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The Resurrection: What if it is Not True? What if it Is?

Author
Category Articles
Date April 2, 2018

It is worth asking the question: What difference does it make to believe in the resurrection of Christ, as opposed to not believing it? Death is clearly the great reality and the great leveler of life. Fools die and wise men die – as do kings and paupers, celebrities and nonentities. Princess Diana dies, and so too Kerry Packer and Bertrand Russell. Religion makes no difference. Christians die, Muslims die, Buddhists die, Hindus die, and rank unbelievers die. You will die and I will die (Eccles. 2:13–14; 9:2). We all know that it will happen, but we do not know when. If death is the bench mark of life, resurrection is the touchstone of the Christian faith.

What follows if Christ did not rise from the dead, and hence nobody else will be raised from the dead?

First, it would mean that the whole Christian message would be finished.

If Christ is not risen from the dead, the Christian faith has nothing to say to you (1 Cor. 15:12–19). The church should close down, Bibles should be sent to the museums, and prayer should cease. To continue with these would make Christians of all people the most to be pitied. If death is the end, then resurrection is a delusion, and Christianity is a delusion.

Secondly, this would mean that life would be ultimately meaningless and futile. It would be the message of the book of Ecclesiastes: vanity, vanity, everything is vanity. What would we live for? Eat, drink, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor. 15:32b). If there is no resurrection, the logical alternatives seem to be pleasure or suicide. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: ‘If there is no immortality, I shall throw myself into the sea.’ Bismarck said something similar: ‘Without the hope of an afterlife, this life is not even worth the effort of getting dressed in the morning.’

Two contrasting characteristics of modern life in the West are inordinate pleasure-seeking and a sense of despair. People have made a god of pleasure—of sexual experiences, drink, drugs, and having a good time. Ronald Conway said that Australia is ‘the land of the long weekend’.

People are addicted to their diversions; they live like this so that they will not have to think about their spiritual wretchedness, sin, and death. If they stopped to think, they would be in danger of giving in to despair. Life is reduced to watching 1001 movies before we die. Well then, what follows if Christ did rise from the dead, and every human being will be raised from the dead? The first thing to say is that there will be a judgment. As Jesus put it: ‘Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment’ ( John 5:28–29).

Every act, every word, every thought, and every motive will be judged by the Son of Man. This world will not go on and on; it will all be called to account on that day of days.

From this it follows that everything in this life has meaning. At the end of his long chapter on the resurrection, Paul speaks not of the glories of heaven, but of everyday life here on earth: ‘Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain’ (1 Cor. 15:58). Why prepare the Sunday school lesson, why face that hostile Scripture class again, why help that hard-faced neighbor who never appreciates anything, why send money off to missions, why change nappies, why go off to work this week? But you have a reason if there is a resurrection; there is purpose in everything. Even a slave has a reason for living, for his work has meaning before God (Col. 3:23-24).

The Christian has courage to face the day. Paul said that because he believed in the resurrection, he fought with the beasts at Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32a). That is almost certainly a figurative expression. Still, why face the lions, as it were, if there is no resurrection? Why testify to the truth or stand up against evil or even do anything even mildly dangerous if this life is all you have? A Christian is not to be reckless with his life, but neither is he to be paralyzed with fear. Faith gives courage;unbelief makes for fear.

Because the resurrection is coming, be prepared for it. Live without spot or wrinkle (2 Pet. 3:13–14). Take away the resurrection, and you take away the incentive. The Christians who have made the greatest progress in the Christian life have been the ones who thought most of the resurrection life. Even the rabid unbeliever Voltaire—whom Dr Johnson judged to be a wit without soul—noticed the difference: ‘I want my lawyer, my tailor, my servants, even my wife, to believe in God, and I fancy as a result I shall suffer from less theft and less cuckoldry.’

There is an obvious connection between what we believe about the life to come and how we live in the here and now.

Finally, the resurrection gives us hope in death. In holding to the truths of Christ’s resurrection and his coming again as king, we are to be encouraged and built up (see 1 Thess. 4:13–18; 5:1–11). Death is the destiny of each one of us. There is no hope for the person outside of Christ. But what happens when the Christian dies? He or she is received into the presence of Christ! What effect does that have on believers still on earth? They are sad but not desolate; they grieve but not as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). The ship rocks in the storm, but it does not sink.

When King David’s seven-day-old son died David’s life was at its lowest ebb. It had been shattered by his own sin—his adultery, his murder of Uriah, his deception, his exposure, and now the death of the little boy. In the midst of all this misery where could he find any hope? His hope was to be found not in himself but in the God who puts lives back together, who re-creates, who brings grace, and who raises the dead to life.

Even David’s great sin could not prevent God from accomplishing his purposes of grace. The believer has the assurance of Richard Sibbes: ‘There is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in me.’ David could not recall his little child, but one day he would join him, not simply in death, but in glorious resurrection (2 Sam. 12:23).

Does it make any difference to believe in the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection of the dead? Yes, all the difference in the  world, both in this one and in the next.


This article first appeared in the March 2009 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.

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