In part 1 we considered some of the difficulties with asserting that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Enlightenment movements have catechized most of us in a closed, mechanical universe. Some, since the 19th century, have reacted to this view of the world by turning to a radical subjectivism. Having conceded the closed universe to the rationalists (truth is what can be understood comprehensively) and the empiricists (truth is what can be verified by the senses) subjectivists retreat to their personal, emotional, psychological experience. This produces a sort of intellectual schizophrenia whereby people talk about “my truth” or “what’s true for me” even as they concede that what they want to believe is not objectively true. Some modernists have tried to rescue Christianity by stripping from it anything supernatural. In this denatured version of Christianity, Jesus’ bodily resurrection is reinterpreted as a metaphor for personal development and the like.
The Scriptures will have none of this. They know nothing of a subjective reality that is true for you but not for me. The tomb to which the women and disciples went wasn’t a metaphor. It was an empty tomb, the reality of which they experienced with their senses. Scripture assumes the validity and general reliability of human sense experience. It is within that framework in we we must understand the biblical claims about the historical, actual reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The Gospels and Acts (volume 2 of Luke’s gospel) record numerous evidences that Jesus was, in fact, raised bodily from the dead. “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Matt 28:1) and Joanna (Luke 24:10) found the empty tomb on Sunday morning. As they ran to tell the disciples they met Jesus, who greeted them (Matt 28:8). The eleven disciples saw him (Matt 28:16). Paul adds,
he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:5–9;ESV).
The entire Christian faith rests on the objective reality of the resurrection. That reality has objective consequences for believers. Our catechism calls these consequences “benefits.”
45. What benefit do we receive from the resurrection of Christ?
First, by His resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death. Secondly, by His power we are also now raised up to a new life. Thirdly, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
The first benefit is that Christ has overcome death. The Latin text of the catechism says that Jesus has “subdued” (devicit) death. The nature of human existence has been changed. To the moment when the women found the resurrected Christ, humans had been in bondage to death. The promised sanction of the covenant of works was “the day you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). We sinned. We died. Believers thereafter planted bodies in the ground, as it were, in anticipation of the resurrection but it was a hope that was only realized on that Sunday morning. Only in that quiet, confusing moment, were the hopes of all the believers hitherto vindicated and validated. Someone, namely Jesus, has finally overturned the curse of death that we brought upon ourselves. Death took him as a victim but death could not keep him. It is to this victory that Paul refers when asks rhetorically, “Death where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).
Jesus’ resurrection was his vindication, it demonstrated that he was indeed actually, legally, morally, spiritually, inherently, perfectly righteous. He did not die to pay for his sins because he had no sin. He died as our substitute, as payment for our sins. By his resurrection his righteousness is confirmed. This is what Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:16 when he says “vindicated by the Spirit….” The Spirit was operating in Jesus resurrection in which he, Jesus, was vindicated. In Jesus’ vindication, the demonstration of his righteousness, is our justification.
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Rom 4:23–25; ESV).
Believers, those who, by God’s free favor, through faith alone, by the Spirit are united to Christ are as justified as Jesus was vindicated. His righteousness is now ours. It is as if believers have done all that Jesus did and all that he did is credited to us. This is how Paul interprets Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” The “it” there does not refer to Abraham’s faith—what an unworthy ground of justification!—but to Jesus the Righteous One. Our faith has nothing but unite us to Christ, who has done all for us. Notice too that Jesus is said to have “obtained” (pepererat) righteousness for us. Here is an essential distinction between the Savior and the saved. Jesus earned our righteousness by his obedience. We receive it through faith in Jesus and his righteousness. We are beneficiaries of what Christ has done for us and all those benefits are signaled by his bodily resurrection.
Next time: raised in Christ.