The idea that one has long held of a person is apt to stop one’s eyes and ears. –Marcel Proust
I was struck this weekend by a new glimpse of Christ in resurrection.
In my experience, most sermons, tweets, and Easter acclamations at this time of year focus on the historicity of resurrection—”He has been raised”—and the geography of resurrection—”He is not here.” In other words, fact bolstered by proof (empty tomb). Of course, there are some take-aways, but they are often only objective and elementary, like, “everything else He said must be true,” or “we no longer have to fear death.”
One one hand, this is entirely appropriate. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin of our faith. Take it away and everything falls apart. That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. This always needs to be affirmed so that teaching on Christ’s resurrection doesn’t morph into liberal theological denials masked as modern adaptation.
That very thing happened last week in a New York Times article interviewing the president of Union Theological Seminary. When asked if she believed in a “literal flesh-and-blood resurrection” she replied, “Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.” In others words, Christ’s resurrection is symbolic and conceptual, not actual.
But it seems to me that in the fight to defend and affirm a literal resurrection, it’s easy for Christians to loose sight of the fuller picture of resurrection in the Bible. We are so clear about what resurrection is not, that we are blind to what it fully is (see the 6 “p’s” of resurrection for more on that). Like Proust said above, our long-standing familiarity may blind us.
The Divine Drama
It seems to me that many Christians inadvertently convey the impression that the fact of the resurrection is the only thing that matters, as if it were the final act of the divine drama. As if everything else is just a matter of waiting for the lights in the theater to come back on and the curtain to lift so that we can go downstairs and meet the lead actor. To these kind of Christians, the second coming is the lifting of the curtain and until then we just keep on clapping and cheering and waiting.
Now on one hand, there is some truth to this. The resurrection was a coup d’état to Satan’s kingdom. The party’s over for him. The victory is won. I love what Karl Barth said about Christ’s resurrection: “If you have heard the Easter message, you can no longer run around with a tragic face and lead the humorless existence of a man who has no hope. One thing still holds, and only this one thing is really serious, that Jesus is the Victor.”
But this doesn’t mean that the audience in the theater can stand up and stretch, head home, and go to sleep.
The Resurrection Involves You
It’s better to think of Christ’s resurrection as the concluding scene of the first part of the play. Christ’s resurrection is not the end of God’s work; it is a new beginning to it. And in part two, we are called backstage and cast as characters into the action.
The story’s not over at the resurrection; the plot has just taken a radical turn. Jesus was killed, but He rose from the dead to a new mode of existence, having become the life-giving Spirit. Part one ends with the protagonist entering into His followers and becoming one with them. Resurrection is the mass reproduction of the Son of God in millions of people. Now He will act out the second half of the drama from within them. Paul’s statement is thoroughly dramatic: “It is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
Resurrection has effected a mass ontological translocation—God is now in man and man is in God. This is Jesus’ take-away of the resurrection: “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20). This is immersive theater at its height! We break the fourth wall and move from spectator to participant through baptism, which is immersion into Christ. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). We have put on the protagonist and the protagonist now guides us into “fitting participation” in the divine drama.
This is not, as one hymn says, “Tell me the old, old story.” The story is still going and it’s just getting interesting. Christ’s resurrection has immense practical and subjective value for us today. It has subjective, present historic value, i.e. it effects our present history, not just our objective, future history (i.e. we will be raised from the dead).
Resurrection is not just a fact to believe in; it is a reality to participate in.
We are called to live out the unwritten script of the final scenes. The ending is utterly certain, but this doesn’t rob the story of any of its dramatic suspense because the “who,” the “how,” and the “when” are still unanswered questions subject to our participation.
Joel B. Green expands on this:
Mystery stories create suspense by withholding what will happen. Even as the last chapter is begun, readers can envision multiple paths to the resolution of the plot. Not so with the Bible. In the Bible, what will happen in the end is not hidden… In the narrative of Scripture, we know what will happen, but this does not rob the narrative of any sense of drama or suspense, because we do not yet know who it will happen through.
Joshua and Caleb
I started thinking about all this as I thought about how the resurrection is related to the story of Joshua and Caleb. This was my new glimpse—that in resurrection Christ is Joshua and in resurrection we are Caleb, joined to him by faith.
In resurrection Christ is Joshua. In resurrection, Christ takes on a new role in God’s purpose—the anointed captain of salvation who is leading many sons into glory. Hebrews 2:10 is talking about Jesus, but I take the term “captain of salvation” as an oblique reference to Joshua. Joshua was the OT captain of the Lord’s armies, and he got a visit from the pre-incarnate Christ, the real captain of Jehovah’s armies (Josh. 5:14). Christ appeared to Joshua in Joshua’s own role to bolster his faith in Christ as the reality.
Two comments by Witness Lee opened this up to me:
Joshua typifies Christ in resurrection leading the believers to enter into and inherit God as their possession… Joshua’s succeeding of Moses typifies the resurrected Christ succeeding the incarnated and crucified Christ.
Christ, the Captain of salvation, is the real Joshua leading God’s people to take and possess the land. We, His partners, are the real Calebs sharing with Him in the taking and possessing of the land.
As Lee says above, both Moses and Joshua are types of Christ, but in different aspects.
Moses typifies the incarnated and crucified Christ. He is the OT redeemer, delivering God’s people out of slavery. “This one God has sent as both a ruler and a redeemer” (Acts 7:35). Moses ultimately dies in the wilderness “on account” of Israel’s sin, foreshadowing Jesus death on account of our sin (Deut. 4:21). On the cross, Christ was our Moses, our redeemer who brought us out of Egypt. When Moses came back with the message of redemption, the people of Israel believed (Exo. 4:31). We too believe in the completed work of Christ on the cross for our deliverance from sin and Satanic tyranny.
But God promised much more than just deliverance from Egypt. He not only wanted to bring them out of something; He wanted to bring them into something. In Exodus 3:8 God said, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land.” In Deuteronomy 6:23 Moses says, “He brought us out from there in order to bring us in.” For that, Christ has become the real Joshua, leading us into the experience and enjoyment of Himself as the reality of the good land. Joshua is a type of the resurrected Christ.
Joshua 1 provides an interesting typological launch pad for this thought:
After the death of Moses… Jehovah spoke to Joshua… saying, Moses My servant is dead; now then arise, and cross over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them… (vv. 1-2)
Moses dies and Joshua arises. This points to resurrection.
Then God tells Joshua, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads I have given to you” (Josh. 1:3). In resurrection, all things are under Christ’s feet (Eph. 1:22). Christ has tread on the entire universe and has possessed it for God’s people. He has been anointed to bring God’s people into Himself. All authority in heaven and on earth is His and He is now directing the world situation for the fulfillment of God’s purpose, the producing of the church, and the coming of the kingdom. God told Joshua, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of you life” (Josh. 1:5). Nothing can stand against the resurrected Christ.
Caleb is the third main character in this story. Moses dies, Joshua arises, and Caleb joins him in faith. Caleb represents us as Christ’s partners. If the term “captain of salvation” in Hebrews 2:10 is an allusion to Joshua (which is bolstered by the context and then the mention of Joshua in 4:8), then it makes sense to translate the Greek word metochos (μέτοχος) in Hebrews 3:14 as “partners,” in reference to Caleb.
We have become partners of Christ, if indeed we hold fast the beginning of the assurance firm to the end.
Through faith, NT believers have entered an organic union with the resurrected Lord. We are joined to Him in the closest partnership, one at the ontological and volitional level.
As Caleb, we are joined to Christ in resurrection and share in His anointing. Speaking of the resurrected Christ, Hebrews 1:9 says, “God has anointed You with the oil of exultant joy above Your partners.” This means that God has called us to join Christ in His commission and move with Him in resurrection for the fulfillment of His purpose. This requires us to look away from the giants in our being and environment and fully believe in what the resurrected Christ can do. This is the most fitting way to participate in the ongoing drama in contemporary scenes.
Just as we believed in His resurrection to save us (Rom. 10:9), we need to believe that the resurrected Christ can bring us fully into God’s purpose, notwithstanding giants in the land—the giants of self, sin, the natural life, our mood, our history, our problems, etc. This is precisely where the OT people of God failed. They believed in the apparent obstacles rather than in God’s ability (Num. 14:11).
Unbelief is the most unfitting attitude for our character’s role, given what has happened in the story so far. It is not what the script calls for. The divine Director always cuts those scenes and may ultimately cut those actors if they don’t adjust their performance. The 40 years in the wilderness was God hiring a new generation of performers.
Kevin Vanhoozer says that, “Doctrine resembles stage directions for the church’s performance of the gospel.” Hebrews 12:2 is much needed stage direction for NT performers. The Director is shouting, “Look away unto Jesus, the Captain and Completer of your faith.” This is a reminder I need every day, not just once a year. In this light, everyday should be Easter—a public reminder that Christ is in resurrection, treading on giants, and He calls me to join Him.
The angel at the empty tomb told the women, “He is going before you into Galilee” (Mark 16:7). The resurrected Christ is not inert in a realm of static bliss; He is on the move on earth, riding at the front of the army.
Resurrection isn’t the end of the story. If we see who Christ is in resurrection and who we are in resurrection, it will motivate us to charge forward into what God has given us, a land grant in the all-inclusive Christ. Yes, there are giants in the land, but who’s looking? I refuse to look anywhere but up. We are well able. Let’s go.
1. Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove, p. 3
2. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, p. 123
3. Witness Lee, A General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, Part 1: The Gospels and Acts, p. 58
4. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, pp. 102, 108-109, 256-263
5. Joel B. Green, Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching: Reuniting New Testament Interpretation and Proclamation, p. 32
6. Lee, CWWL 1960, Vol. 1, p. 583
7. Lee, Life-Study of Hebrews, Ch. 16
8. Vanhoozer, p. 18
9. Lee, Christ versus Religion, p. 88