As I sit in my office this Good Friday, the very day of the year that we remember as the day that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made atonement for the sins of the world through his crucifixion, I’m left to contemplate what the Bible and history offer to teach us about the meaning of Easter Sunday, the meaning of the resurrection if we take care to pause and listen. Although foretold as early as the Garden* that our Lord would provide a Savior, Hebrews 11:17-19 offers us a commentary on Genesis 22 where we are retold the narrative of how Abraham offered his only son, Isaac, up to God as a blood sacrifice. With eyes filled with faith, Abraham sought to offer Isaac to the Lord because he believed that our Lord would resurrect Isaac. Although the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand, Abraham’s belief that the Lord would raise Isaac up again (cf. Heb. 11:19) foreshadows the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ who, like Isaac unto his father Abraham, was also obedient to the Father of us all unto death (Phil. 2:8).
The preeminent Methodist theologian, Tom Oden, unpacks the Jewish expectation of the resurrection at the end of time and thus the significance the resurrection has for disciples of Jesus Christ, writing:
- The New Testament taught that a general resurrection of the just and the unjust was to be expected. The vital connection between the general resurrection and Christ’s resurrection was strongly indicated by Paul: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor. 15:13).
The first century Jews commonly knew that the general resurrection means the end of human history. Resurrection is the event that occurs at the end of history. Resurrection is the end of history.
Thus if the resurrection takes place in our midst, then we are already at the end. In the resurrection of Jesus, the beholders immediately recognize this event as the firstfruits of the general resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18) and thus are given a glimpse of the end and therefore the meaning of human history. Therefore they have received a final revelation of world history which speaks in their midst from the end. Thus the resurrection would have meant that the end of time had begun.
Jesus’ earthly ministry shared in the apocalyptic focus upon the end, proclaiming, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2 cf. Matt. 4:17; Matt. 10:7; Matt. 12:28; Mark 1:14; Mark 1:15; Mark 9:1; Mark 14:25; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Luke 8:10; Luke 9:2; Luke 9:11; Luke 9:27; Luke 9:60; Luke 10:9; Luke 10:11; Luke 11:20; Luke 16:16; Luke 17:21; Luke 21:30-31; Luke 22:16). When Jesus rose from the dead, he confirmed what had been anticipated in his proclamation. Thus in Him the end occurs in a sense “ahead of time” as a foreshadowing of the age to come as if the end of human history were already taken into the present or received already. Hence when the disciples beheld the risen Lord they understood that they were already standing at the end of time, at the last days, the general resurrection. This reckoning wasn’t a gradual process, but was fully formed in the instant of encountering the risen Lord (ref. Thomas Oden, 2001, The Word of Life, pp. 457, 458, 459, 460-61).
In the overarching big picture, the resurrection means the reversal of death. In this regard when Adam sinned and broke communion and fellowship with God, the source of life, he passed death onto his posterity and with death came sin (“the sting of death is sin” 1 Cor. 15:56) As such, Paul rejoices the death of death through Christ’s resurrection, writing, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
With the resurrection of all and cessation of death that results from the resurrection, there will be no further sin because we sin only because we are separated from God who is the source of life. Placed into communion with God we face the righteous judgment: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). I’ve come to believe that the presence of God, the radiant, burning love of God is the same toward the faithful in Christ as well as the unfaithful. For the faithful God’s presence brings joy and for the unfaithful, the same love burns the conscience of the unfaithful. As one said, “Those persons in this life who preferred “darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil,” will, in the next life, after the resurrection, find no such darkness.”
Archbishop Puhalo painted the following illustration of heaven and hell, preaching:
- Beholding the radiance of the glory and love of God, no one will be able to hide from it, and
the conscience of each person,
- like an open book, will judge them. The faithful, recounting thus the deeds and sins from which they were delivered by repentance and faith, according to the love and mercy of God, will understand at once and for the first time, how great a salvation they have availed themselves of and how great is the love of God that He accepted and blotted out such sins and revolts.
The wicked will understand then how great a salvation they rejected, how great a love and mercy they scorned in life and for them, this radiant love and glory of God, from which they can no longer hide, becomes as a river of fire, pouring forth from the glory, or throne, of Christ, and it sweeps them away, their conscience receiving it as coals of fire. The righteous receive one and the same “fire” as complete spiritual illumination and understanding, and are filled with unspeakable joy and exaltation by it, for this fire shall be to them rays of the Sun of Righteousness which shall heal them of all they lack, and they shall go forth and grow in perfection and knowledge unto all eternity, for:
- Behold the day cometh that shall burn like an oven, and the… wicked shall be as stubble, and the day cometh that shall burn them up, sayeth the Lord of Hosts… but unto you that reverence My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His rays, and you shall go forth and grow up… (Mal. 4:1-2; p. 6).
In Christ, Firstborn among many brothers,
* The Old Testament eschatological expectation, at its core, begins in the Garden (Genesis 3:15) where from the moment the human race fell into sin and came under the curse of death and sin, there was an expectation that the Lord would provide a Redeemer who would put an end to death and sin.