Key to Our Salvation
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Before He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus promised: “Because I live you will live also” (John 14:19). He had been explaining to His disciples that He was about to die, which would demonstrate His incomprehensible love for humanity. As He went on to say in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for His friends.”
The death of God’s Son is the foundational step in God’s plan to save humanity. His sacrifice allows every human being the opportunity to have his or her sins washed away and become the friend of both Jesus Christ and God the Father. And not only can we become the friends of God, but we are invited to live with Them forever as divine members of God’s family! This is possible only through the resurrection of Christ.
Yet although the apostles heard Jesus speak these words, they could not understand what was about to happen or why. Their beloved Rabbi was about to suffer a horrible death to free others from death. He would be buried for three days and three nights and then be resurrected. Because of His resurrection, they too, along with every repentant, obedient and believing human being would also be resurrected at a future time. Everyone will ultimately be given the opportunity to choose the way of salvation to live forever in God’s Kingdom!
Preaching the resurrected Christ, starting with Peter
Once converted through the Holy Spirit, the apostles proclaimed to the world that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the capstone of His ministry. Yes, “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). They were so confident in what they’d seen with their own eyes (1 Corinthians 15:5) that they were willing to die for it. They knew it to be the truth. They suffered humiliation, beatings and, later, even death for the name of Christ.
Acts 2 records that Peter and the rest of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, on the day of Pentecost. Starting in Acts 2:11, we read Peter’s first recorded sermon, which was given that day. His message centered around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the miracle worker who “was crucified and put to death” (Acts 2:22-23). But then Peter emphasized that before His body could suffer decay, God raised Him back to life (Acts 2:24, Acts 2:31-32).
Because He was crucified on our behalf, the only proper response for us is to repent of our sins and be baptized ( Acts 2:38). God then gives His Holy Spirit to repentant believers so they can “be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:38-40).
The next chapter records how Peter, accompanied by John, was used by God to heal a man who was lame from birth. Peter asked the crowd, “Why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12). He then explained that it was through faith in Jesus’ name that the man had been made strong (Acts 3:16).
When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Jewish authorities, these apostles were asked: “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7). Peter simply stated, “Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole” (Acts 4:10, emphasis added throughout).
Once again, the message of Peter was that it was because of the power of the resurrected Christ that miracles were beingaccomplished. Again and again, Peter’s messages resound with the fact that he served the risen Christ. Our “living hope,” he says in his first preserved epistle, is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3). And he adds, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
This timeless message regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been carried forth by God’s ministry down through the ages. Anchoring this message is the undeniable fact that we serve a living Savior, Jesus Christ.
Paul proclaims the same message
Paul’s first recorded sermon is found in Acts 13. He traveled first to Cyprus, then on to what is now southwestern Turkey, and observed the Sabbath with both Jews and Gentiles, worshipping God with them in the synagogue. After giving a brief history of the Hebrews, he began speaking of the Savior for Israel, Jesus (Acts 13:23). He spoke of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate authorizing Christ’s execution (Acts 13:28).
Then Paul spoke the words which are repeated throughout the New Testament: “But God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:30). Like Peter, Paul too was driven to preach the crucified and resurrected Christ. This message contained a power heretofore not realized.
Jesus and His apostles proclaimed the gospel or good news of the Kingdom of God—the message that God through His Messiah or Christ would set up a literal kingdom to rule over all nations. As the biblical prophets had earlier foretold, when Christ establishes His Kingdom He will rule from Jerusalem and the world will at last know peace; the nations will learn war no more (Isaiah 2:4).
Paul never changed his message. The final words we read about him are these: “Paul . . . received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence” (Acts 28:30-31).
Paul started his epistle to the Christians in Rome by stating that he had been “separated to the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). He said the gospel concerned “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).
Paul thus explained that both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are vital to understanding God’s gospel. He further declared that the “gospel of Christ . . . is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Christ’s gospel transcends nationalities. His life, death and resurrection are vital for everyone; it is God’s power to salvation—that is, eternal life in God’s coming Kingdom—for every believing human being. Without this salvation all people are headed to the second death—the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).
Paul continues with the key theme of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection in Romans 5:8-10:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
This is a key scripture. Paul wants us to know that while Jesus’ death is crucial for our justification before God and reconciliation to Him (being declared not guilty and placed into a right relationship with Him), that death does not give us eternal life. We are ultimately saved, resurrected to eternal life, by the living Christ!
In Romans 8:34 Paul states: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”
The word translated “furthermore” is the Greek mallon, meaning “all the more,” “how much more,” “better,” “rather than,” “more than,” etc. So while the spiritual impact of Christ’s sacrificial death on humanity is immense, His resurrected life makes it more so because He lives to make “intercession for us”—pleading for us as priestly intermediary with God.
Paul also makes it clear that Christians live the Christian life only through Christ living in them through the Holy Spirit. As he explains, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, King James Version). Here we see how vital it is that Christ not only died for us but was also resurrected so that He could live in us—empowering us to resist sin and continue in God’s way.
Paul continues the focus in 1 Corinthians
Paul wrote his first preserved epistle to the church at Corinth to correct, in love, some heresies that were troubling the congregation. Earlier, he had spent 18 months raising up that church and teaching the members the fundamentals of the Christian faith (see Acts 18:11).
His instructions in this letter regarding the observance of biblical festivals date it to the spring of the year in the northern hemisphere. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, we are exhorted to keep the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread with proper spiritual focus—both of these occurring in early spring. Paul gives further instruction in chapter 11 on the right attitude Christians must have as we partake of the New Testament Passover (as we must still today).
Notice in this regard that this epistle, written more than two decades after Christ’s death and resurrection, contains no reference to the observance of Easter Sunday. The popular Easter holiday is rooted not in true Christianity but in pagan religion (see “How Christian Is Easter?”).
In fact, Jesus was not even resurrected early Sunday morning, as most believe. It is provable that He came back to life on Saturday, rising from the grave around the end of the weekly Sabbath at sunset after three days and three nights, as He promised in Matthew 12:40 (see “Good Friday – Easter Sunday: It Doesn’t Fit With the Bible”). The truth of the matter is that the early Church observed the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in a New Covenant context. They never observed Easter. (Again, see “How Christian Is Easter?”.)
In this springtime epistle, Paul also wrote of the crucial importance of Christ’s resurrection. There were false teachers in the congregation who were denying the reality of the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:12).
He told them when first addressing them that Jesus died for their sins and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) and that Jesus was seen by Cephas (Peter) and the other apostles as well as more than 500 others (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). He mentioned this large number of personal eyewitnesses to demonstrate that there was no possibility of fraud. These were all bona fide witnesses who knew they saw Jesus after His resurrection. Paul then reaffirmed that he himself had also seen the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8).
Next he addressed the heresy some were spreading—that there was no actual resurrection of the dead. He anchored his rebuttal through the fact of Christ’s literal resurrection as a forerunner of the future resurrection of all believers. He said that if Christ was not risen, then his preaching and their faith were in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Furthermore, Paul said that if Christ was not risen, then he and the other ministers were false witnesses and the Christian faith is futile, with all of us left still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:14, 1 Corinthians 15:17). For it is Christ living in us that empowers us to live in obedience to God. And if Christ is not risen, Paul stated, then those who have died in Christ have perished—there is no hope of anyone ever being resurrected. And if it’s only in this present life that we have hope, we are of all men the most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:18-19).
Paul goes on to emphatically state that Christ has risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20), the beginning of God’s spiritual harvest of mankind. He explains that while the first Adam, the father of wayward mankind, brought death, the last Adam—Jesus Christ as the beginning of a renewed human race—has brought life.
Paul then spends the rest of this lengthy chapter talking about the resurrection of the dead. Furthermore, he makes it clear that Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection.
The Kingdom of God is for resurrected believers
The key to the Kingdom of God promised in the gospel message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If it weren’t for Christ’s resurrection, there would be no Kingdom of God to come. There would be no messianic King of that Kingdom—and no resurrected followers of His to serve as kings and priests along with Him.
Some think that the message of the Kingdom of God is merely about experiencing God in our lives today. But without a future literal resurrection and ruling Kingdom to come, what would be the point? We would be most pitiable, as Paul said.
While we can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God today through personally living by God’s Word, Paul announces that the Kingdom is ultimately yet to come and that inheriting it requires a resurrection or change to immortality:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [in death], but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
It is God who gives us this victory through the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57). Our living forever has been made possible through the One who said that He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). His life, ministry, death and resurrection have made eternal life possible for humanity! We’re reconciled to God by Jesus’ death but saved by His life—by His living in us to lead us and interceding for us as High Priest.
Jesus will come back to rule as King under God the Father. In the coming Kingdom of God, the resurrected Messiah and His resurrected followers will lead the rest of mankind, those who are willing, to repentance and ultimately experiencing the same change to immortality. Let us never forget the awesome importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection!