Category Archives: Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15 is a passage discussed in most works on apologetics. But often the apologist’s concern for providing evidence skews their grasp of the passage. John Frame clarifies:
I have often asked students to paraphrase Paul’s argument for the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. They often mentioned the post-Resurrection appearances, especially the five hundred eyewitnesses, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote (v. 6). But they almost always miss the main thrust of the apostle’s argument. The main thrust perfectly clear from the structure and content of the passage: you should believe in the resurrection because it is part of the apostolic preaching! Note verses 1-2: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” And verse 11: “Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
Paul is telling the Corinthians that they came to faith through his preaching, which included the preaching of the Resurrection. He warns them not to cast doubt on the resurrection, for if Christ has not been raised, their faith will be in vain. If the Resurrection is subject to doubt, all the rest of the message will also be subject to doubt, and then “we are to be pitied more than all men” (v. 19; see also vv. 14 – 18).
The ultimate proof, the ultimate evidence, is the word of God. Eyewitnesses are important, but they die, and the memories of them fade. Only if their testimony is preserved in God’s written word will that testimony have continuing value down through the history of the world.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics, to the Glory of God: An Introduction, 58
Easter is about power. But it’s not about the kind of power this world is used to. It’s power demonstrated in weakness, vulnerability, and brokenness. Jesus revealed that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). That’s an important, but mostly misunderstood passage. Jesus wasn’t claiming that the kingdom of God is spiritual as opposed to earthly. The very goal of the kingdom of God in Christ is to transform creation so God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Jesus was saying that the governing principles and the ultimate source of his kingdom are at odds with those of this present fallen world. Jesus didn’t simply fight the great battle against sin, suffering, and Satan for us, he lost the battle for us too.
The Problem. By and large, the Jewish people were ready for a king, a mighty, righteous king, who would overthrow the Romans, deliver the people of Israel, renew God’s covenant with his people, and usher in a period of blessing and prosperity. This is, after all, what Moses spoke of as happening after the time of exile.
The problem is that Jesus didn’t look very much like a king. He didn’t crush the Romans; they crushed him. He didn’t take up arms. In fact, he instructed his disciples to “turn the other cheek” for the sake of the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 5:39). When the people seemed so in love with Jesus’ message (as they understood it) that they were going to make him King by force (Jn. 6:15), he avoided the crowd and slipped away to the mountain side.
This isn’t the way a king acts. And in time people were starting to get suspicious of whether Jesus was really the right horse to back against the Empire of Rome.
Finally, when Jesus was crucified and buried, that made it about as obvious as possible that he was not the Lord’s annointed, the Messiah.
- (2011) A Theology of Easter: Resurrection in 3 Acts
- (2010) Why I Believe in the Resurrection
- (2008) Easter and Christian Hope
- (2007) Resurrection and the Logic of New Creation
“The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it.” ― N.T. Wright
“The work of the church is to implement the resurrection of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final new creation . . . We are called to be people of new creation now, in the power of the Spirit.”― N.T. Wright
“The biblical language of resurrection (‘standing up’, ‘awakening’ etc), when it emerges, is simple and direct; the belief, though infrequent, is clear. It involves, not a reconstrual of life after death, but the reversal of death itself. It is not about discovering that Sheol is not such a bad place after all. It is not a way of saying that the dust will learn to be happy as dust. The language of awakening is not a new, exciting way of talking about sleep. It is a way of saying that a time will come when sleepers will sleep no more. Creation itself, celebrated throughout the Hebrew scriptures, will be reaffirmed.“
-N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 127-128.
Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, in their joint work The Drama of Scripture, discuss the meaning of the cross in the New Testament:
The New Testament is unique in ancient literature interpreting the crucifixion in a positive way, as the greatest of God’s actions in history. Paul proclaims that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Both he and the other New Testament writers were entirely aware that their view of this event attracts scorn. To the Romans, the cross is utter foolishness: crucifixion is merely the worst of the punishments routinely meted out to Rome ‘s enemies. They are humiliated, defeated, tortured beyond human endurance, exposed in their weakness – and then they die. Beyond that, the cross is a random act of cruelty.
Yet the early church makes the bold and fantastic claims that the cross is the central act of God in all human history! This boldness is the product of a radically different perspective because the church looks at the cross through the lens of the resurrection.
It is Jesus’ return from the dead that validates his claim to be God’s anointed Messiah. When one begins to look at the cross through the lens of the resurrection, what at first appears to be foolishness is really the wisdom of God . What seemed to be weakness is really the power of God, conquering human rebellion and Satanic evil. What appears to be humiliation is a revelation of the glory of God. God’s self-giving love, mercy, faithfulness, grace, justice, and righteousness are revealed in the event by which God accomplishes the salvation of his creation. What seems to the world to be Jesus’ defeat, the early church proclaims to be his surpassing victory over all the enemies he stand opposed to God’s good creation. This apparently meaningless act of violence and cruelty in fact reveals the full purpose of God: his judgment against sin, and his power and will to renew the creation. Seen in one way, the cross is a token of foolishness, weakness, humiliation, defeat, absurdity. Seen in another way, by those who know that Jesus is alive again from the dead, the cross is full of God’s wisdom, power, glory, victory, and the purpose.
In his introduction to biblical theology, According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy points out three aspects of regeneration (“renewal” or “rebirth”) in Scripture. I prefer to think of this in terms of resurrection. Goldsworthy’s statement is brief, but the truth is profound:
Thus we are able to speak of the regeneration in three ways: an objective regeneration in Christ, a subjective regeneration and us, and a comprehensive regeneration in the whole universe. The three are inseparably bound together, which is why a pre-occupation with one at the expense of the others can lead to distortions of biblical truth.
This is important for understanding both the Fall and redemption. When Adam as God’s vice-regent rebelled against his Maker he died spiritually and later died physically. Since he was commissioned with stewardship over all of creation, his fall meant the enslavement of the creation itself. As Paul teaches in Romans 8:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)
Since the vice-regent of God was subjected to death and decay, so was his subject, creation itself. But sin, sickness, and Satan will not have the last word. In Christ, the tides of death are definitively pushed back. Death is no longer our enemy, but our gateway into glory. By his perfect life, death, and resurrection, Jesus the Messiah reverses Satan’s reversal of God’s design. The Bible teaches a continuity between the curse placed on Adam, the curse placed on the creation, and the curse placed on Christ on behalf of his people (Gal. 3:13) .
Redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.
What creation needs is neither abandonment nor evolution but rather redemption and renewal; and this is both promised and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is what the whole world’s waiting for.
Just in time for Easter:
First, I believe in the resurrection because as I read the rest of the Scriptures, the fact that this God would work to bring life out of death makes perfect sense. In other words, the internal logic of the Bible is consistent. The God who brought Israel from the death of captivity in Egypt to life in the Promised Land is the same God who can bring Jesus back from the dead.
Second, I believe in the resurrection because early Christians claimed to be eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus (Lk. 1:2, 1 Jn. 1:1-3). Contrary to popular belief, the early Christians weren’t gullible, and were able to distinguish between myth and real history (Lk. 1:1-4, 2 Pet. 1:16) Neither can we say they drew source material from the surrounding cultures, whether Jewish or pagan.
First, not all Jews believed in a physical resurrection (the Saducees), and those that did (most of all the others) held to a general resurrection at the end of history, not the resurrection of a single individual in the middle of history.
Second, Hellenistic culture generally went back and forth between two poles. One pole was materalist (ex: the Epicurians, the Atomists, and the Homeric epics) and believed that when you died, you stayed dead. The other pole was dualist (Gnosticism, Platonism, and later neo-Platonism), believing the immaterial spirit was good and pure, while the physical world (especially the human body) was impure and base. They would have been appaled by the thought of returning to body, which they thought of as the “prision house of the soul.” While some surrounding groups believed in a life after death (the continued existence of a disembodied spirit), but would never have called this type of existence “resurrection.”
Likewise, there was too much to lose socially from publically confessing belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, the early Jewish Christians continued to maintain the belief that Jesus was raised from the died. Jews were thrown out of the synogogue for their belief in Christ. Christians were presecuted by the Romans because they refused to engage in Emperor worship. The meaning of the resurrection, according to Peter, was that the risen Jesus, was “both Lord and Christ” (compare Acts 2:36), causing a direct confrontation with the claims of the Roman Emperor, whose claim was “Caesar is Lord.” Many of the apostles were in fact killed because of maintaining their Christian faith and belief in the resurrection. Now we ask, why continue to maintain the belief in the resurrection despite it’s politically incorrect status? Because it was the truth.
Now, one may ask, why should I believe that these men weren’t lying, conconcting a story to start a religion and amass power for themselves? Considering both the moral character of these individuals, and their eventual martyrdom, it is unlikely that they invented the resurrection story. The cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t come out on their side.
Third, I believe in the resurection because the tomb of Jesus was empty, and the body has never been recovered. There is no serious debate over whether Jesus’ tomb was empty, both sides agree. Jesus’ disciples claimed it was empty, and it caused them much grief (Jn. 20:1-10). Jesus’ enemies admitted that it was empty but claimed that the body was stolen (Matt. 28:11-15) The Toledoth Yeshu, (an early collection of Jewish writings), claims that Christ’s body was stolen, as does the record of a second century debate between the Christian Justin Martyrs and Trypho the Jew (Dialogue with Trypho, chapter CVII), “his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”
This explanation is, of course, highly implausible. Are we really expected to believe that a group of depressed, militarily untrained fishermen (who didn’t even expect Christ to resurrect!) to outsmart and overpowered a band of Roman guards trained in the art of killing?
Let’s think of another possible scenerio. Maybe the disciples looked into the wrong tomb, found it empty and thought Christ arose. Well, first that ignores the eyewitness testimony, and it assumes that the disciples were fools. Moreover that explanation doesn’t address why no one else ever found the body. Had Jesus’ body been recovered by his enemies, Christianity as a Messianic movement would have been crushed early on. The body would have been paraded around to silence the apostles.
Lastly, in the process of retelling the resurrection story, the Gospel writers include counter-productive material if their goal was to launch an upstart religion. First, the account of “doubting Thomas.” Why present one of the pillars of the faith as a doubter? Secondly, the first eyewitnesses to the empty tomb were women, who were not considered viable legal witness. Notice how evem Paul in his account of the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15 leaves out the detail about the women. He didn’t deny that it happened, but realized that it wasn’t an apologetically useful bit of information. The Gospel authors, on the other hand, were recording history, and had to “tell it like it is.” And finally, Matthew includes the odd fact that, even after the resurrection some doubted (Matt. 28:17).
Lately, and especially since I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s newest release, Surprised by Hope, I’ve grown increasingly distressed over how Easter services are carried out. I’m addressing this now because Easter is just a few days away, but I also refer to how the Christian hope is expressed in nearly any worship service in the western, and especially evangelical, Church.
It’s extremely commonplace to hear and read in hymns and praise songs references to “peace” and going to be where Jesus is. The hymn Jesus Keep me Near the Cross speaks of “peace beyond the river.” Now, of course, this is all well and good. As Christians, we do have a blessed assurance that when we die we don’t enter a limbo-like existence, but instead are ushered directly into the presence of God. But, as so often is the case, our hymns and spiritual songs don’t go the next, and crucially necessary, step.
The message of Easter is much bigger than my “going to heaven when I die.” It isn’t simply about life after death. It is, in fact, about what Wright calls “life after life after death.” It’s about me and my sin, and God’s forgiveness in Christ, yes. It’s no less than that, but it’s certainly more. What God the Father did for Jesus on Easter morning, He plans to do for all of us one day that are united to Jesus. Jesus is what the Bible calls the firstfruits of the resurrection. Just as Christ’s literal, physical body was placed in the tomb and raised, so too will our bodies be raised to new life. But He not only promises to do this for those for whom the Son came, but for all of creation (cf. Rom. 8).
The ultimate reason for Christ’s life and death is to take back creation from it’s subjugation to sickness, suffering, sin, and Satan. What was lost in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) will be restored through Christ. This restoration touches everything; we’re talking about a new world-God’s world- a renewed people, and a renewed heavens and earth that are united forevermore.
We need to stress these things in our services as the ultimate Christian hope, the fulfillment of God’s original design for His universe. This hope speaks of a world where shalom reigns, the earth is “set to rights,” and King Jesus is enthroned as the victorious Lion-Lamb who has crushed the power of evil. [For more on the exciting ways in which the Bible describes what happened in Christ's passion and resurrection see my Resurrection and the Logic of New Creation]
Happy Resurrection day!
Update: I was recently asked if I thought our worship songs reflected bad theology or simply the individualism of our culture (salvation is about my peace, my “not going to hell,” etc). And as I thought of this, I would say yes and no, but more on the no side. You see, all Christian churches believe in the resurrection. All denominations believe, at least they say they believe, in life after life after death. I know that I’ve never met a Christian who denies this. Our individualism is a problem, but I think it’s the greater problem is the subtle influence within the church of Platonism and gnosticism.
You would think from hearing so many of our songs that Christians believe that the world, that physical reality is bad, and our hope is to escape it. But this is sheer gnosticism. Resurrection isn’t a fancy redescription of disembodied life in heaven. We’re coming back! The Bible teaches that the world was created good, and God called it so. What we sing often will alert people of what we really believe more than a sermon will. If we say we believe in a new heavens and a new earth where we will dwell with glorified, resurrected bodies, yet express our deepest devotion in song, and completely leave this out, what are we really saying?
Students of Scripture have long noticed a parallel made in the Bible between God’s work of creation and His work of redemption. The first reference that comes to mind to show this parallel are the words of Paul in 2 Cor. 4:6. Here Paul says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Just as God, when He created the universe said, “Let there by light” (Gen. 1:3), in the same way He shines the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (a mouthful to be sure) into our darkened, sinful hearts, transforming us into creatures of worship.
Now, what I’d like to draw your attention to is that the resurrection of Christ inaugurates the new creation spoken of in the Bible. In two passages, Paul ties in the work of Jesus to the God’s renewing the universe. In 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” And again in Gal. 6:15 he states, ” For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Now what’s really exciting (for me at least) was the realization that the very ordering of events in the death of Christ points to this redemption/new creation dynamic.
When God created the world, He did so in 6 days (don’t ask me how long those days were!), and on the 7th day he rested from His work of bringing creation into existence. When we turn to the final redemption accomplished by Christ we find the same pattern going on. Christ was judged on the 5th day of the week (Thursday), and crucified on the 6th day (what we call Good Friday). With His atoning death on the cross, one that brought His entire obedient life to its climax, Christ perfectly accomplishes His divine rescue mission. His final words were “It is finished!” Jesus completed His redemptive work in 6 days, and on the 7th (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath) He rested.
Hebrews 1:3 tells us that having made purifications for sins Jesus sat down at the right hand of God (the actual wording is that he “sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high,” which is a typical Jewish way for speaking of God without actually saying “God”). This sitting down represents completion, perfection, finality. At the end of the creation week, God did not rest in the sense that He wiped His Divine brow, and dozed off. No, God “rested” in the sense that His work was complete, and like a King enthroned, sat down to enjoy His creation. This is exactly what Jesus did on the day in which His body lay in that cold, damp tomb, the same day that He earlier told the thief on the cross that He would be with Him in “paradise.”
So, if this observation is correction, what does that say of the day of Christ’s resurrection? O. Palmer Robertson puts it well:
By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ consummated God’s redemptive purposes. His coming forth into new life must be understood as an event as significant as the creation of the world. By His resurrection, a new creation occurred. -O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants
With Christ’s resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week, Christ restructures history around Himself. When Jesus stepped out of His tomb, it ushered in the new-era of God’s work in the world. His resurrection from the dead signifies not only the Father’s approval of His perfect sacrifice, but also His inauguration of the age to come. You see Jews in the first century looked forward to that great “age to come”, a time in which all evil would be done away with and justice would be brought to bear on the world. We can even see this Jewish influence in much of the New Testament and in the epistles of Paul (they often contrast “this present evil age” with the” age to come”). With His redemptive work, Christ indeed defeated the evil powers in the high places and brought in the overlapping of these two ages. Now this present evil age and the age to come coexist, and we as the church of the living God work for the spread of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. You see, the Jews knew that when the resurrection occurred that this would be the sign of the coming of the kingdom of God. But, they expected one general resurrection, and only at the end of time. No one seemingly had categories for what happened to God’s Holy One. But, after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit lead the Apostles to see what God had been doing. Christ, through His resurrection in the middle of history, brought the age to come (the “Olam Haba” in Hebrew) into the middle of history as well.
This is why, through Christ’s resurrection, we can be assured of our own future bodily resurrection. Christ has in effect, through His atoning work, wrapped up history in Himself, and this is why there is no wrath for those accepted by the Father on behalf of Jesus (Rom. 8:1). The final judgment is now declared on behalf of those who trust in God’s King. While Paul speaks about the fact that we will be justified in the future, he likewise speaks of us already being justified and having peace with God (Rom. 5:1). The implications of Christ’s resurrection are nearly limitless and we ought truly and from the heart to thank God for all that He is ever will be for us in Jesus, our Lord King, friend and elder brother.
For more on the theme of resurrection and the Christian hope, see: