The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Steve McKinion's Christian Theology II class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Topic: Why was the resurrection of Jesus necessary for salvation?
Paul tells us that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then we are still dead in our trespasses (1 Corinthians 15:17). This simple statement uncovers a great deal about the necessity of Christ’s resurrection as well as his death on our behalf, as does much of the rest of the New Testament’s view of the resurrection. Paul tells us, for example, that Christ died for our trespasses and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). Likewise, he notes Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is intrinsically linked to our own life (e.g. Romans 8:11). Moreover, we know that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then neither will we be (1 Corinthians 15:16). We know that it was in the resurrection that Jesus was shown to be the Son of God in power (Romans 1:4) and thus the one who reigns over all things. Moreover, we note that the preaching of the apostles as recorded in Acts refers to the resurrection of Christ as the evidence that he is indeed the Jewish messiah and the judge of the earth— indeed, from Acts we see that the apostolic message centered on the resurrection of Christ. Likewise, the very shape of the gospels is such that each in its own way climaxes not with Jesus’ death but with his resurrection, as if to say that the central issue of our faith is not the death of Christ but his being raised from the dead.
As we put together all these pieces, it becomes clear that the resurrection is integral in our salvation. It is not merely the “seal” upon the work Jesus did at the cross, the evidence that the cross accomplished what it needed to. It is part and parcel of our salvation, in and of itself. It is true that the resurrection does indeed ratify the elements of the saving work of Christ that were accomplished on the cross, but this is not all that it does. It seems clear from the evidence of the New Testament that the resurrection itself is efficacious in saving us.
If our mortal bodies are corrupted by sin, as we know they are, and if the penalty of sin is death, as we know it is, then something more than payment for sin must happen. Payment for sin is necessary, and so Jesus’ substitutionary atonement in death on the cross is essential to our salvation. However, there is more that is essential to our salvation. Reconciliation between God and man began in the Incarnation, as in Jesus the Son of God united humanity and deity in perfect fellowship once again, and it was accomplished (though not yet finished) in the resurrection as Jesus took up a restored body in which the power of sin and death were finally broken: an image of what our bodies will be in the age to come.
Likewise, we know that if we die as things were before the Resurrection, even were our sins paid for, we remain mortal and would never rise again of our own merits. In his resurrection, Jesus triumphed over death—the last enemy—and we know that the same Spirit that raised him from the dead will raise us from the dead. We know that Jesus’ resurrection is the means of our justification. He paid for our sins in his atoning death, but he sets us right with God in his triumphant new life. We know that his reign as the rightful heir of all things was inaugurated in his resurrection, not in his death.
In short, essential as was his death for our salvation, the resurrection of Christ is no less important in our being restored to life with God.