The Apostles' Creed:The Third Day He Rose Again from the Dead
The Apostles’ Creed has long been admired, memorized, and confessed in worship due to its simplicity in form, clear statement of factual belief, and its brief summary of vital, core theological points. Christians in all ages have needed those creedal hooks upon which to hang their hats of understanding. “The third day he rose again from the dead” anchors two hooks that really are of utmost importance for Christians to believe: 1.) THAT Jesus rose from the dead, and 2.) WHEN Jesus rose from the dead. Now, as said, ALL of the Apostles’ Creed is vital. So, I don’t want to overstate this line’s priority, but, it is true, that if Jesus didn’t rise again from the dead, then all is in vain–He’s not who he said he was and his death didn’t accomplish what he said it would. Indeed, as Paul said: “If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain… If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19) But, we believe that Christ IS raised from the dead, and that he did so “the third day,” so we are delighted to believe it, confess it, and live in light of it. We do that by connecting Christ’s rising again on the third day to four areas of our Christian life.
The Core of the Gospel
At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lays out the Gospel in very specific terms. Today, many emphasize their EXPERIENCE of the Gospel as if that experience is the Gospel itself. Paul keeps it simple and tied down to historic happenings. What is the gospel?
Now, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you have received, and in which you stand… For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. Then He was seen by over five hundred brothers at once, of whom the greater part remain to this present time, though some have passed away. Then He was seen by James and then by all the apostles. Last of all, He was seen by me also, as by one born at the wrong time.” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-8)
This basic statement of the Gospel is wrapped around the fact that Jesus rose again the third day. And witnesses saw it.
The Continuity of the Scriptures
Paul uses the phrase “According to the Scriptures” again and again. Did Paul’s Scriptures, the Old Testament, speak seriously to the resurrection? Jesus thought so. On the Emmaus Road, after Jesus’ resurrection, two of his followers, possibly Cleopas and his wife Mary, were walking in utter dejection. He began “with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) And, along the way, he also spoke of the Scriptures, the Old Testament, needing to be fulfilled regarding his life. The Apostles thought so, too. The ending of Psalm 16:10 is used two separate times to make the point abundantly clear that Christ rose again from the dead. (Acts 2:25-28; 13:35-37)
The Centrality of Our Christology
This is like the first point, but leans on the other, more theological, foot. If the resurrection is part of such a brief presentation of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, then it also stands, systematically, that it is key to our understanding of who Jesus is and what He did while on earth: our Christology. The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that Christ’s work as Redeemer of God’s elect, the very work for which He was incarnated, was accomplished “both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of His exaltation. This he did as our Redeemer, our Prophet, Priest, and King.
The Completeness of Our Confession
Ursinus noted that “Infidels believe that Christ died, but do not believe that he rose from the dead.” True. We are called to not just believe that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus died for our sins, that Jesus saves, though these truths are inextricably linked to his resurrection, but to also “confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…” (Romans 10:9) “Progressive” Christians who deny the Resurrection of Christ deny the gospel itself and do no confess a true faith.
The benefits are more than theological. They’re personal. We read in Romans 8:11, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit that lives in you.” Christ’s resurrection benefits his people by securing the benefits purchased for us by his death on the cross. And on the blessings go.
Twice in my life, I’ve had the privilege of visiting the land of the Bible, of walking where Jesus walked, as it were. But no greater privilege has come to me than being a child of God. That right was purchased on Calvary. But it was secured when Jesus walked from that tomb, where today a humble sign now hangs that simply says: “He is not here. He is risen.” That we believe.
Joel Enoch Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion among four friends who are pastors about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.