The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity. Dislodge it, and the whole building collapses in a sorry heap. The Bible itself acknowledges this and traces out the implications if Jesus did not rise from the dead: it would make Christianity a cruel sham, its preachers liars, its promise of forgiveness an illusion, and it would shatter the basis we have for any hope beyond our current existence (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
Perhaps the clearest prediction of the resurrection came from the lips of Jesus Himself. He repeatedly taught His disciples that He would die and rise after three days:
From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. (Matthew 16:21)
Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, “and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” And they were exceedingly sorrowful. (Matthew 17:22-23)
Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, “and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” (Matthew 20:17-19)
Further, His prediction was no secret; even His enemies who crucified Him remembered it after He died. This was what prompted them to take steps to stop a resurrection being faked by His disciples:
On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him [away], and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make [it] as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)
Jesus’ bold prediction could go only one of two ways. Three days after His death He would either be confirmed as the Christ, or exposed as a fraud. After all, someone who announces a prophecy in the Lord’s name that does not come to pass is not from God (Deuteronomy 18:22). The highly specific and short timeframe Jesus gave meant that it was the people who saw Him alive on earth – who ate and talked with Him, and who saw Him die – who would be the first jury to decide whether He really was who He claimed to be.
So what happened three days after He died? His tomb was discovered empty (John 20:1-2) with the grave clothes left inside (John 20:4-5), eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Him alive (1 Corinthians 15:3-8); and a couple of months later, the church emerged – consisting of people who believed the testimony of those who said they saw the risen Lord Jesus. To those who come to this conclusion today based on the testimony of the word of God, the Lord Jesus made a promise:
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed [are] those who have not seen and [yet] have believed.” (John 20:29)
The Bible presents Jesus as the Christ of God, and promises all who take God at His word on this matter salvation – the benefit the Lord Jesus’ sin-bearing death provides:
… “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)
The stakes could not be higher – if it didn’t happen then there’s no basis for hope beyond this life. If it did, then it means faith in Jesus as Lord (an no-one else, for He is the only Saviour on offer Acts 4:12) is the most urgent and important issue to settle while you’re still alive.