This article first appeared in the Ask Hank column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 37, number 03 (2014). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
“Within the sacramental world, past and present are one. Together they point forward to the still-future liberation.” —N. T. Wright1
The disciples were radically transformed by the resurrection of Jesus. Peter, once afraid of being exposed as a follower of Christ by a young woman, was transformed into a lion of the faith as a result of encountering the resurrected Christ. Paul, a ceaseless persecutor of early Christians, encountered the risen Christ and became the chief evangelist to the Gentiles. And an entire community of Jews willingly transformed the spiritual and sociological traditions underscoring their national identity—including Sabbath and the sacraments.
First, they transitioned the Sabbath to Sunday. Within weeks of Christ’s resurrection, thousands of Jews willingly changed a longstanding theological tradition that had given them their national identity. God himself provided the early church with a new pattern of worship through Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week, His subsequent Sunday appearances, and the Spirit’s Sunday descent (Matt. 28:1–10; John 20:26; Acts 2:1; 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).
For the emerging Christian church, the most dangerous snare was a failure to recognize that Jesus was the substance that fulfilled the symbol of the Sabbath. “Therefore,” says Paul, “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16–17).2 Paul’s list here is instructive. Those who became Jews—whether Rahab, Ruth, or “people of other nationalities” (Est. 8:17)—were brought into a system of shadows that pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah. With the coming of Christ, such Old Covenant lists (e.g., Ezek. 45:17; Hos. 2:11) were no longer the point. They served as shadows (Col. 2:17). The day of worship was now a celebration of the “rest” we have through Christ, who delivers us from sin and the grave (Heb. 4:1–11). The day of resurrection had become the day of worship.
Through His resurrection Jesus demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Abraham, Buddha, or Confucius. He is the Creator—they are His creations. Easter is the celebration that Christ, not Caesar, is Lord. Through His resurrection the veil between heaven and earth has been parted and one day will disappear. The resurrection power that once flooded the corpse of Christ will flood the cosmos in the renewal of all things. Lest we ever forget, each Sunday living stones in the temple of God gather together in celebration of Christianity’s seminal event—the resurrection of Christ and vicariously that of Christians.
Furthermore, as with the setting apart of the first day of the week, the setting apart of the saved through the first act of obedience is inextricably linked to the reality of resurrection. Prior to Christ’s resurrection, Gentile converts to Judaism were baptized in the name of the God of Israel. After resurrection, converts to Christianity were baptized in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:36–41). In doing so, Christians equated Jesus with Israel’s God.
In his epistle to the Romans, Paul elevates the sacrament of baptism by equating it to death and resurrection. The first act of obedience was dying to the world in which Caesar was lord and rising to newness of life in a kingdom in which Christ is Lord. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom. 6:4–5). Likewise, in his epistle to the Colossian Christians, Paul speaks of being buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Christ in newness of life (Col. 2:12).
While baptism is often relegated to little more than a water sport in contemporary Christianity, it was a matter of life and death for believers living in the epicenter of a Caesar cult. Through baptism they were overtly denying the lordship of Caesar. Thus, more often than not, being baptized was tantamount to signing a death warrant. In place of hair gel and dry clothing, the newly baptized might well be dressed in tar jackets and set ablaze. The world was not worthy of them. They had glimpsed a new heaven and a new earth beyond the veil. They knew that in resurrection the kingdom of God had broken in and would one day fill heaven and earth.
Finally, the elements of the Lord’s Table find ultimate fulfillment in the resurrection of all things. As such, Easter and the Eucharist are inextricably woven as one. In place of the Passover meal, those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of all celebrate Communion. Imagine the irony. Jesus was slaughtered in grotesque and humiliating fashion, yet His disciples remembered His broken body and shed blood with joy. Only resurrection can account for that!
Each year the Jews celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s sparing the firstborn sons in the homes of the Israelite families that were marked by the blood of the Passover lamb (Luke 22; cf. Ex. 11–12). Jesus’ celebration of the Passover meal with His disciples on the night of His arrest symbolically points to the fact that He is the ultimate Passover Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Though the Last Supper and the corresponding sacrament of Communion serve as the antitype of the Passover meal, they also point forward to ultimate fulfillment in “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9; cf. Luke 22:15–18). On that glorious day the purified bride—true Israel—will be united with her Bridegroom in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1–2). Salvation has come. It eagerly awaits consummation.
We partake of the elements of Communion “in remembrance” both rearward and forward (Luke 22:19). Rearward, in remembrance of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood for the complete remission of sins. Forward, as a pointer toward the new heaven and a new earth in which resurrected Christians will forever commune with a resurrected Christ. His resurrection is a foretaste of an eternal banquet table. His resurrection inaugurates the union of heaven and earth. It is a resurrected reality in which death no longer is part of the equation. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9).
Of one thing I am certain—if twenty-first-century Christians would grasp the significance of resurrection like first-century Christians did, their lives would be inexorably transformed. Each Sunday is a celebration of resurrection. Each baptism is fresh evidence that we are raised with Him in newness of life—evidence of taking up the cross, of living the crucified life, and of awaiting the reappearance of Christ and the kingdom. Each time we partake of the elements we remember Him in whom all things find ultimate resolution in resurrection.3—Hank Hanegraaff
Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man daily broadcast (equip.org). Hank has authored more than twenty books, including Resurrection (Thomas Nelson, 2000) and The Osteenification of American Christianity (CRI, 2014).
- N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 274.
- Scripture quotations are taken from NIV1984.
- Article adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, AfterLife: What You Need to Know about Heaven, the Hereafter, and Near-Death Experiences (Brentwood, TN: Worthy, 2013), 195–98.