Why did Jesus rise from the dead?
According to 1 Peter 1:3, his resurrection brings us at least two life-changing benefits: a living hope and a new life. Let’s consider these twin truths—twin promises—from the New Testament’s broader witness.
Raised to Provide a Living Hope
Death is a terrible thing. Most people face their own death with understandable trepidation. And if human life is about relationships, the death of loved ones rob us of those relationships we value most. The resurrection of Jesus means followers of Christ don’t face death as those who lack hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Paul’s great exposition of the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 climaxes with the words:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Cor. 15:54–55)
Through Christ’s resurrection, death has lost its sting. By his resurrection, he destroyed death and brought “life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10).
But what is the nature of this hope, and how does it work?
Many Jews in Jesus’s day believed in a general resurrection of all people at the end of time ushering in the new age (Dan. 12:1–2). We see this great hope in Martha’s response to Jesus when he tells her that her dead brother, Lazarus, would live again: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). When Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, it certainly wasn’t what Martha was expecting.
As remarkable as Lazarus’s resurrection was, it doesn’t compare with Jesus’s. Lazarus needed someone to remove his grave clothes. He rose to return to life as it was before he died. But he could expect to die again. Death threats against Lazarus appear as soon as the next chapter (John 12:10).
Jesus’s resurrection is of an entirely different order. He left his grave clothes behind. He rose to a new life beyond death—a new dimension of living. He would never die again. His resurrection was the beginning of the new age.
It isn’t that the Jews were wrong about the great resurrection at the last day. What took everyone by surprise was that God did for Jesus in the middle of history what most Jews believed he would do at the end of time. And Jesus’s resurrection is the harbinger of that great day for which we still wait in confident hope.
What took everyone by surprise was that God did for Jesus in the middle of history what most Jews believed he would do at the end of time.
If you’ve ever been to a car show you’ll know that they have three types of vehicles on display: (1) concept cars—odd vehicles that will never be built; (2) cars for sale; and (3) prototypes—new models, not yet for sale, but soon to be produced in large numbers.
Jesus is the prototype of the new humanity, the first car of his kind off the assembly line. His bodily resurrection is stage one of a two-stage resurrection. At his second coming, the Lord Jesus Christ will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20–21).
Because his resurrection, we have a living hope.
Raised to Walk in Newness of Life
But we don’t have to wait until we die or Jesus returns to experience resurrection life. We live now as those who belong to the new age. Christ’s resurrection is vitally important for understanding what it means to follow him and be part of God’s people. Christ was raised “so that we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
What does it mean to live now as those raised with Christ? Colossians 3 fills out some of the details. We are to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. We must resist the temptations to sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, anger, and unwholesome speech. We are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and love.
The resurrection of Jesus also leads us to worship. When the two Marys saw the risen Jesus, their response was to clasp his feet and worship him (Matt. 28:9).
We’ll Suffer with Him
More soberingly, as we know the power of Jesus’s resurrection here and now, we should also expect to share in his sufferings (Phil. 3:10).
Resurrection life is no walk in the park.
To be raised with Christ means we must die to living out of pure self-interest. Love can be costly, and final victory over sin, death, and the Devil does not come until the day our own resurrection bodies come off the production line.
The Book of Common Prayer teaches us to pray:
O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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