The event of the resurrection is one of the most well-known aspects of Christianity. Although there are many parts of Christianity that are debated and adapted by the whims of the modern church, the resurrection remains an aspect that is both known and proclaimed, regardless of what one believes about it. That is to say, most people know what it is (that being the event). But believing the event of the resurrection occurred means absolutely nothing if it is not understood for what it was meant for. And many do not genuinely believe that Christ “rose from the dead,” as much as they believe in the moral ideals behind it. In other words, they love the thought of miracles (a man raising from the dead), but the particulars are too much for them to consider or believe, so they simply leave their level at belief of a comfortable “low,” as though agreeing with a morally acceptable outcome or intention is enough. And sadly, many Christians are this way, whether inadvertently or purposefully, as they love the holiday of Easter, but prefer to leave their celebration at the level of simply saying “Jesus died because of He loved me, and now He’s alive!” What difference does this make to them? Relatively little. Most people appear to love the thought of the resurrection because it was a miracle. It is view as no better than the loaves and fishes, healing the blind or finding money in the mouth of a fish. And this is further proven by the fact that their actual lives lack the outworking of the knowledge of His resurrection, and provide enough that is needed to see that they really don’t need Him to be alive, they simply admire the thought, and the motivation that would lead one to give up their lives for other people.
But the reality of the resurrection is much more than “Jesus is alive!” for to leave it at that misses the entire point. It isn’t just that He is alive, it is both how He is alive and why He is alive, and what sort of difference that ought to make in our Christian living…
I recently spoke at the Rescue Mission where I do so monthly, and spoke on Acts 17, where Paul stands in the midst of the Areopagus- in the middle of the largest collective gathering of religious beliefs and their teachers- and points to their altar to the “unknown god,” and declares to them what they were missing. He points out that they had this altar because they were afraid of ignorance. They were, quite frankly, afraid they were missing a god, because they had a god for practically everything, and all of these idols dedicated to these various gods caused a sort of disturbance in the spirit of the apostle, and made him more eager to inform these people of what they were missing. Now let’s put this into perspective: our society is a practical clone of these people. For the western society has declared itself “tolerant,” and believes that no one person can be right, but rather that all are right. “Truth is relative,” they say, and they hold as firmly as they possibly can to their claim of agnosticism (only they cannot hold too fast to this claim, lest they contradict the very foundation of it). And they are very fervent to be as outwardly accepting as possible, by saying to everyone “I respect your right to believe what you want,” and to any who bear any sense of certainty, they openly condemn them based on the thought that no one can find a source of complete truth, reaffirming their belief that everyone is right, while condemning anyone who claims to be right. And like these in men in Athens, they have idols dedicated to all the gods they can. It is a part of their décor, really. Look around at their houses, and you’ll see statues of Buddha on one side, with books by Greek philosophers on the other, while they themselves attend a Catholic church.
I was approached by three different people recently, all within the span of half an hour, each with a different thing to say, while in retrospect I see they were all saying the same things. The first was a man who sat there, waiting for everyone to move on before coming to ask me. He started by saying that he was gifted (always a good sign of substantive content in the near future), and informed me of his spiritual enlightenment while he was in prison. He was somehow able to learn all of the writings of Plato, Nostradamus, Darwin and many others, and the prison guards were trying to suppress his knowledge, so they burned all of his writings with the intention of preventing him from writing them again. After he finished, I had one initial question: “Were any of the men you mentioned good people?” He smiled and said “No, they weren’t.” So I asked “What good is any of this knowledge then?” And I directed the conversation quickly to the fact that the knowledge of Godless men is not knowledge at all, but is instead filling in the spaces in our mind with fake substance instead of genuine truth. He outwardly agreed, and then moved on.
The second man was a little more direct. He said to me “You are missing out on the paradise of this world!” He smiled and laughed when he said it, and was almost a picture-perfect representation of the Christian stereotype of the worldly person. He believed that all people are right, and that the pleasure of this world is eternal. He quoted what he believed to be the writings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, while reaffirming the earlier statement that all religions are right. So I pointed to my Bible and said “Prove it.” I countered with the reality that all men cannot possibly be right, since all men disagree with each other. But nevertheless, he pushed harder to claim that everyone is right, although I appeared to quickly become his solely exception.
The final man came, and attempted to paint a clear picture of how he was sure that he was believing the right things. It was not the Scripture, nor faith in God. No, it was the church building he walked into which his grandmother brought him to, and the voice he heard when he arrived. And when I asked him how he knew it was God, he simply responded that he just knew it, and teamed up with the gnostic-agnostic second man, trying to tell me that I was wrong about everyone being right being wrong (to put it in its simple form).
And like these men, the people of Athens were very open, making sure to have as many bases covered as possible. So they created an altar to an unknown god. They wanted to make sure they were not missing anything. So Paul decides to educate them of the one God they were missing, that being the most important one they could have possibly missed. The God who “made the world and all things in it.” Now I believe it is fairly clear that this was a somewhat shocking thing for them to hear, because Paul wasn’t just saying “Here is another god you missed,” but rather “The one God you missed is the only God!” This is evidenced by the acts he adds to God, adding that He is Creator and Lord over everything. That disqualifies all of the gods they had for the very parts of the world around them (the creating gods were distinct from the sustaining gods, as it were). And so Paul continues his sermon by pointing out that the God who created all things does not need anything, nor anyone, since He Himself gives “life and breath and all things…” (vs. 25).
He then concludes with a very purposeful statement, considering where he was standing. He says “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (vs. 30-31) Who is that Man? The Lord Jesus Christ. What is distinct about Him to the audience hearing these things? He rose from the dead. “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’” (vs. 32) It was the main thing that stood out to them, and both offended and intrigued them.
Validation and Authority
What I would like to focus on here is that statement, “furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” primarily because of how specific it is, both in meaning and application. When we think of the resurrection, what do we think of? “Jesus is alive!” Such a thought is all well and good, but not by itself. If it is simply the thought of a loved one living again, then it is a no use for our spiritual understanding of God, and is of no practical benefit, and this statement by Paul makes no sense either. To understand what Paul means, we can look to his other writings. He begins his letter to the Galatians by saying “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)…” (Gal. 1:1). In other words, Paul’s authority to declare the Word of God (writing Scripture, essentially) comes from Jesus Christ, who gained His “authority” from God the Father, and this authority (or validation) comes primarily through the fact that the Father raised Him from the dead. Jesus says in John 5, “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish- the very works that I do- testify about Me, that the Father has sent me.” (5:36) This authority is also clarified in the remainder of that chapter, as well as John 6:41-51, 8:12-20, 12:44-50, to name a few. But that authority doesn’t merely settle at “Listen to Him!” (Mat. 17:5) The resurrection isn’t simply a good Man living again, but is much, much more than that.
The book of “Revelation” is known for a lot of things, and is indeed a very important letter, but there is something that is made clear long before the signs, judgements and condemnations take place. Jesus actually reaffirms to John that He has the full authority to do what He is about to show John, and does it in a very unique fashion.
In Revelation 1, John begins by essentially laying the groundwork for the rest of the letter, by introducing it as a letter of prophecy, and confirms that it is something all followers of the Christ must take careful heed to. He then greets the seven churches which he is about to address, and reiterates the theme of the letter, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen,” and then introduces (as it were) the Lord into the letter, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” And then John does something different. He tells them what circumstances began this letter by recounting it in verse 9 through the end of the chapter. And starting in verse 17, he adds what I said earlier, the affirmation of the authority of the Lord who commands John to write these things. “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.” Unlike many “experiences” in our day and age, John did what all who saw God do in the Bible. They drop, as though they had been struck dead, in absolute fear and trembling. And as Isaiah, they do so because of the sudden contrast between their sin-filled bodies, and the perfection and glory of God, and the comparison alone is enough to stun them, along with the knowledge that no man can see God and live. And so John, like Isaiah, falls to his face, not feeling worthy of standing before such a holy and righteous God as the Lord Jesus, and cannot bear to look up for fear of their destruction, simply based on the essence of God’s glory. But Jesus does something quite wonderful, and puzzling at the same time. He places His right hand on John, and tells Him “Do not be afraid.” Now understand this, and understand it very well: He did not say this as a general statement. He wasn’t being nice, He wasn’t being a loving brother, and He didn’t tell this to someone who didn’t somehow deserve it. He confirms this by his following statements: “I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore…” It was not that John somehow earned the right to stand before God on His own, but rather, the Lord earned it for Him. John had follow Jesus as His disciple for many years, and had been serving Him all the way up to this point, having been persecuted all the way to the writing of this letter. He was, quite plainly, a Christian, and was saved by the grace of God just like we are. And understanding the work of Christ, we see that the Lord had made John pure and righteous before God. Thus He places His right hand on John and reminds him of this. The resurrection wasn’t merely a miracle, but was the very completion of the saving work. For as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (15:16-19) Without the resurrection, we are not truly saved. Because if Christ simply died for our sins, and remained dead, we would leap right back into them, because although the sins have been removed, there is no righteousness in us to enter into the Kingdom of God. And so Christ is raised, and works as a Mediator for us before God. We do not stand before the Father alone, as the world, who carry their large bags of sin and wretchedness, and pour them before God, only to be burned up with them. We stand before the Father with the Son in front of us, proclaiming His righteousness as our own, making us worthy of the Kingdom, not by works of our own but through His own righteousness. Without Him being raised from the dead, this could not happen, and we would surely perish, and would (like John) have all the reason in the world to fall down before God in fear and trembling. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead,” (15:20) and when we fall before God weeping because of our lack of self-perceived worthiness, Christ will place His hand on us, raise us up, wipe the tears from our eyes and say “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.”
He has the right to save us, because He conquered death itself, and bears the right to save whom He desires, and of all the ones whom the Father gives to Him He loses none of them (John 6:39). Just as I have the keys to my house, because I am the owner and have the right to let whomever I wish to enter, so He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and is the first and the last, and He was dead and is now alive forevermore, and has the keys to death and Hades, and saves all that the Father has given Him.
But this means more than just salvation of the sons of God, but is also a direct reference to what is coming in this letter. Judgement.
As Jesus raises John up, He is telling him to write letters to the seven churches, and remind them of these things, and more particularly, He will remind them that He is indeed coming and will judge each according to his deeds. And much of the letter will be in reference to the judgment leading to condemnation in the Lake of Fire. And so He says “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” He has the right to save, and the right to condemn. As the Son came first in reference to salvation, so now He will come in reference to judge the world- those who fail to believe, fulfilling the latter part of John 3:16-21.
The resurrection is not just a matter of salvation, but is also what validates the right of Jesus Christ to condemn all who fail to follow Him to eternal judgement in the Lake of Fire. His being raised from the dead shows that He has the keys to death and Hades (hell), and death and Hades will give up their residents, which He will judge with the result of condemnation. (see Rev. 20:11-15) The resurrection is therefore not merely a miracle, causing us to say “Jesus is alive!” but is something very special to the follower of Christ. It is what we cling to for salvation, because we understand that without it we would be lost, and if we fail to believe in this resurrection we are judged by the One who has the right based on that resurrection. We listen to the Scripture because it is written by men who were not sent by men nor any agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. – Revelation 5:11-14