The uniqueness of the resurrection
The Bible does not say that the resurrection of Jesus is an unusual event, or even a rare event. The resurrection of Jesus stands in history as an unique event, unmatched and unparalleled, before or since.
We do occasionally hear stories of people who have been raised from the dead, either by the miracle of modern science, or some other kind of miracle. Perhaps many of these stories are not true, but even if they were, this would not lessen the claim of Christ that his resurrection was unique. We could put it like this: there may have been many raisings from the dead, but there has only ever been one resurrection. (Of course, it’s a great exaggeration to say that ‘there have been many raisings from the dead’. But the Bible does give us a handful of occasions when it does happen, and it’s just possible it may even have occurred outside Scripture.)
How is the raising of someone like Lazarus different from the resurrection of Jesus Christ? When Lazarus was raised from the dead, his old life was returned to him. Miraculously his body had not decayed, but it was still his ordinary human, mortal, fallen body. Not so with Jesus. When he returned from the dead, he was different. He was still Jesus, but His body was no longer mortal; it was now immortal. He could enter locked rooms without need of doors or windows. He was not recognized by the travellers to Emmaus, yet he could still show his wounds to Thomas, and He could still eat fish with His friends.
Far more important than breakfast on the beach, is the fact that Christ’s new body was free of the decay, illness, and death that so pervades this world. No one else in history has ever died, then conquered death for ever. There are those like Elijah and Enoch who sidestepped death, and did not die. There are those like Lazarus and Tabitha who postponed death because their life was returned for a short time. But no one has taken the blow that death has given, shaken it off, and gone on to be clothed in an immortal body. Finally, Jesus proved that death could not only be sidestepped, not only postponed, but actually defeated.
But let’s not get the impression that Christ wrestled for three days in hell with the forces of evil before finally defeating them and returning to planet earth. Far from it. Christ had endured hell in His body, on the cross. There was no need for three days of purgatory to achieve salvation; no need for a continued struggle against the forces of evil—they were defeated at the cross, not in the grave. His work was finished there at Calvary. The Bible tells us that after His death He was in paradise, and that ‘death could keep no hold on him’ (Acts 2:24).
The declaration of the resurrection
Yet if Christ was already in paradise, why did He return to planet earth? His job was done. It was finished. He could have enjoyed His resurrection in heaven.
When I was in school, there was one scientific theory I just didn’t get. My teacher had tried logic, equations, and elaborate theories, but it didn’t help me. However, a few months later she left the school, and we were given a new teacher. When I told him I didn’t understand, he simply said: ‘Let me show you’. He rushed into his lab, brought out some apparatus and within a few seconds I was convinced.
God’s power over death could have been communicated through logic or elaborate explanations. But it is not the way that God had chosen. In other words, Jesus returned to planet earth so that He could answer all our questions about His power and His claims with that one simple phrase: ‘Let me show you’ (John 20:25–28, cf. Rom. 1:4).
The glory of the resurrection
The Bible teaches that Christ died for those who believe: ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom. 5:8); “[He] gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4); “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2), are just some of the verses that could be quoted. Yet it is equally clear that Christ rose for those who trust in Him, too. Without Christ’s resurrection, our resurrection is impossible. Without our resurrection, Christ’s resurrection is meaningless.
Christ’s resurrection is unique because no one else has defeated death in the way that He did, and that will always be true. At the moment, Christ’s resurrection is also unique because no-one else has this glorified resurrection body. But that will not always be true, because we will become like Him: ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him.’ (1 Cor. 15:22-23)
How can this happen? How can one man’s resurrection bring about a resurrection for others? It is because He died on behalf of others. He took the punishment of all who trust in Him when He died. He fought on our behalf, and that means His tremendous victory is for us too!
Do you remember the story of David and Goliath? Goliath was a representative of the Philistine army, and in 1 Samuel 17 he demands that Israel sends a representative to fight. ‘If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.’ It was David who became that representative, but the people had to stand behind him. They had to trust him, because if David was to fail, then together with him they would suffer the consequences. Of course David did not fail, and his victory over Goliath meant that all who put their faith in him shared in that victory. The same is true of Christ. Those who choose to put their faith in Christ will share in His victory over death. They too will be resurrected in Him. It is no wonder we describe the resurrection as glorious!
The implications of the resurrection
Facing death is no easy task even for those of us who understand that death has been defeated. Facing the death of a loved one is harder still. Perhaps more than anyone else, the Christian understands the tragedy of death, this terrible intrusion into God’s created world. For the Christian too, death brings grief, pain, and loss. There should never be platitudes at something as solemn. Yet despite all this, the Christian is unique in that he can also see the death of death. He is unlike those who see death as normal, and those who see death as something to be avoided at all costs. Instead, he can look his foe squarely in the eye, recognizing it for what it is: a terrible, yet crucially, a defeated enemy.
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? …thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:55-58).
Articles in this series:
- It changes everything…
- It changes everything… (part 2) <-- This article