The Moral Impact of the Resurrection in Biblical Theology

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The narrative of Scripture provides a beautiful background for understanding the impact of the resurrection. This background is, in part, dependent upon a typological reading of Scripture. The Scriptures should be read typologically because the entire Canon is a unified document from God through his human agents. Berkhof wrote, “As the New Testament is implicit in the Old, so the Old is explicit in the New”[1] This complementary unity is possible because Christ is the focus of the “perfect synthesis”[2] of the Old and New Testaments. Christ is that perfect synthesis of Scripture. “The various lines of the Old Testament revelation converge towards it (Christ), and those of the New Testament revelation radiate from it. It is only in their binding center, Jesus Christ, that the narratives of Scripture find their explanation.[3]

The Scriptures should also be read theologically or what Bekhof called “the mystical sense of Scripture.” This theological or mystical sense of Scripture is valid and is demonstrated in the consistent hermeneutic taught by Jesus and exemplified by the apostles and early Christians. Berkhof wrote, “The necessity of recognizing the mystical sense is quite evident from the way in which the New Testament often interprets the Old.[4] This type of interpretation is valid because “History is characterized by dioramatic unity, in virtue of which analogous events often re-appear, though it be with slight modifications, and these repetitions are, more or less, typically related.”[5] When the Old Testament Scriptures are interpreted with these helpful layers, then the resurrection and the impact of the resurrection can be seen in the Old Testament shadows cast by the New Testament realities.

Genesis 1:9-10 records the ascension of the new creation as the waters receded. Before creation there was chaos, but as a result of the new creation which appeared from this  “resurrection,” there was new creation fit for God’s purposes and God’s people. The flood waters in Genesis 6-7 eventually receded, as a shadow of the resurrection to come, so that Noah and his family were able to experience and take part in a new covenant for a “new world” in which the commands, originally given to Adam as the representative of mankind, could be taken up again (Gen. 9:1).

After the death of the firstborn, Moses and the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea as a shadow of New Testament realities. Paul made use of this typological arrangement when he admonished Christians not to be like Israel who failed to be faithful despite having been “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1). In this way the crossing of the Red Sea becomes a “resurrection” for the Israelites. The old world was left behind. The new world lay at their feet. This “resurrection” was accompanied with the new moral system given at Sinai. Israel was to no longer long for or live in the Egyptian worldview. They had been brought safely through the sea and were in a new reality with God in which they were to take up the Adamic work of subduing the earth and populating the earth for God’s glory.

In the New Testament, resurrection takes center stage. “The resurrection of Jesus is the principal tenet of the New Testament.”[6] Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of the entire Christian religion. Paul admitted, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Christianity is to be taken seriously because “now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). This changed everything. Even the certainty of death is shaken by the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Life is no longer “death oriented.” Death is not the end. Death is the necessary dark prologue before the resurrection cast, or re-cast as it were, the spotlight on the glory of the eternal God. Death is not the end of life or the controlling factor of all of life. The resurrection reoriented mankind Godward so that they must now live before him and for him.

The moral demands of the resurrection are found at the climax of Paul’s great chapter on resurrection. Having focused on the resurrection for fiftyseven verses, Paul concluded with the necessary ethical implications of the resurrection. He said, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). The resurrection is the impetus for Christian faithfulness and ministry. Without the resurrection, it would be easy for mankind to live focused only on this world. That is actually what would make sense, but Christ has been raised. Because Christ has been raised the sacrificial life of service and adoration to God, exemplified by Paul, is now the only acceptable life. It is the only life which “is not in vain.”

The Colossians were in danger of being taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Paul said, “you were dead in your transgressions and uncircumcision of your flesh” but now “He made you alive together with Him” (Col. 2:13). This moral orientation is described in terms unmistakably associated with death and resurrection. Paul commanded them to fortify themselves against those attacks because they had been “raised” or “resurrected with him” (Col. 2:12) and were therefore “made alive together with Him” (Col. 2:13).

This same theme was used again in Romans 6 to correct some Christians who believed they could “continue in sin” (Rom. 6:1) perhaps because they were so overwhelmed with the doctrine of justification put forth in Romans 5. Paul described mankind’s sinful state as death in Romans 5:21 and followed that with the exhortation for the Christians to remember that they had “died to sin” (Rom. 6:2). They had been buried with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4). They had also been resurrected to “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4-5).

            [1] Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Sacred Hermeneutics. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1950), 135.

              [2] Ibid., 135.

            [3] Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Sacred Hermeneutics. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1950), 142.

            [4] Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Sacred Hermeneutics. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1950), 140.

            [5] Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Sacred Hermeneutics, 141.

            [6] Eric W. Adams, “Resurrection,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker reference library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 677.

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