The Centrality of the Resurrection

The Centrality of the Resurrection May 25, 2011

Evangelicals are crucicentric. Like Paul they preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). David Bebbington noted that in the nineteenth interdenominational newspaper the The British Weekly the most frequently preached text was Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer life, but Christ lives in me. The life I life in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.[1] Worship music from Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wonderous Cross” to Keith Getty and Stuart Townshend’s “In Christ Alone” demonstrates that the cross has been the centre of evangelical worship. The cross-centred vision of evangelicalism is captured perfectly by John Piper: “All exultation in anything else should be exultation in the cross. If you exult in the hope of glory you should be exulting in the cross of Christ. If you exult in tribulation because tribulation works hope, you should be exulting in the cross of Christ. If you exult in your weaknesses, or in the people of God, you should be exulting in the cross of Christ.”[2] Christian discipleship is cruciformity, being conformed to the pattern of the cross, dying to self in service to God. That is is what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus daily (Luke 9:23) and to be crucified to the world (Gal 6:14).

In light of this cross-centred faith, the resurrection has been regarded largely as a confirmation of what the cross achieved and proof of life after death. John Stott speaks for many when he writes that “what the resurrection did was to vindicate the Jesus whom men had rejected, to declare with power that he is the Son of God, and publicly to confirm that his sin-bearing death had been effective for the forgiveness of sins”.[3] On the apologetic frontier, Gary Hebermas says: “Jesus’ resurrection is an actual example of our eternal life. It is the only miracle that, by its very nature, indicates the reality of the afterlife.”[4] Most scholars, preachers, and teachers know full well that the resurrection is more than proof of the atonement and evidence for life after death, but at the popular level “proof” is what the resurrection is reduced to. A kind of certificate of authenticity for substitutionary atonement theories and a hope for going to heaven when you die. Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher noted that “Western theological thought, while affirming that ‘on the third day he rose again from the dead,’ has nonetheless given relatively more weight to the crucifixion as the primary expression of the Christ event.”[5] The problem is that this is selling the resurrection short, like saying that flowers prove the existence of colors, or flowers point to the reality of photosynthesis.

We have to remember, that cross and resurrection are an indissoluable unity. The cross without the resurrection is just martyrdom, at the most an act of solidarity with the persecuted nation, and at worst a wrongly calculate disaster. Conversely, the resurrection without the cross is a miraculous intrusion into history, a redemptive-historical enigma, and a paranormal freak show with indeterminable significance. But together the cross and resurrection constitute the fulcrum upon which God’s intention to repossess the world for himself is launched and enacted.[6] The four Gospels climax in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The preaching of Jesus’ resurrection is arguably more pervasive than the cross in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:31; 3:26; 4:2, 33; 10:41; 13:33; 17:18). The Old Testament texts most often cited in the New Testmaent were Psalms 2 and 110 which were focused on Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (e.g., Acts 13:33; Heb 1:2, 5 // Acts 2:34; 1 Cor 15:25; Heb 1:3). Primitive confessional materials known to Paul emphasize that Jesus died and rose (see 1 Thess 4:14; 1 Cor 15:3-8; 2 Cor 5:15; Rom 4:25). The resurrection figures prominently in Paul’s concise summaries of the gospel (Rom 1:3-4; 10:9-10; 1 Cor 15:3-8; 2 Tim 2:8). The presupposition behind the prophecy of the Book of Revelation are the words of Jesus to John: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:18). I rather like the comment of Cyprian: “I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection; for if, after being crucified, He had remained as He was, I had not perchance confessed it, for I might have concealed both it and my Master; but now that the Resurrection has followed the Cross, I am not ashamed to declare it.”[7]

[1] David Bebbington, “The Gospel in the Nineteenth Century,” Vox Evangelical 13 (1983): 24 (19-28)

[2] John Piper, “Boasting in the Cross,” Preached at the Passion OneDay 2000 Conference. Cited 21 May 2011.

[3] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Leicester: IVP, 1989), 238.

[4] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 163 (italics original).

[5] Markus Barth and Verne H. Fletcher, Acquittal by Resurrection (New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1964), v.

[6] Bird, Saving Righteousness, 57-58.

[7] Cyprian, Lectures 13.4.

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