The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the point in history that is the cornerstone of God’s plan to make provision for the salvation of humankind. It is the dividing line between those who were looking for a king rather than a Savior, between those who were looking for deliverance from Rome rather than from sin. It marks the distinction in worldviews between those who seek to understand life through the lens of the resurrection of Christ and those who build upon a humanistic foundation. It marks the turning point in Satan’s efforts to bring destruction to the human race, and in God’s plan to reunite willing humanity to Him for eternity.
The bodily resurrection of Christ is at the center of a significant debate. Was it myth or reality? Was the story of the Resurrection simply to cover the embarrassment of the disciples, who tried to justify their belief in Jesus as the Messiah? Was it only some kind of spiritual event, the freeing of a soul from the body; a continuing influence in motivating the development of the Christian church; the figment of an excited imagination? Or was Jesus resurrected from the grave in His human body?
The answer to that question depends largely on the worldview used to understand the event. The modern era brought with it assumptions about what can be accepted as actually taking place in history. One of those assumptions is the principle of analogy—that a present example of whatever is claimed to have happened in the past must be present. This principle basically shuts God out of His universe. God could not do anything miraculous; only natural law can explain past and current events.
Skepticism about the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not new. The Sadducees believed that death was final, that there was no life beyond the grave (Matt. 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 4:1, 2; 23:8). Some Athenians mocked the idea of the resurrection, while others deferred to continue the discussion another time (Acts 17:31, 32).
On many occasions Jesus informed His followers that He would be crucified and resurrected on the third day (Matt. 26:61; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Luke 24:46; John 2:9-21; 10:17, 18). But they were not looking for a crucified Lord; they were looking for a king to deliver them from the Romans. Thus, the Crucifixion was a heartbreaking disappointment to them.
Mary and the other women did not expect to find an empty tomb when they went to embalm Jesus’ body. The women’s report of the risen Lord seemed like idle words to the apostles (Luke 24:1-11). The disciples on the road to Emmaus had no expectation that Jesus accompanied them (Luke 24:13-32). Thomas would not believe the report of the disciples until he saw Jesus for himself (John 20:24-29).
The strength of unbelief dominates many worldviews today, just as it did in the time of Christ. Worldviews are hard to change. Christ said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
But for those who do accept Moses and the prophets, the bodily resurrection of Christ is good news! It transformed the ragtag disciples into a powerful evangelistic force. It was a compelling force to take the message of the gospel to the world.
As we celebrate the passion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, let’s open our lives to its transforming power. Instead of interpreting the Resurrection through the lens of our culture, we will see our culture from the perspective of the cross and the Resurrection. We will understand God’s action in the world—from Creation to implementation of the plan of salvation; to the cross, Resurrection, and Ascension to heavenly ministry; to the Second Coming and the establishment of the new earth and the eradication of evil. The cross transforms our understanding of God and His direct action in history.
The climax of the Gospel of John is the declaration of the doubting Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). And for all who stand at the decision point of their lives, Jesus answered the question for all time: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (verse 29).
E. Edward Zinke is editor-at-large of the Adventist Review. This article was published April 21, 2011.