Resurrecting Easter

body

About 15 years ago I taught a Bible study on the book of Romans. I had read the book multiple times, but never really followed the logic of it, not point by point.

Truth is, I had always been a selective Bible reader, hunting and pecking for passages that made sense to me or inspired me. I never really asked myself why Paul wrote a certain letter, who he was writing to, or what he was trying to say. Those were questions for theologians. I was just a regular Christian, and the Bible was very personal to me, my own private access to the heart and mind of God.

Intimidated by the prospect of teaching Romans, I decided to memorize a chapter each week to keep my brain saturated in the text. As our study group began to work through the book chapter by chapter, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Until we got chapter 6.

You try to explain what Paul meant about dying with Christ, being buried with Christ and rising with Christ from the dead. Try to explain what he meant about believers being dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. I just wanted to get to verse 23 so I could talk about how the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Sadly, when I got there, the context had totally screwed up my theology.

Thanks a lot, Paul. Now my Romans Road was full of potholes.

Before Romans 6, I didn’t have a clear sense of what Easter was all about. I thought I did. I was pretty pumped about Jesus walking out of the tomb, conquering death, shocking his disciples, and sticking it to the devil. Easter Sunday felt like a touchdown celebration.

But the resurrection wasn’t the actual touchdown. The touchdown was the cross, and Easter was all about the redemption of that horrible tragedy and injustice, not about redeeming the human race.

Sometimes my analytical brain would nag me at funerals. No pastor stands before a room of grieving loved ones and says that death has had the last word because there is still a corpse in the coffin. But on Easter Sunday we make a big deal about the empty tomb, as if Jesus’ victory would not be complete without it.

Didn’t he say it was finished on the cross? Couldn’t he have just gone back to heaven? He could have appeared to his disciples the same way he appeared to Stephen and Paul—alive, at the right hand of God. Or he could have appeared to them in the spirit, like an angel. Why was a bodily resurrection necessary? It’s not like he stuck around to use it.

There were other parts of Scripture that didn’t fit neatly into my theology. Here’s a great example: . . . if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. [I Cor. 15:17]

Was Paul saying that Christ’s sacrifice was not enough? How was Christ raised for our sins?

These were the kinds of question that snarled my brain as I tried to memorize Romans 6. I distinctly remember standing on my tiny balcony in our Glendale apartment when it finally started to click. I literally got goosebumps.

To see Paul’s argument, I had to stop thinking about what Christ did for me, and just think about what he did. I needed to track the whole timeline, then look at the implications. Here is a painfully brief synopsis of a critical, largely-ignored core concept of the New Testament:

Before the incarnation, Jesus was the eternal Son of God, a unique spiritual person, but one with the Father and Spirit in quality, nature and purpose. He was born into his own creation through the body of a woman, and lived as a genuine human being for 33 years. Of all the humans in history, he was the first to live a life worthy of the mandate found in Genesis 1:26-27—a man in God’s image and likeness, expressing dominion over the created world.

When he died, he died a true human death. His heart stopped. His spirit left his body. He was buried, and he stayed buried for three days. Then, as promised, he was raised from the dead.

This is where it gets tricky. This was not like Lazarus, whose resurrection was more like a resuscitation. Lazarus would die again. Jesus was born into a state of existence that had not been true of any person before or since. He was literally the first of his kind—not an eternal spirit being, like God or the angels; not a creature of the natural world, doomed to die. Something new.

Somehow he maintained his biological ties with David, though he had become an eternal son of David, living in an imperishable body, able to exist and function both on earth and in heaven. Christ ascends to his Father in this new state, and because of the quality his earthly life and the value of his sacrifice, he is rewarded with a position of authority over all creation. He exerts this rule through his Church by the Holy Spirit, just as the prophets predicted, working to take back the planet from the devil one soul at a time.

It doesn’t end there. Jesus has promised to return, bringing heaven and the saints with him. He will establish a new government, one of peace and justice. All things will be placed in subjection under his feet, even death itself. How? Because at his coming, there will be a great resurrection, and all flesh, living or dead, will be transformed into the same kind of body that Jesus put on display when he stepped out of the tomb.

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” I Cor. 15:51-51

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. I John 3:2

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. I Cor. 15:20 – 23

We eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Phil. 3:20-21

I could go on and on, posting verses from all over Scripture, but it would be overkill and probably overwhelming. The hope of the resurrection is something that needs more space than a single sermon or blog post. I plan to devote a few follow-up posts to this one, thinking about the benefits of being joined to a resurrected man, about what happens between this body and the next, what we can know about our resurrection bodies, and how to justify verses about heaven with a future restored earth.

The Church needs to expand its vision to include the full gospel of the New Testament, a gospel that looks forward to the ultimate victory of Christ’s resurrection, one that is still in process.

Then we can all resonate with the Bible’s final words: Come, Lord Jesus.

11 thoughts on “Resurrecting Easter

  1. Excellent John!

    Susan is improving!

    Last surgery today on her right humerus — bone between elbow & shoulder.

    Her skeletal structure is — lower lumbar region & her legs are now titanium steel!

    Will be flying down to Jackson on Sat. afternoon for our church for Easter Sunday.

    Sure do miss you guys. We are certainly witnessing the “MIRACLE OF EASTER!”

    Best regards,

    David Y.

    CELL: 601-966-7635

    On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, Barnts in the Belfry wrote:

    > John Barnts posted: ” About 15 years ago I taught a Bible study on the > book of Romans. I had read the book multiple times, but never really > followed the logic of it, not point by point. Truth is, I had always been a > selective Bible reader, hunting and pecking for passages t” >

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    • Wow, David! You’re going to be married to a superhero. Titanium steel skeletal structure? She’s going to be indestructible! 🙂

      In all seriousness, though, we are praying for you guys as a family every night, hoping Susan is healthy and whole as soon as possible. We’re also praying for your peace of mind and faith in this challenging time.

      We miss you guys too!

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  2. Hello John,

    You wrote:
    “He was literally the first of his kind—not an eternal spirit being, like God or the angels; not a creature of the natural world, doomed to die. Something new.”

    Charles:
    Yes, I see that also. Scripture boldly says that Jesus Christ was “perfected” when He was raised from the dead. I assume this is a reference to His having a body that belongs to the “new creation”, a body that is beyond the reach of death, and having all of the glory, power, and authority that belongs to it. Jesus Christ was “designated Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead”(Rom 1:4)

    Here are some verses on Jesus Christ being “perfected”:

    “And being perfected, He became the cause of Eonian salvation to all who are obeying Him.”(Heb 5:9)
    …and on the third day I am being perfected. (Lk 13:32)

    …in leading many sons into glory, to perfect the Inaugurator of their salvation through sufferings. (Heb 2:10)

    …to Him Who is able to save Him out of death, being hearkened to also for His piety, even He also, being a Son, learned obedience from that which He suffered. And being perfected, He became the cause of eonian salvation to all who are obeying Him” (Heb 5:7-9)

    …”but according to the power of an indissoluble life”(Heb 7:17)

    “because of His remaining for the eon, has an inviolate priesthood. Whence, also, He is able to save to the uttermost those coming to God through Him, always being alive to be pleading for their sake(Heb 7:24,25)…yet the word sworn in the oath…appoints the Son, perfected, for the eon.(Heb 7:28)

    “The first man, Adam, “became a living soul:” the last Adam a vivifying Spirit.” (1Cor 15:45)

    “Do not fear! I am the First and the Last and the Living One: and I became dead, and lo! Living am I for the eons of the eons.(Amen) And I have the keys of death and of the unseen.”(Rev 1:17,18)

    Firstborn from among the dead that in all He may becoming first (Col 1:17)

    Firstborn of every creature (Col 1:15)

    John wrote:
    “Christ ascends to his Father in this new state, and because of the quality his earthly life and the value of his sacrifice, he is rewarded with a position of authority over all creation.”

    Charles replies:
    That is a very important understanding to see that His position of power and authority was given to Him as a reward for His worthy qualities of obedience, faithfulness, humility, endurance, love, etc. especially as those qualities where tested and tried on the cross. Because, if you can understand that, then you can understand how it is that a believer can suffer with Christ and be glorified with Christ(Rom 8:17) which is a major theme of the New Testament.

    John wrote:
    “He exerts this rule through his Church by the Holy Spirit, just as the prophets predicted, working to take back the planet from the devil one soul at a time.”

    Charles replies:
    Yes, there is definitely the idea of an expanding circle of influence. In John 17 that circle begins with the unity of the Father and the Son which leads to the unity of the 12 with only Judas being lost from that unity, which leads to the unity of those who believe through their word, which leads to “that the world should be believing that Thou dost commission Me.”

    John Wrote:
    “Because at his coming, there will be a great resurrection, and all flesh, living or dead, will be transformed into the same kind of body that Jesus put on display when he stepped out of the tomb.”

    Charles Replies:
    You seem to be supporting an Amillennial, one general resurrection, type of teaching with this statement. I would disagree with this. Paul says that it is “each in his own class/order”(1Cor 15:23) and “the testimony in its own eras”(1Ti 2:6). In Lk 20:35 Jesus says, “Yet those deemed worthy to happen upon that eon and the resurrection from among the dead…” So there is a resurrection for the worthy ones that is “from among the dead”, in other words, there will still be dead people remaining in the grave while the worthy ones enjoy life for an eon. John also speaks of the first resurrection that is one thousand years before the “rest of the dead” are raised. (Rev 20)

    Since your post is about resurrection, let me say something about it. Often one biblical truth can be believed, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but some false demonic teaching that is opposed to the truth can also be believed which mitigates against and opposes the truth. For example, in Paul’s day Hymeneus and Philetus were saying that the resurrection had already occurred(2Ti 2:17,18) and were subverting the faith of some. Obviously they believed there was a resurrection, but by saying it was in the past, they were stealing the hope and expectation that believers should have in the future. There is something similar in our day going on. It’s the belief in an “immortal soul”, that man is inherently an immortal being. The prevalent “hope” of most believers now is to go to be with Jesus at the moment of death. The dead are no longer viewed as dead, they are now alive with Jesus in heaven. On one facebook page of someone I know who died, there were dozens of posts of people who said things like, “We miss you, but you are in a better place now.” or “You are with Jesus now”, etc. There was not a single mention of any hope in a future resurrection. If you believe that you are immortal, then why do you need Jesus Christ to be your life and resurrection?

    A belief that the dead are really and truly dead forces you to look to Jesus Christ to be the source of resurrection and life. The resurrection then becomes a precious future hope, and Jesus Christ becomes the only possible Agent of bringing that hope to pass.

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  3. Charles,

    I always appreciate your thoughtful replies and your obvious attention to Scripture. I don’t know many people that would look so closely at the text and see things so clearly. Thanks for taking the time to expand my brief post. I wish we could sit down and talk for a while. I would enjoy that.

    When I mentioned the general resurrection, I was speaking of the first century Jewish expectation based in the prophetic promise of a divine justice where, in one final Judgment Day, all people would be resurrected to face the consequences of their actions (and even their own thoughts and intentions) and evil will be condemned and righteousness upheld.

    The central passage for their expectation was probably Daniel 12:2-3, but there were other passages in Isaiah and the Psalms that resonate with this hope. Obviously not all Jews believed in the coming resurrection—the Pharisees embraced it, and the Sadducees denied it.

    You see the concept presented straightforward in the words of Jesus, who claimed that all judgment was given to him by the Father: “An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth: those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgement.” [John 5:28-29]

    You also hear it in the words of Martha to Jesus before the tomb of Lazarus:
    “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the Last Day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.'”

    I have never heard of a progressive resurrection, but you make an interesting case. Where did you learn it? Just from reading?

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    • You’re right, there isn’t anything very specific in the OT about progressive resurrections. In Dan 12:2 it sounds like the resurrection of the just and unjust is at the same time. In Dan 12:13 Daniel is promised that he will stand up(in resurrection) at the end of the days(the last day). This last day is given in Dan 12:12 as day 1,335 from when the temple ritual is stopped. This is no doubt the resurrection on the last day that Martha spoke about.

      I prefer this translation of John 11:25,26 “Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who is believing in Me, even if he should be dying, shall be living[living in resurrection]. And everyone who is living and believing in Me, should by no means be dying for the eon. Are you believing this?”

      So a believer, even if he dies, will live again in resurrection. And if a believer is alive when Christ returns then that believer will by no means be dying for the eon. In Rev 20:4 it says “they also live and reign with Christ a thousand years” which is similar to “should by no means be dying for the eon.”

      I don’t believe Jesus is saying that the dead believers are living. If they are living, then why are they dead? And if they are living in death, then why do they need resurrection and life?

      I’m a mid-acts dispensationalist which means that I view Paul’s message to the nations as being somewhat different from Jesus’s and the twelves’ message to Israel. I think those who believe Paul’s evangel get “snatched away” before the tribulation and will rule and reign with Christ in the heavens in the ages to come. The faithful in Israel get raised after the tribulation on that last day, and rule and reign for a thousand years here on earth during the millennium and then the rest of the dead get raised after the millennium.

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  4. As for dying and going to heaven, I think there is some support in Scripture, especially as Paul was anticipating the tearing down of his “earthly tent” which would be replaced by a “dwelling from God eternal in the heavens” in II Cor. 5. He mentions that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. There seems to be an interim between a human death and his resurrection at the return of Christ that is not delved into very deeply, but seems to suggest a disembodied or spiritually-embodied state in heaven. No?

    What about “today you will be with me in Paradise?” Or is that a can of worms?

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    • On his cross, the criminal said to Jesus, “Be reminded of me, Lord, whenever Thou mayest be coming in Thy kingdom.” I would say that His incredible statement of faith here is inspired by the Holy Spirit. He is basically saying, “I know you are dying today and you have done nothing wrong, but one day I belief you will be rewarded by God and have a kingdom. In that future day when you have your kingdom remember me.” And Jesus said to him, “Verily, to you am I saying today, with Me shall you be in paradise.” A lot depends on where you put the comma doesn’t it? As you know, there was no punctuation in the originals and the punctuation is put in by the translators. What I see Jesus saying is something like this, “Yes, on this day I am dying, and on this day, today, I am solemnly swearing to you that you shall be with me in Paradise in that future day.” I don’t believe Jesus Christ was in “Paradise” on the day He died. He was pointing to the paradise of the future day when His kingdom is established on earth and the desert blooms into a paradise. The criminal’s Holy Spirit inspired faith was in the future kingdom of the messiah and the resurrection of that future day, and Jesus Christ solemnly affirmed His faith.

      In 2Cor 5 Paul makes these statements:

      1)If our temporary tent is demolished, we have a permanent building of God in heaven.

      2) We groan and long for the habitation which is out of heaven.

      3)If we are dressed we won’t be found naked. We don’t want to be stripped, but to be dressed so that this mortality is swallowed up by life.

      4) Being at home in this body, we are away from home from the Lord.

      5) We are encouraged, and are delighting rather to be at home with the Lord.

      He doesn’t say “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” He says we would prefer to be away from this present body and to be at home with the Lord, but He doesn’t say that any death immediately brings one into the presence of the Lord. He previously said that he doesn’t want to be stripped and naked, so why would he now say that he would be delighted to be stripped and naked and with the Lord?

      Is there any consciousness while being stripped and naked and dead? No, I don’t think so. Scripture euphemistically speaks of death as sleep and resurrection being a raising, and awakening from that sleep. Then there are those Old Testament passages that say the dead don’t know anything and there is no praise of God in the grave, etc.

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