Last week, we looked at the significance the resurrection has as it relates to Jesus’ Himself. The resurrection identifies Jesus as the Second Adam, the seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, and the Son of David. It also vindicates the testimony He had given about Himself.
This week and next, I want to consider the significance of the resurrection for believers. What implications does the resurrection have for the people of God? In fact, every aspect of our salvation—our regeneration, our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification—is tied in some way to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
The Ground of Regeneration
1 Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Peter says our new birth comes through the resurrection of Christ. Our new spiritual life that is born in our regeneration has its source in Christ’s resurrection life.
And we are made to share in that resurrection life through union with Him. Ephesians 2:5–6 says that while we were dead in our transgressions, God “made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with Him.” Because of the union that believers have with Christ, Scripture says that our spiritual resurrection in our being born again has its source in Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
And so the resurrection is the ground of our regeneration.
Conquers and Delivers from Death
Second, the resurrection conquers the enemy of death and delivers us from its fearful slavery.
Hebrews 2:14–15: “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
If you surveyed 100 people on the street and asked them what their greatest fear is, 95 of them—if they were being honest with you—would say, “death.” For those without the sure hope of eternal life in Christ, death is the great unknown. And this text describes human beings as those who are so afraid of death that we are subject to slavery all our lives. This fear of death controls people, such that they go to great lengths, pay large sums of money, and make significant sacrifices to avoid it.
But by His resurrection, Jesus conquers this great enemy of death. Acts 2:24 says, “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.” Because Christ has been raised, and because we are promised to be raised with Him through repentance and faith in the Gospel, the agony of death has been ended. The tyrannical slavery that is fueled by the fear of death is broken. The believer in Christ has nothing to fear in death, because to be absent from the body in death is to be present with the Lord in heaven.
In the first chapter of Revelation, the Apostle John falls like a dead man before the ascended Christ. But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev 1:17). Hebrews 2:15 said that Satan held the power of death. But because of the resurrection, not only has Christ broken free from deaths bonds, but He is now the ruler over death, such that He has its keys. As Beale says, He has the control over who is released and retained in that realm.
And if He is in control over death, we as His people need not fear it at all. Just as He said in John 11:25–26 : “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
The Foundation of the Gospel
Thirdly, the resurrection is the very foundation of the Gospel.
- When Paul explicitly identifies the nature of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, he includes the resurrection as a central component in the things “of first importance.”
- In Romans 10:9 he describes the message of faith which the Apostles preach as “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
- Paul views the resurrection as so central to the Gospel that he says in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith also is vain.” And again in verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
Now why is that so? Why is the case that if Christ has not been raised that we are still in our sins? Wasn’t it Christ’s sacrificial death that paid the penalty for our sins and satisfied God’s wrath? Yes, but it was the resurrection that certified that sufficient atonement was made for sin. Romans 4:25: Christ “was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised [for] our justification.” The resurrection is so central to the Gospel that Paul here ties our justification directly to it.
We cannot separate the death and resurrection of Christ, friends. Both are necessary for our justification. Because just as His death was the payment for sin, so was His resurrection the certification and vindication of that payment. If Christ had truly made full payment for sin such that He could ransom His people—if He had truly satisfied the wrath of His Father against the sins of His people—it had to be that the consequences of sin would no longer have power over Him. Calvin asks, “For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? How could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest?” (Institutes, II.xvi, 447). Charles Hodge said, “If [Christ] remained under the power of death, there is no source of spiritual life to men; for He is the vine, we are the branches; if the vine be dead the branches must be dead also” (Systematic Theology, 2:627).
But the resurrection is the Father’s testimony that redemption had been accomplished and that wrath had been satisfied. I love the way Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers put this. He writes,
“You know that when the prison door is opened to a criminal, and that by the very authority which lodged him there, it evinces that the debt of his transgression has been rendered, and that he stands acquitted of all its penalties. … And when an angel descended from heaven, and rolled back the great stone from the door of the sepulcher, this speaks to us, that the justice of God is satisfied, that the ransom of our iniquity has been paid, that Christ has rendered a full discharge of all the debt for which he undertook as the great surety between God and the sinners who believe in Him” (Select Works, 2:84).
And so we read in the early church’s confession that Christ “was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim 3:16). The resurrection was the great vindication of Christ, that the Father had approved of His work, that it was completed, and that there was no more penalty left to pay, no more wrath left to bear, and that sin and death could no longer lay legal claim to Him (cf. Grudem, 615).
Christian reader, if you are struggling under a sense of guilt and punishment—if your conscience is condemning you before God because of your sin—I entreat you to battle for assurance at the doorstep of the empty tomb. He was raised for your justification! You’re right to feel the pang of sin in your conscience, and you’re right to despair of doing anything about it before God. But Christ has lived and died in your place, and in His resurrection the Father testifies that righteousness is accomplished! There is nothing left for you to do but to trust in His work, and by trusting you are united to His life, death, and resurrection.
Dutch Reformed theologian Wilhelmus a Brakel teaches us how to plead for assurance upon the resurrection of Christ. He says to go to God and say,
“‘Are not my sins punished? Has not my guilt been atoned for? Has not my Surety risen from the dead and thus entered into rest? Art not Thou my reconciled God and Father? Am I not at peace with Thee?’ . . . May such a person thus wrestle to apply all this to himself on the basis of the promises made to all who received Christ by faith, until he experiences the power of Christ’s resurrection unto his justification and being at peace with God” (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:632).
Indeed, may the resurrection cause us to rejoice in the glorious person and sufficient work of our risen Lord.