So many of our gospel presentations today are content to end the story with Jesus’ death, then switch their focus to our repsonse. But it is notable that none of the four apostolic gospel presentations is willing stop there. They all press on to reach their climax and denoument at the resurrection.
Jesus, having announced his intention to live out Israel’s prophetic hope of resurrection, then goes and does it. He allows himself to be cast out and killed. He bears Israel’s exile in crucifixion, and then undergoes their resurrection. The tomb is found empty, and his disciples begin to speak of ‘what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands’ (1 John 1).
In the context of Jesus’ ministry the meaning of his rising is clear: he has entered into the new age, and done it on Israel’s behalf. ‘We have seen it … and declare to you that the age-to-come life that was with the Father…has now been revealed to us’ (1 John 1). Now all his people can enter the new age also, restored to God and to their inheritance as his people.
In other words, Jesus’ resurrection was this sort of resurrection: an eschatological event of epoch-making proportions. And the salvation it achieved was this sort of salvation. At his death Jesus closed off the path of sin that humanity had been travelling since Adam (see Post 3). Now at his rising he achieves a way forward for mankind, a future: “In Christ shall all be made alive.”
THE APOSTOLIC WITNESS
In the earliest apostolic preaching, it was the resurrection which established Jesus as redeemer and judge of Israel:
“God has exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and release from sins.” Acts 5:31
The Jewish title for this saviour/leader was Messiah. Israel expected this Messiah would be a new David-figure, the king sent by God to bring the nation back from exile. Peter, after describing how Jesus was murdered, announces to the crowd at Pentecost that God has appointed Jesus to this kingly office.
“David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades…’. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:31, 36
What Peter is announcing, of course, is Jesus’ resurrection. In his view this was quite simply Messiah’s coronation – an enthronement which secures blessing for his people. For now Messiah is ushering in the age of the Spirit, bringing Israel release from their old captivity and return to live in God’s presence in the new kingdom:
“Be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for release from your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38
Paul shares this view of resurrection-as-enthronement: at the opening of his master-epistle, to the Romans, he uses another traditional title for the Davidic king: son of God.
…the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was appointed to be son of God with power according to the Holy Spirit by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through who we have received grace. Romans 1:3-5
He rose to reign in the Spirit-filled new life of God’s kingdom. But because he does this as Israel’s leader, he opens up that new existence for the whole nation.
In other words, Jesus’ resurrection is being shared with his people. They become a resurrection community enjoying the blessings of the new age, here and now. Or, to use Isaianic terms, enjoying salvation:
By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… Although you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are already receiving the goal of your faith: salvation for human people. 1 Peter 1:3-9
The NT epistles are written with the express purpose of helping this new community grasp and live out its resurrection life to the full together.
But God, who is abundant in mercy…made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. …He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus… For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them…So I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle… Ephesians 2, 4.
Of course the key-word here is ‘so’: their community life springs out of the reality of resurrection. All Paul’s ethical instruction is given on this same basis: the people are already part of this resurrection community. Indeed it only makes sense with that as its premise:
No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. Romans 6:13
The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 1 Corinthians 6:13-15.
He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer to themselves, but to him who died and was raised for them… So if anyone is in Christ, new creation! – the old has passed away; see, new things! 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
This view of the Christian communities is not unique to Paul but common to all the apostolic writers. Their letters are written to encourage and admonish resurrection-gatherings:
Through Jesus you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now you have purified yourselves by obedience to this truth that leads to genuine brotherly love. So love one another deeply from the heart. For you have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring Word of God. 1 Peter 1:22
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love remains in death. 1 John 3:14
The letters to the churches hardly ever mention Jesus’ resurrection without linking it to the present life-experience of the recipients. The two things – his resurrection life and theirs – are not treated as two but as one and the same thing.
In summary, Jesus’ expectation had been realised: in his resurrection as Messiah, he had raised up Spirit-filled communities which began living the new life of the age to come, even in the present. Those far away had released from sin and brought near, to enjoy favour with God and peace with each other. Isaiah’s ‘salvation’, Ezekiel’s ‘resurrection from the dead’, or Jesus’ ‘kingdom of God’ (see Post 4) – whichever name you want to call it by, it had arrived.
CONCLUSION: A Better Theory of the Atonement
We have suggested that Jesus achieved two things at the Cross: a death and a resurrection. Both of which we needed. Satisfaction Theory finds little atoning value in the resurrection: how can rising from the dead satisfy anything? But now that we have told the story the apostles were always telling, it should be apparent why they place the greater share of the theological weight on the resurrection. It was essential that our sinful human flesh be put to death, and Jesus accomplished that. But this was really just the ground-clearing. The real goal was the building which God had planned in its place: the kingdom of God.
The death of Christ was God’s ‘No’ to sin and sinful mankind. But that was not his final word. God’s ultimate word to us was given in the resurrection: and it was ‘Yes’. This is why all four gospels push on beyond Good Friday, to land on Easter Sunday.