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The December 2017 edition of National Geographic included a Kristin Romey article titled, “What Archaeology is Telling Us about the Real Jesus.” Touring the Holy Land, and walking the roads the Gospels claim Jesus walked, she sought to sift historical fact from religious fiction.

On Easter 2017, she stood inside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a shrine built over the place where (tradition claims) Jesus was buried. Reflecting on what the trip had taught her, she concluded that the historical fact of the resurrection is “of little consequence.” All that “true believers” need is their “faith.” Blind faith, not historical fact, establishes the spiritual significance of Jesus’ death and professed resurrection.

The New Testament takes a very different view. For the apostolic writers, the historicity of the resurrection was paramount. Without a historical resurrection, Christianity collapses. It is the universal testimony of the historical church, the holy Scriptures, and the hundreds of eyewitnesses that Jesus came back bodily from the dead. The bodily resurrection is important for at least four reasons.

First, a bodily resurrection attests the veracity of Scripture. David prophesied the resurrection when he wrote, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). Peter specifically cited Psalm 16 as a prophecy of the resurrection on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22–28) while Paul preached in that Psalm 2:7 was a prophecy of the resurrection (Acts 13:32–34).

If Christ did not rise bodily from the grave, the consistent witness of the Scriptures collapses. God will have been found to be a liar for having testified to raising Jesus from the dead.

Second, a bodily resurrection attests the claims of Jesus. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, which occasioned opposition from the religious leaders (John 19:7). But his claim proved to be true in the resurrection. He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection proved his claims to divinity.

If we reject the bodily resurrection, we reject Jesus’ claims about himself. We cannot have Jesus if we will not accept all of him. It is useless to accept the ethical teachings of Jesus if we reject his bodily resurrection. We must take all of him or none of him.

Third, a bodily resurrection attests the completed work of Christ. Shortly before he died, Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He claimed to have paid the full penalty for sin. The resurrection proves that sin and death were defeated, so that it was not possible for death to hold him. His claims to have finished the work God gave him to do are empty without the resurrection.

If we reject the bodily resurrection, we reject the work that Christ undertook on the cross to save us from our sins. He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). We cannot receive justification apart from the resurrection. We are yet in our sins and are of all people most to be pitied.

Fourth, a bodily resurrection attests the guarantee of our future bodily resurrection. Paul made that argument in 1 Corinthians 15. To reject the bodily resurrection of Christ is to reject all hope of eternal life.

As you meditate this weekend on the incarnation of Christ, remember, at the same time, that his incarnation was meaningless apart from his resurrection. Christianity marches on not on the basis of the manger birth but on the basis of the empty tomb.