In recent times, the popular media and the academic world have turned special attention to Jesus. Movies, television documentaries, journal and newspaper articles have become vehicles of debates and diffusion of matters regarding Jesus, such as His passion, His tomb, and His family.
Unfortunately, many of these efforts to understand Jesus have largely been undertaken out of mere academic interest or popular curiosity, and within a skeptical mindset. For Seventh-day Adventists, however, Jesus is not a mere object of academic research or sheer curiosity. Indeed, Jesus is at the center of the Adventist message in His work to redeem the fallen creation. So it is not surprising that one of our fundamental beliefs deals with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Undoing the Damage
Indeed, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are three interconnected dimensions of our Savior’s work in the plan of salvation. Coming to this world to tread the path once trodden by our forefathers, Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s law and exemplified in His relationships and actions toward others the infinite and perfect love of God (Heb. 4:15). The Lord undid in the wilderness what Adam and Eve had done in the Garden of Eden. Although tempted by Satan after a 40-day fast, Jesus remained faithful and loyal to the Word of God (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13). As the embodiment of the new Israel, Christ also obtained victory where Israel had failed (notice that His responses to Satan are drawn from Deuteronomy passages dealing with Israel’s unfaithfulness in the wilderness).
And these are not mere theological ruminations; these are good news! Christ’s victory and His life of perfect obedience are credited in favor of those who accept Him as Savior (Rom. 5:19; Heb. 5:6-10).
As Ellen G. White asserted, “The active obedience of Christ clothes the believing sinner with the righteousness that meets the demands of the law.”1 So the perfect obedience offered by Christ in His earthly journey was as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Primarily and foremost, Christ is our Savior (since His life is imputed to the sinner in the act of justification). But we should not overlook the fact that Christ’s life of obedience sets the example for Christians to follow (see 1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1, 2; Phil. 2:5-8). And so, following that example becomes a major evidence of our salvation and our progress toward sanctification.
Meaning of the Cross
Enabled by a life of perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus offered Himself as the blameless Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. His sacrifice on Calvary effected substitutionary atonement and reconciliation with God on our behalf (Gal. 3:13; Rom. 5:9). The cross became the ultimate expression before the entire universe of God’s infinite wisdom, love, and forgiveness.
As Martin Luther so beautifully expressed: “He has made His righteousness my righteousness, and my sin His sin. If He has made my sin to be His sin, then I do not have it, and I am free. If He has made His righteousness my righteousness, then I am righteous now with the same righteousness as He. My sin cannot devour Him, but it is engulfed in the unfathomable depths of His righteousness, for He himself is God, who is blessed forever.”2
Christ’s death on the cross is more than a historical event located in the past. It is significant that Paul spoke of Christ, not as Jesus who was crucified, but Jesus who is the crucified One. “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23, 24).
And John the revelator “saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain” (Rev. 5:6).* The lingering effects of Christ’s death on the cross do not provide only acceptance and forgiveness for repentant sinners, they also have a positive effect on the entire human race. According to Ellen White, “To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring.”3
His Resurrection Critical
As important and indispensable as Christ’s death was, it could not have accomplished its intended purposes without the historical event of the resurrection. “The resurrection of Christ from the dead was the Father’s seal to the mission of Christ. It was a public expression of His entire satisfaction in the atoning work. He accepted the sacrifice that Jesus had made on our behalf. It was everything that God required, perfect and complete.”4 The fact that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead not only provided the legitimization and validation of His death, but also justified the claims He had made during His earthly ministry regarding His nature and mission.
By His resurrection Jesus overcame death, defeated the forces of evil, and obtained righteousness for us (Rom. 4:24). His resurrection became a pledge of our future immortality (1 Cor. 15), provided the driving force for us to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), and furnished proof of a future judgment (Acts 17:31).
So important is the resurrection that the apostle Paul made the integrity of the whole Christian message hinge upon it, when he asserted that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). So as Raoul Dederen expressed it: “Our preaching, our faith, and our salvation do not take place apart from Christ’s resurrection. In it we have the pledge of the consummation of God’s redeeming purpose.”5
In summary, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are three harmonious, interconnected, and inseparable dimensions of our Savior’s work in the plan of redemption as Lord, Redeemer, and High Priest. Having lived a perfect life, Jesus qualified to be Lord for the believers. Through His substitutionary death on the cross He fulfilled the types foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures and became our Redeemer. On the third day He was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven where He ministers now as High Priest in our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary.
*Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
1 Sons and Daughters of God, p. 240.
2 Luther’s Works, Vol. 25: Lectures on Romans, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972), 25:188.
3 The Desire of Ages, p. 660.
4 Our High Calling, p. 118.
5 Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Commentary Reference Series (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2001, © 2000), p. 186.
This article originally appeared on www.adventistworld.org in April, 2008.
Elias Brasil de Souza is the dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Northeast Brazil College in Cachoeira, Brazil.