Growing up, I never quite understood why Easter was so important. It seemed to me that what happened on the cross on Friday was a lot more important than what happened on Easter morning. Of course, I always believed in the empty tomb, that Jesus was raised from the dead. And I heard sermons that talked about the resurrection like it was God stamping his approval on Jesus, saying, "See, He was my Son after all," or that the resurrection was an event where God got back at Satan. In some sense, it is God's stamp of approval on Jesus' work and ministry, and it is the defeat of death, which is a great enemy.
But there is more to the resurrection than that.
WHY WAS JESUS RAISED?
TO FULFILL THE SCRIPTURES
1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus was raised from the dead in accordance with the Scriptures. If we seek to understand Old Testament passages about resurrection, we find that the Bible gives us a very simple picture. At the end of time, God will raise all the dead back to life. He will open their graves, pull them out, condemn some to everlasting destruction, and others to new life. Those who are received resurrection bodies will inhabit a new heavens and new earth and their bodies will be perfect, glorious, Spirit-filled.
This is what many of the Jews in Jesus' day expected. So what happens with Jesus? This event that is supposed to take place at the end of time, actually takes place in the middle of time to one person. That is the surprise! The new creation promised at the end of time actually begins simultaneously. So we have Old Creation and New Creation continuing now.
TO PROVIDE OUR SALVATION
Are you saved because of Jesus' death or because of his resurrection? Or both? Would salvation exist if Jesus had died, and not been raised?
Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that there is no atonement without the resurrection. If Jesus has been raised, then we too have hope for a future resurrection. If Jesus has not been raised, then there is no hope. We are still in our sins. Jesus is just a false messiah. Jesus' disciples are false witnesses. Our salvation was not provided only by Jesus' cross. Jesus' resurrection was absolutely necessary. It wasn't enough for Jesus to die. He had to defeat the final enemy, death itself.
TO GUARANTEE OUR RESURRECTION
This is crucial. Paul's explanation in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 is that Jesus' resurrection serves as the down payment, the firstfruits, the guarantee of our own future resurrection. There can't be one without the other. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we are assured that each of us, that are in Him, will also be raised from the dead.
TO DEFEAT DEATH
Death is always an enemy. Watch someone die and you know that something is wrong with our world. Death is never a friend. It is a curse on God's good creation. It mars this world with pain and suffering. Death is to be fought, not embraced.
Jesus defeated death. Death had no hold on him. And because we are in Christ, death will have no hold on us. We are rescued from the clutches of this enemy and then promised eternal life.