Mr. Martin's original article gives prominent place to one particular complaint: there is (he states) no plausible reason why the resurrection should have occurred. In the course of this response, I will discuss a number of the reasons for Jesus’ resurrection.
God's Purposes and Jesus' Resurrection
When discussing the resurrection and God’s purpose, Mr. Martin limits the discussion to theories of atonement. While I will also respond to Mr. Martin on the atonement, the discussion of God’s purpose will not be limited to atonement alone. We will also consider the resurrection in light of the view that a miracle may also be a sign which communicates a message.
In preparation, we will first recall some known facts -- our background knowledge for assessing the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The first thing to recall is that Jesus is among a very rare group of people in the history of the world: people who founded a major religion. While this is undisputed and very likely to be relevant, Mr. Martin does not consider it in his assessment. From a simple standpoint of logic, it can easily have a bearing on whether God has any purpose in resurrecting Jesus from the dead. Another thing to recall is that, in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, previous teaching on resurrection was not especially strong, with no explicit support for it in the Torah and no other officially-recognized scriptures besides the Torah. In that day, it was an acceptable Jewish belief that there was no resurrection from the dead, with the party of Sadducees holding that belief. If the teaching of a future resurrection of all people from the dead is true, it is among the most relevant and important teachings in the history of religion. To be sure, some people had taught as if a resurrection would come. But these had not gained full acceptance as of the time of Jesus.
Jesus’ resurrection is a sign that clarifies the answers to many questions:
- It serves as a final answer as to whether there is life after death. As a sign, it clearly indicates that God raises the dead.
- It serves as a sign validating Jesus' teachings on the resurrection. It indicates that among the various teachings of what happens after death, Jesus’ teaching on resurrection is true. This is a sign of the certainty of Jesus' teaching that there will be a general resurrection in the future.
- It shows God’s faithfulness to his creation. From confirming Jesus' teaching of the future resurrection of all people, it follows that it is also a sign that God has not abandoned humanity to pain, meaninglessness, and death. It confirms Jesus' pledge to us that our own tombs will one day be empty, and we will rise to life again just as he rose. From this we can see the reason for the hope we have in us.
- It foretells the promised renewal of creation to a state of goodness that is no longer subject to death and corruption. Restoring nature to what God intended is one connecting link between Jesus’ healing miracles and his resurrection. Jesus’ work restoring nature is affirmed as God’s own purpose by Jesus’ restoration to life. Together with the background of Jesus’ other miracles restoring the sick, the blind, and the crippled, it shows that any evil, disease, death, or destruction that may confront us still cannot defeat God’s purpose of restoring us and renewing all things.
- The resurrection is a sign indicating the final practical resolution of the problem of evil. It is a sign showing the weak and temporary nature of suffering and death, and the truth of Jesus' promises regarding the world to come.
- It is a vindication of the goodness of God. If suffering, death, and meaningless had in fact been the final result of our lives, it would be problematic to maintain the reality of God's love of mankind. Instead, the resurrection demonstrates death's inability to destroy us and to undo God's purposes for us. As the generation that saw Christ raised from the dead put it, "Death, where is your victory? Grave, where is your sting?" The resurrection, as a sign of the general resurrection to come, provides a clear indication that God does value mankind.
- It confirms the uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth in God's purposes in the world. Among that very, very small group of people in the history of the world who have founded major religions, Jesus is unique even within that group in rising from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection plainly shows which leader to follow. It renders foolish the argument that God has not made clear which religious leader to follow.