This Sunday is Easter. Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes very clear that on the third day after Christ’s death, He rose bodily from the tomb and showed Himself to His disciples. To those who affirm the authority of the Bible, this is not a matter of conjecture, but of certainty. It is, moreover, of crucial importance. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul makes clear that our Lord’s resurrection is a central component of the Gospel. If Jesus Christ did not rise bodily from the dead, Paul tells us, then our faith is in vain.
For this reason, orthodox Christians of all groups and denominations have historically celebrated Easter. Why was Jesus Christ’s resurrection so significant?
For one thing, it proved Him to be the Messiah. Most Jews at the time believed in a coming Messiah, the great Redeemer of Israel, as the Old Testament had predicted; but, like most Jews today, they did not believe that Jesus Christ was that Messiah. This is one main reason why they cooperated with the Romans in crucifying Him. But a minority of Jews, and increasingly many Gentiles, correctly identified Jesus Christ as the Messiah. This is just what Jesus Himself taught about Himself. Jesus Christ’s resurrection verified his messianic claims. He had predicted that He would rise from the grave, and His resurrection validated His messiahship.
Second, Christ’s resurrection signaled His triumph over Satan, sin, and death. In the Garden of Eden, God had threatened death to Adam as a penalty for sin. Paul taught that the “wages [payment] of sin is death.” Christ came into the world to put away sin. In His death, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for man’s sin. He was a sacrifice, or substitute, for sinners. In this way, he paid for their sins. He released the stranglehold by which sin gripped mankind. His resurrection was both a proof and a continuation of this victory over sin. Death did not have power over Him, because He had defeated sin, which gave death its power. He had to die in order to pay the penalty for sin; but He could not remain dead, because He had destroyed the power of sin in His very death.
Third, our Lord’s resurrection was the initial phase of His present exaltation. This is made abundantly clear in the apostle Peter’s message in Acts chapter 2. God demonstrated Jesus Christ’s Lordship when he raised His Son from the dead. Christ ascended into heaven and presently sits on the right hand of God the Father. Here he reigns as a Sovereign. The German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has suggested that Christ’s resurrection secures the universalism of the Faith. In the Old Testament, godly religion was limited largely to faithful Jews. As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, however, all races and nationalities can now come into the Faith, if they trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. There is no longer a special place for race or nationality.
Christ is not only Savior; He is also Lord. And He can be Savior precisely because He is Lord. Man’s only eternal hope is salvation in Jesus Christ, the resurrected, living Savior and Lord. He reigns presently over the entire earth. All those who place faith in him are translated into His spiritual kingdom.
This kingdom is not just heavenly. It has drastic implications for the present life. Our Lord’s goal is not simply to prepare man for heaven, but to progressively redeem man and the rest of His creation. Paul tells us that Christ will reign upon His throne until all of His enemies are subdued. This is not some sort of utopian political program, but the spiritual work of the Gospel in the hearts of redeemed man. Jesus Christ subdues man not by the power of the sword or guns, but by the gentle, loving power of the gospel. This re-orients men’s present lives, and little by little they re-orient society itself. This a chief work of the present, resurrected Christ. It is not limited to a future heavenly home for the redeemed (blessed though this is), but it is a work of present redemption of cosmic scope.
These things, and much more, we Christians celebrate this Easter.