Why does the resurrection matter?

On the Monday after Easter Sunday it is easy to go back to our day-to-day lives as if the world is the same place whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. Yet those of us who confess “on the third day he rose again” must be careful to avoid the mere intellectualization of these words. We must be intentional about existing in this world as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. We are asked the obvious question, “If there was a resurrection, so what?” It seems like everything is just as it has always been. In the face of hopelessness we declare hopefulness because Jesus Christ is risen.

What is different about the “post-Easter” world? These are a few things that come to mind:

(1) Jesus has been vindicated by Israel’s God and Israel’s God has been vindicated before the world: The resurrection is God’s response to theodicy. In the Book of Job we find no straightforward answer to why people suffer and die. In the Book of Ecclesiastes we are faced with existential hopelessness. It is apparent that the God of Israel has never been a God of simple answers. When God responds to the “problem of evil” he does so by allowing his Son to die at the hands of the misguided Jewish elite on a Roman cross. God does not prevent the evil, rather he allows it and then reverses it.

Whether or not we understand fully why God allows various forms of evil we do have a knowledge of sorts provided by the resurrection of Jesus that informs us of how God goes about bringing good from evil. God enters into human pain and suffering. God does not prevent it, nor does he avoid it. While there is an “already, but not yet” aspect to God’s vindication we do see the beginning of the end. In Christ God has been found to be the God who did not run from his covenant with Abraham, but fulfilled it through Christ. Christ is the one who brings the Abrahamic blessing to all the nations. Christ is the one who establishes the Davidic throne forever. God has been faithful to Israel (as the Epistle to the Romans argues) in that he gave them Messiah and he saved a remnant through Messiah. God has been gracious to the nations in that he has given them an opportunity to worship him by submitting to his Son (e.g. Psalm 2).

Jesus is vindicated in that his messianic claims have been established. He did not overthrow Rome, he did not command armies of soldiers, he did not establish Israel’s “earthly” Kingdom, and he did not do many of the things various groups of Jews expected from a Messiah, yet God proved to the world that he is the Messiah indeed because the Messiah is whoever God chooses. Also, God’s work through Messiah is not finished. Messiah is in the process of defeating the true enemies of God and when death, the last enemy, has been subdued forever then the complete vindication of Jesus will be established as well as that of God because he will be “all in all.” (1 Cor. 15.25-28)

(2) Jesus has been enthroned as Messiah: Paul opens his letter to the Romans speaking of Jesus who is the descendant of David who was “declared the Son of God” when the Holy Spirit lifted him from death (1.1-4). The “Son of God” is a royal term, a kingly term. So for Paul Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was established when he was risen from the dead.

In the Lukan paradigm it is the resurrection that preludes the ascension. Jesus goes into the heavenlies to sit at the right hand of God the Father for the time being with the intend to return (Luke 24.5-53; Acts 1.9-11). The ascension doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t have an earthly Kingdom, but it does mean we do not have to wait for him to begin his reign. The world is not a place of chaos. Again, there is an “already, but not yet” here: Jesus already reigns in heaven, but his reign has not been fully established on earth. Yet we should take comfort in the “already” side of things. Jesus is King, present tense.

(3) Jesus’ “appearing” or “return” is expected: While we know that many will mock Christians for our hope in the return of the Lord (2 Peter 3.3-9) this is something to which we must continually cling. Paul himself envisioned Jesus appearing like the Daniel 7 Son of Man so that he could gather his dead and living Saints before bringing his rule to earth (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). In 1 John 2.28-29 we find Jesus “coming” equated with his “appearing.” It is as if Jesus is already “present” but not visible. In the Book of Acts Stephen sees Jesus in heaven and this isn’t some place in outer space (Acts 7.54-60). While it is depicted as “upward” it isn’t “out there.” Similar language is used in Titus 2.11-14. Without the resurrection we cannot take comfort in the reign of Christ now nor it’s utmost fulfillment when Jesus appears.

(4) Christ’s resurrection allows him to send the Holy Spirit: In John 14-17 there is an obvious connection between the going away of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection opens the door for Jesus to go and send the Spirit. Paul makes this connection as well. In 1 Corinthians 15.42-49 Paul sees Jesus’ resurrection body as being Spirit animated in juxtaposition with our earthly bodies that are mere “flesh and blood” (v. 50) unable to inherit the fully established, eschatological Kingdom of God. Since Christ is the Spirit-animated one he is the Spirit-giver as well. This same point is made in Romans 8.1-25 (which I will discuss in more detail below) and Paul connects Jesus’ death and resurrection by the Spirit with our ability to receive that same Spirit as a guarantee that we will be raised from the dead one day as well!

(5) Creation will be redeemed: As Paul makes obvious in 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 he sees the resurrection of dead saints and the immediate death-to-resurrection-life transformation of living saints as occurring when Christ appears. In Romans 8.1-25 he takes this a step further. The resurrection of the saints results in the releasing of creation from it’s state of deterioration. This is Genesis 3.17-19 imagery in reverse. In 2 Peter 3.10-13 emphasizes the discontinuation of creation wherein Romans 8.18-25 emphasizes the continuation. In Revelation 21 we get another image: the marriage of heaven and earth.

Often Paul speaks of “New Creation” and that includes the saints. They are new creation and creation is new creation. In Ephesians 1.10 he says that in Christ the heaven and earth come together. This whole Christ-Church-Cosmos connection can be found elsewhere, like Colossians 1.15-20, as well.

There is much more that can be said more explicitly that is implied in these points. Paul connects the work of the cross with the resurrection (Rom. 4.25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised for our justification.”). As I’ve mentioned at other points the death and resurrection create “one new human” in Christ (see the Jew-Gentile relationship in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians). Jesus’ resurrection allowed him to give his first “royal command” in Matthew 28.19 to go forth into the world to make disciples.

So how does this change our lives now? How should be live in light of Christ’s vindication; God’s righteousness being revealed; Jesus’ enthronement, current reign, future appearing and reign; the sending of the Spirit; the renewal of creation; our justification; the Great Commission; and many other things that we could say? What would you add and how does it change the world around you?