Why Did Jesus Raise?

I hate leaky pipes. Not only because of the mess involved but also because I lack any of the requisite skills to fix the problem. But imagine with me, for a moment, that the next time my pipes break, I try my hand at repairing them. Obviously, taking the pipes apart is out the question, since I have little hope of getting them back together. So suppose I attempted instead to fasten a rag or a sponge around the leak and choose to change it out whenever it got full. Have I fixed the pipes? On the one hand, I’ve managed to prevent the leak from making a mess. On the other hand, I clearly have not solved the problem.

Human beings are not unlike leaky pipes. A leaky pipe is a problem because it fails to fulfill its purpose and function of transporting water, and the result is a mess. Likewise, human beings are born broken. We are born unable and unwilling to fulfill our purpose and function of worshiping God alone, and the result is a world suffused with sin and under the wrath of God.

Now suppose someone attempted to fix the human problem the way I suggested we fix our leaky pipe. Suppose that someone came along and set things up such that whenever someone sinned, the judgment and condemnation for that sin was covered. Have they fixed humans? On the one hand, they’ve managed to prevent judgment from falling on sinful people. On the other hand, they clearly have not solved the problem. For God to truly deal with our sin, not only do we need forgiveness for the sins we commit, we need him to repair our natures in a fundamental way. Enter Easter to the rescue.

Paul writes in Romans 6:4-5:

Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.

Notice two things about this passage. First, in verse four, Paul states that the reason we are united with Jesus in his death is so that we are united in his new life. In other words, the reason that Jesus brings us into a relationship with himself and vanquishes sin on our behalf is so that just as Jesus became a new type of human—freed from the malfunction of sin—we might also become the same type of human. Second, in verse five, Paul reiterates his point by stating that anyone who has been saved from their sins by Jesus’ death will also join him in becoming a new type of person through his resurrection. In other words, because Jesus not only died but rose we have the hope that God will not only forgive our sins but fix our broken sinful human natures.

Use Easter this year as a reminder that not only has Jesus dealt with the consequence of our sins, he has fixed the root of our sin. Jesus has repaired our broken sinful natures. And while we experience only a part of that healing now, we will know the fullness of it in the age to come.

Responding to Objections to the Resurrection

In our last entry, Dr. Cabal gave us a sampling of the massive amount of historical evidence for the Resurrection. As he mentioned at the end of that entry, however, skeptics have their own ways of interpreting this evidence. In this entry, we will consider some of the rival theories to the Resurrection. In the end, we will see that the theory that Jesus rose from the dead offers the best explanation of the available evidence.

Three Rival Theories

While a massive number of theories have arisen to explain the Resurrection over the years, we will limit ourselves to a consideration of three of the most popular theories:

  1. Conspiracy Theory: After Jesus’ death, the disciples stole his body and invented the story that he rose from the dead.
  2. Apparent Death Theory: Jesus only appeared to die on the cross. After three days, he recovered enough to leave the tomb and return to the disciples.
  3. Hallucination Theory: The disciples had a shared hallucination in which Jesus appeared to them.
    Explaining the Evidence

In Dr. Cabal’s entry, we learned of four historical facts any theory of the Resurrection should explain: (i) Jesus died on the cross, (ii) Jesus’ tomb was found empty, (iii) the disciples experience postmortem appearances of Jesus, and (iv) the disciples sincerely believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Now let’s consider how each of the three theories mentioned above fares as an explanation of these facts.

  1. Conspiracy Theory: Advocates of the Conspiracy Theory accept that Jesus died on the Cross. Additionally, they explain the empty tomb—the disciples stole the body—and the postmortem experiences—the disciples made these up. As such, this theory gives some explanation for three of our four historical facts. But what about the disciple’s belief? Here, the theory begins to fall apart. What did the disciples have to gain from propagating the lie that Jesus rose from the dead? According to the historical record, the disciple’s proclamation of Jesus as the risen savior resulted in social ostracization, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Only a madman would continue to propagate a lie under these conditions.
  2. Apparent Death Theory: If Jesus only appeared to die on the cross and returned to the disciples, that certainly explains why the tomb was empty and why the disciples saw him. What this theory fails to account for, however, is the consensus of scholars that Jesus could not have survived the affair on the cross. Additionally, the theory fails to explain why the disciples would have believed a bloody, beaten, and nearly dead Jesus had risen from the dead as a glorified messiah.
  3. Hallucination Theory: By far, this theory explains the least of any under consideration. First, as many scholars have noted, if the disciples had a mass hallucination of Jesus, they would have naturally concluded that Jesus was appearing to them as a spirit, not as a resurrected messiah. Second, if the disciples merely had a hallucination and Jesus’ body was still in the tomb, why didn’t the Jewish or Roman government simply produce the body when they began to propagate the message of his resurrection?

The Resurrection Theory

So far, we have seen that none of the theories considered above offers a full account of the historical evidence regarding Jesus’ resurrection. But what about the theory that Jesus rose from the dead? If Jesus rose bodily from the dead, we have an explanation for Jesus’ death, the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances to the disciples, and the fervency of the disciples’ belief in Jesus as the resurrected messiah. As such, we can say with a high degree of confidence that the Resurrection Theory offers the best explanation of the historical facts regarding Jesus’ death.

How Do We Know that Jesus Rose from the Dead?

If asked how we know Jesus is risen from the dead, the essential Christian answer is: “I know Him personally by His Spirit who lives in me.” We can, however, present historical evidence: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). The following brief summary presents some of the Resurrection evidence which even the majority of non-Christian scholars now recognize as true.

  1. In the last half century, the New Testament documents have become widely accepted as very early, i.e., the first century. Thus the NT gospels are the best and earliest written records of the historical Jesus. One may choose to reject them due to philosophical reasons, but not because they are written far after the events occurred. We also have non-Christian sources from the period which confirm that the early Christians believed, lived and died for what is written in the Gospels.
  2. Scholars overwhelmingly accept that Jesus was really dead when removed from the cross. Abundant evidence from that era confirms the Romans knew how to execute the condemned. A 1968 archaeological discovery reveals their cruel crucifixion proficiency. A first-century ossuary contains the bones of a man (Yehohanan) whose feet had been nailed together but torturously bent to the side. Both legs were gruesomely fractured, almost certainly from a devastating blow to hasten his death.
  3. That Jesus was placed in a tomb later discovered empty is also the scholarly majority view today. Unlike the well-kept tombs of other Jewish holy men still containing their remains, early Christians eventually “lost” the burial cave of Jesus because it was empty. Not until the fourth century did the mother of the emperor Constantine, Helena, search for the empty tomb.
  4. Also widely accepted today is that early disciples experienced postmortem appearances of Jesus. Not only did they believe this occurred on multiple occasions, but the Church confirmed women as the first witnesses of the resurrected One. Because women were not then regarded as reliable witnesses, this early incidental report confirmed the appearances.
  5. And without any doubt, the disciples were dramatically changed after they believed Jesus risen from the dead—inaugurating the most influential movement in history. Their Jewish religious practices were changed (the day of worship moved to resurrection day), and baptism and the Lord’s Supper became their central ordinances that proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection. These Christians were radically willing to die for their resurrected Lord, even though they had nothing to gain in this life.

Of course, Christians should not be surprised that those not personally knowing the Savior produce “counter-theories,” ways to counter the above evidence. But these theories do not handle well the above evidence. And in the end if one’s mind and heart is not closed, it seems so much easier to believe He is Risen. Indeed.

Was the Cross a Backup Plan?

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” —Acts 2:22–24

Every spring, once the red hearts and roses of Valentine’s Day make their way off the shelves, our culture gets ready for Easter. Parents buy bunny-themed candy to put in our kid’s colorful baskets. We buy decorative grass to make the baskets look full after Dad eats some of the candy. We draw colorful eggs and put together cute outfits for the Easter service. Dad makes an emergency trip to the store because he ate the backup candy, too. It seems like everywhere we look, there are bunnies and pastel eggs to remind us of Easter.

In fact, the only thing that seems hard to find are images of the cross. The thought of crucifixion is startling and upsetting compared to the picturesque images that fill our store shelves and our social media feeds. When we look at Christ on the cross, we are forced to look on at pierced hands and broken flesh. It’s hard to look at, even in art. Surely no one would choose this unless it was the last option and all other contingencies had been exhausted.

But this is one of the amazing truths of the crucifixion—Christ chose the cross. The apostle Peter made this clear in his sermon in Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost, less than two months after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Peter stood up in front of the same Jerusalem crowds that had called for his death. Peter indicted them for the part they played. After all, members of God’s chosen people violently murdered God’s anointed one. The same people that should have welcomed Jesus as king had him killed as a criminal. But Peter proclaimed hope, even in the middle of his condemnation. He told them that their actions weren’t just a product of their own evil. They were part of a larger plan.

In fact, Peter tells the crowds that Christ was, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” It would be enough to say that Christ went to his death with full knowledge of what was coming, but Peter says even more than that. Peter, newly indwelled by the Holy Spirit, in the first public proclamation of the gospel—after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead—says that all that happened was part of God’s definite plan.

The cross of Christ was never the backup plan. It wasn’t an incidental detail in salvation history. The cross is at the very center of everything that God has done since before the foundation of the world. So, as we enter this Easter season and prepare to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, don’t shrink back from the cross. It is gruesome and bloody. But the cross of Christ sits at the very center of God’s design for history, beckoning us to repent and to praise the Son of God who came to die.

How Easter Changes Our Priorities

A Baby Changes Everything

There’s nothing like the birth of a child to completely flip your world upside down. Something about holding that tiny little person changes everything. Things that you wouldn’t give a second thought to moments before (like going to see a movie, spending time outside the home after 7, or sleeping) are now not even in the realm of possibility. Time you once devoted to friends or decompressing is now devoted to your kid. Money you would have put towards buying things for yourself is now spent on toys and baby clothes. All your priorities and decisions are viewed through the lens of the baby.

The Transformation of The Apostle Paul

In Philippians 3:1-11, Paul describes what his life looked like before Christ. From an external observer, he was as righteous as anyone could be, “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” he says. Before his conversion, Paul’s priorities were focused on building and maintaining the facade of being a respectable Pharisee. But then the Damascus Road happened—”But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Why? What changed? How could he throw it all away? The things he once considered important lost their luster when he saw the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” The lens through which he viewed his life changed in an instance—”That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

The worth of Christ and the reality of his resurrection power caused Paul to consider his former way of life as worthless in comparison. All the esteem of man wasn’t worth comparing to what he had found in Christ. So he threw his old life away that he might find a new one.

Counting Everything as Loss

Easter did more than slightly adjust the priorities of the Apostle Paul, it turned them on their head. He gave up everything he had been aiming for up to that point. Has Easter done the same for me? Like having your first child transforms how you view your life’s priorities, so should Easter. Everyday choices no longer look so “everyday” in light of the cross and the empty tomb. Should you let your kids take part in all those extracurriculars? Well, maybe so. But maybe not, if it keeps them from attaining the resurrection of the dead. Should you take that promotion? Perhaps, but what if it keeps you from seeing the surpassing worth of Christ? In the light of Easter morning, such mundane choices take on eternal significance. They must.

Daily I ask myself if what I’m focusing on helps or hinders me from seeing Christ for who he is? If it’s not a help but a hindrance, it might be time to count it as a loss. Because there’s no point in all this striving if at the end of our lives we attained what we desired, but what we desired wasn’t Christ.

What Does Life After the Cross Look Like?

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”  — Galatians 5:5

How often have you encountered times of waiting?  It could be specific situations or even seasons that seem to never end. We loathe waiting. Our culture even demands double drive-thrus at restaurants with pleasant employees holding iPads in the rain to speed up our orders of chicken sandwiches. Oh, we may not admit it, but the struggle is real. I’m currently in a season of waiting that has challenged my faith and grown me in ways I likely won’t see until this season is over. But let’s look at how the gospel is permeated with seasons of waiting.

We’re all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Life was a paradise. Then the serpent came, and man fell prey to his ways, causing the original sin. In Genesis 3:15, we hear God deliver the consequences to the serpent, Satan, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Adam and Eve heard this—as they were also receiving from God the consequences of their sin. Even then, they surely thought “how long before this serpent’s head will be crushed?” God was speaking of a future Rescuer, and likely, Adam and Eve longed and waited for that glorious day.

Since we have the Scriptures, we know that the Rescuer wouldn’t come quickly but thousands of years later. Isaiah 11 prophesies of the “shoot that will grow from the stump of Jesse.” This Shoot was to be a banner for His people, and His resting place was to be glorious. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll learn of God’s chosen people—the Israelites. They went from captivity to freedom led by a stuttering leader, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and eventually entered the Promised Land. Continually they were disobedient, yet God was faithful. He had a plan of rescue. But His people had to wait. The prophets, like Isaiah, foretold this Rescuer’s coming yet surely those disobedient chosen ones wondered, “how long?” The wait was arduous, and some doubted a Messiah would ever come.

Then, just as God had promised, when the fullness of time had come, Jesus was born. Born in a smelly barn with the animals, the Rescuer had arrived. But as a baby? How unconventional for a King. Yet after all the waiting, God’s Plan was unfolding just as He designed it. One person who had waited excitedly for this day was Simeon. When he held the baby Jesus, he said, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples — a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.” Simeon’s waiting was over.

For the next 33 years, Jesus would minister on this earth, culminating in what we celebrate as Easter—His death and resurrection. How can this be? The Rescuer had come and now was gone. . . but not dead. He is risen!! Jesus had told His disciples, “if I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.”

Lots of questions followed. Yet over time, even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples came to understand Jesus’ words, and the gospel spread. But another wait began. The wait for Christ’s return.

Today as believers we are still waiting for His return. Many a day we may utter “even so, Lord Jesus come quickly.” We wait. But not without hope. Life after the cross brings us hope and waiting. Yet we see the thread of waiting through the gospel story. As we wait with anticipation, may we be bold in sharing the good news that brings the hope of Christ.

Why Did Jesus Die?

Why did Jesus die?1 Our question is not about the manner of his death (in what way?), the means of his death (how?), nor its circumstances (when?)2; It is about the reason and intended results of his death. Although we cannot exhaustively answer this question, we can nevertheless answer it truly.3 In order to do this briefly, we will consider just one of the ancient eyewitness sources written about Jesus’ life and death—namely, the Gospel of John.4

There are several places in John where Jesus says that he “came” or “does [x, y, or z]” for a reason or purpose.5 Some of these relate most closely with the ultimate purpose for which Jesus died (14:31; 18:37), while others address the results or entailments of that purpose. In this post, we will first consider Jesus’ ultimate purpose in dying and then the results entailed in his accomplishment of that purpose.

In John 14, Jesus prepares his disciples for the time when he departs (i.e., in death), and he says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:31, ESV).6 Here Jesus describes his voluntary death as obedience to the Father, and that obedience is purposed to display the love of God the Son for God the Father.7 In John 18, Pilate interrogates Jesus, and Pilate storms out after Jesus says the following: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (18:37).8 In light of Jesus’ repeated testimony about himself (e.g., 8:12–14) and his singular statement of John 14:6 that “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” we ought to conclude with D. A. Carson that “in this context, truth . . . is nothing less than the self-disclosure of God in his Son.”9 Therefore, Jesus came to die as the unique God (1:18)—God’s unique Son (3:16)—in order to uniquely reveal the glorious character of the triune God (1:14–17). This may strike you as unexpected! Yet, what Jesus reveals and his purpose to reveal are inseparable10, so we turn to Jesus’ intended results.

If the death of Jesus intends to uniquely reveal God’s glorious character, then what precisely does the death of God the Son make known? In short, Jesus’ death reveals God as the Lamblike Servant whose humble substitution and sacrifice on the cross is the only way for sinners to have eternal life.

John narrates that truth in the following ways: After taking on flesh (1:14), God himself as Jesus is identified as the Lamb (1:29 cf. Isa 53:7), who takes away the sin of fallen humanity.11 Apart from this divine intervention, humanity would only love the darkness (3:19–21) with the wrath of righteous judgment awaiting them (3:36).12 Jesus indicates that believing and knowing that “I Am He” is the only way not to die in your sins (8:24–28 cf. Isa 43:10–11).13 With that deplorable and desperate condition of his sheep in view, God the Son is revealed as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:15–18), dying in their place. Substituting himself for them, Jesus dies bearing the judgment for their sins about the time the Passover lamb was slain (19:14), without a broken bone (19:33, 36 cf. Exod 12:46), and his body was not left to the morning (John 19:31 cf. Exod 12:10).14

Therefore, Jesus’ death, by saving sinners as a substitutionary sacrifice and providing them with eternal life, accomplishes its ultimate purpose of uniquely revealing God Himself for “this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

[1] Given the brevity of this post and the importance of the topic, I also recommend John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006).

[2] It is also not about whether he must die; for the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels are replete with the times Jesus said he must. See, for example, Matt 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22, 17:25, 22:37, 24:7, 26; John 3:14 cf. 12:32–34.

[3] I am alluding to D. A. Carson’s adage against post-modern thinking: “Although we cannot know anything absolutely (i.e., exhaustively) like God knows it, we can know some things truly (i.e., really).” Andrew David Naselli, “D. A. Carson’s Theological Method,” SETS 29.2 (2011): 252.

[4] On the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, see Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017); on the trustworthiness of the Gospels as ancient accounts, see Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

[5] So, for example, John 3:16, 17 cf. 12:46, 47; 5:34; 6:38; 9:39; 10:10; 14:13, 31 cf. 17:4; 18:37.

[6] In Greek, the purpose clause is placed first for emphasis: “in order that the world would know that I love the Father, just as the Father commanded me, thus I do.”

[7] On the voluntary nature of Jesus’ death, one should recall John 10:18; Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up.” That John believes Jesus voluntarily died is clear from his description of Jesus’ death in 19:30, where Jesus “bowed his head and handed over his spirit.” The description recalls the authority of Jesus to lay down or hand over his own life.

[8] We should hear John 10:16, 27 in that reply. There Jesus says that his sheep listen to his voice. Therefore, all sheep are those who are “of the truth”—vitally connected to him who is the truth, Jesus. Seen in this light, Being a sheep and being of the truth are parallel to being a branch in the True Vine (John 15:1–11).

[9] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 595.

[10] This is to say that if Jesus desires to display the character of God, then that desire has an object or content that is meant for display also. That object or content is inseparably included within the ultimate purpose of his death.

[11] John later describes this as the giving of God the Son so that all who believe would have eternal life and thus be saved (3:16–17).

[12] This is due to spiritual blindness (9:39–41).

[13] Thus, “no one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

[14] These three details along with John 1:29 confirm that John views Jesus’ death as that of the Passover Lamb of the new exodus. For more on the Passover and Servant connections, see Paul M. Hoskins, That Scripture Might Be Fulfilled: Typology and the Death of Christ (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2009).