The Truth about Easter:

-The Four Meanings of the Resurrection-

By Dr. Ron Woodworth

I. Introduction…

“Have a happy Easter” was the greeting the person in front of me gave to my female pharmacist as I was waiting my turn to fill a prescription.1  Inquiringly, she then looked at me and said, “Isn’t Easter a name for a pagan holiday?” I explained that though there is controversy regarding the origin of the word “Easter”—nevertheless, the resurrection of Jesus perfectly coincides with the Jewish Passover (Matthew 26:17). As a result, Christians can be confident that the historic celebration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or what the culture terms “Easter,” has much more in common with the sacred Jewish festival rather than with mystic pagan ritual. We both agreed that arguing about the origin of the word “Easter” was much less important than sharing the Good News2 of the truth of the resurrection with others. Then, after our pleasantly brief discussion I departed by saying, “Blessed Resurrection”…and went on my merry wayJ

As I reflected on this experience, I became convinced of how important it is for all Christian believers to know the true meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Armed with such knowledge, we then can get to the heart of the matter rather than be sidelined with insignificant arguments about peripheral issues.3  As a result, I want to briefly outline for all of our readers what I have come to understand as a number of essential meanings of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As they were coming down from the mountain Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ might mean.”(Mark 9:9-10)

The disciples must have been perplexed with the Lord’s assertion that he must rise from the dead. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that they did not yet understand the necessity of his death. After all, they were still trying to cope with the implications of his life and ministry and their calling to discipleship—and now they must be confronted with the mystery of his death and resurrection?! It was simply beyond their ability to comprehend at the time. However, after the resurrection Jesus supernaturally opened their understanding to the Scriptures as never before (See Luke 24:45).

As I’ve also pondered the meaning of the resurrection (lit. anastasis or “a standing up again” from the dead) of Jesus Christ, at least four key understandings have surfaced in my mind. However, just before we articulate these sacred truths of the resurrection it is important to note how central is the theme of Jesus’ resurrection to all New Testament preaching. In a scholarly article on The Primacy of the Resurrection I have previously written:

“There is no more central theme to the kerygma [preaching] in the New Testament than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Pentecost, the apostle Peter boldly declared that Jesus was the Christ/Messiah of God by virtue of his resurrection—a resurrection that had been personally witnessed to by Peter, the apostolic band, and many others (Acts 2:24, 31-32). The apostle Paulgoes so far as to insist that if Christ has not been raised from the dead then all Christian faith and preaching is a futile exercise of vanity and deception (1 Corinthians 15:14). Indeed, when enumerating the essential facts of the gospel, Paul clearly indicates the primacy, or “first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3, NIV, Footnotes, p. 1757)” of the resurrection by insisting that “he [Christ] was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter…to the Twelve…to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…to James…and last of all to me [Paul]” (1 Corinthians 15:4-7).

Suffice it to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important foundational truth in all of Christian preaching. Let me be shockingly clear: Without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead there is no Christianity as preached in the New Testament!4  In other words, it is upon the foundational truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that biblical Christianity rises or falls. Without the resurrection Christianity falls—as a cruel hoax on desperate humanity.5  However, with the fact/truth of the resurrection Christianity becomes the hope of the world and a transforming force in all human relationships!

This is why, my friends, that the enemies of Christianity have historically attacked the New Testament claims to Jesus’ divinity by arguing against the resurrection. Such classic arguments are listed below in hopes that being forewarned is being forearmed. In other words, such knowledge will empower us to more effectively witnesses for Christ (Jude 1:3; Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 3:15).

II. Eight oppositional theories to Jesus’ resurrection:6

1.      The swoon theory. Jesus didn’t really die he only swooned or fainted on the cross.

2.      The fraud theory. The disciples stole his body and then lied about it.

3.      The spirit theory. Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual not physical.

4.      The mistake theory. The women were so distracted that they inadvertently went to the wrong empty tomb.

5.      The hallucination theory. The disciples were so overcome with emotional distress that they corporately hallucinated that Jesus rose from the dead.

6.      The impersonation theory. Someone who was falsely claiming to be Jesus was masquerading as the resurrected Christ.

7.      The modernist theory. Since the notion of people resurrecting from the dead is scientifically impossible it therefore could not have happened.

8.      The myth theory. R. Bultmann and others have claimed that the early Christians built a story about Jesus being resurrected to coincide with their misguided belief’s about his divinity.

Armed with this understanding we can now survey the New Testament about the significance of the resurrection.

III. The Resurrection means that…

  1. Jesus Christ is the Son of Godà There is truth in the Gospel!

“This Good News was promised long ago by God’s prophets in the Old Testament. It is the Good News about his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came as a human baby, born into King David’s royal family line; and by being raised from the dead he was proven to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God himself.”(Romans 1:2-4, TLB)

In other words, God the Father vindicated his Son’s claim to divinity by raising him from the dead. After all, if he really was God, then he would be expected to do miraculous signs—the crowning sign of which was his resurrection (John 2:19). Note: Jesus Christ is the only religious leader in the world who is claimed to have been raised from the dead. No historic leader in Hinduism, or Muhammad, or Buddha, or Confucius, or Abraham, or any other pagan philosopher is argued to have risen from the dead except Jesus Christ! In fact, Christianity has alone based its veracity on the sole claim that its founder, Jesus Christ, has been bodily resurrected from the dead. And if he has indeed been resurrected then he is who he said he was and has the power to do what he said he would do. In other words, confidence in Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world is, primarily because of the resurrection, well placed. Are you sincerely on a quest for truth—then my friend your search has been rewarded for Jesus is the truth! (John 14:6)

2. We are released from our sinsà There is forgiveness in the Gospel!

“Jesus Christ was delivered over to death because of our sins, and he was raised in order to secure our justification—our acquittal, and to make our account balance, absolving us from all guilt before God.” (Romans 4:24, NIV & TAB)

Christianity asserts that there is a fundamental flaw in human nature which is called “sin.”  Sin is the reason man7 is separate from and even hostile toward God in his intentions, thoughts and actions. Such a sinful defect within human nature (as a result of Eden’s fall) is a clear deviation from the nature of God and his purpose for creation and cannot coexist with a perfect God. In a sense God had two options: 1. To eradicate the entire human race and start over again—thus admitting his failure or 2. To somehow forgive sin and renew man’s nature—thus accentuating his sovereignty. To make a long story short, God choose the second option8 by sending Jesus to make atonement for sin by his sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus died for our sin so that we could receive his righteousness as a gift of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 1:30). This release from sin now reconciles us to God—as a result we, who once were God’s enemies, are now counted as his friends! [Somebody ought to get happy about nowJ]

3. Satan has been defeatedà There is freedom in the Gospel!

“…He forgave us all our sins…on the cross…where he disarmed the [spiritual] powers and authorities having made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

“—he became flesh and blood too by being born in human form; for only as a human being could be die and in dying break the power of the devil who had the power of death.” (Hebrews 2:14, TLB)

The Devil (diabolos lit. slanderer/accuser) is a name for Satan (satanas lit. adversary) who is a powerful fallen angel and enemy of God and humankind—who are created in God’s image. The Bible teaches that it was because of Satan’s temptation that mankind sinned resulting in the penalty of death—both physically and spiritually. Furthermore, Satan has thereby gained a position of power and authority over fallen humanity from which deliverance is only possible in Christ.

“For he [God the Father] has delivered us from the dominion (exousia, lit. authority) of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son [Jesus], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

This deliverance from sin, death, and Satan’s rule has all been accomplished at the cross and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection. For it is there, at the cross, where God decisively dealt with sin by placing the “sin of us all” on his sinless Son, Jesus (Isaiah 53:5-6).9However, it is through the resurrection that God destroys the power of death thus liberating mankind from the “prison camp” of Satan’s dominion. Hence, Satan’s authority over us has been abrogated10 and we are free indeed!

“If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36)

4. Death has been destroyedà There is hope in the Gospel!

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

It has been said that most Americans live their lives organized around the fear and denial of death.

In The Denial of Death, Pulitzer prize winner, Ernest Becker, argues that “the fear of death is natural and is present in everyone…it is the basic fear that influences all other fears…a fear from which no one is immune, no matter how disguised it may be.”

In The Sacred Canopy, renowned sociologist Peter Berger writes, “Death presents society with a formidable problem…because it threatens the basic assumptions of order on which society rests…death radically puts in question the taken-for-granted, “business-as-usual” attitude in which one exists in everyday life.”

Harvard Professor William James has observed that “Death is the worm at the core of all man’s pretensions of happiness.”

The Good News is that…

“…grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:9b-10, NIV)

Think of it…God has literally destroyed death [the thing everyone fears] and promised us eternal life [the thing everyone wants] through the Good News of what Christ has accomplished for us! If really understood, who wouldn’t’ want to receive this gift of life?! The only “catch” is that such as promise is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.11  Such a faith requires that we turn from our apathy and selfishness and trust in the Lord’s power to deliver us from sin and death. If/when we do “turn to the Lord”12 in repentance and faith, the spirit of God then quickens (or jump starts) our human spirit with an infusion of eternal life. Such a life is now as indestructible as God is!13  As a result, we no longer need fear death because the author of the resurrection lives within us.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’ and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)

The truth about Easter is that Jesus has been raised from the dead! Christ’s resurrection means that Jesus is indeed the Son of God; that we are released from our sins; that Satan has been defeated; and that death has been destroyed—we now have eternal life!14

My friend, after reading this do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and will you even now breath a simple prayer of your confession of faith in him as your Savior and Lord?15  If so, then God will, according to his holy Word, come into your life and make you a brand new creation.16  Easter and the resurrection will not be just an annual event, but a daily power for living in God’s kingdom.

Blessed Resurrection J  Ron

For Didi…a dear friend and faithful disciple whose soon expectation is to be with her Lord

p.s. The following addendum “Do You Believe in Easter” is brief story17 that will warm your heart as you think of our Easter hope…Enjoy.

Addendum…Do You Believe in Easter: The Story of Edith Burns?

The lady’s name was Edith Burns. She was a wonderful Christian who lived in San Antonio, Texas. She was the patient of a fine Christian doctor by the name of Will Phillips. Dr. Phillips was a gentle doctor and Edith Burns was his favorite patient.

As he walked into his waiting room one day, there sat Edith with her big black Bible in her lap. She was earnestly talking to a young mother sitting beside her. Dr. Phillips knew why Edith was there and what she was doing. You see, Edith Burns had a habit of introducing herself in this way: “Hello, my name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?” Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would be saved.

Walking back to his office, Dr. Phillips saw his head nurse Beverly. Beverly had first met Edith when she was taking her blood pressure. Edith had begun the conversation by saying, “My name is Edith Burns. Do you believe in Easter?” as she always did.

Beverly said, “Why yes I do.”

Edith said, “Well, what do you believe about Easter?”

Beverly said, “Well, it’s all about egg hunts, going to church, and dressing up.”

Well, Edith kept pressing her about the real meaning of Easter, and finally led her to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Phillips said, “Beverly, don’t call Edith into the office quite yet. I believe there is another delivery taking place in the waiting room.”

After being called back in the doctor’s office, Edith sat down and when she took a look at the doctor she said, “Dr. Will, why are you so sad? Are you reading your Bible? Are you praying?”

Dr. Phillips said, “Now Edith, I’m the doctor and you’re the patient.” With a heavy heart he said, “Your lab report came back and it says you have cancer, and Edith, you’re not going to live very long.”

Edith said, “Why Will Phillips, shame on you! Why are you so sad? Do you think God makes mistakes? You have just told me I’m going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends. You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!”

Dr. Phillips thought to himself, “What a magnificent woman this Edith Burns is!”

Edith continued coming to Dr. Phillips every day. Christmas came and the office was closed through January 3rd. On the day the office opened, Edith did not show up. Later that afternoon, Edith called Dr. Phillips and said she would be moving to the hospital and said, “Will, I’m very near home, so would you make sure that they put women in here next to me in my room who need to know about Easter?”

Well, they did just that and women began to come in and share that room with Edith. Many women were gloriously saved. Everybody on that floor from staff to patients was so excited about Edith, that they started calling her Edith Easter; everyone except Phyllis Cross, the head nurse. She made it plain that she wanted nothing to do with Edith because she was a “religious nut”. She had been a nurse in an army hospital. She had seen it all and heard it all. She was the original G.I. Jane. She had been married three times, she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.

One morning the two nurses who were to attend to Edith were sick. Edith had the flu and Phyllis Cross had to go in and give her a shot. When she walked in, Edith had a big smile on her face and said, “Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you.”

Phyllis Cross said, “Well, you can quit praying for me, you religious nut, it won’t work. I’m not interested.”

Edith said, “Well, I will pray and I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family.”

Phyllis Cross said, “Then you will never die because that will never happen.” She walked out of the room.

Every day Phyllis Cross would walk into that room and Edith would say, “God loves you Phyllis and I love you, and I’m praying for you.”

One day Phyllis Cross said she was literally drawn to Edith’s room like a magnet would draw iron. She sat down on the bed and Edith said, “I’m so glad you have come, because God told me that today is your special day.”

Phyllis Cross said, “Edith, you have asked everybody here the question, ‘Do you believe in Easter?’ but you have never asked me.”

Edith said, “Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked…” Edith Burns took her Bible and shared with Phyllis Cross the Easter Story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Edith finally asked, “Phyllis, do you believe in Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is alive and that He wants to live in your heart?”

Phyllis Cross said, “Oh I want to believe that with all of my heart, and I do want Jesus in my life.”

Right there, Phyllis Cross prayed and invited Jesus Christ into her heart. For the first time Phyllis Cross did not walk out of a hospital room, she was carried out on the wings of angels.

Two days later, Phyllis Cross came in and Edith said, “Do you know what day it is?”

Phyllis Cross said, “Why Edith, it’s Good Friday.”

Edith said, “Oh, no, for you every day is Easter. Happy Easter, Phyllis!”

Two days later on Easter Sunday, Phyllis Cross came into work, did some of her duties and then went down to the flower shop and bought some Easter lilies to take with her when she went up to tell Edith “Happy Easter!” When she walked into Edith’s room, Edith was in bed with her big, black Bible on her lap. Her hands were in that Bible and there was a sweet smile on her face. When Phyllis Cross went to pick up Edith’s hand, she realized Edith was dead. Her left hand was on John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” Her right hand was on Revelation 21:4, ” And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Phyllis Cross took one last look at Edith and then lifted her face toward heaven. With tears streaming down here cheeks, she softly said, “Happy Easter, Edith, Happy Easter!”

As Phyllis left Edith’s room, she walked over to a table where two student nurses were sitting and sat down. Looking across the table, she said, “My name is Phyllis Cross. Do you believe in Easter?”

Let the Lord be magnifiedRon


[1] This happened on Good Friday. My pharmacist is an acquaintance with whom I have frequently, though briefly, discussed our mutual Christian values.

[2]The Greek word for Gospel is euangellion which literally means Good News.

[3] The same can be said about arguments over the exact date of Christmas as well as such heretical Gnostic literature as The Gospel of Judas, The Divinci Code, etc. The point of Christmas is that Jesus was born—and that such birth signaled God’s intent to redeem humanity. And, at the heart of all Gnostic literature is the contention that God can never become flesh because “spirit is good and flesh is evil.” Therefore, for Jesus to be divine (the Son of God) would imply that God has mixed the purity of his spiritual nature with evil and vileness of a physical body—which to Gnosticism is an impossibility. Enter the incarnation! Immanuel: God with us in physical form. A miracle indeed and certainly worth discussion.

[4] What is amazing is that modern “Christian” liberalism is now preaching a resurrection-less Christianity. They reason that since modern scientific/empirical laws cannot validate the miraculous it therefore cannot exist. As a result, liberalism calls for a redefinition of a miraculous-less Christianity that can be more plausible and hence appealing to the modern scientific mind. I defended against just such assertions of modern liberalism in my Masters work at ASU and recently discovered it again in Barnes & Nobles section on Christianity. The text I innocently picked up was called The Heart of Christianity: [Subtitled] How We Can Be Passionate Believers Today and proposes a radical redefinition of Christianity without reference to miracles or any other potentially offensive references to archaic things like “sin”, “salvation” and “repentance,” etc.

[5] Karl Marx called religion the “opiate of the people.” In other words, all religious hope, even that of Christianity, is similar to a psychotic drug that conjures false illusions used to medicate the miserable existence of the masses of oppressed people.

[6] If you’d like a detailed research paper containing a full explanation of these theories and an appropriate Christian response to each–please email me.

[7] Note: All general references to “man” are gender inclusive representing both men and women.

[8] Warning: If this footnote is too deep then simply put in your “pending file” J

The “second option” mentioned here is really God’s first, because in his foreknowledge he knew all the contingencies of creating man with a capacity to sin and yet He soverignly determined before the foundation of the world that Christ would come to redeem humanity from sin and reconcile us to God. This is not to assert, as do some heresies, that God purposefully willed the fall of man. [If that were the case there would be absolutely no basis upon which to judge mankind for sin—for after all it was God’s fault…because he made us this way] Rather, this indicates that in creating the human race God knew in advance that Adam would fall and yet that in Christ many “fallen sons (and daughters) of Adam” would freely choose to accept his gift of redemption.

[9] Note also that the atonement provides the basis upon which our complete healing (spirit, soul, and body) is predicated. For a full treatment of the subject of divine healing—along with all the issues and objections– please refer to my series on “What Does the Bible Say About Healing” at www.ronwoodworth.org.

[10] To abrogate means to abolish by authoritative action. In essence, by an act of what we would call “judicial review” God determined that the justification for the death of Christ was insufficient (since he was sinless) and demanded that he therefore be raised from the dead! Another nuance of abrogation means to nullify or deprive of continued existence. Satan simply has no more authority or power over us who are in Christ! This truth is the basis upon which we can “cast out demons” (Mark 16:17; Luke 10:17).

[11] Though God’s eternal judgment is based on the personal “light” or knowledge of the truth that we each have (John 3:19-21; Acts 10:34-45), still, there would be no such thing as forgiveness of sin or eternal life for anyone had Jesus never come and accomplished redemption for all of us.

[12] Acts 26:15-20 Note that “turning to the Lord” implies both a repentance and faith—which are in effect two sides of the same coin. In other words, you can’t believe without repenting and you can’t repent without believing.

[13] Romans 8:9-11

[14] 1 John 5:11-13

[15] Just like I did some 34 years ago nowJ

[16] 2Corinthians 5:17

[17] Whose exact source I cannot verify.