Resurrection is the central doctrine of Christianity. Our faith is founded historically on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Christianity is entirely defined by the historical fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This is what the Apostles taught, this is what every Epistle insists on. In fact, Scripture states that without Resurrection, there is no Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:12–19). There is no Christianity without Resurrection.
Scripture ascribes several meanings to the Resurrection. There is no doubt that Scripture insists on the bodily (i.e. physical) resurrection of Jesus Christ. It insists that He was crucified, He died, He was buried, and He rose from the dead. He came out of the grave in the same body that was buried. But the historical event has significance for more than one reason.
- Romans 1:4 says that the Resurrection proves He is the Son of God. He is the Son of David (says Romans) according to His human lineage. But He was demonstrated to be the Son of God by the fact that He was raised from the dead.
- Acts 17:31 says that the Resurrection proves He is the Judge of all men. God is going to judge the world, Paul told the people of Athens, and He has publicly announced who the Judge will be, by raising Him from the dead.
- Acts 2:36 says that the Resurrection proves He is "both Lord and Christ". That is, it proved that He was the One the Jews were waiting for. That is what sparked their repentance: they had taken the Person they were supposed to have been waiting for, and they killed Him. God announced to them that Jesus was both Lord and Christ in that He didn't let Him stay dead.
- Romans 6:9–10 say that the Resurrection proves Jesus Christ can't die again. Death, we are told, has no more dominion over Him.
We could go on, but four passages should suffice to demonstrate the point.
Scripture sometimes refers to a single resurrection, but it also speaks more specifically of several distinct resurrections. We take that to mean that while there are several resurrections, they form a single moral event. Or we might say there is a single resurrection, but it happens in stages. Scripture speaks of four resurrections:
- the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
- the Resurrection of those who "sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18)
- the Resurrection of those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 20:4)
- the Resurrection of "the rest of the dead" (Revelation 20:5)
The first of these has already happened, it is historical fact. With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection has begun. But it's not over yet: there are three other parts to the Resurrection that haven't happened yet.
Scripture says that the Thessalonian Christians
turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to await his Son from the heavens, whom he raised from among the dead
1 Thessalonians 1:9–10, DBY
So there are two parts to Christianity: first there is a turning to God from idols (notice, it's not turning from idols to God), then there is a waiting for God's Son to come from the heavens. This coming from the heavens is described more fully in chapter 4: it begins with a resurrection.
Notice it's the Son of God whom He raised from the dead: the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is brought into immediate connection with His coming to get us. Christianity is what God is doing between two resurrections. We are between the Resurrection of the Son of God and His coming to raise His dead saints. And really, that is the characteristic of this present age.
This is significant, because the Epistles say we spiritually are raised with Him. It's the teaching of Ephesians and Colossians: Christ has been raised from the dead, and we have been raised with Him. We have been identified with Christ in both His death (Romans 6) and His Resurrection (Ephesians 2, Colossians 2).
This is not to say we've gotten our part in the Resurrection already. The Thessalonians were spiritually raised with Christ, but they were still waiting for Him to come from Heaven. Philippians says it most clearly:
20 for *our* commonwealth has its existence in the heavens, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, 21 who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of the power which he has even to subdue all things to himself.
Philippians 3:20–21, DBY
We spiritually are resurrected with Christ, but our bodies will have a part in the resurrection too. For those who have died, this is obvious, but Scripture speaks more about those who haven't died than those who have. Philippians says the Lord Jesus Christ is coming to transform our bodies to be like His. That's resurrection.
The challenges of Christianity– the difficulties in the Christian life– all stem from this one important fact: we live between two resurrections. We are spiritually resurrected, but not (yet) physically resurrected. That will be fixed one day: the Lord Jesus will come and resurrect our bodies, and some of us won't even have to die. But for now, we are new creations living in an old creation. We are new creatures living in old creatures' bodies.
Philippians brings the Resurrection into our every day lives: it's not just that the Son of God is coming to transform our vile bodies, it's that we are to live our lives by the Resurrection now:
9 and that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which would be on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God through faith, 10 to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death
Philippians 3:9–10, DBY
Scripture presents the Christian life as one of death and resurrection until the Lord Jesus comes to get us. Romans 6 teaches we are free from sin's dominion, because we have died with Christ. Colossians 2 & 3 teaches we are free from the world, having died to it. Romans 7 teaches we are dead to the Law.
And it's not only positional death; 2 Corinthians 4–5 teaches that there is an active work of death in the believer:
10 always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body; 11 for we who live are always delivered unto death on account of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh; 12 so that death works in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:10–12, DBY
We have died with Christ, this is true. But there is a sense where death keeps working in us. Why? Because it's as death works in us that the life of Christ shines out.
But it's not only the negative: the cure for the flesh is death. But the power of the Christian life isn't death, it's resurrection. Death is necessary, but resurrection is empowering. "[T]o know him, and the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10, DBY).
The Christian life is a life of resurrection. The fact of Christ's resurrection in history should show itself out in my life here and now. The day is coming when it will be plainly visible that I have a new life in Christ. I'll have a body like His (Philippians 3:21). I'll be manifested with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4). But right now, before all that, I should be living it out. People should see me and realize I have a different life than they do.
I don't measure up to that.
But in a sense, that's the whole point. We're not called to live by different rules. We're not called to live a different life purpose. We're called to live a completely different life. We're called to live a life of resurrection. We can't fake that. We can't imitate that.