Jesus - The Resurrection
Fr. Thomas Hopko · December 10, 2009
What does it mean to say that Jesus is "The Resurrection"? Today Fr. Tom dives deeply into the significance of the Gospel as it relates to the resurrection of Christ.
Orthodox Christians certainly believe that if Christ were not risen from the dead, not only would our faith be in vain, as St. Paul says, and the preaching would be in vain, but there would even be no Christianity. It seems that that is pretty clear. The only reason that we have Christianity is because there were people who were absolutely convinced that Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, had been raised from the dead by God. That is the way that it was preached in the earliest church. If you read the book of Acts of the Apostles, what you have there is the teaching from the very beginning that God has raised up his servant Jesus, his child Jesus. And that’s the formula that is used, that he has been raised, he has been raised.
I believe I’ve counted ten times in the first ten chapters of the book of Acts where you have this being the preaching. For example, on the very beginning on the Day of Pentecost itself Peter preaches, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed from the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it, for David says concerning him—and then Peter refers to Psalms 16 in the book of Acts—‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced. Moreover, my flesh will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my life, my soul, to Sheol (to Hades), nor let the Holy One see corruption. Thou has made known to me the ways of life. Thou will make me full of gladness by your presence.’”
And then Peter continues, where he says, “God has sworn an oath to him, that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,” that is, to King David. He foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that:
He was not abandoned to Hades, to Sheol, the realm of the dead. Nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear, for David did not ascend into the heavens but he himself said, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.’” Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly, assuredly, that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus, who you crucified.
So one thing we know is historically, absolutely factual and that is that there were those who were convinced that the tomb was empty, that Jesus had been raised, that he was glorified at the right hand of the Father. And these people were convinced because they believed and they testified that the risen Christ had appeared to them, that they had seen him alive.
Now in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you have the appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples. Some scholars say that in Mark the appearances were added a little bit later because in Mark’s Gospel it’s God himself and the angel of God who testifies to the Resurrection, where the angel tells the women “The tomb is empty, he is risen, he is not here.” But you have these resurrection appearances to Mary Magdalene, to the apostles in the upper room, to Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. And St. Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, one of the first letters and a Pauline letter for sure, he makes this statement. He says—it’s the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians—St. Paul says, “I would remind you, brethren, “—“brethren,” by the way, is a plural for both brothers and sisters— “in what terms I preach to you the Gospel which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved. If you hold it fast unless you have believed in vain.”
So this is the Good News. What is the Gospel, the Good News, the announcement of the glad tidings? What is that Gospel? It’s the Gospel that God has raised his Son Jesus and that in him, in Jesus, God is victorious over all his enemies and as St. Paul will say in this very chapter, the last enemy is death itself. So this is what he says:
For I deliver to you as the first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures kata tas graphas—according to the Scriptures—that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. According to the Scriptures. That he appeared to Kephas, Cephas—that’s Simon Peter, that’‘s Peter, the rock—then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles. And last of all, as to one untimely born,” —actually, that means literally in Greek “as to an abortion,” to someone who had been aborted—he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an Apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. And his grace toward me was not in vain.
So he says that he himself had seen the risen Christ. And of course, he says it three times and it’s recorded in the book of Acts that Saul, who is persecuting the Church has the vision of Jesus saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” He says, “Who are you, Lord?” And he says, “I am Christ who you are persecuting.”
So Paul claims himself, and he even founds his apostolate on two things. You know, St. Paul was attacked by his enemies saying, “You’re not a real Apostle.” And he said, “I am.” He said, “Because there’s two conditions fore being an Apostle: one is to have seen the risen Christ and I have, and second is to suffer.” And then he boasts of his sufferings and we should remember that, that a real disciple, a real apostle is always a martys, he’s always a witness. And that means that he witnessed to the risen Christ and he suffers for what his witness is.
Now, the Apostle continues in the fifteenth chapter: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Then he says:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified and bore witness of God that it was he—God—who raised Christ, who he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. But if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who also have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
And that’s very important because the biblical teaching is very clear: if Christ is not risen from the dead, all the dead people are dead. They’re corrupted, they’re rotting in the tombs. There is no teaching here that your soul goes off to heaven to be with God somewhere. If Christ is not risen and if he has not been crucified and glorified, the dead are dead. That is a Christian conviction.
But he says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” They’ve perished, they’re gone. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by man came death so by man also comes resurrection of the dead. For as Adam, all die, in Christ all shall be made alive, each in his own order.”
Christ, the first fruits. Then at his coming, those who belong to Christ. And then he continues and says, “When the Lord Christ appears, all things will be subjected to him, he will subject all things to God and God will be all and in all.”
So he says, “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust. The second man is a man from heaven. As was the man of the earth, so those who are of the earth and as the man of heaven so are those who are of heaven, just as we have born the image of the man of dust, the man of earth, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
So the whole of Christian faith is based on the conviction that Christ is risen from the dead, that God has raised his son Jesus from the dead.
Now, in the Gospel according to St. John, the theological Gospel, we have Jesus simply saying these things in so many words. First of all, we can quote from St. John’s Gospel the lines that are read to this very day in the Orthodox Church at funerals. I will read to you now what we hear in church every time someone dies. When an Orthodox Christian dies, then we pray over that person’s body and ask God to forgive them and receive them into Paradise and to have them be in and with the risen Christ. This is what we hear when we go to church. It says this: “Truly, truly I say to you.” And again, the “amen” comes first, which means “I don’t care about your amen, this is the truth.”
Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to also have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and they will come forth. Those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. I can of myself do nothing on my own authority. As I hear (or sometimes it says, “As I see”) I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.
So he says, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has everlasting life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.”
Now in the Gospel of St. John also you have the text where Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” So, the Scriptures are teaching not only that Christ is risen, that Christ has been raised, that Christ is glorified, that he is the fruit fruits of all those among the dead. Not only is the Scripture teaching what Orthodox Christians sing on the Holy Pascha, the main hymn, the short little hymn that says it all: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” Actually, it says that Christ is risen from among the dead ek nekron, from among all those who are dead.
Now, what we want to see here, when Jesus says, “I am the Resurrection,” he says it when he has the conversation with Martha over the tomb of Lazarus, the four-day dead corpse. It’s in the eleventh chapter of St. John’s Gospel. We know, hopefully—we’d better know, read it again, chapter eleven—Jesus goes to where his friend Lazarus is, who’s dead. And Martha, Lazarus’ sister runs out to meet Jesus and she says to him, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me he shall never die. Do you believe this?”
And Martha says to him, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”
This is exactly the confession of Peter in Matthew’s Gospel: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the one who was to come into the world.”
What was he to come into the world for? And here is where the tricky question comes in, so to speak, about the Resurrection because in the letter to the Corinthians as we just read, St. Paul writes and insists that Jesus suffered his passion, that he was mocked, spit upon, ridiculed, beaten, lashed, nailed to a cross and killed according to the Scriptures, that this had to happen to him, and that is Paul’s main conviction, that Jesus is raised and glorified because of his suffering and the main conviction is this: that the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah who was to come into the world—and you might say, “Believe it or not! Who is he? Well, David’s son but who is he?”—and here, the whole New Testament clearly and without exception would say he is the servant of the Lord that is described in the prophet Isaiah. He’s the suffering servant. He’s the Lamb led to the slaughter. He’s the one upon whom all our iniquities are placed. He’s the one who is wounded for our sake. He is the one who is ridiculed and mocked and put to death and killed, that the passion was a necessity.
And we might even say that that’s ultimately what convinced St. Paul because once he had that vision of the risen Christ on the Damascus road it says in the Scripture that he went and studied the Scripture again. He rethought the whole story from the beginning Genesis to the end, last prophet and then he realized, “My God, all of this is in the Scripture that he has to suffer, he has to die, he has to be the Lamb of God. And all of Israel, all of the promises to Abraham, are fulfilled in this one Jew, this one man.” I think that you can say very clearly that the Apostle Paul certainly believed that all of Israel, that all of the children of Abraham had been reduced to this one person. St. Paul says it in the letter to the Galatians that the Lord God Almighty promised to Abraham that all of the people of the world would be blessed and saved through his seed and St. Paul says, you know, it’s singular. Now of course, speaking about someone’s seed and singular could just mean their posterity, their children, the future generations. But it’s also a singular word, literally. And St. Paul says, “Yeah, it means Jesus himself, Jesus of Nazareth, he is that one seed.” He is everything of the entire Old Testament comes to fulfillment in him and is fulfilled when he dies on the cross. It is fulfilled.
And then the Apostle Paul and all the apostles and the New Testament writers became convinced that not only this was kata tas graphas, according to the Scriptures, but that he would be raised is according to the Scriptures. Well, where do they get that? You know, if you look for certain texts in the Old Testament about the resurrection, you know, they’re not that many and that’s even what leads some people to say, “Maybe a suffering servant was prophesied but the resurrection and the justification of that servant is not prophesied, you know, it’s not there. It never says the Messiah will die and be raised again, it never says it, it speaks about his death.” But the glorification, according to the reading of the Scriptures by the earliest Christians, the ancient Christians, certainly the apostles, certainly the New Testament, is that David’s kingship will have no end and that the Lord will say to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put all of your enemies under your feet.” And the real enemies are sin and death, that there will be an exaltation of the messianic king, that he will live forever. But probably they didn’t know that he had to die first and to be raised. Maybe that’s the issue. Maybe it was believed that God would send his Son, even his own Son even from heaven to sit on a throne and reign forever, but not to be crucified first.
So you only need a resurrection if you’ve got the crucifixion. If there could be a messiah who would come and literally never die, just come on earth and never die—well, that’s a possibility which leads then to another consideration. What did it mean in the Prophets that God’s kingdom would have no end? What did it mean that the fortunes of Israel would be restored? What did it mean that all the gentiles and all the nations will be blessed through him? What it did mean that all the kings of the earth would stand as children of Abraham? You know, one of the Psalms says, “With the children of Abraham” but in the original Hebrew it says, “They will stand as children of Abraham.” And St. Paul will say, “Yeah, all the nations become children of Abraham if they believe in Jesus Christ and receive the grace of God that comes to him that makes them Israel.” And here St. Paul would be very clear: Israel and Jew is to be a matter of faith and not a matter of flesh and blood. He even says in the Corinthian letter, “Flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” There has to be a new creation, a new heaven, a new earth, a new beginning. But that can only take place if there is the crucifixion and the death and the resurrection.
So it seems very, very clear that the earliest Christians understood all the prophecies about the restoration of the fortunes of the people of Israel, the kingdom of Israel having no end, that the gentiles being brought into the worship of the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that there really would be an unending Kingdom of God, that really all that the prophets say about the heavens rejoicing and the earth being glad and the animals rejoicing and everything being a new heaven and a new earth—what they said, “Yes, all that was prophesied but what we understand is it can only come to pass if the Messiah is crucified and glorified and raised from the dead.”
And it seems to me that that is very clearly the reason why they say that the resurrection of the Messiah was katas tas graphas, according to Scripture, because it’s certainly the case that his suffering and death is according to Scripture. But it’s also the case that he will be vindicated, he will be glorified. The Holy One cannot see corruption in the tomb. God will raise him from the dead. There will be the kingdom of life. This is what the conviction was. And the Apostle Paul, he fought with his fellow Jews on this point because as we have already said a number of times on the radio, not all Jews believe this. They didn’t understand the Scripture that way. They thought Paul was mad. They thought he was crazy, just like they thought Jesus himself of Nazareth was crazy. They thought that he was blaspheming God, that he was ridiculing the temple, that he was misleading the people and that he was basically nuts because Jesus himself, especially in the theological Gospel of John keeps saying, “Why are you want to kill me, why are you after me.” And they say, “Who’s trying to kill you?” You know, and then when he says that the messiah has to suffer and die and to be raised up on the third day—in all of the four Gospels, the Apostles at first say, “Hey, this is impossible. You came to bring the reign of God, why are you talking about dying?” What they didn’t realize is that there had to be a death and a resurrection. That had to happen and that is according to the Old Testamental Scriptures. And that’s how Christians began to read them.
So, if we look to the Old Testament and say, “Well, does it say really anywhere very specifically, in so many words, that there would be a resurrection from the dead?” Well, first of all, we should mention that in the old covenant you had certain bodily resuscitations taking place, the same way that Jesus, raised up, for example, Lazarus from the tomb, the way he raised up the daughter of Jairus, the way he raised up the only son of the widow of Nain. There were people who were restored to life who had been dead. But this was not the resurrection of the dead into the Kingdom of God, it was bodily resuscitation for more life in this fallen world. So for example, we know that in the book of Kings and in the book of Samuel you have raisings of the dead. Elijah raises up a boy. Elisha raises up the son of the Shunammite woman. These are read in the Orthodox Church on the eve of Pascha, how Elijah lies down upon this young boy and he breathes into him, mouth to mouth and face to face it says—I’m reading 2 Kings 4 now—well, that’s Elisha and the Shunnamite woman. Elisha comes to the child who is lying dead, the son of a widow, and this is even seen as a prefiguration of Christ raising up the only son of a widow, so you have here again a typos. But he was laying on the child, mouth upon mouth, eyes upon eyes, hands upon hands, stretched himself, the flesh of the child became warm. He got up and walked once to and fro in the house&mdahs;in the RSV is says he stretched himself upon him and the child sneezed seven times. It’s kind of funny, sneezed. We all used to chuckle at St. Vladimir’s when we would hear that on Pascha vigil. Actually, in the Septuagint it said he breathed deeply seven times, not that he sneezed but that he breathed deeply seven times and the child opened his eyes and Eliseo, Elisha, gives him back to the Shunnamite woman and says, “Here, take your son.”
Before that, you have Elijah, Elias, doing the same thing. You have in Zarephath there is also a widow. Again, a widow. Again, with an only child. This is all prefiguring the New Testament. And Elijah comes and says, “Give me your son, the son who is dead.” And he stretches himself on the child three times, cries to the Lord, ” O Lord my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.” And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Elijah and the life of the child came into him again and he revived. He came alive. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, delivered him to his mother and Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman says to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord is in your mouth is the truth.”
So you have resurrections, resuscitations, prefigurative, typological resuscitations in the Old Testament. But do you actually have words that speak about there actually being a resurrection from the dead besides the sixteenth Psalm that Peter quotes that “You did not give up my soul to Sheol, nor let the godly one see the pit, but you show me the path of life in your presence is fullness of joy.” So that’s interpreted. But you have a couple of sentences that are sometimes used, for example, Isaiah, in Isaiah in the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah you have the Canticle of Isaiah. It’s the song that Isaiah sang that is now a part of Orthodox liturgy. It is one of the odes at the Matins and the Compline. It comes, I believe, just before the Ode of Jonah. We’ll get to Jonah in a minute here. But in Isaiah’s canticle you have these words: “The dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy, for thy dew is a dew of light and on the land of darkness thou will let it fall.” Now Isaiah speaks about the light shining in the darkness and on those who dwell in the shadow of death. But here you have a sentence, “Your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy.” So that’s Isaiah.
In addition to Isaiah we also have Hosea. There is a line in Hosea that is often quoted in view of the resurrection of Christ. It’s quoted by St. Paul in the letter to the Corinthians, the fifteenth chapter that we already heard parts of. St. Paul ends that chapter with words from Hosea—it’s in the end of Hosea, the thirteenth chapter, where Hosea writes: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol (or Hades)? Shall I redeem them from Death?&emdash;capital ‘D’. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction?” Those lines are quoted by St. Paul in the Corinthian letter. And they are also quoted, by the way, at the end of the Paschal Homily that’s read in the Orthodox Church every year on the day of the resurrection of Christ, on Easter, on Pascha, where the homily ends with the line—it’s translated a little bit differently sometimes—“O Death, where are your plagues? Where are your powers? O Sheol, O Hades, where is your victory?” And then it ends “Christ is risen and Death is destroyed. Christ is risen and Hades is harrowed.”
So you have this sentence of Hosea being quoted, “O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction? Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol, shall I redeem them from Death?” And the answer is, “Yes, I will.”
But there’s another passage in Hosea that is referred to because of the third day. This is in the sixth chapter of Hosea, where he says, the prophet says, “Come, let us return to the Lord for he has torn that he may heal us again. He has stricken that he will bind us up.” So it says let’s return to the Lord because the suffering was sent by the Lord but he sent the suffering in order to heal us. He has stricken us in order to bind us up. This is very similar to what you have in the suffering servant song in Isaiah, that he’s wounded for us, that he’s beaten for us, but it’s so that we could be healed.
And then he says, “Come let us return to the Lord for he has torn that he may heal us, he has stricken us and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord, his going forth as sure as the dawn. He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
So this text about “in two days he will revive us, in three days he will raise us up”&mash; that is considered to be prophetic words relative to Jesus, that he’s killed on Friday, on Saturday, the second day he’s reviving us by lying dead in the tomb, trampling down death by death, and on the third day he appears to us, risen from the dead and raising all with him. And in Matthew’s Gospel, by the way, it does say that when Jesus was crucified and buried that some people saw in the city of Jerusalem the bodies of the saints risen and walking around the city, that that resurrection had already been shown. But one thing’s for sure: The New Testament, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, they insist on the third day resurrection. “And in three days he will rise again.”
Of course this makes a little bit of trouble technically if you’re a nitpicker because is it that he rises on the third day or is it that he is revealed on the third day or is he lying three days in the tomb because sometimes it says as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale so the Son of Man must be three days in the tomb. Now this leads us to another way that the Scriptures of the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets were read and that is, that the Christians read all of the victory stories in the old covenant as prefiguring the resurrection of the messiah. Now in those victory stories, there was not necessarily direct speech about resurrection of the dead. But it certainly was the case that those victory stories, the triumphal stories of God over the enemies and leading them to the promised land and so on, were all considered to be types of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course the greatest one was Pascha itself, the Passover exodus, that the people were in Egypt. They were suffering. They were killed. They had no real life. They were slaves. They were bound. But then God raised up Moses and he leads them out and they go through the waters and across into the desert. And then they’re fed in the desert and given water from the rock and they’re given the commandments of God, the covenant deal, how they’re to behave. Then Joshua comes, whose name is Jesus and he takes them across the other river, the Jordan River. First it’s the Red Sea, then it’s the Jordan River. Then they enter into the Promise Land and the enemies are all destroyed and the people triumph and they have their kingdom there and so on. All this is interpreted as a prefiguration of the death and resurrection of Christ and the coming to the world of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of David that has no end and the New Jerusalem from heaven.
So all these physical, historical things are—even if you want to call them mythological. There are folks who think, well, this is not historical at all, this is all stories, and so on. But I would say for our purposes today, let that debate rage. Let people talk about it because in some sense it doesn’t matter. If you’ve got the story, if you’ve got the narrative, if you’ve got the inspired word of God that speaks about these salvific events. And they are salvific, they are victorious. And don’t forget: salvation and victory and healing are all the same word in Hebrew. They all prefigure the resurrection of Christ. They all prefigure the fact that the dead will rise and the Kingdom of God will be forever and the fortunes of the people will be restored and the gentiles will be included in it. And there will be a new heaven and a new earth, a new creation and a New Jerusalem and everything will be made new. “Behold, I make all things new,” the prophet Isaiah says. That’s also considered to be a prophecy of the resurrection of the dead. How do you make all things new, how do you make a new creation, if you don’t have the resurrection of the dead?
Now, so the Passover exodus is definitely seen as a prefiguration of Pascha. And then of course you have the Paschal lamb who was slain. You have the blood that saves the people, and that’s specifically related to Jesus in the New Testament. St. Paul says, “Christ our Pascha has been slain. Let us keep the feast.”
So you have these kind of victory stories in the Old Testament of the restoration of the people being eschatologized, so to speak. That’s fancy language which simply means they’re seen as stories of what’s going to ultimately happen at the end for the whole of creation. That’s how Orthodox Christians and ancient Christians read the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets, as typological, as prefigurative, as pedagogical, as a paidagogosto Christ. And the main one, of course, was the Passover exodus. And so for Christians, the death and resurrection of Christ is the new Pascha, it’s a new Exodus. It’s not from Egypt into the desert across the Jordan and into the Promise Land, it’s from death to life, from earth to heaven, as Christ our God led us, singing the song of victory. That’s how we sing on Pascha night. You know, “It is the day of resurrection, let us be illumined people, Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord, from death to life, from earth to heaven as Christ our God led us, singing the song of victory.”
And by the way, many Christians read the Bible this way. I think of the black churches. That’s how we used to call them when I was young, the African American churches, where all those songs of deliverance were understood as being the victory of Christ. For example, crossing the Jordan was definitely taken as a symbol of dying and going to heaven, dying and being with Christ. I mean, the hymnology, the doxology of the churches had this in virtually all traditions.
Now when we think of Passover/Exodus, we’ve got to think of another prefigurative story, the story of Joseph. Joseph’s story is definitely read by Christians as a prefiguration of the death and resurrection of Christ. What’s the story? The story is, Joseph, the youngest and beloved child of Jacob, of Israel, is sold by his brothers into Egypt. And it says that they betrayed him and sold him because of envy. And of course the New Testament says in all the four Gospels that Christ was given up out of envy. And of course the New Testament says in all the four Gospels that Christ was given up out of envy. They were jealous, they hated him. So you have in the story of Joseph that they dig a pit. They stick him in the pit, like as if he’s buried in the ground. They take his robe, prefiguring the robe of Christ and they pour blood over it and take it back to the father. And then they decide, you know, by divine providence, not to kill him physically but to kill him in every other way by simply selling him as a slave into Egypt. Egypt stands as being in the hands of the devil, the enemy. Being in bondage.
So what happens? Jesus is taken into Egypt in bondage. As one of the desert fathers said, “He wasn’t really sold by his brothers, he was sold by his own humility because he could have got out of it. He could have said, “These are my brothers, they sold me.” But he was silent, he didn’t speak, Joseph. So he lets himself be sold out of his humility. He goes into the realm of the enemy, which prefigures the realm of death, and he becomes the king there. He gets all power over those who are holding him in bondage. So Joseph is the greatest one there in Egypt.
And then, of course, we have a troparion in the Orthodox Church that says, “When Christ descended into hell he was not tempted by it.” And then some people think that’s like a way of thinking about Joseph who was not tempted by all of the material power of Egypt. He even was not tempted by the wife of the Pharaoh, the Egyptian woman, who tried to seduce him. He ran away naked, so to speak. And this is all sung about, by the way, in the Orthodox Church Holy Week. And it’s not “by the way” at all; it’s a huge theme. The second day of Holy Week, the whole theme is about Joseph.
And then what happens? Well, you know the story. His brothers come, they’re starving and he turns into their savior. And the one that they thought was dead was alive. And he’s not only alive but he’s reigning as a king. And he feeds them and he takes them and he clothes them and he brings them and he brings his father and then he says all of this is by the providence of God. And then he even forgives the very brothers who betrayed him, just like Jesus forgives those who killed him. I mean, we could go in great detail—detail by detail—in the story of Joseph to see how it all applies to Jesus.
Another story there would be, even before Moses and Joseph and Jacob would be Abraham. For example, Abraham is told to sacrifice his son, his only son. And he’s going to sacrifice the son, but he doesn’t kill him. And then a ram is found and the ram is slain and the son is saved. That’s also considered to be a prefiguration, a typos of the death and resurrection of Christ for God Almighty sends his Son and his Son dies. He is the lamb, the ram, who is slain.
One of the stories that is used again and again as a type of the resurrection of Christ is the story of Jonah, how Jonah is taught to preach to the gentile Ninevites, you know, that they should repent and should worship the true God. And then we know the Jonah story, that he gets thrown into the sea. He’s like a scapegoat. He dies for the other people; they choose who to kill. The lots fall on Jonah; Jonah is the one who has to get killed. He even volunteers somehow to be killed. He says, “Throw me into the water and you guys will be okay.” And so they throw him into the water and he gets swallowed up by a whale. And then it says he’s three days and three nights in the belly of the whale and then the whale vomits him out on the shores of Ninevah and the people repent and are saved. Well, that’s considered also to be a type of the death and resurrection of Christ. We sing it in church all the time. It’s sung on Pascha. The Song of Jonah from the belly of the whale is one of the canticles. It’s like an Isaiah Canticle, the Moses Canticle, it’s the Hannah Canticle. It’s a canticle of what? Of victory of God. But you have those images of death and resurrection. Jonah is, so to speak, dead in the belly of the whale. He’s gone. He’s the scapegoat. He is sacrificed. Yet God preserves him and raises him up after three days—there you get the three days in the Jonah story. And then he saves the people.
And then another story would be the three boys in the fiery furnace. They refused to worship the idols. They are faithful to their true God. Then they are thrown into the fiery furnace and they’re supposed to die in there, they’re supposed to perish in there. But they don’t perish. The fiery furnace is a symbol of Sheol, of being dead, of being in the pit of the earth. And what do those boys do? Shadrach reads a long prayer to God and they sing a long canticle that’s also read on Pascha Eve, about how God saves them in the fiery furnace. And in the story there’s even a fourth figure who comes into the furnace, like one like the Son of Man. He dances with them in the flames and delivers them and they come out alive, not even singed, not even smelling of smoke, as it says in the Holy Scripture. So you have that story of the Babylonian fiery furnace under Nebuchanezzar, the most wicked king who ever lived. Well, that all typifies the death and resurrection of Christ and how Christ, as the Son of Man, enters into the pit of the fiery furnace of death and raises up all who are dead and they come out alive.
And then you have also one more, which we should mention because it’s read solemnly at the very end of the matins of the Great and Holy Saturday as the final act and that is the story in Ezekiel of the dry bones. Now, many scholars and people will say—I even knew some priest once, God forgive me for leaking this information—but I knew a priest once who just used to quietly skip reading the dry bones on that day. He was a new priest, a convert priest, you know, a lot of people come in and they make up their own faith, you know. He was happy to be Orthodox, I imagine. But he didn’t like this dry bones thing because he said it has nothing to do with the Resurrection of Christ. It only has to do with the restoration of the people of Israel. So he would quietly tell the people, let’s just skip it, end the service, whatever. I don’t know what he did. He probably cut the service way down anyway. But I actually heard from a friend of mine who went to that church and say, “You know Father, they didn’t read the dry bones.” And when I asked the priest about it he said, “Well, you know, the service is long and we don’t really need it and it’s not about the Resurrection anyway.” Well, God have mercy on us all. You know, first of all it’s not up to us to decide what we read and don’t read. Maybe it’s better if we read it and try to understand it rather than skip it, you know. It’s not for us to make these judgements.
But in any case, in church Ezekiel is read. And it does really sound like a physical resurrection. Of course, it’s resuscitation in this sense, it’s a restoration of the people of Israel. And it’s read very solemnly and in many Orthodox churches there’s even special music, a special way of chanting this chapter 37 of Ezekiel about these dry bones, can these dry bones live. Now, this is how it goes:
The hand of the Lord was upon me and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and he set me down in the midst of the valley full of bones. He led me round about them and behold, there were very, very many upon the valley and they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I answered, “Lord God, you know.” Again he said, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones. Behold, I will cause breath to enter you. You shall live. I will lay sinews upon you and cause your flesh to come upon you. I will cover you with skin and put breath within you (“or my Spirit,” it could also be translated). And you shall live and you shall know that I am the Lord.’”
And in Ezekiel, you have that expression “You wall know that I am the Lord.” It’s about forty times, fifty times. I counted them once. Everything in Ezekiel is “That you may know that I am the Lord.” Then it says:
So I prophesied and as I was commanded. And I prophesied and there was a noise, a rattling. The bones coming together, bones to bones and I looked and there was sinews on them, flesh came on them, skin covered them. There was no breath in them. And then the Lord God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath (or the Spirit), prophesy, Son of Man, and say to the breath (or the Spirit) ‘Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath (or wind).’”
By the way, the word in Hebrew, breath or ruah —it could mean breath, it could mean wind, it could mean spirit. So:
“O Breath, breath upon these slain that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me and the breath came into them and they lived and stood upon their feet, exceedingly great host. Then he said to me, “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say ‘Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We are clean cut off. ’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them, thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will open your graves. I will raise you from your graves, O my people. I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit, my breath, within you. And you shall live. I and I will place you in your own land and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken. And I have done it,’ says the Lord.’”
Now, of course a person could say well, he’s speaking about the restoration of Israel, bringing them back from exile, putting them in their land and he’s simply using the imagery of dry bones who are spread all over the place that he revivifies, that he restores. He puts the bones together, and then he puts the flesh on them, then he puts sinew to sinew, and then when he’s got them all physically redone, he breathes his breath into them and they stand up and live. Be he continues: “I will open your graves. I will open your graves, I will bring you from the dead.” Now, this may be a symbol for the restoration of the house of Israel. And by the way, some people even think that the suffering servant songs of Isaiah apply to the whole people of Israel, that they’re a sign that they will suffer but God will vindicate them. Well, there’s certainly a sense in which that’s true. It’s absolutely the truth. But the question is how does it happen? What is this vindication? What is this restoration? Is it simply an earthly restoration on the planet earth, where those who are dead are dead but some new people come in their place? Sort of like Job’s daughters. You know, Job’s daughters and children all died but when Job finally realizes and repents before God, it says he gets more sons and daughters. Well, what about the old ones, are they still dead? And by the way, the Septuagint adds even a verse at the end of Job that they will all be reunited when the Lord raises up the dead. Maybe that’s a Christian gloss, I don’t know. It’s not in the Hebrew Scripture, I don’t think.
But in any case, one thing is certain: The first Christians, the apostles, St. Paul, ancient Christians, they all read all of this in the light of the Resurrection of Christ. And they said, “Oh my goodness, oh my God, this is what it means!” And Israel is Jesus and Jesus is raised from the dead and he triumphs over all the enemies and it’s not simply about Jews being moved from Egypt into Palestine. It’s not simply about deserts blossoming with flowers on the kibbutzim or something. It is not simply about some earthly kingdom that you knows, exists in progeny, in children. No! It’s really, absolutely, ultimately true that all of this language of the restoration and the raising of the dead and the coming to life and the third day rising again—all those stories. The Passover exodus, Jonah in the belly of the whale, Joseph in the pit and saving the people in Egypt, the three boys in the fiery furnace, the raising of the only son of the Shunnamite woman, the raising of the only son of the Zarephath widow—all of these are prefigurations of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Now, we could even just simply say this: Whether they are, or whether they are not—and certainly, the first Christians thought that they were, that’s why they could say all this is katas tas graphas, according to the Scriptures. But even if someone would say, “Ah that’s baloney, Fr. Tom. All these things have nothing to do with the death and resurrection of Christ.” I would be willing to say, “Well, I think you’re wrong. I absolutely do and that’s how we are supposed to read them. But whether they are or whether they’re not, still the fact remains: God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. He is the Resurrection and the Life. The dead are raised and they’re raised because of Jesus.”
Which leads us to our last reflection today. Why is he called “the Resurrection?” Why does he call himself “the Resurrection?” He says, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life, I am the Light, I am the Bread of Life” but he also says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Why is he the “the Resurrection?” Could God not have opened up all the tombs without him, in spite of him, so to speak? Is it not possible for God to raise up the dead without the passion of Jesus? Without the cross? Without his suffering? Well, I think the glib simple theological answer would be “Sure he could. But what good would it do?” If it would just be a resuscitation of us into this fallen world where we would all just have to suffer again and die again, there would be no forgiveness of sins, and no real healing. And Death would not really be destroyed so we’d be caught up into the cycle of death or something. Well, who wants that? That doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Because what Jesus does is he recreates the whole creation, he starts everything anew, he’s the new Adam, as St. Paul said in the beginning of our reflection today. All things start over again by his death and resurrection. We need a resurrection but we need a new Adam. We need someone who does not sin. We need someone who has the power to destroy Death. We need a human being, a son of man who can do that. In St. John’s Gospel it said explicitly “God gave him to have life in himself and gave him power to execute judgement because he is the Son of Man.” And he makes him the judge of the living and the dead.
So, you might put it this way—try to understand what I mean when I say these words. The resurrection of the dead is not some kind of external miracle that God can perform. It’s something that happens within humanity though the man Jesus. Without the man Jesus suffering and dying and being raised by God, there would be no resurrection unto everlasting life. God could raise but it wouldn’t do anything. But here’s another point. There’s something to be said and that is this: We believe that everything that God does he does through his Son by the power of his Holy Spirit. Putting it theologically, every act of God is Trinitarian. It’s an act of God the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. And so we Christians believe when we read the Scripture that God creates the world by his Logos who is incarnate as Jesus by the power of his Holy Spirit. He speaks to Moses and to the prophets, the Word of God that is ultimately his Son Jesus Christ in human flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. He does everything by his Word and his Spirit. There is no act of God that is not performed that agent of which is not the Son of God, the demiurgos, the logos, the hokma, the wisdom. The Son of God, the Word of God, the wisdom of God, is the one who performs all of God’s activities towards creation and in creation. And so that would not only be the creation of the world, the revelation to Israel, the writing and the preaching of the Torah, all the acts of the old covenant, the prefigurative acts, all the inspiration of the writings. But it also includes the redemption of the world, the salvation of the world through Jesus. And so what we would say when we think about the resurrection and Christ saying, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, what we are saying is God raises the dead by raising Jesus and that the power of that resurrection is Jesus himself. And here comes another theological paradox. I always say “Orthodoxy is paradoxy and theologia is stavrologia.” God is the word of the cross. And that is this: The power of God that destroys death is Jesus himself. But that power is exercised by his death, by his dying. So the paradox is, Jesus raises the dead by dying. He tramples down death by death. He becomes the resurrection by first becoming a corpse. So you can actually say that God raises up Jesus from among the dead when he empties himself of all his power and by emptying himself of his power, that’s the power that destroys death itself. Think about it a little bit. Meditate on it for about it for the next week. Think about that, that we sing “trampling down death by death.”
So, when a person would ask, “Did Jesus raise himself from the dead?” Well, the answer would be that Jesus doesn’t do anything by himself. Everything that he does he does by the power of God and he even is the power of God. So we would say, yes it’s true, God raised Jesus from the dead, as it says in the Holy Scripture. That’s the formula that’s always used: God raised up his Son from the dead. But he raises us all up by raising Jesus, and by raising Jesus, Jesus becomes the agent of our resurrection. In other words, God raises us up through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, just like God created us through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. God reveals himself to us through Jesus, the Logos by the power of the Holy Spirit. God sanctifies us, redeems us, ransoms us, purifies us, heals us, illumines us—all that he does he does by Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So we can definitely affirm with St. John’s Gospel and with Jesus himself in that Gospel when he says, “I am the Resurrection.” He is the Resurrection. Without his being raised there is no resurrection for us. And by being raised by God his Father because he emptied unto the passion and death, he becomes himself the Resurrection. And that’s why St. Paul will say, as we’ve already said, “If Christ is not raised, nobody is raised. We’re all still perishing and rotting in the tombs. If Christ is not raised, if he is not risen, then the dead are not raised. But the dead are raised”—and here the Christians would say to the Sadducees, “There is a resurrection. Yes, there is indeed.” But the Christian would also say to the Pharisees, “Dear brothers, there is a resurrection, but guess what? God raises the dead through the suffering servant who is the messianic king, who is Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, Mary’s child.
So he is the Resurrection himself. He is. Just like he is the Life. He is the Way, he is the Truth, he is the Light. He is the Bread of Life, he is the power of God, he is the wisdom of God. He is the Word of God. Indeed, Jesus Christ is everything. And he is certainly the Resurrection, because if he is not raised, we are all rotting in the tombs. But he is risen. He is risen. And not only is he risen, but he is the Resurrection and the Life. And that’s what he says to Martha: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will never die and I will raise him up on the last day. ” And then he says to Martha, “Do you believe this?” And she says to him, “Yes, I believe that you are the Christ who is to come into the world and to raise the dead.”
So this is the question for us always: Do we believe this? Do we believe that Jesus is the power of God, the wisdom of God, the Light of God, the Way of God, the Truth of God, the Light of God, the Life of God? And for today, the question to us is, do we believe that he is himself the Resurrection and the Life? And he said it: “I am the Resurrection and the Life and he who believes in me cannot die but has everlasting life and I will raise him up on the last day.”