I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: 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, and that he was seen … (1 Corinthians 15:3-5, NKJV).
The Apostle Paul reminds his Corinthian readers of the Gospel that he had preached and they had received, in which they stood and by which they were being saved if they held it fast and had not believed in vain.
What is the Gospel?
It is composed of two parts, the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. First, Christ died for our sins; second, He was raised on the third day.
True, the emphasis is on His death, since it is by His death that He dealt with our sins. Nevertheless, the Christ who died for our sins was raised, and His resurrection illumines His death.
These two doctrines of the death and resurrection of Jesus were both Biblical, “according to the scriptures,” that is, foretold in the Old Testament. They were also both historical. They really happened. Their historicity is vouched for in each case.
So how is our understanding of Jesus’ death affected by the fact that He rose from the dead? Or, more accurate, that He “was raised,” for the common way of describing the resurrection in the New Testament is to ascribe it not to Jesus Himself (“He rose”) but to God the Father (“He was raised”). Why did God the Father raise Jesus from the dead?
Let me commend to you three propositions derived from the Epistle to the Romans.
1. God raised Jesus to demonstrate the deity of His person
Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Let us look at this historically.
As the three years of Christ’s public ministry ran their course, the apostles became increasingly convinced He was the Messiah. But when He warned them that He must suffer and die, they could not reconcile this dreadful prospect with their ripening faith in His divine Person. Then He was arrested, tried, condemned, crucified, and all their hopes were shattered.
It is hard to conceive the greatness of their perplexity. The tears they wept were not just of bereavement, but of bewilderment and bitter despair.
Then God raised Him! He was “powerfully designated God’s Son by the resurrection.” Jesus had never predicted His death without adding that He would rise. He knew His death would not be the end. Now they knew, too.
And the resurrection became the burden of their message. Again and again we read this kind of thing: “This Jesus you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, but God raised him up” (Acts 2:23, 24; Cf. Acts 3:15; 4:10; 5.30).
Exactly! On the cross Jesus may have seemed defeated, but God reversed man’s sentence and by the resurrection publicly vindicated Him. It was the resurrection that convinced Saul of Tarsus that Jesus, whom he had been persecuting as an impostor, was true after all.
2. God raised Jesus to confirm the efficacy of His death
He “was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification” (see Romans 4:25,). Jesus was not content to foretell His death as a fact; He indicated its purpose. He said that He was going to give His life as a ransom for many, and that His blood would be shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
Well, He died all right. That is irrefutable fact. But how could His followers be sure that the purpose of His death had been accomplished?
The answer is by the resurrection. God confirmed the satisfactoriness of His Son’s death by raising Him from the dead. The resurrection was God’s own proof that Jesus had not died in vain. If Jesus had not been raised, we could never have known if His sacrifice for sin had been accepted.
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18, RSV).
But Christ has been raised, to show that He did not die in vain. And since He did not die in vain, we have not believed in vain. We are no longer in our sins, but justified from them. And those who have died in Christ have not perished, but are with Christ in glory.
3. God raised Jesus to complete the salvation of His people
We turn now to Romans 6. I must ask you specially to read verses 4, 5 and 8 to 11. These verses make plain that God is concerned not only with the justification of His people but with their sanctification; not only to bring them into His favor—forgiven and accepted sinners—but to transform them into Christ-likeness.
If we belong to Christ, because we have become one with Him by faith, then we have died with Him to sin and risen with Him to newness of life.
The merit of His death and the power of His resurrection have both become ours. And one day our bodies will rise too. We shall be raised from physical death also and clothed with new, glorious bodies like His.
Thus each stage of our salvation is tied to the resurrection of Christ: our justification, sanctification and glorification, that is, our acceptance before God, our growth in holiness, and our acquisition of new bodies on the Last Day.
In the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we have the proof of our justification, the power of our sanctification, and the pattern of our glorification. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a vital foundation of the Christian religion. The Christian faith is not only “the faith of Christ crucified,” but “the faith of Christ risen.”
Let me apply this to my readers with some direct questions:
First, are you doubtful about the deity of Jesus? Then examine the evidence for the resurrection. God raised Jesus from the dead to demonstrate the deity of His Person. He was powerfully designated God’s Son by the resurrection.
Are you doubtful about your salvation? Whether you are accepted before God and your sins forgiven? Then look at the empty tomb! God raised Jesus from the dead to confirm the efficacy of His sacrifice.
Are you doubtful about the possibility of victory? Then remember: God raised Jesus from the dead to complete your salvation! You need to be convinced that Jesus is alive. If you belong to Him, you have risen with Him. In the power of the resurrection you and I can be “more than conquerors.”
This article was first published in the Australian Church Record on April 8, 1965. It is condensed and reprinted with permission.
John Stott (1921-2011) was a leading evangelical theologian who served as rector of All Souls Langham Place, London, for some 25 years. He was a personal friend of Billy Graham and worked closely with BGEA in the Lausanne ’74 and Amsterdam 2000 evangelism conferences.