The resurrection of Jesus is foundational to the Christian faith, and yet, oftentimes, we only give it real thought around the Easter season.
But the resurrection of Jesus is so important that Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). And later he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (verse 19).
In the hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of this glorious reality, here are five truths about the resurrection.
1) Jesus had a bodily resurrection.
When Jesus was raised from the dead, he didn’t leave his body behind. In fact, after his resurrection his scars remained (John 20:27), he ate fish (John 20:12), he bodily ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9), and will bodily come again (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The Son of God will always have a bodily existence.
The fact that Jesus still has a body testifies to the dignity of the human body — both the ones that we have and the ones we will have after our resurrection. Matthew Lee Anderson writes, “The resurrection of the body means that to be human with God is to be with him not as disembodied souls, but as people with noses, faces, arms, and legs that are similar to those we currently have” (Earthen Vessels, 60–61).
2) Jesus had a justifying resurrection.
Perhaps the clearest instance of Paul connecting Jesus’s resurrection with his justification is obscured in most English translations. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” The word that is translated “vindicated” is typically translated “declared righteous” or “justified” elsewhere in the New Testament.
But if Jesus was perfect, how could he be justified, since justification implies guilt (see Romans 4:5)? The answer lies in Jesus’s death and resurrection. Richard Gaffin explains, “As long as [Jesus] remained in a state of death, the righteous character of his work, the efficacy of his obedience unto death remained in question, in fact, was implicitly denied. Consequently, the eradication of death in his resurrection is nothing less than the removal of the verdict of condemnation and the effective affirmation of his righteousness” (Resurrection and Redemption, 121–122).
3) Jesus had a Trinitarian resurrection.
The pattern in the New Testament is to speak of God the Father as the one who does the raising, Jesus as the one who is being raised, and the Spirit as the means the Father used to raise Jesus. This pattern is seen in Romans 8:11: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Here we see not only that God the Father raises Jesus through the Holy Spirit, but our resurrection will be parallel to the resurrection of Jesus — God the Father will raise us through the Spirit.
4) Jesus had a firstfruits resurrection of ours to come.
Paul describes Jesus’s resurrection as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Firstfruits is an agricultural metaphor that points to the initial quality of the harvest. Gaffin explains, “Paul is saying here, the resurrection of Christ and of believers cannot be separated. Why? Because, to extend the metaphor as Paul surely intends, Christ’s resurrection is the ‘firstfruits’ of the resurrection ‘harvest’ that includes the resurrection of believers. This thought is reinforced in verse 23: ‘Each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ’” (By Faith, Not By Sight, 68).
5) In Jesus, believers are already spiritually resurrected.
The resurrection is not only a future event for believers. Those who believe in Christ have already been raised to life with him. Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Christians are people who have already been raised with Christ. Gaffin explains, “[B]elievers will never be more resurrected than they already are. God has done a work in each believer, a work of nothing less than resurrection proportions, that will not be undone” (By Faith, Not by Sight, 76).
The resurrection is an already but not-yet reality for the Christian because of our union with Christ. Jesus’s resurrection means that those who have faith in him have been raised from the dead because they are in Christ, and yet we still await the full experience of the resurrection to come (Romans 8:22–23).