by Peter J. Leithart
It really happened.
Some 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem and was placed in a nearby tomb. On the third day after His death, women came to the tomb to dress the body and found the tomb empty, heard from angels that Jesus had risen from the dead, and shortly after encountered Jesus Himself. Then Jesus appeared to His disciples, and to many others.
It really happened.
Romans and Jews conspired to give alternative explanations of the empty tomb from the first, and alternative explanations keep coming. None of the alternative explanations works. None of them can explain the rise of early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, the persistence of belief in Jesus in the face of massive murderous threats, the dramatic change in the disciples that took place after Easter and Pentecost.
The only plausible explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead. The only explanation that fits the evidence is that it really happened.
And if it really happened, then the world is a very different place than we might have thought.
If it really happened, then the world is the kind of place where there is not only life after death, a disembodied existence in heaven, but what N.T. Wright calls “life after life after death,” embodied life in a new heavens and new earth.
If it really happened, then the post-Enlightenment effort to explain the world by scientific naturalism will never be successful. Things have happened that our science cannot explain, and there is more in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in philosophy.
If it really happened, then the power of tyrants is shattered. The worst the tyrant can do is kill. The power of tyranny is the power of death. But if death is reversible, if dead people do come back to life after life after death, then the tyrant’s sword is finally useless and certainly not fearsome.
If it really happened, then Jesus is who He always said He was, the Son of God, the King who would sit on the throne of David.
If it really happened, Jesus is sitting on that throne right now, ruling all things. He is the new kurios, the new world ruler, the new emperor, to whom all principalities and powers are called to submit.
If it really happened, then the universe is being governed by Jesus, and there is no corner of the globe, no edge of the universe, where He is not king. Nothing is outside His rule, and we have nothing to fear.
If it really happened, we have been given a preview of the end of the age. Jews believed that resurrection was an event of the end, which it is. But the end has already begun. Jesus has been raised, the firstfruits of the resurrection, and that means that the end has come. The end will be resurrection, restoration, a new creation. The end will not be disembodied spirits in a disembodied world. The end will be this world transfigured into the new creation, into a new heavens and new earth.
If it really happened, then no situation and no person are hopeless. No marriage is beyond repair, no child beyond recovery, no pagan beyond the reach of the gospel, no sin beyond forgiveness, no tomb permanently sealed, no one and nothing beyond restoration.
If it really happened, giving up is simply not an option, because if bodily death is reversible, so are all the other little deaths that we suffer in life. If it really happened, hope is not a delusion, but the driving power of abundant life.
If it really happened, then we've got a load of work, because not everyone has heard the news that God has conquered death. Jesus is King and Lord, and He sends us out to announce that He rule. He establishes the church to be the first form and bearer of His kingdom. He intends to overcome all evil and sin, all injustice and wickedness, and calls us in the power of His resurrection to share in His war against all that damages His good creation.
Go to the darkest shanty town of the darkest city on the darkest continent, and there too the Risen Jesus is king. Wade into the waste of the most ruined life, and there too Jesus is the Living Lord. Sort through the wreckage your own sin has caused in your own life, face it in faith and hope, and you will see resurrection life at work through the Spirit, and the liberating power of God's forgiveness.
Because it happened. It really happened.