When the apostle Paul was dragged before the Sanhedrin to give an account of his teaching, he expressed the core of the Christian faith with profound simplicity: “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6, NIV).
Now, in the context we are shown that this was a very savvy move given his situation. He observed that the assembly included both members of the party of the Pharisees (who affirmed the resurrection) and of the Sadducees (who did not) (v.6). Declaring that he was on trial over this contested doctrine was a cunning way to turn the united opposition against him into a body divided against itself–as immediately followed (vv.7-9).
Nonetheless, it was not only a rhetorical technique; it was also a fair statement of the Christian hope. When Paul was later brought before Governor Felix, he spoke of his faith in terms of the Scriptures, God, and “a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (24:15). Then, presenting his faith before King Agrippa, Paul quickly puts the resurrection at the center (26:6-8). Indeed, his faith is the story of his encounter with the risen Christ (vv.12-23). The centrality of the resurrection is further evident at various places in Paul’s letters, as well as other New Testament writings.
The Christian faith is a resurrection faith, a resurrection hope. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and in the coming resurrection to eternal life of all who belong to Him. Indeed, these two are inseparable: for salvation is union by faith with the Son of God, such that His death is our death to sin, and His resurrection our new life. The resurrection is inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ; death has been dealt a mortal blow; our sins were paid for on the cross, and we were declared justified in the resurrection. This is the faith of the Christian church.
And this means that watered-down Christianity can be no more acceptable to us than it would have been to the apostle Paul. “Faith” has no value unless it is faith in the risen Son. Vague theism offers no hope. Liberal theology that sees the resurrection as a poignant myth is utterly bankrupt. Only the boisterous supernaturalism, the potent scandal of orthodoxy, holds the secret of hope–resurrection hope.
And resurrection hope is stronger than all the tempests of life. The terror of death itself is overwhelmed in the mystery of resurrection life. The apostle’s confession is the perennial and world-shaking witness of the Christian faith: “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”