Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
After a lifetime of Easters, it can be hard to put ourselves in the stunned and miserable sandals of those who actually watched him die. Sure, he had told them what would happen (in unnerving detail, Mark 8:31–32), but it all was still so unthinkable. This was the Christ, and the Christ could do literally anything but die. And yet there he hung, and then here he laid — his lungs emptied, his eyes vacant, his heart unbeating, like stone. Were we fools to leave all we were, all we had, all we knew to follow him?
The pale, unstirring body they now saw preached weakness, not strength; defeat, not victory; dishonor, not glory; despair, not hope. Why did we think he would be different?
All these years later, we’re so used to Sunday, we can hardly imagine the haunting hours before, when for three days, all their hopes lay dead in the tomb. But fools they were not. The body they buried, they would soon learn, was a seed that was about to sprout and bloom.
What you believe happened early that morning will decide what you believe about everything else.
“What you believe happened early that morning will decide what you believe about everything else.”
Either Easter Sunday is the hinge of all history, its answer key and center of gravity, the inbreaking of a whole new universe — or it was just another Sunday. Either the once-dead son of some obscure town walked out of his own grave — or thieves conspired to break in and steal his body. Either Christianity explains every longing and question of the human heart, or we are some of the most pitiful people who have ever been pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). Either Jesus stayed dead that day, or he’s still alive right now.
Easter is as good a day as any to remember where we’d be if Easter did not happen — if it were only a beautiful, inspiring fairytale, only a heart-warming hope to hold onto. “If Christ has not been raised,” the apostle Paul tell us, “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). And so, two verses later, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” How pitiful, then, would your life seem if you were wrong about Jesus?
If Christ did not rise, you are still in your sins. The forgiveness you thought you had found is just a fantasy. All the guilt and shame you had left beside the cross has really been hunting you all these years, and will soon find you. The sins you thought were canceled are again your debt to pay. Every evil you’ve said or thought or done — placed back on your shoulders. You have offended the one who can throw both body and soul into hell, and you have no advocate, no great high priest, no Lamb. The safety of the alter has become the horror of the gallows.
And if Christ did not rise, your faith is futile. All the hope and effort and sacrifice you’ve made to follow Jesus have been a devastating waste. If he did not rise, he can’t do anything for your sins; he can’t do anything for your heartache; he can’t do anything for your weakness, your confusion, your sickness and pain. Your anchor’s been cut loose, your sail shredded, your lifeboat sunk. If the cross was the end, Christianity wouldn’t be worth a minute more of thought, much less faith.
Can you imagine just how awful your life would be if, in the end, Easter proved to be little more than bright colors and plastic eggs?
Our lives would be tragedies if Jesus were still dead, but he’s more alive than ever. You could dig up every continent on earth, and you won’t find his bones, because they’re sitting on the throne of heaven. He appeared in flesh and blood and glorified scars to hundreds, and then ascended before the eyes of his disciples. And as bleak as our sin-cursed lives would be if he never rose, our futures are that much brighter because he did.
If you have hoped in Christ and he did rise, then you are not in your sins. How can this grow old? You were born into sin and raged, each in your own ways, against the God who made you. You were destined for a fate far worse than death — for eternal, conscious torment. And then you weren’t anymore. God himself stepped between you and his wrath. Now, in Christ, you’re destined for eternal, conscious, ever-increasing joy.
And if Christ rose from the dead, your faith is not futile. No, your faith has overcome the world (1 John 5:4). Through faith, “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23). If Jesus rose, even death belongs to you and someday will kneel to serve you. The empty tomb unveils our inheritance and seals it for us. Jesus has already sung the chorus he’ll one day lead for us:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55)
The apostle knew just how much hung on that unassuming cave outside of Jerusalem. And he knew how hard it would be to believe what happened there. And he knew it would be even harder to believe that the same might happen to us. That’s why 1 Corinthians 15 is in the Bible, to rehearse the unavoidable, galaxy-shaking reality of Christ’s resurrection for us — and to prepare us for our own.
“We will not only see the man who conquered death; we will be the ones who conquered death.”
Most people in the world, billions and billions of people, believe he died like any other man. We too believe he died, but unlike billions, we believe he then lived to tell of it. He traveled through the blood, the torment, the humiliation, the grave, and then paved a blazing path through for all who believe he lives. In this way, that first Easter gives way to a second Easter, when all who have laid down their lives with his will be raised to live where he lives.
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. . . . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:42–49)
On that Easter Sunday to come, when graves all over the world are opened and emptied, we will not only see the man who conquered death; we will be the ones who conquered death. The bodies that will be laid in our graves will breathe and walk again. We’ll not only be with the man of heaven, we’ll be like him — pure, strong, immortal, glorious.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have three children and live in Minneapolis.