What was the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?
To answer this question, we can’t simply look to the fact of the resurrection. We must also look to the cross. We must also look to the ascension. We must also look to Christ’s enthronement at the Father’s right hand. The reason is because all throughout the NT, when the resurrection is mentioned, it is never mentioned alone; it almost always connected to God the Father raising Jesus, and seating him at his right hand. And so, biblically, when we talk about the resurrection, we aren’t just talking about the resurrection. We are looking at the cross, the ascension and enthronement.
For instance, in 1 Peter 1:21, Peter says that God the Father “raised Him (Jesus) from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”. So, God the Father raised Jesus and gave him glory (referring to him being seated at his right hand).
Paul says in Ephesians that God the Father brought about our salvation when he “raised [Christ] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). Paul also says in Philippians 2:8-9, that Jesus, “being found in human form,… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”. Paul also brings in this theme in Romans 8:34, saying, “it is Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us”. So Jesus humbled himself to death; but he was raised by his Father, and given glory at his right hand because of that death.
OK, so this is the resurrection put in context; but what does all this mean?
Frank Sheed, in his Theology and Sanity, expounds on the importance of this theme:
Realize that the Resurrection was not simply a convenient way for Our Lord to return to His Apostles and give them final instructions, nor His Ascension simply a convenient way of letting them know definitely and beyond question or peradventure that He had left this world. Resurrection and Ascension belong organically to the Sacrifice He offered for us. The Sacrifice, insofar as it is the offering to God of a victim slain, was complete upon Calvary. But in the total conception of sacrifice, it is not sufficient— as Cain found long before— that a victim be offered to God; it is essential that the offering be accepted by God: and given that the nature of man requires that sacrifice be an action externally visible, it belongs to the perfection of sacrifice that God’s acceptance should be as externally visible as humanity’s offering. It is in this sense that Resurrection and Ascension belong organically to the Sacrifice. By the miracle of the Resurrection, God at once shows His acceptance of the Priest as a true priest of a true sacrifice and perfects the Victim offered to Him, so that whereas it was offered mortal and corruptible it has gained immortality and incorruptibility. By the Ascension God accepts the offered Victim by actually taking it to Himself. Humanity, offered to God in Christ the Victim, is now forever at the right hand of the Father. (p 249)
OK, so there is a lot that Sheed says here.
First, Sheed says that when God the Father raised Jesus, what it means firstly is that he accepted Christ’s sacrifice as sufficient for atonement. Whereas Cain’s offering to God was not accepted, Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of fallen humanity was accepted. And so God raised Jesus, and in so doing, he showed to all humanity, in an “external” fashion, visible to the eyes, that Jesus’ sacrifice for us was “sufficient”, acceptable to God; that this was the sacrifice to atone. In other words, God stated “out loud” that this offering was enough for our sin.
But also, in raising Jesus’ human nature, God was not only accepting the sacrifice — He was also accepting humanity itself back into the Godhead. Put differently, as Jesus offered humanity to God in the cross, God accepted and raised humanity back to himself in glory. He was once again glorifying and immortalizing the humanity that had fallen from the divine life it once experienced in Eden. And so Jesus’ sacrifice is accepted; but accepted, and then brought back to glory — and in being glorified, Christ is raising all of humanity from its fallen state. As Sheed says, “humanity, offered to God in Christ the Victim, is now forever at the right hand of the Father”. Principally, humanity, with its sins expiated, may be brought back into the life of the Trinity through Jesus.
This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”.
Because Christ was glorified, humanity in Christ may be glorified. The resurrection, in other words, changes the fallen state of humanity.
The resurrection means that atonement has been accepted, and that glory is to come!