According to Romans 4:25 Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. But aren’t we justified by Jesus’ death? In what way can Jesus’ resurrection be said to justify us?
The resurrection is a doctrine that has had too little attention among us Evangelicals. We rightly focus on Jesus’ death as the central doctrine of our faith. Jesus has died on the cross, paying the penalty for our sins, which will save us from the wrath to come. Jesus also rose from the dead – true. But would the logic of the gospel be disturbed if I left out the resurrection? The problem is sin; the solution is Jesus’ death on the cross. Would it matter if I left the resurrection out of my Christian thinking and evangelism?
In recent times Josh McDowell and many others have used the resurrection for apologetics. They have shown that historically the resurrection is very believable and more plausible than the alternative theories (as to what happened to Jesus’ body; eg the swoon theory). These apologetics have been very useful. However it is the gospel that saves, not apologetics. You cannot argue someone into the kingdom of God.
In the Old Testament the resurrection refers to the day when God will judge the world. This creation will come to an end. The new perfect creation will begin. Everyone will be raised from the dead, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). The resurrection is what will happen at judgement day.
When Jesus spoke about his resurrection it would have sounded to the disciples as if he was saying that he would rise on the last day along with everyone else in the new creation. There was no idea of a single person who would rise from the dead before everyone else. However this was necessary. There needs to be time for the gospel to go out into the world so that people can hear it and be saved.
Jesus’ resurrection spells the end for this creation; it shows us that judgement is nigh; and it means that the new creation is just around the corner. In Acts 2, after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven he poured out his Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). Through the resurrection of Jesus the Holy Spirit has come. And it is the Holy Spirit that takes the words of the gospel and convicts people of their sin and turns them to God. If Jesus died on the cross but did not rise from the dead we would not be forgiven our sins. It is through his resurrection that we receive the Holy Spirit, which makes the death of Christ effective in us. Thus we are justified through the resurrection of Jesus. As the gospel is preached Jesus’ resurrection announces the coming judgement and the new creation and itself achieves the new birth by which those who repent are saved. The resurrection justifies us and is a crucial Evangelical doctrine.
(By the way this doctrine has much to offer on the debate regarding limited atonement. Those who hold to limited atonement collapse the work of Jesus down to the cross alone. The Scriptures are clear in many places that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. The reason that his death is not effective for everyone though, is that it is through the resurrection that his Holy Spirit is poured out, making the death of Christ effective in the individual sinner. This happens for some only, not for everyone.)
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