The Resurrection of Christ: Proclaimed But Not Explained (Thursday June 1)

The word of the day is “alive.”  What does it mean to say that Jesus Christ is alive? We take its meaning for granted. But how would we explain it to someone who was not raised in the faith? In our reading of Acts 25:13-19, a pagan Roman governor has questions about a “certain Jesus” who “had died whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (OSB vs. 19). Today we look at the testimony that Jesus is alive with fresh eyes to discover the meaning of His resurrection anew.

In today’s reading, we find Romans soldiers have rescued St. Paul from a mob and taken him to Caesarea. He has been imprisoned there for two years. Now a new governor has arrived. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem have taken the opportunity to pressure the new governor to execute St. Paul. But in response to the danger of being tried in Jerusalem, Paul has appealed to Caesar, that is, to an “imperial tribunal in Rome” (OSB note on Acts 25:12).

Paul’s Case Bewilders the Roman Governor

In our reading, the new governor Festus explains the case to King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. The governor informed Agrippa that he has tried St. Paul according to Roman law. He has found that the accusations against the apostle are merely issues about the “religion of the Jews” and “a certain man named Jesus” (vs. 18). But the magistrate is baffled that these matters would stir up so much animosity.

The governor asks King Herod Agrippa II about the case because Agrippa is the ruler of Galilee and knows Judaism better than he does. As a pagan Roman, Festus admits that he knows little about the Jewish “religion.”  The Greek word that The New King James Version translates as “religion” means the “fear of the gods” (Strong’s #1175). It can either signify the respect of the gods or the fantasy of believing in the gods. The King James Version chose to translate the word as “superstition.”  That makes more sense than The New King James Version’s more neutral translation. Without any background or knowledge of Judaism, the pagan ruler naturally would think that the matter was no more than a conflict over irrational beliefs and magical thinking.

The First Reports of the Resurrection Were Considered Fantasy

Festus was not the only one to think that the claim that Jesus was alive was fantasy. In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples did not believe Mary Magdalene when she told them that “He was alive and had been seen by her” (Mark 16:11). In the Gospel of Luke, the followers of Christ also doubted Mary Magdalene and other women. The women said that they had found that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that two men in “shining garments” had told them that Christ was risen (OSB Luke 24:4). However, Luke reports that “their words seemed to them [the disciples] like idle tales, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

Moreover, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize the Risen Christ at first. They told him that some women had found Jesus’ tomb empty and had seen “a vision of angels who said He was alive” (OSB Luke 24:23-24). They were as clearly perplexed about the report of Jesus’ return to life as Festus was.

For Reflection

All these reports suggest that the message that Jesus is alive does not stand on its own. One can only understand it in context. Thus, the case of the travelers to Emmaus is the paradigm for how one can learn the meaning of Christ’s overcoming of death. The Risen Christ himself put His crucifixion and resurrection into the context of the scriptures. “He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (OSB Luke 24:25).

The Living Christ Holds the Keys to Hades and Death

In the Book of Revelation, John, the seer, provides a fundamental understanding of what it means that Christ came back from death to life. John sees a vision of the Lord Jesus who applies the prophecy of Isaiah 44:6 to Himself. He declares, “… I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of Hades and Death” (OSB Revelation 1:18).

There are two parts to this thought. The meaning of the first part (that He is alive forever) is given in the second (that He holds the keys to Hades and Death).

The risen Christ summarized the Scriptures saying, “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory” (OSB Luke 24:26). The Lord rose from the dead to reclaim the glory that He had with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He returned from death to sit at the right hand of God as Lord and Judge of all.

Therefore, Christ possesses the keys of Hades and Death. He is the judge who will decide between death and life. For some, it will be the Hades of death and eternal separation from the God of life and love. For others who accept the grace of Christ by faith, it will be everlasting life beyond death in communion with the Living God and His saints.

Therefore, He is alive, and He has all authority and power to open or shut, raise up or cast down, and to forgive or withhold forgiveness. He is alive to decide who will enter into the Kingdom of blessedness with Him and who will remain forever imprisoned in the realm of death.

So let us rejoice with the angels, disciples, and saints that Christ is alive. And let us put our faith in Him that he will save us from condemnation and that He will open the gate for us into His everlasting Kingdom on the Last Day.

About Fr. Basil

Now retired, the Very Rev. Archpriest Basil Ross Aden has served as a parish priest, parish pastor, diocesan mission director, writer, and college teacher of New Testament and Religious Studies. He has a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Chicago and has published daily devotional and stewardship materials as well as a college textbook on Religious Studies. He also has published papers and/or lectured on the Orthodox perspective on Luther and the Reformation. religious freedom, current issues of religion and society, and St. John Chrysostom. He is married to Sandra and has two sons and three grandchildren. He is still active as a priest as well as a writer of articles and materials on Orthodoxy and topics of faith and life today.

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