Post last updated on February 8, 2023
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The resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ is the prescribed hope for men everywhere. A man’s attempts to summon untethered optimism from within himself prove miserably futile. Other efforts to tie confidence to mere human institutions are inevitably disappointing, for those hopes collapse when institutions fail. The optimism reserved for the promises offered and contained in Jesus Christ, however, endures as long as the Lord himself lives. And he lives for evermore (Revelation 1:18).
Still, there is reason for a note of caution: the believer’s optimism may never become self-serving, as if God promises us all that we presently wish for and, therefore, we believe. The believer must acknowledge something else and something more, that his relationship to God through the resurrected Son is both the cause and content of renewed and realigned aspirations. God, through his word and Spirit, gradually changes the affections of the believer, so that he properly and increasingly desires the very things that God gifts in his Son.
That grant is all wrapped up in a single but weighty little word: life. If the meaning of this word were restricted to the biological, there would not be music nor poetry—or even sad sighs full of righteous longing. Indeed, this word relates the very kind and quality of experience for which man was created, one in which the exercise of all sensibilities finds both a giving and receiving in fellowship with God.
When John 10:10, then, records the Lord’s oft-quoted declaration, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” the reader is moved to think beyond the scope of present experiences. The idea of life is not reduced to some better allocation of gifts in a fallen world; the very description and substance of life is joined to the facts of the resurrected Jesus. It also possesses the assurance that a believer’s own resurrection will one day follow, and that life will proceed according to that fashion and feeling. When believers are otherwise tempted to think that their hope is defined by their own selfish desires—and the enjoyment of all of them now, Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that God’s promises are, in fact, better than we can ask or think. The resurrection has become both the fountain and form of eternal life.
Without the resurrection of Jesus, only a different kind of hope can be imagined. And dislocated from actual history and its happenings, it can only be imagined. It exists nowhere other than man’s religious imagination. It is unavoidably speculative, and no better than what the Greek philosophers and eastern mystics could devise. Ironically, mysticism is the last refuge of the hopeless; and a mere ethereal experience is the last invention of the mind; but neither of these will finally suffice for hearts. From deep within, men and women want to live. In the meantime, some chase after sin and death to do just that.
Oliver O’Donovan has reminded us that it the Lord’s own resurrection that resuscitates man from the Adamic inclination:
The meaning of the resurrection, as Saint Paul presents it, is that it is God’s final and decisive word on the life of his creature, Adam. It is, in the first place, God’s reversal of Adam’s choice of sin and death: ‘As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). In the second place, and precisely because it is a reversal of Adam’s decision to die, the resurrection of Christ is a new affirmation of God’s first decision that Adam should live, and affirmation that goes beyond and transforms the initial gift of life: ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last man Adam became a life-giving spirit’ (15:45). The work of the Creator who made Adam, who brought into being an order of things in which humanity has a place, is affirmed once and for all by this conclusion. It might have been possible, we could say, before Christ rose from the dead, for someone to wonder whether creation was a lost cause. If the creature consistently acted to uncreate itself, and with itself to uncreate the rest of creation, did this not mean that God’s handiwork was flawed beyond hope of repair? It might have been possible before Christ rose from the dead to answer in good faith, Yes. Before God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope that we call ‘gnostic’, the hope for redemption from creation rather than for the redemption of creation, might have appeared to be the only possible hope. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…’ (15:20). This fact rules out those other possibilities, for in the second Adam the first is rescued. The deviance of his will, its fateful leaning towards death, has not been allowed to uncreate what God created.Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 14.