What if the resurrection never happened?
Without Easter Sunday, Good Friday is just another Friday.
As Christians who exult in the evangel, the good news of God’s redeeming love for sinners, we rightly cherish above all else the cross of Jesus Christ. Good Friday services are among the most glorious of our annual gatherings as we reflect upon that sacrifice. We delight to read and pray and sing and preach of its cosmos-shaking significance for the sons of Adam and its comprehensive liberation of a creation that has been subjected to futility.
It is beyond comprehension: Jesus died in our place. He took upon himself the Father’s wrath, which we richly deserved to bear. He kept the law of God perfectly and laid down his life voluntarily, the innocent man serving the death sentence of the criminals. By faith in the Christ who hung on that judgment tree we are declared righteous. Not guilty. Price paid. Finished. God’s enemies now seated at his banquet table.
So enthralled (rightly) are we by the cross of Christ that we can, if we’re not careful, inadvertently underplay what happened on Easter—the bodily, literal resurrection of Jesus. After all, without Easter Sunday, Good Friday is just another Friday. It is Jesus’s resurrection that secured our resurrection (Col 2:12). We cannot rightly call the cross good news apart from Mary Magdalene’s stupefying announcement to the disciples in John 20:18: “I have seen the Lord.”
Pillar of our faith
Small wonder, then, the resurrection has been the focal point of attack from atheists and theological liberals throughout the history of the church.
Jesus contended with the Sadducees whose theological distinctive was to deny the resurrection of the dead. In the Enlightenment, British empiricist David Hume virtually made a career out of attacking the validity of Christ’s resurrection. Hume, the Sadducees, and the skeptics know that if one proves false the resurrection of Christ, then the Christian faith and its supernatural power collapses like a fort built from Lincoln Logs.
So what if Christ is not raised?
If Christ is not raised, the consequences for a fallen world are catastrophic. The apostle Paul ponders that awful possibility in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. If the resurrection is not true, then eight pillars that uphold the Christian faith crumble to dust. Good Friday becomes the true Black Friday. If there is some other explanation for the empty tomb, then . . .
1. Not even Christ is raised. This is the first and most obvious consequence, and it is nuclear fallout. If there is no resurrection from the dead, as Hume and the Sadducees claim, then Christ’s body was eaten by dogs or taken by thieves or secretly removed by Jesus’s disciples or there exists another naturalistic explanation for the claim by hundreds to have seen the risen Lord.
2. Preaching the gospel is useless. The good news is rendered no news. Actually, it is bad news. For apart from the resurrection, Jesus has not conquered suffering, sin, or death, and the persons of this unholy trinity will forever rule the created order as our conquerors. As the implaccable lawman Barney Fife delighted to tell crowds gathered in the streets of Mayberry, there is nothing to see here.
3. Faith in Christ is worthless. Faith in a corpse buried somewhere in the Middle East will redeem no one. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Hebrews 11 would better be dubbed the “hall of fools” instead of the hall of faith.
4. Every witness to the resurrection and all preachers of the resurrection are deluded liars. To deny the resurrection is to make liars of the apostles and of every gospel preacher to follow in their wake. They are not simply mistaken; they are peddling a whopper of a myth. Jesus, too, is a liar, for he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
5. Christianity is a fairy tale. Scripture is nothing but an outdated volume of pointless history comingled with superstition and myth. Missions and evangelism are a colossal waste of time, energy, and money. We do not spend effort and resources peddling Narnia, Middle Earth, or Pinnochio, and we should not waste our time pushing this ancient tale.
6. All of humanity remains captive to sin. Paul’s words become a damning sentence for the guilty: “The wages of sin is death.” Our world remains captive to sin, still enslaved to death. And without the resurrection, Romans 8 will never come to pass.
7. Everyone who died is in hell. There remains no sacrifice for sins, if Christ is not raised. This consequence follows from the previous one and means that every human being will face the full, unmediated wrath of God for all eternity.
8. Christians are the most foolish people on earth. Paul puts it this way: “If Christ be not raised, then we are of most men to be pitied.” Indeed. This is why the world, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1, sees the cross of Christ as foolishness. If every part of the gospel is not true, then we will have spent our days pursuing a God who will not benefit us beyond the grave. Not only are we objects of pity, the skeptics around us will indeed have the final laugh. Blaise Pascal’s famous “wager” will do little to soothe us in eternity, for the dice will have fallen on snake eyes, and the serpent of the paradise will have proven the victor.
He is not here, but has risen!
But praise be to God, Paul continues on to the good news: we know that Christ is risen from the dead, and since he has come out of the grave, death is swallowed up in victory. The angel’s words to the women at the tomb are true: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matt. 28:6). Every follower of Christ, when he arrives at the chilly river outside the Celestial City, can look death square in the face and say with unconscionable joy, “O death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the days of all days in human history. In all our teaching, talking, and theologizing about these events, let us remember that we cannot have the one without the other. And let us rejoice that Christ the Lord is risen!