The resurrection is the hinge on which all of Christianity turns. It’s the foundation on which everything else rests, the capstone that holds everything else about Christianity together. Which means—crucially—that when Christians assert that Jesus rose from the dead, they are making a historical claim, not a religious one. Yes of course there are “religious” implications to that claim, if you want to call them that, but none of those is in the least valid if Jesus didn’t really, truly, historically come back to life from the dead. Even the early Christians understood this point. They weren’t interested in just creating a nice religious story that would encourage people, help them live better lives, and perhaps provide them with a metaphor of hope blooming out of despair that might help them endure the storms of this life. No, the early Christians wanted the world to know that they really believed that Jesus had gotten up out of the grave, and they themselves knew that if he didn’t really do that, then everything they stood for was empty and false and utterly worthless. It’s like Paul said in one of his letters: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14–19).
In other words, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christians are pathetic.
But here’s the other side of that coin: if Jesus did rise from the dead, then every human being is confronted with a demand to believe what he said, to acknowledge him as King, and to submit to him as Savior and Lord. And of course, my friend, that includes you.
That’s why it’s so important for you—yes, you, right there reading this—to come to a decision about what you think about the resurrection of Jesus. It’s not enough to just withhold judgment on something this important. You need to give it some thought and decide either “Yes, I think this happened. I think Jesus rose from the dead, and I believe he is who he claimed to be,” or “No, I don’t think it happened, and I reject his claims.” Sometimes you hear people say that it’s legitimate for them to have no opinion about the resurrection because one can’t get to the truth or untruth of religious claims. But like we said before: Christians aren’t making a religious claim when they say Jesus rose from the grave. They’re making a historical one; they’re saying that this thing happened just as surely as it happened that Julius Caesar became emperor of Rome. It’s the kind of claim that can be thought about and investigated; it can be judged, and you can come to a conclusion about it.