The Getting Up
At the centre of the Christian creeds
stand the words: "The third day he rose again". "And if Christ be not
raised", says Paul, "your faith is vain" (1 Corinthians 15.17).
The resurrection is not an optional extra for Christians. It is the
heart and soul of the faith. The Bible gives three main reasons for its
First, the resurrection is God�s vindication of Jesus and his
teaching. The claims of the pre-Easter Jesus are not
self-authenticating, and neither is the saving significance of his
death. They are mere assertions until vindicated by the resurrection.
You can think of it like this. When Jesus said to the paralysed man,
"Your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2.5), the claim was proved when the man
got up and walked. When Jesus said his death would bring forgiveness of
sins to the whole world (Mark 10.45; John 1.29; 3.16-17), the claim was
proved when Jesus himself got up and walked. Paul uses exactly the same
word to speak of Jesus being raised as Jesus had used when he told the
paralysed man to get up.
The second significance of the resurrection in the New Testament is
that it marks a radically new quality of life. After his death, Jesus
does not simply resume normal life. Despite the analogy I have just
drawn with the paralysed man - and unlike the situation with Lazarus and
Jairus� daughter - Jesus� resurrection is not a continuation of an
essentially similar existence. It is something radically new. He appears
and disappears at will (Luke 24.31; John 20.19). The old order gives way
to "a new creation" (Galatians 6.15; Revelation 21.5).
Third, and leading on from the last point, the resurrection of Jesus
is central to the New Testament because it is not an isolated incident
but the first fruits of a great harvest which includes us. As so often,
the classic quotation comes from Paul: "For as in Adam all die, even so
in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15.22). But almost as
familiar are words on a similar theme from the First Letter of Peter:
"Blessed be the God and Father � who by his great mercy has given us a
new birth into a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus" (1.3).
These great biblical affirmations - that the resurrection (1)
vindicates Jesus� claims; (2) implies a radically new quality of life;
and (3) marks the beginning of a new order that includes all of us - are
far more important than speculations about what precisely happened on
the first Easter morning.
Indeed, if these things are true, then the resurrection is not
strictly speaking an historical event at all, because it has broken
through the barriers of time and space.
So asking historical questions about the resurrection body is rightly
condemned by Paul as the work of a fool (1 Corinthians 15.35-54). As we
have seen, the word "resurrection" simply means "getting up" and is the
natural partner to the phrase "going to sleep", which is used in the New
Testament to mean "dying" (e.g. John 11.11-14).
So to say that "the third day he rose again" neither requires nor
precludes any particular belief about the history of the physical body
of Jesus after it was laid in the tomb. But there are two quite proper
historical questions to ask in relation to the events following Good
Friday and Easter.
The first question is: How did the Christian Church come into being?
The second is: How did Jesus "the proclaimer" of God�s Kingdom turn
into Jesus Christ "the one proclaimed" as Son of God and saviour of the
To those two questions the Church replies: it is the resurrection of
Jesus that explains both these facts. Anyone who denies this explanation
needs to come up with a better one, for the facts cannot be denied.
The Church has come into existence and it does proclaim Jesus as Son
of God and the Risen Lord.