Jesus Christ

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.

Death Is Not The End

Death Is Not The End

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.”

Resurrection is often misunderstood as merely a metaphor for a spiritual afterlife. But as prominent New Testament scholar NT 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.

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. (Matthew 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 33 A.D., 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 interference with the body. 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 Corinthians 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. 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.

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 Prince Who Came to Serve

The Prince Who Came to Serve

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

John 13:3–5

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he exploded our normal ideas about what a god does. Creating, judging, and rewarding are things that sounds like divine activities—not washing feet, eating dinner with prostitutes, going to parties with tax collectors, and hugging lepers.

Jesus’ lowly service is a practical picture of how Jesus inverts our normal view of authority, dignity, and power. Jesus’ unselfconscious act of service was a picture of God’s upside-down approach to our world and to us. The ultimate picture of this is Jesus’ humbling himself to endure the death of the cross and bring us cleansing through his substitution in our place.

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky gives us a picture of this upside-down approach in his novel The Idiot. It’s about a young prince, Prince Myshkin of Russia, who returns home to society after a long stay abroad. Prince Myshkin finds himself surrounded by people who are rage-filled, backbiting, power-hungry, and envious. They struggle for accolades and live like beasts.

Jesus Christ is the prince who came penniless and powerless to serve.

As Prince Myshkin is dropped into the middle of this depravity and forced to struggle with the reality of people’s sin, his interaction with this corrupt and immoral group is astounding! Prince Myshkin is frail and simple. He speaks clearly and without lies. He loves anyone he comes into contact with, especially the peasants and the servants. He is not self-aggrandizing, and he embodies grace and peace. And for all of his love and kindness, his meekness and his tenderness, the world around him dismisses him as an idiot.

Jesus Christ is like Prince Myshkin. Our world—in all its “wisdom”—finds him and his cross foolish. He is the prince who came penniless and powerless to serve: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). In coming as a humble servant, full of grace and truth, Jesus reveals our sovereign God’s paradoxical approach to the world.

 

The Work of Christ: A Q&A with R.C. Sproul

The Work of Christ: A Q&A with R.C. Sproul

Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder of Ligonier Ministries, the author of more than 70 books, and a beloved Bible teacher, pastor, and scholar. He was also my seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr. Sproul recently wrote a new book, The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You, and I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about it.

Justin Holcomb: Is it helpful to distinguish between the person of Christ and the work of Christ? Why or why not?

R.C. Sproul: This distinction is not one that I make. It’s one that’s been made classically, and there’s a reason for it. In order to understand the significance of everything that Jesus did, his work, we have to understand who Jesus is. To understand who Jesus is, we have to look at what he did. So there’s a symbiotic interaction, an interconnection between who Jesus is and what Jesus did. We distinguish them, but we can never separate them because it’s the same Jesus who did what he did and who is what he is.

JH: In the book, you describe Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism as the most important text in the New Testament for defining the work of Jesus (p. 74). Why is Jesus’ baptism so important, and why does it matter for our salvation?

RS: It’s so important because, first of all, it was when his public ministry began, when he was ordained as the Messiah. He was anointed at his baptism by the Holy Ghost coming down from heaven, and his baptism itself showed his ministry of taking upon himself, in his human nature, all of the obligations given by the law of God to the people of Israel. You remember that John the Baptist was reluctant to perform the baptism of Jesus since it was for repentance of sin. Jesus has no sin, and John knew that. He tried to stop Jesus.

Jesus said, “No, wait. It’s necessary. I have to do this.” In his baptism, he was identifying with his fallen people that he had come to redeem and taking upon himself the whole weight of the demands of the law as the new Adam.

JH: Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. You distinguish the active obedience of Christ from the passive obedience of Christ. Why is this distinction necessary, and why do you think it has been neglected?

RS: First of all, let me be quick to say that this distinction, again, does not originate with me. There’s a classic distinction in theology between the active obedience and the passive obedience. Here’s what it gets at.

The passive obedience of Jesus describes the work that he did to take upon himself the punishment due to us for our sin. Jesus was like the lamb led to the slaughter: he passively allowed himself to be killed and to be crucified and to have our sin imputed to him. All true Christians will certainly grant that Christ bore our sins for us, and that his work on the cross was the work of obedience.

“One issue came up that the Protestants and Catholics could not agree on . . .”

Remember, in the garden of Gethsemane, he asked that the cup be removed, but he said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” Jesus passively obeyed that mandate and went to the cross. Without the cross and without the imputation of our sin to Christ, there’s no salvation for us, and Christianity is nothing but moral suggestions.

In distinction from that, we talk about his active obedience. To understand the importance of that, let’s realize that the cross achieves and the atonement effects for us the removal of our sin. And the removal of our sin makes us innocent before God. It puts us in the position that Adam was before the fall. But for Adam to inherit the kingdom, he not only had to be innocent, he had to be righteous.

So again, to obtain the goal of saving us, the Savior had to not only take away the guilt of the people he was trying to save; he also had to provide for them the positive righteousness that God required in order to be saved. As the new Adam, Christ succeeded where Adam failed. By one man’s disobedience, death came into the world. By another man’s obedience came life and salvation. The active obedience of Jesus has to do with Jesus’ living a life of perfect obedience to the commands of God and achieving, in himself, perfect righteousness, which righteousness is the grounds for our justification. His righteousness imputed to us covers us and gives us the righteousness that God requires for us to be saved.

“. . . the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers as the grounds for our justification.”

This whole idea of imputation has been coming under attack in recent decades, partly because of what happened in the Evangelicals & Catholics Together (ECT) discussion. If you go back to the 16th century after the Reformation, after the split, there was an enormous effort to heal that breach. Significant discussions between leaders of the Reformation, the Protestants, and leaders of the Roman church were held. They came together to try to resolve their differences. There was a point at the Regensburg meeting when many thought the breach was resolved and healed and it was going to be okay, but then one issue came up that they could not agree on: that was the issue of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to believers as the grounds for our justification. The Roman Catholic Church insisted then and insists now that the only way God will declare a person righteous is if righteousness inheres within him. The Bible and the Reformers teach no, the only way God ever declares us righteous is by imputing to us righteousness that is not inherently ours. Martin Luther called it a foreign righteous. He stated that it is an alien righteousness that is outside of us. It is the righteousness of Christ, which is accomplished through his perfect obedience.

“Our whole salvation is linked to what Jesus spoke of [during] the Lord’s Supper.”

So you have people now who want to keep this rapprochement with Rome, who want the Protestants to drop the imputed righteousness or the perfect active obedience. There are also certain dispensationalists who don’t like the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ because it’s so closely related to the idea of the covenant. Adam was in a covenant with God that we call that the covenant of works. It can be fulfilled only by somebody performing those good works. We say we’re justified by faith alone. That’s the graciousness of the covenant. But the point is that the demands of the law, the works that are required, are graciously provided for us by the active obedience of Jesus.

If you don’t like or don’t believe in a covenant of works, then you don’t like the whole concept of Christ’s active obedience. So, from that circle among evangelicals, we’ve had strong, sometimes fierce, attacks on the active obedience of Jesus in recent years. I think it’s a great tragedy.

JH: In the book you note that when Jesus held the Last Supper, he was taking the Old Testament liturgy of the Passover and transforming it. What do you think is the significance of this for our understanding of Jesus and for how we celebrate the Lord’s Supper?

RS: Clearly the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the context of an Old Testament liturgy. Jesus met with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, and he changed the liturgy of the Passover. This is where the church was born and the new covenant was instituted because Jesus instituted a new covenant in his blood. That new covenant was not a radical split from the old. It was the fulfillment of the old.

Jesus is the Passover Lamb. It’s his blood that gives the atonement, not the blood of bulls and goats, and it is his blood that keeps us from the avenging angel of death, that is, the blood of the lamb that we now have on our doorposts. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the historic Passover and the whole system of redemption in the Old Testament. That’s why he said this is a new covenant “my blood . . . which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

“Without the resurrection, the mission of Jesus would have been a failure.”

I think that the new covenant was instituted with that declaration, and it was ratified the next day with the pouring out of that blood in Jesus’ atoning death. It is extremely important for us to understand that our whole salvation is linked to what Jesus spoke of in the upper room when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.

JH: Why was Jesus’ resurrection necessary for his mission? And what does it mean for our future?

RS: Again, Jesus’ mission was to save his people. The New Testament tells us he was raised for our justification. What does that mean? Obviously, if Jesus died on the cross and stayed dead, there’s no reason to believe that his atoning sacrifice was acceptable to God. But God’s message with the resurrection is that God declares him to be the Just One, the Holy One, the One who is our Redeemer. So without the resurrection, the mission of Jesus would have been a failure.

JH: This book comes as a continuation of a long and fruitful writing and ministry career for you. What do you believe is the most important book you’ve written? What issues do you believe need to be addressed by the next generation of Christians?

RS: You know, I don’t know which is the most important. I keep coming back to The Holiness of God. I also think that Faith Alone is an important book, and The Truth of the Cross. Different books are important for different reasons. When I write in apologetics, that has a certain kind of importance that is different from when I write in theology. So, it’s hard for me to say.

JH: What other books do you recommend for those who want to dig deeper into the work of Christ?

RS: Well, there’s been work done by David Wells at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the work of Christ. G. C. Berkouwer, my own mentor in my doctoral studies, has two volumes, The Person of Christ and The Work of Christ, both of which, I think, are extremely important and are two of the better works in his career. I recommend those.

JH: Thank you for serving the church by writing this book. I hope many readers will get it and benefit from it as they continually look toward the work of Christ for their hope and assurance.

Dr. Sproul’s new book is called The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You.

Jesus and the Day of Atonement

Jesus and the Day of Atonement

[The priest] shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. . . .

When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness. . . . The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Leviticus 16:15–16, 20–22 NIV

The priestly rituals described here were done on the most important day of Israel’s year: the Day of Atonement. And it is no coincidence that the word “atonement” (often translated as “propitiation”) is used throughout the New Testament for what Jesus did by dying on the cross. It is safe to say that these goats are a foreshadowing of the cross.

The scapegoat achieves purity and cleanliness for the people.

The first goat was sacrificed as a sin offering to God on behalf of the people. The second goat was presented alive before God, where the priest confessed all the sins of the people, symbolically placed them on the goat’s head, and then sent it out to the desert as a “scapegoat,” taking the sins of the people with it. The first goat deals with wrath: the slaughtered goat diverts the wrath of God from the people to the goat. The second goat deals with shame and guilt: the scapegoat achieves purity and cleanliness for the people by removing their sin far away.

Whatever Our Sins

The first sacrifice was for “whatever their sins have been.” This means everything—your dark secrets that only you know, the ones that you are too ashamed to tell anyone, the embarrassing sins, and the reoccurring sins. Four times, in the context of the second goat, the chapter refers to “all” the Israelites’ transgressions and sins—every last one of them, especially the shameful ones.

How can you know that God loves you? Not by just “feeling it.”

The Bible speaks of sins we’ve committed and sins committed against us by using words like “defiled”—which means filthy, unclean, dirty, and shameful. Many of us have a sense of defilement, and the consequence is feeling shame and judgment.

The Cross Tells Us So

So how can you know that God loves you? Not by just “feeling it” or because you’re inherently lovable. You know God loves you because Jesus was the fulfillment of the sacrificial goats. The cross tells you that God loves you and how God loves you—he willingly died for you to make you clean. The love of God is not sentimental or weak; it is effective, it redeems, it embraces, it renews. It is a courageous, restoring, transforming love. The cross expresses the love of God.

God calls you pure, clean, and without blemish.

Because of the cross, you can be fully exposed, because God no longer identifies you by what you have done or by what has been done to you. The cross is for whatever your sins may have been, what they are, and what they will be—all of them. You are forgiven. You have been made new. Now God calls you pure, clean, and without blemish.

We Need Rescue, Not Just Advice: Machen on Salvation

We Need Rescue, Not Just Advice: Machen on Salvation

This is the sixth installment in our seven-part series based on J. Gresham Machen’s seminal work, Christianity and Liberalism (1923). In the book, still relevant almost a century later, Machen contrasts the modernist theological liberalism of his day with biblical Christianity. In this post we see how theological liberalism and Christianity have completely different hopes for salvation.

J. Gresham Machen shows us that liberalism’s view of salvation is human-centered, while Christianity is God-centered. Liberalism thinks that human nature inherently has the resources for our own salvation, but Christianity teaches that the resources for salvation only come from God’s supernatural act of redemption through the atonement of Jesus.

Belief in the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners is criticized by modern naturalistic liberalism. Instead, the death of Christ is seen as an example of self-sacrifice, as a picture of God’s hatred of sin, or as a display of God’s love, but not as the propitiatory substitution of Jesus in our place, for our sins. Aside from viewing substitutionary atonement with disgust, liberalism criticizes salvation by the cross of Christ because it is dependent upon history, makes for a “narrow” and “exclusive” religion, and seems to challenge the character of a God of love.

All sin at bottom is a sin against God. (p. 130)

Four Objections

Machen answers liberalism’s objections in several ways. First, Christianity is dependent upon history because the good news of the gospel is rooted in the historic event of the death and resurrection of Christ, not mysticism. The good news of the gospel announces that this event has ushered in a new age for the world, and that God has redeemed sinners. Second, Christian salvation has always been centered on devotion to Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.

Third, Christian salvation is consistent with the attributes of God. Jesus’ love and the Father’s wrath do not separate the triune God. The Father and Jesus are both angry at sin: the Father is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24), and Jesus grabs a whip to rid his temple of corrupt moneychangers (Matt. 21:12–13). Machen shows the falsehood of the common caricature of the angry Father taking it out on the innocent Son, because it is God himself who pays the penalty he requires: “God himself in the person of the Son who assumed our nature and died for us, God himself in the person of the Father who spared not his own Son but offered him up for us all” (p. 132).

Fourth, the New Testament says that Jesus died not merely as a martyr, but as the divine Son of God who is able to bear the sins of others and who willingly chose to die for us (John 10:18).

The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, “It is finished.” The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes. Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life he brings those for whom he died. (p. 114)

Redemption is applied to us through the creative act of God by the Holy Spirit in the new birth. This is necessary because humans are not innately good (as liberalism assumes), but dead in sins, in need of regeneration and God’s life-giving grace. People must have faith, but faith itself is a gift to be received from God, not a work to be done by us (Eph. 2:8). Instead of liberating humanity, in reality liberalism denies the freedom it promises, which is only found in the liberating grace of God.

Much More than a Means

Liberalism offers a social salvation that believes religion is a means to some greater goal, like more socially conscious institutions and healthier communities. Biblical Christianity is not less, but much more than that. It does not withdraw from the world, but seeks the welfare of the world. Most importantly, it seeks the welfare of the world by calling people to repent of their sin and accept the reconciling work of God in the death of Jesus for them.

Christianity will indeed accomplish many useful things in this world, but if it is accepted in order to accomplish those useful things it is not Christianity. (p. 152)

The message of Christianity is not primarily about religious virtues, but the message that God has acted in history on behalf of sinful humanity to reconcile us to God. This reconciliation then brings freedom to live a life of love toward God and others. God does not exist primarily for our sake; we exist for the sake of God. Salvation is not found in a way of life, but through faith in the act of God in Jesus Christ.

In the next and final post, we’ll see how Machen shows that Christianity and liberalism have incompatible visions for the church. 

 


 

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