The Resurrection and the Atoning work of Jesus Christ
We are now going to examine justification, reconciliation and redemption within the context of the Resurrection. We have to take great care so as not to define these in separate categories. We are always speaking of these things in a very personalised way where we include God and humanity in the one Person of Jesus Christ. He is at the centre of every discussion and every topic where every matter concerns Him.
- The Resurrection and Justification
Jesus Christ is the final act of forgiveness towards all human beings. It is a dynamic act of restoration where God involves Himself in our deplorable and depraved state we were in with the view of taking us to where we ought to be. He assumed our wayward being totally lost about who God is and has transformed us into the same way of being as He is in Himself. It is entirely the work of God wrought out in Jesus Christ as Jesus Christ where humanity was adopted into Him and included. The resurrection has transformed us into children of God where we share in His divine nature. We now live as God is living. We see as God sees and know as God knows. Though right now we may only get glimpses of this reality, there is a time when this will be given to us completely. We have truly been transformed to be authentic Persons. Persons who are free to be loved, embraced, held and cherished. Without God’s direct intervention in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, there is no hope for humanity. Nevertheless, the meaning of forgiveness is far greater than what the english word conveys. It is an event that has been woven and inter-penetrated deep into our human existence and has changed us forever. God has done this to which no other human being can undo.
The resurrection theme in the NT is clearly a healing event. When we refer to sin we have to great care not to define it in a superstitious way. Sin is a state of being that has put us in a place that is far from where we ought to be. No matter how hard we try to make ourselves as alive as we can be, there is some mysterious flaw or fault in us that is always trying to break us and drive us to death. Though we may do all we can to keep ourselves at the peak of physical fitness and carry out our lives as wisely and as safely as possible, our end can come at any time in any way. Our end is inevitable. This threat of death not only lurks within our being, it is ready to pounce from all directions using all means to strike at us any time. We travel just above the state of death. What forgiveness means is we have been raised far above this way of being. The tug of war between life and death is over and the grasp death has on us is broken forever.
Torrance has rightly pointed out what many fail to see in the healing events recorded in the gospels. When Jesus says, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ and, ‘rise take up your mat and walk,’ He is saying the same thing bringing the significance of the two together. In Luke 5:17-26 and Mark 2:1-12 the point is the event highlight the credentials of Jesus as the Son of Man who is given equal authority of God to forgive sins. The significance of the account is God has shown up in Person to exercise forgiveness first hand. His presence is an act of forgiveness. Therefore, the paralysed man’s healing is the mere fact that the forgiving God is in their midst. The Greek word egeiro (used for rise and resurrection) is used in this context:
Resurrection = forgiveness = healing and restoration
The event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the final divine act that enacts forgiveness which equals healing and restoration in Himself. This reality in Himself is inserted into and made our reality in us. We have the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of what has become of Jesus will become of us. Jesus Christ showed us what is in store for us on the other side of death where our life will continue in this new way of being.
Our fallen way of being that is within us that drives us to death as well as all the external factors that also threaten us is the way of being God assumed in Himself at the Incarnation. As much as all that opposes God within His very being and the external factors that all drive to place a wedge between the Son and the Father, Jesus Christ is the only one who has the power to say No to this opposition and replace it with His Yes to us. His Yes is that we will be His children no matter what the cost. He exchanges the way of being that opposes Him with His very own being in filial relationship to the Father. This two are at work at the same time throughout His whole human life. He carries this opposition to what we ought to be and comes to our aid and helps us to be where we ought to be in Himself, which is what God had planned from the foundation of the world. While God was saying No in Jesus Christ to our wrongness, He was also saying Yes and making this wrong right.
The traditional view of the resurrection fails to take in the full implications of the resurrection. The resurrection means we actually share in who Jesus Christ is in Himself including all that is right about Him. We are clothed in the One who is called Righteousness. Traditional Protestantism will not take it that far. The real and dynamic union between God in Jesus Christ and His Humanity and our humanity is fractured. As a result, the relationship between resurrection, forgiveness, healing and restoration is also fractured where the work of Jesus has no effect. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is thus rendered powerless and is of no avail unless we actively do something about it.
The resurrection says so much more about God and humanity together. It is about an event in history that is eternally present. In this event all things are put right and where they ought to be. It is much more than a non-imputation of sins as so often emphasised in modern evangelicalism. God has clothed us and dressed exactly the way He wants us dressed just as Jesus Christ is dressed. We share in the same clothing as the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We share in His regeneration and renewal and are included in this recreating event in the resurrection.
There is so much more to the claim declared by the apostles, God raised Jesus from the dead. It is not only a favourable judgement on Jesus Christ but is also a favourable judgement on the whole human race. It is God showing His nature as the loving kind God who comes to our aid and helps us in our lost condition to be in the most privileged place of fellowship in His divine life. In the process we are changed into people who are fit for His fellowship free from corruption and death. If we narrow this justification down to a legal requirement fulfilled or the answer to our crimes against God then we have interpreted the resurrection in a very naive way. Rather, it is a new creation. Just as justification is intrinsically Personal, the resurrection is also intrinsically personal where God is face-to-face with humanity in Jesus Christ in a deeply loving embrace throughout His whole life, to the Cross, into the grave and His resurrection. There is no other way of looking at it. The act of justification in Jesus Christ is eternally present to us continually at work cleansing, forgiving, sanctifying, renewing and kept in the right with Him.
There are subtleties in the Protestant theology that justification does not mean making righteous. There is also the tendency that we have to act as if there is something about us that still needs to be worked on by ourselves to complete the process. There is the disjunction between redemption and creation. Nevertheless, the true nature of justification must not have any division with redemption and creation. It is an event that includes creation in the most complete way. What happened at the resurrection is an eschatological event. However, what happened in the resurrection of Jesus Christ into a new way of being does not appear to correspond with the members of His body. It is described in the New Testament as a past event but is not to be viewed as something that is projected into the future. The resurrection has put us in an entirely new place and new way of being of which we get a taste of the signs of things to come and what has become of us in Him and what is to become of us when we receive our new bodies. It is not entirely a future event but a future event brought to the present in an eternally mysterious way. When we see it in an eternally present perspective then justification takes on a whole new meaning.
We must move away from the idea that God is too holy to look upon sin. When we look at justification through this filter, it changes everything. When we no longer have God interacting with the world because He is too holy to make Himself a part of it, then His presence in Jesus becomes too much of a theological concern. Questions are raised as to how close we are to God and what are we to do in our daily walk to make us closer with Him. Often there is a gap between the pardon offered in Jesus Christ and the promise of going to heaven when we die. David Kowalick says, ‘It is not pie in the sky when we die but meat on our plate while we wait.‘ There is something concrete and tangible that has been given to us in the present in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this event where forgiveness has been actively made real and present in our lives. On the Day of Pentecost, the Spiirt was poured out on all flesh. The very Being and Person of God was made actively present to us with His healing, sanctifying, regenerating, redeeming and forgiving power is always at work in us. Therefore justification is active and real and in our midst. Baptism is the sign of our once and for all justification while the holy Communion is partaking in the power of the Lord’s justifying power and the new way of life to come at the end of the age. There can be no division with who God is in Himself and His creation.
All views on the world order and how it functions can only be valid when taking the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a real event in space and time. If it conflicts with our views on space and time then it is our view of space and time that must be reviewed and not the resurrection. Such is the hold on some of these views is the resurrection is either re-framed to fit in the their views or disregarded altogether. This must never happen.
What must be clearly evident now is the supreme importance of the resurrection. It is central to the doctrine of God. If Christ has not risen, then all our preaching is futile as St Paul would say in 1Cor 15:14-15. We would even be found to be misrepresenting God! Torrance finishes with this quote:
‘It looks as if belief in the resurrection as real happening in our human existence, as objective act of God, within our space and time of our world, is once again the great dividing line between Christians in our own day. The wholeness and integrity of the gospel are surely at stake here, for our redemption stands or falls with the reality of the risen Jesus Christ. That is why acceptance or rejection of the ’empty tomb’ is rightly felt to be so crucial for it implies, as C. E. B. Cranfield has shown, the wholeness of our redemption in a whole Christ’ (p. 66).