Easter really happened! We spend a lot of time affirming the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. But what about the theological significance? And what does Easter mean for you, for me and for our world?
This five-part series looks at some of the answers to this question. Here in our final instalment we think about how the resurrection makes Jesus the judge on the day of judgement.
God has assigned a day when he will judge the world by the man he has appointed, and he has revealed who that man is by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus himself declared this truth when he said in John 5 that “The Father judges no-one, but has given all judgement to the Son” (v. 22). What the resurrection does, then, is affirm that Jesus is the one who will judge all the earth. He is the one who will gather all the nations before him and separate the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:32). It is because of the resurrection that we can be assured of the coming of judgement day.
The second thing to notice is how this revealing of Jesus as judge in Acts 17 is tied to God’s command for all people to repent:
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)
In light of Christ’s resurrection, now more than ever there is no excuse for continued defiance. Judgement is coming and the sins of the world will be held to account.
Yet we have to ask ourselves: has this godly command slipped from gospel proclamation today? In trying to be sensitive to our world, have the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus been diluted or, worse still, forgotten? Are people made aware of their need to turn from sin and of the eternal importance of responding correctly to Jesus? Does ‘repent and believe’ still resound as part of gospel proclamation today? If not, can we still call that ‘the gospel’?
How people respond to Jesus now is of eternal significance. As Jesus declares in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him”. The way in which people respond to God’s appointed judge now will determine whether God’s wrath remains on them or not. It is a question of true life or true death. And so it is of absolute importance that the call to repentance and the reality of the coming judgement remain a part of our gospel proclamation. God has appointed Jesus as judge, this judge will judge the world, and he will separate those who love him from those who have rejected him.
One final implication is that with the resurrection, judgement has already begun: those who know Jesus and confess faith in him have already passed over from death to life. As Jesus declares in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”. Those who are in Jesus now already know the verdict of the judge! They have been declared righteous before God. This is a great truth that all Christians can find abundant comfort and assurance in.
This great truth is, of course, only a comfort to the believer; the verdict for the non-believer is not so positive. In fact, the verdict for the non-believer is ‘guilty’, which means an eternity spent in hell. This truth should grip our hearts, bring us to tears and lead us to gospel proclamation. That is why Paul exhorts us to abound in “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58)—the specific work of proclamation and edification that brings people from death to life. The same is true for us today: the resurrection gives us a task to do. It declares that Jesus is risen, that he is Lord and judge, and that by this judge, God will judge the world. It is through this gospel that Jesus draws people near to him so that they too can know the comfort and assurance of salvation in him. The resurrection teaches us that the judgement day is coming and that only those who hear and trust in the risen Jesus through the gospel will be saved.
The historical truth that Jesus rose from the dead is important. Yet without understanding its theological significance, Jesus’ resurrection has no meaning for us. As I’ve demonstrated in these articles, Jesus’ resurrection shows that his work in dealing with our sin was successful and effective; it declares the death of death; it is a precursor to our resurrection; it is a precursor to the renewal and redemption of creation; and it declares Jesus the judge on the day of judgement. Such theological truths cannot help but leave us both rejoicing and trembling with godly fear, and drive us to share the good news with the lost.