what if jesus never rose from the dead?
The time of year that sees a country hungry with anticipation—ready for the assorted chocolate rabbits and colorful tie-dyed eggs. It provides an easy entry into spring, where we can turn our backs on a non-existent Texas winter and look forward to flowers and fresh air.
That doesn’t last, though. Once Easter’s over, the color can fade. It won’t always be a day full of sunshine and hope. The candy is destroyed by famished children, the eggs are found and wrenched open, the incredible brunches have depleted their food stock, and then what? Everything returns to normal, as if that one day had simply come and gone—a day full of joy and laughter and powerful, moving sermons that rallied you for the sake of Christ’s mission on the cross so long ago.
The entirety of Easter doesn’t mean anything if our celebrations don’t point towards the risen King. So that leads us to a question: is Easter just a historic remembrance of an event from long ago? Or is Easter something more?
WHAT IF THE RESURRECTION NEVER HAPPENED?
If we’re not careful, we can easily be so overwhelmed by Christ’s death and ensuing resurrection that we underplay the importance of what happened on Easter. Literally—let’s spell it out. Jesus came back to life. He beat death. Death could not hold Him. Without the resurrection, Good Friday is just a day. There’s no hope for us or the rest of humanity without Mary Magdalene’s announcement to the disciples in John 20:18: “I have seen the Lord.”
What if she had never seen him? Paul explores this exact question in 1 Corinthian 15:12-19.
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
So, if the resurrection never happened:
- Not even Christ has been raised. There would have to be a natural reason for the disappearance of Jesus’ body. This undermines the power of a triune God and the entirety of the Gospel.
- And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. It’s over. The Gospel means nothing. Not only is it no longer good news, it’s worthless news—bad news that contributes to faith in a false teacher.
- We are then found to be false witnesses. Who then, can trust our judgment? Jesus, the apostles and every Christian since is a liar and a fraud.
- And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Our sin is no longer defeated—we’re still captive to sin and its consequences. And we know that the wages of sin are death, so that’s real comforting, huh?
- Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. Every person who’s died in hopes of a glorious afterlife with the Lord are lost. They’re in hell.
All of that? The lists, the hopelessness that comes from thinking about an Easter that’s no longer an Easter, but just a day? It only serves to remind us—the faithful Christians who know a great King—that Jesus coming back from the dead meant EVERYTHING.
WHAT DOES EASTER MEAN FOR THE CHRISTIAN?
Thank the Lord that Paul’s message continues in the hope of a truly resurrected King, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22. There is good news! Our Lord truly rose from the dead, making himself known as a God who even death couldn’t hold back. He has risen!
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
So, if the resurrection did happen:
- We can identify Christ as the promised Messiah. In Isaiah 11:1–9, God promises a King from David’s line—a branch of Jesse—that would bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord would rest on Him, and righteousness will be buckles around His waist. What a promise fulfilled!
- We can be justified as children of God. Our punishment for sin is death, and yet Christ suffered for our sins in our place. But then God raised Jesus from the dead, showing that death had no hold on him—his own justification by the Lord justifies us. We are no longer slaves to sin.
- Jesus now reigns over the universe with all enemies under his feet. Oh death, where is your sting! With his resurrection, Jesus showed his power over death. After all, the last enemy to be defeated is death.
- One day, we’ll be glorified. And the final glory will come—us, as children of God—will be given new bodies when Christ comes back for the church. In the twinkling of an eye, as the trumpet calls, in an instant. 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 shows us that promise.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
So that’s the promise. That the Lord rose again, having defeated death, to make us just as new and clean and blameless as himself. It’s not just a historical event to celebrate—it’s our salvation rejoice in as we praise a King who loved us enough to suffer as the propitiation for our sins on Good Friday. Without Good Friday, there’s no Easter. And without Easter, we would be lost.
“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.” G.K. Chesterton"