It may sound a little strange or morbid, but I enjoy preaching at funerals. Of course, I hate seeing friends, family, and church members leave us behind. But some unchurched family members and friends may hear about God’s love and the reasons for the hope that is in us. In these raw moments, mourners tend to consider their own mortality and give serious thought to the claims of Christ.
Jesus expressed a similar sentiment when Lazarus died and his disciples saw the resurrection and the life in action: “Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe” (John 11:14–15, CSB). We cannot know the joy of resurrection without experiencing the pangs of death and loss.
Funerals are opportunities to rehearse the drama of our eschatology, to practice the experience of hope before others. When I stand before a coffin or an urn, I proclaim that the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our own future resurrection. Jaroslav Pelikan’s aphorism always comes to mind: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.”
Books on the Resurrection typically emphasize questions about the historical credibility of the Gospel accounts, and with good reason. The apostle Paul staked everything on this one event happening in time and space: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17, CSB). Academic studies usually try convincing readers that Jesus was raised from the dead while having little to say about why we should care.
Regent College theology professor W. Ross Hastings flips this script in his newest release, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Exploring Its Theological Significance and Ongoing Relevance. Presuming that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of all the biblical and historical evidence, Hastings launches into a book-length exploration of its practical and theological implications.
The linchpin of salvation
No serious Christian questions the importance of the Resurrection for the gospel, but its significance for other areas of theology is often ignored. For example, Martin Luther once suggested that justification is the article of faith on which the church stands or falls.
Hastings offers gentle but helpful pushback to these sorts of claims. Justification may have defined the Protestant Reformation, but there is no justification without Jesus truly being raised from the dead. Nor can we understand what the Bible teaches about justification apart from what it teaches about Christ’s resurrection. Hastings contends that the same is true for other doctrines like Christology, creation, salvation, and the last things. For Hastings, the Resurrection is the true center of our theological universe.
The first and largest portion of the book explores what the Resurrection means for our salvation. One of many “Aha!” moments I had while reading came from Hastings’ observation that, in the Book of Acts, apostolic proclamations of the gospel mention the Resurrection far more than the Cross. What does this mean for how we think about and talk about the gospel? Evangelicals are accustomed to saying that Jesus died for our sins and then rose again on the third day, but Hastings challenges us to think deeply about the ways Jesus rose again on the third day for our sins. His resurrection is just as vital to our salvation as his death (Rom. 4:25).
Hastings insists that the Resurrection must be central to our understanding of the Atonement. Of course, theologians have been debating their relationship for nearly two millennia. Those in the penal-substitutionary camp contend that Jesus died in the place of sinners, taking on the punishment for sins we so rightly deserve. Advocates of the Christus Victor theory contend that Jesus died not to placate the wrath of an angry God but so he could have victory over Satan, sin, and death. Hastings advances a creative proposal that preserves the strengths of both theories without succumbing to either-ors.
For Hastings, the Atonement is first and foremost about the risen Lord’s active, ongoing participation with humanity. God the Son participated in humanity by taking on a nature like ours and becoming part of the human story. Though Jesus never sinned, he personally bore our sin-tainted humanity on his shoulders. He endured the wrath of God in our place, forever silencing our satanic accuser. The pronouncement of Jesus’ victory through the Resurrection has become our own victory over sin, death, and the powers of darkness.
Hastings demonstrates how the Resurrection impacts every stage of the order of salvation. In the past, God saved us from sin by declaring righteous all who are united to Christ by faith (the biblical idea of “justification”). Yet we cannot be united to a dead Savior. What’s more, if God did not raise Jesus from the dead, he could not establish his own righteousness. As Hastings argues, the Resurrection gives legitimacy to our own justification: It “says that God has been righteous in fulfilling his covenant promises to Abraham and his seed. The resurrection says that God has redeemed them in a righteous way.”
God continues to save us from sin in the present by actually transforming us into his likeness (what theologians call “sanctification”). As Hastings explains, “We live the Christian life from the reality that in Christ we have already been raised and that our lives are now hidden with Christ in the very life of the triune God.”
Through our union with the risen Lord, we have been raised from spiritual death and seated in the heavenly realms with Christ (Eph. 2:4–6). We can live in the power of the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead as we learn how to clothe ourselves in the virtues and attributes of Christ.
Hastings does not describe sanctification as a paint-by-numbers exercise in spiritual disciplines but as active communion with the risen Lord. Just as Christ participated in our humanity with his death and resurrection, we must learn how to participate in his life.
Drawing from the restoration of Peter described in John 21:1–17, Hastings places three “vocational resurrection disciplines” at the heart of our ongoing participation with Christ. First, we must “see Christ,” learning how to prayerfully meditate on his presence in our lives. Next, we must “feed on Christ” by denying ourselves and delighting in his Word. And finally, we are called (like Peter) to “feed the sheep,” pouring our lives into God’s people with the same gospel hope that nourishes us.
The Resurrection also has clear implications for our future salvation, when God will save us from sin by completely removing the stain of sin and death (the stage we call “glorification”). We cling to Scripture’s promise that we, like Jesus, will be raised from the dead with bodies that reflect God’s glory and goodness. Our personal hope for resurrection also translates into cosmic hope for the whole created order. To paraphrase J. R. R. Tolkien, the Resurrection ensures that everything sad will come untrue.
The second part of the book explores how Christ’s resurrection has changed the nature of reality. We know Christ has been raised from the dead, but what does this teach us about his person and work? First, his resurrection is a divine declaration of his victory over death and demonic powers. Second, it vindicates all his suffering on our behalf. The risen Lord reigns, and one day everyone will recognize his rule (Phil. 2:9–11). Finally, because Jesus has been raised from the dead, he has an ongoing work as the Great High Priest and King who lives to pray for and shepherd his people.
In one of his final chapters, Hastings explores the implications of the Resurrection for our doctrine of creation, our ethics, and our engagement with the sciences and the arts. Through the resurrection of Christ, God affirms the original creation mandate given to Adam to fill the earth and rule over it, but he also gives a new mission and sense of purpose to the ecclesial community created to celebrate his triumph over death.
We can’t have Christianity without the Resurrection, but we often neglect its power in our daily journey. Hastings encourages us to go beyond a superficial, purely cognitive affirmation to a hands-on, passionate embrace of the resurrection life. “I am convinced,” he writes, “that most evangelical Christians, despite the fact that they would die for the belief that Jesus Christ arose literally and bodily from the dead, and despite the fact that they believe notionally in the fact that the resurrection was God’s guarantee that we are justified and forgiven of all our sins, know very little about resurrection living—that is, guilt-free, joyful, and passionately missional, other-oriented Christianity.” Such practical and pastoral wisdom truly sets this book apart from standard historical or apologetics fare.
There are certain theological themes I wish Hastings had explored in greater detail, like the doctrine of God or ecclesiology. Frequent appeals to the work of Karl Barth may frustrate some readers. But his other dialogue partners, figures like T. F. Torrance and Jonathan Edwards, ensure much-needed evangelical balance. Hastings is at times repetitious, but this stems from the interconnectedness of the themes he addresses.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a short volume but not one to be read hastily. It is neither a pure exposition of biblical texts related to the Resurrection nor a neat and tidy systematic theology. Instead, Hastings provides an excellent example of contemplative theology that challenges us to ponder the glory, the mystery, and the majesty of the risen Messiah. Readers can hardly ask for anything more rewarding.
Rhyne Putman is associate vice president for academic affairs at Williams Baptist University. He is the author of The Method of Christian Theology: A Basic Introduction and When Doctrine Divides the People of God: An Evangelical Approach to Theological Diversity.
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