‘He is risen!’: What does it mean?

In the resurrection, the kingdom of God is set loose among the kingdoms of the world.

By Chuck Queen

A florist mixed up two orders on a busy day. One was to go to a new business, the other to a funeral. The next day, the guy with the new business stormed into the shop. “What’s the big idea? The flowers that arrived for our reception said, ‘Rest in peace.’” The florist responded, “Well, if you think that’s bad you should have seen the people at the funeral who got the flowers that said, “Good luck in your new location.”

For some Christians, resurrection means nothing more than changing locations, representing evidence of the afterlife. Of course, one can believe in an afterlife without believing in resurrection at all.

For the first disciples, resurrection signified vindication and the continued availability of the divine life Jesus incarnated. We can say, “Jesus is risen” only because God raised him from the dead (he didn’t raise himself). The resurrection of Jesus by God demonstrated God’s validation and vindication of everything he stood for and died for. It was God’s approval of his compassionate life, his identification with the poor and disenfranchised, his passion to liberate the oppressed, and the way he absorbed in death the hate of the religious and political powers without returning that hate.

If the apostolic preaching in Acts is historically reflective of early Christian thought, then the first disciples interpreted the resurrection of Jesus as God’s approval of Jesus and his continual participation in the life of his followers. Peter’s message to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem was that God “raised up” this Jesus “whom you crucified” and “has made him both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:32-36)

Luke’s narrative of the ascension is his metaphorical/theological elaboration on the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. The mythical imagery of Jesus’ levitation into the clouds is a poetic way of saying that Jesus has been taken into the very life of God, which is accessible to all. In the words of theologian Hans Küng, Jesus’ resurrection was his “assumption into ultimate reality.” He was raised by God to share in God’s transcendent life, and now as the cosmic Christ mediates this very life to his disciples.

This life is hidden, concealed, spiritual, but nonetheless real, dynamic and powerful. Spiritual writer Brother David Steindl-Rast observes that it is “hidden as the spring is hidden in the stream” and “we can sense the current of his hidden life as it guides all things from within, pulsating as blessing … through the universe and through our own innermost being.” The Pauline writer describes this life as “hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3)

The poetic and theological imagery of Jesus seated at the right hand of God, enthroned on high, depicts the risen Christ as wielding ultimate power and authority as Lord. The earliest Christian confession was simply, Jesus is Lord. But this power and authority, given the life Jesus lived and the death he died, can only be the power and authority of divine love.

Lord was the title attributed to the Roman emperor. For Christians to call Jesus Lord amounted to high treason. Only one could have ultimate authority. The Lordship of Jesus was the counter narrative to the coercive power of empire and it called for a kind of personal and communal transformation that required great courage.

Jesus was crucified because the way of life he embodied and taught was considered a threat to the domination system that wielded coercive political and religious power. The alternative narrative — reflected in Jesus’ life and death, vindicated in resurrection and made accessible through his risen life — runs on the power to forgive and restore, to redeem and reconcile, to heal and liberate, to make whole and put right. It generates faith and inspires hope in a vision of a just world.

The resurrection of Jesus means that the kingdom of God is set loose among the kingdoms of the world, that the power of love is at work in the very midst of massive systems that are fueled by the love of power, that the power of life can be experienced and expressed even in the most life diminishing conditions.

A living faith in the resurrection of Jesus means confessing Jesus as Lord. Confessing Jesus as Lord means faithfulness to God’s household, not to empire. It means participating in a nonviolent social revolution that recognizes the dignity of every human being and all creation, and that is viewed as a threat by every social system that operates on the power to control and establish a pecking order.

The resurrection of Jesus means that no matter how long it takes or what form it takes, the power of love will ultimately prevail.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.