On the first day of the week following the brutal scorning and crucifixion of their Master, Jesus, the disciples found themselves in a room with the doors locked, fearful of the Jews who just conspired to kill their Teacher. One can understand their confusion and fear. They had left everything to follow this rabbi and had heard him make profound claims about himself and do many wondrous works. Indeed, they even believed that he was the Christ, the Son of God (Matt 16:16). Yet now he had been betrayed by one of their own, and they all had denied him. We can only imagine the somber grief and confusion of those disciples on the days following their Lord’s death.
Likely they remembered the jubilation of his appearing, recalling the exultation of his mother Mary, “My soul doth magnify the Lord / and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior / for he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden… He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel / as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever” (Lk 1:46-48, 54-55). They may have recalled the stories of the wise men who worshipped the infant Jesus and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matt 2:11). Perhaps they remembered his call to follow him that each disciple heard, the many miracles they saw him perform as well as his profound teaching, not to mention the laughs, prayers and meals they shared together. All these wonderful moments faced a tragic and early end when Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and he was shamefully tried and killed. In the words of two of his disciples on the first day of the new week, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). But a dying redeemer is no hope, or so they thought.
For the risen Jesus would go on to tell those two disciples that it was, “necessary that the Christ should suffer. . . and enter into his glory” (Lk 24:26). The Scriptures, Jesus went on to show, anticipated a Messiah to come who would redeem Israel. Yet this Messiah would also be, “cut off” (Dan 9:26). He would be the one called Immanuel who would sit on the throne of his father David forever (Isa 7-9), yet he would also be the one who was “despised and rejected by men” (Isa 53:3). What the disciples witnessed in the days prior to the first day of the New Week was the reality that, “by oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Yet the prophecy of Isaiah continues, “as for his generation, who considered / that he was cut off out of the land of the living, / stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isa 53:8). Indeed, the way the Messiah redeemed Israel was precisely by being cut off, crucified for their transgressions. It is by Christ’s death that, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:14).
In beautiful irony, the great tragedy of Good Friday turned into the triumphant victory of Easter Sunday. When the disciples saw the risen Christ and he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Lk 24:45), they saw that this is how the story was supposed to go all along. “Thus it is written,” Jesus said, “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:46-47).
The resurrection and exegesis of the Scriptures by Jesus proves to be the “Aha” moment for the disciples. Of course, the gospel work is not complete without the ascension and outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49). Yet the resurrection becomes the piece that was missing in the confusing puzzle of Good Friday. Without the resurrection of Christ, it all seems to have been in vain. All Christ’s teaching, all his miracles and all the hopes the disciples had, were momentarily crushed in the hours following his brutal death. The resurrection puts the pieces back together. This logic is captured well by the Christian year.
The joy of advent turns into the despair and mourning of Good Friday, culminating in the surprising triumph of Easter Sunday. The doxologies of the Christmas season quiet into the painful groans of lent. Yet the alleluias of Easter echo (though louder, I would add) the doxologies of Christmas. Easter Sunday proves that, contrary to human wisdom, the crucifixion of the God-man was not a wrench in the plans but their fulfilment. The resurrection is the beginning of the “Aha!” that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first advent of Christ was for “us men and for our salvation,” which is captured well by the Christmas doxologies. Yet Good Friday seemed to be a terrible demise of this great plan of salvation. What Easter Sunday shows is that contrary to the wisdom of the world, it was indeed for Good Friday that Christ had been born.
The resurrection has many implications besides making sense of Good Friday. Nonetheless, the empty tomb is the fitting conclusion to Good Friday, “because it was not possible for [Christ] to be held by [death]” (Acts 2:24). Without the resurrection, Good Friday is not Good News. Without it we would be like the disciples, still locked in our houses for fear. If there was no Easter Sunday, the cross of Jesus Christ would simply be a tragedy. It would be the story of sinful men leveraging power, money and status for the wicked treatment of a righteous man. Without the resurrection, the cross of Jesus is nothing more than, “the ‘rulers and authorities’. . . celebrating their triumph over [Christ], having stripped him of his clothes and held him up to public contempt.” Yet after the resurrection of Christ, we see that the cross is actually the place where God himself, “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15). All those who boast only in the cross (Gal 6:14), are thereby boasting in the resurrection. For it is only by the resurrection that we can jubilantly sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, granting life.”
Coleman Rafferty is currently an M.Litt student with The Davenant Institute.
N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2016), 258. ↑