The Power of the Resurrection
The meaning of the Resurrection of Christ, as interpreted in the New Testament, reaches a much deeper level than is reflected in most contemporary preaching. The Easter message is far more than one who was dead was restored to the life he had before. It is more than that we, too, have a continued existence after death. It is more than affirmation that a unique event like the Resurrection can be regarded as credible in a scientific age.
The Easter message, as it unfolds in the pages of the New Testament, is, first of all, that our world is in the hands of God – not of blind and uncaring fate. It is a world in which the final word is His, a world in which Christ does not go down to defeat, but wins the victory over the forces of evil and darkness and death. The climax and keystone of the redemptive, revelatory history is the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the actual cornerstone on which the whole gospel rests and on which the Christian Church is built.
The Easter message is also that what God was doing in raising Jesus from the dead has cosmic significance. This was the beginning of a “new creation,” something comparable of what God had done in the first creation. The Resurrection is the clue to all of history. In the Resurrection a new age had arrived – not just a prolongation of life but a new order of life in a new relation to God and one’s fellow men.
The gospel of Jesus Christ announces that what God did for Jesus at Easter he will do not only for all those who “in Christ” but also for the entire cosmos. It will be an act of new creation, parallel to and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.
The Easter message goes still further by proclaiming that this new order of life inaugurated by the Resurrection is one which can be ours and into which we may enter now. The new life is not for our Lord only, but also for the humanity of which He is the head. The same divine energy which manifested itself in Him is available to us and available now. This is what Paul is implying when he speaks of knowing Him and “the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10), and refers to it as operating in us “with the strength and the might which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:20 NEB).
So when Paul says, “We are citizens of heaven,” (Philippians 3:20) he doesn’t at all mean that when we’re done with this life we’ll be going off to live in heaven. What he means is that the Savior, the Lord, Jesus the King – will come from heaven to earth, to change the present situation and state of his people. The key word here is transform: He will transform our present humble bodies to be like his glorious body. Jesus will not declare that present physicality is redundant and can be scrapped. Nor will he simply improve it, perhaps by speeding up its evolutionary cycle. In a great act of power – the same power that accomplishes Jesus’ own resurrection, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:19-20 – he will change the present body into the one that corresponds in kind to his own as part of his work of bringing all things into subjection to himself. Philippians 3, though it is primarily speaking of human resurrection, indicates that this will take place within the context of God’s victorious transformation of the whole cosmos.
The most convincing evidence of the power of the Resurrection is human lives that are renewed by their own contact with the Risen Christ. This was true in the first generation of Christians, when men who were frightened and despairing became bold proclaimers of faith in God as a result of their encounter with Him as a powerful Presence with them. It is equally true today. If one does not have this kind of evidence, neither a study of the Gospel narratives nor a theological exposition based on them will convince him, but, if he has it, no other evidence is needed.
The proof of the Resurrection must always be in the presence and power of the Living Christ among His followers. It was a sound insight that led a modern poet to say to “loud mockers” of the Christian faith:
“Yet all the while my Lord I meet
In every London lane and street.”
Paul does not debate the truth of the Resurrection: he simply assumes it. He assumes, too, that Christians share in it. So he tells them: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1). The Resurrection is not merely something about Christ in the long ago, nor merely something about ourselves after we die. It is reality now. To the extent that we realize this, we are linked with the power of the Resurrection.