Nobody prior to the resurrection anticipated it. The Jews of the 1st century believed in a general resurrection at the end of time, something that is clear from Martha’s statement to Jesus about Lazarus, that “I know he will be raised on the last day”. But they had no concept of a resurrection in the midst of time. You can read this time and time again in the reaction of the disciples when Jesus tells them what is to happen. They are struck dumb and have no idea what he is talking about. Scoffers look back after the resurrection narrative has been circulating for a good 2,000 years, and see it as a clever fabrication. Yet if it were fabrication, it would have fooled nobody, since nobody in 1st century Judaism would have believed it.
And yet the resurrection in the midst of history was the centre-piece of God’s plan of redemption. What is the resurrection? It has a three-fold aspect to it. Firstly, it is the confirmation that the unrighteous sentence wrought upon Jesus had been overturned by God the Father, and the one who had been charged and put to death declared wholly righteous. Secondly, it represents the justification of his people, with those who believe being freely and fully justified in God’s sight (Romans 4:25). Thirdly, it was the beginning of a new creation.
A new creation? What’s so wrong with the old creation? Do we really need to spell that out? Do we really need any deep studies to see it? You can see it every day. The world lies in sin, and it affects everything. You, me and everyone. Not just the big sins – the genocide, the murders, the child abuse – but also the multitude of minute particulars. To those who say that man is improving, or can be improved, there is always the news to go and watch, read or listen if we want to test that theory. It won’t help your case. Man has been trying to improve himself throughout his history, and he’s still trying to do it, but he’s still no closer to curbing his lust, anger, greed, bitterness and all that. Nor will he by himself.
And so God sent his son into the world as the New Man, one who would keep the law of God totally and would do so on behalf of his people. Yet this wouldn’t help the situation one bit, in and of itself. He must take the curse of the law upon himself by dying for the sins of his people. But nor would this help the situation if it were not for the next part: the resurrection of Christ in the midst of history.
The resurrection is confirmation. It is the confirmation of God’s righteousness, since the man that was nailed to the tree was wholly innocent, free from sin, and utterly undeserving of the penalty of death. It is the confirmation of God’s mercy, since all who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus are shown mercy by the God whom they have offended. And it is the confirmation that God had not done with his creation, but was beginning a new creation, starting with a resurrection in the midst of history.
That new creation is by no means seen in all its glory, yet wherever the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Christ has been received, believed and acted upon, we see glimmers of what is to come. The resurrection in the midst of history is the prelude to the resurrection at the end of history, and on that day the new creation will be seen in all its glory. Happy resurrection day.