Easter—The Resurrection Makes All the Difference (Part 1)

April 7, 2014

by Peter Amsterdam

Easter is the day we celebrate the most important event of our Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus. Why is it so important? Because without the resurrection, our faith is worthless, as the apostle Paul made a point to emphasize. Without the resurrection, we are not redeemed, and are therefore still accountable for our sins.[1] Without the resurrection, our faith is in vain and we are misrepresenting God when we witness to others.[2] It is because God raised Jesus from the dead that we know we have salvation.[3]

The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is what validated the claims He made about His messiahship and His divinity.

Expectations about the Messiah

If Jesus had not risen from the dead, He would have been just another of a number of first-century Jewish men who claimed to be the messiah and who were believed by some people to be the messiah, but who turned out to be messianic pretenders, failed messiahs. In those days, the messiah was understood to be someone whom God would anoint to deliver His people from foreign oppressors and who would reign as king in the restored kingdom of David.

There are references in the New Testament and in historical writings which refer to failed messiahs. In the book of Acts Gamaliel, a Pharisee, referred to them when he spoke of men who rose up with their followers and were killed. He said, “Before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.”[4]

When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, the tribune thought he was “the Egyptian,” who was stirring up a revolt.

As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”[5]

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus mentioned several historical figures who might be regarded as false christs: (1) Theudas, who appeared when Fadus was procurator (a.d. 44–46) and summoned the people to the Jordan River wilderness with the promise that he would divide the Jordan like Joshua and begin a new conquest of the land; (2) various “impostors” during the term of [procurator] Felix (a.d. 52–59) who led crowds into the wilderness with promises of signs and wonders; (3) an “impostor” during the term of [procurator] Festus (a.d. 60–62) who promised deliverance and freedom from the miseries of Roman rule for those who would follow him into the wilderness; (4) Manahem ben Judah (alias “the Galilean”) during the term of [procurator] Florus (a.d. 64–66) who came to Jerusalem “like a king” and laid siege to the city.[6]

Jesus was rejected by the Jewish leaders because they considered Him to be a messianic pretender, a false messiah. In their eyes He was just one of many who claimed messiahship. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, they would have been proven right. His disciples would have most likely returned home and taken up their previous employment, and would have concluded they had been foolishly duped.

However, God raised Jesus from the dead, which changed everything. His resurrection was God’s way of showing that what Jesus had said about Himself was true. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead, after dying on our behalf, showed that:

  1. He acted and spoke with authority that belonged only to God;
  2. He was the Messiah whose coming was foretold throughout the Old Testament;
  3. He was the Son of Man spoken of in the book of Daniel to whom was given glory and a kingdom … an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away;
  4. He will pass judgment on all individuals at the end of time;
  5. He is the divine Son of God, who is equal with the Father.

Let’s take a look at what we’re told within the Gospels about these five aspects of Jesus.

Jesus Acted in the Authority of God

Jesus spoke and acted with authority—in His teachings and actions, in the miracles He performed, in casting out demons, and in His forgiving the sins of individuals.

Five times in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expressed the proper interpretation of parts of the Old Testament when He said: “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you.” He corrected the erroneous understanding of Scripture which the religious leaders of the day taught. When He was finished, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.[7] In John’s Gospel Jesus uses the phrase “truly, truly I say unto you” 25 times, a phrase that stresses the authoritative nature and importance of Jesus’ pronouncements.[8]

When referring to the laws of Moses, the first five books of the Old Testament, Jesus said:

It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the Law to fail.[9]

Elsewhere, when speaking of His own teachings, He ascribed to them the same authority and permanence as the Mosaic Law when He said:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.[10]

We see Christ’s authority over nature when He calms the raging storm:

And they went and woke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.[11]Calming the storm is something which the book of Psalms says God does: Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.[12]

Jesus’ authority over Satan is manifested when He expels demons and when He gives authority to His disciples to do the same.

Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”[13]

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!”[14]

Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, a prerogative of God, was manifested when He told the paralytic man that His sins were forgiven, and then healed the man, proving He had the authority to forgive sins. His ability to do the visible miracle of healing the man was evidence that He also had the power to do the invisible miracle of forgiving sins.

Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”[15]

In the course of Jesus’ teaching He states that He is greater than the temple, the prophet Jonah, and King Solomon, showing that He and His message were greater than the three most important institutions in Israel—priest, prophet, and king.[16]

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here … behold, something greater than Jonah is here … behold, something greater than Solomon is here.[17]

He also stated that He was greater than Abraham, the father of faith; Jacob, the father of Israel; and Moses, who received God’s law.

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”[18]

“Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself”… Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”[19]

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”[20]

After His resurrection, Jesus spoke of the authority He possessed.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”[21]

Jesus rising from the dead on that first Easter morning proves that His claims of authority were true.

Jesus the Messiah

Throughout the Old Testament, Scripture spoke of one who would come and lead Israel, a king who would fulfill the prophecies God had given to David and others. These prophecies spoke of a prophet and king from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David, from the town of Bethlehem, who would have an everlasting kingdom. This person would be an “anointed one,” a messiah, a suffering servant, who would take the people’s transgressions upon himself, a king who would be called “our righteous savior.”

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.[22]

When your [David’s] days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.[23]

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse [King David’s father], and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.[24]

You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.[25]

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land … And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”[26]

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.[27]

After the Jewish people’s decades of exile in Babylon, and then being ruled by the world powers of Greece and Rome, they began to use the term messiah specifically in reference to the one who would restore Israel’s independence in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish expectation was that the messiah would be a political/warrior king who would deliver the Jewish people from the oppression of Rome.

The Romans who governed Israel in Jesus’ time were very careful to put down any rebellion and eradicate anyone who was seen as a potential messiah. Because of this danger, Jesus usually did not publicly claim to be the Messiah in the early part of His ministry. He seldom directly referred to Himself as being the Messiah when He was in Israel proper, though He did so when He was in Samaria and in places outside the borders of Israel.[28]

He often told those He healed to not tell others about it, as He didn’t want to draw attention to Himself. He could have been seen as someone who might be stirring up Jewish nationalistic desires, and the Romans were on the lookout for anyone who gained popularity and could be seen as a messiah and thus a threat to their rule.

There came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged Him, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And He charged him to tell no one.[29]

After miraculously feeding the five thousand, Jesus withdrew from the crowds because He saw that the people were intent on making Him king, which would have brought the wrath of Rome on Him prematurely.

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.[30]

Throughout His ministry, Jesus tried to move people away from the general belief that the messiah would be the liberating warrior king, and to help them understand that the messiah’s mission included suffering, rejection, and humiliation. This was difficult for people, including His closest followers, to grasp. Neither His disciples, the Jewish leaders, nor John the Baptist comprehended the true nature of messiahship. We see this manifested when two of His disciples, James and John, asked if they could sit at His right and left hand when He became king. They expected Him to be a literal king, with prominence, power, and wealth.

They said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.”[31]

Even John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus sent to prepare His way, had questions about whether Jesus really was the “one who is to come,” the promised messiah. John’s expectation of what the messiah would do differed from what he heard that Jesus was doing. Jesus responded by pointing out that His ministry was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies about the messiah and what he would do in Isaiah 35 and 61.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”[32]

Jesus had quoted from this same passage of Scripture early on in His ministry, stating that this Scripture was fulfilled in Him.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”… And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[33]

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, when He was near Caesarea Philippi (an important Roman city north of the Sea of Galilee with a pagan Syrian and Greek population), He asked His disciples who people said He was. Their response was that some said He was John the Baptist, and others said Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The fact that people expressed that He was one of these prophets was in line with the Old Testament expectation of a great prophet which was to come.

Then Jesus asked who His disciples thought He was, and Peter responded:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.[34]

The word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashiah, meaning messiah.

A little over a week later, Jesus went up on a mountain with three of the disciples and was transfigured.

Now about eight days after these sayings He took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.[35]

Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and their appearance showed that the Old Testament bore witness to Jesus being the Messiah.

When Jesus asked the Pharisees whose son the messiah would be, they responded by saying, “the son of David,” knowing that according to Scripture the messiah would come from David’s royal lineage. Jesus then asked them a follow-up question, quoting from Psalm 110:1:

He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”[36]

Jesus makes the point that the messiah, David’s “son,” will be David’s Lord; he will have a more prominent role than David.

At His trial, Jesus is asked if He is “the Christ.”

Again the high priest asked Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”[37]

This response convinced the high priest to condemn Jesus to death. The claim of being the messiah was what allowed the Jewish leaders to bring Jesus to Pilate for judgment, as the messiah was a threat to Rome, and would-be messiahs were killed by the Roman authorities.

Jesus was called the Messiah by the angels at His birth:

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”;[38] and by Pilate at His death: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”[39]

Jesus, who specifically stated that He was the Messiah throughout the Gospels, and was called the Christ (Messiah), by others, was cruelly hung upon a cross until He died. The Jewish leaders and Pilate thought His death would prove that He was a false messiah. However, His resurrection proved that He was telling the truth. God raising Jesus from the dead showed that He is the one who was spoken of throughout Scripture, the Messiah who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, who was crushed for our iniquities, who has brought us peace, the one called the “Lord of our righteousness.”

(See part two of this series for other aspects of who Jesus is.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17 NAS).

[2] If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised (1 Corinthians 15:14–15).

[3] If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

[4] Acts 5:36–37.

[5] Acts 21:37–38.

[6] C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, and T. C. Butler (eds.), “False Christs,” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[7] Matthew 7:28–29.

[8] John 1:51, ESV Study Bible.

[9] Luke 16:17 NKJV.

[10] Matthew 24:35.

[11] Luke 8:24.

[12] Psalm 107:28–29.

[13] Luke 4:35–36.

[14] Luke 10:17.

[15] Matthew 9:2–8.

[16] The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 1846.

[17] Matthew 12:6,41,42.

[18] John 8:53,58.

[19] John 4:12–14.

[20] John 5:46–47.

[21] Matthew 28:18.

[22] Deuteronomy 18:18.

[23] 2 Samuel 7:12–13.

[24] Isaiah 11:1–2.

[25] Micah 5:2,4.

[26] Jeremiah 23:5–6.

[27] Isaiah 53:4–6.

[28]The [Samaritan] woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25–26).

[29] Luke 5:12–14.


A deaf man’s ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it (Mark 7:35–36).

Taking her [a child who was dead] by the hand He called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once … And her parents were amazed, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened (Luke 8:54–56).

[30] John 6:15.

[31] Mark 10:37.

[32] Matthew 11:2–5.

[33] Luke 4:18–19, 21.

[34] Matthew 16:15–17, 20.

[35] Luke 9:28–31.

[36] Matthew 22:43–45.

[37] Mark 14:61–62.

[38] Luke 2:11.

[39] Matthew 27:22.