During the past week my family and I have been considering Jesus’ resurrection and ascension in our family Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s discussion of it in Chapter 28, “Resurrection and Ascension,” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).
The Gospels describe Jesus’ resurrection and appearances in Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; and John 20:1-21:25. The rest of the New Testament assumes that he is alive in Heaven, with the book of Revelation predicting his return.
Jesus’ resurrection was not just a temporary coming back from the dead but the “firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23) of a new kind of human life. Although looking like he had before his death as shown by his disciples’ recognizing him, Jesus was no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death, the resurrection body’s being “imperishable…in glory…in power…a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). By “a spiritual body” Paul didn’t mean an immaterial body, Jesus’ resurrected body having “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), but a body dominated by the Holy Spirit.
Both the Father and the Son were involved in Jesus’ resurrection. Acts 2:24; Romans 6:4; 1 Corinthians 6:14; Galatians 1:1; and Ephesians 1:20 affirm that God raised him, but Jesus said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17).
Gruden identifies these ways in which the resurrection is doctrinally significant:
1. It ensures our regeneration. Paul says that God “made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:5-6), and Peter says that He “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
2. It ensures our justification. Paul says that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespass and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
3. It ensures that we will receive perfect resurrection bodies. Paul describes Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), implying our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrection body.
Grudem identifies these ways in which the resurrection is ethically significant:
1. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and we too shall be raised from the dead, we should continue steadfastly in the Lord’s work. After making a lengthy exposition on the resurrection, Paul says, “<i>Therefore</i>, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
2. Because Jesus was raised from the dead and we have been raised to new life with him, we should set our minds on heavenly things. Paul says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above” (Colossians 1:4).
3. For the same reason and because “the death [Jesus] died he died to sin, once for all,” we should “consider ourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). Paul continues, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).
After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to the apostles over a period of forty days speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3) and then he led them out Bethany, near Jerusalem, and “lifting up his hands he blessed them [and] parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51).
Grudem considers these things about the ascension:
1. Jesus ascended to a place–heaven.
2. Jesus received glory and honour that he hadn’t received before as a God-man. In John’s vision on the island of Patmos he saw Jesus in heaven with angels proclaiming, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).
3. Jesus was seated at God’s right hand. The writer of Hebrews says, “After having made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). His sitting there indicates not only that he had completed purification for sins, but also that he had received authority over the universe (Ephesians 1:20-21) and authority to pour out the Holy Spirit on the Church (Acts 2:33).
Grudem identifies these ways in which the ascension is doctrinally significant for us:
1. Jesus’ ascension foreshadows our future ascension into heaven. Paul says, “Then [when Jesus returns] we who alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [the dead in Christ] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
2. Jesus’ ascension assures us that our final home will be with him in heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
3. Jesus’ ascension and our union with him in it means that we will share in his authority over the universe. In one of his seven letters to churches Jesus promises, “The one who conquers, I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).