In presenting the gospel we rightly emphasise the death of Christ. Without his death on the cross, and the life of obedience that preceded it, there is no salvation. These aspects of his work are called his ‘humiliation’ in theology see e.g. Philippians 2:8). On its own, however, this would leave us with a dead and therefore defeated Messiah – no Saviour. The gospel also proclaims his ‘exaltation’ (as in Philippians 2:9), which has profound significance for Christian life and service. We will consider Christ Exalted: 1. Resurrection.
1. A guarantee of victory
Paul spells out the significance of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:17 ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’. But as Pater states in Acts 2:24 ‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’. The resurrection confirms his identity and the success of his work. We may think of his work in terms of victory, with the resurrection as a guarantee that victory has been won:
(i). Victory over sin: he lived the life of perfect obedience that we have not lived (Hebrews 4:15) and by his death he bore the full penalty of the sin of his people (1 Peter 2:24).
(ii). Victory over Satan: the promise of Genesis 3:15 is that the ‘seed’ of the woman would crush the head of the serpent – the victory of the Messiah over Satan, fulfilled at the cross (see John 12:31). The hosts of evil will finally be punished eternally.
(iii). Victory over death: risen from the dead, Christ will not die again – he has won the victory over death (Romans 6:9). Death is a defeated enemy for the children of God.
2. A basis for regeneration
Because believers are united to Christ, his saving work is replicated in the spiritual life of the believer. We benefit from all that he has done as our Representative. We die and rise with him. Because he has risen, we experience regeneration, deliverance from spiritual death – we ‘walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4). Eternal life is a present possession of the believer – he ‘has passed from death to life’ (John 5:24). Paul describes our present position vividly in Ephesians 2:6 ‘seated…with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’.
3. A promise of glory
The significance of Christ’s resurrection for his people is not confined to the present life or to our spirits alone. The Lord saves people – who have bodies. The work of salvation is not complete even in heaven. Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). The firstfruits were the first part of the harvest that guaranteed the bringing in of the whole crop – the risen Christ foreshadows and guarantees our bodily resurrection. We are united to him – ‘in Christ all will be made alive’ (v22). There will be glorious bodies for us at his return – Philippians 3:21. This is our full Christian hope. In Christ we have complete victory – 1 Corinthians 15:57).