- David Schrader, PhD. National Pastor
During Easter week, Christians from around the world celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was a blessed time of celebration and an occasion to remember why Jesus came to earth.
You might be surprised to learn that the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection are falling out of favour among some who profess to be Christians.
A new poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation suggests that a majority of those who consider themselves Christians in the United Kingdom are not convinced Jesus physically died and rose from the dead. “Fewer than half of Christians in the UK think Jesus actually died and rose again for the forgiveness of their sins,” BBC Sunday host, William Crawley, summarized.
More than 2,000 British adults were polled in an online quiz between March 4 and 5, 2019. Only 46 percent of Christians believe a “key tenet of the Christian faith,” i.e., Jesus physically died and rose again as the Bible describes it.
Shockingly, an Anglican Priest, Dave Tomlinson, told the BBC the reason a lot of people don’t believe in Jesus’ physical death and resurrection is that it “just doesn’t make sense.” The idea that it took Jesus’ brutal death on the cross to bring all of humanity back to God “makes God out to be some kind of weird monster, really,” Tomlinson says. He suggests many believers are struggling with this idea, including a growing number in the evangelical tradition. 
This poll raises a critical question. BBC asked, “how much of the Easter story” does one have to believe to be a Christian? A more pertinent question may be, “Can those who do not believe in the entirety of the Easter story truly be called Christians?
To answer these questions, we need to look beyond a humanistic viewpoint and seek to understand what Jesus said about his own death and resurrection. We also need to explore what his disciples believed and what the Apostle Paul taught the early church about this subject.
1. What did Jesus say about his own death and resurrection?
Let’s look at Jesus’ depiction of his own death and resurrection.
When Jesus first spoke to his followers about his death and resurrection, it wasn’t a popular message. In Matthew 17:22-23 states, “While Jesus’ followers were gathering in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man will be handed over to people, and they will kill him. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” And the followers were filled with sadness.”
The announcement that Jesus had to die was not welcomed with enthusiasm. This was not what they had hoped for in a Messiah. They wanted an earthly king who would be physically present and who would rescue them from Rome’s oppression.
Then there was the account when Christ spoke to the Apostle Peter and the other disciples about his upcoming death. We see that Peter wasn’t prepared to accept Christ’s prediction of his death. In Mark 8:31-33 we read:
Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.
Obviously, Jesus was saying to Peter and to all of us, if you do not embrace my death and resurrection you have accepted a view scripted by Satan. People who profess to be Christians but do not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, need to ask themselves where their views come from.
Lastly, from Mark 10:32-34, Jesus gives a very detailed prophecy about his own death and resurrection:
Again, Jesus took the twelve apostles aside and began to tell them what was about to happen in Jerusalem. He said, “Look, we are going to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be turned over to the leading priests and the teachers of the law. They will say that he must die, and they will turn him over to the non–Jewish people, who will laugh at him and spit on him. They will beat him with whips and crucify him. But on the third day, he will rise to life again.
It seems that whenever Jesus talked about his death, he never saw it as an aberration. He knew exactly why he came to earth. The Apostle Peter said, “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began (1 Peter 1:20-21).”
So, this begs the question–if Jesus knew about his impending death, why didn’t he try to avoid it by leaving town? Better still, if he knew that there would be people today who would question the relevance of his death and resurrection, then why not abandon the idea all together?”
Why would he knowingly fulfil the words of Isaiah, where he says, "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.(Is. 53:7).” The answer lies in the preceding verse of Isaiah 53:6 wherein it says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
We needed Jesus to die for us! We are all separated from God because of our sins, and as such, our redemption necessitated his death. The problem today with so many people, including those who profess to be Christians, is that they do not see the gravity of their sin before a holy God; and because of that ignorance, they cannot understand the significance and necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection.
2. What did the disciples think about Jesus’ death and resurrection?
To say that Jesus’ death and resurrection was central to the disciples’ teaching would be an understatement. Here are just a few examples.
Regarding God’s love for us and the necessity of Christ’s death, the Apostle John said,“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins (1 John 4:9-10).”
In the following verse, the Apostle Peter speaks clearly about the necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection as a means to bring us home to God. “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18).”
3. What did the Apostle Paul teach the early Church about Jesus’ death and resurrection?
Those professing “Christians” today who do not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, obviously do not realize how central this teaching was to the Apostle Paul and the early church.
If you are a professing Christian, and you are not prepared to embrace the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then you are being deceived in the same manner as the Galatian believers were years ago. Paul said in Galatians 3:1, “Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.”
Paul states the validity of Christ’s death and resurrection to the early church both succinctly and categorically in Romans 4:25, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.”
Paul also goes on to affirm that the requirements of our salvation are contingent upon our belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Romans 10:9 he states: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Paul stresses the historical veracity of Christ’s death and resurrection to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8:
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.
In this same chapter, verses 17-18, Paul states some critical concerns for all believers if Christ did not rise from the dead: “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost!”
There is a lot at stake then for those who make no room for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in their beliefs. Those who do not embrace God’s Son as a sacrifice for their sins, will remain guilty of their sins and be cut off from a relationship with God the Father.
When Paul encountered people in the church who did not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he didn’t condone their thinking that such a position was acceptable, and that they could still call themselves Christians. In fact, he spoke quite frankly about this in 1 Corinthians 15:34 when he was dealing with the death and resurrection of Jesus, “Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.”
There is no mistaking the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are central tenets of the Christian faith. Not only did the death of Christ provide a means for the forgiveness of our sins but his resurrection gave us the hope of living with him throughout eternity. This is what Paul meant when he said, “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us (Romans 8:23).”
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
The New Testament writers speak as if Christ's achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the 'first fruits,' the pioneer of life,' He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. 
Just how significant was Christ’s resurrection? Timothy Keller said, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead." 
It might be easy for someone to dismiss the validity of Jesus’ death and resurrection, if that meant they could just as easily dismiss being accountable to his teachings. Then they could easily live out their lives as they see fit, even though they would be in rebellion to God.
But as any sincere follower of Jesus knows, laying down our ambitions to conform to his will is exactly what it means to be a Christian. The example of Christ’s own death on a cross factors heavily in the life of a Christian. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” If we are going to embrace Christianity, then our submission must give credence to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is what defines Christianity. It is the only hope God gave for our forgiveness and salvation.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not merely important to the historic Christian faith; without it, there would be no Christianity. It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions.
2. C.S. Lewis., Joyful Christian, Simon and Schuster, (1996), p.65.