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Article 4 — Of the Resurrection of Christ

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Posted by Kirsty Birkett, 4 Mar 2017

Kirsty Birkett looks at what the Thirty-nine Articles say about Jesus’s life after death.

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

‘Why was Jesus raised from the dead?’, I have sometimes heard Christians ask. ‘I understand that he died for our sins – he paid the penalty, he took my punishment. That I understand. But he said on the cross that it is finished. So why did he have to rise again?’

It’s a good question, and shows the need for proper doctrinal understanding to put the different parts of God’s story together theologically. The answer I’ve often heard given to these enquiring Christians isn’t bad, but could be better. ‘If Jesus didn’t rise,’ the answer goes, ‘how would we know that it worked?’

As far as it goes, this answer is accurate. It is true that by raising him from the dead, God vindicates Jesus, declares that his wrath has indeed been satisfied, that Jesus has truly paid for the sins that he bore although he had no sin of his own. But the resurrection is about much more than just knowledge.

Jesus was raised to life for our justification, Romans 4:25 tells us. Jesus is the resurrection, as he told Martha in John 11; with him has started the resurrection age that the Old Testament looked forward to at the end of time. His resurrection causes us to be born again to a living hope, we know from 1 Peter 1. Now resurrected, Jesus lives for eternity in right relationship with God; as we live in faith-union with Jesus, we share in that right relationship, enjoying our justification now. Yes, with his death, it was finished, in that the propitiatory sacrifice for sin was made; but in his resurrection, his perfect righteousness brings us with him into the very throne room of God. There is no condemnation for us, because he lives, interceding for us before God.

The resurrection is a doctrinally rich topic. Jesus’ resurrection is inextricably linked to his judgement, as Paul tells us in Acts 17:31: ‘God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world by the man he has appointed, and he has given assurance of this by raising that man from the dead.’ Soon Jesus will return. We are almost there. We suffer trials as we wait; but they will be nothing compared to the glory that is about to come. There will be injustice as we struggle to live out our days in this fallen world which is hostile to Christ. But the saints will be vindicated. Jesus is coming in judgement, and every knee will bow – some joyfully, many reluctantly, but there will be no doubt of his lordship then.

Article 4 also reminds us that the resurrection is physical; Jesus’ resurrection was real and actually happened. His body was dead, and then it was alive. Jesus came back from the dead in a renewed and marvellous human body, and so will we. Christians are pro-matter. We believe the physical creation is good, and we do not aim to escape it or transcend it. The new creation will be better, freed from its frustration, but it will still be physical, and we will have physical bodies in it. We do not look forward to an ethereal existence, disembodied consciousness in communion with God, but to eternal resurrected bodies living in a physical world.

Jesus’ resurrection is the demonstration of the defeat of death, which has held all humanity in fear since Adam’s sin. We need not fear death when we are in Christ, for just as he was raised from the dead, we will also be raised. Death and its related decay will not be part of the new creation; the sources of tears that are so frequent in this world will be done away with.

This means that the resurrection is our hope. We do not mourn as the pagans do, wondering if death is the end, and never knowing for sure what might lie after it. We know that Christ rose as the first-fruits from the dead, and therefore so shall we who are in Christ. The resurrection age has begun, ushered in by Jesus’ resurrection. The last days are here.

So it matters how we live now. It matters that people come to repentance so they will meet him as Saviour, not enemy. It matters that we live in the light of the end, bringing the good news about how to escape judgement and glorifying God in our lives. Christ was raised so that we might walk in newness of life; so we should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). The end is near, so we should be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of our prayers, loving one another (1 Peter 4:7). Jesus will return and transform our bodies to be like his glorious body, so we should stand firm in the Lord (Philippians 4:1).

The resurrection is not a doctrine just for the future: Jesus’ resurrection and return in judgement is something that should guide our every moment, as we live day by day, making decisions to do his will rather than ours, loving one another, showing hospitality, disciplining sin and contending for the gospel. The resurrection means that, in the midst of pain and death, we rejoice. We always have reason for rejoicing. Death will soon be no more.

Kirsty Birkett teaches Ethics, Philosophy, and Church History at Oak Hill College, London and is the author of The Essence of the Reformation.

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