This question is usually broached on a theological level and is defined primarily in terms of the atonement with an eye to the future, beyond this life. For example,
The resurrection is proof that Jesus’ death solves our sin problem and God’s wrath has been abated giving us hope in the eternal sense of the word.
This definition, however, is attractive mostly to scholars musing in classrooms filled with theological fumes. It doesn’t do much for the average guy on the street trudging through the difficulties of day to day living, struggling with personal failure and chronic faults, and it certainly doesn’t parallel the first thoughts of the early disciples either.
Immediately following the death of Jesus the eleven remaining disciples were scattered, disillusioned and without focus. It only got worse once they realized Jesus had truly risen from the dead.
The disciples hadn’t planned on Jesus dying in the first place and following His death they didn’t just change direction they stopped going anywhere at all. They were in “retreat” mode. Their primary concern was staying as much out of the public eye as possible. If Jesus, who was guilty of nothing, could so easily be framed and executed there was no reason to think they wouldn’t be next.
Their reaction to the death of Jesus is understandable but their initial response to the resurrection is surprising. When they began getting reports of the resurrection they expressed a sense of shame and disbelief not a renewed sense of hope. There was no victory celebration.
When Jesus first appeared to all the disciples, accepting Thomas, they were afraid. When Thomas heard about it, he was condescendingly doubtful. Later, when the resurrected Jesus offered His scars for unbelieving Thomas to see and touch Peter, who was usually quite vocal, had nothing to say. In fact, over the first two or three weeks following the resurrection all the disciples were distracted and self absorbed. They did more to avoid Jesus than engage Him. The resurrected Jesus, however, pursued the relationship in spite of their despondence.
For the first disciples the resurrection was more personal than theological. The risen Jesus became a source of security and hope only after they realized He could not be pushed away by their cowardice, unbelief, disloyalty and unreliability.
It didn’t give them hope in the broad, general, technical, futuristic sense of the word. It gave them hope in the present on a personal level. They realized that God, in spite of their failures could never be lost to them.
What does the resurrection mean? In the words of Paul, “nothing can separate us from the love of God” now or later, not even failure. In the words of Jesus, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Charles Foster, drawing on experience as a barrister, does more than just “assert” the resurrection of Jesus.
Instead, in his recent book, The Jesus Inquest, he grapples hand to hand or maybe I should say head to head with skeptics, not dismissing their contentions – assuming they are ridiculous – but engaging each one at close range, giving rational arguments to counter their ideas.