I gave this as a mini sermon at my church on Easter (not the main service, but a side event). I’m working on the discipline of writing any actual content whatsoever on my blog, so since I’ve already just written this anyway, here’s a post. Scripture references NASB.
I think growing up in the church I’ve gotten used to the idea of Christ’s resurrection. Like, I know what happens next in the story — the disciples come to the tomb and it’s empty! Where’s the body? Those silly disciples! So, what is the significance of this? The Son of God came to earth, died — God himself died — and then he himself rose from the grave, appearing to people bodily and then rising to heaven. What is the significance of that? What does that mean for the greater story God is writing?
An acquaintance of mine once argued if you don’t mention Christ’s resurrection, you haven’t communicated the whole gospel. But why is that? Why isn’t it enough to talk about his taking our place on the cross? Now, Paul talks a bit about this in 1 Corinthians 15. But in order to appreciate this this, first —
What was the first curse of sin mentioned in Genesis? Back before God delivered the curse to the serpent, Eve and Adam — before they discovered their nakedness — God said one thing: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16).
And so we see the most fundamental curse of their sin against God: death. Spiritually, separation from God; physically, separation from loved ones after a few decades on earth.
And we were left with a world of brokenness. Of selfishness, of betrayal, of apathy, of cynicism, of murder, of pain, of sickness, of separation, of loneliness, of disaster, of sadness.
But the Israelites, to whom God revealed himself, had a hope in a final Resurrection. The last chapter of Daniel says:
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.Daniel 12:1-3
And so the Israelites were given these words, as a far-off hope. (The Pharisees affirmed this belief, although the Essenes and Sadducees denied it; it was affirmed by the Mishna in the third century, though the belief has become less popular among jews in recent centuries. At least this is my understanding from some brief research; please correct me if I’m mistaken.)
But then God came into this world as a man. And
Jesus said to [Martha], “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”John 11:23-25a
What a curious statement! We knew that in the end the dead would rise from their graves, but now Jesus said, “I am the resurrection.”
And then he died. The man they thought was the messiah, even the Son of God, now lay dead in a tomb. And then Mary Magdalene and some other women, and Peter and John, came and found the tomb empty — one more great indignity, that the body would be taken.
And he was seen by the Twelve (minus Judas), and some other disciples at various points, and finally over 500 people who believed in him. Alive — not just alive, but with a renewed body.
Thus Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.1 Corinthians 15:1-6
Paul goes on to explain that our whole faith rests on this.
Our world of brokenness, of sin, of evil, of selfishness, of betrayal, of apathy, of cynicism, of murder, of pain, of sickness, of separation, of loneliness, of disaster, of sadness, has this good news. This Word made flesh. And Paul lists the final things that must happen, in order.
What is the first thing that happens in the end times?
Christ, the Messiah, is risen. In a sense, that is the first event.
The resurrection of the rest of humanity has not happened yet, but the first person has been resurrected in His new body — Jesus Christ. Continuing (emphasis added):
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming1 Corinthians 15:20-23
According to Paul here, the resurrection has in a sense already begun, and we are only waiting on the rest. We then see that every enemy is defeated:
then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.1 Corinthians 15:24-25
Every enemy in order, one by one undone. And what is the final enemy to be defeated? Is it Satan?
No, Paul says (verse 26): “The last enemy that will be defeated is death.”
And everything wrong with the world is one by one undone. The brokenness, the sin, the evil, the selfishness, the betrayal, the apathy, the cynicism, the pain, the sickness, the loneliness, the sadness.
We see this in Revelation as well. At the end of the Thousand Years:
When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.Revelation 20:7-14a
Satan isn’t some equal fighting with God through history — he’s not even the final enemy God defeats. We see God sweep Satan into the lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet like dust on the floor, and then the final event happens: everyone who has ever lived is released from death and judged, and death itself is thrown into the lake of fire. John continues:
This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”Revelation 20:14b-21:5
When God is making all things new, what does that means for our bodies? We are given new bodies, not entirely different from our old ones. Paul explains this back in 1 Corinthians 15 — verse 37:
and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
and continuing through verse 49:
Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
And so we see we are given renewed bodies like Jesus was given, in some sense like our old body but in some sense different, the way a plant is different from a seed.
And who participates in this victory over Satan, sin, and death? We all do, in Christ. Paul says, in verse 55:
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1 Corinthians 54b-57
Paul concludes this with a charge, an encouragement, by saying “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
So now we go about life knowing He is making all things new. We have already seen the beginning of the end. Jesus’s resurrection is a sign that the final resurrection is not far off, in which our bodies and the whole earth and heavens are made new.
So let this encourage each other. You are surrounded by people, as Daniel says, who will shine like the stars forever. In not long God is coming to dwell with man. Remind each other of this hope, as it is easy to forget.
Let this give us urgency in telling the world. The last judgment is coming. When death gives up all the people who have died, it is too late to do anything more; the books will be opened and everyone judged.
And let this motivate every little thing we do: He is making all things new, restoring our bodies. The fact that we’re not going to be disembodied souls but continue to be physical beings in what will be a perfect world gives us hope now. Our hands matter, our feet matter; we will use them in the new heavens and earth. Work itself was not a curse of the fall; but work was cursed. But the fact that we can look forward to fulfilling work in the new heavens and new earth encourages us to practice now.
God is writing a bigger story for His glory, which we are a part of, from creation, to the fall, to the hope given to the human race through the prophecies of old, to Jesus’s coming and first victory, to his final coming and victory.
Today we celebrate how Jesus experienced victory on the cross and in His resurrection, and the implications of that are already beginning; his resurrection is the firstfruits of things to come, and we are witnesses of this good news to the world.
How then ought those who trust in Christ live, knowing that we have already seen the beginnings of the hope promised through the prophets of old? What hopeful people we ought to be!
He has given us a hope in him.
He has given us a word to bring to the nations.
He has given us good responsibilities while we wait for his coming.
He has promised us a future in the new heavens and new earth, physically with him.