What If Jesus Didn’t Rise From the Dead?

It was June 18, 1815, the Battle of Waterloo. The French under the command of Napoleon were fighting the allied forces of the British, Dutch, and Germans under the command of the Duke of Wellington. The people of England depended on a system of signals to find out how the battle was going. One of these signals was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral.

Late in the day it flashed the signal: “W – E – L – L – I – N – G – T – O – N – – – D – E – F – E – A – T – E – D – – -.” Just at that moment a fog cloud made it impossible to read the message. The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city. The whole countryside was sad and gloomy when they heard the news that their country had lost the war. Suddenly, the fog lifted, and the remainder of the message could be read. The message had four words, not two. The complete message was: “W – E – L – L – I – N – G – T – O – N – – – D – E – F – E – A – T – E – D – – – T – H – E – – – E – N – E – M – Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy, defeat was turned into victory!

So it was when Jesus was laid in the tomb. Hope had died in the hearts of Jesus’ most loyal friends. After the frightful crucifixion, the fog of disappointment and misunderstanding had crept in on the friends of Jesus. They had read only part of the message. “Christ defeated” was all they knew. But then on the third day the fog of disappointment and misunderstanding lifted, and the world received the complete message: “Christ defeated sin and death!” Defeat was turned into victory; death was turned into life!

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

(1 Corinthians 15:12–19, NASB95)

I want us to consider one question today: what if Christ didn’t rise again?

Jesus would be a liar.

Christ predicted His resurrection on several occasions. At first He used only vague terms, such as “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). But later on in His ministry He spoke quite plainly. Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matt. 16:21).

Jesus says in Matthew 12:40, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And later in 20:18-19 He predicts, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Mark records Jesus saying, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:28).

In John 10:17-18 we find Jesus saying these words: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” To the women who came to Christ’s tomb on Easter morning and wondered where His body was, the angel said, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matt. 28:6).

If the resurrection did not happen, we would have to say the Jesus was a liar. And if He lied about the resurrection, could we trust His other sayings?

If Christ Didn’t Rise Again, Then There is No Good News. (1Cor. 15:14)

Paul tells us what the gospel is in 1Corinthians 15:3, 4: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

The word “gospel” means “good news.” But if the resurrection is taken from the gospel, we are left with sad news, not good news. We are left with Jesus’ death and burial. That is not “Good News.” 

We’d have a Savior who died for our sins on the cross, and was buried, but he is still in the grave. That is only half of the Gospel, and half a gospel is no gospel at all.

If Jesus Didn’t Rise Again, Then Our Faith is Groundless (1Cor. 15:14b, 17) 

Faith in a dead Savior is both preposterous and pathetic. If you were being chased by a madman, and you had the choice of running either to a house full of people or a cemetery for help, where would you run? I think we would all run to the house full of people. Why? Because the house if filled with living people who could help, while the cemetery is filled with dead bodies which can do nothing.

If Jesus Christ did not rise and is still dead then He has no power to save us. He had no power to save himself! Our faith would be in vain, and worse, we would still be in our sins and still on our way to hell.

We are spreading a lie (1Cor 15:15)

While claiming to do God’s work, we would actually be spreading a lie!

If Jesus is still dead and was buried in a tomb never to be raised alive, then we are the worst charlatans because we are giving hope to the hopeless, but it is all a sham. This would be like the old snake-oil salesmen of the west who would sell a cheap elixer that would give a sick man hope that he would be cured, all the while he is dying.

Could this please God if it is not true? We would be, as Paul says, “misrepresenting God.” We would be guilty of spiritual malpractice of the worst kind. 

We have no hope for the future (1Cor. 15:18). 

Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of the future resurrection of His people; so if Christ is not risen then this guarantee is worthless. Paul wrote to some bereaved Christians at Thessalonica who had lost relatives and friends (1 Thess. 4:13-14). And then at the close of this message of consolation he writes, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (v. 18). If Christ is not risen, there is no comfort.

We suffer for nothing (1Cor 15:19).

Here is how Alan Redpath paraphrases this passage: “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is empty, our preaching useless, and he has failed to deal with sin at all. If he has not been raised from the tomb, we are still in our sins and all his promises are absolutely untrue. He is a fraud, an imposter, and his ashes are buried somewhere in Palestine today. There is no hope beyond the grave for anybody, and those who have died professing faith in him are just left there forever.”

When Paul says if Christ is not risen then we are “of all people most to be pitied,” he means that of all the people in the world, Christians are the ones who deserve the most pity.

If Christ is not risen, why bother to go to church? You would be better off somewhere else.

If Christ is not risen, why bother to put money in the offering plate? You’re only giving to a lost cause.

If Christ is not risen, why bother to serve Him? You’re only wasting your time.

If Christ is not risen, why tell others about Him? You might as well save your breath.

Thomas Jefferson, a great man, nevertheless could not accept the miraculous elements in Scripture. He edited his own special version of the Bible in which all references to the supernatural were deleted. Jefferson, in editing the Gospels, confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus. The closing words of Jefferson’s Bible are these: “There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and departed.” Thank God that is not the way the story really ends!

Christ was telling the truth when He predicted He would rise from the dead. He is the Son of God. The gospel really is good news. It really is “the power of God to salvation to every one that believes.” Our faith is grounded in a living Savior who can save every person from sin, death, and hell. When we share the good news of Jesus Christ, we are spreading the truth, not a lie. We also have the sure expectation of a bodily resurrection. Our bodies will not stay in the grave; we will rise again as Christ did. And we are not of “of all men most to be pitied.” We have every reason to be the happiest people on earth.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of modern psychiatry, wrote: “And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be!” But Christians have victory in death and over death because of the victory of Jesus Christ in His own resurrection. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19).

Every year thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the “stations of the cross” to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but there they stopped. Far too many have gotten to the cross and have known the despair and the heartbreak. Far too few have moved beyond the cross to find the real message of the resurrection. That is the message of the empty tomb. You can be saved today because Christ died and rose again. This is not simply the message of Easter, this is the message of Christianity.

Christ’s Intense Love in the Storms of Life

Jesus Lover of My Soul— Charles Wesley (1740)

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;

Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

 

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;

Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.

All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;

Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

 

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?

Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;

Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,

Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

 

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;

Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.

Just and holy is Thy Name, I am all unrighteousness;

False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

 

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;

Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.

Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;

Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.

Theological Commitments of the Biblical Gospel: The Atonement

Atonement: The Heart of the Gospel

Our theological term “atonement” comes from the Anglo-Saxon root that means “to be at one with another” and was over time shortened to  ‘atonement” (at-one-ment). It is the reconciliation of God to man and man to God that comes through the vicarious (meaning, in our place) penal (meaning it was the wrath of God poured out as the justified penalty for our sins) substitutionary (meaning that it was not for Christ’s sin, but for the sin of others) death of Christ.

But for whom did Christ die? Did he die for the whole world or did he die only for his elect? The answer is for both. When we are talking about the death of Christ, we need to be aware of precision. We are not saying that Christ’s death was unable to save all people that have every existed—that would be to say that the blood of Christ was insufficient in power and ability. But if we were to say that Christ’s death was effective in saving all people that have ever existed, we would fall into that heresy called “universalism.”

Minimally, we cannot deny that Christ’s death was both sufficient and effective for the elect. This is not debated by any who hold to the biblical doctrines of grace. But did Christ’s death on the cross have any effect upon the non-elect—those who would never come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ? Yes.

On 1Tim 4:10, the MacArthur Study Bible notes say in part,

The simple explanation is that God is the Savior of all men, only in a temporal sense, while of believers in an eternal sense. Paul’s point is that while God graciously delivers believers from sin’s condemnation and penalty because He was their substitute (2 Cor. 5:21), all men experience some earthly benefits from the goodness of God. Those benefits are: 1) common grace—a term that describes God’s goodness shown to all mankind universally (Ps. 145:9) in restraining sin (Rom. 2:15) and judgment (Rom. 2:3–6), maintaining order in society through government (Rom. 13:1–5), enabling man to appreciate beauty and goodness (Ps. 50:2), and showering him with temporal blessings (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:15–17; 17:25); 2) compassion—the broken-hearted love of pity God shows to undeserving, unregenerate sinners (Ex. 34:6, 7; Ps. 86:5; Dan. 9:9; Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41–44; cf. Is. 16:11–13; Jer. 48:35–37); 3) admonition to repent—God constantly warns sinners of their fate, demonstrating the heart of a compassionate Creator who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11); 4) the gospel invitation—salvation in Christ is indiscriminately offered to all (Matt. 11:28, 29; 22:2–14; John 6:35–40; Rev. 22:17; cf. John 5:39, 40). God is, by nature, a saving God. That is, He finds no pleasure in the death of sinners. His saving character is revealed even in how He deals with those who will never believe, but only in those 4 temporal ways.[5]

The Canons of Dort, Articles 3 & 4 (Second Head of Doctrine) say this:

“The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.[6]” And “This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.[7]

These statements are in complete agreement with the biblical record. Christ’s death on the cross is only salvific for the elect, but his death also gives benefits to the whole world. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church agrees with this, stating,

“In Reformed parlance we speak of “common grace” as God’s goodness even to those who are destined to be lost (Romans 2:4-5; Matthew 5:45). God’s goodness to reprobate sinners may be considered the product of the cross. In that sense it might be said that Jesus died for all mankind. But saving grace is called “special grace.” And whatever we may say of benefits flowing from the cross, Christ did NOT die to save those whom He willed to pass over unto deserved condemnation!”[8] 

So, why is this so important for us to know? Well first, because it is the nature of the gospel. Christ died to save others. But whom? Some go so far as to reject even saying that Jesus died for the world, in spite of the fact that the Bible clearly says so. But saying this does not mean that all will be eternally saved, nor does it embrace universalism or the heresy called Pelagianism.

You can say that Jesus died for the world! At the same time, we know that not all the world will be eternally saved. Secondly, we need to be honest about several verses in our Bibles that say that Christ’s death did something beyond saving the elect.

We can’t say that it means that the world was justified and redeemed, but we can see that there are temporal types of salvation that were won by Christ. This isn’t something we need to deny. If we do, we deny the fulness of the glory of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. And finally, we need to know this because we need to study the hard things of the Word and strive to be as accurate as possible, wrestling with the truth, and not denying those bothersome bits that don’t fit well into our thinking.

[5] John MacArthur Jr., ed., The MacArthur Study Bible, electronic ed. (Nashville, TN: Word Pub., 1997), 1867.

[6] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[7] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[8] From http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=284