Easter—Why the Resurrection Matters
By Peter Amsterdam
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Easter is the day we celebrate the most important event of our Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus. Why is it so important? Because without the resurrection, our faith is worthless, as the apostle Paul made a point to emphasize (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without the resurrection, we are not redeemed, and are therefore still accountable for our sins. Without the resurrection, our faith is in vain and we are misrepresenting God when we witness to others (1 Corinthians 15:14–15). It is because God raised Jesus from the dead that we know we have salvation.
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is what validated the claims He made about His messiahship and His divinity. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, He would have been just another of a number of first-century Jewish men who claimed to be the messiah but turned out to be messianic pretenders, failed messiahs. (See Acts 5:36–37.)
In those days, the messiah was understood to be someone whom God would anoint to deliver His people from foreign oppressors and who would reign as king in the restored kingdom of David. Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leaders because they considered Him a false messiah. In their eyes He was just one of many who claimed messiahship. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, they would have been proven right. His disciples would have most likely returned home and taken up their previous employment, and would have concluded they had been foolishly duped.
However, God raised Jesus from the dead, which changed everything. His resurrection was God’s way of providing evidence that what Jesus had said about Himself was true. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead, after dying on our behalf, showed that He was indeed the Messiah whose coming was foretold throughout the Old Testament and that He is the divine Son of God, equal with the Father.
After His resurrection, Jesus spoke of the authority He possessed: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus rising from the dead on that first Easter morning proves that His claims of authority were true.
Throughout the Old Testament, Scripture spoke of one who would come and lead Israel, a king who would fulfill the prophecies God had given to David and others. These prophecies spoke of a prophet and king from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David, from the town of Bethlehem, who would have an everlasting kingdom. This person would be an “anointed one,” a messiah, a suffering servant, who would take the people’s transgressions upon himself, a king who would be called “our righteous savior.”1
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4–6).
After the Jewish people’s decades of exile in Babylon, and then being ruled by the world powers of Greece and Rome, they began to use the term messiah specifically in reference to the one who would restore Israel’s independence in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish expectation was that the messiah would be a political/warrior king who would deliver the Jewish people from the oppression of Rome.
The Romans who governed Israel in Jesus’ time were very careful to put down any rebellion and eradicate anyone who was seen as a potential messiah. Because of this danger, Jesus usually did not publicly claim to be the Messiah in the early part of His ministry. He seldom directly referred to Himself as being the Messiah when He was in Israel proper, though He did so when He was in Samaria and in places outside the borders of Israel (John 4:25–26).
He often told those He healed to not tell others about it, as He didn’t want to draw attention to Himself (Luke 5:12–14). He could have been seen as someone who might be stirring up Jewish nationalistic desires, and the Romans were on the lookout for anyone who gained popularity and could be seen as a messiah and thus a threat to their rule.
After miraculously feeding the five thousand, Jesus withdrew from the crowds because He saw that the people were intent on making Him king, which would have brought the wrath of Rome on Him prematurely. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15).
Throughout His ministry, Jesus tried to move people away from the general belief that the messiah would be the liberating warrior king, and to help them understand that the messiah’s mission included suffering, rejection, and humiliation. This was difficult for people, including His closest followers, to grasp.
Even John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus sent to prepare His way, had questions about whether Jesus really was the “one who is to come,” the promised messiah. John’s expectation of what the Messiah would do differed from what he heard that Jesus was doing. Jesus responded by pointing out that His ministry was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah and what he would do in Isaiah 35 and 61.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:2–5).
Jesus had quoted from this same passage of Scripture early on in His ministry, stating that this Scripture was fulfilled in Him.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”… And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18–19, 21).
Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, when He was near Caesarea Philippi (an important Roman city north of the Sea of Galilee with a pagan Syrian and Greek population), He asked His disciples who people said He was. Their response was that some said He was John the Baptist, and others said Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The fact that people expressed that He was one of these prophets was in line with the Old Testament expectation of a great prophet which was to come.
Then Jesus asked who His disciples thought He was, and Peter responded: “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:15–17).
A little over a week later, Jesus went up on a mountain with three of the disciples and was transfigured. “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:28–31). Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and their appearance showed that the Old Testament bore witness to Jesus being the Messiah.
At His trial, Jesus is asked if He is “the Christ.” “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven’” (Mark 14:61–62).
This response convinced the high priest to condemn Jesus to death. The claim of being the Messiah was what allowed the Jewish leaders to bring Jesus to Pilate for judgment, as the Messiah was a threat to Rome, and would-be messiahs were killed by the Roman authorities.
Jesus was called the Messiah by the angels at His birth: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11); and by Pilate at His death: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ [Messiah]?” (Matthew 27:22).
Jesus, who specifically stated that He was the Messiah throughout the Gospels, and was called the Christ (Messiah), by others, was cruelly hung upon a cross until He died. The Jewish leaders and Pilate thought His death would prove that He was a false messiah. However, His resurrection proved that He was telling the truth.
God raising Jesus from the dead showed that He is the one who was spoken of throughout Scripture, the Messiah who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, who was crushed for our iniquities, who has brought us peace, the one called the “Lord of our righteousness.”
Because of the resurrection, we have the assurance of salvation, the ability to lead a Christ-infused life today, and the honor to live with God forever.
Originally published April 2014. Adapted and republished April 2023. Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.