What the Resurrection Says about Jesus.
For many years I knew the resurrection of Christ was important but did not clearly understand why. I realized it gives us hope that we will be raised from the dead and live forever. I even had an instinctive sense that Christianity was wrapped up in Christ’s resurrection, but I still couldn’t verbalize the significance because I didn’t understand it clearly enough.
The Story of God’s Kingdom, which we have been exploring, can help us understand it better. God said he would send a ruler to bring about better days of righteousness, peace, and joy, and he sometimes called this a kingdom. Then Jesus appeared and said that the kingdom of God was close at hand. Through powerful, miraculous deeds he demonstrated the truth and superiority of that kingdom and his own authority as king. But the Jews didn’t recognize that he was the Ruler God had sent to bring about better days, so they handed him over to be crucified. They mocked him as a king, but in nowise did they think he was one.
Since Jesus suffered and died in this manner, many concluded that he could not be God’s anointed deliverer. Far from disqualifying him as Messiah, however, Jesus’ suffering and death actually commended him as such. Though no one seemed to grasp it before his resurrection, the Scriptures had stated God’s plan, that his Christ must suffer (Luke 24:26-27, 44-49; Acts 3:18; 13:27; 17:2-3). This is one of the two main points the early proclaimers in Acts made about Jesus’ death—that Scripture said the Christ must suffer.
But then God raised him from the dead! This profound work of God stands in sharp contrast to the human view of Jesus. Humans determined that he was worthy of death; God showed that he was his Chosen One. New Testament historian and scholar Dr. Everett Ferguson wrote in a bulletin article,
“God’s people rejected Jesus by killing him, but God vindicated him by raising him from the dead. Acts often states an epigrammatic (=concise and clever) and rhetorical (=intended to persuade) contrast; you killed Jesus, but God raised him from the dead (Acts 2:23-24; 3:14-15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39-40; 13:28-30; 25:19; 26:23).”
Or as New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce put it, “The human verdict on Jesus was reversed by a higher court.”
This is in keeping with the second way the early proclaimers talked about Jesus’ death, mentioned in the previous post, that it forms a contrast with the marvelous act of God that followed it and sharply contrasted with it. The disgrace and horror of death by crucifixion further underscores the contrast. Crucifixion was designed to be a humiliating and shameful way to die. The shame is accentuated when the apostles described it as putting him to death on a “tree” (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29), because Scripture says that anyone hanged on a tree is under the curse of God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). So, the effect of emphasizing the suffering and shame of Jesus’ death is to further heighten the contrast between it and the resurrection. Thus, God’s raising Jesus from the dead is a powerful vindication and exoneration of Jesus.
Here the events themselves tell the meaning of the story. In Sleeping Beauty, when the princess pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and goes to sleep, you don’t have to tell the kids that things are looking bad. The story tells it. And when the prince kisses her, you don’t have to explain that she is alive, that she is a princess and that the story has a happy ending. The story itself carries the meaning without any such explanations. Similarly, modern movies never state overtly, “And so you see the victim was rescued, the villain was killed, and the hero was honored and praised.” The story itself carries the meaning. In the same way, the narrative of what God did through Jesus tells the meaning of those great events—he claimed to be a king and showed signs that he was, was rejected as a fraud, but then God raised him from the dead, showing he really was the king! In no way do I mean to imply that the gospel account is a fairy tale or that verbal explanations are not needed. I am simply illustrating that the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus is is contained in the gospel story itself.
In addition to this, we also have some overt statements that the resurrection shows Jesus’ true identity. Paul describes “the gospel of God” as something concerning “concerning his Son” who “was declared to be the Son of God in power by the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection is a powerful statement that Jesus is the Son of God. Not coincidentally, then, Paul follows this immediately with his name and two other primary titles: “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-4). Another statement of this truth is contained in the parallel phrases,
“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Confession and belief are two sides of the same coin and so are the truths of Jesus being Lord and God raising him from the dead. The connection between resurrection and identity is also apparent in the statement, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9).
We noted that the early proclaimers communicated the meaning of the resurrection through the narrative they told. They also communicated it by the conclusions they made about Jesus in light of his resurrection. In Acts 2, after stating that God raised Jesus from the dead (v. 24) and demonstrating this from the Scriptures (vv. 25-35), Peter drew his conclusion (note the “therefore” in v. 36) that God has made Jesus both “Lord and Christ.” Elsewhere Peter said Jesus is the Cornerstone (4:11), based on God raising him from the dead (4:10). Later he announced that Jesus will be the Judge (10:42), again based on God raising him from the dead (10:40). Though we have sometimes felt the need to prove the resurrection, Paul, instead, stated the resurrection as proof of something else, namely, that Jesus will be the judge (17:30-31). In these passages the resurrection shows the identity and titles of Jesus, including Lord, Christ, Cornerstone, and Judge.
Another way the spokespersons in Acts show the identity of Jesus is by indicating the work he does as the one who was raised from the dead. His resurrection shows him to be Lord and Christ as we just noted, so it is in his name that we are to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (2:38). Jesus is God’s servant who blesses us by turning us from our wickedness (3:22-26). His resurrection shows him to be the Cornerstone and so salvation is found in no one else (4:11-12). Having been raised from the dead and exalted to God’s right hand, he is Leader / Prince and Savior and so can grant repentance and forgiveness (5:30-31). The one God raised from the dead is not only judge but also the one we can believe in and receive forgiveness of sins (10:40-43; 13:34-38) and be justified from everything from which the Law cannot justify you (13:39).
Finally, Jesus’ resurrection is also associated with his ascension to the right hand of God, which took place forty days later. This further exalts Jesus, since the right hand of a monarch is the place of highest honor and authority. Jesus’ ascension and exaltation to God’s right hand, then, show his true identity as well (Acts 2:33; 5:31; Ephesians 1:19-23; Hebrews 1:1-14; 1 Peter 3:21-22).
The Scriptures said that the Christ must suffer and be raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus shows that he is Lord and Christ. He is the appointed, reigning King of the Kingdom of God. How, then, should we view him and respond to him?