The Resurrection and Missions (Part 1–What Does It Mean?)

The Resurrection and Missions (Part 1–What Does It Mean?) March 19, 2013

I think evangelicals in general tend to have a low view of the resurrection.

That sounds like an overstatement, but this is what I mean. Typically, evangelicals see the resurrection mainly as having more to do with apologetics than theology. The resurrection acts as a “proof” that Jesus is divine. If they are more precise, they might even say it proves Jesus is King (cf. Acts 2:24–26; 13:30–39). While these conclusion are be true enough, this is not the primary way the apostles talked about resurrection in Scripture.

I’ll use a few posts to unpack what I suggest is a more complete understanding of the resurrection. Afterwards, I will talk about implications for missions. I’ll first offer a few statements to summarize what I think is the theological meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. If you want a thorough, scholarly treatment of the resurrection, it would be hard to find something better than N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3).

The resurrection is important not merely because of what it proves but rather for what it accomplishes. The resurrection does not merely prove that Jesus is God and King; the resurrection accomplishes the victory over his enemies such  that he in fact ascends to the throne. Thus, the resurrection achieves our justification, i.e. our new identity, vindication or freedom from slavery to sin and death (as in Rom 6:7).

Context is king” is a central tenet of biblical interpretation, so let’s begin in Romans. In the next segment, I’ll look at other epistles. Jesus’ resurrection is linked to our justification in at least 3–4 places, including Romans 4:25; 6:7; 8:33–34, Rom 10:9–10.

“. . . [righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” (Rom 4:24-25 ESV).

” We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free [literally in Greek, justified] from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him,” (Rom 6:6-9 ESV).

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us,” (Rom 8:33-34 ESV).

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved,” (Rom 10:9-10 ESV).

Jesus’ resurrection results in our justification, being “set free” from the slavery to sin and condemnation. This may sound strange to many people, since we are more accustomed to linking Jesus’ death and our justification. How is his death for our justification? It’s well known that Psalms and Isaiah greatly shape the book of Romans. It may be significant that the language of Rom 4:25 is quite similar to that of Isaiah 53, such as Paul’s use of Greek word “παραδιδωμι” (“delivered up,” 3 times in 53:6, 12), δικαι-language (“righteousness”) in 53:11. Notice how Isaiah, within the same context, speaks of righteousness/justification:

[10] For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. [11] “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. [12] I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. [13] All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. [14] In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. [15] If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. [16] Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; [17] no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 54:10-17 ESV).

Justification language frequently has a proactive aspect to it, as in this case where God sets things right, correcting what is wrong or evil. Just a few chapters before, notice the prophet’s words in Isa 50:7–8 (which Paul echoes in Rom 8:33–34):

But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. (Isaiah 50:7-9 ESV)

God’s justifying (“vindicating”) his people means deliverance from their enemies. When God justifies his people, he reigns over them as king. They will not be put to shame. Paul echoes this idea in Rom 5:5; 9:33; 10:11. The list of similar verses could go on (cf. Isa 51:4–8; Jer 51:9–10; 2 Chron 6:23). According to Rom 4:25, Christ’s resurrection is for our justification. The resurrection is important not merely because of what it proves but also for what it accomplishes.

In the next post, we’ll look at 1 Cor 15 and elsewhere. For now, Rom 1:4 gives a hint of what’s to come. Jesus was “. . . declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom 1:4 ESV).

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