In my summer experiences at VBS as a child and even as a teenage believer inside the church, everything that mattered about salvation seemed to have happened on the cross. The cross is where Jesus died, bearing the wrath of God and paying the penalty for our sin. The resurrection of Jesus was mentioned, but its significance seemed no greater than that of any other miracle. What happened on the cross is what mattered to our salvation. The resurrection was a way for God to provide a happy ending to the story. But is salvation truly only about the cross? To understand the significance of the resurrection, we must take a few steps back and examine why it might be necessary.
We exist in a broken, chaotic world. On the Earth, there is violence. The weather is destructive. Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and temperature extremes destroy life and upend civilizations. Animals prey upon one another and even upon man. Disease and pestilence infect and spread as far and as wide as possible. Human sin destroys life after life. Though God created the world to be good, the fall of creation has thrown all things into turmoil.
A popular notion among Christians is that God is going to save us from the turmoil of this world by removing us from it. We will pass from the Earth in death and our souls will ascend to heaven. Perhaps we will get a set of wings along the way, and our reward will be to sit upon the clouds and play harps for all eternity. This, however, is not God’s plan for redemption. God is not out to redeem only human souls, but all of creation. In Romans 8:19-21, Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” The whole of creation is eagerly awaiting restoration, and this restoration is tied to the completion of God’s redemption of humanity. If the fall of man threw creation into turmoil, then the redemption of man will usher in the restoration of creation from the fall. We are not talking about spirit trees here, though. God is going to redeem physical trees and physical bodies. Paul affirms this in verse 23, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). If God plans to not just save souls but also to restore dead, decaying bodies to eternal life, how will he accomplish this? The resurrection of Jesus.
When Jesus rose from the grave, he became the first full citizen in God’s new creation. 1 Corinthians 15:23 asserts that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. When God put the full weight of his wrath against sin and the full penalty for sin upon Christ and was able to raise him from the dead, he proved once and for all that he can take any sinner who is in Christ and resurrect him from the dead into new eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of the resurrection and restoration of creation. Without this guarantee, we would have no hope at forgiveness of sins. In fact, Paul writes that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, “your faith is futile,” “you are still in your sins,” and “[Christians] are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). From the last beat of Jesus’ heart on Good Friday until the stone was rolled away on Sunday morning, the universe was left holding its breath. Christians all over the world gather to celebrate every Sunday that the New Creation is here, and His name is Jesus.
How do we respond to the necessity of the resurrection? What do we do with the knowledge that Jesus’ taking up his life again guarantees that God will give us new bodies? First, we take heart about the fallen state of our own bodies. Our bodies grow weaker with age. Some of them are born without limbs or have limbs severed from them in the course of our lives. Some of our brains just don’t function quite right. God’s promise is that it will not always be so. We will be in bodies for eternity, but those bodies will bear none of the stain of sinful fallen creation. Second, we can do good works as citizens of a New Kingdom. We are heralds of the gospel, of the good news that the rebels are forgiven and the King is returning to restore all things. As we do good works on the Earth, whether they be healing the sick, digging a well, or handing out a cup of water, we can be sure that what we do matters. It matters, because we are demonstrating how God is pushing back the darkness in the fallen material world and will one day restore all of creation through what Jesus did. Last, we can sacrifice our own bodies to tell others about Jesus. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, not even the sword (Romans 8:35-36). We can lay down our lives knowing that the God who resurrects and restores all things will not only give us the courage to share the gospel but will also raise us from the dead into eternity whole and complete, wiping every tear from every eye (Revelation 7:17). Far from being a happy ending tacked onto our salvation, the resurrection of Jesus is a central and indispensable part of our hope for eternal life.