Why do we say Jesus “rose again” in the creeds?
James F. Pope
Your question addresses a phrase we speak week after week in worship services. When we confess our faith using the Apostles’ Creed, we declare that on “the third day he rose again from the dead.” When we use the Nicene Creed as a confession we profess that “on the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” Your question will help clarify part of our worship vocabulary.
A SAVIOR WHO DIED AND ROSE
Like many words in our language, the word again can have different meanings. It can mean “once more” or “another time.” We can rule out those definitions for again in the creeds because Scripture speaks of Jesus dying only once and rising to life only once (Romans 6:9).
Again can also mean “in addition.” Our use of the word again in the creeds has that definition in mind. After confessing that Jesus died and was buried, we declare that, in addition, Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, his death was not the end of his life. In addition to laying down his life for our sins, Jesus took up his life again just as he said (John 10:18).
A SAVIOR WHO ROSE, NEVER TO DIE AGAIN
While Jesus’ resurrection was the fulfillment of prophecy, the Lord was not the first person to rise from the dead, was he? The Bible provides several accounts of individuals who died and were raised to life: the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7:15), a brother of two sisters in Bethany (John 11:44), and brothers and sisters of the faith in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52). But in those and other resurrection accounts in the Bible, people experienced death a second time. They died, they were raised to life, and they died again. That was not the case with Jesus.
Jesus made that clear when he appeared in a vision to the apostle John on the island of Patmos. To a very startled disciple Jesus offered these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17,18).
The Savior who died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25) will not suffer death again. Nor will his followers.
A SAVIOR WHO ROSE AS THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THE DEAD
In the Bible’s great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul describes Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). In Old Testament times the concept of firstfruits (Exodus 23:19) indicated that while the first portion of the harvest was given to the Lord, it was only the beginning of the harvest. Similarly, Jesus is the first of those raised to life, never to die again. As the firstfruits of that kind of resurrection, there will be others. On the last day the bodies of Christians who died will be raised to life and reunited to their souls. Their bodies will be glorified, and they will never experience death again.
These blessings are possible only because Jesus “rose again,” as we say in the creeds. We make that confession because it is what Scripture states: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016
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