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Guest Viewpoints

The Death and the Resurrection of Jesus

April 24, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Jesus ended His earthly life on the Cross. He “uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last” (Mk. 15:37). The Gospel of St. Mark gives us a relatively plain statement of Jesus’ death with these words. He was executed as a political rebel, as the inscription on the Cross indicates: ”The King of the Jews” (Mk.15: 26). Crucifixion was a Roman form of execution mainly used for enslaved people. It was forbidden to crucify Roman citizens. Cicero says: “The idea of the cross should never come near the bodies of Roman citizens; it should never pass their thoughts, eyes or ears.”

Did Jesus expect that He would suffer and die on the Cross? Jesus had probably considered a violent death as a consequence of His ministry, for anyone acting as He did to be prepared for extreme consequences. From the beginning of His ministry, He faced the charge of blasphemy (Mk. 2:7) and was accused of alliance with the devil or magic (Mt. 12:24) and infringing the law of Sabbath (Mk. 2:23-24; Lk. 13:14-15). His enemies watched Him find grounds for arraigning Him (Mk. 3:2), and it is clear that they tried to trap Him with trick questions (Mk. 12:13ff. 18ff; 28ff.). Thus, Jesus’ death flowed naturally from His public activity. It was the inevitable result of fidelity to His preaching, given the failure of His message to win general acceptance. Jesus accepted His death as the most radical consequence of the message He had proclaimed and embodied in His deeds.

How does Jesus’ mission relate to His death on the Cross? How could the kingdom of God come when the forces of this world put its precursor to death? The preaching and praxis of Jesus are called into question. Yet, amid this dark and lonely experience of being crucified, Jesus trustingly surrenders Himself to God the Father.

The disciples of Jesus soon after His death proclaimed that God had raised him from the dead. On this matter, all the New Testament writings speak with a single voice; “This Jesus God raised and of that we are all witness” (Acts 2:32). The Christian Gospel is disclosed in Christ’s Resurrection. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.” (I Cor. 15:14; cf. 17:9). His rising from the dead does not mean returning to the old life. He does not return to decay or corruption (Acts 13:34): “For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him… The life He lives, He lives to God” (Rom 6:9ff.). The Resurrection is not a resumption of the old life but the beginning of new creation (cf. I Cor 15:42ff.).

In the New Testament, one can find stories about Christ’s Resurrection. The Easter kerygma of the early Church is revealed in brief, kerygmatic and liturgical formulations of belief. However, one of the earliest witnesses of Christ’s resurrection is recorded in Cor. 15:3-8:

For I transmitted to you as of first importance what I 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 He appeared: first to Cephas, then to the twelve; and then He appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, of whom most remain alive until today, though some have fallen asleep. And He appeared: to James then to all the apostles; last of all, as to one irregularly born, He also appeared to me.

Although St. Paul wrote I Corinthians about the year 56 A.D., he tells the Corinthians (15:3) that what he transmitted to them (presumably when he first went to Corinth about 50 A.D.) was information that he had “received” at an earlier period (in the mid ”30s).

The Resurrection of the crucified Jesus is exclusively an act of God, for which no analogy happens in space and time, and consequently, it cannot be idealized, symbolized, or allegorized. Nevertheless, the effects of Jesus’ Resurrection – the faith that arose in His disciples, the formation of the Church, the continuity of His ministry by His disciples, and the descent of the spirit – are the already signs of the “new creation,” the inauguration of God’s reign in the world.

The death of Jesus is considered for the early Christians to be a victory over the powers of darkness operative in this world. For St. Paul, the death of Christ frees us from sin (II Cor. 5:21), from the flesh (Rom. 8:3-8), from death (Rom. 6:1-10), and the Law (Gal. 3:10-13; 4:4-5). The Cross reveals the unique power, wisdom, and love of God (I Cor. 1:24). In virtue of the Cross, God is shown to be most active and present in those situations where He, at least externally, appears to be inactive and absent. In the Cross, God is active and current amid extraordinary evil, suffering, and death — drawing good out of evil, salvation out of suffering, and new life out of death. No area of life falls outside the presence and activity of God. The death of Christ puts an end once and for all to the suggestion that God is indifferent to the pain and suffering of humanity. God revealed in the Crucifixion of Jesus is the compassionate God Who is moved and touched by the suffering and death inflicted by humanity on Jesus. God the Father is not indifferent to the suffering and death of His Son.

The Resurrection of Jesus has brought salvation to the world: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is the Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead (Acts 26:23; I Cor. 15-20ff.; Col. 1:18). Jesus’ Resurrection is attributed directly to God (cf. I Cor. 6:14; Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 15:15; et al.): “[You] killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (3:15; cf. 2:23ff. 5:30). The raising of Jesus from the dead is an act of divine power, an act of “the working of His great might” (Eph. 1:19ff; cf. Col. 2:12), an act of His glory (Rom. 6:4), and His Spirit (Rom. 8:11; I Pet. 3:18). The Resurrection reveals Who God is: the One Whose power embraces life and death, existence and non-existence. It reveals the world’s future according to God’s love and will. Jesus is raised as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (I Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Acts 26:23; cf. 3:15; Rev 1:17ff).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has universal consequences, and significance for it is the prefiguration and afore glimpse of the new creation, the new world that God has desired and made possible through His love, the sending of His Son and the Holy Spirit. This new creation, the active presence of God’s kingdom in the world, is strongly determined by negating the negative and openness to the positive development. The dissolution of the negative is described in Revelation 21:4, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.” The openness and the positive development come with the establishment of a new relation of God with the world and the total renewal of the world by God: “They shall be his people, and he, God with them, shall be their God… And he who sat upon the throne said, behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:3, 5). Through Christ’s Resurrection, God has given to the world a foretaste of God’s reign, of how the world would be when all united with the exalted Christ participate in God’s glory.

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