If the life and death of Jesus perfected our reconciliation with God (see below), why the resurrection? If the words "it is finished" are an apt description of the cross, why was Jesus raised? If we are saved by the blood of Jesus, who could ask for anything more?
These questions show that the way we talk about the saving significance of Christ's life and death seems to make the resurrection an afterthought. This may explain why so many modern theologians have found it so easy to question the historicity of the resurrection. Certainly they are propelled by the modern suspicion of the miraculous. But modern theologians will stand by a miracle when they feel it is needed for the integrity of the faith. Yet again and again, people have found ways to have faith in Christ without faith in the empty tomb.
And before you swiftly dismiss these modern notions of resurrection-less faith, take note of the fact that the resurrection often plays no explicit role in the faith of those who do defend it as history. Sure, they stick by it as a matter of principle, usually connected to the authority of Scripture. But do they really take seriously the function of resurrection in the economy of salvation? If the best we can do is say "The Bible says...", then we have not yet begun to explore the significance of the resurrection for us.
Well, why does the resurrection matter? I would argue that the resurrection is best understood as the revelation of who Jesus is and what he has done.
Who is Jesus in light of the resurrection? Well, people are not raised into glory just any time. For first century Jews, that's something that happens at the end of time to everyone. But to happen in the middle of time to one man shows that this man is actually the Lord and Judge of the world, seated at the right hand of God himself.
What did Jesus do in the light of the resurrection? Since God has raised him, Jesus' life and death is proven to be vindicated. He lived and died for us, achieving for us forgiveness of sins and new life. God has forgiven us in the death of Christ, and we know this to be the case because he raised him from the dead.
But what if Jesus lived and died and that was it? Would our salvation really be won? Yes! But would it do us any good? No! Upon the completion of his history, Jesus Christ now contains within himself the new life of a redeemed humanity. But how will that new life get to us? He must be raised so that what he has achieved for us may become available to us. He must traverse the barrier of time and space so that we can partake of the goods he has in his possession. It is this transition from him to us that makes the resurrection so important, so essential to the story of our redemption.
Is it true that allowing certain beliefs to go un-integrated makes them vulnerable to unbelief?
Does this account of the resurrection's significance help to make it more essential to our faith?
Is there some other way to think about the resurrection that better accounts for its significance?