In the New Testament we read that Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father (Romans 10:9), by the glory of the Father (Romans 6:4), by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11), and by the authority Jesus was given from the Father to take up his own life again after he laid it down (John 10:18).
In Acts 2, Peter preached that God raised up Jesus having loosed him from the pains (throes) of death because it was not possible that he should be held by it. According to Paul, the resurrection of Jesus is the pivotal point on which our faith stands or falls.
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:14-17
Within scripture, the resurrection of Jesus holds a place of prominence that is often not understood, even by the most devoted Christians. More time and attention is often given to seek understanding of the atonement of Christ on the cross than the resurrection. We absolutely ought to seek to understand the atoning death of Christ on the cross. We also need to understand the resurrection with the same fervency. Speaking of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, Paul writes:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. ~ Philippians 3:8-11
The work of God in Christ’s death and in Christ’s resurrection is unified, and we must understand this if we are going to truly begin to understand the power of the resurrection. Now what do I mean by unified? Many hold to theological ideas about the cross which are actually contrary to the revelation of God’s power and glory displayed in the resurrection.
Many have embraced ideas which have God turning his back on his Son and treating him as a sinner under his wrath on the cross. Because of this, God’s reason for raising Christ from the dead is missed and not truly understood. Consequently we miss out on life changing truth regarding the resurrection and the revelation of Jesus, the Son of God.
If we remember the following three things, it will help us to properly understand the cross and resurrection in harmony with one another as revealed in the scriptures.
FIRST, the death of Christ from God and Christ’s perspective was a display of love and humility which was in Christ Jesus our Lord. His death was a selfless act of love in which Jesus willingly laid down his life to make atonement for our sins. This love is the very love that God has for us.
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus. And Jesus also loved us and gave himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice for a sweet fragrance to God. Because of Christ’s love for us, God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.
SECONDLY, the death that Jesus endured was carried out by the hands of sinful men who opposed both God and Christ. When Jesus began to reveal to his disciples the manner of death he was going to suffer, he rehearsed it much to them, preparing them for what was coming. Never once did Jesus ever describe his death as condemnation from God. Instead, Jesus described his death as condemnation from sinful men, and the resurrection would be God’s response to their verdict.
- Matthew 16:21; 17:9, 22-23; 20:17-19; 26:1-2, 24, 31, 45; 26:51-56
- Mark 8:31; 9:9-11, 31-32, 10:32-34; 14:27, 43-50; 15:27-28
- Luke 9:21-22, 44-45; 17:24-25; 18:31-34; 22:37; 24:1-8, 13-27, 44-48
- John 18:31-32; 19:24, 28
How often have we failed to consider Jesus as the ultimate authority on his death? Too often we string scriptures together to formulate a theological view of the cross which is entirely contrary to the narrative given to us in scripture. Many of the theological ideals about the cross which have been crafted by man would be proven untrue if we would simply consider how Judas, the traitor fits within the narrative of the cross. Jesus was betrayed by Judas, not God! It was Judas who betrayed Jesus into the hands of sinful men who wanted to kill Jesus because they hated both Jesus and the Father.
When Jesus was alone with his disciples just prior to his trial and crucifixion, he addressed the hatred of the religious Jews and their leaders who were against him. Consider what he said:
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. ~ John 15:18-25
The rejection which Jesus endured from men and which ultimately resulted in their putting him to death, was not only a rejection of Jesus, but a rejection of the Father as well. Jesus interprets the scripture, they hated me without a cause, as hatred aimed at both he and his Father, God.
This is consistent with the words prayed by the church in Acts 4.
And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. ~ Acts 4:24-28
Notice that those who opposed Jesus and put him to death were gathered together against the Lord and his Christ. This is a reference to God and Jesus. Now consider the words of the prophet Isaiah.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. ~ Isaiah 53:4-5
The phrase “we esteemed him smitten of God and afflicted” is contextually a reference to the perception and not the reality, for it was sinful men and not God who unjustly condemned Jesus and who wounded him. The scars which marred his back from the lashings he endured, the nails which pierced his hands and feet, the crown of thorns which was placed on his head, and the shame he endured throughout his trial and crucifixion all came from sinful men who fulfilled what God had declared they would do to him.
For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead… ~ Acts 13:27-30
Take note that it was sinful men who fulfilled all that the scriptures had foretold about the sufferings of Christ on the cross, and take note that in response to this, God raised him from the dead. The phrase – But God raised him from the dead – in Acts 13 (above) sums up what the apostles preached over and over again throughout the book of Acts. And this brings me to my 3rd point.
THIRDLY: The resurrection of Jesus was God’s response to what sinful men had done to his beloved Son! Throughout Acts, the apostles and others like Stephen, always preached the crucifixion of Jesus as unjust condemnation of God’s Son and the resurrection as God’s vindication of Jesus.
This is the narrative: Jesus is God’s son and he willingly laid down his life as an innocent lamb for our sins. In doing so, he was put to death by evil men who were cruel and unjust in their treatment of him. Stephen actually accused the leaders of Israel of murdering God’s Son.
Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: ~ Acts 7:51-52
By refusing to acknowledge what God had done in raising his Son from the dead, these leaders to whom Stephen was speaking were continuing to resist the Holy Spirit. God had overturned their unjust condemnation of his holy Son when he raised him from the dead and exalted him at his own right hand.
Christ’s purity and innocence before God, his committing of his soul into the Father’s hands, and his laying down his life for our redemption, pleased God.
According to Peter, Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:.. ~ 1 Peter 2: 21-23
Jesus died, committing himself to God, who vindicated him by raising him from the dead.
Remember in Acts 4, the church prayed the words taken for Psalm 2: Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. ~ Acts 4:25-26
In Psalm 2, the Psalmist says the following in response to those words:
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them (those who were gathered against him and his Christ) in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
Notice to whom God’s wrath and displeasure is aimed. It is aimed at those who dishonor him by dishonoring his Son. It is aimed at those like the ones to whom Stephen preached, telling them that they always resist the Holy Spirit. Rather than repenting and confessing that the One they murdered is indeed the Just One, the Son of God whom God exalted, they hardened their hearts and stoned Stephen. The message of the cross when preached correctly leads to either repentance, or a more hardening of the heart. We see over and over again throughout the book of Acts.
The Psalmist continues:
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee (give to His Son) the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. ~ Psalm 2: 4-12
This is God’s response in his vindication of Jesus – Kiss the Son, lest he (God) be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him (in the Son).
Jesus, God’s Son, is the stone which the builders (the spiritual leaders in Israel) rejected, but whom God has chosen. If we never grasp the resurrection as God’s vindication of his Son, we will never truly begin to grasp the place of prominence it has within the pages of scripture. In closing, consider the words of Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. ~ 1 Timothy 3:16
Those words, justified in the Spirit, can easily be passed over or misinterpreted. Paul is actually saying that Jesus, who is God in the flesh was declared righteous. The word justified comes from the greek word, δικαιόω, which means to show to be righteous, declare righteous. In usage form it means: I make righteous, defend the cause of, plead for the righteousness (innocence) of, acquit, justify; hence: I regard as righteous.
This is what God did when he raised Jesus from the dead. He declared him as the righteous One!
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” ~ Acts 17:30-32 NLT
Jesus was raised from the dead, because God declared him to be righteous! And this is what the resurrection declaration is all about. Jesus is Lord!!!