What did Jesus do to save sinners? Many Christians say rightly that Jesus died for them. Others may go further and say that He also lived righteously for them. However, if we stopped with Jesus’ earthly ministry only, it would be like someone who is seeking to get out of debt who forgets that he also needs to provide for his family. Jesus lived for us so that God might count us righteous in Him. Jesus died for us so that God might forgive us. Jesus rose for us and ascended into heaven for us so that we might live in Him and with Him forever. He paid our debts and secured our freedom, and He provides us with everything we need to have abundant life in Him (John 10:10). Westminster Larger Catechism questions 51–53 show that God exalted Christ in His resurrection and ascension and why these truths are necessary for His glory and our salvation.
How Was Christ Exalted in His Resurrection?
Christ’s exaltation encompasses His entire heavenly ministry, spanning from His resurrection to the final judgment. Everything that Jesus is and does is glorious. In His case, humiliation and exaltation are not neatly divided categories. People “beheld his glory” during His humiliation (John 1:14). Yet Christ’s resurrection marked a dramatic change. The God-man was exalted and He received the name above every name (Phil. 2:9–11). This name is not “Jesus,” which He received at His birth. It is “Lord,” which is the Old Testament name for God. While Jesus was and is the eternal Son of God, what is new after His resurrection and ascension is that no one can any longer acknowledge the “LORD” (Yahweh) without acknowledging that the God-man (Jesus Christ) is “LORD” (Yahweh).
Since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, conservative Christians have grown accustomed to appealing to Christ’s resurrection almost exclusively in terms of apologetics—that is, defending the faith. The argument is that if Jesus rose from the dead, then everything else He said and did must be true as well. It is easy to forget that while everything that the Bible says about Christ’s resurrection is historically and factually true, the main emphasis of Scripture is on the theology of the resurrection as it relates to Christ and to His people. Westminster Larger Catechism 51–53 highlights three theological truths about Christ’s resurrection.
First, His resurrection was real. He rose in “the same body in which he suffered.” He invited His disciples to “touch” and “handle” His hands and His feet. He was not merely a spirit because He had “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). He invited Thomas to touch His hands and His side so that Thomas would repent of his unbelief (John 20:27). The same Jesus whom the disciples saw, heard, and touched during His earthly ministry (1 John 1:1–2) was seen, heard, and touched after His resurrection. The resurrected Christ is the subject of gospel proclamation, so that even we who have not seen may believe in Him and have life in His name (John 20:29–31; 1 John 1:3–4). His body and soul, which were separated in death, were reunited in resurrection after three days. Just as He laid down His life by His own power, so He rose by His own power (John 10:18). The Father also raised Jesus from the dead by the Spirit, so that the Spirit of Christ, who dwells in us, will give life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11–13). His resurrection was inevitable. He did not see the corruption of death, because death could not hold Him (Ps. 16:10; Acts 2:24, 27). If Christ is not raised from the dead, then both Christian preaching and faith are in vain (1 Cor. 15:14). Christ died to save those who were dead in their sins, but a Christ who remained dead would be the death of our faith. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). His resurrected body is no longer subject to mortality, infirmity, or corruption: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9). The historical fact of Christ’s resurrection is the ground of the living faith of His people.