Recently, a reader asked me a question privately about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I plan to do a series in the future, but that won’t be for a while. But because it is such an important question, I decided to post my response to her. It has minor edits to make it more appropriate to a larger audience, and her name is changed as well.
You have not asked an elementary question, and I have not addressed it substantially on my blog. So I reflected on it several days to determine the best way to answer.
This is an excellent, and important, question. It is also a difficult one, and I am not sure we can discover a definitive answer but, as a fellow traveler, I will share my thoughts with you. Since I don’t know what your thoughts and research have been, I will probably say things you already know.
Your question is:
What does the resurrection of Jesus mean in light of all of this? I mean if there is no “sin” that required Jesus to die for us then what does the resurrection mean for us?
I think it interesting that your question is about the resurrection, while most would focus on the cross. But I believe the resurrection is the more significant event.
Of course, this has to do with our understanding of how Jesus’ death and resurrection changed things for us. As a fundamentalist and a conservative evangelical, I assumed that I knew exactly how the ‘atonement’ worked; indeed, I was not aware there was any other explanation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
My view was called Penal Substitution and today is expressed something like this:
Adam disobeyed in the garden of Eden and brought about the fall
Now we are all born with original sin, so we all sin and cannot save ourselves
God is so holy he cannot bear to look at our sin and must punish us in eternal torment
However, the righteous Jesus came and took all the punishment for our sin upon himself
Now God can see us through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice and accept us…
IF we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us, get saved, and believe the right things
Otherwise we will burn in eternal torment anyway
Eternal punishment will include the majority, by far, of people who have ever lived
I assume you were taught something similar to this, but this theory only emerged during the Reformation (1500s) as a modification of the Satisfaction Theory developed by Anselm about 1000 years after the time of Jesus and his disciples. You might find the following short article useful:
Theories of Atonement
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his followers grappled to understand who Jesus really was and to describe the significance of his death and resurrection. They felt that it changed things for us, but they had little vocabulary to explain it. Paul, in particular, expressed it in different ways using a variety of illustrations.
After Paul, church leaders continued to try to describe how the atonement worked. Because of Paul’s illustration in Romans chapter 5, where he talked about Adam in Eden (see the section ‘Paul and Original Sin’ in my post on creationism), many of the theories were based on Adam or Satan.
The view held by the earliest church fathers seems to be the Ransom Theory which sees Jesus death as a ransom of mankind from the devil. It was later modified into the Christus Victor Theory which emphasizes Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin, and death. There are other theories as well, and many believers embrace parts of more than one theory.
Though I can accept some language from different views, I cannot see how any view based on appeasing God is valid. The Father is not angry with us; rather he wants to bring us love, reconciliation, and inner peace. This is part of the good news Jesus came to tell us. There was no need for Jesus to be punished in any way for our sins.
So What Did Jesus Do?
Jesus accomplished much of his work by telling his followers of the loving Father, taking away their feelings of guilt and fear, and teaching them how to relate to the Father and other people with love and reconciliation. In this way he established a community of those who follow him and live according to his code of behavior—genuine love.
At the same time, I think Jesus tells us of an eternal community of peace and reconciliation in the after life that begins at our resurrection. This part of the good news is established and demonstrated in Jesus’ resurrection, which was a victory over death (not Satan). We can now look forward to our resurrection and eternal life of happiness.
Jesus’ death might have happened for more than one reason, including Roman and Jewish response to Jesus’ advocacy of a life that seemed threatening to the political and religious power structures of the day. One thing is certain, however: Jesus could not have been resurrected unless he died first, and his death was too public and graphic to be doubted by his followers or those who soon became his followers.
The prospect of our resurrection and eternal life is confirmed by Jesus’ personal victory over death.
I hope this helps you in some way as you deal with your question. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Do not hesitate to ask me further, if you think I can be helpful.
Photo Credit: Waiting For The Word via Compfight cc
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Have a great day! ~Tim