It is always beneficial to reflect on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, since it (always linked to the crucifixion) is the hallmark of Christianity. No other religion requires and is based on the resurrection of its divine founder! But given the holiday of Easter, our thoughts are especially inclined to consider the meaning of an empty tomb and a risen Savior, who is coming again in ultimate victory.
Apologetics often takes up the reasons to believe in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. I have written much about it myself. Suffice to say for now that the space-time reappearance of Jesus in his resurrected body is a certifiable fact of history and requires no leap of faith in the dark to believe it. No other explanation of the events surrounding Jesus and the early church accounts for Christianity’s existence and rapid growth as an ancient Jewish sect, since so many others failed.1 Given the fact of the resurrection, we will benefit by further exploring the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, both within the Christian worldview and in distinguishing the Christian worldview from other views of life and the afterlife.
The space-time reappearance of Jesus in his resurrected body is a certifiable fact of history and requires no leap of faith in the dark to believe it
The Worldview of Resurrection
The Bible presents Jesus’ death and return from death with a particular worldview. The event is placed with a conceptual framework and has a narrative. The resurrection is not offered as an inspiring if enigmatic anomaly or as an inexplicable hiccup of the cosmos. It is a marvel, but a marvel with a metaphysics.
Jesus taught that a personal God created the cosmos and placed human beings in it for his glory (Matthew 19:1-6). Because of the fall, human are not estranged from God and deranged in their being. God’s ultimate answer to the entrance of sin and the ongoing effects of the fall was the Incarnation. Jesus Christ came to a good world gone wrong as a bona fide human being, but without sin. That “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” means that the material creation is not beyond repair and that God did not corrupt himself by taking on a human nature for our redemption.
Despite his perfect life, Jesus had to die to atone for our sins. He offered no mystical remedy of finding God within, as do the gurus. Neither did he advance a program of moral reform through which we could become pleasing to God. Since the wage of sin is death, a death was required to atone for sin and only his death as the God-man would suffice. But his death by the horrors of crucifixion ratified both the goodness of the creation and the need for recreation. For men and women to be reconciled from God and freed from death’s ultimate power, Christ has to die—and to rise again.
Since the wage of sin is death, a death was required to atone for sin and only his death as the God-man would suffice
Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a unique event in history; it was the beginning of a new era in the Kingdom of God. As Peter preached, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24), and nothing could ultimately stop the growth of the movement he began. The cowering, dispirited disciples were transformed into courageous and Spirit-filled teachers and preachers of the gospel, as seen in the book of Acts.
This Christian movement means that, as Jesus promised, the meek inherit the earth through the power of God. The church will not only fulfil its role in history, but Christian will live forever in a new Heavens and new Earth (Revelation 21-22) in resurrected bodies. Christ’s resurrection foreshadows and assures Christians of their further embodied life with God in sinless and beautiful world. Paul lays this out in 1 Corinthians 15, from which I will take a few passages.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Looking ahead is glorious for the follower of the resurrected Christ, as Paul elaborates:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
Because of this, Paul concludes with this stupendous encouragement.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Even as we labor knowing we will die and face hardships, we know that our work for God is not in vain. No non-Christian has this confidence, given their worldview. Consider the reincarnationist worldview.
Reincarnation and Karma
Hinduism and Buddhism come in a variety of worldviews, but none of them affirm a theistic worldview in which resurrection plays any part. Sadly, many Christians believe in reincarnation as well, judging from polls. A 2022 study reports that “Catholics are more likely than Protestants to say that they believe in reincarnation (38% vs. 26%).2 Neither religion teaches that the world was created by a personal God, that it fell into sin, or that God has sent a Savor to restore individuals to God and to bring the whole creation to a glorious culmination. Instead, suffering is simply an inexplicable given of existence. Suffering and death are not, according to these religions, the result of a moral transgression against a holy God, but simply realities to be addressed through the attempt to find salvation.
Instead, suffering is simply an inexplicable given of existence.
Both religions teach that we are assigned a status in this world according to karma from lifetime to lifetime (which includes animals). Good actions lead to good karma and a better station in the next life. The opposite for bad karma. However, the goal of these religions is not to advance on the karmic ladder but to leave the world of space-time-and-matter completely by attaining a state of enlightenment called Nirvana. This state can barely be described, but is rather the absence of craving, of personality, and of individuality. It is not a place with people, but a state of consciousness to be achieved. The world of suffering is left behind as irredeemable. The goal of life is to escape the world and never return, to abandon the “wheel of suffering.” Thus, the very concept of resurrection finds no footing, since resurrection means the restoration of something good that had been lost. While in the Christian worldview, creation, incarnation, and resurrection fit together as a piece, reincarnation denies every aspect of that worldview. There is no creation by a good God who deems it worth saving through Incarnation or worth restoring through resurrection.
Resurrection, Reincarnation, and Meaning
At Easter we have good reason to believe that “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” as many of us will affirm. The resurrection of Jesus ensures our own resurrection along with the resurrection all the redeemed. We will be fit to live with God face to face and in a world free of the curse, of tears, and of suffering. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[a] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). But the worldviews of Hinduism and Buddhism with their teachings of reincarnation lack any such hope and Jesus’ resurrection proves them both wrong about the afterlife. Let us not hold back, then, from proclaiming the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16-17).
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where he has served since 1993. He is the author or co-author of fourteen books, including the best-selling, Unmasking the New Age, the much-used apologetics textbook, Christian Apologetics, and introduction to philosophy, Philosophy in Seven Sentences, a memoir, Walking through Twilight, and a children’s book, I Love You to The Stars (with Crystal Bowman).