Resurrection Victory

Dan Clifford
Monday, February 29th 2016
Mar/Apr 2016

On October 13, 2010, Florencio Avalos emerged from the ground and breathed fresh air for the first time in many days.

He and thirty-two other miners had suffered virtual entombment two thousand feet below ground in the partially collapsed San José Mine in the Chilean desert. As Avalos stepped from the capsule that had lifted him to safety, he became a focal point of joy for the people of Chile and the watching world. News of his emergence also assured the remaining trapped miners of their own eventual escape. This amazing rescue provides an illustration of what Jesus achieved on an infinitely greater scale. When Jesus emerged from the tomb the second day after his crucifixion, he came forth as the embodiment of hope and joy for his church. He rose as what 1 Corinthians 15:23 calls the "firstfruits" from the dead’the beginning of the great harvest of God's people who, on the basis of his victory, also will escape the bonds of death and enter into a glorious, resurrected life.

We rejoice in Jesus' victory every Easter. The church triumphantly sings, "He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign." But do we appreciate the immensity of what we celebrate? Scripture calls the resurrection a "victory" over death that Jesus wins for us; without it we would "perish" (1 Cor. 15:18, 57). Jesus has risen, vested by God with "all authority in heaven and on earth" to gather his church, defeat his enemies, and consummate his kingdom (Matt. 28:18-20). He accomplishes these goals by taking up his victorious rule as he moves forward from his resurrection triumph to ascend into heaven, sit at God's right hand, pour out the Holy Spirit on the church, and some day return as Savior and Judge. As we begin to understand the scope and spoils of his victory, we begin to grasp the great hope and joy that belong to us as the people of a risen Lord.


In rising from the dead, Christ secures and begins to unveil a victory of immense scope. It is nothing less than a righteous transformation of the cosmos’a dismantling of the effects of sin on creation and "making all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Jesus' renewal of all things involves at least three major aspects: restoring humanity, defeating his enemies, and renewing creation.

Humanity Restored

Jesus' victory over sin and death overturns the consequences of the failed headship of the first man, Adam, whom God created as the original leader and representative of the human race (Rom. 5:14-19). Although Adam had every reason to stay loyal to God, he entertained Satan's insinuations that God did not have his best interests at heart, and he rebelled against God. We all know how a bad leader can make choices that cause trouble for his followers. The worst damage we have ever experienced from poor leadership, however, cannot compare to the catastrophic effect of Adam's sin. Standing as the head of the human race, he dragged humanity with him into guilt, moral corruption, and death (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).

Against the backdrop of Adam's failure, Christ came as the "last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:45), a new head of a renewed human race consisting of his people, the church. When God joins us to Christ by faith, we undergo the most radical leadership change imaginable. The first Adam led our race into sin and death, but Christ (the second Adam) has atoned for our sins and provides us with righteousness and eternal life. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). Jesus has taken our sin and death upon himself on the cross, and he has overcome their power by rising again. As the Apostle Paul put it, "We know that Christ, being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). Jesus therefore has gained a victory that will last forever, with no risk of undermining it through a leadership failure like Adam's. In Christ, God has taken human nature into permanent union with himself so that, in the words of John Owen, "the gracious relationship between God and our nature could be stable and permanent." (1) Harmony between God and man will always exist in blessed equilibrium in the person of Christ, and therefore the second Adam cannot fail.

The Defeat of the Enemy

Christ has risen to "reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). The resurrection gives a conclusive answer to the defection of Satan and the fallen angels who consistently express their rebellion by seeking to damage and demean human beings, who are made in God's image (cf. Job 1:8-11). Satan particularly loves to torment people with the guilt of sin, the degradation of sin, and the fear of the death that will follow from sin (Rev. 12:10; 2 Tim. 2:26; Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus, however, in rising from the dead, has permanently stopped Satan's pretentions to mar God's works and bully the human race at will (cf. Luke 1:71). Jesus slipped Satan's net: he faced death, Satan's greatest instrument of tyranny, but escaped its power. God vindicated him and raised him up as the Righteous One (cf. Acts 5:30-31) and the Justifier of all who would trust in him. Colossians 2:15 says that God, through the death and resurrection of Christ, has "disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." Jesus is like the Old Testament hero Benaiah, who battled a spear-brandishing Egyptian warrior: "Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear" (2 Sam. 23:21). In the same way, Christ defeats the devil with his own weapon, death, and delivers us from his tyranny. Herman Bavinck writes,

In the resurrection of Christ it was proved that there was a man who could not be contained by death, could not be ruled by Satan, by the power of corruption, who was stronger than the grave and death and hell. In principle, therefore, Satan has as a matter of fact no longer the dominion over death. Christ by his death had overcome death (Heb. 2:14). (2)

In addition to overcoming the evil of Satan, Christ also overcomes all wickedness of human beings’by judgment in the case of the world and by conversion in the case of the church.

The Renewal of Creation

Scripture says that our world, originally created "very good" (Gen. 1:31), now suffers futility through man's sin. When Adam failed to rule the earth for God's glory (Gen. 1:28), God cursed the ground and made it unruly under man's leadership (Gen. 3:17-19). The mismanagement of man and the curse of God give the creation a tortured aspect in which corruption is mingled with beauty. Every news report of an arson fire, an oil spill, or a drug-resistant bacterium reminds us that creation needs to be reborn. Scripture represents the creation as "groaning together in the pains of childbirth" as it awaits the renewing of all things through Christ (Rom. 8:20-23). When Jesus comes to apply the fruits of his resurrection, he will rejuvenate all creation (Rom. 8:21), and we will finally experience a "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet. 3:13).


Grasping the scope of Jesus' resurrection victory prepares us to appreciate and enjoy the spoils of the triumph he shares with his people. His vast triumph touches us at many points where we need equipping and encouraging.

One great result of Jesus' victory is that, in the resurrection, God objectively establishes us in a right relationship with himself. Romans 4:25 says that Jesus "was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." Contemplating the ugliness and stubbornness of our sin may tempt us to doubt whether we can really be considered "justified"’that is, pardoned and counted righteous. In the resurrection, however, God settles the matter. Jesus arose as the announcement of our justification: by raising up his Son, God declares that he accepts Jesus' righteous life and sacrificial death in our place. Also, Jesus arose as the accomplisher of our justification’he sends the Holy Spirit to join us to himself by faith so that we might receive all the benefits of salvation (2 Thess. 2:13-14), including the gift of his righteousness in place of our unrighteousness (Rom. 4:20-25). The resurrection of Christ therefore cements our justification. Ultimately, it is not up to us to decide whether sinners like us ought to be called "justified"; God has already decided and has raised Jesus from the dead as the indisputable Prover and Accomplisher of our justification.

We experience an-other fruit of Jesus' resurrection victory when the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive. Scripture speaks of our being "raised with Christ," not just bodily when he comes again, but inwardly in our conversion (2 Cor. 4:16). (3) We need this inner resurrection be-cause, as Ephesians 2:1-3 teaches, we are by nature dead in sin, enslaved to the devil, and children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind. We need God to give us "a new heart" in place of our "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26). He enlivens us by the only remedy possible’joining us to Christ by faith (Eph. 2:8) so that we share in his resurrection life. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’by grace you have been saved’and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6). Thus by the power of his resurrection, we pass from spiritual death to a spiritual life so fundamental that we can consider ourselves "seated" with Christ as possessors of heaven in principle already.

By this inner resurrection that comes to us through the victory of Christ, God equips us to carry out our mission to pick up our cross and follow Christ, turning our back on sin and learning to live as God's holy people. Before we take one step forward in the Christian life, he underwrites and undergirds all our efforts through the triumph of Christ. We move ahead as Christians knowing that, in principle, we already have died with Christ to sin and have been raised with him to newness of life (Rom. 6:1-14). Thus the Christian life is less about gaining victory than learning to live according to the victory Christ gave us when we came into fellowship with him. Paul brings this out in 1 Corinthians 15’after masterfully portraying our resurrection hope, he sums up with this exhortation in verse 58: "Therefore, 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." We labor steadfastly and effectually because we labor "in the Lord." We follow his pattern by his power. All of our efforts, though at times feeble or intermittent, fit into the bigger picture of Jesus' sure victory: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

Our progress in sanctification therefore depends on Jesus applying his new life to us by the Spirit, first in our inward renewal at conversion and then as the Spirit teaches us to "put to death the deeds of the body" and learn to live as "sons of God" (Rom. 8:13-14). Just as the resurrection is necessary for us to be justified and delivered from the guilt of sin, so the resurrection is necessary for us to be sanctified and delivered from the power of sin as we live the Christian life.

Christ's victory also makes us hopeful about the endpoint of our lives in Christ. The Apostle Peter writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.(1 Pet. 1:3-5)

Not every hope is a living hope. Many nonbelievers hope for a pleasant afterlife based on vague ideas of their own goodness or God's benevolence. Hope in Christ, however, is not misty or vague. It can even thrive amid the sorrow and broken promises of this life, since it is anchored in Christ. Jesus has risen and ascended to secure our eternal blessings. He has proven that our salvation and heavenly inheritance are real, and this gives us a living hope.

The same hope that undergirds our individual lives also propels the work of the church. In the Great Commission, Jesus pledges to stand by the church to equip her for her labor, especially through the ordained ministry of sacraments and word. He will be with us, with all of his risen power and authority, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 4:17-18). This gives us confidence in the work of the church. Our own efforts can give no permanent results’"apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Although our power is negligible, the reign of life in Christ dominates all things (Eph. 1:22). It is the fundamental power at work in the world today, rolling back and overcoming the kingdom of Satan (1 Cor. 15:25), even when evil seems stronger than the church. In the first century, the Roman Empire, headed by emperors worshipped as divine, seemed to dominate the world. The church appeared weak by comparison, yet Paul assured the Roman Christians, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Rom. 16:20). So certain is Christ's triumph that no force can prevail against the church. As Western culture seems to be sliding toward the darkness of a new paganism, the triumph of Jesus in his resurrection still stands, and no force of darkness can overcome his kingdom (cf. John 1:5)!

Along similar lines, the resurrection encourages us by demonstrating Satan's defeat. Scripture calls Satan our "adversary" who prowls about like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). His tyranny runs deep in the human race. To people outside of Christ, he is the "god of this world" who blinds their minds and prevents them from seeing the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). He even "schemes" against believers and aims at their overthrow (Eph. 6:11; Luke 22:31). Flashes of anger, pride, and conflict in the church are his typical calling cards (Eph. 4:26-27; 1 Tim. 3:6-7; 2 Cor. 2:10-11). We would consider ourselves no match for his cunning if it were not for the resurrection of Christ. Not only does the risen Christ take away Satan's ability to tyrannize us with death, but God further confounds the devil's pride by bringing about his total subjection through the very humanity he tyrannized. Through the assumption of weak human flesh, the incarnate Son of God fulfilled the law and paid the penalty of our rebellion, thereby overthrowing the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). By the resurrection, God demonstrated that he is placing final judgment in the hands of this God-man (Acts 17:31; cf. Jude 6). Satan will hear Jesus pronounce his fate, and the church will join in affirming that judgment (1 Cor. 6:3). So while we may personally experience, as Martin Luther wrote, that Satan's "craft and power are great," we should take heart that his defeat is assured and "one little word shall fell him." Jesus makes us victorious over our great adversary.

Another fundamental implication of Christ's triumph as the "firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20) is that all who are joined to him will likewise experience a glorious resurrection of their bodies. This hope grows more precious the longer we live, especially as we experience the passing of friends and become more aware of our own impending deaths. Each time we stand at a graveside service and face the seeming finality of the grave, we need to be strengthened in the truth that death is not the end for us. Christ has provided this reassurance by blazing a trail into death and coming safely out the other side. We appreciate a trailblazer in any dangerous activity; we want to see someone else safely cross a flooded road before we try it. Christ, in going before us, assures us that we will fare as he did, since we belong to him.

Our resurrection hope becomes even more concrete when we consider that our glorified bodies will follow the pattern of the risen Christ’they will be our very same bodies that died, yet gloriously imbued with the Spirit of God and fitted for a heavenly life. Thus, after his resurrection, Jesus was both different and recognizable (John 20:15-16; 21:12). His body was clearly physical but also transcended the physical limitations of our earthly bodies (John 20:19, 26). This is the pattern for us. When Christ appears, he will "transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). As Jesus raises our bodies, he will retrofit them to match their glorious new environment. A mountain climber must acclimate to high altitudes, and a deep sea diver must adjust to the pressures of an underwater environment. In a much more fundamental way, our mortal frames, patterned on Adam, the "man of dust" (1 Cor. 15:48), must be glorified and imbued with the Spirit to "inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:49-50). In the resurrection, therefore, Christ will "change" us to "bear the image of the man of heaven" so that our perishable bodies will "put on the imperishable"; what is mortal will "put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:49-53).


We rejoice over the resurrection of Jesus Christ because his victory over sin and death means that the age of a new and glorious creation is dawning. Florencio Avalos and the other Chilean miners may have emerged from virtual death into virtual new life, but the excitement of their rescue already has passed. Those miners who have managed to reintegrate into society have now gone back to their normal activities. Their escape from death did not fundamentally lift them to a new life. Through the resurrection of Christ, by contrast, God accomplishes real change. We find some evidence of this change in the ways that Christians' lives differ from those outside of Christ, such as their holiness and their hope in the face of death. These outward marks of change are not absolute’Christians may sin less than the non-Christians they once were, but they still sin. Christians may die with hope, but they still die. Outward appearances, then, do not provide a full basis for our hope of resurrection and eternal life. The full basis for our hope is the fact that Jesus has actually escaped the snare of death and has entered into glorious immortal life. Christ stands as the second Adam, at the head of a renewed humanity, pulling his people along with him through a death to sin, and an induction into new life, now spiritual and someday physical.

The resurrection therefore gives us a basis to have an objective hope that if we are in Christ, then things are truly different, even though our lives outwardly seem like the lives of others in many respects. The lens of the resurrection brings into focus the difference between those in Christ and those outside of Christ. It is true that all people sin’but for the person outside of Christ, sin shows the tightening grip of condemnation; whereas for the Christian, sin is the loosening grip of the old self, which is passing away. All people get sick and suffer hardship, but for the non-Christian these trials hint at further miseries to come from a just Judge, while for the Christian they come as training and reproof from the hand of a loving Father (1 Pet. 4:17; Rom. 5:3-5). Non-Christians and Christians are thus like two people lying in adjacent hospital beds with similar symptoms, but one is dying and the other is recovering. We make these distinctions between ourselves and our non-Christian friends not based on a belief that Christians are superior, but based on Christ's resurrection as the firstfruits from the dead; we will follow the trail he has blazed. Our connection to a risen Savior makes all the difference. When we share the gospel, therefore, we should emphasize the resurrection, as the apostles did in their preaching. The resurrection shows that new life is a genuine hope; those who repent and trust Christ, crucified and risen, will share that hope and begin to understand what it means that old things have passed away and the new has come.

Likewise, the resurrection of Christ encourages us by connecting our little life stories to the big story of redemption. The risen Christ is renewing all things, and when we put our faith in him, we know that he sweeps our lives up into his triumph. Our comfort in the face of suffering and death does not rise from hope that is private and unprovable. A non-Christian may tell a Christian, "I am glad you have that hope." But a Christian can respond, "I am glad I have a risen Savior’reigning and life-giving." Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). We do not seize on Christ as a way to have subjective hope. Instead, Christ seizes on us. He has died for our sins, and through his resurrection he has pulled us into an objective hope. Victory is ours. Christ has risen.

1 [ Back ] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2013), 48.
2 [ Back ] Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 368.
3 [ Back ] For a discussion of the use of "inner" and "outer" to describe the effects of the resurrection on believers, see Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 61.
Monday, February 29th 2016

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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