Here’s Good News: Death Has Been Defeated!
By Emmett Rushing
(Emmett Rushing was an assistant pastor in the Glendora, CA congregation of GCI, now retired. With a pandemic still before us here are some foundational truths to keep in mind.)
Almost 2000 years or so ago, something happened in Jerusalem that affects the life of every human being who has ever lived or will live.
What it was has never been sufficiently explained by those who want to dismiss the reports found in a set of writings Christians call the Four Gospels. They claim that Jesus, a travelling teacher, healer and carpenter from Nazareth, had been arrested, condemned and crucified in Jerusalem. As he died he entrusted his spirit to One he believed was his eternal Father in heaven who would not leave him in the grave. For part of three days his battered corpse lay in a tomb carved out of solid rock, sealed by a heavy stone rolled across the entrance.
The Roman executioners had placed a guard at the tomb. Jesus had prophesied that the grave would not hold him, and the authorities were afraid the followers of the dead man would try to steal the body.
That seemed so unlikely. Jesus’s followers were demoralized and in hiding. They had seen the brutal end of their leader – flogged nearly to death, nailed to a cross and, after six hours of agony, stabbed in the side with a spear. They had taken the battered body down from the cross and hastily wrapped it in linen.
It was only intended to be a temporary burial. Some planned to come back after their Sabbath rest to prepare Jesus’ mortal remains for a proper burial. They had no illusions about what they would find in the tomb. Their beloved leader was dead and He and they were going nowhere. Or so they thought.
The body of Jesus lay in the cold, dark tomb from Friday to Sunday. Then, sometime early in the morning of the third day, the shroud that held the mangled flesh stirred, and out of it stepped something that had never existed before: a resurrected and glorified human being possessing what was later called “a spiritual body” – like ours but greatly transformed and enhanced never to die again.
The New Testament tells us Jesus had been resurrected by his heavenly Father through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:4). But he was raised in a way that did not just restore his human existence, as Jesus had done for those such as his friend Lazarus whom he had brought back from the dead only days before (John 11). Lazarus was later to die as we all must, but this did not happen to Jesus whom one Christian bishop called “the God-Man.”
Jesus’ resurrection was not just the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus had become a new kind of creation, never to die again. He folded the burial shroud, and walked out of the tomb to continue his work appearing visibly and bodily to many of his friends for more than forty days. And for you and I, for our loved ones who have gone on before, for the whole world really – nothing would ever be the same again.
One with man/One with God
Jesus had been one of us, a flesh-and-blood human being, subject to hunger, thirst, weariness and the limited dimensions of a mortal existence. But He also lived in intimate communion with One he called the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. He did this while still being one of us.
Theologians call this “the incarnation.” It meant the human Jesus – while still a man like all the rest – was also one with God as the eternal Word or Son of God. This is a concept that is difficult, and perhaps impossible to completely grasp, given the limitations of our human minds. How could Jesus be both God and human? Yet those reports we can read from eyewitnesses such as Matthew, Mark and John offer evidence that Jesus was just that: one in being with God and one with humanity – fully God and fully man. See Hebrews 2:9-18 for a brief summary.
So while this is an intriguing “mystery of the faith” and called so in the later Bible accounts, the upshot of that resurrection morning was truly revolutionary. When the human Jesus was resurrected, the two natures blended to create a new dimension of being, a real live person referred to as “a new creation” – a glorified human being, no longer subject to death.
The Real Payoff: A New Humanity!
Many years after his resurrection and return to heaven Jesus appeared to John, the last of his original disciples, a man who had seen him bleed to death as an eyewitness. John was now an old man. Jesus told him, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).
Revelation 1:18 is a verse that needs to be unpacked carefully. Look what Jesus is saying. He was dead. He is now alive. As if that were not enough, he says He has the power within himself to stay alive forever. And He also has the key that opens up the way for others to escape the grave. Death isn’t the ultimate horror it once was since Jesus’ resurrection.
Wow! We may well respond with a “wow” as we face the passing of so many loved ones this past year. The good news is that Jesus has revolutionized what it means to be a human being. Not just for himself, but for everyone. That is the astonishing promise of a text we have all heard: “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus, resurrected to eternal life, has opened up the way for us to also live forever with him.
Co-Heirs with Christ
But wait – there’s more, as we say today.
Here is what Jesus prayed before he died: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus, having shared our mortal existence for about 30 years, says He wants us to be with him and share his glory in his immortal environment forever. That’s John 17:22-24.
Paul, writing about this to the Romans, reinforced the same truth: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17-18).
Yes, Jesus was the first human to transcend mortal existence, to escape the bonds of death. But God intended Jesus to be the Forerunner which is what he is called in Hebrews 6:20. We were always on his mind. “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29).
Although we cannot yet understand the full impact of this, our eternal future is safe in his hands. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus has shown us the way. He is the first to reach the full perfection that God had in mind for human beings from the beginning. He is the Pioneer of our Salvation, the Firstborn of many brethren.
His Destiny/Our Destiny
Jesus’ destiny is our destiny. His future is our future. God demonstrates his willingness to irreversibly bind himself to all of us in an eternal relationship of love, lifting us up into the very life and communion enjoyed by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. His resurrection was the prototype for ours.
Jesus said He came to save us and show us the Way. He is waiting for us beyond the veil. He will be there for all who hear his words and receive him. He has defeated death and reversed our fear of it. Can anything be better than that?
For more see John 11:25-26 and 2 Timothy 1:8-10.