When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, most contemporary Christian writing has been centred on its historicity. Preaching often tends to focus on the historical details and the fact that it really happened, rather than its meaning. As a result, the average pew sitter might have a robust apologetic in response to the historical claim of the resurrection, but be somewhat cloudy when it comes to its theological significance.
Partly this is right and necessary in our modern age of scepticism. Furthermore, Christianity is rooted in historical events and therefore cannot be separated from those events. As BB Warfield states, “If Christianity is entirely indifferent to the reality of this fact, then ‘Christianity’ is something wholly different from what it was conceived to be by its founders”. In this sense, we must continue to affirm that Jesus really did rise bodily from the dead. The historical is of great importance.
Yet in emphasizing the historical, the theological can often be neglected or underplayed. In this series of articles, I want us to think through the theological significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Each article will cover a different truth that the resurrection affirms—although by no means will we cover every truth! First up is what the resurrection assures us of in our standing before God.
Jesus’ resurrection shows that his work in dealing with our sin was successful and effective
The New Testament makes some pretty bold claims about what Jesus’ death achieves. It claims that his death for sin was once for all (Rom 6:10; 1 Pet 3:18) and that in his death, he satisfied God’s right anger at sin (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10). It also claims that by the death of Jesus, we are reconciled to God (Rom 5:10; Eph 2:12-13; Col 1:22). These are some pretty big claims!
But how do we know if Jesus’ death was actually effective? How can we be assured that, in his death, the price for sin has been paid and that we are reconciled to God? If there was no resurrection of Jesus, then all we can be confident about is that Jesus was willing to die and that he did die. Without the resurrection, we have no way of knowing if his death actually worked!
The confirmation of the work of Jesus on the cross is given by his resurrection: by rising from the dead, his death on the cross is declared effective. As Romans 4:25 declares, “[he] was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification”. The same idea is found in passages like Philippians 2:5-11 and Ephesians 1:20-23, where Jesus’ exaltation and lordship are in view. It is because Jesus’ death was effective that he was exalted to the highest place, raised from the dead and given “the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9). The resurrection shows that Jesus’ atoning work actually worked. As Paul declares, if there is no resurrection “you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17).
This means that the believer can have complete assurance: our sins have been paid for. God’s right anger has been satisfied. Our guilt because of our sin no longer needs to reign in us. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have forgiveness of sins and we can be confident of that forgiveness. As Bruce Milne helpfully points out, “real atonement has been attained and hence righteousness, reconciliation and freedom are truly brought to sinners”.
 Fred G Zasper, The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2010, p. 320.
 Bruce Milne, Know The Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief, third edition, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2009, p. 219.