On Easter Sunday, Christians gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That much is clear. What is not clear to many people, however, is what the resurrection means to Christians, why it matters, and whether it is actually true.
What does the resurrection mean for Christians?
The resurrection makes little sense at all unless we first understand the Christian “gospel.” In Jesus’ day, the word “gospel” was a media term signifying the announcement of important news. Christians employed the word to announce what they considered the most important news ever told.
What is the Christian gospel? It is the good news that, two thousand years ago, God made himself known to the world through a Jewish carpenter and itinerant teacher named Jesus. Even more, God—through Jesus—defeated the worldly powers that oppressed us and paved the way for sinners to know him, love him, and serve him.
More specifically, we proclaim the truth that the eternal Son of God took on human flesh in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. He lived a perfect and sinless life, revealing what it means to live in true fellowship with God. He performed many miracles, each designed to teach the truth about God’s goodness and greatness. He willingly suffered death on the cross, taking upon himself the sins of those who would believe. And he rose from the dead to accomplish redemption, proving that he is the true God who once-and-for-all defeated the evil powers that oppress the world.
We Christians proclaim that the gospel is a fact. It is a claim—an outlandish one, it might seem—about reality. You can choose to believe the claim or disbelieve it. But as Christians, we believe not only that it is true but that it is the most essential truth in history.
If it really is true, it can’t be relegated to the private dimensions of life; instead, it must pulsate outward into our public lives.
Why does the resurrection—if it is true—matter for everyday Americans?
The resurrection matters because, if it is true, Jesus is the final authority and the most powerful actor in this world. When Jesus appeared to his followers after the resurrection, he declared, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). In other words, the resurrection proved his identity as the God who created the world and who therefore maintains authority over it.
The resurrection matters because it reveals who is finally in charge of world history.
Some people think the world’s ultimate arbiter is the free market. They are wrong.
Others think the world’s greatest power is the United States. They are mistaken.
Still others think the authority is some type of “deep state” cabal. They are deluded.
In fact, the risen Jesus is the final authority. He is the Sovereign King and the greatest power against which even the largest governments, coalitions, and forces wither and pale.
Is it actually true that Jesus rose from the dead?
Christians have good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Furthermore, people who are skeptical that it happened should realize, nonetheless, that they have good reason to hope that it is true.
One piece of the “facticity” puzzle are the numerous ancient prophecies that a Messiah would one day rise from the dead. Consider that the Hebrew Bible regularly claimed that God would send a Messiah who would suffer and die but ultimately defeat death (e.g., Is 53:10-11). And Jesus himself claimed to be the Messiah who would rise from the dead (e.g. John 2:19; 10:18).
Karl Popper, renowned philosopher of science, argued that whenever a ‘risky theory’ is fulfilled, that counts as confirmation. And what could be riskier than predicting your resurrection?
Another piece of the puzzle is that Jesus died on the cross. Whereas some skeptics have explained Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances by saying he never really died, the evidence says otherwise: after the Roman watchguards pronounced him dead, he was wrapped in 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages and sealed in the tomb. Modern science confirms these findings.
A third piece of the puzzle is that Jesus’ body could not plausibly have been stolen from the grave. Some skeptics think one of Jesus’ followers stole Jesus’ body, but he could not have because the Roman military guard would have caught that person. Others think that Roman or Jewish authorities took the body; but this claim is absurd because those same authorities accused the disciples of stealing the body (Mt 28:11-15).
A fourth piece of the puzzle is that Jesus made post-death appearances to more than 500 people on twelve different occasions (1 Cor 15:3-5). He didn’t appear as a phantom but as a person with flesh and bones (Lk 24:39-42). He challenged doubters to confirm their eyesight by touching him (Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27). He walked and talked with his followers (Lk 24:13), feasted with them (John 21:1ff), and delivered public talks to them (Acts 1:3).
A final piece of the puzzle is that Jesus’ disciples were willing to be persecuted and even killed in retaliation for their announcement that “Jesus is risen!” They had everything to lose. There is no other explanation for the motivation to advance the resurrection narrative unless it was true.
Jesus rose from the dead! The Christian gospel is good news for the whole world. It is about a God who loves us enough to enter the world, suffer on our behalf, and declare final victory over the evil powers of this world. The resurrection declares that Jesus is making all things new and allows us to live in light of the audacious hope that one day he will return to fully restore this broken world and wipe every tear from the eyes of those who confess that he is Lord!