The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. It was not a rare occurance for a Jewish man, deemed messianic by his followers, to be crucified at the hands of the Romans. Crucifixion, however, makes you dead. That’s usually the end of the story. But Jesus rose from the dead. No one seemed to anticipate this except Jesus himself. (see Matt 16:21)
But the resurrection itself was a highly anticipated event among the Jews. The following passages from the Old Testament give you a good feel for the specific texts Jesus’ contemporaries were wrestling with during his time on earth.
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!(ESV)
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.(ESV)
1 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”(ESV)
12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.(ESV)
14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.(ESV)
The Jews were definitely anticipating resurrection. Well, not the Sadducees. They didn’t believe in the resurrection. (See Matt 22:23) But many Jews were hoping for the resurrection of the dead. God had made many promises to the Jewish people. Many faithful descendants of Abraham had died never having received the fulfillment of all God had promised. Part of the messianic expectation was that the fulfillment of all God had promised would include the resurrection of the dead, enabling the faithful to experience the fulness of God’s Kingdom on the earth.
N.T. Wright, in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, points out how the actual events of Jesus’ resurrection were such a departure from what had been expected by believing Jews. The resurrection anticipated was to be a general resurrection; a multitude would rise, some to judgment and some to experience God’s faithfulness in the Messianic Kingdom. The events of the New Testament have redefined our expectation of resurrection as a two part event. Jesus’ resurrection is seen as a preliminary event that anticipates a future general resurrection yet to come. The metaphor used to explain this is that of a harvest. Leading up to the harvesting of a crop, there would usually be a small group of plants which would yield fruit in advance of all the others. This event was called “first fruits”.
1 Corinthians 15:20-24
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.(ESV)
So – what is the significance of the resurrection? In this event Jesus’ identity as Messiah is confirmed. In this event Jesus’ victory over Satan is confirmed. In this event Jesus’ victory over death, hell, and the grave is confirmed. In this event Jesus’ provision for sin is confirmed. These themes and ideas are important and common in our current understanding and discussion of Jesus’ resurrection. Less common, but equally important, is an understanding that Jesus’ resurrection anticipates the resurrection yet to come. The general resurrection expected by the Jews of Jesus’ day is going to occur. Jesus’ own resurrection stands as our guarantee of this future event. Contrary to popular theology, we will not spend eternity in Heaven (by this I mean a non-material spiritual existence). Rather, we will spend eterninity in the New Heavens and New Earth spoken of in Rev 21:1-4. We will, in our flesh, experience the fulfillment of all God has promised. We will, in our flesh, experience the full appropriation of the complete victory Jesus’ has won. Can these bones live? In Jesus’ resurrection the emphatic declarion from Heaven itself is “Yes!”
He is risen. He is risen indeed. We too will rise.