Sunday, April 09, 2023

Four Reasons for the Resurrection of Jesus

[Apr 9, 2023] "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor. 15:14). The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the centerpiece of the Faith, what St. Paul called the matter "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:4) in Christian preaching. In this article, we shall consider various reasons why, in God's infinite wisdom, He ordained the Resurrection of Christ in the grand plan of salvation history.
There are four principal reasons why Christ was Resurrected from the dead:

1. The Completion of Man's Justification

The first is the justification of the human race. We are, of course, familiar with Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, which made atonement for the sins of mankind. But the Resurrection, too, was part of our salvation. St. Paul says that Christ was "put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). While the Crucifixion is what atones for sin, the justification of man is completed with the Resurrection, for in the Resurrection humanity is glorified in the person of Christ. The human nature that Christ unites Himself to in the Incarnation is glorified with His Resurrection. Hence St. Paul says "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17). Therefore the Resurrection of Christ is the completion of mankind's justification.

2. That the Scriptures Might Be Fulfilled

The second reason is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The Creeds says that Jesus was raised "according to the Scriptures." When explaining disciples on the road to Emmaus express astonishment at rumors of Jesus's Resurrection, our Lord says, "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Then He proceeds to explain to them "in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (v. 27). In 1 Corinthians 15, when St. Paul recounts the fundamentals of the Gospel, he recalls that Christ "was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:4). This insistence that the Resurrection was a fulfillment of Scripture was central on Apostolic preaching of this miraculous event, for it definitively identified Jesus of Nazareth with the Messiah predicted in Jewish Scripture and thus an incentive for belief. Hence, on the day of Pentecost, when Peter is preaching to the Jews, he cites the Resurrection as the prophetic fulfillment of Psalm 16 (cf. Acts 2:25-28). This was a cornerstone the Apostolic message (especially to the Jews) to demonstrate that Christ was the Messiah.

3. Vindication of Christ's Words

The third reason is the vindication of Christ's own preaching. Jesus frequently predicts His own death and Resurrection in the Gospels as evidence that His words are true. He explains the details of His own Resurrection as if to say, "When these things occur exactly as I say, you will know assuredly that everything I have said about myself is true" (cf. Luke 18:31-34, Mark 9:30–32, Matt.17:22–23). Our Lord takes this approach with the Pharisees as well—after cleansing the Temple in John 2, the Jews then ask him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, He was speaking of His body; in other words, the sign He had to show was the Resurrection. The passage notes that, "When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken" (John 2:22). Jesus tells the unbelieving, if they doubt His message, to at least believe because of His works (cf. John 10:38). The Resurrection, as the ultimate "work" of Christ, thus serves as a vindication of Jesus's words—and not only for those in Christ's own time, but for us today. The empty tomb confirms our hope and builds our faith.

4. A Promise of the General Resurrection

Finally, the Resurrection of Christ is said to be the "firstfruits" of those who have fallen asleep—that is, it serves as the first instance of the general resurrection that we will all undergo at the end of time. St. Paul explains the Resurrection of Christ as an anticipation of that of our own bodies. He says:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Cor. 15:20-24)

This aspect of the Resurrection was a frequent theme in patristic literature. For example, Tertullian, when arguing against those who scoffed at the bodily resurrection of believers, said:

The resurrection of the dead, you say, which was denied: [St. Paul] certainly wished it to be believed on the strength of the example which he adduced—the Lord's resurrection. Certainly, you say. Well now, is an example borrowed from different circumstances, or from like ones? From like ones, by all means, is your answer. How then did Christ rise again? In the flesh, or not? No doubt, since you are told that he "died according to the Scriptures," and that "he was buried according to the scriptures," no otherwise than in the flesh, you will also allow that it was in the flesh that he was raised from the dead. For the very same body which fell in death, and which lay in the sepulchre, did also rise again; and it was not so much Christ in the flesh as the flesh in Christ. If, therefore, we are to rise again after the example of Christ, who rose in the flesh, we shall certainly not rise according to that example unless we also shall ourselves rise in the flesh (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, XLVIII).

The rationale is from the particular to the general: we see from Christ's particular Resurrection that there will be a general resurrection at the end of time. This is an inference made by St. Paul and the Fathers.

Happy Easter everybody. May the Resurrection of Christ work powerfully in your own life that you, too, may experience the newness of life merited by His death and resurrection.

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