First published in January 2009
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers is very specific. He asks God to bestow upon them a deeper knowledge and understanding of Christ that we do well to seek for ourselves. This is not something that one can learn in a seminary or even in a Bible study or from reading devotional books. Paul’s desire for them was that they would willingly receive from God “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of [Christ]” (Eph:1:17-23).
Specifically, Paul prays that they would know the “exceeding greatness” of the power that God wanted to demonstrate in their lives. His explanation of this power is most instructive. Paul tells us about it in Philippians 3. It was, in fact, what he desired so much for himself. He called it the “power of his resurrection” and declared: “[Oh] that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
Was Paul uncertain of his salvation, concerned that he might not qualify for the resurrection of believers at the Rapture? Hardly! He is telling us that the Resurrection of Christ is not only a historical event that we look back to with satisfaction and joy. It is the greatest event in the history (past, present, or future) of the entire cosmos!
The greatest event that the universe will ever see is also one of the most difficult to understand. We mention it so casually, but here is the hinge upon which all history hangs and is forever divided. The division of time ought to be not only BC (Before Christ) and AD (meaning After Christ); it ought to be BR (Before the Resurrection) and AR (After the Resurrection).
With modern telescopes and the means of apparently probing farther into space than ever before, David’s words in Psalm 19 take on deeper meaning: “The heavens declare the glory of God....” Creation is the greatest visible expression of His power, and we bow in awe and worship when we think of the infinite God behind all that we can see. But Paul says that is nothing in comparison to the power displayed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this is the great power that Paul desired for the Ephesians to experience in their daily lives.
In fact, Paul tells us that the Resurrection is the greatest display of God’s power ever to be demonstrated, nor can it ever be surpassed. We need to understand why this is so and why Paul prayed as he did. After all, “In [Christ] was life” (Jn:1:4). Jesus said, “I have power (dunamis) to lay down [my life] and...to take it again. This commandment have I received from my Father” (Jn:10:18). Then why did it take such power to raise Christ from the dead?
During His life on earth and before His own resurrection, Christ had raised many from the dead. Those resurrected, such as Lazarus (Jn:11:1-44) and the widow of Nain’s son (Lk 7:11-16), died again after some days or years, to await the resurrection of all believers at the Rapture.
How could the Giver of life, by whom all things were created (Jn:1:3), be killed? Here we have a seeming contradiction. Christ himself said, “No man taketh [my life] from me...I lay it down of myself” (Jn:10:18). Yet Peter indicts the Jews with having killed Jesus: whom “ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts:2:23). In addressing the rabbinical council, Stephen uses even stronger language: “of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers...” (Acts:7:52).
The answer to the question of why it took the greatest power ever displayed to raise Christ from the dead can only be found in relation to the death He died.
God had declared that the penalty for sin is death, which is eternal separation from Him. Isn’t that rather harsh? Adam and Eve were driven out from the garden paradise by their Creator, who had placed them there, for the seemingly minor infraction of eating some fruit. How could that be worthy of eternal punishment?
We have such a careless view of sin, looking at the act alone and forgetting against whom the act was committed. The sin of Adam and Eve was not merely eating the forbidden fruit. It was deliberate defiance of and rebellion against the One who had created them and the entire universe. From our viewpoint, David’s sin of adultery, murder, and lying was far more reprehensible. But David knew what sin was: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Ps:51:4).
At its heart, sin is deliberate treason, open and defiant rebellion against the Creator and Ruler of the universe. We need to remember this fact. Most Christians who, when convicted by conscience, fall on their faces and confess their sins are not really confessing the horror of what they’ve done. It is not enough to repent of the deed. We must confess also that, no matter how trivial we think the act was, we have repeated Adam and Eve’s treason against the Lord God. Without that admission deeply felt as a conviction in our hearts, the confession is incomplete.
Now we begin to understand why it took the “exceeding greatness of God’s power” to raise Christ from the dead. The hymn writer put it well, “’Twas our sins’ vast load that laid Thee, Lord of life, within the grave.” What does that mean? How could our sins have been laid upon the sinless Christ? This certainly was not accomplished by Pilate’s condemnation of Christ nor in the scourging and being nailed to a cross by godless Roman soldiers. Yet this is what that unbiblical film, The Passion of the Christ, portrayed—and it was praised by thousands of evangelicals including hundreds of leaders.
What really happened on the Cross not only could not be portrayed in a movie but by omission was denied. Isaiah wrote, “It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin” (Is 53:10). Clearly, what men did to Christ physically had no part at all in the Lord’s bruising Him and making His soul a sacrifice for sin. There is a moral and spiritual dimension to sin that Christ had to endure for every individual, and none other could.
Not only did our Savior have to be perfectly sinless to pay for the sins of others but He had to be infinite. No one less than God could accomplish this satisfaction of justice. But the penalty had been pronounced against mankind. Thus, God, though infinite, could not pay that penalty unless, without ceasing to be God, He became fully man. This is what the one and only virgin birth was all about.
Atheists complain that it would be unjust for an innocent party to pay the penalty for the guilty. That would be true were it not for another dimension to the Cross. For those who believe, God considers Christ’s death and resurrection to be as their own. A miraculous inner transformation occurs, which Christ promised and which He called being “born again” (Jn:3:3-16). That’s not a cliché but reality.
Pilate could not have known what he was saying when he presented Christ to the howling mob: “Behold the man!” This was man as God had intended him to be. Paul called Him the “second man” and also the “last Adam” (1 Cor:15:45-47). In other words, from Adam, freshly created by the hand of God in the Garden, to Jesus, the last Adam, freshly formed in the womb of a virgin, there was no one of whom it could be said, “Behold the man as God intended him to be.”
“Sins’ vast load,” which would have held mankind in the Lake of Fire forever, could be fully endured by the infinite One upon the Cross, where He stood between God and Man. If Infinite Justice had not been satisfied through Christ’s full payment for our sins, He could not have come out of that grave.
The penalty for sin is eternal banishment from God’s presence and from His entire universe into the Lake of Fire. That is what high treason against the Creator of all merits in His court. One of the greatest horrors of the Lake of Fire will be the fact that even in that place of torment, these haters of God find no escape from Him. He is there in the consciences of the damned, consciences that will no longer find any excuse behind which to hide. There will be no escape from the truth they rejected, and that will haunt them eternally. David said, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there” (Ps:139:8).
It would be impossible for any finite being to pay the infinite penalty demanded by God’s infinite justice. No man attempting to pay for his own sins could ever finally say, as Christ declared in triumph on the Cross, “It is finished!" The debt has been paid. But the penalty must be paid in full. How else can the prison gates of justice be torn open?
In the Book of Job we get some inkling of the very real struggle between Satan and God for the cosmos. “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them” (Jb 1:6). In that amazing account, we are given an insight into what is involved in this battle between God and Satan. It is a conflict of cosmic proportions for control of the universe, and man is the prize that both sides seek. This is a very real battle for man’s heart and affection. Nor is there any guarantee that God will triumph in every individual case. With the gift of free will, every man has an individual choice to make concerning which side he will join in this battle.
Christians have a vital role to play in Satan’s ultimate defeat: “They overcame [that old serpent, the Devil - Rv 12:9] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rv 12:11). With the love of Christ in our hearts, we follow the example that Christ himself left to us: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pt 2:21-25).
Satan continues to enter God’s presence boldly, as he did in Job’s day. How do we know? He still accuses the brethren before the throne of God day and night and will do so to the very end (Rv 12:10). As we’ve said before (and it bears repeating), Satan is like a lame duck president. He can still walk the corridors of power unopposed and wield considerable influence behind the scenes. He has not yet been thrown out of heaven, but that day is coming soon:
There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rv 12:7-9)
How will Satan finally be cast out? An old hymn expresses clearly and beautifully what scripture portrays: “In weakness like defeat, He won the victor’s crown; Trod all our foes beneath His feet by being trodden down. He Satan’s power laid low; Made sin, He sin o’erthrew. Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so, and death, by dying, slew.”
Satan cannot understand how Christ, through meekness and seeming weakness, could triumph over him. Everything about the Cross confuses him. First he inspired Peter to prevent Christ from going to the Cross: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Mt 16:21-22). We know that Satan inspired Peter because of Christ’s reply: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Then he inspired Judas to betray Jesus to the rabbis so that they could have Him crucified: “Satan entered into him [Judas]” (Jn:13:27). Satan doesn’t understand to this day.
In my opinion, Satan really thinks he could be the final victor in this battle for the hearts and minds of mankind. And why not? He offers what he has trained man’s greed and lust to desire: wealth, possessions, hedonistic pleasure, free sex, popularity, fame, drugs and alcohol in abundance, and satisfaction of every lustful desire. Yet multitudes choose instead to follow Christ, though He offers hatred and rejection by the world, with persecution and suffering—but eternity in His presence, where there is true happiness: “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps:16:11).
And what of those who make the wrong choice and opt to join Satan in committing treason? God does not take pleasure in punishing the wicked (Ezk 33:11), but each one’s punishment must be suited to the crime. When one reads what the atheist leaders say about God in blatant and defiant rebellion, we know they would tear Him from His throne if they could. They hate God. It is clear that torment for eternity in the Lake of Fire for their treason will at last be the reaping of what they have sowed.
Consider the following from Richard Dawkins, leader of the New Atheist movement, in a debate with John Lennox, a fervent Christian, also an Oxford professor and scientist with two earned Ph.D.s, who in his closing remarks testified to his faith in Christ and to our Lord’s resurrection: “Yes, well, that concluding bit,” said Dawkins, lips curled in contempt, voice dripping with venom, “rather gives the game away, doesn’t it? All that stuff about science and physics...that’s all very grand and wonderful, and then suddenly we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earthbound, it’s so unworthy of the universe.”
Yet God calls the Resurrection the greatest display that could ever be known of His majesty and power. How pitiful is this vitriolic outburst from Dawkins! This pagan, who obviously worships creation instead of its Creator (Rom:1:21-23), is beside himself with rage. This expression of his hatred of God will mock him eternally (Prv 1:20-33), while heaven will ring with the eternal yet ever new song of praise to God and the Lamb: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (Rv 5:12). TBC