Author: Phillip Jensen
Children of the Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus is central to the gospel and the New Testament, but it is often treated like an appendix to the crucifixion.
In the gospel presentation, Two Ways to Live, people are often puzzled by the page about the resurrection. The wording is,
God raised Jesus to life again as the ruler of the world.
Jesus has conquered death, now gives new life, and will return to judge.
The verse used to support these ideas is 1 Peter 1:3,
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
It is sad that so many Christians are unclear about the doctrine of the resurrection. We can understand how rising from the dead shows that Jesus has conquered death, or that God has conquered death in Jesus. But we struggle to see any connection between Jesus’ resurrection and him being the ruler of the world and the giver of new life.
So, let’s explore the relationship between Jesus’ resurrection and him ruling the world.
By and large, Evangelicals are very clear on the nature of Jesus’ death as an atonement for our sins. Justification by faith alone, in the death of Jesus as our vicarious sacrifice (or substitute) is fundamental to our understanding of the gospel. That the innocent one should become sin, so that we who are the guilty may become his righteousness – is something in which we are well schooled. Yet the Bible says, that Jesus was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). We would be more comfortable if it said that Jesus died for our justification. What part does the resurrection of Jesus to play in our understanding of the relationship between God and man?
Using & Abusing the Resurrection
In recent times, the resurrection has been used by Christians as an apologetic for belief in the supernatural. Asked about the existence of God, we rightly point to the person of Jesus. Asked to demonstrate that Jesus is more than a man, we tend to point to his resurrection.
It’s not wrong to use the historical and public evidence of the death and resurrection of Jesus to support the claims of Christ – the apostle Paul did so before King Agrippa (Acts 25-26). Yet, mostly, the New Testament doesn’t use the resurrection to demonstrate the existence of the supernatural. Nor does it use the resurrection to demonstrate that Jesus is God. Instead, the New Testament uses the resurrection to show that Jesus is the Christ (that is, the Messiah). When Jesus rose from the dead, he fulfilled Messianic expectations.
Similarly, modern theologians engage in unfruitful discussions about the nature of the resurrection body. The New Testament evidence is fairly clear: the question is foolishness (1 Corinthians 15:36)! Quibbling about the nature of the resurrection is unbeliever’s way of denying the reality of the resurrection. The Bible tells us that our mortal bodies will be raised (Romans 8:11) so that we will be like Jesus’ glorious body (Philippians 3:21) with a spiritual body which is fitting for our heavenly existence (1 Corinthians 15:35-44).
While we may use, and misuse, the resurrection in our apologetics (and be side-tracked by the unbelief of many theologians about the nature of the resurrection body), we must not miss the importance of the resurrection for the gospel itself. If you study the evangelistic addresses in the book of Acts, you’ll discover one subject is always mentioned when the gospel is preached – the resurrection of Jesus. Other subjects like the Holy Spirit, sin, the Trinity, baptism, and the atonement are not always mentioned. But the resurrection is never omitted. Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 can be described as “preaching Jesus and the resurrection“. This is a sign of its centrality to the gospel.
Unfortunately, many people preach the gospel without mentioning the resurrection. Whilst, we don’t have to mention every theological truth, every time we preach the gospel, and people who believe in the resurrection may leave it out of a particular gospel presentation – it’s still worth noting that the Apostles didn’t leave it out when they presented the gospel in the book of Acts. In contrast, today it seems to be left out more often than it’s included. We leave it out because we don’t understand its theological significance. When we do mention it, we use it to demonstrate the existence of the supernatural which was never the New Testament’s reason for mentioning it. So then, what is the resurrection about?
The Old Testament
The Old Testament doesn’t refer much to either the word or the idea of ‘resurrection’. Even the concept of life after death isn’t commonly put forward in the Old Testament. This isn’t to say that Old Testament saints doubted that God would look after them in their death. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living not of the dead. There is some confidence expressed that God will continue to look after his people after they “go down into the pit” (Psalms 49:15; 73:24-25; Job 19:25-27).
The idea of resurrection which the New Testament builds upon is found in the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Daniel and Ezekiel. In Daniel 12, we read about the end times when…
…everyone whose name is written in the book will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1-2)
At the end of the world, at the judgment time, there will be a resurrection of people to life or to condemnation. Isaiah 26:19 gives a similar promise of the judgment of God in the future resurrection of the dead. Hosea 6 speaks of the restoration of Israel after the judgment.
Ezekiel 36 and 37 that spell out most clearly the promise of the national restoration in terms of resurrection. In the context of God’s judgement upon Israel, these two chapters, which play such an important part in the thinking of Jesus (the Lord’s Prayer is based on them), speak of the coming of the Spirit, the cleansing and forgiveness of sins, and the establishment of the Davidic kingdom, the future Messianic age. Living in exile in Babylon, Israel could be excused for thinking that there was no hope for them. In chapter 37, God gives Ezekiel a vision of dry bones, dead people, to whom life is restored through the coming of God’s word.
The New Testament
Given the Old Testament the New Testament opens with assumption of ‘the Resurrection’. This was not personal immortality, nor the resurrection of Jesus, but the general resurrection. As a Pharisee, Paul considered belief in the resurrection is Orthodox Judaism. So, in Acts 24:14-15, when Paul explains his actions to Felix, he claims to follow the Law and the Prophets, which all Jews should be following – giving them the same hope in God that he has: a hope in the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. He makes the same point before King Agrippa in Acts 26:6-8. The resurrection is the future Judgment Day when the Messianic kingdom will be established.
In Acts 23:6, Paul divided the Jewish community according to their views on the resurrection. He knew that some of the Jewish Council believed in the resurrection (the Pharisees) while others did not (the Sadducees). It is this general resurrection that the Sadducees did not believe in.
If we go back to the Sadducees’ challenge to Jesus in Luke 20 (cf: Matthew 22 and Mark 12), we read in verse 33, their trick question about the woman who had been married seven times:
“At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” To which Jesus replied in verse people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry or be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
Notice how Jesus talks about the resurrection as the last age, or the next age, and about God’s children as the “children of the resurrection”. He is not talking about his own resurrection or our personal immortality, but about the age to come.
It’s not just in response to the Sadducees that Jesus speaks like this. In Luke 14:14 he says,
Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
In John 5:27, he also speaks about the resurrection as the Judgment Day:
And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
In John 6, four times we have the phrase “Raise them up at the last day” (6:39, 40, 44, 54). At the resurrection of Lazarus, we have Jesus saying:
Your brother will rise again.
I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.
Jesus said to her,
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:23-26).
This extraordinary claim of Jesus is that, with his coming, we have the arrival of the resurrection. The last day commences with him. It is as we believe in him that we enter into this resurrection life.
Like the Greek Philosophers who mocked mention of the resurrection in Athens, some of the Corinthian Christians were saying, “there’s no resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:12). Paul argued that if there’s no resurrection from the dead, then even Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead. Notice that he’s still arguing as a Pharisaic Jew, from the basis of belief in the resurrection from the dead. He doesn’t argue from the resurrection of Jesus to prove the existence of the resurrection of the dead, but rather from the resurrection of the dead to prove the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus, however, is the ‘first fruits‘ of those who have died. With the resurrection of Jesus, the age of the resurrection commences.
The idea of first fruits in the Scriptures is the payment of the first part of a crop to God. It’s like a deposit or down-payment; a testimony to the coming of the rest of the harvest. Jesus’ resurrection is the start of the general resurrection. In his death, atonement for sins was made, the temple veil was torn asunder, and the dead rose up from their tombs – appearing to many, after his resurrection. Jesus is the “firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). All this happens because he is the beginning of the new age of mankind, the last age, the Kingdom of God. That is why, when Paul talks about the resurrection, he goes on to talk about the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ, where all things are being put under his feet. This alludes back to Psalm 8 and looks forward to the time when Christ will hand all things over to his Father (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). So, the link is made between resurrection, judgment and the Kingdom of God.
For this reason, when the Apostles preached the gospel, they proclaimed the resurrection from the dead in much the same way that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God. To preach the resurrection of Jesus is to establish him as Christ. To preach the Christ has come is to declare that the Kingdom has come. An interesting verse that illustrates this is found in Acts 4:2 where we read,
They were greatly disturbed because the Apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
Notice that it was in Jesus that the resurrection from the dead was being proclaimed. They were not preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead but that in the rising of Jesus the general resurrection of the dead was coming into effect.
In light of this, we can understand why the heretics Hymenaeus and Philetus wandered away from the truth saying, “the resurrection has already taken place” (2 Timothy 2:17-18). They may have heard that Jesus rose from the dead, but they didn’t believe that Jesus’ resurrection was just the start of ‘the resurrection’.
This understanding of the resurrection also helps us grasp the meaning of being ‘born again’. Just as Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection age, so the effect of Jesus’ resurrection is to give new life to us in the here and now. In his resurrection, Jesus came to his kingly power (Acts 2:36; Romans 1:4). As Messiah, he pours out the Spirit of God on all flesh. Thus, as Peter teaches us, we have been given “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). So, the New Testament sees that we have been raised with Christ to sit in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). We have died with Christ in his death and have been raised with him in his resurrection (Colossians 2:20-3:4). This resurrection life that we enjoy now is the spiritual rebirth that has been given to us. The Spirit is our guarantee of the life to come. This resurrection life is a hidden life – it cannot be seen now – but will appear when Christ returns. Colossians 3:1-4 and 1 John 3:1-3 speak of the present reality of our resurrected life and the hidden nature of this spiritual reality.
Though spiritually raised already, Christians are still waiting for the resurrection. The resurrection for which we now wait is the resurrection of our bodies. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:18-25 our bodies are still caught up in the fallen creation and though we have the first fruits of the Spirit we are still groaning inwardly “as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” When Christ appears, then our lowly bodies will be changed to be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21).
Thus, in the death and resurrection of Jesus the general resurrection has come and is yet to come. For in his death and resurrection, Jesus is established as the Messiah and the Kingdom of God is established on earth – at this stage, a spiritual reality, but in the days to come, a physical reality too.
So, when we turn back to ‘Two Ways to Live’, we read
God raised Jesus to life again which shows that Jesus – conquered death, is the ruler of the world, is the giver of new life.
A paper originally developed by Phillip Jensen for the School of Christian Ministry (SOCM), part of Campus Bible Study (CBS) at UNSW where Phillip was chaplain 1975–2005.