Every Christian knows that Jesus rose from the dead. It is impossible to be a Christian if you do not know (and believe) that Jesus died and was raised from the dead (Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor 15:14). The question here is not if Jesus rose from the dead, but why Jesus rose from the dead, and the answer is, in part, to assassinate death itself (1 Cor 15:50-58).
Death is a powerful foe. The Apostle Paul says that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), which means that a person earns death as a salary for sinning. This is a haunting declaration, especially when we consider that Paul also says, “all have sinned” (Rom 3:23). If Paul is right—and he is—then it means that every single person has earned death as his paycheck, and FICA isn’t taking a cent from it.
The Bible further says that Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), which means that sin was never able to issue him a paycheck of death. It’s true that he died on the cross, but it was “impossible for him to be held by it” because he never earned sin’s wages (Acts 2:24). And this is why he was able to rise from the dead. Sin was not his employer, and he therefore wasn’t in debt to it. As a man Jesus was susceptible to the curse of Adam, which is physical death (Gen 2:17; 1 Cor 15:22), but the “sting” of death couldn’t last on someone who had never worked for it (that is, who had never sinned) (1 Cor 15:55). And here’s the exciting thing. Once Jesus rose from the dead, he actually broke death’s longstanding curse on man. It no longer has a monopoly over our lives.
There is a new employer in town.
Death was the penalty for Adam’s (the first man) sin against God (Gen 2:17), and since that time it has conquered every single human being, because all are born into sin (Ps 51:5). Just like a child might inherit his father’s eyes, so we all inherited Adam’s sin nature. But Jesus was different. He “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21). He was tempted in every way, but never sinned (Heb 4:15). And he is the only man who holds this claim. Therefore, when he did die, he was able to rise from the grave, because it held no power over him. As a man in the lineage of Adam he experienced the symptom of physical death, but as a sinless man he was able to overcome it. This means that, today, even two thousand years after he walked on earth, Jesus is still alive.
For (and because of) Jesus, death works a little like the law of double jeopardy. It is incapable of trying him again on the curse of Adam with the penalty of death (Rom 5:19). It’s been “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54). And now, because of Jesus’ resurrection, the same is true for those who place their faith in him. When a person confesses Jesus as Lord and believes that God raised him from the dead, that person will be saved from death (Rom 10:9-10). It’s true that a Christian can still physically die because he is still under the curse of Adam, but like Jesus, it will be impossible for him to be held by it. Death, for all men, is an impending reality, but resurrection, for the Christian, is too. Paul says that while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ (Rom 6:23). And what’s more, this was not an accidental fringe benefit to Jesus’ resurrection. Quite the opposite. “For God loved the world in this way: he gave his one and only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Through Jesus we too can be raised from the dead. And like Jesus our resurrected bodies will be immune to death. “We know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him” (Rom 6:9).
Therefore, to answer the question, “Why did Jesus rise from the dead?” the answer is “because it held no power over him,” but also so that people, through him, could be freed from death’s power.
A follow up question to this answer concerns what it means that we can be freed from death’s power. This is not merely to understand that a believer will be raised from the dead, but to ask, “What does it mean that a Christian will be raised from the dead?”
The Bible teaches us that it is “appointed for people to die once” (Heb 9:27), which means that death is a looming reality for all people (thanks Adam), but it’s also true that we experience the present effects of our inherited sin nature on a daily basis. This is to say that death isn’t just a future thing, but a present thing, too. People don’t grow younger and stronger. People grow older and weaker. We get sick. We get injured. We get depressed. Our hair stops growing on our head and out of our noses and ears. And so on and so forth. All of these kinds of things are effects of Adam’s sin against God, which causes all of creation to groan as it awaits resurrection (Rom 8:22).
This is why the resurrection is so imperative. A glorified, resurrected body is immune to all of this. Even the nose hair (or so I hope). Paul says it this way: “For this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:53-55).
This is a fancy way of saying that we, upon receiving our glorified bodies, will not have to worry about any of the things we worry about today. Especially death. And this is God’s hope for us for eternity. It’s actually the meaning of "eternal life." God’s hope for mankind isn’t to, as the old hymn suggests, fly away into an ethereal existence on some sweet morning, but to give us our physical bodies back, except immune to the effects of sin.
Can you imagine life without the concern of acne? Can you imagine life without the concern of male pattern baldness? Can you imagine a life where a moment on the lips doesn’t forever last on the hips? And to be more serious, can you imagine a life without the concern of cancer, or diabetes, or Down Syndrome, or congestive heart failure, or Alzheimer’s, or Ebola, or the Zika Virus?
This is the single most important hope that a follower of Jesus has—a resurrected body. We have far more to look forward to than just “going to heaven when we die.” To be perfectly honest, that’s not enough to excite me. What does excite me is looking in the mirror at my decaying body and to realize that God’s hope is to utterly redeem every single cell into a glorified, imperishable state that will live forever. That’s something I can get behind, even more so than an NBA basketball game!
Now if it is true that we will can look forward to resurrected bodies, then a good follow up question is: “What will my resurrected body be like?” If our argument is that the mere idea of going to heaven when we die isn’t enough to warrant genuine excitement, then the same must be true about our resurrected bodies. And so, the final question concerns objective hopes that we have concerning our glorified bodies.
Some scholars suggest that Jesus’ resurrected body serves as a template for our resurrected bodies. This particular nature will be unpacked in more detail in a later post, but for now we will list a few characteristics portrayed in Jesus that will likely apply to us, too. Just enough to give us a taste of the hope that is in us (1 Pt 3:15).
First, it is physical. There is no question that Jesus experienced a physical, not a spiritual, resurrection. He was “flesh and bones” (Lk 24:39). He even ate a broiled fish (Lk 24:42). This means that we can accurately imagine what our glorified bodies will be like, something we could not do if it was purely spiritual. Our resurrected body will be like our present body, but perfected.
Second, he transcended our current parameters of time and space. In Luke 24:31 he “disappeared” from some witnesses’ sight, and in John 20:19 he was able to pass through shut doors. This means that all of our fantasies about superhuman powers might actually have some substance. Perhaps Stan Lee and George Lucas merely plagiarized the hope God placed within us.
And third, it is imperishable, a characteristic of which we have already discussed, which means that we will be impervious to death and disease.
These answers all help to render a specific hope that every follower of Jesus has, a hope that might be the most exciting aspect of heaven—resurrection.
To this some might retort that while our resurrections are certainly a great hope of heaven, the greatest hope is that we will be in the presence of God, and to this I unreservedly agree. But it is our resurrected bodies that facilitate the ability to stand in his presence. Like Moses, we cannot, in our present states, see God and live. “No one can see me and live” (Ex 33:22). But this all changes in the new, eternal heaven, where we will “see his face” (Rev 22:4). And this will be because every believer, at this point in ouranological (heaven) history, will exist in their glorified, imperishable bodies.
That, my friends, is worth playing a harp over.