During his time on earth, Jesus said very little about the implications, or even the fact, of his resurrection, except to assure his confused followers that it was going to happen (Mt.16:21, 17:23; Lk.9:22, Jn.2:19, Mk.9:31, 10:34). My favorite of the direct quotes comes later – from Rv.1:17-18: “Don’t be afraid! I AM the first and the last! I ‘m the one who is alive! I was dead, but look! I am alive forever! And I have the keys of death and hades.” And yes, I know he did not use any of the “resurrection” words in that statement, but the message is certainly, gloriously, there!
That illustrates the difficulty of working on this subject as a word study. It is a concept that permeates the whole New Testament, in many different forms. The task is further complicated by the fact that there are only two Greek words specifically used for the purpose, but traditional translators have used them interchangeably, and rendered them variously as “to rise, to arise, to raise, to be raised, risen, to stand up, to awaken,” and many more.
The classical writers aren’t much help here, either. Anistemi – one of the primary verbs – was used of just about any kind of “getting up”, whether from sleep or a sick bed (Herodotus), to arise as a champion or to rise from one’s seat as a token of respect (Homer), to produce witnesses, to mount a rebellion, to set up a building or statue, or, rarely until the New Testament era, to rise from the dead. Egeiro, the other most-used verb, has virtually the same list of meanings. I have been unable to discern a difference. Egeiro is used more frequently in the New Testament, unless one includes the noun forms. Anastasis, “resurrection”, would push the balance the other way.
In addition to prophesying his own situation (Mt.16:21 and parallels), Jesus listed “raise the dead” among his instructions when he commissioned his disciples for their journey (Mt.10:8), and also as evidence for his identity in replying to the messengers from John the Baptist (Mt.11:5 and 11). Accounts of his own activity in that regard include (Lk.7:14) the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, (Lk.8:54) Jairus’ daughter, and of course (Jn.11) his friend Lazarus. Recorded incidents of disciples following those instructions are in Ac.9:36-42 (Peter and Dorcas), and Ac.20:7-12 (Paul and Eutychus) – although Dr. Luke, in this latter account, questions whether the boy was actually dead.
Because the verb forms are so frequently used of other situations – getting up and going somewhere – I have chosen to focus primarily upon the noun, anastasis.
The resurrection of Jesus was (and should still be!!!) the primary burden of the gospel message! It was presented as the ultimate proof of Jesus’ identity. Peter cites it early on (Ac.1:22) in his urging that a replacement be found for Judas “to become a witness with us of his (Jesus’) resurrection.” In his Pentecost sermon (Ac.2:31-36) he declares that the resurrection reveals Jesus as the source of the Holy Spirit’s coming, and provides evidence that “God made this Jesus, whom you all crucified, both Lord and Christ [the Anointed One]!” The complaint of the Council, a short time later (Ac.4:2) was that the apostles were “teaching the people, and proclaiming, in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead!”, and as the brotherhood met together (4:33), “the apostles gave testimony of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.”
Paul attracted curious attention in Athens by “preaching about Jesus and the resurrection”(Ac.18, 32), and answered his accusers, before the Sanhedrin (Ac.23:6) and the Roman court (24:15) that the resurrection was the basis for the charges against him. This totally confused Festus, who explained his dilemma to Agrippa (Ac.25:19), that the Jews had brought no accusations of evildoing, as he expected, but “some argument about their own religion, about a certain Jesus who had been put to death, whom Paul said was alive”!
Why, then, in so-called “Christian” teaching or “doctrine”, is the balance so heavily weighted toward Jesus’ death, rather than his resurrection? Because a “cross” is so much easier to symbolize (read, “idolize”) than an empty tomb? Because it is still a symbol of condemnation and blame, and can be used to induce crippling guilt and abject submission? The truly Scriptural “symbol” of our faith is the Resurrection life – both his and ours!
The Epistles contain two complementary strands of teaching concerning the Resurrection: establishing the certainty of that fact, as a validation of Jesus’ identity, and exploring the results that should consequently be evident in the lives of his followers.
In Rom.1:4, Paul reiterates that the resurrection shows Jesus to be God’s Son. The writer to the Hebrews lists it (6:2) among the most basic teachings, that form the foundation for everything else, and Peter (I Pet.1:3) represents it as the source of the “living hope” with which the faithful are gifted, and later (3:21) the producer of a “healthy consciousness of God.” Paul even goes so far as to declare (I Cor.15:17) that if Christ wasn’t raised, we might as well forget the whole thing! Of the principles listed in the first paragraph of that chapter, the resurrection is the only one that includes extensive documentation – fully half the paragraph!
Elsewhere, emphasis is strong, upon identification of faithful individuals with the Lord to whom they belong. Peter (I Pet.3:21-22) and Paul (Rom.6:3-11) both connect the expected transformation of life with the symbolism of baptism – the “burial” of the former life, and “resurrection” to the new. A similar theme appears in Col.2:12 – “buried with him in baptism, you all were resurrected together, in him….” and its corollary (3:1-3)”since you all were resurrected together with Christ, keep seeking what is above…” He goes on in the rest of his letter to outline the characteristics of a resurrection life.
Eph.2:1-10 also contains a vivid before-and-after picture: “You all had been dead…” whereupon he proceeds to describe the life of a person who has not been “raised with Christ”; (v.4) “But God … made us alive!” and then proceeds to describe the graciousness and kindness thus manifested, and (v.10) its expected results.
Brother Paul summarized the matter even more eloquently (if that is possible), in his letter to Philippi (3:10-11): “I want to know [become intimately acquainted with] him, and the power of [that comes from] his resurrection: and the sharing of [that comes from] his sufferings, being transformed together by [with] his death, if somehow I may arrive into the resurrection from the dead.”
Please notice: “suffering” and “death” are neither denied, nor minimized, nor avoided; but they are bookended – with the Resurrection! Paul’s aspiration – and ours – starts with Jesus’ resurrection, and ends with our own!
And that makes an enormous difference.
All praise to the glory of his graciousness!