Jesus’ Resurrection

The Vine

It seemed that everything had gone wrong. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed forever. Jesus of Nazareth, whom many believed was the Christ of God, was crucified. Then, when the disciples were in despair, attempting to figure out what went wrong, they hear that Jesus of Nazareth was alive again, resurrected from the dead (cf. Luke 24:19-24). The tomb was empty. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the centerpiece of the Christian religion. While Jesus’ birth, life, and death are significant in and of themselves, without Jesus’ resurrection, they are all ultimately meaningless, and we would still be lost in our sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19). The Christ crucified and resurrected was the theme of the message of the Apostles, and the resurrection was the basis of the future hope of transformation (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

We read about Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:23, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. After Jesus died, His soul went to Paradise (cf. Luke 23:43), and His body was sealed in Joseph of Arimathea’s rock-cut tomb after it was wrapped in linen and covered with seventy-five pounds of spices and aloes. On the third day, the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and some of the women came to finish the anointing of the body of Jesus, and found the large rock in front of the tomb rolled away. Two angels were there, informed the women of what has taken place, and told them to go and make it known to the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb, saw it empty with the linen cloths carefully folded to the side. They believed; they just did not know what happened! Mary, meanwhile, spoke to someone whom she believes is the gardener, wanting to know where the body of Jesus was taken. He responded to her; He was no gardener, but Jesus Himself, resurrected from the dead!

The idea of resurrection in the New Testament is not merely life after death; instead, it involves “life after life after death.” Mary and the disciples found the tomb empty and Jesus in a bodily form (cf. Luke 24:39). Nevertheless, Jesus’ body is not the same as it was before since He can now transcend space and time restraints; it has been transformed somehow. The resurrection therefore involves the re-animation or re-creation of the physical body, the return of the soul to it, and the transformation of that body into something “trans-physical” or something of the sort.

Jesus will later appear to Simon Peter, two disciples walking to Emmaus, ten of the disciples, all eleven disciples, James His brother, and 500 brethren at one time over the period of forty days after His death. He instructed them regarding Himself and the mission for the Kingdom that they would soon begin. After that forty day period, Jesus ascended to the Father in Heaven (Acts 1:1-11). At that point Jesus, as the “one like a Son of Man,” received an everlasting dominion from the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14); Stephen, in a vision, saw the “Son of Man” standing at the right hand of God when he saw Jesus while being stoned (Acts 7:55-56); Saul of Tarsus saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, and based on it considered himself an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 9:3-6, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:4-9). In the 60s CE, long after Jesus’ ascension, Paul spoke of Jesus as still presently human (Greek anthropos, 1 Timothy 2:5). The Lord Jesus therefore remains fully God and fully man, having died never to die again (Romans 6:8-11): He remains in the resurrection body, and thus remains the Son of Man and Son of God, and will return thus one day (Matthew 25:31, Acts 1:11).

The Bible’s claims regarding the resurrection of Jesus are startling, and yet they represent the foundation of the belief that Jesus really is Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). Since Christianity stands or falls on the legitimacy of the resurrection, many throughout time have attempted to discredit it by positing alternative explanations. Those explanations, however, never account for all of the evidence. Both the “swoon theory” and the “wrong tomb theory” require more faith to believe than the Bible’s claims. The “hallucination theory” cannot explain why people would claim to see Jesus only during a forty day period. The “stolen body theory” is inconsistent with the transformation of the disciples and the testimony of their lives. The “spiritual theory” cannot make sense of the claim of the empty tomb. In the end, the only story that makes sense of the empty tomb, the eyewitness accounts, and the transformation of the disciples is that Jesus of Nazareth was really raised from the dead by the power of God!

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. By virtue of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Apostles proclaim that God made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Jesus conquers death through the resurrection, giving us hope that we also can conquer death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). With sin and death defeated through Jesus, we have no reason to fear anyone or anything! Jesus’ resurrection proves beyond doubt that there will be a day of reckoning for all mankind (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection shows that Jesus is the first fruit: as He was raised from the dead, so we now can look forward to the day when we also will rise from the dead (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). In the resurrection, a new creation is able to burst forth into the old: even though we may still suffer on account of sin and death, we can spiritually die and be raised again through baptism and be new creatures in Jesus’ spiritual Kingdom (Romans 6:3-7, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Ultimately we cherish the hope of our own resurrection based on Jesus’ resurrection: on that day we will be like Him, and will abide with Him forever (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 1 John 3:2).

Jesus, in His resurrection, demonstrates that death is not the end. Hope is able to spring anew. Jesus is Risen! Let us praise God, and obtain the victory through Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Life in the Resurrection

The Vine

Throughout time humans have wanted to understand more about their meaning and purpose in life. Such questions are extremely important and cannot be separated from questions regarding identity, origin, and destination. We must understand something about who we are before we can understand why we are here; it is very difficult to have any grounding in who we are if we do not understand from where we have come and to where we expect to go. Christians understand, based on God’s revelation in Scripture, that all people are made in God’s image to share in relationship with God and each other to God’s glory (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23, Romans 1:19-20). What do the Apostles envision as our ultimate destination? What do they have to say about life after the judgment day?

The New Testament does not reveal as much as might be expected about life after the judgment: most discussions of the afterlife focus on the Judgment and the day of resurrection. Nevertheless we are given a few glimpses into what that future life may involve.

In John 5:28-29 Jesus spoke of a day in which all will come out of the tombs: those who have done good will experience the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil will experience the resurrection of judgment (or condemnation). While Jesus focused on the day of judgment and resurrection we do well to note how He envisions life afterward in terms of resurrection: the redeemed experience a resurrection of life, while the condemned experience a resurrection of judgment. Thus we may know that eternal life is life in the resurrection, life after life after death. Paul explains the nature of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-48 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10: the return of the soul to the body and the transformation of the “psychical” body into the incorruptible, immortal “pneumatical” body. In this way we gain the victory over death.

In both Romans 8:17-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul looked forward to the glorification of Christians by God. God’s glory was manifest in His presence; in a former covenant Moses’ face shone because he was in the presence of the glory of God, and so how much more amazing and awesome will it be for us to receive the fullness of God’s glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11)?

Paul continued to look forward to unfulfilled expectations in Romans 8:18-25. He spoke of the creation yearning to be set free from its bondage to corruption, just as the sons of God yearn for the adoption as sons, the “redemption of the body.” While Christians remain part of the creation, Paul makes a distinction between “the creation” and “we ourselves” in Romans 8:23; in Romans 8:24-25, Paul made evident that the hope of which he speaks is not yet present reality, and yet Paul assured Christians that they presently had eternal life spiritually and presently were adopted as sons of God in Christ in Romans 6:3-11, 8:9-17. This hope of redemption cannot be spiritual life eternally; the “redemption of the body” is therefore best understood as a reference to the resurrection to come (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Paul therefore extended hope that the creation itself in some way would obtain redemption when Christians receive the glory of God.

Peter’s future expectation in 2 Peter 3:7-13 is often held in tension with Paul’s in Romans 8:18-25. Peter envisioned a judgment of the present creation in fire leading to the dissolution of matter (2 Peter 3:7-10, 12). And yet Peter declared that Christians await a “new heavens” and a “new earth” in which righteousness dwells based on the promises of God (cf. Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:15-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). The sum of God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:160); while it may be that we do well to understand Romans 8:18-25 in terms of 2 Peter 3:7-13, we must at least remain open to the possibility that we are to understand 2 Peter 3:7-13, to some degree or another, in terms of Romans 8:18-25. Peter never suggested that the purification by fire means the end of the created order for eternity; on what basis should we believe that God will ultimately fully give up on and abandon His creation?

The most complete picture of life in the resurrection, even if given in a figure, can be found in Revelation 21:1-22:6. After Satan is cast into the lake of fire and the day of judgment has transpired (cf. Revelation 20:7-15), John saw a new heavens and a new earth, for the former had passed away (Revelation 21:1). In this picture of the new heavens and the new earth he saw the heavenly city, new Jerusalem prepared as a bride, coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). John heard a voice declaring that the dwelling place (tabernacle) of God is with man; they will be His people, and He will be their God; there would be no more crying, pain, or distress (Revelation 21:3-4). John was then granted a more detailed vision of the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21:9-10). John saw it given the glory of God, described in terms of bejeweled walls and foundations and golden streets (Revelation 21:11-21). He saw no temple in it, nor source of light, for God and the Lamb are in its midst, and His glory gives it light (Revelation 21:22-23). John was then shown the river of the water of life with the tree of life on either side of it (Revelation 22:1-2). In that place the servants of God worship Him and dwell with Him face to face (Revelation 22:3-6).

The visions granted to John are symbolic and metaphorical and yet cohere well with the picture seen in the rest of the New Testament. We are given no indication God is giving up on His creation: according to Paul, sin and death have led to the corruption and decay of the creation, and once those are fully defeated, the creation can be redeemed from its curse (Romans 5:12-21, 8:17-25). Even if the present creation is purified as through fire, refined and then made anew, the goal is never elimination and separation from the creation. The people of God, seen in glory in terms of a bejeweled city, come down from heaven; God dwells with man, not the other way around (Revelation 21:1-10, 22-23). The end is as the beginning: humans dwell in face-to-face communion with God, in the presence of the tree of life and the river of the water of life (Genesis 2:4-24, Revelation 22:1-5). Those who have done good and have obtained the resurrection of life will experience eternity in the resurrection body, transformed for imperishability, incorruption, and immortality, and will receive the full glory of God, to worship Him and bask in His presence forever in the new heavens and the new earth.

Humans are made in God’s image; God desires to maintain relationship with mankind. We see this manifest in the picture of the end: the redeemed are made perfect, given immortality and imperishability in the resurrection body, and are portrayed as remaining in the presence of God for eternity. We are looking for that new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. We look forward to maintaining face-to-face communion with God, to know as we are known. In the end we return to the beginning. We do well to live accordingly, seeking to glorify God in our lives, ever more conforming to the image of the Son, and thus obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Q&A: Resurrection in Ancient Near Eastern Myths

Q: I have heard some people claim that the story of Jesus’ resurrection is based on ancient Near Eastern myths about resurrection. Is there any truth to these claims?

A: Resurrection, or at least rejuvenation, is a major theme in ancient cultures. There is a reason why the remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection in spring became associated with “Easter”: Bede claimed the term derived from a Saxon goddess Eostre, likely a goddess of dawn and thus rebirth (Bede, The Reckoning of Time).

The vernal equinox was often associated with rebirth and rejuvenation since the increased sunlight would lead to increased warmth and the sprouting of plants; other areas would have similar festivals and observances when plants would sprout after the appropriate rainy or flood season. Agricultural life depended on plants “dying” and “rising again.”

And so it is that many cultures had some myth or story of death and rebirth. The famous Egyptian version is the myth of Osiris: Osiris, an Egyptian king, is married to Isis. His jealous brother Set conspires against him and kills him. By some machination Isis brings Osiris back to life just long enough to procreate with him. Isis begets a son, Horus, who bests Set and takes his rightful place on the throne. All these characters were god-men and became part of the Egyptian pantheon; the story has many variations but is generally as set above.

It is worth emphasizing that Osiris is not fully resurrected: he is brought back to life just long enough to reproduce. He then becomes god of the underworld. The Egyptians saw the contest among Osiris, Set, and Horus as playing out continually in the land: Osiris was the Pharaoh in death, and the living Pharaoh was Horus, always seeking to preserve order and stability against Set and the forces of anarchy and chaos. The Egyptian story thus seeks to explain things as they are; death is not defeated, but part of life.

Osiris-tomb-of-Nefertari

The Mesopotamian version is the story of Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz, the observance of which in Israel is condemned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:13-15). Ishtar was the goddess of fertility/love, and Tammuz the god of food and vegetation. In the various stories told about them, the same motif appears: to explain the presence of crops and fertility part of the year but not all year, there is a story of someone escaping from the underworld but having to pay the price, and that price is that another spends time in the underworld. Thus Tammuz “dies” every year, and is mourned, but is expected to come back.

This same theme is present in the annual contest between Baal (storm god) and Mot (death) in Canaanite mythology; the same is true with Demeter and Persephone among the Greeks. All of these stories seek to explain either the annual agricultural cycle or the life cycle of humanity in general.

Jesus’ resurrection is an altogether different feature, and has been thus noted from the beginning. Jesus dies and is raised from the dead, but never to die again (Romans 6:1-11). The Apostles did not preach the continuation of the life-cycle as it had always existed; they proclaimed that Jesus overcame sin and death in His death and resurrection, and in so doing pave the way to overcome that cycle (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). They pointed to Jesus as one still living, fully God, fully human, reigning as Lord over all, the one like a son of man given an eternal dominion (Daniel 7:13-14, Acts 7:55-56, 1 Timothy 2:5, Revelation 1:12-20).

Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of an afterlife, of the coming judgment, of a hope that the creation, currently enslaved to the bondage of decay and corruption, would one day be set free as in the beginning (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 8:18-25). What was claimed of Jesus is categorically different from all the rejuvenation legends and myths that came before or which have come since, for all others died again and perpetuated the life cycle. Jesus, and only Jesus, is claimed to have overcome the life cycle, being raised bodily, transformed, and never to die again, and who extends that same hope to all who will follow Him (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). May we put our trust in Jesus and our hope in the resurrection!

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The Resurrection

The Vine

From death comes life.

This statement is paradoxical yet proves true in our lives. As one day, month, or year ends, another begins. A fire consumes a forest, and new growth is given an opportunity to rise. One creature is killed and eaten so that another creature might live. And so it is with Christianity and its teachings regarding the resurrection.

“Resurrection” involves the idea of coming back to life after death. In the Old Testament, the prophets Elijah and Elisha bring dead people back to life through the power of God (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37, Hebrews 11:35). In the New Testament, Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus from the dead as well (Luke 7:10-17, 8:40-42, 49-56, John 11:1-45). In all of these circumstances, a person was physically dead and then brought back to physical life.

Yet every “new” day, month, or year will also pass away. “New” plant growth goes old and dies as well. Creatures who eat other creatures might be eaten in turn but will certainly meet their end in some way or another. All of the people above who were resurrected died again as well.

Yet God, in the New Testament, makes a promise regarding a better resurrection, one that does not end in yet another death. This resurrection is considered most properly as “life after life after death,” and Jesus is considered its “firstfruits,” the first of an intended many (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20). We can gain understanding about this resurrection by considering the descriptions of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-17, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-53, and John 20:1-21:25.

Jesus died physically on the cross but remained alive spiritually in Paradise until the third day (Luke 23:43-46). As the Gospel accounts demonstrate, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day: the tomb was empty, for Jesus’ soul/spirit were united again with His physical body. Over a forty day period Jesus frequently appeared to His followers, establishing that He was no phantasm but flesh and blood, although changed, since He apparently transcended the space-time continuum. He then ascended to heaven with the promise of returning as He departed (Acts 1:11).

Paul established Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as the fundamental core of the Gospel in which we stand (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Those who deny the resurrection from the dead ultimately deny Jesus and Christianity, for if the dead are not raised, Jesus was not raised, and if Jesus was not raised, then our faith is futile, we are lost in our sins, and of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

And yet Paul assures Christians in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 that Jesus is risen from the dead, and we can have confidence that in Jesus those who belong to Christ will rise when He comes. According to the New Testament, Jesus will return one day (e.g. Matthew 25:1-46). When He returns, all of the dead in the grave will hear His voice and come out (John 5:28-29). This resurrection, by necessity, involves the re-animation and/or re-constitution of the physical body: that which was from dust and had returned to dust will begin to come to life again from the dust (cf. Genesis 3:19). Since the “psychical,” or natural body, the one empowered by the breath (Gk. psuche) of life, is perishable, corruptible, and mortal, it will then be transformed to be the “pneumatical” or spiritual body, the one empowered by the soul (Gk. pneuma), and thus imperishable, incorruptible, and immortal (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:35-54). In this way the dead will rise first and those who remained alive will then be transformed (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and such is the redemption of the body earnestly desired in Romans 8:18-25. From this point on the righteous will be forever in the presence of the Lord, having gained the final victory over sin and death through Him (1 Corinthians 15:55-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

From Jesus’ death comes life: spiritual life through faith in Him and the salvation which comes through His blood, and the promise of eternal life in the resurrection with Him (cf. Romans 5:6-11, 6:3-7). The resurrection changes everything: there is more to life than this existence, death and evil can be overcome, and we can maintain hope in the ultimate realization of God’s intentions for His creation. Through the resurrection life gains its meaning as preparation for eternity. Let us praise God for the hope of resurrection in Christ Jesus and place our trust in Him forever!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hope

The Vine

For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Romans 8:24-25).

We all know how life can get ugly. People hurt each other. People even hurt themselves. People get sick. Natural disasters happen. As much as we try to forget it, we all know we and everyone we love will die.

What would we do if we focused on all the negativity in life? How motivated would we be to do much of anything? Since life is filled with these nasty and cruel realities, why do we bother trudging through it?

Focusing on the horrors, evil, and tragedies of life is depressing. But hope makes life worth living.

If we stop and think about it for a moment, we can see how hope is the great motivator of our existence. We grow up in hope of a good, successful life. We go to school in hope of getting and maintaining a good job. We try to find that special someone, hoping to obtain a life-long partner and companion. We have children in hope of providing for them, doing what we can so that they can enjoy a better life than we do. When we are in the midst of trial or suffering, we hope for the day when we will overcome and feel good again. In bad times, we hope for good times; in good times, we hope it continues.

Hope is a powerful source of encouragement. It is easy to try to “sell” people on hope and get them to believe that some person, product, or idea will provide a better quality of life. But can those people, products, or ideas really satisfy as advertised? Politicians promise hope and do not provide much in return. Youthful hopes for a good life and a good world are often quickly dashed by the cold hand of reality with its suffering and pain. Ultimately, and sadly, all hope in this world is extinguished on the day of death. The world continues in its futility and decay.

If our hope is entirely based in this world, our hope will be frustrated. If there is nothing to life beyond this earthly existence, we are in for great disappointment. Our lives will never satisfy our hopes for them. No matter how good we have it, we will suffer the effects of pain, misery, sin, and death, and we will stare into the darkness. What can sustain us on that day? If we hope in this life alone, we will be struck by the meaninglessness of it all, and risk permanent disenchantment with life. As a wise man put it long ago, all is absurd; in this world, life is like a mist that vanishes quickly.

But what if there is more to living than this existence? What if we receive a glimpse into another world in which there is no pain and suffering, and we can live the way we were always intended to live? What if there is another life beyond what we experience now?

This is the hope Jesus extends to mankind. Jesus of Nazareth lived as a man on the earth around two thousand years ago, taught and did a lot of good things, but was executed as a common criminal on a Roman cross unjustly (cf. Acts 10:38-39). A lot of people placed their hope in Him; when He died, their hopes seemed frustrated (Luke 24:19-21). If this were the end of the story, there would be no need to tell it: the world is filled with stories of hopes dashed and expectations crushed by the cruel hand of death.

But Jesus’ story does not end there, for on the third day after His death, He did what no man had ever done or has done since: He was raised from the dead with power, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:4-11). He is still alive and ruling from Heaven (Matthew 28:18).

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything! If Jesus could die physically and then be raised from the dead, this means there is a life to come after this life. If Jesus was raised from the dead, we also can look forward to a day when we will rise from the dead (Romans 8:22-23). This is the hope Jesus provides for the world: a day is coming when we will no longer be subject to death and decay. A day is coming when we will be able to be victorious over pain, suffering, misery, and death through Jesus (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:12-58)!

This hope does not mean we give up on this life; far from it! Jesus’ first followers showed how His resurrection is the guarantee of a day of Judgment: we will all stand before Jesus and have to give an account for our lives on earth (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11). Jesus does not expect us to wait for the new life to follow His ways; He expects all of us to believe in Him and follow His ways now, becoming like Him now, living as new creatures now: in short, we must build a relationship with God through Jesus now to experience it fully in the next life (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

Hoping in this world only will never satisfy; we will always be let down, frustrated, and in despair. Yet, through Jesus’ resurrection, we can nurture the hope of a world without pain, without misery, without suffering, with joy and glory beyond understanding. We can live the way we were always meant to live. You probably already know how it feels when hope is crushed; if you haven’t yet, that day will come soon. But here is a hope which can sustain us through the pain, misery, frustration, and futility of this life, since it extends out the promise of the life to come. Let us share in this hope together until we arrive at the day when we will no longer need to hope, in the presence of God forever in the resurrection of life!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.