Rethink #2: Resurrection Faith

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”[1]
“Christianity stands or falls with the reality of the raising of Jesus from the dead by God. In the New Testament there is no faith that does not start a priori with the resurrection of Jesus.”[2]
It is amazing to admit but as I have grown up Christian for a long time I had no idea the resurrection was actually all that important.
I thought that at most it was a neat trick God pulled off to make sure we knew Jesus was a really big deal. I heard so much about my sin and the crucifixion that it seemed to me those were the only really important moments – no one seemed concerned with the resurrection or even aware that it meant something.
In the past year or two this has changed. As I have been getting to grips with faith having studied theology the resurrection has been taking a place of ever increasing importance in my thinking about Christianity.
Christianity is a resurrection faith.
Christianity is a crucifixion-followed-by-resurrection faith.
We can’t think about sin being dealt with without thinking about new life and hope.
Resurrection has content – it is not just a flourish.
Resurrection implicates us as Christians.
Resurrection hope
I grew up with an impression that our world didn’t matter all that much because heaven was where we end up.
Resurrection says different. Resurrection means bodies. Resurrection means flesh and blood. Resurrection is the ultimate way of saying God is interested in here. Resurrection is hope.
Romans 8 gets to the heart of this affirmation,
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”[3]
But more than this,
“Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”[4]
The resurrection heralds the news of our bodily post-death life as well as the news of freedom and liberation for the whole of creation with the revealing of this life.
Paul explores this further throughout 1 Corinthians 15, another key resurrection passage.
Paul here at one stage describes Jesus as
“the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[5]
This is a bit odd but the basic point is. Jesus was raised from the dead by God and because he was we can be sure we will be to. Romans 8:11 (quoted above) is making same point. If we are ‘in Christ’ we will be raised from death like Christ.
This is huge! We will be raised into the same post-death bodily life of Jesus. This is good news. If we talk about Christianity without taking this seriously something is wrong.
“A Christian faith that is not resurrection faith can therefore be called neither Christian nor faith.”[6]
Christianity invites us to see the world from this perspective. This perspective says that “God is not done with this place” and that “God is going to make it even better and we can join him in doing just that, now and then!” This perspective says that as of that third day new life and new creation have been bursting into this world.
“When Jesus rose again God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of new potential and possibility… We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world.”[7]
Resurrection now!
“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old gone, the new is here!”[8]
This resurrection is not just future post-death hope. It is hope now. It is change now. It is new life now. Arriving in and working through people all around us.
Resurrection looks like joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) being manifested in peoples live.
Resurrection looks like a body made up of many who are in Christ manifesting the various gifts Christ gives his body so they can represent him as his body (1 Cor. 11).
We are his body, we are the parts, we have the gifts and we are alive and meant to be working – now!
“The church, because it believes in the hope for new creation, should stand out in every town and village as the place where new creativity bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope which, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise.”[9]
There is more though.
The Resurrected Lord
In the Early Church a key phrase was “Jesus is Lord”. This is not just some empty religious phrase, it is full of resurrection!
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”[10]
“The confession to the person of Jesus as Lord and the confession to the work of God who raised him from the dead belong inseparably together…”[11]
To say “Jesus is Lord” is to say something about who he is because of the resurrection.
This is clear in Peter’s Pentecost sermon,
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it… Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”[12]
Paul opens his epistle to the Romans with this, saying that Jesus
“Through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”[13]
The crucified and raised Jesus “is Lord”.
“When Paul says Jesus “was appointed Son of God” he means to say that Jesus became something that he was not before.”[14]
It is in the resurrection Jesus becomes what he claimed he was – Lord, Saviour, Son of God, Messiah, King, Judge.
Lord of what though?
Well, to say “Jesus is Lord” was to say Caesar is not. “Caesar is Lord” was the cry of the Roman Empire that dominated the known world. Caesar claimed to be a god. Caesar claimed to be Lord of the world.
Christianity says otherwise.
Christianity says that it is to Jesus “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Matt. 28:18) because he has been raised from the dead.
Christianity says that the crucified, risen and ascended Jesus rules this world now – this would make sense for a man who was thought to be Israel’s Messiah/King (Mark 1:1) and claimed to be announcing the on-earthly arrival of God’s Kingdom (Mark 1:15) – and He is coming back. Coming back to run the place with his people.
“As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”[15]
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”[16]
Summary
This is the content of resurrection.
Resurrection is a transformative, geo-politicial cataclysm as well as the life and energy of change and hope in you and me and the world.
This is what Christians are implicated in.
Christians are the people who say the crucified Jesus, who God raised to life, “is Lord”.
Christians have no other allegiance than this.
Christians are the people of life and hope in a world conspiring with death, who point to the God of life and hope who, in Jesus, has defeated death.
Resurrection is the hinge of the Christian faith. The events of the crucifixion are vital and world changing insofar as they are connected to the resurrection – this is where that world changing moment is given its power and energy.
I can’t believe I grew up missing just how central and important this event was. It was and is the faith the New Testament predicates itself on. Christianity doesn’t stop with giving confidence sin is banished, Christianity says a new world is bursting open within this world starting with Jesus, continuing in and through you and shall be finalized upon his return.
Resurrection matters.
Resurrection is definitive.
Resurrection is happening.
If it is not, Christianity ends.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”[17]
If it is, then things are only getting started.
“The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the hope… in a better world beyond the grave… is that that the former sends a man back into the world in a wholly new way. The Christian has no last line of escape from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ, he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ.”[18]

[1] 1 Cor. 15:13, 17
[2] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 152
[3] Romans 8:11
[4] Romans 8:21
[5] 1 Corinthians 15:20
[6] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 152
[7] Tom Wright, Simply Christian, 99
[8] 2 Cor. 5:17
[9] Tom Wright, Surprised By Hope, 244
[10] Romans 10:9
[11] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 152
[12] Acts 2:32, 36
[13] Romans 1:4
[14] J.R. Daniel Kirk, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?, 42
[15] 1 Corinthians 15:22-23
[16] 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – This is a passage often used to support some nonsense about the rapture. It has nothing to do with that. It is a loaded metaphor combining Daniel 7 with a picture from the Roman world in which Caesar, when approaching a city in the Empire, would have citizens of that city come out to meet their Lord and walk with him into the city. This is a story of Christians guiding their Lord back to rule his home.
[17] 1 Corinthians 15:19
[18] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter and Papers From Prison, 336-337