The resurrection is the hinge on which all of Christianity turns. It’s the foundation on which everything else rests, the capstone that holds everything else about Christianity together. Which means—crucially—that when Christians assert that Jesus rose from the dead, they are making a historical claim, not a religious one. Yes of course there are “religious” implications to that claim, if you want to call them that, but none of those is in the least valid if Jesus didn’t really, truly, historically come back to life from the dead. Even the early Christians understood this point. They weren’t interested in just creating a nice religious story that would encourage people, help them live better lives, and perhaps provide them with a metaphor of hope blooming out of despair that might help them endure the storms of this life. No, the early Christians wanted the world to know that they really believed that Jesus had gotten up out of the grave, and they themselves knew that if he didn’t really do that, then everything they stood for was empty and false and utterly worthless. It’s like Paul said in one of his letters: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14–19).
In other words, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christians are pathetic.
But here’s the other side of that coin: if Jesus did rise from the dead, then every human being is confronted with a demand to believe what he said, to acknowledge him as King, and to submit to him as Savior and Lord. And of course, my friend, that includes you.
Do you think it happened, or not?
Here’s the fundamental truth about Christians: we think it happened.
We don’t think the disciples were experiencing some kind of mass hallucination. That doesn’t even make sense given how many times people saw Jesus, over how much time, and in how many different groups.
We also don’t think it was all a big mistake. The last thing the Jewish rulers wanted was a rumor of a resurrected messiah floating around, so the first thing they would have done in the face of such a rumor was produce the body to put a stop to it. They never did. And on the other hand, if Jesus had somehow managed to survive his crucifixion, exactly how likely is it that this staggering, wounded, crucified, and spear-stabbed man would have been able to convince his stubborn, skeptical followers that he was the Lord of life and the Conqueror of death? Not highly likely, I’d say.
For that matter, we Christians also don’t think the disciples were perpetrating a hoax or a plot. If they were, what exactly would they have been hoping to get out of it? And why didn’t they pull the plug when it became clear they weren’t going to get what they were after—perhaps, for instance, just before the Romans chopped their heads off or drove the nails through their own wrists?
No, it wasn’t a hallucination, or a mistake, or a plot. Something else happened, and it was something that had the power to turn these cowardly, skeptical men into martyrs for Jesus, eyewitnesses willing to stake everything on him, and endure everything—even torturous death—for the sake of telling the world, “This man Jesus was crucified, but now he is alive!”
But more important than the fact of Jesus’s ascension into heaven is its significance. It wasn’t just a way for Jesus to conveniently disappear from the scene. It was God’s act of enthroning him and investing him with final and full authority to rule and to judge—and, wonderfully, to save! If you know yourself to be a sinner who deserves God’s wrath for your rebellion against him, then the fact that Jesus now sits on the throne of the universe is astonishingly good news. It means that the great King who will ultimately judge you and sentence you is also one who loves you and who invites you to take salvation and mercy and grace from his hand.
That’s what the Bible means when it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). It means that Jesus, the resurrected and reigning King, the One to whom God has granted all authority in heaven and on earth, has the right and authority to save people from their sin.