Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 11. Two Stages?
Acts 5:30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.
There is a danger, as we view the last days of Jesus on the earth, that we compartmentalise each part of Jesus’ ‘experience’ on earth – born, growth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and, indeed, this is often helpful but it can detract from a key fact – every phase is linked and every phase is part of the overall plan that we have previously considered, the plan formulated by the Godhead before Creation.
Yet when we come to accounts of preaching in Acts, death and resurrection go hand in hand. The above quote is Peter before the Sanhedrin, and earlier on the day of Pentecost he spoke of Jesus’ death (Acts 2:23) and then immediately about the resurrection (v.24). Later after healing the cripple as he speaks to the crowd, he closely links the two: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 3:15) Still later, when speaking to the household of Cornelius, he again linked them closely: “They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” (Acts 10:39,40)
In a different series recently, it crossed my mind that there could not be (and in our case cannot be) resurrection without a death. Now I don’t want in any way to diminish the work of Christ on the Cross, but I do want to pick up on what comes through in these verses, that the cross was stage one of a three stage exultation of Jesus: cross – resurrection – ascension. The latter two are dependent on the first.
Those closing words in verse 40 immediately above are important, “and caused him to be seen”. If you read the apostle Paul’s testimony about the number of people who saw the risen Christ (in 1 Cor 15:5-8) the word ‘appeared’ is used four times. It was important that Christ was seen after he rose from the dead. This may sound obvious but think about it. As God he could have quietly risen from the dead and ascended back to heaven without anyone seeing him, but the fact is he was seen, again and again by well over five hundred people and they bore testimony (and we’ll come to this in the next study) and thus Christ was vindicated, he showed that he was who he had said he was, the glorious Son of God.
Thus these two interlinked parts are vital and need to be held together: Jesus died for our sins, for our justification, but he rose from the dead – as he said he would (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 26:32) – to be seen to confirm, justify and vindicate all he said he would do and thus confirm all the teaching that would follow of ‘the work of the Cross’. The resurrection confirms the purpose of the life AND the death.