Resurrection, Ascension, and Coming Judgment

by Travis Prinzi on September 11, 2005

I’ll combine the creedal statements on resurrection, ascension, and coming judgment to finish out the paper’s section on Christ.  We’ll move later this week into the final section of "Moving Forward Looking Backward." 

“On the third day he arose
again from the dead”

These words
from the Creed echo Paul’s summary of the faith in 1 Corinthians 15. It is in this chapter that Paul argues for
the absolute necessity of faith in the resurrection of Christ, for without such
resurrection, there is no hope.[1] If Christ’s resurrection is true, Paul says,
several other things are true: we are given life in Christ; those who belong to
Christ will be raised from the dead; Christ’s reign over his kingdom has been
inaugurated; the enemies of God will be put into subjection under Christ; death
will suffer a final and decisive defeat.

Put quite
simply, without a historical resurrection, there is no Christianity. “The resurrection creates the need to write
the New Testament in the first place.”[2] Had Jesus not been raised, he would have been
yet another failed messiah.[3] Messiahs appeared and were killed all the
time; once the supposed messiah died, it was over. For the followers of Jesus, it did not end on
Good Friday. Indeed, from the first
post-Easter sermon preached to the end of the New Testament, resurrection is
proclaimed without fail, even where it will be scoffed at as a foolish
notion.

But what
hope can the belief in a historical resurrection of Jesus offer to the
postmodern world? The illustration of
Emmaus used previously and taken from Wright’s work is helpful. Discouraged that their messiah had supposedly
failed, the disciples are rebuked by the stranger on the road, who explains to
them how slow they are to understand all messiah had to suffer. Allow Wright to demonstrate an interesting
parallel:

Foolish ones, slow of heart to
understand what God was up to! Was it
not necessary that modernist versions of Christianity should die in order that
truth might be freshly glimpsed, not as a set of doctrines or theories but as a
person and as persons indwelt by that person?[4]

Wright is
trying to tell us that resurrection offers hope and life to every generation,
regardless of the cultural circumstances. It may be quite true that much of Christianity succumbed to modernist
tendencies; that was certainly seen above in the example of Genesis 1 in the
hands of modernist interpreters. Just as
dangerous is the temptation to develop a thoroughly postmodern Christian
theology. The hope of resurrection is
the answer to the dead and decaying philosophies that would obscure the truth
of God. As Dawn writes, “the only
unfettered hope is eschatological.”[5] The shock of the resurrection of Jesus was
that an eschatological event occurred “in the middle of the present age.”[6]

From Christianity’s earliest
existence, it has proclaimed and been centered upon the resurrection.[7] The Christian community is now and always had
been a resurrection community.[8] And this is no detached statement of
systematic theology; it is not as though Christians are simply a group of
religious people who believe one man was raised from the dead 2,000 years
ago. Rather, we believe that we, in some
way, share in that very resurrection by being “in Christ.”[9] At our baptism, we are united to the
eschatological hope of resurrection here in the present age.[10] As such, we carry with us the only hope that
has ever existed or will ever exist for a world that is dead in transgressions
and sins. While God could have chosen to
communicate the resurrection in any way He saw fit, He chose the work of His
Spirit through the church, and to that we will turn after a brief consideration
of ascension and coming judgment.

Ascension and Coming
Judgment

The final
statement about Jesus reads, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right
hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and
the dead.” As we have already spent
significant time on the implications for God’s sovereign rule over creation,
only a few brief considerations will be added here. While it is a much-debated point of
eschatology, Scriptures seems quite clear that, at least in some sense, Jesus
Christ is reigning over the earth even now.[11] His place at the right hand of the Father is
significant, for it places before the throne an advocate for all who trust in
Him.[12]

The coming
judgment of Jesus alerts us to a mix of fear and joy. Psalm 71 references the “final destination”
of the wicked as comfort in the midst of the questions of theodicy posed by the
psalmist. Certainly judgment brings with
it fear, and the concept of a final judgment is by no means a comfortable one
to proclaim in an age of tolerance. Nevertheless, final judgment also carries with it the notion of the
righting of all wrongs and elimination of all evil. If there is anything postmodern people are
sensitive to after a century of wars, death, and battles over civil rights, it
is injustice. The coming judgment is
indeed a connecting point for engaging postmodern people with the gospel of
free forgiveness and the message of a just God who not only will judge the
world, but suffered injustice Himself as one of us and on our behalf.


[1] I Cor.
15:15-19.

[2] Johnson,
180.

[3] Wright,
137.

[4] Ibid,
170.

[5] Marva
Dawn, Unfettered Hope, 183.

[6] Wright, Challenge, 137.

[7] Ibid,
133.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Romans
6.

[10] Dawn Unfettered Hope, 189.

[11]
Johnson, 187.

[12] 1 John
1:1-2.

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