At Easter, Christians commemorate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and celebrate what his rising means for people and for the world. Too often, though, this vast hope has been so closely cropped that the only thing left is an expectation of a soulish celestial existence following death.
This is far too narrow a view, which is theologically unsupported and biblically unsound. Resurrection is not just about getting into heaven. It is the pivotal event in God’s plan to save creation. It is not simply a way for humans to live again after they die, but to live for the first time as God intended: joyously, vigorously, lovingly, justly, unendingly.
In the Bible, resurrection is viewed as the doorway into the age to come. Most people in first century Israel assumed this to be true. What surprised them was the Christian claim that the resurrection had already begun in Jesus. Their astonishing news was not just that people go on living after they die – most everyone in the first century already believed that – but that the new age had arrived when Jesus rose from the dead.
Christianity followed Judaism in dividing time into two ages: The present age and the age to come. The present age was seen as a time of injustice and conflict—who would say otherwise? The Apostle Paul referred to it as “the present evil age,” a time of suffering and growing corruption, from which people need to be rescued.
The age to come, on the other hand, was seen as the time of God’s undisputed rule, characterized by peace, justice, and human flourishing – a time of prosperity, reconciliation, and joy. And it was taken for granted that the line between this present age and the age to come was the resurrection. When Christians began “announcing in Jesus the resurrection,” they were heralding the arrival of the age to come.
But if Jesus’s resurrection means the new age has arrived, why is there still injustice and conflict? Because this is the period of overlap. The sorrows, sins, and corruption of the present age are still here, yet it is already possible to access the joy and peace and freedom of the age to come. The winds of that age are blowing across the borders of our time, and we can lean into them. We can experience what St. Paul called “the power of the resurrection” and begin living the future in the present.
The early Christians recognized that the two ages meet and overlap around the death and resurrection of Jesus. According to Paul, Jesus’s resurrection was not a one-off miracle that affected only him. It was the inaugural event of the new creation, which will fully arrive with the resurrection of “those who belong to him.”
Behind all biblical teaching on resurrection stands the idea that God is restoring creation. This explains why echoes from the Genesis creation account reverberate throughout St. Paul’s treatment of the subject in 1 Corinthians 15. We hear of seeds and plants, men and animals, birds and fish, the sun, the moon, and the stars. And, in case we still haven’t made the connection, Adam himself joins the chorus. This is about creation … and recreation.
The first creation floundered upon Adam’s rebellion and then fell. The new creation was established on Jesus’s obedience and is ready to rise. Paul makes it explicit: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
Christ’s resurrection was not simply proof that people continue to live in some form after they die. It was not just evidence that death has been defeated, though it certainly was that. It was proof that the new age had dawned and that God’s ancient promises – of a kingdom, a restoration, and a renewal – were being fulfilled. It was proof to the disciples, as G. K. Chesterton once put it, that the world had died in the night and that “what they were looking at was the first day of a new creation…”
(First published by Gannet.)