This Easter, many will joyfully sing modern classic “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Its lines beautifully detail the riches stored up for us in Christ as a result of His work on our behalf. The third verse contains that work’s turning point:
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
While this verse speaks the biblical truth of Christ’s resurrection, it leaves open the question of who raised Jesus from the dead.
Every Easter, we are invited to consider many striking truths about this world-changing event: the significance of Christ’s bodily resurrection. The import of eyewitnesses and the historicity of the resurrection. Our union with Christ as He died and rose again. Resurrection power that pulsates through the body of Christ, the church. The list goes on. The resurrection spans heaven and earth and supplies our faith with unending treasures.
But what about the ultimate source of those treasures? A dimension of Easter that is often left unexplored is its Trinitarian nature. Perhaps this is because we are not entirely clear on how the resurrection is Trinitarian.
Again, who raised Jesus from the dead? Was it the Father who raised His Son? Did the Son do it Himself? Or was it the Holy Spirit?
Despite the fact that it was the Son who rose from the dead, the Bible does not allow us to isolate Him, or either of the other two persons, as the singular agent involved in the resurrection. The resurrection is a Trinitarian reality with countless dimensions. We will explore, appropriately enough, three dimensions of the resurrection: its triune shape, its triune reservoir, and its triune power.
As the Gospel writers present the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they punctuate the narrative with key events where the Father and the Holy Spirit appear along with the incarnate Son.
- Luke 1:35 pictures the Son of God being conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit coming upon her and the Father overshadowing her (cf. Matt. 1:18–20).
- In Matthew 3:16–17, there is a vivid depiction of the Father lovingly speaking over His Son and the Spirit descending upon Him as He is baptized (cf. Mark 1:10–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:32–34).
- We might see the Trinity at the transfiguration as well, as, according to Mark 9:2–13, the Son is again addressed by the Father as His beloved Son. Hearing this, Jesus is enveloped in a cloud that many see as reminiscent of His conception and as symbolic of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 17:1–8; Luke 9:28–36).
The inspired writers let us peer behind the curtain during these pivotal events in the incarnate Son’s life lest we forget the backdrop of His eternal life. This all culminates in the resurrection.
In various places, the New Testament definitively presents each of the persons of the Trinity as active in the resurrection:
- The Father raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32, 36; 3:13–17; 4:10; 5:30–31; 10:39–40; 13:27–30, 37; 17:31; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Col. 2:12; Rom. 4:24; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Peter 1:21).
- The Son raised up Himself (John 10:18; implied in Matt. 20:19; Mark 9:31; Luke 18:33; 1 Thess. 4:14).
- The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Heb. 9:14; 1 Peter 3:18; Rom. 1:4; 8:11).
As with all of God’s creative and redemptive acts, each of the divine persons is operative in the one event of resurrection. A biblically informed Trinitarian theology also teaches us that divine actions are appropriated to particular persons. Of the texts just listed on the resurrection, perhaps Romans 8:11 provides the richest formulation of this truth. There, Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Paul brings together the agencies of the Father and the Spirit—the Father causing and the Spirit effecting—in the resurrection. He does so not only to speak to the Son’s resurrection, but also to tie ours to His (a point we will take up below). Furthermore, what is appropriated to each of the divine persons is fitting with the shape of eternal triune life.
This is something one of the great defenders of Nicene Trinitarianism, Hilary of Poitiers, articulated in part in his fourth-century work The Trinity when explaining John 14:28:
The Father is greater than the Son . . . since he allows him to be as great as he himself is, since he bestows the image of his unbegotten nature upon him by the mystery of the birth, since he begets him from himself into his own form, since he again renews him from the form of a slave into the form of God, and since he permits him who was born in his glory as the God Christ according to the Spirit to be again in his glory after He died as God Jesus Christ according to the flesh (9.54).
This paragraph is admittedly dense and must be read carefully, but what Hilary is doing here is tying together temporal and eternal realities. In the Son’s incarnate life, there is a move from humiliation (“form of a slave”: incarnation and atonement) to exaltation (“form of God”: resurrection and ascension). In His eternal life there is His generation from the Father (“the mystery of the birth”). Hilary finds a “fittingness” between the eternal Father begetting an eternal Son and the renewal of the Son to glory after He took on the form of a servant. In other words, a deep, “interior” Trinitarian logic undergirds and informs Trinitarian action on the “exterior.” There is a “triune reservoir” out of which we understand Jesus’ resurrection.
The Triune Reservoir
Ever since the Enlightenment’s bifurcation of faith and history, Christians have understandably poured their energy into demonstrating the fact of the resurrection in space and time. Just as Jesus Christ was born out of a real womb, He rose again out of a real tomb. What has been less considered are the deep realities that older theologians, such as Hilary, liked to probe: How do these moments that bracket Jesus’ life fit with His eternal status as the Son of God? That is, how does the resurrection bear witness to the inner-Trinitarian life of God?
While Hilary’s quote above started us down this road, we can further answer this question if we give attention to another act of the Trinity: creation. As theologians have tried to supply an answer to the why of creation, they have frequently turned to a profound pattern within God Himself. Ultimately, creation is an act of God’s sovereign freedom, the reasons for which are stored up in His unfathomable goodness. That said, the act is fitting to His triune nature, specifically with respect to the Father’s eternal generation of the Son and the Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father and Son.