ArticlesHe Arose!

He Arose!

By Scotty Swingler

Why the Physical Resurrection of Jesus in a Non-Neogtiable For Christian Faith

The Apostles’ Creed proclaims: “I believe … in Jesus Christ … who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried … (and) rose again from the dead on the third day.”

The belief in a bodily resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion is a non-negotiable for Christian faith. Not only do all four Gospel writers claim it as a historical event, but all the early Church creeds such as Apostles’ re-affirm its necessity to Christian orthodoxy.

Yet two millenia removed from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, some strains of Christian faith are seeing the physical resurrection of Jesus as a “secondary” matter of doctrine. And to be sure, a physical resurrection is a miracle that defies nature. Some argue that the resurrection of Jesus was merely spiritual. Some go as far as to say that the resurrection of Jesus is metaphorical. Yet as the Apostle Paul wrote to those in Corinth, a city known for its pluralistic culture and Greek philosophers: “If Christ has not been raised … your faith is useless … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19 NIV, emphasis added)

Here are three reasons I believe that Jesus’ historical, literal, physical resurrection matters, and why Christians must hold unswervingly to this doctrine.


The Resurrection: The Foundation of All Christian Faith

It’s really simple: The resurrection is the foundation of the entire Christian faith. If the resurrection wasn’t a literal event, Christians wouldn’t be here today. Without the resurrection of the man Jesus, we never would’ve heard of Jesus.

As good as Jesus’ teachings were, it seems unlikely that a crucified first-century Rabbi with a relatively uneducated band of followers would’ve led the growth of the world’s largest religion. But Christianity spread like wildfire because its earliest followers saw something that they couldn’t explain outside of God’s intervention; they experienced a man, once murdered and buried, hanging out with them, even letting them touch His scars from the execution.

Andy Stanley says, “Christianity is the result of an event that created a movement that produced texts that were collected, protected, and bound into a book.” I think that chain of events, particularly in terms of chronology, is important. The earliest Christians didn’t have a “Bible” as we know it today, and certainly didn’t have access to the full New Testament catalog. Indeed, most Christians for most of human history have been illiterate. But because of the resurrection, the followers of Jesus spread the stories around the world by sending letters, which were later collected to create the Bible. Had the resurrection not happened, the stories wouldn’t have spread, and we’d have no Christian Bible. Without the resurrection, Jesus is just another dead cult leader who wouldn’t have inspired so many to write about His life.

Paul wouldn’t have ended his religious crusade against Christians if the resurrected Christ hadn’t spoken to him. Peter and John certainly would’ve gone back to their fishing boats, remembering the three years of life they’d wasted following a lunatic who claimed to be the Son of God. James never believed Jesus was the Messiah until after the crucifixion; surely a criminal execution didn’t change his mind, but seeing his big brother alive after the crucifixion did.

C.S. Lewis famously argued in multiple outlets that Jesus could only be one of three things: “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord.” Because of Jesus’ claims and teachings, He could just be another of history’s crazy men with a messiah complex. He could be lying about His divinity. Or, He’s really God. If He didn’t rise from the dead, He’s just another liar or lunatic; but if He did rise from the dead, He’s God. It all hinges on the resurrection claim.

The foundation of our faith isn’t a book, it’s God Godself. It’s Jesus. And Jesus proved His divinity through the resurrection. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, He’s just a man. And if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, His followers would have known He’s just a man. They wouldn’t have all been martyred for a faith claim they “made up” … no one is that committed to a lie. A coward like Peter would’ve confessed the hoax under threat of death had the resurrection not happened. But it did happen.

They knew Jesus was God, because they saw Him alive after the crucifixion. And that was the catalyst that brought faith to every generation, from the first to now. 


The Resurrected Body Matters

Growing up in a stereotypical Bible-belt Southern Baptist subculture, I was bombarded with this idea that everything “worldly” was bad and everything “spiritual” was good. There was a strong emphasis placed on Paul’s teachings of Spirit vs. Flesh and 1 John’s “in the world, but not of the world” instructions.
This naturally leads towards an American Evangelical form of Gnosticism. We can, if not careful, reject the physical world as evil and see only the spiritual world as good. We begin to disembody ourselves, talking about how we’re just souls “trapped” in our bodies. I’ve heard leaders describe our bodies as “vehicles,” as if our soul picked out a beat-up used car to drive around for 80 years until we get “perfect bodies” in heaven.

There are several issues with this way of thinking. What is a “perfect” body, and when do we start objectifying some body types over others? If we all get “perfect bodies” in heaven, will we all look the same? How does Imago Dei work if we’re all “trapped” in bodies we won’t use in eternity?

We need better anthropological theology, specifically, when it comes to our physical bodies. For one thing, God created humankind in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Seeing as the soul is invisible, God’s “image” must be at least somewhat associated with the physical human body, the part of a person we can see. Paul seemed to believe that our physical bodies will be resurrected and we will know one another in the afterlife (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). He also commands us to “honor God with (our) bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20 NIV) and to “offer (our) bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1 NIV). In Paul’s writings, the body cannot be separated from the soul; in fact, the spiritual and the physical are intimately linked. We aren’t ethereal beings trapped in fleshy vehicles. Each of us is a whole person: physical and spiritual, body and soul. That’s why what we do with our bodies so intimately affects our soul, and often the state of our soul affects our physical bodies.

Most importantly: When God chose to reveal Godself to the world, God did it by coming to earth in a human body (John 1:14). The fact that Jesus is literally God, embodied, should speak to how important our bodies are. The physical world matters. Jesus’ body matters. If we believe the incarnation of God was a literal baby at Christmas, and the crucifixion of Holy Week was a literal man, why would the resurrection be any different?

The physical resurrection of Jesus completes the story of God’s redemption, and promises that our life after death will also be embodied. If Jesus came back as a spirit or a ghost, there’s no hope for my resurrection, because I am embodied; but if a three-day dead body started to breathe again, we know that we too will live again. Fully embodied, fully human, and fully perfected.


Hope in the Resurrection of God’s World

Several years ago, a close friend of mine asked, “If there was no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, no eternity; would you still follow Jesus?”

I wrestled with that question for a bit. Then, my answer at the time was, “Absolutely! Jesus offers me the best way to live here and now, not just eternity. So yes, I’d still follow Jesus because I believe in His teachings.”

That was a poor answer.

Not because I was entirely wrong. Some of our brothers and sisters do need to remember that Jesus offers us abundant life here and now, not just after we die. However, I would change my answer severely if I had to answer that question again today.

I don’t know about you, but when I look around the world, I quickly become discouraged. The pains of sin and evil are everywhere. I see poverty, war, racism, sexism, climate change, hunger, and human trafficking, and I’m overwhelmed with heartache. I have trouble wrapping my mind around a good God with so many wrongs perpetrated every day.

With so much injustice in the world, I need certainty that the Kingdom of God will one day conquer, reign victorious, and right all the wrongs. I don’t just want to “go” somewhere when I die; I need Jesus to resurrect and re-create earth. My whole heart, mind, and soul need redemption that goes beyond me; I need to know that evil doesn’t win.

Paul tells the Romans:

The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:22–24 NIV, emphasis added)

The whole creation groans for redemption. This broken world needs resurrection. The promise of the Easter is that the physical resurrection of Jesus foreshadows the holistic resurrection of all creation.

In John’s apocalyptic vision of the end times, he doesn’t see “heaven” up in the clouds or another dimension. Instead, he sees something intensely physical and real:

I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1–5 NIV)

Eternity isn’t something that believers are “whisked away” to somewhere else. It’s here, on earth. The garden of Eden—perfect earth, perfect life—is the city ahead of us

And if Jesus—the real, literal, physical, resurrected Son of God—is coming back to “make everything new,” “wipe every tear,” and eliminate all pain … then the Gospel really is good news. God is going to make all things right. And the evil that burdens all humankind every day will truly, once and for all, cease.

Without that hope, I honestly don’t know if I could follow Jesus. The world is too dark. There’s too much pain.

But Jesus defeated death. So what can’t Jesus defeat? I place my trust, my hope, and my peace in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. And His literal resurrection is why I believe in creation’s full resurrection at the end of all things.


In Conclusion

Without the literal resurrection of Jesus, many of the Bible’s faith claims don’t work and Paul says our faith is “useless.” But if Jesus rose from the dead, we have the greatest story and most grounded faith in the world.

As we approach Easter, may we never cease to be amazed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s our everything. Let’s make sure the whole world knows the story so they, too, can hold onto this great heritage and great hope we all share.



*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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