What's So Important about Jesus' Resurrection?
After the widow’s son of Zarephath died, Elijah prayed to God, “and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:22). A few years later, the prophet Elisha raised the dead son of a Shunammite (2 Kings 4:32-35). Then, after Elisha’s death, a dead man, in the process of being buried in the tomb of Elisha, was restored to life after touching Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:20-21). When Jesus was on Earth, He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 8:21-24,35-43), as well as the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-16) and Lazarus, who had been buried for four days (John 11:1-45). After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Matthew recorded how “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (27:52-53). Then later, during the early years of the church, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-43), while Paul raised the young man Eutychus, who had died after falling out of a three-story window (Acts 20:7-12). All of these people died, and later rose to live again. Although some of the individuals arose very shortly after death, Lazarus and (most likely) the saints who were raised after the resurrection of Jesus, were entombed longer than was Jesus. In view of all of these resurrections, some have asked, “What is so important about Jesus’ resurrection?” If others in the past have died to live again, what makes His resurrection so special? Why is the resurrection of Jesus more significant than any other?
First, similar to how the miracles of Jesus were worked in order to set Him apart as the Son of God and the promised Messiah, even though all others who worked miracles during Bible times were not God in the flesh, the resurrection of Jesus is more significant than any other resurrection simply because the inspired apostles and prophets said that it was. Many people throughout the Bible worked miracles in order to confirm their divine message (cf. Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:1-4), but only Jesus did them as proof of His divine nature. Once, during the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, a group of Jews surrounded Jesus and asked, “If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24)? Jesus responded to them saying, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me…. I and My Father are one” (John 10:25,30). These Jews understood that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God in the flesh (cf. 10:33,36), and Jesus wanted them to understand that this truth could be known as a result of the miracles that He worked. They testified of His deity (cf. John 20:30-31). Why? Because He said they did (10:25,35-38; cf. John 5:36). The miracles that Jesus performed bore witness of the fact that He was from the Father (John 5:36), because He said He was from the Father. A miracle in and of itself did not mean the person who worked it was deity. Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Peter, Paul, and a host of others worked miracles, with some even raising people from the dead, but not for the purpose of proving they were God in the flesh. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament worked miracles to confirm their message that Jesus was the Son of God, not to prove that they were God (cf. Acts 14:8-18). Jesus, on the other hand, performed miracles to bear witness that He was the Son of God, just as He claimed to be (cf. John 9:35-38).
Likewise, one reason that Jesus’ miraculous resurrection is more significant than the resurrections of Lazarus, Tabitha, Eutychus, or anyone else who was raised from the dead, is simply because the inspired apostles and prophets in the early church said that it was more important. Like the miracles He worked during His earthly ministry that testified of His deity, His resurrection also bore witness of His divine nature. There is no record of anyone alleging that Lazarus was God’s Son based upon his resurrection, nor did the early church claim divinity for Eutychus or Tabitha because they died and came back to life. None of the above-mentioned individuals who were resurrected ever claimed that their resurrection was proof of deity, nor did any inspired prophet or apostle. On the other hand, Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). His resurrection was different because of Who He was—the Son of God. Just as the miracles He worked during His earthly ministry testified of His divine message, and thus also of His divine nature, so did His resurrection.
Second, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is seen in the fact that He was the first to rise from the dead never to die again. Since no one who has risen from the dead is still living on Earth, and since there is no evidence in the Bible that God ever took someone who had risen from the dead into heaven without dying again, it is reasonable to conclude that all who have ever arisen from the dead, died in later years. Jesus, however, “having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him” (Romans 6:9). Jesus said of Himself: “I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:17-18). All others who previously were raised at one time, died again, and are among those who “sleep” and continue to wait for the bodily resurrection. Only Jesus has truly conquered death. Only His bodily resurrection was followed by eternal life, rather than another physical death. Although it has been argued by skeptics that “it’s the Resurrection, per se, that matters, not the fact that Jesus never died again” (see McKinsey, 1983, p. 1), Paul actually linked the two together, saying, God “raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption” (Acts 13:34, emp. added). Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews argued for a better life through Jesus on the basis of His termination of death. One reason for the inadequacy of the old priesthood was because “they were prevented by death.” Jesus, however, because He rose never to die again, “continues forever” in “an unchangeable priesthood,” and lives to make intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:23-25).
A third reason why Jesus’ resurrection stands out above all others is because it alone was foretold in the Old Testament. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter affirmed that God had raised Jesus from the dead because it was not possible for the grave to hold Him. As proof, he quoted Psalm 16:8-11 in the following words:
I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence (Acts 2:25-28).
Peter then explained this quote from Psalms by saying:
Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses (Acts 2:29-32).
The apostle Paul also believed that the psalmist bore witness to Christ, and spoke of His resurrection. In his address at Antioch of Pisidia, he said:
And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: “I will give you the sure mercies of David.” Therefore He also says in another Psalm: “You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:32-39).
Where is the prophecy for the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter? When did the prophets ever foretell of Eutychus or Tabitha’s resurrection? They are not there. No resurrected person other than Jesus had his or her resurrection foretold by an Old Testament prophet. This certainly makes Jesus’ resurrection unique.
Fourth, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is seen in the fact that His resurrection was preceded by numerous instances in which He prophesied that He would defeat death, even foretelling the exact day on which it would occur. Jesus told some scribes and Pharisees on one occasion, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40, emp. added). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recorded how Jesus “began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21, emp. added; cf. Mark 8:31-32; Luke 9:22). While Jesus and His disciples were in Galilee, Jesus reminded them, saying, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up” (Matthew 17:22-23, emp. added). Just before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus again reminded His disciples, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19, emp. added). Jesus’ prophecies concerning His resurrection and the specific day on which it would occur were so widely known that, after Jesus’ death, His enemies requested that Pilate place a guard at the tomb, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day…” (Matthew 27:63-64, emp. added). They knew exactly what Jesus had said He would do, and they did everything in their power to stop it.
Where are the prophecies from the widow’s son of Zarephath? Had he prophesied of his resurrection prior to his death? Or what about the son of the Shunammite woman that Elisha raised from the dead? Where are his personal prophecies? Truly, no one mentioned in the Bible who rose from the dead prophesied about his or her resurrection beforehand, other than Jesus. And certainly no one ever prophesied about the exact day on which he or she would arise from the dead, save Jesus. This prior knowledge and prophecy makes His resurrection a significant event. He overcame death, just as He predicted. He did exactly what he said He was going to do, on the exact day He said He was going to do it.
Finally, the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection is seen in the fact that He is the only resurrected person ever to have lived and died without having committed one sin during His lifetime. He was “pure” and “righteous” (1 John 3:3; 2:1), “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). He was “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19), “Who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). No one else who has risen from the dead ever lived a perfect life, and then died prior to his or her resurrection for the purpose of taking away the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29). Because Jesus lived a sinless life, died, and then overcame death in His resurrection, He alone has the honor of being called “the Lamb of God” and the “great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14). “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many,” and because of His resurrection “those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
Whether or not Eutychus, Tabitha, Lazarus, etc., rose from the grave, our relationship with God is not affected. Without Jesus’ resurrection, however, there would be no “Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). Without Jesus’ resurrection, He would not be able to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Without Jesus’ resurrection, we would have no assurance of His coming and subsequent judgment (Acts 17:31).
Most certainly, Jesus’ resurrection is significant—more so than any other resurrection ever to have taken place. Only Jesus’ resurrection was verbalized by inspired men as proof of His deity. Only Jesus rose never to die again. Only Jesus’ resurrection was prophesied in the Old Testament. Only Jesus prophesied of the precise day in which He would arise from the grave, and then fulfilled that prediction. Only Jesus’ resurrection was preceded by a perfect life—a life lived, given up, and restored in the resurrection for the purpose of becoming man’s Prince, Savior, and Mediator.
McKinsey, C. Dennis (1983), “Commentary,” Biblical Errancy, pp. 1-4, February.