Imagine you live in first-century Jerusalem. A year has passed since the Messiah left an empty grave in his wake. Shortly after, you heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost, and you repented, believed, were baptized, and joined the church (Acts 2:41). Today, you look forward to gathering with fellow members of “the Way” (Acts 9:2).
What passage of Scripture do you think would be preached to mark the occasion?
If I had the pastor’s ear, I might have encouraged him to trace the theme of resurrection through the pages of the Hebrew Bible—the Scriptures of the earliest Christians. Let me offer a five-part homiletical outline.
1. Resurrection Power
The first port of call is the Bible’s beginning: creation. Resurrection, after all, is predicated on a God who has the power to resurrect. And God showed resurrection-like power when he spoke the world into being.
Throughout Genesis 1, God speaks—and heaven, light, sky, land, living creatures, and humanity come into being. He creates everything out of nothing, by the power of his voice. And this same God makes the dead live. He breathed original life into Adam; he breathes new life into the dead. Both Moses and Hannah agree: it is God who kills and makes alive (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6).
Each Easter we remember the power that raised Jesus from the dead—the same power that made everything from nothing.
2. Resurrection Precursors
God exerts overt resurrection power three times in the Old Testament—all occurring in 1–2 Kings. First, through Elijah, God brings back to life the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17). Second, the Elijah event is mirrored in Elisha’s ministry when God restores the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4). Third, a dead man is thrown into Elisha’s grave and, when his body comes into contact with Elisha’s bones, he is revived (2 Kings 13:21).
True, these are technically not resurrections but resuscitations. (The individuals were brought back to life, but they weren’t glorified—that comes later.) But these events do demonstrate God’s power over the grave. He denies death its victims.
These resuscitations are “resurrection precursors,” provoking us to celebrate the extraordinary acts that prefigured not only the resurrection of Jesus, but ours too.
3. Resurrection Allusions
Consider some provocative allusions that lead us to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. Perhaps best-known is King David’s declaration that he will eventually go to his son, who died in infancy (2 Sam. 12:23). This may not be full-blown resurrection hope—at most we might acknowledge it suggests knowledge of an afterlife. Add to it, though, Job’s confidence that after being destroyed by death he will, in his flesh, see God (Job 19:25–27). This is an astonishing statement. Job is certain that, on the far side of death, he will see God face-to-face with his own two eyes.
Such allusions cast Jonah in a different light. Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2—a psalm—figuratively portrays Jonah as dead on the seafloor (vv. 5–6). But then God intervenes: “yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God” (v. 6). Add to this that Jonah was in the grave of the sea for three days (1:17), and it’s not difficult to see why Jesus himself spotlighted Jonah as a sign of his impending resurrection (Matt. 12:38–42).
4. Resurrection Poems
The Book of Psalms is full of resurrection poems. Think about it: David’s assertion in 2 Samuel 12:23 carries a different emphasis when seen in light of his certainty that God will not let him see corruption (Ps. 16:10). This is quickly followed by the hope of awaking to see God’s face (17:15), a metaphor often connected to resurrection. The Sons of Korah sing of God’s ransoming his people from the grave (49:15), which indicates that death can be followed by life. David repeats the reminder that our God is a God of salvation—including deliverance from death (68:20). The anonymous old man of Psalm 71 then paints a climactic picture of God reviving him from the depths of the earth (v. 20).
These references make clear that the grave is not the final telos of God’s relationship with his people. Repeatedly, the psalmists offer tantalizing glimpses of deliverance from death and life beyond the grave.
5. Resurrection Prophecies
Resurrection prophecies would make a fitting climax to an ancient “Easter” sermon.
Perhaps the most compelling is Isaiah 25–27. The prophet promises, in flashes throughout these chapters, that death has lost its sting. Why? Because of the hope of resurrection. Death will be swallowed up and tears wiped away (25:8–9). The dead will live, bodies will rise, those already in the ground will awake, and the earth will release the dead (26:19). Isaiah is clear: the grave is not the end.
Together with the prophets of old, we celebrate God’s advance notice of what he would do on that first Easter.
At the end of Daniel, likewise, God promises that those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake with eternal consequences—some to reward and others to contempt (12:2). Surely Daniel has resurrection in view.
Together with the prophets of old, we celebrate God’s advance notice of what he would do on that first Easter—and we look forward to what’s yet to come for those in Christ.
Celebrate Easter from the Early Church’s Bible
Jesus encouraged this kind of survey of the Scriptures (e.g., Mark 12:26–27; Luke 24:44–46; John 20:9). And only in Jesus do we see these passages blossom into resurrection from the grave—and with this, the sure and certain hope that we too will blossom from the grave.
Had I been making my way through Jerusalem that Sunday with fellow followers of the Way, I would have encouraged them to celebrate from the early church’s Bible.