Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you … For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
The gospel is the “good news” that Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day. All this is as God foretold in the Old Testament. It is important to note that, as significant Messiah’s death for us on the cross is to this message, it is utterly incomplete without His resurrection from the dead three days later. As Paul so forcefully observes, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:7).
There is a causal relationship between sin and death: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Death came into the world because of sin (treason against God), and the only way death can be overcome is by dealing with sin. So the resurrection of Messiah demonstrates that He has not only conquered death but has broken the power of sin as well.
The Resurrection is much more than that, though. The expectation of the Jews was that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of the age in which God would establish the righteous once and for all upon the earth. What they did not understand, though it was there in their Scriptures, was that Messiah would be raised from the dead. A messiah who needed resurrection was for them a contradiction in terms.
So it was a puzzlement, even to the disciples, when Jesus the Messiah, Son of the Living God, as Peter recognized (Matthew 16:16), was nailed to a tree. On that day they had no expectation that He would be resurrected three days later, though Jesus had foretold them of this a number of times. They were as surprised as anyone else to discover that this had indeed come to pass.
It meant that the end of the age had come upon them in an unexpected way, that it had somehow broken into the world ahead of time. And now here was Messiah who, through His faithfulness on the cross, contended with the powers of darkness, sin and death, and emerged victorious over them all, raised up by God the Father and established as righteous King over all.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the guarantee that all who receive Him will likewise be raised again from the dead at the end of the age and established once and for all upon the earth. He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians1:18), the firstfruits of what is to come.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)The resurrection of Jesus is also the promise that our life between now and that future day when we stand once again upon the earth is not meaningless but significant. What we do now will make a difference then. For the kingdom of God is already breaking into the world (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), the power of the resurrection is already at work in us (Ephesians 1:15-20; 3:20), the darkness is already passing away and the true light is already shining (1 John 2:8). So Paul concludes his resurrection teaching with this strong encouragement: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the guarantee that the power of sin and darkness has been defeated, the kingdom of God has broken into the world, the power of God is now at work in and through those who believe, and at the return of the King our bodies shall be raised from the dust and we shall stand once again upon the earth with our Redeemer.