Resurrection Re-Focus

By Russ Glessner, Professor of New Testament

The lack of focus given to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in theological thinking and teaching today is troubling. Surprisingly, many evangelicals seem to undervalue it. It’s not that they do not believe it to be important, nor do they disbelieve its historical authenticity. Yet anecdotal evidence and a perusal of theological works reveal a substantial lack of passion for the importance of Christ’s resurrection.

A brief overview of Scripture–as reflected in Jesus’ teaching, verbal portraits of the evangelists, and the early church in Acts and the epistles–provides strong emphasis on the value and significance of Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, it should be a major part of our thinking, proclamation, and theological framework. It is integral to our faith. As noted by author N.T. Wright,

“To put it at its most basic: the resurrection of Jesus offers itself . . . not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation …We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.” [1]

The “Whole Loaf”

I can clearly recall the day many years ago when a guest speaker at our small church in Dallas, Texas, used a vivid illustration to explain that the Gospel includes the truth that Jesus died for our sins and that He was raised to life on the third day. He boldly declared, “When you refer to the Gospel, you need to offer people a whole loaf, not just a half a loaf! It includes His resurrection as provision for our salvation.”

More recently, while visiting what seemed to be a good, thriving church, I listened in vain for any reference to Jesus’ resurrection as the pastor referred to the Gospel. Tracts, evangelistic challenges, prayers, sermons, songs, and theological discussions also often fail to mention the resurrection. This lack makes me deeply appreciate the bold lyrics of a classic hymn, Hallelujah, What a Savior! by Philip P. Bliss, “Lifted up was He to die, ‘It is finished,’ was His cry; Now in heav’n exalted high: Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Theological Neglect

A brief perusal of theological literature, especially basic texts, evidences an amazing dearth of thought and reflection concerning Jesus’ resurrection. Books and articles offer extensive discussion on the significance of the death of Christ, but there is often little or no reflection on the value of the resurrection.

Richard Gaffin, Jr., has shown that leading theologians such as Charles Hodge, William Shedd, Abraham Kuyper, Louis Berkhof, and John Murray virtually ignored the resurrection’s significance in their discussions of Christ’s salvific work, even though they had a great deal to say concerning His death.[2] In other writings, author Robert Reymond devotes 173 pages to various aspects of the “cross work of Christ,” but none to the theological significance of Jesus’ resurrection.[3] In Lewis Sperry Chafer and John Walvoord’s Major Bible Themes, there is less than a page about the significance of the resurrection. Henry Thiessen’s Lectures in Systematic Theology has about three.

In Millard Erickson’s deservedly popular Christian Theology, one page out of 1,274 is devoted to the theological import of the resurrection of Christ. Works by Robert Lightner, with one page out of 282, and Charles Ryrie, two pages out of 522, provide further illustration. A. H. Strong’s Systematic Theology carefully discusses Christ’s atonement for 60 pages, but does not explore the significance of His resurrection. Of the 2,607 pages in Lewis Sperry Chafer’s seven volume set on Systematic Theology, 175 deal with the death of Christ, but only seven address His resurrection.

In his unabridged theology, Wayne Grudem spends 39 pages discussing the atonement, but devotes only 16 to the resurrection and ascension, with three devoted to the doctrinal significance of the resurrection. James Leo Garrett Jr. devotes 78 pages to the cross and its significance, with 34 on “The Resurrection of Jesus” and three relating to its consequences.[4] In Norman Geisler’s four volume set Systematic Theology, “Christology” is strangely found as Appendix One (Vol. 2:597-631) with no discussion on the significance of Christ’s resurrection.

What may we fairly conclude? In many of the theological works we access there is a scarcity of thoughtful, impactful reflection on Jesus’ resurrection. A robust theology of the nature of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ is greatly diminished by this lack, which points to a “resurrection-less” proclamation of the Gospel. Gerald O’Collins offers a pointed summary,

“Generally speaking, both Catholic and Protestant theologians have proved loyal successors to St. Anselm ([A.D.] 1033/4-1109) who managed to discuss the redemption in his Cur Deus Homo? while completely ignoring Christ’s resurrection. So long as full credit for our redemption is ascribed to Christ’s death, his resurrection becomes at best a highly useful (if not strictly necessary) proof of Christian claims. Looking back on such Western theology, we might parody Paul and cry out: ‘Resurrection is swallowed up in crucifixion. O Resurrection, where is thy victory? O Resurrection, where is thy sting?’ ” [5]

A More Encouraging Perspective

However, there is encouragement to be found if we look for it.[6] The Apostles’ Creed affirms belief in Jesus Christ who was “crucified, dead and buried. . . . [O]n the third day rose again from the dead.” It is heartening to view the “whole loaf” in this early creed. The Orthodox Church is known for its emphasis on the resurrection of Christ. Bishop Kallistos Ware writes,

“The Crucifixion is itself a victory; but on Great Friday the victory is hidden, whereas on Easter morning it is made manifest. Christ rises from the dead, and by rising he delivers us from anxiety and terror: the victory of the Cross is confirmed love is openly shown to be stronger than hatred, and life to be stronger than death.”[7]

How important is the resurrection to our understanding of the Gospel, salvation, the Christian life, and theology? The New Testament is clear. Jesus’ own teaching about His resurrection, the portraits of Jesus’ resurrection in the four Gospels, the proclamation of the early church, and the teaching in the epistles (especially Paul’s) is starkly emphatic. A. M. Ramsey notes,

“So it is that the centre of Apostolic Christianity is Crucifixion-Resurrection; not Crucifixion alone nor Resurrection alone, nor even Crucifixion as the prelude and Resurrection as the finale but the blending of the two in a way that is as real to the Gospel as it is defiant to the world. The theme is implicit in the mission of Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, and it becomes increasingly explicit until John says the final word. To say that this theme is the centre of the Gospel is not to belittle the life and words of Jesus that preceded it nor the work of the Paraclete that follows it. For Life-through-Death is the principle of Jesus’ whole life; it is the inward essence of the life of the Christian; and it is the unveiling of the glory of the eternal God.”[8]

Christ’s Declaration

Each of the four Gospels makes the resurrection a significant part of its story.[9] Jesus explicitly referred to His resurrection on at least nine occasions.[10] His statements include: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matt. 16:21) Also, “… the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will turn Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day He will raised to life.”(Matt. 20:18-19)

The disciples did not seem to grasp that their Lord truly would be crucified and rise again. However, His enemies apparently understood His words, and were concerned about hiding what might appear to be a resurrection (Matt. 28:12-15).

The Early Church

The book of Acts refers to Christ’s resurrection 24 times, and it is a major plank in the apostolic kērugma (proclamation) of the early church. Three of those statements are implicit (e.g. 23:6 “hope and resurrection of the dead.”) Several major speeches focus on the fact and significance of Jesus’ resurrection, including Peter’s Pentecostal sermon (Acts 2), his message in Cornelius’ house (Acts 10), Paul’s synagogue message in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13), and his speaking with the Athenians at the Areopagus (Acts 17).

Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel in the Thessalonian synagogue (Acts 17), his speaking before the council/Sanhedrin (Acts 23), and his messages to Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (Acts 24, 25, 26) provide additional reference to the resurrection.[11] The powerful, swift, effective spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the end of the earth (“Rome” in Acts) was due to the Holy Spirit’s blessing of the proclamation of the entire Gospel, the “whole loaf,” as I mentioned previously.

Apostolic Writings

The epistles–especially Paul’s–affirm not only the fact of the resurrection, but also its importance to the salvation narrative. The Gospel comprises not only Christ’s death for our sins, but also His resurrection. This emphasis in Paul’s writing has been observed and studied by several scholars, including David Michael Stanley in Christ’s Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology.[12] Here is a sampling of important references, arranged to highlight the point I am making.[13]

“[If] we believe that Jesus died and rose again … “ (1 Thess. 4:14)

“Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.” (Gal. 1:1)

“For I passed on to you . . . that Christ died for our sins according to theScriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

“He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God’s power.” (2 Cor. 13:4)

“…God will credit righteousness for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom. 4:24-25)

“We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4)

“Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Rom. 8:34)

“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

“Having been buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Col. 2:12)

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world . . . Since, then you have been raised with Christ …” (Col. 2:20; 3:1)

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” (2 Tim. 2:8)

“May the God of peace who … brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus …” (Heb. 13:20)

“ … In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet. 1:3)

“ … I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

These texts offer a powerful case for the value and importance of the resurrection. We would do well to re-focus, and begin redressing the imbalance in our thinking and teaching concerning the Gospel.


Is the resurrection of Jesus important enough to engage our thinking as we read, study, and meditate upon the Scripture? Will we reflect upon its significance and then teach, preach, and herald it as integral to the Gospel? I hope so. As hymn writer J. Wilbur Chapman expresses so profoundly in One Day,

“Living He loved me; Dying He saved me; Buried He carried my sins far away;

Rising He justified freely forever; One day He’s coming—O, glorious day!”


Copyright © 2012 Corban University School of Ministry. Originally published in Corban’s e-journal, Dedicated. As long as you include this copyright credit line (and hyperlinks), you may reprint this article in its entirety.

[1] N[icholas] T[homas] Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of theChurch (New York: Harper Collins, 2008), 67, 68.

[2] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology. 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed,1987; reprint, The Centrality of the Resurrection [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978]), 12.

[3] Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).

[4] James Leo Garrett Jr., Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, vol. 2 (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2001).

[5] Gerald O’Collins, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1973): 118.

[6] Myron Houghton [Faith Baptist Theological Seminary of Ankeny, IA] refers several times to the Gospel as comprising both the death and resurrection of our Lord in “Distinguishing Law, Gospel, and Grace,” Faith Pulpit (Jul-Sep 2011), 1-5.

[7] Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, new rev. ed. (Crestwood, NJ: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press,1995), 83.

[8] A[rthur] M[ichael] Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ, rev. ed. (London: Collins Fontana Books, 1961), 20-21.

[9] This leaves aside the major issue of the textual-critical question of Mark 16.9-20.

[10] John 2.19; Matt 12.39-40; Matt 16.21 (= Mark 8.31-32; Luke 9.21-22); Matt 17.9 (= Mark 9.9-10); Matt 17.22-23 (= Mark 9.31-31); John 10.17-18; Matt 20.18-19 (= Mark 10.33-34; Luke 18.32-34); Matt 26.32; John 14-16 (passim)

[11] The list of texts includes Acts 1.3, 22; 2.23-24; 31-32 (2x); 3.15; 4.2, 10, 33; 5.30-32; 10.40, 41; 13.30, 33, 34, 37; 17.2-3, 18, 31; 23.6; 24.21; 25.18-20; 26.8, 22-23.

[12] David Michael Stanley, Christ’s Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology, Analecta Biblica: Investigationes Scientificae in Res Biblicas 13 (Romae: E Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1961); James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998, pp. 234-65 [Ch. 10 “The Risen Lord”]; Paul Beasley-Murray, TheMessage of the Resurrection,The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 162 [Ch. 5 “The Witness of Paul to the Resurrection”]; Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, Trans. by John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 206-214 [Sect. 37 “Death and Resurrection with Christ”]; Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1961 [1930], pp. 136-71.

[13] An additional sampling of passages which portray a unified whole of the death and resurrection of Jesus include Gal 2.19-20; 1 Cor. 6.14; 2 Cor. 4.10-12, 13-14; 5.15; Rom 1.4; 5.10; 6.4-11; 7.4; 8.11,; Eph 1.20-21; 2.1-6; Phil 3.10-11; Col 2.11-15; 1 Thess. 1.10; Heb 7.23-25; 11.17-19; 1 Pet 1.21; 3.18, 21; and Rev 5.6.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Resurrection Re-Focus

  1. Anne Jeffers says:

    Thanks, Russ. We need this focus. I know that my redeemer lives, and I too shall live.

  2. Loren Williams says:

    Thanks 4 the awesome article! Great to see your contribution Russ.
    Yes, the Resurrection holds in itself the miracle of what we are and how we have become what we are in Christ and the power to live it out each day.
    For me I need to remember
    what supernatural resources I have in Christ each day to fight temptation. But the battle has been won, I just need to surrender to the fact of His promises to give me strength and encouragement as I go along.
    I can get so absorbed in my situation that I forget my standing in Christ seeking to work things out on my own and not yielding to Him. Blessings, Thanks again Loren

  3. Marty Trammell says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful presentation of the importance of the resurrection. It convicted me. “One day He’s coming; O, glorious day!” I’ll be thinking about that. Thanks.

  4. Robert Lillo says:

    Thanks, Russ, from Nigeria! I’m emphasizing our co-resurrection with Christ in Eph. 2 and Col. 2-3 as a crucial aspect of discipleship in a course I’m teaching on Colossians. Jos remains the northernmost city in Nigeria as of yet unaffected by the recent Boko Harem violence to our north. Thanks for your prayers.
    Rob Lillo

  5. Eric Wohner says:

    Thanks Professor Glessner for this fine statement on the importance of the resurrection to our faith.

    As I have taught through 1 Thessalonians for the past month, I have noted on the powerful impact that the doctrine of the resurrection had on the Thessalonians Christians. Turning to Jesus, and away from the idols, was a huge miracle in First Century Thessalonica; it was especially so in a culture where idolatry was the accepted norm, and the worship thereof permeated every aspect of civic and social life. Lord, we could sure some “Resurrection Power” injected into our idolatrous North American culture today. Eric

    I Thes.1: 2 ¶ We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, 4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. 6 ¶ And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (NKJV)

  6. Chaplain Jerry Hamblin says:

    Thanks much Russ for this great article….yesterday in conversation I reminded someone of the resurrection focus and emphasis of the apostolic messages throughout the book of Acts. It is indeed because of the resurrection that we have eternal life and the power and strength to live the life glorifies our Savior..Gal 2:20.

  7. Russ,

    Excellent and thorough work as always. Do you think this could be an outgrowth of anti-supernaturalism? Perhaps a fear of confronting those who are so virulent in their opposition to even the suggestion of a miracle?

    In any event I’m with you – if Christ is not risen our faith is futile indeed.



Comments are closed.