What did it mean when Jesus rose from the dead? Here we look at what the Church teaches about this great mystery.
Imagine what it was like for the Apostles. A few days before they had seen their friend tortured and crucified. They had seen His dead body hanging on the cross. Now He was standing in front of them, inviting them to share a meal. They probably thought that He was a ghost but to prove that He was real He showed them the wounds in His hands and feet and He invited Thomas to touch them. He was showing them that His risen body was the same body that had been tortured and crucified. But there was a difference because His resurrected body was not limited by time and space and He could appear in locked rooms and present Himself to the disciples when and where He chose. When Jesus raised people from the dead, like Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, they returned to an earthly life and would have gone on to live a few more years but they would still die eventually. But Christ’s Resurrection was very different to this. The Church teaches that Christ passed from the state of death to another life beyond time and space, the Resurrection life.
JESUS IS GOD
By rising from the dead Jesus proved conclusively that He is God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, had once said to Him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) But many people, including the religious leaders, who had put Him to death would not accept this. They accused Him of blasphemy (being insulting or not reverent to God) when He spoke of God as His Father. Jesus had said: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He.” (John 8:28) Christ’s death and resurrection was all part of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of the world.
Jesus had spoken to Apostles about His death and Resurrection and the Jewish Scriptures contained many prophesies about the event. In the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah describes what would happen to the coming Messiah, “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53: 10-11) Jesus had told His disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.” (Matthew 20: 18 – 19) We know that the disciples did not understand what this really meant because after the Crucifixion they were dejected and frightened. But their sorrow turned to joy when Jesus rose from the dead.
When Jesus rose from the dead it proved conclusively that His teaching had Divine authority. By becoming human Jesus showed us how to live. He taught us to love our enemies and not just those who love us. He showed us how to be humble, merciful and forgiving. His teaching was always inspiring and drew a great following but we know, after His resurrection, that the teaching came from God himself. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)
The Easter story has two sides to it. By His death on the Cross Jesus took upon Himself all our sins and by His Resurrection He offers us new life in Him. This means that we can be reconciled to God, which the Church calls ‘justification’. We achieve this through our Baptism when we die to our old life of sin and are raised to new life in Christ. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4) When we are baptised we are given the grace to become children of God and Jesus is our brother so we are able to share in the inheritance that God has promised to all His children.
As children of God we, like Jesus, will be resurrected from the dead. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) The Catechism says that the Risen Christ lives in the hearts of His faithful while they wait for their own resurrection. Thanks to Christ’s Resurrection death is not the end, He has won for us eternal life with Him.