Does It REALLY Matter if Jesus Rose Again?

Some Christians describe (more subtly than this) Christ’s work on the cross as an exercise in example setting. Christ’s crucifixion teaches Christians how to live as self-sacrificial servants. And it certainly sounds Biblical, because Christians are called to serve and sacrifice. I held this view of the cross for quite some time. It wasn’t reasoned a choice, so much as what I’d heard for years.

Eventually I started asking questions: If Jesus simply came to set an example, then did it really matter if the Biblical accounts of his life were historical? Does it really matter whether Jesus was born of a virgin? Does it really matter whether he really did all those miracles? And, most importantly, does it really matter whether Jesus rose again? It’s the example-setting story that matters, not its historicity, right? Would the historicity of these events really change anything about my life? If Jesus’ life functions to set an example, then the historical truth of it really didn’t matter. The story set the example; that’s what Christians need, someone to emulate their life after.

Or so I believed. At least until I came Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. He wrote,

And 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. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. …If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19; 32)

Initially I found this passage indecipherable. Why is our faith futile if Christ wasn’t raised? We can still live self-sacrificial lives! Why should we be pitied? We’ve answered the highest calling: to pour ourselves out!

This passage crushed my atrophied view of the cross. It gave spiritual muscles to walk with. It can help us definitively understand why the historicity of Christ’s life (and the Bible) really does matter. Let’s look at three brief implications of this passage:

1. Jesus came to make dead men alive, not just set an example. If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then Paul says “you are still in your sins.” Why? Setting an example has no power to make dead sinners alive to God in righteousness. Christ’s example shows us how to live, but seeing a good life doesn’t mean we have the power to live one. We are like those “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

Thankfully, the cross wasn’t about setting an example, it was about bringing dead sinners to life. While we “were dead in [our] trespasses and sins,” God “made us alive together with the Christ” (Eph 2:1, 5). Christ’s work on the cross crucifies the power of sin in our lives, and makes us alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Only Christ’s real death kills our sin, and only Christ’s real resurrection makes us alive to God. Christ did not come to set an example, he came to bring the power of salvation.

2. Christ’s promises are meaningless if they’re not historical. If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead “we are of all people most to be pitied,” because Jesus has no power to fulfill the promises we trust in.

This is simple logic. If someone promised to pay you for a soda, but instead told a story about paying you, he did not kept his promise. Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). To fulfill this promise, he must truly defeat our slave masters: sin and death. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then death and sin defeated him on the cross. A story about resurrection is insufficient. Only a historical resurrection can fulfill his promise by defeating sin and death and sets us free.

3. The Bible is deceptive and dangerous if it’s not historical. If the Bible, which purports to be historical, is actually a fable, then we can’t trust any of it. If Biblical authors lied about historicity, why should we trust that they have the true word of God? Why should we obey the Bible? Why should we hope in eternal life?

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead he was a failure. What good did his sacrifice accomplish for others? To set an example? It’s a terrible example! Sacrificing ourselves to accomplish nothing? If Jesus did not historically rise from the dead, all is lost. All hope. All meaning. Paul says, “Eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” He’s right.

We can only call Jesus a good example only if he rose from the dead, because then he sacrificed himself for something: to save sinners. If he rose again we have a living hope for a perfect life to come. Does the historicity of the Bible matter? Yes. Definitively, yes.

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