.
To answer these objections, Paul first assumes for the sake of argument that the objectors’ premise is true—that Christ has not been raised from the dead. If that were true, Paul argues, the consequences would be chilling. First, the apostles’ preaching would have no basis in fact; second, their faith would have no content or truth; third, the apostles would be charlatans and deceivers, preaching a doctrine they knew to be false; fourth, their faith would be fruitless; fifth, they would still be in their sins; sixth, all of those who died in Christ would have perished and would never be seen again; and seventh, all Christians are to be pitied since they have believed a total fabrication in this life. In Paul’s argument, these are the disturbing consequences that would follow from the conclusion that Christ was not raised from the dead.
But Paul does not stop there. Beginning in verse 20, he introduces the truth—“but, as a matter of fact, Christ has been raised from the dead”—which reverses the consequences of denying the critical doctrine that Paul has just described. First, the apostles’ preaching is based in fact; second, their faith has content and truth; third, the apostles are trustworthy witnesses; fourth, their faith is not fruitless; fifth, their sins have been forgiven; sixth, they will see their loved ones again who died in Christ; and seventh, there is far more than this present life, as proven by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of these truths are grounded upon the historical, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is striking. First, Paul wrote these words to a Greek assembly in the city of Corinth entrenched in a culture that believed the body was intrinsically evil, and longed for the emancipation of the soul from the body—not the resurrection of that body. Second, Paul was a first-century Palestinian Jew. In first-century Palestinian Judaism, there was no conception of a single, individual resurrection in the middle of time. Paul had been a Pharisee, and Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees, believed in a physical resurrection. But they believed in a general resurrection that would happen at the conclusion of this present age, not an individual resurrection in the middle of the present age. Martha’s words to Jesus in John 11:24 that she knew Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” reflect this same view.
Paul, a former Pharisee, thus went against everything that first-century Palestinian Judaism believed, and argued for a single, individual resurrection prior to a general resurrection—to a church in a Greek culture that would have abhorred the very idea of a bodily resurrection. Over and over again in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul states that Christ has been raised from the dead and therefore is very much alive. His repeated use of the perfect tense in Greek—which is used for actions that have been completed with continued results—underscores this truth.
Paul was right to emphasize the bodily nature of the resurrection of Jesus. The doctrine is crucial for many reasons: among other things, it guarantees the deity of Jesus Christ; is essential to justification makes certain a final judgment; furnishes the believer with a deathless hope; and demonstrates the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Consequently, this is a doctrine that needs to be understood and believed by every Christian. And it is a doctrine that makes it imperative for readers of this article to believe in Him. Or, as the late John Stott said, it’s as easy as ABC. The letters stand for:
- Admit (Acknowledge) your need of Christ.
- Believe that Christ died for you.
- Come to Him in simple faith.
Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Elsewhere Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” As the apostle John put it in 1 John 5:11-12, “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”
What makes Christianity different from every other religion is that Christianity alone claims that salvation is based not on what a person does, but rather on what Jesus Christ has done. This salvation is appropriated by grace alone through faith alone in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. So, when Christians all over the world recite the words of the Apostle’s Creed, “we believe in the resurrection of the body,” it is because we believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I trust this Easter season we can all say with conviction, “CHRIST is RISEN. HE is RISEN, INDEED!”
John Ward graduated from Southeastern Bible College in Birmingham, Alabama in 1978 and Grace Theological Seminary in 1982 with a Th.M. in New Testament Studies. After many years of pastoral ministry, John became pastor of Grace Bible Church in 1992. John and his wife Carole reside in Clinton, MS and have two married sons, John Benjamin and Michael.