"Easter" can be a pretty controversial word. Even the root of the word is debatable. Some scholars say it is rooted in the goddess "Ishtar", who had a spring fertility celebration. Some say that it is rooted in the old English word for "dawn", which is when Jesus' resurrection took place. We can choose which Easter to celebrate: the fertility celebration filled with eggs and rabbits, or the resurrection of Jesus.
Even when we talk about Jesus' resurrection, there is a lot of debate. Was he resurrected "historically" or "spiritually"? Is it just a story that the disciples passed on (which would be impressive, for they were killed for that story)?
No matter how we look at Easter, the point of Jesus' resurrection is often lost in the debates. Let's get back to the meaning of Jesus' resurrection, as found in the New Testament. There are a few reasons for Jesus' resurrection, all tied together into one story of justice:
Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead?
1. To grant him justice
Jesus was executed unjustly. He was declared a blasphemer for presenting himself as the Christ, as greater than the High Priest, and as a threat to the temple. Jesus truly IS the Christ, he really was greater than the High Priest and he was no threat to the temple. Jesus, in the midst of execution, presented his case to the highest appeal court possible: The Lord, the highest Judge over the earth. God the Father took the proper legal requirement: as other judges, he declared his response to the appeal on the third day (e.g. I Kings 12:12). On that auspicious third day, God declared Jesus innocent of all charges, and he overturned the sentence of the Jewish court.
2. To show God’s rejection of the human court
Jesus, an innocent man, was declared worthy of death by the priests, by the Sanhedrin, by the political ruler (Herod). Although he was declared innocent by the Romans, he was still handed over by them for execution. In resurrecting Jesus, God declares that all these entities were unjust and so not worthy of existing. To kill an innocent man curses the ground, and causes systems of justice to be overturned (Deut. 19:10; II Kings 24:3-4; Psalm 82). After a fair period of opportunity for these systems to repent of their injustice, God overturned them. Herod was killed by worms, the priests and Sanhedrin were destroyed. Only the Romans survived, although their system of empire was radically changed and they no longer were able to expand.
3. To make Jesus Lord of the earth
God’s basic principle of power is this: “The one who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (I Sam. 2:4-9; Isaiah 53; Luke 1:51-54; Luke 14:11). Not only did the rulers show themselves to be evil, but Jesus showed himself to be righteous by allowing himself to be humbled beyond all other beings. He was with God in heaven, became human and then as an innocent, he allowed himself to be killed as a rebel against God and God’s people. Because of his extreme humiliation, God declared him through the resurrection, to be Lord of heaven and earth. (Phil. 2:4-11)
4. To establish the Kingdom of God
God had promised that the reign of David’s line would last forever, and God’s kingdom was completely tied into David’s descendants (II Sam 7:12-16). The problem was finding a descendent of David who was worthy of such rule. God chose Jesus, the Son of David, as the one who is worthy to rule over humanity. Jesus was found to be the manifestation of wisdom and justice, judging only those who unjustly judge, and granting mercy to all the weak and innocent and forgiveness to all the repentant. God established this system as His kingdom by having Jesus resurrected into a “spiritual” body that would never die, thus establishing His rule forever.
5. To help humanity escape judgment
While under systems of injustice, the people of the world enact injustice. Because we are told to kill, we destroy the innocent and thus have innocent blood on our hands. We are told to judge the weak, and so we are guilty of harming those we should have compassion for. We are participants in systems of hatred, unrighteous judgment and destroyers of the weak and poor—all of which will be judged and destroyed by God. Jesus’ resurrection shows that there is another kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can join at any time. This kingdom is not limited by physical space, and so we have the opportunity to immigrate to it in any place, at any time, and if we do, then we escape God’s wrath that is upon the nations.
6. To establish resurrection for God’s people
Jesus was not resurrected as God. He was not resurrected as a superior spiritual being. Rather, he was resurrected as an innocent man, living out justice who had been unfairly judged. Even so, if we wish to be resurrected, we need to live as Jesus did:
Innocent before God. Although we have sinned, Jesus told us that immigrating into his kingdom and repenting from our sin makes us acceptable before God. (Mark 1:15; Luke 15)
Establishing justice. We need to provide mercy for the needy, forgiveness for the outcast, and declare the principles of God’s justice to all. (John 13:13-16)
Persecuted unjustly. If we live consistently to principles of God’s justice, we will run afoul of the systems of injustice, and so be declared guilty by them although we are innocent. This doesn’t have to happen through the courts, but we must allow ourselves to be humiliated if we wish to be risen. (Mark 8:34-38)
This is the gospel—good news to the poor, persecuted and outcast. This is the way of Jesus that we can take on ourselves.