The Big Picture of Easter
The first time I visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona I initially misapprehended its immensity and vast splendor. Our vehicle was traveling on a highway to this national park when we came upon what was the most splendorous canyon I had ever viewed. I assumed that this was the Grand Canyon in all of its glory.
I interpreted this site to be the essence of the Grand Canyon, until we travelled further on to another turnout. There I took in a panoramic view of a far more immense and wondrous vast geologic chasm. I immediately recognized that what I had earlier considered the full extent of the Grand Canyon was actually only a tributary ravine. The lesser gorge was actually part of the Grand Canyon, yet relatively small in comparison to its most expansive regions. I had beheld a part of the Grand Canyon and mistaken it for its entirety. Indeed, as I drove further into the national park the magnitude of its panorama unfolded before me even more completely.
At Easter we view the wondrous glory of Christ’s resurrection. We celebrate what is without a doubt the most glorious event of history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central event of the Christian faith. It is so foundational that it impacts all God’s plan of restoration. Yet just as I mistook a part of the Grand Canyon for the whole, we often grasp a part of the impact of Messiah’s resurrection while missing its full—even cosmic—implications. We settle for a partial view of its splendor while missing its panoramic vistas. What awe and joy we experience, however, when we view more fully what the resurrection of Jesus means for us and for all creation.
Not Just Alive but Immortal
In my visit to the Grand Canyon I initially missed the fullness of this geological marvel. I thought that the tributary canyon which lay before me was the entire entity. We do something similar with the message of Easter. The first way in which people miss the fullness of Jesus’ resurrection is to assume that it means only that his dead body came back to life. This is true, and it is extraordinary! However, other dead persons have been restored to life. In the Old Testament, two boys who had died were subsequently raised to life respectively by the prophets Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:17-37). Jesus himself directly restored to life at least three individuals who had died: the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 9:11-17), and Lazarus (John 11:38-41). So although Jesus’ return to life is remarkable, in one sense it is not unique.
But in a greater sense it is truly unique, because although each of the other instances involved dead corpses being revivified, those who were restored to life would subsequently die. Lazarus came forth from the tomb, but later his lifeless body was again placed in the tomb. What these people experienced, in fact, was resuscitation to life. But they did not undergo a resurrection like Christ’s.
What is unique about Jesus’ resurrection is that he was restored to a life which would never again cease. His resurrection body was, and is, truly immortal. He will not die again. This distinctive characteristic of the Master’s resurrection the apostles proclaimed (Acts 2:22-36, 13:34). St. Paul writes, “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9). This is proof positive that Jesus has overcome death’s claim upon him.
Not Just for One but for Many
The second manner in which people can miss the full implications of Christ’s resurrection is to understand this event purely as a historical occurrence. In such a case the resurrection of Jesus becomes a once but not for all event. It impacts his life, and his alone.
However, the benefits of Christ’s resurrection are not limited to him only. They are shared with all those who believe in him. God promises that because of Jesus’ defeat of death, all those who die in faith in him will share his victory over the grave (John 5:25-29, 11:25-26; Romans 6:3-9; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Jesus is the “first fruits” of resurrection—that is, he is the first to be raised imperishable—and this guarantees a full harvest of others being resurrected in the future (1 Corinthians 15:20-26). Indeed, this is the reason for Jesus’ mission, to bring life that is eternal to all people. His resurrection has universally shattered the stronghold of death so that we also will one day rise from the dead.
Not Just the Soul but the Body
This resurrection means much more than a hope merely that “my soul will to go to heaven when I die.” Frequently when people speak this way, they envision themselves in an eternally disembodied state. They anticipate an everlasting existence in which they will glide through an ethereal heaven as misty spirits. But such never was God’s intention, nor is it his promise. God has created each human to be a unity of body and spirit. Even though death can tear us apart—spirit from body—God’s will is for us ultimately and eternally to be whole. Just as Christ’s body and spirit were reunited at his resurrection, so also will that of all people (both believers and unbelievers, with differing destinations for each—see Daniel 12: 2, John 5:28-29).
The scriptures attest that Jesus Christ’s dead body was made physically alive at his resurrection. Christians confess that his corpse was restored to life—materially, physiologically, biologically. The resurrected Lord told the doubting disciples: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39). To prove his point, Jesus ate a piece of fish in front of them (Luke 24:41-43). Accordingly, as Christ’s resurrection was a bodily one, so also will ours be physical.
This is why we confess in the Apostles Creed: “I believe in…the resurrection of the body.” Ultimately a Christian looks forward to his physical body restored to a state of perfection—free from sin and its effects of disease, disability, decay, and death. Perhaps even more amazingly, we look forward to being able to love God with our whole being and to love other people perfectly! This is possible only because of the resurrection of Jesus, “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).
Not Just Bodies but the Entire Universe
But there is more! As I traveled closer to the center of the Grand Canyon, the fullest magnitude of its grandeur opened to my eyes. Similarly, as we draw closer to the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection, the fullest magnitude of its meaning is revealed to us.
Christ’s physical resurrection guarantees the resurrection of our physical bodies. But more than that, it brings hope to all things physical. God’s resurrection power which renewed the physical, created, but deceased body of Jesus will one day renew our physical, created, but sin-scarred bodies (living and dead). But more than that, this same power will restore the entire fallen, physical creation. Accordingly, Jesus’ resurrected body is the first fruits not only of our renewed bodies but of the entire renewed universe. As biblical scholar N. T. Wright puts it, Jesus’ glorified resurrection body is the prototype of a whole new creation.
Just as the entire creation was cursed because of sin (Genesis 3:17-19), so also it will be restored to its condition of blessed perfection through the resurrection power of Christ “that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). This is the Apostle Paul’s emphasis: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).
We begin to behold the fuller dimension of the impact of Jesus’ resurrection when we understand that this event makes possible not only the salvation of human beings, but the restoration of all that God has made. It gives promise not only to the revivification of our lifeless bodies, but of the revitalization of this fallen universe. The full purpose of what God intended for the creation—from quarks to quasars—is realized. Easter brings hope not only to one species of creatures—homo sapiens—but to all creation! The Bible refers to this as “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21 NASV, see also Matthew 19:28). As such, Easter has a cosmic dimension. The panorama of its impact extends to the cosmos!
The Apostle Peter reminds us: “According to his [God’s] promise we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Those who are righteous by faith in Christ will dwell there. But even more, righteousness itself will inhabit this new creation—the universe will no longer suffer the effects of the curse of sin, decay, and death. Every indication of scripture points to this as a material, physical new creation. It is a renewed home for God’s creatures in which “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Paradise lost will be paradise restored.
Not Just a Past Day but the Last Day
It should be clear from what has been presented thus far that Easter is not just an event in the past which Christians remember. It is a promise for the future. It points to another day which we will experience. I am referring not to the day of one’s death, as significant as it is. The even greater day to anticipate is the day of one’s resurrection and the resurrection of all flesh. This will take place on the final day of this age, what scripture refers to as “that day.” It will mark the consummation of all history, the culmination of all God’s promises, and the restoration of all creation.
This final day will be the day of Christ’s glorious reappearing in which “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7). We frequently refer to it as “judgment day,” which it is. But it is more than that. Although the title is quite a mouthful, I prefer to call it the “universal resurrection and restoration day.” What happened to Jesus on the third day almost 2000 years ago will on that day affect all Christians and all creation. Sin and its accursed effects will be completely eradicated from the cosmos, and “nothing unclean will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27). We who are now unclean by virtue of our sin nevertheless shall then inhabit this new creation solely because of Jesus “who was raised [from the dead] for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Our present justification assures our future glorification. Accordingly, Easter involves not just a look backward in time 2000 years ago, but also a look forward in time to the final day of fulfillment.
The Big Picture
As I stood on the precipice of the rim of the Grand Canyon, I gathered in a panorama which exceeded all of my previous puny expectations. I beheld the big picture of this natural wonder. Similarly, as we gaze at the apostolic witness regarding the resurrection of the Son of God, we see a much bigger picture of its impact than is commonly understood. The scope of its effect is vast, universal, cosmic, and eternal. We behold a vista of restoration which envelops all of creation. The big picture of Easter provides us with a vision of the risen Christ whose triumph is all-encompassing.