empty tomb

What the Resurrection Says About the Cross

As with every other aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry, even the resurrection must be understood in light of the cross. This event was not just the resuscitation of a random corpse. It was the resurrection of the Incarnate Son of God who had fulfilled the human side of the God-human covenant by living a sinless life and who, as an unsurpassable expression of divine love, came to earth and entered into the worst of human evil and carried it all on his shoulders. Understood as such, the resurrection can only be viewed as God’s vindication of the self-sacrificial life and death of this God-man through whom God’s eternal character was made known.

For this reason the resurrection must not be interpreted as a display of triumphalist power that contrasts with the humble, cruciform, character of God revealed on the cross as well as throughout Jesus’ ministry. It was rather a display of power that confirmed that the cross is in fact the revelation of God’s true character and that God’s enemy-loving, non-violent, self-sacrificial way of responding to evil is in fact victorious.

It is for this reason that the One who sits on the throne in the Book of Revelation and who alone is worthy to open the scroll of God’s plan for history is the victorious lamb who was “slaughtered” (Rev. 4-5; 21:22; 22:1,4). And it’s for this reason that those who conquer are depicted as doing so because they “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev. 14:4), bearing witness to his victory and imitating his sacrificial death (Rev. 12:11). Moreover, throughout Revelation we find the emphatic declaration that the glorified and victorious Jesus is the same as the crucified Jesus (see Rev. 5:6, 9, 12; 7:14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 17:14).

This is precisely why all who have been raised with Christ and who therefore participate in his resurrected life (Rom. 6) reflect their participation by taking on a cruciform character that leads them to sacrificially serve others, including their enemies, just as Jesus did (Rom. 12:7-12). The same point is made by noting that for Paul, the Spirit that dwells within believers is the Spirit of the crucified Christ that empowers them to live according to “the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), which is to love others as he loved us “when he gave his life for [us]” (Eph. 5:1-2).

Ernst Käsemann is thus surely on the mark when he holds that the cross is “the signature of the one who is risen.”[1] And the surest signature that anyone belongs to him is that they participate in Christ’s risen life, which means they participate in the expression of his self-sacrificial love.

[1] E. Käsemann, “The Saving Significance of the Death of Jesus in Paul,” in Perspectives on Paul, trans. M. Kohl (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 56.

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