Who raised Jesus from the dead? It is natural to inquire about the details of an event so important to us. But we should first remember that the Bible avoids providing us details about what happened within the tomb when Jesus arose in resurrection life. We know he was killed and buried, that the tomb was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers. But the next thing we learn is that when the women arrive on the third day with anointing spices, the stone was rolled away and Jesus was gone.
The situation here is similar to that of the cross. God does not provide us intimate details of Jesus excruciating suffering. The Bible mainly tells us that he was crucified and died. Likewise, we are told that Jesus rose from the death. The Bibles chief concern is with the bare facts, along with their saving significance for all who believe. This being the case, we should never try to reconstruct or dramatize those holy moments in Jesus experience about which the Bible is silent.
But one thing the Bible is not shy in speaking about is the answer to the question Who raised Jesus from the dead? Perhaps the most pointed answer was given by Peter in his Pentecost sermon, just weeks after the resurrection: God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:24). The answer is that God raised him up.
The obvious follow-up question is Who, within the Trinity, raised Jesus from the grave? Here, things become interesting, because the biblical answer is Yes. That is, at different places, the Bible ascribes the raising of Jesus to each of the three members of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
No doubt, the majority of references point to God the Father. Where we read, God raised Jesus, we should certainly take this as a reference to God the Father. This emphasizes a number of things. First, it is the God to whom Jesus cried, and into whose hands Jesus committed his Spirit, who raised him from the dead. In Matthew 27:43, we read of the chief priests mocking Jesus: He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God. By the resurrection, Jesus claims regarding his relationship as Son to the Father were proved to be true, and God the Father was proved to be faithful to all who trust in him. Moreover, Peter could say, The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree (Acts 5:30), so that the resurrection was a proof that the Old Testament is fulfilled by the risen Christ.
The Bible also ascribes Christs resurrection to Jesus own power as Second Person of the Godhead. This is in keeping with the power he claimed to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: I am the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). Jesus said in John 10:17-18, I lay down my life that I may take it up again
I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. Hebrews 7:16 says that Jesus lives for ever because he possesses the power of an indestructible life. The point is that being the ever-living divine Son, the Alpha and Omega, death could not hold Jesus, and therefore death cannot hold those who belong to Jesus in faith.
Lastly, there are references to the Holy Spirit raising Jesus from the dead. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). More blatantly, Romans 8:11 says, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. The point is made evident right there, that the Spirits work in our lives is analogous to his work in raising Jesus from the dead. To be born again by the Spirit, is to experience a spiritual resurrection.
This ends up providing a useful lesson in Trinitarian theology, namely, that in the work of any member of the Trinity, the other two members are always intimately involved. Everything the Trinity does is done by all of the Trinity. Surely, in the case of the resurrection of Christ, the great preponderance of references speaks of God the Father as the leading actor. But the Son and the Spirit were also responsible in the resurrection, just as all three divine Persons are actively involved in our spiritual rebirth and on-going sanctification, which is our first resurrection, just as they will together conspire to ensure our second and final resurrection on the great day to come. To all Three be glory.
Rev. Richard Phillips is the chair of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church Coral Springs, Margate, Florida.
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