What is the connection between Christ’s atonement and his resurrection?



By Spencer D Gear

Is it too much to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is closely linked to his atonement for sin to provide salvation for Christians and that the resurrection of Jesus is critical to our understanding of Christ’s passion?

Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, wrote:

Peter says that “we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).  Here he explicitly connects Jesus’ resurrection with our regeneration or new birth.  When Jesus rose from the dead he had a new quality of life, a “resurrection life” in a human body and human spirit that were perfectly suited for fellowship and obedience to God forever.  In his resurrection, Jesus earned for us a new life just like his.  We do not receive all of that new “resurrection life” when we become Christians, for our bodies remain as they were, still subject to weakness, aging, and death.  But in our spirits we are made alive with new resurrection power.  Thus it is through his resurrection that Christ earned for us the new kind of life we receive when we are “born again.”  This is why Paul can say that God “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him” (Eph 2:5-6; Col 3:1). When God raised Christ from the dead he thought of us as somehow being raised “with Christ” and therefore deserving of the merits of Christ’s resurrection. Paul says his goal in life is “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection….” (Phil. 3:10). Paul knew that even in this life the resurrection of Christ gave new power for Christian ministry and obedience to God (Grudem 1994:614).

Isn’t that a delightful summary of how the Christian’s atonement is associated with Christ’s death and resurrection?

A false view of Jesus’ resurrection

But does the nature of Jesus’ resurrection matter? Will John Dominic Crossan’s view (he’s a member of the Jesus Seminar) of the resurrection be adequate for the biblical understanding of Christ’s resurrection? Here are a few samples of Crossan’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection:


John Dominic Crossan: Wikipedia

  1. ‘Mark created the empty tomb story, just as he created the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane’ (1995:184).
  2. ‘The authorities know and quote Jesus’ own prophecy that he would rise on the third day. That prophecy is mate to the disciples [Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33;  Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19]…. The authorities do not necessarily believe Jesus’ prophecy, but they fear the disciples my fake a resurrection. Therefore, no guard is necessary because Jesus will have been proved wrong (1995:180).
  3. ‘The risen apparitions in the gospels [i.e. the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection] have nothing whatsoever to do with ecstatic experiences or entranced revelations. Those are found in all the world’s religions, and there may well have been many of them in earliest Christianity…. I do not find anything historical in the finding of the empty tomb, which was most likely created by Mark himself…. The risen apparitions are not historical events in the sense of trances or ecstasies, except in the case of Paul’ (1995:208).
  4. ‘It never occurs to Paul [1 Cor. 15] that Jesus’ resurrection might be a special or unique privilege given to him because he is Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. It never occurs to Paul that Jesus’ case might be like the case of Elijah….. Risen apparitions are, for Paul, not about the vision of a dead man but about the vision of a dead man who begins the general resurrection. It is, in other words, an apparition with cosmically apocalyptic consequences…. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul begins by enumerating all the apparitions of the risen Jesus…. The Corinthians know all about visions and apparitions and would not dream of denying their validity’ (1998:xix, xxviii)

Instead, it is Crossan’s view that is the mythical one. To counter such a view, see, ‘The myth of the metaphorical resurrection: A critical examination of John Dominic Crossan’s methodology, presuppositions and conclusions’ (Anderson 2011).

What really happened at the resurrection of Jesus?

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It is very easy to show from the Scriptures that Christ rose from the dead in a physical body.  Let’s look at the evidence (based on Geisler 1999, pp. 667-668):

1. People touched him with their hands.

Jesus’ challenge to Thomas in John 20:27 was: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”  How did Thomas respond, “My Lord and My God” (20:28).

Jesus said to Mary as she grasped him, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  Matthew 28:9 tells us that the women “clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, what did Jesus say?  Luke 24:39, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (ESV). does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Do we need any further evidence that Jesus had real human flesh after his resurrection?

2. Jesus’ resurrection body had real flesh and bones.

The verse that we have just looked at gives some of the most powerful evidence of his bodily resurrection: “Touch me and see; a [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Lk. 24:39) and to prove that he really did have a real body of flesh and bones, what did he do?  According to Luke 24:41-42, Jesus “asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of broiled fish.”  Folks, spirits or spiritual bodies do not eat fish.

Third piece of evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Christ:

3. Jesus ate real tucker (Aussie for “food”).

As we’ve just seen, they gave him “broiled fish” to eat.  He ate real food on at least 3 occasions, eating both bread and fish, (Luke 24:30, 41-43; John 21:12-13).  Acts 10:41 states that Jesus met with witnesses “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

That sounds clear to me.  Jesus ate food after his resurrection.  People in real bodies eat real food.

A fourth proof that Jesus was raised in his physical body:

4. Take a look at the wounds in his body.

This is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  He still had the wounds in his body from when he was killed.  John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”

When Jesus ascended, after his resurrection, the Bible records, “This same Jesus [ie this divine-human Jesus], who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
There’s a fifth confirmation of his bodily resurrection:

5. Jesus could be seen and heard.

Yes, Jesus’ body could be touched and handled.  But there is more!

Matthew 28:17 says that “when they saw [horao] him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” On the road to Emmaus, of the disciples who were eating together, Luke 24:31 states, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”  The Greek term “to recognize” [epiginosko] means “to know, to understand, or to recognize”  These are the normal Greek words “for ‘seeing’ (horao, theoreo) and ‘recognizing’ (epiginosko) physical objects” (Geisler 1999, pp 667-668).

Because Jesus could be seen and heard as one sees and recognises physical objects, we have further proof that Jesus rose bodily.


6. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament.  There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament.  Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor. 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body” (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

In that magnificent passage in I Cor. 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body?  It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999, p. 668).  We’ll get to that in a moment.

There’s a 7th piece of evidence in support of bodily resurrection:

7. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12).  That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, “from the dead.” Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus’s being raised ‘from the dead’ (John 12:1).  In this case there is no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried.  Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999, p. 668).

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

8. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul]also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers.  Christ “appeared” to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul “as to one abnormally born.”

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an “appearance” or was it actually “seeing” his physical being?  These are the objective facts: Christ became flesh, he died in the flesh, he was raised in the flesh and he appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of  Jesus from the dead was not a form of “spiritual” existence.  Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987, p. 728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

See also my articles on Christ’s resurrection:


(Courtesy ChristArt)


Anderson, T J 2011. The myth of the metaphorical resurrection: A critical examination of John Dominic Crossan’s methodology, presuppositions and conclusions, PhD dissertation, May. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, available at: http://digital.library.sbts.edu/bitstream/handle/10392/2847/Anderson_sbts_0207D_10031.pdf?sequence=1 (Accessed 9 May 2012).

Crossan, J D 1995. Who killed Jesus? New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Geisler, N. L. 1999, ‘Resurrection, Evidence for’, in Norman L. Geisler 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of  Christian Apologetics, Baker
Books, Grand Rapid, Michigan.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.


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