Easter is resurrection Sunday. On this day, redeemed sinners from every tribe, tongue, and nation celebrate the crescendo of the Gospel: Jesus’s defeat of death by being raised from the tomb. His victory is ours. But if we’ve been raised “in newness of life,” by whom was Jesus raised? In the words of Peter at Pentecost, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24) Simply put, God raised Jesus up from the dead. But as Peter also suggests, God the Son was a force to be reckoned with. He was, after all, “the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) He was and is the fullness of the Father. (Col. 1:19) So, did Jesus raise Himself or was He indeed raised? When we sing “Jesus is risen,” what exactly are we saying? The answer is fundamental to our identity as sons and daughters of God and to the Christian life.
The Apostle Paul is clear that God the Father raised His Son Jesus Christ when he declares his apostleship to the Galatians at the beginning of his letter: “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” (1:1) Just as Jesus was foreknown by the Father before the foundation of the world, so it was God the Father who served as the primary Architect of Christ’s Gospel. (1 Pet. 1:2, 1:20, Eph. 1:3-10) But in no way does this imply that God the Father worked independently of the other two Persons of the Godhead. One in divine essence, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are also perfectly united in their will, purpose, and actions. (This is known as Augustine’s doctrine of Opera trinitas ad extra indivisa sunt) When Jesus declares, “I and the Father are one,” His resurrection is no less part of this divine unity. (John 10:30) Therefore, to approach the resurrection in a way that completely divides the work of God to the exclusion of the other divine Persons is a distorted view of the Gospel that treats the Trinity more like teammates than, well, God.
This does not imply, however, that when Jesus died on the cross, God the Father suffered too. (This is the heresy known as patripassianism) Although God is one, He is also three. There is distinction (or hypostases) within the Godhead. While God the Father and God the Son were actively united in the resurrection, only one divine Person can be said to have immediately raised Jesus. So who was it? The answer to this question is found as much in our own redeemed lives as it is in the Gospel itself. Paul writes to the Roman church, “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.” (Rom. 8:11) In other words, because Jesus was raised by God the Holy Spirit, we can be raised by God the Holy Spirit too. Indeed, every redeemed sinner is a resurrected sinner. This is why Peter boasts that God the Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet. 1:3) We can be born again by the Holy Spirit because that very same Spirit brought Jesus back from the grave. Easter is resurrection day because it’s also our resurrection day.
For many, the pinnacle of the Spirit’s work on earth was at the festival of Pentecost in Acts 2. And for the church, indeed it was. However, the Spirit’s work on the third day after Jesus’s death is the foundation for His entire life-giving ministry to God’s people. Because the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus and raised Jesus, He could then “breathe” Jesus onto the born-again church. (Matt. 1:18, John 20:22, Joel 2:28-32) Without God the Holy Spirit, there is no Christmas or Easter or a church to celebrate either. For this reason, at the beginning of Romans, the Apostle Paul says that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4) By the Spirit Jesus was declared the Son of God, and by that very same Spirit we are declared sons of God. (Gal. 4:4-6)
Easter is about Jesus. And by Jesus we know the Father. And that’s just the way God the Holy Spirit likes it. Happy Resurrection Day.