A Resurrection That Matters
In the spring of my senior year in college, I was deeply immersed in the rhythms of Christian life. I was a leader in InterVarsity, participated regularly in a Bible study with other seminary-bound friends, set my Sundays aside for worship and rest, and read more than my fair share of extracurricular Christian books. As Easter approached, I began rehearsing the importance of Jesus' resurrection. I knew that for Paul and the other New Testament writers, there could be no Christianity without it. Yet one day as I was walking back to my dorm, it dawned on me that the gospel as I understood it had no need for Jesus to be raised from the dead.
The story of salvation as I had learned it was, in its entirety, about the Cross. I would teach other students about the Romans Road to salvation and the Romans 6:23 bridge diagram. What each of these captured beautifully was that we had a sin problem that God overcame with the cross of Christ. But each presentation also omitted the Resurrection entirely. And why not? Once our debt has been paid, what else could we possibly need? What is so important about Easter?
Jesus Holds Human Destiny
The most important thing to say is somewhat shocking at first blush. At his resurrection, Jesus becomes something that he was not before. Jesus becomes the enthroned king of the world—the Messiah. But isn't the Jesus we meet on the pages of the Gospels also the Messiah? Yes and no.
Jesus in the Gospels is like David in the Book of 1 Samuel. He has received God's anointing as the chosen king, but another king is currently on the throne. The story of the Gospels is one in which Jesus inaugurates a new reign of God and deals a deathblow to the imposter king through his death on the cross. If the Cross is the defeat of the old king, the Resurrection is the enthronement of the new. Jesus now literally sits in the space that the kings of Israel had figuratively occupied before him: at the right hand of God. Though the preexistent Christ has always been God's agent in the creation and rule of the world, the human Jesus is now joined to that role as Lord and king over all.
This is the logic behind Jesus' claim in the Great Commission: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matt. 28:18-20). At the Resurrection, Jesus has become the Messiah, the Christ, God's anointed ruler of the earth.
To be God's anointed, the Christ, is to be at least in part the human descendant of David. And so we find Peter, in the first sermon preached after Jesus' resurrection, insisting on three things: (1) During his life on earth, Jesus was a man to whom God testified through wonders and miracles; (2) King David prophesied that the Messiah would be enthroned when God raised him from the dead; and (3) God has, in fact, made Jesus both Lord and Messiah by raising him and thereby enthroning him.
Having vanquished the Enemy, who had usurped authority over all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-8), Jesus reclaims for humanity its original purpose: to rule the world on God's behalf (Gen. 1:26-28). This is one reason why we find Paul referring to the resurrected Jesus as the second and last Adam. But as the last Adam, Jesus also holds humanity's destiny in his hands.
Intruding on the Present
When we speak of human destiny, we are of course speaking of the future. The New Testament is clear that God has a future for this world, and that the transformation of humans is a crucial component of what lies in store. What are the implications of Jesus being our forerunner in resurrection life? The New Testament leads us to understand that the hopes and expectations of God's people are now hidden in Christ. In other words, the only way to take hold of God's promises for the future is to take hold of the resurrected Jesus in the present.