Daniël Maritz

The Most Dangerous Idea: Reflecting on the Resurrection of Jesus (Part 3)

Daniël Maritz | 30 November 2020 | 8 min read

Part 1 and part 2 of this article focused more on the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a true event. Some of the pieces of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection were addressed. Now, however, we come to the implication that as a true event, the resurrection of Jesus also offers one a beautiful hope.

Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

The Resurrection of Jesus as Hope

The point is that “if Christ did not arise physically, then death, then sin, then he who had the power of death has not been defeated. In that case, actually, not Christ but Satan came out the victor. According to Scripture, therefore, the significance of the physical resurrection of Christ is inexhaustibly rich.”[1] Some have described the resurrected Jesus as the “trailblazer who opens the way for all of his people. His resurrection is the great breakthrough of the powers of the kingdom of God.”[2] The resurrection of Jesus thus marks the beginning of His exaltation as Lord and Saviour and in this sense His resurrection is the divine approval of His mediatorial work. It is in that historical event where “we hear the Father’s ‘Amen’ to the Son’s ‘It is finished.’”[3]

Part of the theological significance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection can effectively be described in the words of N.T. Wright:

“The story of Jesus of Nazareth which we find in the New Testament offers itself, as Jesus himself had offered his public work and words, his body and blood, as the answer to this multiple problem: the arrival of God’s kingdom precisely in the world of space, time and matter, the world of injustice and tyranny, of empire and crucifixions. This world is where the kingdom must come, on earth as it is in heaven. What view of creation, what view of justice, would be served by the offer merely of a new spirituality and a one-way ticket out of trouble, an escape from the real world?… It is the real world that, in the earliest stories of Jesus’ resurrection, was decisively and for ever reclaimed by that event, an event which demanded to be understood, not as a bizarre miracle, but as the beginning of the new creation.”[4]

It is because of the resurrection that we can expect a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”[5] Everything that God created He will also redeem in some sense. He is guiding everything towards an end where this world is ultimately made new and everyone, believers and unbelievers, will be given glorified resurrected bodies.[6] This is why the resurrection is a way in which Jesus shows us the importance of this material, physical world, including our own bodily existence. Through His resurrection He is calling us to the reality of this world in which we live.[7] While the Gnostics[8] despised matter and their own bodily existence as an attempt “to escape the real world,” the resurrection indicates that God is interested in all of reality, He is interested in the real world and we must therefore not escape from the real, but anchor ourselves in and participate in the real. Geerhardus Vos remarks that Christians are not “despisers of matter,” but that “matter can be glorified so that divine glory permeates it at every point.”[9] Therefore, both “heaven and earth, spirit and matter, have been created by God; that the body belongs to the essential being of humans and in its way exhibits the image of God… For Scripture, then, everything depends on the physical resurrection of Christ.”[10]

Moving on, the apostle Paul explains that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the “assurance” that He will come again to “judge the world in righteousness.”[11] He also connects Christ’s resurrection directly with our “justification.”[12] The apostle Peter introduces the resurrection of Jesus as the cause of our own regeneration into a “living hope”[13] which is based on the promise that we will also be raised up “with Jesus” one day.[14] Jesus Christ also properly refers to Himself as “the resurrection and the life” and therefore wants everyone to seek Him and find the life in Him.[15] Since He is life itself, He gives life, and therefore in communion with Him, eternal life is now already given from Him, through Him, and with Him. His resurrection is therefore not only some vague escape from death but a victory over the ugliness and nihilism of death itself.[16]

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus also confirmed His status as God’s true eternal Son.[17] John of Damascus for example explains that “By his miracles and resurrection… it was made plain and certain to the world that Christ was the Son of God.”[18] This is gathered from Paul’s words regarding Jesus in Romans 1:3-4: “[Christ Jesus] was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” This very passage has long been used to elaborate on the divine and human natures of Jesus. He was born “according to the flesh” as a descendent of David, stipulating His human nature, however, He was “declared” the Son of God “by His resurrection” referring to His divine nature. According to His human nature He is therefore a son of David, and according to His divine nature He is the Son of God.

The mystery of Christ’s incarnation is therefore explained, in the words of Thomas Aquinas: “from the Son of God he descends to the flesh and from the flesh; according to predestination, he ascends to the Son of God, in order to show that neither did the glory of the Godhead prevent the weakness of the flesh nor did the weakness of the flesh diminish the majesty of the Godhead… that Christ is the Son of God in power is evident from his resurrection from the dead.”[19] Herman Bavinck also elaborates by saying that even “though [Jesus] was the Son of God even before his incarnation” He “was designated Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead.”[20]

Wright once again captures this point by saying that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead

“declares that Jesus really is God’s Son: not only in the sense that he is the Messiah… not only in the sense that he is the world’s true lord… but also in the sense that he is the one in whom the living God, Israel’s God, has become personally present in the world, has become one of the human creatures that were made from the beginning in the image of this same God.”[21]

Jesus, the Son of God has been eternally sent forth by the Father and, since His divine nature is His nature by nature, He, in time, added to Himself a human nature. In Him we therefore find a divine and human nature united in one person. Although the Bible mentions several resurrections which is not used as demonstrations that these resurrected people were God incarnate, the resurrection of Jesus, accompanied by His baptism, by His claims to be God, by His miracles, by the fact that He fulfilled so many Old Testament prophecies, by His heavenly ascension, all come together as a confirmation that Jesus is really who He claimed to be, the Christ, the Son of the living God, who is Himself fully God, and fully man.[22]

Conclusion

In a whole other context, the Greek philosopher, Archimedes once said: “Give me some place to stand and I will move the world.”[23] Well, the followers of Jesus Christ were given some place to stand. They stood on a very dangerous idea, the idea that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead. As it turns out, this is not only a dangerous idea, but it is also an event anchored in reality, that is to say, a true historical event. The early Christians were therefore given a place to stand, a true historical event filled with hope, and as they stood on that hope filled truth, they moved the world.

In this sense, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli note that

“Every sermon preached by every Christian in the New Testament centers on the resurrection… The message that flashed across the ancient world, set hearts on fire, changed lives and turned the world upside down was not “love your neighbour”… The news was that a man who claimed to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the world had risen from the dead.”[24]

It is in the truth of that horrible cross and that cold empty tomb that the Christian faith was born.

Suggested Readings

Bass, Justin W. The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2020.

Flew, Anthony & Habermas, Gary R. & Bagget, David J. (ed). Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009.

Habermas, Gary R. and Michael Licona R. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.

McGrew, Tim and McGrew Lydia. “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” (In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009], 593-662). Preprint version (without Blackwell page numbers or copy editing, posted with the publisher’s permission), available at http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf, accessed April 4, 2020.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.


[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, ed. John Bolt, H., trans. John Vriend(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 442. Since the theological significance of Jesus’ resurrection is so rich, the comments here will naturally be limited. It is also worth pointing out that the resurrection of Jesus, just like His death on the cross, was also predicted and/or anticipated in the Old Testament and applied in the New (Psalm 2:7 & Acts 13:33-34; Psalm 16:2 & Acts 2:29-32; Job 19:29-36). Moreover, Jesus predicted his resurrection multiple times during His earthly ministry (Matthew 16:21; John 2:19-21; John 11:25).

[2] J. Van Genderen & W.H. Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing), 495. This way of referring to the resurrected Christ can be linked with the idea that He is “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18 & Revelation 1:5). The Greek word “prototokos” (πρωτότοκος) is used to refer to Him as the “firstborn.” This however should not be understood to mean that He is the first one to ever rise from the dead since that would be false. In short, it rather means that He is the most important One to have ever risen from the dead. He is, in this sense, first in rank and preeminent.

[3] Ibid., p. 494.

[4] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press), 737.

[5] 2 Peter 3:13.

[6] Acts 24:15, John 5:28-29, and 2 Corinthians 4:14.

[7] This is where, at least in part, the importance of theological and philosophical realism comes in together with the Eucharist. John Nerness points out that “Being is revelatory and sacramental in that being reveals esse and essentia as a gift from a transcendent source. The act of suppressing the revelation of God found in being results in God still being revealed.” He goes further to explain that “Realism assumes that the subject and being are created for one another and there does not exist a destructive dualism between noetics and ontics because God has created both the mind and the world. We can know and participate in an external world using our senses which presupposes the intelligibility of reality… In the liturgy of the church, the senses are very important in the hearing of the word of God and by the seeing, touching, tasting, and eating of the bread and wine. The Eucharist and the eyewitness testimony of the incarnation [and the resurrection I would add] (Luke 1:2; I John 1:1,2) are contrary to any anti-realist epistemologies that deny the veracity of the sense faculties or, to state it more simply, divorce our senses from the external world. The Eucharist is contrary to Gnosticism; the Eucharist emphasizes the importance of an embodied existence in knowing and participating in all of creation. Moreover, the created things of the world are the medium by which the non-believer knows God and suppresses this truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-20). So, even in unbelief, the senses play a role.” He also states that “The senses and their trustworthiness are the gateway to a proper philosophy and the gateway to a proper theology; the senses are the gateway to find the esse-essentia distinction in reality and participate in the elements of the Eucharist” (John Nerness, Theological Examination of Nihilism and the Eucharis applied to Missions and Apologetics [Ph.D. thesis at NWU], 2-3, 4-5, 76). The point to realize here is that realism is what keeps one anchored in the real world which Jesus calls us to participate in through His bodily resurrection. Bavinck also states that “the human intellect is not able, and in any case does not have the opportunity, apart from the sensible world, to produce, out of its own resources and with its own means, the knowledge of things, nor the knowledge of eternal principles, of common notions (κοιναι ἐννοιαι). The intellect is bound to the body and thus to the cosmos and therefore cannot become active except by and on the basis of the senses” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 1: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, H., trans. John Vriend [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic], 225). Much more can be said about realism, but this will suffice for now.

[8] Gnosticism is a complex group of early heretical movements which emphasized secret gnosis. Gnosticism typically holds that the goal of gnosis (i.e., “salvation” by knowledge) is for the purpose of freeing oneself from the embodied existence and live as a pure spirit. Thus, salvation is dependent on gaining the correct knowledge which is usually hidden and/or mysterious and only available to an elite group. Moreover, the Gnostics, following Plato’s thought, introduced a dualistic separation between spiritual realities which are deemed to be good and godly, and physical realities which are deemed to be inherently evil. For obvious reasons, this led to a rejection of the incarnation and the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

[9] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Christology, R. B. Gaffin Jr., ed. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press), 229.

[10] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 3, p. 442.

[11] Acts 17:31

[12] Romans 4:25

[13] 1 Peter 1:3

[14] 2 Corinthians 4:14

[15] John 11:25

[16] Van Genderen & Velema, Concise Reformed Dogmatics, p. 495. Also see 1 Corinthians 15:55.

[17] Romans 1:1-4.

[18] John of Damascus, Orthodox Faith (In Bray, G. ed., 1998. Romans [Revised], Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.), 11.

[19] Saint Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Romans, available at https://aquinas.cc/la/en/~Rom accessed November 15, 2020.

[20] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol. 3, p. 423-424. This declaration as Jesus being the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead is not an ontological shift that somehow took place in the person of Jesus at the moment of His resurrection. It was rather an epistemological confirmation of His identity as God’s Son which took place through His resurrection from the dead.

[21] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 733.

[22] John 11:38-44 for example tells of the account when Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. Matthew 27:52-53 also documents the resurrection of “saints who had fallen asleep.” The deity of Jesus is therefore a conclusion reached exegetically and cumulatively. However, the resurrection of Jesus has no small part to play in this exegetical and cumulative case. Romans 6:9 also serves to show that other resurrections were in some sense imperfect since those people died again after they were once resurrected. Jesus on the other hand never died again after His own resurrection from the dead, thus proving His resurrection to be perfect and final.

[23] Archimedes, available at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Archimedes, accessed Nov. 26, 2020.

[24] Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Westmont: IVP Academic), 176.

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