Why Did Jesus Die? (16) To be the Firstborn of the Dead (Colossians 1:18)
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2)
By dying and rising again, Christ revealed what we shall be like in the general resurrection. Christ arose from death in a real body. In His post-resurrection appearances, He was able to speak and be heard. He had real wounds, into which the disciples could put their hands. He ate grilled fish with them.
Yet this was a very peculiar, mysterious body! It could enter and exit a locked room at will. It could change appearances, so as to be not immediately recognizable by His closest followers. And as His disciples later found out, this new, deified body was limitless, infinite. It had become a body capable of belonging to countless souls.
When Christ raises us, we shall be like Him, although we do not know exactly what that will entail; much less can we analyze it. Here is what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (Chapter 15) about our future bodies:
But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.
There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?"
(I Corinthians 15:35-55)
P.S.) That Christ's risen body was not immediately recognized by His disciples is something really, really cool! Why? Because it dispels the notion they were hallucinating. If their own minds had been making all this up, their minds would have pictured the familiar face and body of Jesus.
* * * * *
Why Did Jesus Die? (Conclusion ) To Rise Again
We have looked at Christ's death with no prospect whatever of truly fathoming it, but merely gazing toward the depths of the mysterious gem through some of its many facets.
But Christ’s death would have been for nothing had He not risen again. The capstone of the Resurrection is what gives ultimate meaning to all the angles we have discussed. Christ could not have healed us if He were forever subject to the same sickness (death). Christ couldn’t crucify sin and death if He Himself had succumbed to either. If He hadn’t risen, the flesh and blood He gives us would not have been our Passover, but only mortal flesh and blood, useless except as a memorial of a curious, demented, historical peronality. He couldn’t be our Justifier if He himself had not been vindicated by the Resurrection. He couldn’t serve as our High Priest in heaven if He weren’t there. He could not be our Mediator or Intercessor either. Jesus could not have led away death’s captives if He had been as captive as they. He could not have set us the example of crucifying our own flesh precisely in order to live anew, had He not been resurrected. He could not have revealed in His Person our own ultimate destiny, nor would it be our ultimate destiny, if He had not risen. In short, Christ died in order to rise again. The Crucifixion, without the Resurrection, would have left us still on the path to total oblivion.
To recount all the other meanings of His resurrection, supposing it were possible, would require another whole series of posts, for there are many more than we have mentioned (because they aren't directly about our topic, the crucifixion). Other aspects of our salvation Christ could not have accomplished unless He had risen include, for example: ascending into heaven still bearing our humanity; making us His adopted brothers and sisters; sending us the Holy Spirit; glorifying and deifying us; and on and on. I am not planning to write that whole other series of posts, it being too daunting a task, but I hope this series dispels the notion that we Orthodox empty the Cross of all meaning. And I hope it has made accessible to the non-Orthodox a different set of meanings.
If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also for nothing. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For "He has put all things under His feet." But when He says "all things are put under Him," it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (I Corinthians 15:14-28)
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Glory to Thee, O Lord!