Beginning with the time of the Enlightenment, people have attempted to understand Jesus outside of the supernatural. There is much that is good in Jesus’ teachings and Christianity has shaped the morality of western civilization. It would be nice, so it was supposed, if we could have just a natural Jesus.
Perhaps Jesus’ healings (or at least some of them) could be explained by the power of suggestion in response to psychosomatic illnesses. But what about the resurrection? The resurrection of Jesus is not an obscure event that just can be glossed over. The resurrection of Jesus was central to the early Christian faith.
For some “enlightened” Christians or Jesus-sympathizers, a natural explanation for the resurrection was needed. This was often something like Jesus was alive in their hearts or the teachings of Jesus would live on in the ministry of the church or at most, the disciples simply felt the presence of Jesus.
Does it matter if Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead? Isn’t it enough that Jesus may have risen symbolically?
Yes it does matter and no it isn’t enough.
The resurrection of Jesus is not an attempt to create a happier ending to an otherwise sad story. The resurrection from the dead, that is a bodily resurrection, was and is central to the Christian faith. From the very beginning (See 1 Corinthians 15), the resurrection of Jesus was the first of a much larger resurrection that will happen in the future. When Jesus returns, all the Christian dead will be raised and those living will be transformed. Even the planet will experience a resurrection, becoming a new new heavens and earth.
The Gospel is not just that Jesus died for our sins, but rather Jesus died for us and his resurrection promises us that we too will be raised.
If Jesus only raised symbolically or only lived on in the hearts of his friends, then there is no hope for us. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then we can be assured that we will share in his resurrection.