The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter was the defeat of death. It was an event that can only be understood in light of the first two chapters of Genesis that emphasize the goodness of the material creation that God made (Genesis 1:31). We read in Genesis, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (2:7). In this verse we learn that humanity was created as the unity of body and soul and that only in this unity can we live as God intended. Life – true and full life as God created it – is a bodily one.
The disobedience of Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, and with sin came death (Romans 5:12). In death, humanity now experienced the disruption of the created unity between body and soul. God said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12-14) and sin continues to bring death as its outcome for each one of us (Romans 6:23).
However, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has forgiven sin and defeated death. Jesus, the suffering Servant, died in our place in order to take away our sins (Isaiah 53; Mark 10:45). And then on Easter He rose from the dead in order to defeat death. In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God became flesh (John 1:14) as in Jesus all the fullness of the deity dwelt in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). On Good Friday Jesus yielded up His spirit in death (Matthew 27:50) and His dead body – His dead flesh - was laid in the tomb.
Yet death did not have the final word. On Easter Sunday Jesus Christ emerged from the tomb as the resurrected One. He emerged with a resurrected body and flesh. As Jesus said to the disciples on the evening of the first Easter, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 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 24:38-39). He emerged with a resurrected body and flesh which can never die again (Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 15:49-53).
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His defeat of death, we are looking forward to “the redemption of the body” that will take place on the Last Day when all of creation itself is renewed (Romans 8:19-23). We look forward to Christ’s return when he will raise the bodies of dead Christians and transform those who are still living (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). It is on this day that we will experience the final defeat of death.
We know that death cannot separate us from Christ because in death we depart and are with Him (Philippians 1:23). In Christ, we already share in the defeat of death now. Through Holy Baptism we have been joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Paul says in Colossians 2:12, “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Yet in our own lives we still await the final defeat of death. Until Christ returns, each of us will die and our body will be placed in the ground – something that is not very good (Genesis 1:31). The final defeat of death will occur on the Last Day when Jesus Christ returns in glory, raises up our bodies and transforms them to be like His glorious resurrected body (Philippians 3:21). Paul put it this way: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in His own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all his enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:22-26).
On Easter Sunday we rejoiced that Christ has defeated death through His resurrection. We rejoiced that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). And each Sunday in the liturgy of the Divine Service, as we prepare to receive the foretaste of the feast to come in the Sacrament of the Altar we cry out: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). We look forward to the Last Day when Jesus Christ will return and will raise and transform our bodies – the day when we will enjoy the final and ultimate defeat of death.