Showing posts with label Resurrection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Resurrection. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Death Has An Expiration Date

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)
Death has an expiration date, for it is the last enemy to be destroyed. After that, there are no more enemies of God. No beings at enmity with God. Anywhere. After death is destroyed, there is only life. For death is nothing more than the absence of life, and where death itself has been put to death, there is no longer any impediment to life or any lack of life. Paul continues:
For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:27-28)
When death is finally eliminated, all that exists, everything that has being, everything God has created, will have been made subject to Christ, brought into alignment with Christ, put in order under him. And Christ himself will be made subject to God — not in regard to the eternal and internal unity of the Trinity, but in the economy of our salvation.

And God will be “all in all.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
Luke 24 records two encounters that took place on the evening of the Resurrection, two encounters that are important for how we read the Scriptures (the Old Testament). The first was when Jesus came upon the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The second was after the Emmaus disciples came and found the Eleven disciples huddled in Jerusalem and told them what had happened; suddenly and inexplicably, Jesus was standing among them.

The Emmaus disciples had been downcast about what had happened. They had believed Jesus was a great prophet but were now very confused. Jesus had been crucified and was buried, and just that morning the tomb was found empty — and they didn’t know what to think. Now here was Jesus standing before them, though they did not realize it was him. Jesus told them how foolish they were not to believe all the prophets have spoken, about how Messiah must “suffer these things and then enter his glory.” It had all been in the Scriptures, but they had not recognized it. So Jesus interpreted Moses and the Prophets for them concerning all these things. This was no mere recital about bits and pieces scattered here and there; Jesus showed them that the Scriptures are about him, especially how he must suffer and enter into his glory — he showed them the Cross and Resurrection.

When they reached their destination, they invited Jesus to stay with them. Jesus accepted, and at table with them he took bread, gave thanks for it, broke it and gave it to them. In that eucharistic action, their eyes were “opened” (the Greek word is dienoigen, which means to open thoroughly) and they immediately recognized Jesus.
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened [dienoigen] the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:31-32)
Jesus vanished from their sight. They had not recognized him when he first encountered them, though he was clearly visible to their physical sight. But now they could see him clearly in the Scriptures and in the Eucharistic action. Notice the two movements here: Jesus “opened” (dienoigen) the Scriptures to them. Second, their eyes were “opened” (dienoigen) at the Breaking of the Bread.

Why did Jesus open the Scriptures to them? It was because they were closed. Was Jesus carrying around all the Old Testament scrolls and then he literally unrolled them? Of course not. Yet he opened thoroughly the Scriptures to them — not a little, but thoroughly — so they could see that they are about Jesus the Messiah. Before, they had not understood them. Now they did, and now they could see Jesus clearly in them. Before, the Scriptures had been veiled to them, though they had not realized it. But now Christ thoroughly opened them, and the veil was lifted.

In the second encounter, the two Emmaus disciples were with the Eleven in Jerusalem when Jesus suddenly appeared, standing in their midst.
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened [dienoigen] their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47)
Up until now, the Eleven had not understood the Scriptures. They knew them, they heard them read, but they had not understood them who they are about. They had been with Jesus for three years, hearing his parables and teachings, witnessing his miracles, but they had not understood the Christ-centered, cross-shaped nature of the Scriptures. But now Jesus thoroughly opened their minds to understand them and see they are about Jesus.

Christ thoroughly opened the Scriptures to them. He thoroughly opened their eyes to see him in the Breaking of Bread. He thoroughly opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He taught them that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms — the whole of the Scriptures — are about him, about his death and resurrection and glory. And so Jesus teaches us, as well, about how to read the Scriptures: we look for Jesus in them because they are about him. But we will not find Christ in them by literal interpretation; Christ did not give us literalism as an interpretive principle, but he gave us himself as the interpretation of the Scriptures.

As we consider how the apostles and New Testament authors treated the Old Testament Scriptures, we see that they did not read them literally. When Paul speaks of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4), he is not giving a literal interpretation. When he speaks of the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10), he is not giving a literal interpretation. Or when he speaks of the Rock in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:40). No, he speaks of them all very differently from what a literal interpretation of the corresponding Old Testament Scriptures would yield. By the literal method, we would never see that the crossing of the Red Sea is about baptism, or that the Rock followed them in the wilderness, and that this Rock is Christ. Paul understood what Christ taught both the disciples and the Jewish leaders, that what Moses wrote was about Christ. “These things happened to them as ensamples,” Paul tells us. The word for “ensample” is typos. Paul expressly identifies them for us as types, which indicates that their meaning is about something else — and that something else is Christ. A type is

In Hebrews 10:7, the author observes that what is said in Psalm 40:7 is about Jesus the Messiah. Then he quotes the passage: “Then I said, “Behold, I have come — in the volume of the book [scroll] it is written of me — to do your will, O God.” The “scroll” here is the scroll of the Law, that is, the Torah. The phrase “volume of the scroll” does not merely mean there are bits here and there in the scroll of the Law that are about Christ, but it indicates that the whole of the scroll, everything wrapped around the spindle post of the Scripture scroll, is about Jesus.

It was not only the New Testament authors who treated the Scriptures as being about Christ, but so did the early Church Fathers. St. Irenaeus, for example, wrote Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in which he shows how the Apostles and the Fathers preached Christ. The stunning thing about it is that the early apostolic preaching about Christ was not from the New Testament Gospels or epistles but from the Old Testament Scriptures. The Fathers did not arrive at this by literal interpretation but by spiritual interpretation shaped by Christ and the gospel.

Another example is St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his Life of Moses. In this book, Gregory goes through the Moses narratives in the Torah and shows that they are about Christ, the gospel of Christ and the body of Christ.

But here is a counter-example: There was one early Church figure who interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures literally, and that was Marcion. Are you familiar with him? What Marcion saw by interpreting the Old Testament literally was a portrayal of God that is quite contradictory to the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ. What he saw by a literal interpretation was a petty, hateful deity not worthy of our worship — and indeed, such a deity found by literal interpretation is a moral monster, hateful and petty, and not worthy of worship. So, Marcion pitched out the Old Testament Scriptures altogether.

But the early Church Fathers did not do as Marcion did. They did not abandon the Scriptures, because they understood something very important about the Scriptures that Marcion did not: the Scriptures are about Christ, through and through. So any interpretation that did not align with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ was rejected.

In Luke 24, we learn that the Old Testament Scriptures are about Christ, and until we read them in a Christ-centered, cross-shaped way, our understanding has yet to be opened to them; they remain veiled to us. But when we learn to read them as testimony to Jesus Christ, the Cross and the Gospel, we will learn to understand them the way the New Testament authors and the early Church understood them.

Below are a couple of examples of what a Christ-centered, cross-shaped interpretation of the Scriptures might look like.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Cross and Resurrection As Singular Event

The Cross and Resurrection are not two different events but two different views of the same event.Yet many Christians have thought of it as a two-step plan. They have been taught that the Cross was about “paying” for sin, like a debt that was owed, in order to assuage the wrath of an angry deity. Solving the sin problem is step one, and with that neatly handled, step two is solving the problem of death.

With that kind of thinking, many have not known how to adequately think of the Resurrection in relation to the Cross. Some have supposed that the Resurrection is the assurance or proof that the so-called “payment for sin” was accepted by God and his wrath was appeased. But that is not how the Scriptures speak of  either the Cross or the Resurrection. It is not how they present the problem, nor  how they announce the resolution.

The real problem was not sin but death. In Romans 5:12, Paul tells us, “Therefore, just as sin entered into the cosmos through one man, and death through sin, so also death pervaded all humanity, whereupon all sinned” (The New Testament translation by David Bentley Hart).

Death did not come upon all because all sinned. The Greek words eph ho in that verse simply do not mean “because,” though that it is how they have often been translated in this verse. Yet, of all the other places in the New Testament where eph ho is used, it is never translated as “because,” or as having that meaning. (See Whereupon All Sinned.)

The problem was not that death came upon all because all sin but that all sin because death came upon all. The early Church understood the true problem to be that of our mortality; that is, we all die.

We do not die because we sin; we sin because we die. The answer, then, was not to treat the symptom, sin — sin could be and has been forgiven. God demonstrated “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God did not need to be appeased in order to forgive us; God was already kindly disposed toward us, and forgiving of us. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The Cross was not the purchase price of God’s forgiveness but the manifestation of it.

The Cross and Resurrection do not merely address the symptom (sin) but gets at the root of the problem: human mortality. The only way death can be overcome is by life, more particularly, by the One who is Life. It is through the Cross and Resurrection that death is defeated, by the life of the One who could not be defeated by death — because he is life, the source of all life from the creation of the world.

At the Cross, Christ did not go down to defeat, waiting to see if there would be victory, that is, the Resurrection. The Resurrection reveals that the Cross is the victory, that Christ disarmed the principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15), cast out the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and through death destroyed the one who held the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in bondage all their lives by the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

That is how the power of sin was broken, by breaking the power of death, and the power of the one who held death, thus breaking the bondage of the fear of death. (See Trampling the Fear of Death.)

In the Cross and Resurrection, Christ fully experienced death and death was overcome, inevitably, by Life. It is one event, but we see it in two different ways — and both of those ways are beautiful.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

God Suffers With Us

At the Cross, Jesus, in whom all the fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form, suffered for us, with us and as us — this is the truth of the Incarnation. God suffers with us.

Through the cross and resurrection, Christ has not only delivered us but has redeemed all the suffering we experience — even the sufferings of our present crises. It is all eternally redeemed by the cross and resurrection, from the beginning of time. For, in Christ, time and eternity are irrevocably joined together, and to undo this union would require undoing the Incarnation. So, even as we experience suffering in our time, it is already redeemed by the faithfulness of Christ through the cross and resurrection.

Notice, it is the crucified and risen Lord Jesus who encounters Saul on the road to Damascus and says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” It was not, “Why do you persecute Christians,” or “Why do you persecute the Church,” but “Why do you persecute me?” Crucified and risen, yet Christ was nonetheless suffering persecution in and with his body, the Church.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Christ Trampling Death, Bestowing Life

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.

I love the icon of the Anastasis (Resurrection). Beneath the feet of Christ are the broken gates of Hades (the place of the dead) which could not prevail against him and his body, the Church.

See, at the bottom, that the “strong man” has been bound and his house has been plundered (Luke 11:21-22).

Christ has destroyed the one who held the power of death (that is, the devil) and set free those who were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15)

See Christ taking the hands of Adam and Eve, lifting them from their graves — and with them, all humankind. “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Rejoice! And believe the good news of the gospel.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

There is Only One Humanity

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
There is only one human nature, one humanity, of which we all partake. The Incarnation, God becoming man and dwelling among us (John 1:14), was not about creating a new and different humanity — that would have been a species alien to us — but it was Christ partaking of the one and only humanity there is. It means that Christ participates with us in our humanity, even as broken as it is, so to make us whole.

So, the cross saves us in a very ontological way. That is, Christ did not die as one whose humanity was similar to but quite other than our humanity, dying instead of us in a different humanity, and somehow creating a legal fiction to satisfy a legal debt. There is no real connection in that between Christ and humanity.

No, Christ died as one with whom we participate together in the same humanity, dying as us, so that his death was our death, too, because his being shares in our being, in our nature as human beings. His death was our death, so that his risen life is ours, as well. This cannot be reduced to some sentimental way of thinking; is the objective reality of our own being participating together in the resurrected human being of Christ.

In the same way, we are righteous before God, not because of some legal accounting (imputed righteousness), or by receiving it from a source outside of us (imparted righteousness), but through Christ’s very real participation in human being, our mutual participation with Christ in the only humanity there ever was or shall be. This one and only humanity, which was once headed up in Adam is now headed up in Christ, which is why the apostle Paul can make the Adam/Christ comparison so extensively, in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)
The Byzantine icon of the Resurrection, above, shows Christ, with the shattered gates of hell* beneath his feet, reaching his hands to Adam and Eve, and raising them from the grave. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

*Hades, the realm of the dead.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Sting of Death
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56)
Last time, we looked at the question of what Paul meant in Romans 5:12, on whether universal sin resulted in universal death, or conversely, it was universal death that resulted in universal sin (see Whereupon All Sinned). That brief study brought to mind another passage where Paul speaks of the relationship between death and sin. It is at the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s extended discussion of Christ and the resurrection. In verses 55-56, Paul taunts death, the defeated foe: “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

The Greek word for “sting” is kentron and refers literally to the sting of creatures such as bees or scorpions. This sting of death is sin, Paul says (metaphorically, of course). Commentary on this verse usually seems to have the sting, sin, as the cause of death. But would that not be like saying that the sting of a bee is what causes the bee? Is it not rather the bee that causes the sting? So when Paul says, “The sting of death is sin,” is he not saying that it is death that causes sin rather than sin that causes death?

Besides this passage, kentron appears two other times in the New Testament. In Revelation 9:10, it is used of the sting of scorpions. “They had tails with stingers [kentra], like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.” Again, should we suppose that the sting was what caused the scorpion to be? Rather, it is the scorpion that produces the sting. But what the sting does produce is a temporary torment.

The other occurrence of kentron is in Acts 9:5, where Saul (Paul), heading to Damascus to hound the Christians there, encounters the risen Christ. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus says. Saul asks him, “Who are you, Lord?” and receives the answer: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (NKJV). The word for “goad” is kentron. A goad was used for prodding oxen or other beasts of burden. In this case, something was prodding Saul, trying to move him in the right direction, but Saul was resisting, and it was painful for him. (This bit about kicking “against the goads” does not appear in the oldest manuscripts of this passage but it does show up in later ones, and so is instructive for us about what kentron means.)

If we translate kentron as “goad” in 1 Corinthians 15:55-56, we have: “Where, O death, is your goad. The goad of death is sin.” The direction of causality should become apparent: it is not the kentron that produces death, but death that produces the kentron. What is the kentron death produced, and toward what does it prod? Sin.

So, it is not our sin that causes our mortality; it is our mortality that prods us or stings us with sin. Sin is brokenness of relationship, the alienation we experience toward God, each other, the rest of creation and even within our own selves. Death took full advantage, revealing itself as sin.

Next time, we will look at an important clue to how that happens — and how Christ delivers us from it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Day We Were Born Again

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Those were Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, in John 3:3, and indicate something vitally important: Without the “new birth,” we cannot see the kingdom of God.

This took Nicodemus by surprise. “How can someone be born when they are old?” he said. Sure, the Gentiles needed to be born again, to come into the Jewish fold. But surely Jesus was not talking about him, a “teacher of Israel” and a member of the Sanhedrin — a Jew in good standing. He was already born a Jew, and heir to the promises of God. So how could he be born again when he was already a faithful Jew?

Yet Jesus’ words were quite inclusive: Everyone must be born again. “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (v. 5). This recalls the promise of the Lord found in the prophets, that he would gather his people from the nations, sprinkle clean water on them, cleansing them from all their impurities and idolatries. That he would give them a new heart and a new spirit — that he would put his own Spirit in them (Ezekiel 36:24-27).

Yes, Nicodemus, you need this, too — all of humanity does.

How does this happen? How are we born again? Peter tells us something about that, something just as surprising as Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: God, in his great mercy has given us new birth into a “living hope,” and he has done it through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It happened when God raised Christ from the dead.

Jesus the Christ is God, who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Not just one of us but, more importantly, one with us — that is, in full union with us, for he is fully human as well as fully divine. His death on the cross, then, was the death of all humanity, so that all humanity might be made alive in Christ. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:22). For God, in his great mercy, has “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” He has “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6).

In Colossians 1, Paul says that Christ is the “firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:18-20). That Christ is “firstborn” from the dead shows that there are many others. The scope of it is vast, for God’s purpose in Christ is to reconcile to himself all things in heaven and on earth.

In Colossians 3, Paul speaks more about the resurrection of Christ and our new life in him: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3).

This was not theory for Paul. He experienced the reality of it for himself: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The death of Christ was Paul’s death, so that the life of Christ was now Paul’s life.

This new birth is a birth from death into life, into divine life, into the life of God. For God has made us alive with Christ, who is the firstborn from among the dead. Just as his death on the cross was our death, too, so his birth from the dead was also our birth from the dead. Since we have died with Christ, our life is now hidden with Christ and in God. Peter shows us that the source of this new birth is the resurrection of Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Through the resurrection of Christ, we have new birth into a powerful expectation, a life that is far more than we can imagine. It is a life and inheritance that comes from heaven. The Greek words translated “born again,” in John 3, can just as well be read as “born from above,” for the new birth is one that can come only from God, for it is a life that transcends all the boundaries of this present age.

The day Christ was raised from the dead was the day we were born again — the day all humanity was born again. Through faith in Christ we come to know the new birth God has given us so freely by his grace. Through faith we follow Christ into this new life. Through faith we embrace our union with him and begin to understand that our new life is hidden with Christ in God. Through faith, we discover the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begotten us anew through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

In the Wake of the Resurrection

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it! (Matthew 16:18)
In the Apostles’ Creed, the early Church confessed that Jesus “was crucified, dead and buried.” But that was not enough to describe what happened. The Creed goes one step further and affirms that he “descended into hell.” This was considerably more than being shrouded and entombed. The Greek word for “hell” is Hades and refers to the place of the dead. While the lifeless body of Jesus lay in the grave, his soul descended to Hades. And what did he do there? Here is how Paul puts it in speaking of Christ’s ascension gifts to the Church:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (Ephesians 4:7-10)
Paul is referring to Psalm 68:18 and taking it as concerning what Christ had done. Before he ascended to the highest heavens, Jesus first descended to the lowest depths, that is, to Hades. However, he did not descend into hell as a captive but as a conqueror. He came to free the captives, and he did it by taking captive the captors themselves.

Who were these captors who have now been made captives of Christ? They are the “principalities and powers” (the demonic forces that are behind ungodly kingdoms and cultures) whom Christ disarmed at the cross (Colossians 2:15). They are the works of the devil, which Christ came to destroy (1 John 3:8). It is the devil himself, who held the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). The power of death has been broken so that it no longer has its victory, and the power of sin, which is the sting that brought forth death in the first place, has been defeated (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

All of this causes me to see Matthew 16:18 in a new light. Jesus announced to the disciples that he would build his Church, “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it!” How could they? For Christ has shattered the gates and stripped death and hell of their power. They cannot keep anything in, they cannot keep anything out. They cannot overpower the Church or keep it from plundering hell.

In the wake of his resurrection from the dead, Christ builds his Church, and the gates of Hades cannot prevent it. In the end, all things in heaven and on earth will be reconciled to God though him, and God will be all in all.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Life of the Resurrection

Eternal life is the life of the age to come. Yesterday we saw that the age to come is the age of the kingdom of God, and eternal life is the life of the kingdom. But there is also another way to speak about the age to come, something else that is an important part of it: The age to come is the age of the resurrection of the righteous. This was the Jewish expectation. It is spoken of in Daniel 12:2, of the time when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life [zoen aionion in the Septuagint], some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

When Lazarus died, Jesus said to his sister Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She was expressing the Jewish hope about the age to come. Taking up that point of expectation, Jesus responded with a startling revelation about Himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:23-26).

Jesus Himself is the resurrection life of the age to come, and all who believe in Him shall live. But this life does not begin sometime in the future — it begins now. Jesus said,
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (John 5:24-25)
“The hour is coming and now is,” He said, when those who hear His voice will live. This is resurrection life at work even in this present time. Even so, there is also another resurrection coming, the resurrection of the body. Jesus went on to say,
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28-29)
We can hear the echo of Daniel 12:2, that some will wake to everlasting life and others to everlasting contempt. However, that hour, the hour for the resurrection of the body from the grave, is coming but is not yet here. Even so, resurrection life, the life of the age to come, is already at work in us. Paul said, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, Paul prayed that they might know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:19-20). Paul went on to say that God has “made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-6). This is not future promise but present reality. It is resurrection life now, the age to come breaking into this present age. In Ephesians 3, Paul wrote that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” The “power that works in us” in Ephesians 3:20 is the same power mentioned in Ephesians 1:19, the power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Indeed, this resurrection life that we have now (and the coming resurrection of the body) is the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus Himself. He is called the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). Because He lives, we live, partaking of His life. Paul spoke of the “mystery” of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). This is the reality Paul himself confessed, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith I the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

This is eternal life, the life of the resurrection. It is the life of the risen Jesus and belongs to all those who belong to Him. It begins now and lasts forever.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Resurrection and the End of the Age

In the time of Jesus, the Jewish expectation was that the resurrection would be an end time event. For example, when Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus had died, He said to Lazarus’ sister Martha, “You brother will rise again.” Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24).

In eschatological terms (eschatology is the study of “last things,” that is, what happens at the end of the age), the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is an end time event, the beginning of the last days. Paul calls it the firstfruits.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Firstfruits is the first portion of a harvest. In the Bible, the firstfruits were offered to God. If they were acceptable, they were holy and blessed by God, and they prophesied that the full harvest would also be acceptable, holy and blessed. Paul explains the principle in his letter to the believers at Rome: “For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:16; although he uses it here in a different context, the principle is the same).

When God raised Jesus the Messiah from the dead, Jesus became the firstfruits of the resurrection. The surprise is that the resurrection that was expected at the end of the age has broken into the middle of history, and it is the guarantee that all who trust in Jesus will also be physically raised from the dead. The firstfruits secures the blessing of the full harvest.

There is also another firstfruits that Paul writes about, and it has the same significance regarding the resurrection and the end of the age.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:18-23)
Fifty days after the resurrection of the Son of God, the Spirit of God came to dwell in the people of God. We celebrate this event seven weeks after Resurrection Sunday, on the day called Pentecost. The Holy Spirit indwelling those who belong to Jesus is another assurance that we will experience the “redemption of our body,” when even our bodies are delivered death unto life. All creation groans together, waiting for this resurrection, that it may be itself fully delivered from the bondage of corruption.

The end of the age has broken into history and the eternal age of God’s kingdom has entered into the world. This is why John can say, “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). And we are living in the transition, in the light and power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Resurrection Life Now!

Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. (John 5:25-27)

There is life for all who hear the voice of the Son of God, Jesus. This life is now! Notice that Jesus said, “The time is coming and now is.” So what is it that happens now? The dead hear and live. They were dead but now they live, because they hear the voice of the Son of God. This is resurrection life. But there is also another resurrection coming. Jesus continued,

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. (John 5:28-30)
There is an hour yet to come, distinct from the hour that now is (in John 5:25). In the hour yet to come, those who are in the graves will come forth. To speak of graves is to speak of physical bodies. The resurrection of those in John 5:25-27, the resurrection that is now, is that of the spirit: those who were spiritually dead and made spiritually alive when they hear the voice of Jesus. The resurrection of those in John 5:28-30, the resurrection that is yet to come, is that of the body: those who are physically dead will be made physically alive.

In that second resurrection, all will hear the voice of the Son of God. Some, those who have done good, will come forth to the resurrection of life. These are the ones who have been part of the first resurrection. They have done what is good. When Jesus was asked, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God, He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:28-29). Those who believe in Him have done what is good. They have heard the voice of Jesus is this now time. But there are also others, who have not done good but evil. They will come forth to a resurrection of condemnation. In the book of Revelation, John speaks of both groups.
Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
The first resurrection is those who have heard the voice of Jesus and believe in Him in the now time. They have been made alive together with Him, raised up and seated together in the heavenlies in Him (Ephesians 2:4-7). Where is Jesus seated? At the right hand of God, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:21). We are seated where He is, in the place of ruling and reigning with Him.

The second resurrection will come at the end of the age, when all will be raised physically from the dead. John says,
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15)
Those who are not part of the first resurrection will be part of the second death, and vice versa. All who hear the voice of the Son of God in this present time have life now and will not see death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Resurrection life is now. It has already begun with the resurrection of King Jesus from the dead. God has already made us alive together with Him, and at the end of the age, even our bodies shall be raised again to new life.

Do you believe this?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Proof of Our Reckoning

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” … Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:3; 23-25)
“Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” — that’s what Genesis 15:6 says. “Righteousness” is rightness, being right with God. It is a word of covenant relationship, a judgment or determination about whether one has kept the terms of covenant. God made covenant with Abraham that day (Genesis 15:7-21). Abraham believed and was judged to be right with God on that basis.

In his letter to believers at Rome, the apostle Paul shows how this has always been God’s way of being in right relationship with Him. It was not only Abraham who was made right with God in this way, but also everyone who believes the promise God made is counted as righteous.

This promise is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, Son of David, Heir of Abraham. Everything God promised Abraham funnels down through Him to all who are in Him. He was delivered up, nailed to the cross, for our offenses, all the ways we have been out of joint with God. More than that, He was raised from the dead for our justification. His resurrection demonstrates that our offences have been dealt with before God — and that God has accepted it — so that we may be judged as being in right relationship with God.

It is an accounting, a reckoning, an imputation. God puts Jesus’ act of obedience to our account. This is reckoned to all those who accept the fulfillment of what God promised Abraham, who believe that God has raised Jesus, Messiah and King, from the dead. We are now judged to be righteous, declared as being in right relationship with God through Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the proof of that declaration.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Declaring the Son of God with Power

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:1-4)
This is the gospel of God, which Paul came to bring to the nations: God’s Son, Jesus, is both Messiah and King. The Anointed One has come and He is Lord over all. God has established this good news by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is the confession and the faith that changes the world.
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)
(See also, The Gospel of God's Messiah King)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Gospel of the Resurrection

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you … For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
The gospel is the “good news” that Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day. All this is as God foretold in the Old Testament. It is important to note that, as significant Messiah’s death for us on the cross is to this message, it is utterly incomplete without His resurrection from the dead three days later. As Paul so forcefully observes, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Corinthians 15:7).

There is a causal relationship between sin and death: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Death came into the world because of sin (treason against God), and the only way death can be overcome is by dealing with sin. So the resurrection of Messiah demonstrates that He has not only conquered death but has broken the power of sin as well.

The Resurrection is much more than that, though. The expectation of the Jews was that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of the age in which God would establish the righteous once and for all upon the earth. What they did not understand, though it was there in their Scriptures, was that Messiah would be raised from the dead. A messiah who needed resurrection was for them a contradiction in terms.

So it was a puzzlement, even to the disciples, when Jesus the Messiah, Son of the Living God, as Peter recognized (Matthew 16:16), was nailed to a tree. On that day they had no expectation that He would be resurrected three days later, though Jesus had foretold them of this a number of times. They were as surprised as anyone else to discover that this had indeed come to pass.

It meant that the end of the age had come upon them in an unexpected way, that it had somehow broken into the world ahead of time. And now here was Messiah who, through His faithfulness on the cross, contended with the powers of darkness, sin and death, and emerged victorious over them all, raised up by God the Father and established as righteous King over all.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the guarantee that all who receive Him will likewise be raised again from the dead at the end of the age and established once and for all upon the earth. He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians1:18), the firstfruits of what is to come.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
The resurrection of Jesus is also the promise that our life between now and that future day when we stand once again upon the earth is not meaningless but significant. What we do now will make a difference then. For the kingdom of God is already breaking into the world (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), the power of the resurrection is already at work in us (Ephesians 1:15-20; 3:20), the darkness is already passing away and the true light is already shining (1 John 2:8). So Paul concludes his resurrection teaching with this strong encouragement: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the guarantee that the power of sin and darkness has been defeated, the kingdom of God has broken into the world, the power of God is now at work in and through those who believe, and at the return of the King our bodies shall be raised from the dust and we shall stand once again upon the earth with our Redeemer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Do You Believe This?

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26)
These are the words Jesus spoke to Martha. Her brother Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. Martha had said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (v. 21-22).

Jesus assured her, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23).

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” she said.

Then Jesus answered, “I am the resurrection and the life.” We often limit the resurrection to an event, or a time. But, first of all, it is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the resurrection; He is the life. The statement “I am” goes back to God’s answer when Moses asked Him, “What shall I say to the children of Israel when they ask who sent me and ‘What is His name?’” God said, “I AM WHO I AM … Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

How do we receive this resurrection and this life? By faith in Him. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” In both the body and the spirit, there is death and there is life. We come to Him spiritually dead, He gives us spiritual life. When we believe in Him, though the body may die, the spirit lives on and will never die.

On another occasion, Jesus said.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. (John 5:24-25)
It is a spiritual resurrection He speaks of here, but there is also a physical resurrection coming, for He adds, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29). So Martha was correct, there will be a resurrection of the body in the future, at the “last day.” Jesus gave us a glimpse when He called forth Lazarus from the grave — and Lazarus came back to life. But it is seen most powerfully and enduringly in the resurrection of Jesus Himself after three days in the tomb. It is important to note that He rose bodily from the grave, for as the “firstborn from the dead,” He is the guarantee of our own bodies being raised, we who believe in Him.

So there are two resurrections in view: one spiritual, the other physical. We receive them both by faith, for Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me.” This presents us, then, with the question He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?”

Now, faith is not passive but active. It is a verb as well as a noun. Though in English we have “faith” as the noun and “believe” as the verb, in Greek, they are both the same word. Faith is not just something we have but something we do. It is an action as well as a possession.

“Do you believe this?” Notice the tense. Jesus did not ask, “Did you believe this?” but “Do you believe this?” Faith is not about what you may have believed at some point in the past but about what you are believing now. That is the only question. Faith is always present tense — that is where the life is. God is eternal and the place where we meet Him is the present.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. For those who believe in Him, there is spiritual resurrection now and bodily resurrection in the future. Do you believe this? That is the question the season of Easter presents to us.