In the Gospel lesson for Easter Sunday we hear the angel say to the women: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen as he said.” On that first Easter, the angels announced the good news that the women and the apostles would soon experience first hand: Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter is a past event. However for us, it is also the beginning of the future. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of the Last Day has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul writes in 15:20, “But now Christ has been raised, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” Jesus is the first portion of the resurrection that guarantees we will also be raised. The message of Easter is that the resurrection we will share on the Last Day when Christ returns has already begun. It is now simply a matter of timing. As Paul goes on to say in 15:23, “But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at his coming.”
Jesus’ resurrection shows us what our own resurrection will be like. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul affirms we will experience a resurrection of the body and asserts that in the resurrection we will receive a “spiritual body” (15:44). This is not the denial of a physical or material body, but rather as scholarship has demonstrated, it is a body transformed for the future life directed by the Holy Spirit. Paul indicates that this change will occur for all believers, both the living and the dead when he says “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed” (15:51).
The physical and material nature of the resurrection is confirmed by Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:21. There Paul affirms that we are eagerly awaiting Jesus Christ, “who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Paul tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the model for our own resurrection. When we consider Jesus’ resurrection, we find that our Lord says in Luke 24:39, “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.” In the same way, in John 20 he invites Thomas to touch him (John 20:26-27). Since this is the model for our own resurrection we learn that while there will be transformation and change, it will be a physical and material existence.
There is great comfort in this knowledge. Many of us now live with bodies that are breaking down. We live with health issues that make life difficult. In Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, we see that God has something far better in store for us. In fact, we see that this answer has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We have resurrection hope for our future and at the same time our Lord continues to sustain our confidence in the present through His Means of Grace. In our baptism we have the assurance that we too will share in the restoration of the resurrection, for as Paul writes in Romans 6:5; “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” In the Lord’s Supper our bodies receive the very body and blood of the risen Lord, and so we know that we too will be raised up when our Lord returns. Through these means our risen Lord assures us that He is the first fruits of the resurrection that has already begun, and that we will share in His resurrection on the Last Day when He returns in glory.