by Graeme J. Davidson, 13
may be no necessity for Jesus' resurrection as other
aspects of Jesus and the disciples' lives cover the
theological relevance of the resurrection. Yet the
events of Easter Sunday do help reinforce the gospel
the events of Easter Sunday necessary?
For this discussion the physical resurrection of Jesus of
Nazareth is not the issue. It is accepted as an historical
event. The question raised is whether anything of unique
theological significance occurred on Easter Sunday that
isn't covered by other events described in the New Testament,
especially Good Friday. It will be argued that there may
be no necessity for Jesus' resurrection as other aspects
of Jesus and the disciples' lives cover the theological
relevance of the resurrection. Yet the events of Easter
Sunday do help reinforce the gospel message.
the resurrection is redundant
The New Covenant with its new relationship with God for
all who seek forgiveness of sin through faith was 'signed'
into effect and validated at the crucifixion through God's
sacrifice of his son's body and an offering for sin (see
the Letter to the Hebrews) and his blood (through which
the New Covenant is sealed). Because the Holy Spirit descended
on the disciples at Pentecost and has remained with the
Church ever since, we are assured of the Holy Spirit's presence.
And as we do not rise from the grave in the same physical
manner or in the kind of timeframe that Jesus did, then,
unless any other reason can be given for why the resurrection
occurred, the resurrection could be superfluous. It may
serve as a dramatic parable or metaphor for how we die to
sin and can live a new life with God, but this is implicit
in the events of Good Friday.
claims for the resurrection and rebuttals
The resurrection validates the nature of the sacrifice needed
to bring in the New Covenant. Without the resurrection,
Jesus could have been anyone making claims about himself
and his mission. It is the ultimate confirmation of Jesus'
claim to be 'one with the Father' the Word incarnate
that came to dwell among us as only God has the power
to raise people from the dead. Apart from the heavenly assumption
of Moses and Elijah (whom the gospels report appeared with
Jesus at the Transfiguration), it is a unique event and
substantive proof of the divine nature of Jesus and of his
ability to intercede with God on our behalf.
It was not the resurrection but God's sacrifice of himself
on the cross that instigates the New Covenant of the forgiveness
of sins (see Jeremiah 31-33ff). God has offered himself
as the ultimate sacrifice to free us from our obsession
with sin and estrangement from God. We are assured of our
redemption by the grace of God's boundless love despite
our continual human failings. The gospels tell us that Jesus
chided the disbelieving Jews for not accepting what he taught
about his relationship with the Father and implored them
to believe because of the works that he did among them.
These comments could also apply to us through our experience
of how others are transformed through the advent of the
New Covenant and the reconciling love that brings to their
lives. In this sense Jesus' death acts to 'intercede' for
us with God for it is through his sacrifice that we are
able to come into a reconciling relationship with God.
The empty tomb and reappearance of Jesus reassured the
disciples, especially Doubting Thomas, and turned their
grief into triumph. Without this triumph they would not
have had the impetus to continue with the gospel mission
or may have idolatrously worshiped at the tomb where his
body was laid.
The triumph of the enpowerment of the infant Church at Pentecost
and the actions of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost overshadow
the resurrection, raising the question of why the resurrection.
Even after the resurrection the disciples feared reprisals
because of their association with Jesus. It was the experience
of Pentecost that changed that.
Paul found when he addressed the Athenians, many who would
otherwise have embraced Christianity found the concept of
Jesus' physical resurrection a stumbling block to belief.
They considered they had been asked to swallow the proverbial
intellectual camel. The ultimate proof of God's having come
among us is not the empty tomb but the way in which followers
ever since the crucifixion experience the effectiveness
of the New Covenant through his forgiving love. That is
the triumph of Jesus' death and the power of the Holy Spirit
in our lives.
or without Jesus' body, there was and still is the potential
for the idolatry of Christian relics including the
possible site of the empty tomb.
Jesus' resurrection is the archetype of our own resurrection.
In the same way in which Jesus rose from the dead to be
with the Father, we are assured of how we can in some way
survive our physical death to be with him. Jesus said that
he was the resurrection and the life and if someone dies
they will have life if they have faith in him. It is the
evidence of God's continual love for us and our own immortality.
St Paul emphasises this when he affirms that nothing, including
death, separates us from the love of God. He also maintains
that if Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is
in vain as his rising from the dead robs the grave of its
victory and affirms our hope of meeting God face to face
in all his glory.
If we survive our own deaths, we do not do so in the same
manner of Jesus. Even, Lazarus, who was dead four days and
caused a stench, was resurrected by Jesus to die again.
The gospels describe how Jesus survived his death and entombment
in the same physical form in which he died complete
with the recent wounds of his crucifixion. His tomb was
empty whereas our tombs and cremated bodies degenerate into
dust and ashes.
his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, St. Paul
argues that we receive new bodies when we die. This emphasises
that we do not rise from the dead as Jesus did. It also
raises serious logical difficulties as to how we can maintain
our personal identities if we do not exist in something
akin to our present form. Even if the contentious notion
of an immortal soul is accepted, the flight of the soul
(our spiritual 'essence') from our bodies at the moment
of death is an incomplete resurrection when compared with
that of Jesus. His resurrection was of the complete person
body and soul.
form of Christian belief in life after death, is of our
bodily resurrection and accountability to God at a future
cataclysmic Armageddon. This view is supported by biblical
warnings of an Armageddon, the resurrection on the 'last
day', the parable in Matthew's Gospel of the separation
between the righteous sheep and unrighteous goats, and the
disciples' expectation of Jesus' eminent return after his
raises questions of how, why and when the Armageddon will
happen and why the Disciples were mistaken in their expectation
of Jesus' imminent eschatological return. It is possible
that the parousia happened at Pentecost and that the Armageddon
was the sack of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD. Whatever
the explanation, it is logically conceivable that we could
be resurrected in bodily form at a future time. Yet it is
difficult to see how this relates to Jesus' resurrection
and divine judgment as he did not divide people into the
righteous or non-righteous after his resurrection. When
Jesus said that he was the resurrection and the life before
resuscitating the dead Lazarus, he was referring to how
he was offering a new relationship and life with God and
the resurrection of Lazarus demonstrates that he has the
power to bring about that new relationship.
is often claimed that if the resurrection isn't a pointer
to our own post-physical life with God, or of divine justice
in the after life, then there is no future hope and Christianity
loses its appeal. This is a question of Christian motivation
and this should be for the love of God and a desire to do
his will, rather than looking towards a life after death
or of accruing bonus rewards for that future state of existence.
The resurrection is the definitive metaphor of how our sins
are dead and buried with Jesus' death and burial. As God
resurrected Jesus to a new life we too are redeemed and
'resurrected' to a new life in God. Jesus' dying and rising
from the dead is an essential paradigm for our own relationship
with God. It is analogous to the experience we can have
of dying to the old life of sin and rising to a new life
of love with God. According to St. Paul, our sins are dead
and buried with Christ and through him we are raised to
a new life of faith.
Wiping the whiteboard clean and starting a new life with
God through his grace is portrayed in many ways throughout
the New Testament: John's baptising the repentant as a sign
of God's washing away their sins, Jesus' comment to Nicodemus
about being born again in the spirit, the parable of the
Prodigal Son and Jesus' association with and parables and
miracles aimed at giving new life and hope to the recognised
'sinners' of the time, such as the blind, lame and those
of ill repute. Jesus' death during Passover, which celebrates
the Jews escape from bondage and death in Egypt to return
to a better life in the Promised Land, is also a powerful
symbol of how Jesus' sacrifice on the cross enables all
who have faith to escape from the bondage of sin and have
a free and better relationship with God.
Godhead would be incomplete and imperfect if one person
of the Trinity was left in a tomb in Palestine. Jesus needed
to be raised from the dead so that he could 'ascend' to
the 'right hand' of the Father and then 'descend' in the
form of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to inspire and direct
his Church. Jesus also needed the time between the resurrection
and Pentecost to issue instructions to the disciples.
Jesus' mission was complete when he uttered, 'It is finished',
and gave his 'spirit' to God on the cross. Most of Jesus'
instructions are given prior to his death and there are
few instructions after the resurrection that are not a reiteration
of his earlier teachings. The uncertain infant Church receives
its strength and revitalisation through the Holy Spirit
at Pentecost. A resurrection and ascension are not necessary
for the Holy Spirit to descend. The Holy Spirit descended
upon Jesus at his baptism before there was any prior ascension.
The same could have equally been the case at Pentecost.
Jesus warned his bewildered disciples of his upcoming death
and resurrection. If he had remained in the tomb, his credibility
would have been impaired. But this begs the question of
why the resurrection was needed especially as Jesus
alludes to how those who do not listen are unlikely to be
convinced if someone were to rise from the dead.
theological import of the New Covenant is repeatedly emphasised
through Jesus' life and works. Old Testament expectations
are fulfilled the blind receive sight, the lame walk,
those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead
are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. The
parables and miracles all point to the gospel message of
the New Covenant salvation through God's forgiving
love. The dramatic events of the resurrection are a further
reinforcement of this gospel message.
is it that preachers say on Easter Sunday that they couldn't
have said about the events of Good Friday? The answer is
that they are offering much the same sermon, only with more
enthusiasm and joy.
is about salvation and that can be explained without reference
to a resurrected Jesus. The Letter to the Hebrews, for example,
discusses the theological implications of Jesus' death,
but not his resurrection. However, the resurrection does
provide another metaphor of our rising to a new life in
God and in that way the Easter Lily becomes a gilded lily.