Written by: Kirk VanOoteghem
When Jesus made His final approach into Jerusalem before His crucifixion, He paused just before entering the city. As He beheld the city, He was stirred with emotion and wept saying, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (Lk. 19.42). He went on to remorsefully and prophetically reveal the destruction that would inevitably fall upon Jerusalem. Why would this great "city of kings" have to meet such a tragic fate? Jesus Himself answered this question with His unforgettable words, "because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation" (Lk. 19.44). The inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem, along with most of those who came into contact with with Him during His earthly ministry, failed to recognize the deity of Jesus Christ. Even in all of the amazement that surrounded the dramatic, sacrificial death of Jesus, most still failed to realize the true identity of the crucified One. Therefore, it pleased the Lord that an irrefutable "sign" be provided to confirm once and for all the veracity of the Incarnation (Mt. 12.38-40). Indeed, the Resurrection of Jesus is undeniable evidence that He is in fact "God manifest in flesh." Although the Resurrection is the source of many important doctrinal truths, we often overlook one of the most profound objectives of this mighty act: the vindication of God in Christ.
The term "vindication" has often been used by theologians in reference to the Resurrection of Christ. Many times, no doubt, the Resurrection has been described as such without a complete understanding of the powerful truths that the concept implies. Although the word "vindication" (or the verb form, "vindicate") does not actually appear in the Bible, the term accurately describes many motives and results of the Resurrection that are related in purpose. The American Heritage Dictionary provides five similar definitions for the word "vindicate." Each definition, however, has its own unique distinction which illustrates a portion of God's beautiful design for the most significant event in history.
The first definition of vindicate is "to clear of accusation, blame, suspicion or doubt with supporting arguments or proof." When Jesus was put on trial by the Jewish Sanhedrin, His accusers found Him guilty of blasphemy against the God of Israel. Many times during His public ministry the religious leaders of the day claimed that Jesus blasphemed in that He, among other things, forgave sins (Mt. 9.2,3; Mk. 2.3-7; Lk. 5.18-21), claimed to be the Son of God (Mt. 26.63-66; Mk. 14.61-64) and claimed to be one with the Father (Jn. 10.30-33). The admission of Jesus that He was indeed "King of the Jews" sealed his fate as this confession was the official charge for which He was sentenced to the penalty of death by crucifixion (Mt 27.11,37; Jn. 19.19). Concerning these accusations of blasphemy against Jesus, only one of three alternatives can contain the truth. Jesus was either insane, deliberately deceptive or "God manifest in flesh." Through His Resurrection, Jesus proved the latter to be correct. In so doing, He cleared Himself of all "accusation, blame, suspicion or doubt" regarding the charges of blasphemy for which He was sentenced. The Apostle Paul promoted this very concept when he wrote that Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:" (Rom. 1.4). Had Jesus been a mere mortal, He would have decidedly been a blasphemer. But, the Resurrection exposed the error of Jesus' accusers, that they slew Him in whom "dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2.9)
The second definition of vindicate is "to provide justification or support for [something]." The attestation of the many Resurrection passages in the Bible provide more than adequate justification and support for the deity of Jesus. The Word of God describes Christ's Resurrection using various, similar terms and expressions. For example, Jesus is depicted twenty-five times as being "raised by God," thirteen times as having "risen" and six times as having "rose." In addition, Jesus foretells His own Resurrection ten times by saying that He shall "rise." The first of these expressions makes it clear that God is responsible for the Resurrection of Jesus while the remainder insinuate that Jesus rose of His own accord. Again, only one of two explanations can account for this apparent inconsistency. Either the Word of God is contradictory or these similar expressions are synonymous and are, therefore, used interchangeably. The only logical conclusion is that the expressions are indeed equivalent. To say that "God raised Jesus from the dead" is exactly the same as saying "Jesus raised Himself from the dead," because Jesus is in fact God. The words of Jesus Himself illustrate this concept. While abiding in Galilee, Jesus once told His disciples:
"The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again" (Mt. 17.22b,23).
However, on the road to Jerusalem, as well as at other places, Jesus told his disciples:
"Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again" (Mk. 10.33,34; et. al.).
It is interesting to note two things about the above comments of Jesus. The first is that He used the two different expressions, regarding His Resurrection, interchangeably. The second is that Jesus used the designation "Son of Man" to emphasize His physical body; for the the Spirit of God could not die and be raised, only the flesh which housed that Spirit. This pattern of utilizing the title "Son of Man" recurs throughout all of the Resurrection discourses of Jesus.
Other statements of Jesus further illustrate the power that He possessed to resurrect Himself, which is overwhelming evidence of His deity. Consider the following passages.
"[Jesus speaking] Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from the Father" (Jn. 10.17,18).
"Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up ... But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" (Jn. 2.19,21,22).
These passages make it abundantly clear that Jesus did indeed assert His deity by proclaiming that His Resurrection would be a result of His own power.
Perhaps the most convincing justification or support for Christ's divinity is the testimony of the disciples who witnessed the risen Jesus. "It is the Lord," said John to Peter upon the recognition of their glorified Master (Jn. 21.7). Mary Magdalene also "told the disciples that she had seen the Lord" following her encounter with the risen Jesus in the empty tomb (Jn. 20.18). To Thomas, who was not present at Christ's initial appearance to his followers, the disciples proclaimed, "We have seen the Lord" (Jn. 20.25). The subsequent encounter between the glorified Jesus and Thomas is decisive evidence as to the identity of the Risen One. John 20:28-31 reads:
"Then saith he [Jesus] to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, my Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
Many Bible scholars and commentators agree that this verbal response of Thomas is the climax to John's Gospel and a beautiful summary of its theme.
The third definition of vindicate is "to justify or prove the worth of, especially in light of later developments." The "worthiness" of Christ is typically expressed in connection with His sacrificial death (e.g. Rev. 5.12,23). Indeed, the "worthiness" of His sacrifice can only be attributed to His deity (Acts 20.28; 2 Cor. 5.19; Phil. 2. 5-11). However, it is the Resurrection that affirms the acceptance of His death as a worthy sacrifice to satisfy His own just Law (Rom. 4.24,25; 5.10). The Apostle Paul demonstrates the worth of the Resurrection in that it elicits recognition of the ultimate power and authority of Jesus. To the Church in Ephesus, Paul wrote:
"And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1.19-23).
The fourth definition of vindicate is "to defend, maintain, or insist on the recognition of [something]." In the humility that characterized His earthly ministry, Jesus strove to keep His identity somewhat secret. He admonished many of whom He had healed to "tell no man" (Mt. 8.4; 9.30; 12.16; 17.9; Mk. 5.43; Lk. 5.14). The few who recognized His deity were commanded to keep their revelation private (Mt. 16.20; Mk. 3.11,12; 8.29,30). However, after His Resurrection He commissioned His disciples to preach His Gospel and be "witnesses" unto Him that the "uttermost parts of the earth" may know of His greatness and majesty (Mk. 16.15; Acts 1.8).
There is yet another manner in which the Bible establishes that a result of the Resurrection is the insistence on the recognition of Christ's divinity. Jewish Law forbids the worship of any entity other than the God of Israel (Deut. 6.13; 10.20). Jesus Himself upheld the necessity of compliance to this holy commandment (Mt. 4.10;Lk. 4.8). Being God, therefore, He allowed many to worship Him (Mt. 2.11; 9.18; 14.33; 15.25; 20.20; Jn. 9.38). However, at no time during His public ministry did Jesus require, or even request, that anyone worship Him. Prior to the Crucifixion, Roman soldiers mockingly worshiped Jesus saying, "Hail, King of the Jews" (Mt. 27.29; Mk 15.18; Jn. 19.3). But, Jesus would not be the object of humiliation for long, for the "Risen King" does indeed insist upon the recognition of His deity. "All hail" was the first commandment of the glorified Jesus to His disciples who responded by falling at His feet and worshiping Him (Mt. 28.9; also see Lk. 24.51-53). The Word of God speaks plainly to all:
"For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living ... For it is written, As I live saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Rom. 14.9,11).
"That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2.10,11).
The fifth, and final, definition of vindicate is "to exact revenge for; to avenge." The Resurrection of Jesus is not the only resurrection to be recorded in the Bible. Furthermore, it was neither the first nor the last resurrection to take place. There are several resurrection experiences in the Bible in addition to that of Jesus including: the widow of Zepephath's son (1 Kings 17.17-24), the Shunammite's son (2 Kings 4.18-37), Jairus' daughter (Mk. 5.22-43), the widow of Nain's son (Lk. 7.11-17), Lazarus (Jn. 11.1-44), Tabitha (Acts 8.36-43), Dorcas (Acts 9.36-41) and Eutychus (Acts 20.7-12). All of these individuals undoubtedly died again. However, the uniquenes, and greatness of Jesus' Resurrection lies in the fact that He rose with a glorified body and ascended into heaven, never to die again (Mk. 16.19,20; Lk. 24.51; Acts 1.9 with Rom. 6.9). In so doing, He has "abolished" death (2 Tim. 1.10) and slated it for eventual destruction (1 Cor. 15.26; Rev. 20.13,14). Therefore, the enemy that Jesus "avenged" was, in fact, death. Only as God could Jesus have accomplished such a terrific feat. The Bible states:
"And being found in fashion as a man, he [Jesus] humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2.10).
However, as God it was impossible for death to have dominion over Jesus. The Word of God tells us:
"Him [Jesus], being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2. 23,24).
"Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him" (Rom. 6.9).
Moreover, Jesus Himself demonstrated that His final victory over death is a direct result of His deity when He told John the Revelator:
"Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death" (Rev. 1. 17b,18).
In conclusion, the grandeur of Resurrection Sunday lies in the fact that this miraculous event verified the divine identity of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches in numerous, different fashions that Jesus, as God, did indeed vindicate Himself by rising from the dead. Through this dramatic climax to the Gospel, all generations may assuredly know that Jesus is "Lord" and "God" and "have life through His name" (Jn. 20.28,31).
The American Heritage Dictionary. Third Edition. [computer file] Novato, CA: WordStar International Inc./Houghton Mifflin Co., 1993.
Bernard, David K., The Oneness of God. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1983.
Buttrick, George Arthur, Ed.. Interpreter's Bible Dictionary. Vol. 4. "Resurrection in the New Testament." New York: Abingdon Press, 1962.
Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992.
Pastor Kirk is an executive Pastor at River of Life in Muncie, Indiana. Kirk's primary responsibilities at River of Life include assisting the Lead Pastor with the administrative and operational oversight of the church and providing counseling services. Prior to becoming the Executive Pastor, he served River of Life in many capacities over the years including Youth Pastor, Outreach Director, and Sunday School Director. During his time in Youth Ministry, he also served on the Youth Committee of the Indiana District, United Pentecostal Church International.
Pastor Kirk holds a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology, a Bachelor of Science degree with majors in Education, History, and Religious Studies - both from Ball State University - and is currently enrolled in a graduate Business program. He enjoys studying, teaching and writing, especially in the areas of doctrinal studies, leadership, church administration/organization, counseling, and apologetics. He is also accomplished in the field of Information Technology.
Pastor Kirk is a committed husband and father. His wife, Tammy (formerly Caldwell), is a former Jackson College of Ministries (Jackson, MS) student and is active in the ministries of River of Life. They have three children: Gabrielle Hope, Silas Haywood, and Ella Grace.