For all of us there have happened events in our lives that changed them forever, events that happened at various times along the way of living that had they not happened, things would have just remained as they were, nothing having changed, and life would have gone on just as before.
But for each of us, when these life-changing events did happen, by definition, they would have been life-altering. Some of them would have been good and some of them would have been bad. And, for some of them, the character of the event might not actually be known until later in time than when the event first occurred. That is, something which at first seemed very bad might, in time, quite unexpectedly turn out to be something incredibly good.
Events that most of us would agree were life-changing in our own lives would have included meeting and falling in love with our wife or husband, the birth of our children, and so on. The list is endless. On the other side of the coin some of us have experienced loss of that spouse and even the loss of a child. Events like those, when they occurred, also changed forever our lives that would follow. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. Whether the events were good or bad, we might not have known it at the time that it happened, but our future had changed forever.
All of us can look back over the span of time and see in our own lives example after example of things like these, something that happened that, once again, changed our lives forever. All of us have had people cross our paths or events that became a part of our lives – people and events that forever changed our lives that followed.
That all now said, there has been but one event that happened in history that was most central and most important – an event that happened to all people of all times and places, whether or not they know it. There has been this one, particular event that happened in history that forever changed the lives of all peoples everywhere, that forever changed history as it was and history as it would be from then on. There was this one event that changed the lives of everyone forever.
Theologians, of necessity, sometimes have to use “big words” when communicating their thoughts. Words like justification, sanctification, dehumanization, deterritorialization and so on. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! As I’ve talked about previously these words form “portable stories” that allow scholars and theologians to converse with one another using fewer words to teach and to get their points across. Here in the more real world we don’t do that, but when studying the Bible I sometimes wonder why it is that we don’t use these portable stories more because once you get to an understanding of these “big words,” things start to make far more sense than they ever did before.
Anyway, one of the smaller “big words” that these theologians and scholars use to describe what I’ve been so far talking about in these first five paragraphs is the word prolepsis. You’ve heard me use it before in some of the classes I’ve taught here. In fact, I vividly remember the first time I heard this word being used by Dr. Bouman in my Systematic Theology class at Seminary. And while I immediately knew it fell into that category of “big words” (which included any word which I, at first, did not understand – and there were many!), I was quick to acknowledge that it was by far one of the shorter ones I had already heard of for the first time in that very same class. Dr. Bouman seemed to be constantly introducing me into this world of “big words”. We had assigned readings from several textbooks for those two semesters of Systematic Theology but those that I used most often in his class were my several theological dictionaries.
Prolepsis. What does that mean? What’s the importance of knowing what this word really means. In fact, as definitions go this is one of the easier “big words” to define. And it’s just as important, if not even more so, than many of the other “big words” scholars and theologians sometimes throw around like candy. Prolepsis comes from the Greek word prolpsis which means an anticipating. Prolepsis is the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or already accomplished. With prolepsis we experience the outcome of history in the middle of history. Therefore, the adjective proleptic describes a phenomenon occurring in history that previews the final outcome of history. As such, the resurrection of Jesus is thus thee proleptic event in history because in the midst of history Jesus’ resurrection previewed the final outcome of history. It’s that simple and yet that powerful and profound. In other words, Jesus’ resurrection anticipated the final consummation, that is, the renewal and restoration of all Creation itself, and Jesus’ resurrection previewed the concomitant future resurrection of all the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was, and is, that important. Jesus’ resurrection was all important. There was nothing more important in history than the resurrection of Jesus!
That singular, solitary event that changed history forever – for all peoples everywhere – was the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. The one event in history that not only explained everything that had happened before that event – but that also explained the course of history to come – was the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the true Son of God. And all of that happened now centuries ago on that first Easter morning, April 5, 33. The one event that had been long foretold in Scripture that would forever change everything that would follow in history was the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection changed, and redefined, history itself forever. For all peoples everywhere. Believers and non-believers alike. Whether they know it or not. Whether they even agree with it or not. His resurrection gave new meaning to everything that had happened before and to everything that would happen subsequently. The resurrection of Jesus! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
So then, why and how did this happen? Why Jesus? Why did God have to become Jesus, this God-Man who fully retained his divinity while becoming fully human? Why was that necessary? Why did Jesus come the first time and why did he have to come again? What was Jesus all about during the time of his earthly ministry and what will he be all about when he comes again for a second and final time? In fact, why did Jesus have to die in the first place and why was he raised on the third day?
The answers to all these questions, and to every question ever asked, are found in our story behind the Story – and in the Story itself. The answers to all these questions are found in God’s inspired Word, in our Old and New Testaments – in Scripture. That is to say that the answers to all questions are found in Jesus and in his resurrection because Jesus and his resurrection are at the very heart and core of our Bibles. Again, as you’ve heard me say before: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. The resurrection, the resurrection, the resurrection.
This discussion is, of course, about Jesus’ resurrection, but as those of you who have heard me talk about resurrection before already know, it’s always about much more than that. Although we will be focusing most directly on the resurrection here in these next two classes – in the background, in the foreground or in whatever other way you want to put it – there are other things implicitly and explicitly tagging along, things that are part and parcel of resurrection itself, things like the Incarnation, things like Christ’s sacrificial atoning death on the cross and things like his eventual ascension that go along with and that are central to his resurrection. In fact, you can’t speak of one of these events without thinking of, including and understanding the others. They all go together. They’re a package deal. They are inextricably intertwined with one another. When you say one of them, you are saying all of them. They are all part of the “progressive revelation” of God’s salvific plan for humanity as found in Jesus and as we see being told throughout the whole of Scriptures. The Incarnation. The Cross. Jesus’ Death. His Resurrection. His Ascension. All of these were part of God’s plan from before time as we know it.
First, let us never underestimate the inspiration of God; the plan of salvation was complete in the mind of God from before time began. This concept that God’s salvific plan was laid out before Creation is implicit everywhere in Scripture (cf. Co 1 14-20). And it is explicit in a great number of passages, just a few of which are: Mt 13 35, 25 34; Ep 1 (practically the whole chapter), 1 Pe 1 18-21, and Ro 16 25-27. For those seeking additional relevant passages, see also the Synopsis of the Pauline Letters, Topics 36, The Mystery of God, Christ; and 69, The Chosen People of God.
All of these events – the Incarnation, the Cross, Jesus’ Death, his Resurrection and his Ascension – all of these events encompass the earthly ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus of Nazareth. Another way of looking at this is that one of these events does not happen without the other. For instance, we may be speaking most specifically about the resurrection today – but the Incarnation, the cross, Jesus’ death and his ascension all go along with that discussion about his resurrection. So while some pastors and priests and theologians and scholars and professors will talk about the whole of Jesus’ ministry as “the Incarnation”, and while others may talk about the whole package as “the cross”, and while others will talk about it as “the resurrection”, and while still others may talk about it as “the ascension”, in the end they are all talking about the very same thing; they are talking about the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. I, for instance, will here be talking about it as “the Resurrection”.
Let’s begin with the language we’ll use for this discussion. Resurrection. What does that word mean? Here we look first to the handout I previously provided for your review, “Resurrection vs. Resuscitation”. I’m including that handout here but now further augmented and revised.
resurrection vs. resuscitation
Those resuscitated are raised from the dead back to ordinary life, but they will die again another day. Those resurrected are raised from the dead to new life, transformed forever, never to die again. Those resuscitated to life will die again. However, those resurrected will be raised to new life never to die again. Further, resuscitations have already happened in history. However, there has been but one and only resurrection in history to date, that of Jesus of Nazareth. But, in the consummation all will be raised to new life, both the righteous and the wicked (Dn 12), some to mercy but some to judgment.
Jesus’ miraculous resuscitations, similar to those done by the OT prophets Elijah and Elisha in 1 Ki 17 1724; 2 Ki 4 3237, involved restoration to ordinary life. Those who Jesus restored to ordinary life would die again while those resurrected at Christ’s second coming will be transformed at the consummation of the kingdom of God into eternal life just as we say at the close of our wonderful Nicene Creed with the words: and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The only true resurrection that has happened in history to date is that of Jesus himself. The general resurrection of all awaits his second Advent.
Still, in Jesus’ ministry he raised people from the dead. So how was that functioning in the narrative? We’ve previously discussed how the kingdom of God was (and is) in the process of being inaugurated in the gospels. In fact, it’s being inaugurated as we speak. We see it inaugurated already in Mk 1 but then through Jesus’ mighty acts of power during his ministry and so on, Jesus was further inaugurating the kingdom of God. Remember the inaugurated kingdom of God is a process as we’ve discussed previously in Mk 16 7 and Mt 28 18. With these resuscitations Jesus was demonstrating his power over even death itself. However, these resuscitations were not ultimate – they were not final – because these people would die again. Within the theology of the gospels those resuscitation miracles were always pointing forward to the ultimate miracle: Jesus’ own resurrection. Typology! In other words, on the first Easter Jesus was not raised to die again. As an additional note, the power that Jesus used to resuscitate will be the power that will be shown fully in his own resurrection in which he was raised to live forever. With his own resurrection Jesus defeated death once and for all. Likewise, in the resurrection of all that comes at the consummation of the present evil age, as Paul puts it in Ga 1 4, the people of God will be raised forever in the power of Jesus’ own resurrection just as we daily acknowledge in the recitation of the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer with the words for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.
Those Jesus brought back from the dead in the NT were really resuscitated, not resurrected, because as far as we can know, and unless you have proof to the contrary, they died again. These people whom Jesus resuscitated were to have a future, human, mortal ending. For instance, Lazarus would die again. Jairus’s daughter would die again. And so on. When confronted with these kinds of situations Jesus himself said in Mk 5 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” We don’t know exactly what he meant by that but he did not regard what he was doing as resurrection because these people whom he raised up presumably died again. So in their resuscitations they were raised up not to eternal life but instead they were raised up to live a time longer – and then die.
Therefore, when the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter (Mk 5) and Lazarus (Jn 11) were raised from the dead, they were resuscitated – not resurrected. They were brought back to their physical life. They were not transformed into the kind of new life that would be eternal. They would face death again. Their raisings – at that point – were resuscitations, not resurrections. In fact, that’s the symbol that we are to see when Lazarus comes out of the tomb with the grave clothes wrapped all around him, grave clothes that he will need again for his temporal death down the road. Jesus instructed them to unbind him because the death which had been holding him had been taken away. So Lazarus was liberated from the binding of death itself. Lazarus’ life, just like our lives, was never again going to be dictated by death, by the fact that he was going to one day die, by the fact that his life, and all of ours, have an end point. Instead, his life – and ours – was now dictated by the fact that the end point, that is, temporal death, was not the end. In the end God was – and is – going to raise us from the dead just as the Father raised his own Son Jesus on April 5 in the year 33. That what Scripture tells us. That’s what God has promised. And God keeps God’s promises.
By way of important distinction from the story about Lazarus, on that particular day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, his grave clothes were left in the tomb because Jesus was never going to need them again. One of the typological connections the author clearly wanted his readers to make here was to Jn 11 in which Lazarus exited the tomb still wearing his grave clothes. Lazarus would need them again was the biblical idea there in Jn 11. But far more importantly – theologically-speaking – in this text about Jesus’ resurrection was the fact that his face cloth was folded up in one spot (Jn 20 7).
7 and the face cloth (soudarion) which had been upon his head, not however lying there with the linen clothes but apart, rolled [or (folded)] [from evntuli,ssw] up into one spot.
While a discussion of the classic eyewitness detail found in this one verse would be wonderful at this point, our time considerations for this “resurrection” class does not permit it. Suffice it to say that the folding of his face cloth carries with it monumental theological significance having to do with not only who did it but why he did. In this short verse we see the whole story and the climax of the story all in a nutshell. The face cloth is the whole biblical story in miniature; it represented YHWH’s defeat of death. That teaser now said, we must move on.
In resurrection Jesus received eternal life, a life impervious to death which was symbolized by the gospel author in the leaving of his burial clothes behind. Jesus’ resurrection was not a resuscitation because he had been transformed and he was never going to die again. Therefore, his death clothes were left on the slab as a reminder to us that Jesus will never need them ever again! His resurrection was a true resurrection of the end time. His resurrection was the lifting up into new life in which he would never again face death, suffering, sorrow or any of the negative things that go along with human existence.
Therefore, Jesus’ own resurrection was of a higher order which also eschatologically anticipated God’s raising of all the dead in the last days. That is, Jesus’ resurrection was the first of the true end time resurrections. Again, typology. His resurrection, among many other things, always pointed forward to a future resurrection, that of all the dead (Dn 12). In fact, for a firstcentury Jew to believe that there had been a resurrection was to believe that the New Age was under way at last. That is, the theological significance of Jesus’ resurrection was that Jesus was the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15 20, 23) which opened the door to the new age.
Paul affirmed in 1 Cor that Jesus was really bodily raised from the dead. Therefore, the long promised and awaited resurrection of the dead, the great end time reversal of cosmic decay, sin and death had already actually begun. And, it had begun in a way not anticipated or expected. With Jesus’ resurrection. Paul further affirmed that we could look forward to the dawning of the new day when the victory would be complete, when all God’s people would be raised just as Jesus had been raised. Paul also affirmed that the new body would be both similar to the present one and yet different from it in significant ways. Hence, Jesus’ body was the same body, but now renewed it had properties that it did not have before. Therefore, the resurrection of the body meant neither the abandonment nor the resuscitation of the body, but its transformation.
Paul also talked about the resurrection at the end of days as a transformation and compared it to a seed planted in the ground. Just as the plant that arises from the seed is quite different than the seed that was planted, so also our fleshly bodies would be transformed into spiritual (and yet be fully physical) bodies and God would be all in all (1 Cor 15 28). The resurrection then would be different and more like the resurrection of Jesus Christ when he entered into God’s power.
So when we talk about Jesus’ resurrection, we are talking about more than just the raising or resuscitating a corpse. Matthew has a passage where the dead come out of the tombs as a kind of preconfiguration (Mt 27 53), a sort of foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus and also the general resurrection when all people will be raised up. The resurrection of Jesus was a transformation and an entry into the power of God. The resurrection of Jesus will be a resurrection that will be experienced by all believers one day.
In biblical thought, human bodies matter and are not merely “disposable prisons for the soul”, as most religions and philosophies contend. After all, God created man and woman in his image as both body and soul to live forever (Ge 1-2). But God knew that evil, sin, suffering and death would one day intrude into God’s good Creation. And God knew that with death the body would return to dust while the faithful soul went to be with God in “God’s space” (what theologians call heaven). Knowing these things, God before time set out his plan of salvation for humanity. Beginning with his covenant with Abraham in Ge 12 God’s plan of salvation would one day again include humanity restored both as body and soul reunited, but then transformed to complete God’s project of a perfect Creation. And the capstone of all of God’s salvific activity would culminate with the coming resurrection of the dead and the renewal and restoration of all Creation. And all of that would come through the glory and power of the resurrection of Jesus himself. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Amen.
This hope of Israel (that of resurrection and renewal) is core and crucial to the gospel narrative. Always has been; always will be. But unfortunately, even though these twin hopes of Israel are core to the story behind the Story, and even though they are discussed repeatedly throughout our Old and New Testaments, they are often regrettably missed, screened out or marginalized in our current culture. Still, the resurrection of the dead and the renewal and restoration of all Creation was God’s plan from before time. That’s what we see in Scripture as well as in all of the extrabiblical Christian literature of the early Church. That was the Jewish hope before Jesus, and now that Jesus had come, that was now our ultimate Christian hope, that of the resurrection of the body and the renewal and restoration of all Creation. That’s how we are to go about living our Christian lives in service of God as we await God’s glorious consummation at Christ’s second coming. We are to live our Christian lives in the hope and promise of the resurrection of the body and the renewal and restoration of all Creation.
As such, when the ancient Israelites wrestled with the goodness and justice of YHWH, the Creator God, they ultimately came to insist that YHWH must raise the dead a suggestion firmly resisted by classical pagan thought. We see this understanding of the Israelites, for example, in Is 25 and again in Is 26 19 (read this v and include notes about Is 26) and especially in Dn 12 23 (More on Dn 12 follows.). In fact, the hundreds of years leading up to the time of Isaiah and Daniel contain no references to resurrection – neither in the Bible nor in the extrabiblical literature. None! It was only from Is and Dn on that we started to get ideas about resurrection and immortality. This is clearly another good example of progressive revelation at work (See that discussion at Re 3.).
In addition to all this, the longedfor return from Exile was also spoken of in terms of YHWH raising dry bones to new life as we know from Ek 37 114. These ideas were developed in the secondTemple period, particularly during times of martyrdom as we see in such books as 2 Maccabees 7.
Further, resurrection was not understood as just ‘life after death’. Instead, resurrection was more rightly understood as a newly embodied ‘life after life after death’ in which those at present dead were either ‘asleep’, or seen as ‘souls’, ‘angels’ or ‘spirits’ awaiting new embodiment. That’s how the scriptures and the extrabiblical literature talked about the dead. We see that, for instance, all over the place in Paul’s letters. In other words, in death, souls (spirits) that had departed the now dead body would first experience being in an intermediate state (with Jesus), an intermediate state that we call heaven. Later, at Christ’s second Advent, the soul would then be fully embodied in the new Creation – with its resurrected and renewed body – just as Jesus had been resurrected and restored on the first Easter – and then glorified. That’s even how the authors of our Creed put it – in the world to come. (… And I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.).
Next, the singular resurrection of Jesus was not anything that had been anticipated in Judaism. There was nothing in Scripture or in the extrabiblical literature about the resurrection of just one person in the middle of time. By the time of Jesus much of Judaism – but notably not the Sadducees – believed that there would be a resurrection of the dead in the future but it was the dead – plural. It was to be a corporate resurrection – a resurrection of ALL. All of the Jewish people who expected and awaited a resurrection (which the Sadducees did not), all who awaited a resurrection were awaiting a resurrection of everyone at the same time. They were not awaiting or expecting a singular resurrection. The people of God expected not the resurrection of a single person but the resurrection of all the people, of both the righteous and the wicked – and this would happen all at once to everyone at the same time. Or so they expected. Therefore, when the resurrection of Jesus occurred, a singular resurrection, it was something totally unprecedented and unexpected in terms of expectations. True, a resurrection had happened, that of Jesus, but it had not happened in the manner long expected. It had not happened as a general resurrection of all the dead.
Now, for those of us who know the story behind the Story, who know how God goes about accomplishing matters but always in some unexpected manner, this singular resurrection, therefore, should not come as any surprise to us because we also see a two stage character in all of the other biblical themes of the Old and New Testaments. For instance, we are reminded here of the two stage kingdom of God that Jesus brought with his Incarnation: the inaugurated stage of the kingdom at his first coming and the consummated stage at his second. There was also the old Exodus and the new Exodus, the old covenant and the new covenant, and so on. Always be mindful that virtually everything happening in Scripture is a process in progress … and the resurrection is no different. Jesus came as the first fruits of the resurrection as we read in 1 Cor 15 20, 23, and everyone (all people, both the righteous and the wicked – Dn 12) will be raised in the general resurrection to come. And all of that will come through the power of Jesus’ own resurrection all those years ago. Thank you, Jesus!!!
Next, during his earthly ministry, for Jesus to talk about resurrection in relationship to himself was for him to say far more than people were prepared to comprehend as we know from various NT texts. They just didn’t “get it” at the time because, truth be told, God is just a little bit smarter than the rest of us. You think?! In fact, they did not fully begin to comprehend everything Jesus had been saying and doing until his resurrection – and afterwards during his remaining time with them before his ascension. By then it would have been hitting them upside the head in spades. It had to be a time filled with major goose bumps all over the place among the faithful! Try pausing for awhile as you imagine and ponder those forty days that Jesus was with them before his ascension. They had to have all been just bubbling up inside. Even then I imagine some were pinching themselves from time-to-time.
Importantly, the early Christian belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead was not only that he had gone to heaven (God’s space), or that he had been ‘exalted’, or was ‘divine’. Of course, they believed all those things as well as our various NT authors tell us. But each of those things could have been expressed about Jesus without mention of resurrection. As such, only the bodily resurrection of Jesus explains the rise of the early church, particularly its belief in Jesus’ messiahship and his Lordship. Of course, initially with his crucifixion, any thought of his Messiahship had been decimated – or, at the very least, it would have been called into question.
It’s a matter of fact that at first, with his death on the cross and subsequent burial, Jesus appeared to be nothing more than just another dead Messiah. The Jewish people had seen many Messiahs come and go in the few centuries coming up to the time of Jesus. Then, following the cross, Jesus seemed to be just one more of those messianic pretenders who had entered stage left but ultimately gone down for the full count forever. However, in the case of Jesus, three days later everything that had happened would have been turned on its head – just has Jesus had told them that it would during his time with them.
The early Christians – except for the Corinthians (and probably some others) as we see in 1 Cor 15 (the main “resurrection” chapter of the NT) … early Christians believed that they themselves would be raised to a new, transformed bodily life at the time of the Lord’s return or parousia as we see in various texts such as in Pp 3 20-21 and elsewhere.
the resurrection today
Jesus’ resurrection remains controversial today – oddly and regrettably – even among many people professing to be Christian. This is partly because at both the scholarly and the popular level many Christians today use the word “resurrection” very loosely to mean something that it did not mean in the first century. In other words, talk of “resurrection” is often used today simply as a somewhat exalted way of talking about “going to heaven” when you die. However, it clearly NEVER meant that in the early Church!
It also remains controversial today for another reason as well. Most Christians don’t know the theological implications of what the resurrection of Jesus really meant when it first happened and, as such, they know little, if anything, about what those theological implications hold for us today in the living of our lives as “card-carrying” Christians. The centrality of Christ’s resurrection to Christian belief is lost on most Christians, no matter what their denomination. Over the years I’ve found that some denominations are better about understanding the resurrection than are some others, but the fact still remains, most Christians just don’t get it. The very event that is core to a Christian understanding of how one is on the last day to merit mercy at Christ’s second coming is lost on them. Many have not the first clue of the theological implications of God’s demonstration of power over even death itself. For instance, at various times over the years in Bible classes that I’ve taught, I’ve asked specific questions about Jesus’ resurrection only to be sadly disappointed in what the “average” Christian knew about this core event to our Christian faith. You may think I’m sounding like Jeremiah or Isaiah, but I can assure you that there are many in the Church universal who whole-heartedly agree with this assessment. When people in the Church lose understanding of what is at the core of their very faith, they will soon find themselves on a slippery slope heading south. Unfortunately, many won’t even know they’re on it, and then, when it all comes to a screeching halt, it won’t be pretty for many of them.
And if that were not bad enough, most “popular” books on resurrection miss the whole point of the resurrection itself. These “best sellers” end up being all about the glorious future that awaits immediately beyond the grave, rather than the ultimate future and resurrection itself as a part of God’s renewed Creation. Additionally, I have heard all too many Easter sermons that have gone at once from the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to the fact of the Christian hope, seen not in terms of bodily resurrection but in terms of a glorious life after death in some disembodied heaven. Over the years I’ve attended more than my fair share of funerals in which, at point after point, all these confusions were on display. If there are three times when you really have a wonderful opportunity to really teach the Christian message to a lot of people who would not otherwise darken the door of a church, it would be at Easter, at Christmas and at a funeral. In fact, life and death are taught no where else so well and as succinctly as they are in the Christian church. It’s on those three occasions that the opportunity is there to really make a difference for some people – and perhaps even for the very first time in their lives. Instead, for some of the funerals I’ve attended over the years, and for a number of Easter and Christmas services as well, were someone there who had not known before what classical Christianity believed about the ultimate promised future, the service would have left them deeply confused.
All this ignores a rather obvious fact which is that the word resurrection never did mean disembodied bliss. Never! Furthermore, in the NT itself, the word resurrection does not mean life after death. It meant, and means, what many scholars and theologians are beginning to collectively call life after life after death. Although this may be a difficult idea for some people to understand, and although this proper understanding may even “upset people’s apple carts”, if you go back to the ancient world, whether pagan or Jewish or the early Church, the word resurrection, along with its various cognates in other languages, was clearly not a way of talking about the destiny of people immediately after death. It was, instead, a way of referring to a newly embodied life at some time beyond that point. One of the simplest way to see this is to remember Jesus’ words to the brigand on the cross: Today you will be with me in Paradise (Lk 23 43). That was said on the first Good Friday. But, as Luke makes clear, Jesus wasn’t raised until Sunday. Paradise must therefore refer to the place, or state, of blissful waiting before the bodily resurrection. And, in fact, it does. It refers to the intermediate state we call heaven. Again, heaven, while a very important intermediate state, is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is life after life after death. The ultimate goal is the renewed Creation. It’s the renewal and restoration of all Creation. Or, as our Creed puts it, the ultimate goal is the life of the world to come.
One cannot understand our NT without the beginning premise that Christianity revolves around what happened in the resurrection of Jesus. All worship begins with resurrection; all teaching and thinking begins with resurrection; and our promise begins with resurrection. This would be news to many church goers in our community because many Christians believe that Christianity begins with what have you done or what haven’t done. However, if we want to be Christians in the same mode as the original Christians, we need to reclaim the resurrection big time. We need to hear of the resurrection at every teaching, at every worship service.
The resurrection is not to be seen as a happy ending to Jesus’ death but as the beginning of something. It’s a known fact that many Christians see the resurrection as kind of a happy ending to Jesus’ ministry (which it most certainly was) rather than as the beginning of their ongoing faithful lives with God that it is. And that means right here and now in the lives of Christians in all times and places. The resurrection grounds everything that we believe as Christians. [And again, when I say “resurrection” always hear me also saying “Incarnation, the Cross, Death, Resurrection and Ascension” at the same time.] In fact, Jesus’ resurrection was that event on which everything that we believe, we think, and we trust is based.
If the resurrection were just some happy ending, it would have been and would be powerless. Instead, the resurrection is the ongoing beginning of all things Christian. The resurrection is incredibly powerful because when we see and understand everything through the lenses of resurrection, we look at life with a different set of risk factors. Overall, we need not – although we do – spend time worrying about issues of health or safety because we are standing on the promise of the resurrection. We may fear or we may have sadness in our lives but it need not overwhelm us because we have the promise of the resurrection.
All of this really boils down to who has the power in your life. The resurrection is the proof that God’s power is the power for living. Jesus’ resurrection provides the power, if you will, for everything in life, forever, just as we acknowledge each time we repeat the doxology of the Lord’s Prayer. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen. Even if the setting in which we find ourselves overwhelms us, we still have the sense that, and know that, it’s only temporary. All of those situations in which we find ourselves overwhelmed are but temporary because we know the promise of the resurrection.
For example, one of my greatest fears is that something bad would happen to my two sons. However, the resurrection proves God has more power than even that fear that I have. The loss of a child would be and is extremely difficult but we try to say that we would be thankful that God gave us our son or daughter for however long it was. No matter what life hands out, ultimately, we are safe in God’s hands. That is why it’s so important to have an ongoing worship life, education life and prayer life. Those are things God gives us that equip us when we come up against the hard stuff. When the hard stuff comes, we might feel overwhelmed for awhile, but, being a faithful Christian, we are armed already with the pre-knowledge that we are going to get through it. That’s what the promise of the resurrection means.
Looking back, we know that the resurrection of Jesus shattered the expectations of his followers. Jesus’ resurrection changed forever how they thought God was working in the world. Jesus’ resurrection should shatter our expectations as well. This is a very comprehensive plan that God has in order to redeem as many people as who will be redeemed. It’s not logical that God is going to redeem everything because you don’t send the divine son to die in order to accomplish that. That would make no sense. But some theologians contend that the door is going to be a lot more open than many think. That may end up being the case, but I don’t think so.
After the first Christians more fully understood the claim of the resurrection, they recognized that they then had to understand every word and deed and activity of Christ as something that was what God was doing. So they read scripture looking through a more clear pair of lenses, not so much for what were the rules that had to be kept but looking for the promise of salvation, the blessing of grace in literally every text. That is one of the reasons why modern Christians ought to look, for example, at the book of Re when looking for that very blessing of grace. Why do so many fundamentalist churches spend all of their time scaring people. Why would that be when the purpose of the original body of believers was then to take a new look at even the most ancient of scriptures and say, “This is about God’s love for us; this is about God’s grace; this is about the hope that God gives us as a promise and a blessing.’ And we see all of that come together in Jesus’ resurrection.
So some part of it is the very mindset with which you come to the reading of scripture that gets changed when you are grounded in scripture – and when you are grounded in the resurrection. When we gather as Church, we are supposed to gather with hope and anticipation because we know the resurrection. It’s that central to our faith as Christian believers. Without it we are not here.