Easter

How Are You To Be “More Than A Conqueror”?

How Are You To Be “More Than A Conqueror”?

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, all threats against you are tamed. Jesus conquered death, so death and evil are not the end of the story and we can have hope.

To the One Who Conquers, I Will…

In Revelation, one of the key themes is conquering through suffering. The number of occurrences of the verb “to conquer” throughout the Book of Revelation illustrate this theme.[1] John describes amazing promises made to Christians, addressing the promises specifically to those who “conquer”:

  • To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (2:7)
  • The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death (2:11)
  • To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it (2:17)
  • The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations (2:26)
  • The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels (3:5)
  • The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name (3:12)
  • The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (3:21)

The One Who Conquered

How will these staggering promises come to pass? How will “the one who conquers” conquer amidst affliction and persecution? How will they find the strength to endure and overcome against all odds? John provides the answer: they will conquer by looking by faith to the One who has already conquered, Jesus Christ. We read in Revelation 5:5-6:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.

John describes Jesus as both the kingly Lion and the meek Lamb who has conquered all His and our enemies. Jesus has conquered his enemies through his suffering and death on the cross and yet he is also one who has been slaughtered. Jesus is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” and he is the one who “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”[2] We reign with him because he died and freed us and made us a kingdom for his glory.

This truth is a strong encouragement to you in the midst of suffering. We follow a crucified redeemer who by his death and resurrection has conquered death. Death is no longer the enemy that produces fear in you. Jesus says: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[3]

This image of the conquering Christ who prevailed through suffering gives you hope. In being united to Christ, you too will conquer as you look through the eyes of faith to the one who has accomplished everything on your behalf through his death and resurrection. It is for this reason that John writes in 12:11: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

We Are More Than Conquerors

The truth of Rev 12:11 can free you to breathe a sigh of relief and thanksgiving instead of despair. Because God’s plan for you is never to allow anything to separate you from his love, you can face the worst of the world’s uncertainties with great confidence, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[4]

No opposition. No accusation. No condemnation. No separation.

And since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, God will most surely, most certainly, without any doubt or any possibility of failure, provide for us. John Chrysostom explicates: “The wonder is not only that God the Father gave His Son but that He did so in this way, by sacrificing the one He loved. It is astonishing that He gave the Beloved for those who hated Him. See how highly He honors us. If even when we hated Him and were enemies He gave the Beloved, what will He not do for us now?”[5]

Because God’s plan for you is so certain, you can face the most difficult circumstances, the most terrifying enemies, and the most devastating ordeals with confidence. You do not merely survive your trials; you are “more than a conqueror” because absolutely nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ.

 

[1] John uses the verb “to conquer” 17 times: Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7

[2] Revelation 1:5-6

[3] Revelation 1:17-18

[4] Romans 8:31-39

[5] John Chrysostom, “Homily on Ephesians I.I.8.” in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 8, Ed. Mark J. Edwards (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 114.

What Does Jesus’ Resurrection Have to Do with Me?

What Does Jesus’ Resurrection Have to Do with Me?

The cross is God’s gracious response to our own sinful and willful irresponsibility, choices, and actions. We sin. We are perpetrators of evil—and this separates us from God. It is this aspect of sin that has been dealt with by the vicarious sacrifice of the atonement.

But we are also victims of sin. We have enemies who harm us. We are victims who have been sinned against in numerous ways. Because of sins done to us, we are also captive, held in bondage by powers in some sense external to us and greater than we are. Or we may be held in bondage to our own desires or fears, our self-centeredness or despair. Sometimes the Bible describes the human problem as suffering, being in bondage, slavery, or captivity, each and all of which separate us from God.

What we need in this regard is for God to fight on our behalf, against our enemy, for our freedom from bondage. This is what God did in the Exodus for his people. The clearest and most powerful manifestation of God doing this for us is Christ’s victory over death in the resurrection (Eph. 1:19–20). In this victory over principalities, powers, and death, the Son reclaims creation for the Father and freedom for you. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15)

In answering the question, “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?” the Heidelberg Catechismanswers: “First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.”

God accomplished redemption in Christ’s victory over sin and death, but the effects of that victory have yet to be fully realized. So while the ultimate outcome has been assured (Rom. 8:18–211 Cor. 15:51–57; Revelation 21), the struggle between life and death, good and evil, continues. However, the shalom (i.e. peace in its fullest sense), freedom, and rest of redemption will one day be fully realized when Jesus returns.

Jesus was physically raised from death as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), securing a future resurrection like his own for all those who are united to him through faith. Through his triumphant resurrection, Jesus opened the way for us to experience resurrection and eternal life in the new earth when he returns instead of the death we deserve.

Christ’s victory gives us back our identity and restores our meaning. We recognize, and may truly know for the first time, that we have a future that ends in peace, as well as a past that can be healed and forgiven, and now live in the hope of the gospel. Christ opens up for us a new identity because he himself remained always true to his identity, a share of which he offers to us.

In Christ’s victory, fear and shame are banished, to be replaced by profound joy that we are no longer strangers to God and to one another, that we are no longer so utterly isolated and alone.

Adapted from On the Grace of God

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

The Resurrection Is Not Just A Metaphor

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that something completely unique in human history happened.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a central tenet of the Christian faith. One of the earliest creeds (concise summaries of Christian beliefs), the Nicene Creed, declares that Jesus “for us . . . and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.”

More Than A Metaphor

Resurrection is often misunderstood as merely a metaphor for a spiritual afterlife. But as prominent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains, the word “resurrection” had a very specific meaning in the ancient world:

“Resurrection” denoted a new embodied life which would follow whatever “life after death” there might be. “Resurrection” was, by definition, not the existence into which someone might (or might not) go immediately upon death; it was not a disembodied “heavenly” life; it was a further stage, out beyond all that. It was not a redescription or redefinition of death. It was death’s reversal.

For Christians, resurrection isn’t just a way of expressing a spiritual truth. We believe that in the first century something happened that was completely unique in human history up to that point: a man actually, physically died; he was buried in a tomb for three days; and then he actually, physically was raised back to life, never to die again.

Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Paul saw the Resurrection as the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

Put bluntly, if Jesus Christ claimed to be the Savior but remains dead in a tomb after a brutal crucifixion, his claims were, and are, meaningless. However, if Jesus did rise from death, then his claims to be God, his bearing the penalty of our sins in our place on the cross, and his teachings about the kingdom of God and life after death are vindicated.

Suffered, Crucified, & Buried

Throughout his ministry, Jesus predicted numerous times that he would be killed and then rise from the dead:

  • “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.’ And they were greatly distressed.” (Matt. 17:22–23)
  • “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22)
  • “And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’” (Luke 18:31–33)

Around A.D. 33, Jesus’ prediction came true. He was captured, put through a series of false trials under cover of night, and sentenced to death. He was executed by crucifixion, and when the Roman soldiers had verified that he was dead, he was buried in a nearby tomb, with a heavy stone covering the entrance and a Roman guard posted to ensure no interferred with his body.

A New Era Of The Kingdom

His followers gave up hope. But on the morning of the third day, they returned to find the guards gone, the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. Soon, Jesus began to show himself to his followers, fully and physically alive again. As Paul records, Jesus showed himself to Peter, to the twelve disciples, and even to hundreds of his followers at a time (1 Cor. 15:3–8).

Unlike the pagan religions of the ancient world, Judaism had a belief in bodily resurrection. But it was a resurrection that would occur at the end of time. There was no expectation in Jesus’ culture that one man would be resurrected as a precursor to the general resurrection. Even when Jesus himself predicted his own resurrection, his followers were confused (Luke 9:44–45).

When Jesus was crucified, they were devastated; when he rose from the dead, fully present in flesh and blood again, their whole world was changed. Empowered by the belief that Jesus’ resurrection signaled the start of a new era of God’s kingdom, they went out preaching the good news about what Jesus had accomplished by dying for sins and rising in victory over death.

Death Is Not The End

Jesus’ resurrection is the central miracle of his life. In triumphantly rising from death, just as he promised, he vindicated his claim to be the Son of God, sent to deliver the world from sin and death. His resurrection showed that he had successfully paid the penalty required for human sin and had overcome the curse of death that has held humanity in bondage since the Fall.

His resurrection paves the way for all those who trust him to look forward to a resurrection patterned after his. As Paul writes, “In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20–21).

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, Christians live with the hope and expectation that death is not the end for us, because we look forward to being raised like Jesus was and living forever with him.

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus

Defending the Resurrection of Jesus

Of all the teachings of Christianity, no doctrine is more central than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The truth of the resurrection has been attacked from every angle. New books and television media regularly appear questioning the truth of the resurrection, re-hashing old theories about what happened to Jesus’ body. Since the resurrection is crucial to Christianity, Christians ought to be able to give some answers to the inevitable questions about the truth of the resurrection.

Historically Credible Accounts

The first step in defending the resurrection from its detractors is to establish the fact of the historical events that took place as conveyed in the Gospels. As philosopher William Lane Craig notes in his book Reasonable Faith, “The issue is whether the gospel narratives are historically credible accounts or unhistorical legends.”

The Empty Tomb

One of the easiest parts of the resurrection data to establish is the fact that the tomb is empty. Because the location of Jesus’ burial was known to those living in Jerusalem, it is unlikely that they would have believed the apostles’ claims about the resurrection of Christ if there was not an empty tomb. Jesus’ burial is widely attested in early, independent testimonies, both biblical and extra-biblical.

The fact that women are primary witnesses of the empty tomb in the Gospel accounts is further evidence of their authenticity. This is because, as is often noted, women were not considered reliable witnesses in first-century Jewish culture, so it would have been foolish for the authors to fictionally construct an account involving women in order to gain credibility.

Matthew 28:11–15 speaks of a myth that was spread among the Jews concerning the body of Christ. Apparently, the Jews were saying the disciples stole the body of Christ. This is significant because the Jews did not deny the tomb was empty, but instead sought an alternative explanation to the resurrection. The emptiness of the tomb is a widely attested historical fact.

However, just because the tomb of Christ was empty does not necessarily mean the resurrection happened. There are four alternative hypotheses to the resurrection that have been advanced over the years:

1. The Conspiracy Hypothesis

The conspiracy hypothesis says that the disciples stole the body of Christ and continued to lie about his appearances to them. According to this account, the resurrection was a hoax.

This hypothesis is not commonly held in modern scholarship for several reasons:

  • This hypothesis does not take into account that the disciples believed in the resurrection. It is highly unlikely that numerous disciples would have been willing to give up their lives defending a fabrication.
  • It is unlikely that the idea of resurrection would have entered the minds of the disciples, as such an event was not connected to the Jewish idea of a Messiah. The scholar William Lane Craig writes, “If your favorite Messiah got himself crucified, then you either went home or else you got yourself a new Messiah. But the idea of stealing Jesus’ corpse and saying that God has raised him from the dead is hardly one that would have entered the minds of the disciples.”
  • This hypothesis cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.

 

2. The Apparent Death Hypothesis

The second hypothesis attempting to explain away the resurrection is the apparent death hypothesis. This view says Jesus was not completely dead when he was removed from the cross. Once in the tomb, Jesus was revived and escaped, thus convincing the disciples of his resurrection.

This view is difficult to hold for a few reasons:

  • It is unlikely that a half-dead man would have been capable of even getting up to walk, much less moving the huge stone that sealed the tomb, over-powering Roman guards, and fleeing from sight.
  • This theory cannot account for the disciples’ attribution of resurrection to Christ, for if they had seen him after he was revived, they would have merely thought he had never died.
  • It is also foolish to think the Romans, who had perfected the art of executing people, would have let one slip by without ensuring he was dead.
  • Finally, given the physical torture described in the Gospel accounts, it is highly unlikely that Jesus could have survived crucifixion.

 

3. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis

The wrong tomb hypothesis suggests that the women had gotten lost on their way to Jesus’ tomb and accidentally stumbled upon the caretaker of an empty tomb. When the caretaker said, “Jesus is not here,” the women were so disoriented they fled, their story later being developed into a resurrection myth.

Like the other theories, virtually no reputable scholars hold to this view. There are at least three reasons:

  • First, this theory does not explain the post-resurrection appearances, and it is spurious to think that such a simple mistake would have led a first-century Jew to think a resurrection had happened.
  • In light of the early evidence that is available concerning the location of Jesus’ tomb, it is almost impossible that the women would have confused its location.
  • This hypothesis emphasizes that the caretaker of the tomb said that Christ was not there, but it passes over the next phrase: “He is risen!”

 

4. The Displaced Body Hypothesis

The displaced body hypothesis says Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in his own tomb, but later moved it to the criminal’s graveyard. The disciples were not aware that Jesus’ body had been moved and therefore wrongly inferred that he had risen from the dead.

Because of the spurious nature of this theory, virtually no modern scholars hold to it:

  • This theory cannot account for the post-resurrection appearances of Christ or the origin of the Christian faith.
  • It is unclear why Joseph would not have corrected the error of the disciples by simply showing them where he had moved the body of Jesus.
  • The criminal graveyard, most likely, was quite close to the crucifixion site, so it would have made little sense why Joseph would not have simply buried Jesus there in the first place. In fact, it was against Jewish law to allow a body to be moved after it had already been buried.

 

The Post-Resurrection Appearances

In 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter composed by a man acquainted with the first disciples, the Apostle Paul claims that numerous people saw Jesus alive after his death (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

It is fairly indisputable that Jesus actually appeared to the people that Paul mentions. Even the notorious New Testament critic Bart Ehrman admits, “we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive.”

The gospels all speak of post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would be quite ridiculous to suggest that each of these events was a hallucination. Few scholars argue, therefore, that on different occasions different groups of people had experiences of seeing Jesus. They therefore question whether the experiences were actual physical, bodily appearances of Christ. However, Paul leaves no room for a merely psychological experience. His theology of the resurrected body ensures that he meant that Christ actually, physically appeared.  

The resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the postmortem appearances of Christ. The alternative—the disciples were hallucinating—says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Nor does it explain the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. In typical psychological postmortem experiences, the person having the experience rarely would think that a dead person actually returned physically to life. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues, postmortem appearances in the ancient world would be more evidence that the person was dead than that he was alive.

The physical resurrection of Jesus proves to be the best explanation for the postmortem appearances described in 1 Cor. 15.

 

The Existence of Christianity

The fact that Christianity started and grew is also evidence for the resurrection. For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.

The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion. The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims Jesus had made about his own identity. The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

It stands to reason that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead victoriously on the third day after his death. No alternative hypothesis can adequately explain the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Firstborn of the Dead?

Firstborn of the Dead?

At the beginning of the book of Revelation, John writes this greeting to the churches he’s addressing:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. (Rev. 1:4–5)

The title “firstborn of the dead” for Jesus is of great theological importance, especially with Easter in the background. The Greek word for “firstborn” that John uses is prōtotokos, a word that literally refers to birth order—the first child born. This is a concept of great significance in the Old Testament, where the firstborn son inherited his father’s place as head of the family, receiving the father’s blessing and a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17).After the Passover in Egypt, God told his people that every firstborn child was set aside as his own (Ex. 13:2), and the nation of Israel as a whole was referred to as God’s “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22).

Christians have a sure hope that one day, because we are in Christ, will reign with him as the firstborn of God, heirs of all things in heaven and on earth.

Because of the biblical significance attached to the concept, the word “firstborn” acquired a metaphorical sense and came to also refer to the special status of the firstborn as the preeminent son and heir. In the New Testament, Jesus is shown to be the “new Israel,” the culmination and fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations through the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:7–8, 16). Jesus fulfills the intended role of Israel as God’s faithful firstborn son in his perfect life and sacrificial death, and he is vindicated by God in his glorious resurrection.

In referring to Jesus as the firstborn of the dead, John is drawing words and imagery from Psalm 89, which celebrates the kingship of David and his line with phrases like “the firstborn,” “the highest of the kings of the earth,” and the idea that the Messiah’s throne will be a “faithful witness in the sky.” John is portraying Jesus as the “exalted heir of David who represents his people.”2

Numerous other times in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as prōtotokos, firstborn:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18)

When he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:6)

Two other passages convey the same idea with slightly different language:

“[The prophets and Moses said] that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:23)

In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:20–23)

As “firstborn of the dead,” Jesus is both first in time and first in preeminence. As the first to be raised from the dead, Christ is the founder and initiator of the new era God is bringing about through Jesus’ victory over sin and death.3 Jesus’ resurrection from death opens the way for all who trust in him to follow him in a resurrection like his when he returns. This is important because it shows that our ultimate hope is not just for our souls to go to heaven, but for our physical bodies to be raised to new life like Jesus’ was. He is the firstborn of the resurrection.

In Revelation 1:5 we also see the metaphorical sense of the term, showing Jesus’ supremacy in authority and kingship after his resurrection. Biblical scholar G.K. Beale explains,

John views Jesus as the ideal Davidic king on an escalated eschatological level, whose death and resurrection have resulted in his eternal kingship and in the kingship of his beloved children . . . . “Firstborn” refers to the high, privileged position that Christ has as a result of the resurrection from the dead . . . . Christ has gained such a sovereign position over the cosmos, not in the sense that he is recognized as the first-created being of all creation or as the origin of creation, but in the sense that he is the inaugurator of the new creation by means of his resurrection.4

We can draw all this together to see that there are two central ideas in the title “firstborn of the dead” in Revelation 1:5. First, the allusion to Psalm 89 shows that Jesus fulfills all history as the messianic King descended from the line of David. Second, being the “firstborn of the dead” means that Jesus is both the first to rise and the first in supremacy. He is the first to rise from the dead and thus the first of the new creation. He is also the inaugurator of the new creation and sovereign over everything. He is the rightful heir to it all. Christians have a sure hope that one day we will follow Christ into the resurrection and new creation, and, because we are in Christ, will reign with him as the firstborn of God, heirs of all things in heaven and on earth.

 


1 Luke L. Keefer, Jr., “Firstborn,” in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 258.

2 C. John Collins, in the The ESV Study Bible, 1049.

3 Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 129.

4 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 191.

Death, Where Is Your Sting?

Death, Where Is Your Sting?

Sin & Its Effects

We all know we will end up dead. Because of sin’s entrance into the world, every human dies, every human suffers, animals suffer, tsunamis sweep cities and villages away, volcanoes destroy whole regions, AIDS and malaria and cancer and heart disease kill millions of people old and young, and droughts and famines cause millions to starve.

Because of sin, we also hurt ourselves and others. Because of sin, others hurt us. This is why we experience condemnation, guilt, shame, despair, pain, and filth.

 

Our Hope–God Endures

We collapse under the weight of this destruction. Only God could endure all this. And that’s exactly what God did in Jesus—who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorned its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God. That’s the world’s one hope, and that hope is fulfilled in the resurrection.

If we don’t pin our hope for redemption on Christ, then we are left to our own feeble strategies to fight back at death and guilt. Here’s an example.

 

Death, Where is Your Bling?

A strategy for dealing with death is seen in the newest piece of art by the British artist Damien Hirst. A few years ago, he unveiled his masterpiece—a diamond-encrusted platinum cast of a human skull priced at $98 million. The skull, cast from a 35-year-old 18th-century European male, is coated with 8,601 diamonds, including a large pink diamond worth more than $8 million in the center of its forehead.

 

His explanation of his work is fascinating: “I hope this work gives people hope—uplifting, take your breath away…. It shows we are not going to live for ever. But it also has a feeling of victory over death.” Unfortunately, that’s the only hope some have for dealing with death—a feeling of victory over death.

 

What We Need

We don’t need diamond-encrusted skulls that give the feeling of overcoming death. We need substitutionary atonement and real victory over death. What we need is not myth or feeling; we need sin and death overcome. That’s why Romans 4:25 is so important: “Jesus Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

He is risen! Because of the death and resurrection of Christ and your faith in him, you are declared pure, righteous, saved, blameless, holy, forgiven, and without condemnation. These are all words God uses in Scripture for those who are in Christ. This good news relates all the way down to your anxiety, the memories of specific sins, your fears and insecurities, the shame you feel because of what’s been done to you, the sinful impulses that seem to control you.

We don’t need the feeling of overcoming death. We need substitutionary atonement and real victory over death.

Because of the resurrection, we have the hope of heaven and being with Christ, and “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

 

Christ Conquers

The resurrection is why Paul taunts death in 1 Corinthians 15. He does it much like a child would do to his bullies when his father is behind him and he feels secure in his father’s protection: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

In the cross, God turned his wrath away from you and toward Christ. In the resurrection, God turns your eyes away from your sins and directs them to Christ. Our sins hurled him to the ground and trampled him, but God delivered Christ and made him alive. He has conquered the tyrants of sin and death. Christ is too strong for them. He overpowers them and he takes sin and sorrow captive and rules over them for all eternity. Because there is no condemnation, you can have a clear conscience—loves replaces darkness, joy replaces despair, and peace replaces fear.

 

Save Jesus? Ignore Easter?

Save Jesus? Ignore Easter?

A Washington Post article, titled “Save Jesus, Ignore Easter,” says Christians focus too much on the death and resurrection of Jesus and that we need to focus more on his ethical teachings.

This couldn’t be further from the truth! If we take Jesus solely as a good example with some wise teachings, then we will be left with arrogance and pride or despair and hopelessness. We can never attain to the sinless example of Christ or his teachings: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Good luck living up to that impossible ethical teaching.

We should by all means want to be like Jesus, but without the cross and resurrection, we have no way, hope, or means. This is death by law. Praise God, we aren’t left to our own devices or efforts to imitate him. Thank God for the gospel!

 

First Importance

There is a reason Christians focus on the death and resurrection. If it happened, then it is the most important miracle ever with huge implications for everyone. This is why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

 

Jesus Died

Jesus was really dead. He was beaten and scourged. Many people died just from the scourging. And then he was nailed to a cross with three spikes that were 7–9 inches long and a half-inch thick. And to make sure he was dead, they speared him in the side to pierce both his lung and heart. He died the death we should have died. He died in our place for our sin.

 

Jesus Was Buried

Jesus was also buried and everyone involved knew where. The tomb was sealed with a Roman seal and guarded so nobody would mess with it. The chief priests, disciples, and followers of Jesus all knew where it as. It was under Roman guard. His body wasn’t misplaced; it was in a tomb for three days.

 

Jesus Rose from the Dead

Jesus rose from the dead. He showed up to his disciples and followers and then to over 500 people who saw him (1 Cor. 15:6). His disciples didn’t steal his body and promote a hoax they claimed to be true and for which they would all later be killed violently. He didn’t pass out on the cross, resuscitate later in the tomb, tear off the 75 pounds of linen burial cloths, push back an enormous stone by himself, and then overpower armed guards. His resurrection proved his victory over sin and death and ensures believers’ regeneration (1 Pet 1:3-5), justification (Rom 4:25), and future resurrection (1 Cor 6:14).

Praise God, we aren’t left to our own devices or efforts to imitate him. Thank God for the gospel!

 

What Billions of Christians Have Always Believed

The Apostles’ Creed, the oldest and most popular creed of the church, summarizes 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 and states, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried…On the third day He arose again from the dead.”

This is what billions of Christian have always believed and what over 1 billion Christians will celebrate this Easter. There are good reasons for believing it and no good reasons not to believe it.

 

The evidence confirms that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is unique in all of history and worthy of all to be believed. It was a literal, bodily resurrection. That’s why we do not “save Jesus” and preach law without gospel. He saves us. That’s why we cannot “ignore Easter.

 

Post-Resurrection Appearances & the Beginning of Christianity

Post-Resurrection Appearances & the Beginning of Christianity

In this post we will investigate the post-resurrection appearances of Christ and the origin of the Christian faith.

A defense of the resurrection must give evidence for the historical validity of the events described in the New Testament, and it must show how the resurrection of Jesus provides the best explanation for this historical data.

 

The Post-Resurrection Appearances

In 1 Cor. 15:3-8, Paul says that Jesus appeared to Cephas, the Twelve, more than five hundred people at once, James, all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself. 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter composed by a man acquainted with the first disciples, actually claims that people saw Jesus after his death.

Because of the specificity of the list that Paul puts forth, it is fairly indisputable that Jesus actually appeared to the people that Paul mentions. The gospels all speak of post-resurrection appearances of Christ. It would be quite ridiculous to suggest that each of these events was a hallucination. Few scholars argue, therefore, that on different occasions different groups of people had experiences of seeing Jesus. They therefore question whether the experiences were actual physical, bodily appearances of Christ. However, Paul leaves no room for a merely psychological experience. His theology of the resurrected body ensures that he meant that Christ actually, physically appeared. This is confirmed by the gospel accounts. In light of this evidence, one can be certain of the fact that Jesus appeared to the people mentioned in 1 Cor. 15 after his bodily resurrection.

 

A Plausible Explanation

The resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the postmortem appearances of Christ. The alternative—the hallucination hypothesis—says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Nor does it explain the disciples’ belief in the resurrection. In typical psychological postmortem experiences, the person having the experience rarely would think that a dead person actually returned physically to life. As N.T. Wright argues, postmortem appearances in the ancient world would be more evidence that the person was dead than that he was alive.

Because of the diversity of appearances catalogued, it is highly unlikely that the hallucination theory can be held. Therefore, the physical resurrection of Jesus proves to be the best explanation for the postmortem appearances described in 1 Cor. 15.

 

The Origin of the Christian Faith

The fact that Christianity started and grew is evidence for the resurrection. William Lane Craig writes: “Even skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.” For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die.

The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion. The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity. The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity.

To deny that the resurrection was the cause of the Christian faith, an alternative explanation must be given.  But there is no plausible alternative. Therefore, “Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the tomb was somehow emptied and the disciples saw hallucinations—suppositions which we have seen to be false anyway—the origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection still cannot be plausibly explained” (Craig).

 

Come Let Us Reason…

It stands to reason that Jesus Christ did in fact rise from the dead victoriously on the third day after his death. No alternative hypothesis can adequately explain the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and the origin of the Christian faith. For this reason, one has no good reasons why not to accept this most central element of Christianity.