Reclaiming the Resurrection

I am certainly not the first person to remark that evangelicals often struggle to know what to do with Easter. Oh, we’re all for the resurrection. We insist that it happened, and write all sorts of books defending its historicity. However, once the proofs have been trotted out and the usual alternative theories debunked, we often struggle for the application, the ‘so what’ of the empty tomb. At best, we say something like “and this really proves that Jesus was God, so you should believe it.”

Belief is certainly a good response to Christ’s resurrection, and I’m all for apologetics, but this approach deeply impoverishes us if it is the whole story. We often talk about the significance of the cross, plumbing the depths of Good Friday. Unfortunately the resurrection often ends up as an addendum in our theology. This is tragic, especially since the Scriptures actually have a lot to say about Jesus’ resurrection. It is a central event, as pivotal as the crucifixion, in the story of God’s work in Jesus. Of course we ought not pit the two against each other, but Easter provides an opportunity for us to reflect on all the things the resurrection of Jesus Christ means.

To that end, I thought I’d post some ways (by no means all of them) the resurrection is viewed as significant in Scripture. I’m breaking with my usual form and offering proof texts in parenthesis without specific comments for the sake of space. I hope their connection to the given idea will be evident. If not, I’m happy to expand any of them in the comments. In addition, I’ve tried to give the list some progression. The first few applications are the ones I hear most often, the later ones are less emphasized, at least in my experience.

1. The resurrection assures us of the cross’s power (1 Corinthians 15:17, Romans 4:24). Scripture commits us to the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion was more than just another tragic martyr’s death, another man nailed to the grinding wheel of history. It is pictured as an atoning sacrifice, a reconciliation, the price of redemption, and the bearing of humanity’s guilt. The resurrection renders nonsensical any attempt to make it instead just another appalling injustice. The proof that Jesus’ death is significant is in the proverbial pudding of His not staying dead.

2. The resurrection proves Jesus’ Messianic claims (Matthew 12:39-40, John 2:18-21, Romans 1:4). When they ask Him for a sign, Jesus tells the skeptics that he’ll prove it when they kill him and he gets back up on the third day. This is, in many ways, the great proof of Scripture. I remember one author commenting that just because someone rises from the dead, that doesn’t mean they’re God. Fair enough, but if the guy told you He’d prove His divine claims by doing something impossible and then does it, the evidence is certainly on His side.

3. The resurrection spells the end of death’s dominion (Romans 15:20-21, 54-57). The great enemy of humanity has been defeated. The curse of Genesis 3 has been undone. Christ is pictured by Paul as the firstfruits, that first apple on the tree which assures us there is a harvest to come. The last chapter has been rewritten; death is no more. Neither is this only some soul’s escape to heaven. Jesus’ bleeding side again heaved with breath, his nail-pierced feet walked through the garden. He is the proof that our bodies will one day be reknit, restored, and glorified. As Updike puts it: “it was as His flesh: ours.”

4. The resurrection gives us power for new life (Romans 6:4-11, Philippians 3:10, 1 Peter 1:3). Cross and empty tomb together form the transformative events which embody the Christian life. There is a dying in Christianity, a taking up of crosses and offering up as living sacrifices. This dying is not, however, the full picture: Christianity is ultimately a call to living-through-dying, to gain a new life through the loss of the old. If we fixate on sin and don’t also stand and press after righteousness we have only gotten half the story. Because we are united with Christ, we have mysteriously but truly partaken of His death and resurrection. It is actually true of us, right now. What’s more, we have hope that this call to new life, to righteousness and transformation, is being made real for us with the very same power that raised Jesus. God has not only worked on our behalf, He is also at work in each of us.

5. The resurrection reveals the glory of the Son (1 Peter 1:21, Acts 2:24). It is true that we need to see Jesus in His humiliation and brokenness at the cross. However, we must also see Him in His glory. We are called to serve others, but not out of self-hatred or misguided asceticism. Jesus’ example instead shows us that the way down (in service) is actually the way up. Not only this, but Christ’s glorious resurrection demonstrates that we have a Savior strong enough to support us in our call to follow Him. Jesus the Christ is not some passive observer, wringing his hands at our struggles and wishing He could help. He is the one who “it was not possible for death to hold,” and it is this Mighty One who is now our elder brother.

6. The resurrection reveals the power of the Father (2 Corinthians 1:9, Romans 8:11). A corollary of the last point, Scripture reminds us that the resurrection is a demonstration of the sort of strength wielded by the Lord of the Universe. He is not constrained by the tragedies of the world; He can and will level them with His strong right hand. We can trust that God can do as He promised because, hey, He already raised the dead. What else have you got?

7. The resurrection places our living advocate at the Father’s right hand (Romans 8:34). We like to emphasize the finality of the cross, and with good reason. However, God’s mercy in Scripture is guaranteed because Jesus, who died for us, now stands in the heavenly court and speaks on our behalf. Our battle with sin is not fought only with the hope of the past, but also with the hope of the present. We have a Savior who is alive, a living and present promise of salvation. There is a moment in the gospels where Jesus encourages the disciples by telling them He is praying for them. What a wonder that He who sits at the Father’s right hand prays for us as well.

8. The resurrection establishes Jesus as King over the cosmos (Romans 14:9, Ephesians 1:20, Revelation 1:5). As much as the cross isn’t the end of the story, neither is Easter. Theologians talk about the estate of Christ’s humiliation, the line downward from the incarnation, through the cross, and into the grave. What comes afterward is often called the estate of exaltation. It traces its trajectory back up from that grave when Christ is raised, but the movement continues upward to the throne where Jesus now sits. His work is not finished; right now He is acting through His people to bring everything under His dominion. This age isn’t just an intermission. The work began at the resurrection is even now being carried forward. The stone is becoming a mountain. The kingdom is battering down the gates of Hell. The promises of Messiah’s blessing are coming true.

9. The resurrection destroys our compartmentalization of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:14-19, Ephesians 1:20-23). Nobody takes offense at those who believe Jesus’ soul is in heaven; that’s hardly threatening to the status quo. However, if His body was raised in history, in physicality, then history and this physical existence have to change. A resurrected Jesus cannot admit a bifurcated world with one box for religion and another for the stuff of everyday life. He isn’t just a comforting vision to the disciples; He sits down with them and eats breakfast. The life of the age to come walked the shores of Galilee, and He will walk them again. We cannot keep Him in some “spiritual” corner; the King who sits in Heaven has a body of flesh and bone.

10. The resurrection hails the dawn of new creation (Colossians 1:18-20, 1 Corinthians 15:20-24, Revelation 1:17-18). As much as this age is a time of Christ’s reign, the resurrection also tells us that there is a still greater age to come. The power of death is broken, the curse of sin is undone. Jesus stands as the firstborn from among the dead, but one day not only all the dead but the whole creation, which now groans with the pains of labor, will find new birth. At His coming, the one who died and lives forevermore will open the graves and the dead shall be raised. Yet the story is even broader than this: there is a sense in which the whole world will be resurrected. Everything old will be made new, everything sad will come untrue. Christ’s resurrection reminds us that, though our bodies and our world are dying every day, at the end of the story lies unimaginable, unending life.

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