The Uniqueness of Jesus’
Death, Resurrection, and Ascension

By Paul Robison

“Five examples?” asked the teacher to the interviewer.  “Five things that are not in dispute by anybody.”  The interviewer nodded in agreement.  “[First of all], the disciples were willing to die for something they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands. … And when you’ve got 11 credible people with no ulterior motives, with nothing to gain and a lot to lose, who all agree they observed something with their own eyes—now you’ve got some difficulty explaining it away….[Secondly,] there were the hardened skeptics [like James and Paul] who didn’t believe in Jesus before His crucifixion … [but] who turned around and adopted the Christian faith after Jesus’ death….[Thirdly,] 5 weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion, over 10,000 Jews are [not only] willing to follow Him [but also] to alter all 5 of the social institutions that they [had] been taught since childhood … These changes to the Jewish social structures … were nothing short of a social earthquake!  And earthquakes don’t happen without a cause.  [Fourthly,] the partaking of the Lord’s Supper and the using of baptism for conversions also point to it.  [Fifthly,] when a major cultural shift takes place, historians always look for events that can explain it.  [So what better explanation is there for the church?]  “Look, if someone wants to consider this circumstantial evidence and reach the verdict that Jesus did not rise from the dead—fair enough.  But they’ve got to offer an alternative explanation that is plausible for all five of these facts.  Remember, there is no doubt these facts are true; what’s in question is how to explain them.  And I’ve never seen a better explanation than [Jesus’] Resurrection” (Moreland by Strobel).  Yes, indeed, the Resurrection best explains the changes that took place in the disciples, in the skeptics, and in the Jews!  It also is the best cause for the existence of the Lord’s Supper, the practice of baptism, and the church!  In previous sermons, we have looked at the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth, the uniqueness of His teachings and the uniqueness of His ministry.  Today, we want to focus on the uniqueness of Jesus’ death, of His resurrection, and of His ascension.  So our lesson will look at the uniqueness of each of these three areas.  

What was unique about Jesus' death?  After all, thousands of other men were crucified in Jesus' day.  The gospels explain to us the reality of Jesus’ death in all its grim, gruesome, and gory details, but it’s the epistles that explain the significance of Jesus’ death.  It is interesting that the descriptions used to explain the importance of Jesus’ death come from several areas of common ordinary life in the first century.  

First of all, we see that Jesus' death brings propitiation.  Now that term comes from the worship of both Jews and pagans where an animal sacrifice was offered to propitiate or to pacify the wrath of a divine being.  “The reason why propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God. ... [God's] anger is neither mysterious nor irrational. ... It is always predictable because it is provoked by evil and evil alone. ... [You see], God's anger is poles apart from ours.  What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes His, [and] what provokes His anger (evil) seldom provokes ours” (Stott).  1 John 4:10 states: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [or sacrifice] for our sins.”  “In the OT, sacrifices did not make God gracious; [no], they were provided by a gracious God in order that He might then act graciously toward His sinful people ... The initiative [to appease His own wrath] was taken by God Himself in His mercy, [and] such holy love should evoke our [thankful] worship” (Stott).  Jesus' death is unique because His perfect sacrifice appeased God's wrath so that He could act graciously towards us as well!  Jesus' death brings propitiation.

  Secondly, we see that Jesus' death brings redemption.  This term comes from the market-place and refers to a ransom.  In the OT, “property, animals, and persons were all 'redeemed' by the payment of a price. ... There was a decisive and costly [payment].  Somebody paid the price necessary to free property from mortgage, animals from slaughter, and persons from slavery” (Stott).  1 Timothy 2:5-6 affirms: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, ...”  We were held in captivity to the taskmaster of sin, and a payment was needed to set us free.  Of course, that expensive payment was “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19).  The apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.”  Isn't it interesting that God made us, God bought us, and then God filled us with His Holy Spirit!  Jesus' death is unique because it paid the price to free us from our slavery to sin to become the slaves of a new benevolent Master!  Jesus' death brings redemption.

  Thirdly, we see that Jesus' death bring justification.  Now this term comes from a courtroom.  To be justified means that the judge has acquitted us by saying that we are not guilty of the accused crime.  Romans 5:18-19 declares: “Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.  For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience, many will be made righteous.”  This passage shows us that “justification [gives] us [a] righteous standing [or status] before God” (Stott).  So when God justifies those accused, does that mean that He is “declaring that those who were bad are now good or that those who were sinners are not sinners after all”?  No, not really.  Remember, we are in a courtroom, so God “is pronouncing us legally righteous, [or] free from any liability to the broken law, because He Himself in His Son has already borne the penalty for our breaking the law's [regulations]” (Stott).  Seeing that God has treated us so wonderfully by taking our penalty should cause us to want to do good works out of gratitude for His goodness!  Jesus' death is unique because it upheld the law's requirements and took the penalty that we should have received.  Jesus' death brings justification.

  Fourthly, we see that Jesus' death bring reconciliation.  This term comes from the circle of our family and friends and means to restore a relationship or renew a friendship.  In 2 Corinthians 5:18ff, there is a magnificent passage: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  This passage shows us that God is the author of reconciliation, Christ is the agent of reconciliation, we are the ambassadors of reconciliation, and all nations are an audience for reconciliation with God.  Jesus' death is unique because it transforms us from being enemies of God to becoming friends of God!  Jesus' death brings reconciliation.

  All four of the descriptions that we have explained show us that we were in dire need: under God's wrath, captive to sin, guilty, and alienated from God, but God took the initiative in His saving love to reverse the situation.  Jesus, through the shedding of His blood at His cruel death, became our substitute—the sacrifice, the payment, the bearer of the law's penalty, and the mediator who became sin that we might become righteous!  “He paid that debt at Calvary, He cleansed our souls and set us free, We're glad that Jesus did all our sins erase,  We now can sing a brand new song: Amazing Grace.  Christ Jesus paid the debt that we could never pay!”   

What is unique about Jesus' resurrection?  Normally, the Roman soldiers would take a crucified man's body to Jerusalem's garbage dump where it would be cremated and robbed of the dignity of a traditional Jewish burial, but Pilate made an exception in Jesus' case and allowed the friends of Jesus to bury Him in a tomb (Sproul).  Of course, the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to place a guard at the tomb to make it as secure as possible.  Since the resurrection is a miracle and those who are skeptics want to accept only scientific or natural data, all kinds of theories have been invented to explain the resurrection in a natural way: Jesus only fainted, the apostles had hallucinations, the women went to the wrong tomb, the apostles just conspired together and decided to invent a resurrection, etc.  But all these theories simply refute themselves when they are compared to the gospel's accounts!  Surely if the Bible presents a living and all-powerful God, then eternal life appearing in the midst of a world of mortality would not be impossible!  So what is unique about Jesus' resurrection?  

First of all, Jesus' resurrection vindicates or upholds His sinless life.  In the biblical view of nature, “death enters the world as a judgment upon sin.  The Creator decreed that sin was a capital offense.  The soul that sins shall die. ... Mother Nature became the paramount executioner.  Adam was created with both the possibility of death and with the possibility of avoiding it.  By his transgression, he forfeited the possibility of avoiding it ... Jesus [however] was the New Adam.  He was free from sin ... Death had no legitimate claim on Him ... He was punished for sin that was imputed to Him, but once the price was paid and the imputation was lifted from [Him], death lost it power.  In death, an atonement was made; in resurrection, the perfect sinlessness of Jesus was vindicated” (Sproul).  By His obedience, Jesus gained the possibility of overcoming it.  Perhaps this is the reason that John describes Jesus as the  One who has the keys to Hades and death in Revelation 1:18.  Jesus' resurrection vindicates His sinless life.  

Secondly, Jesus' resurrection vindicates God's justice.  “For God to allow Jesus to be forever bound by death would have been for God to violate His own righteous character.  It would have been an injustice [on God's part] ... (Sproul).  God would not allow His Holy One to see corruption (Acts 2:27).  In other words, ... by one mighty act, [God] endorsed and countersigned the noble and unselfish way of [Jesus'] life.  [Now] we know that [God] is on the side of the man who fights the good fight” (Stewart).  You know, it's sort of surprising that God made Jesus stay in that tomb as long as He did.  Maybe this was God's way of helping the skeptics to see that Jesus had really died and that He had not just fainted.  Jesus resurrection vindicates God's justice!  

Thirdly, Jesus' resurrection assures our immortality.  The apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterwards those who are Christ's at His coming.”  The firstfruits meant that more of harvest was sure to come.  Jesus' resurrection is our hope of more to come as well!  Jesus' resurrection assures our immortality!     

Fourthly, Jesus' resurrection assures our victory over evil.  There was a joyful confidence among [the early Christians].  They did not speak of defeat, but of victory.  Perhaps they were taking the apostle Paul's words to heart: “He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, and God ... leads us in triumphal procession in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57; Rom. 8:37; Colossians 2:14).  Their vocabulary was one of victory, conquest, and triumph!  Why?  Because they knew that Jesus' resurrection was proof positive that the forces of evil could not overcome them.  One writer correctly observes: “We are not to regard the cross as defeat and the resurrection as victory.  Rather, the cross was the victory won, and the resurrection was the victory endorsed, proclaimed, and demonstrated. ... The evil [forces were deprived of their powers at the cross and were made subject to Jesus at His resurrection]” (Stott).  

Jesus' resurrection changed everything, didn't it?  It is the hinge event of history and introduced a whole new order into the world.  It changed the apostles, the skeptics, and the Jews.  It caused the Lord's Supper, the practice of baptism, and the church.  It also vindicates Jesus' sinless life and God's justice and it assures our immortality and victory over evil!  “Crown Him the Lord of life, Who triumphed o’er the grave, Who rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save!  His glories now we sing Who died and rose on high, Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die!”  

What is unique about Jesus' ascension?  Sometime we don't give much attention to the ascension, but it is the climatic moment in Jesus' ministry when His coronation takes place and He becomes a king ruling at God's right hand.  Without the ascension, the resurrection would have been incomplete, and Pentecost would never have taken place.  

First of all, the ascension is unique because Jesus is exalted over all men!  In fact, the ascension shows Jesus to be one of a kind for it has never happened to anyone else.  “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).  Enoch had been “translated” into heaven, and Elijah had been “taken up” into heaven, but only Jesus, God's only-begotten Son was qualified, through His descending to the earth, to make this ascension and be exalted over all men!  

Secondly, the ascension shows that Jesus is exalted over all rulers!  One writer puts it this way: “The ascension was the supreme political event of world history.  Jesus ascended not so much to a place as to an office.  He departed from the arena of humiliation and suffering to enter into His glory.  He, in one moment, leapfrogged from the status of despised Galilean teacher to become the cosmic king of the universe jumping over the heads of Pilate, Herod, and Caesar Augustus” (Sproul).  “And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’” (Rev. 19:16).  The ascension shows that Jesus is exalted over all rulers!  

Thirdly, the ascension shows that Jesus is exalted over all priests!  “He assumed not only the scepter of a king but also the garments of the High Priest as well.  In His ascension, Jesus entered the sanctuary as well as the palace.  He [enters daily into the heavenly Holy of Holies to make intercession on our behalf]” (Sproul).  Heb. 9:11-2 states: “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”  The ascension shows Jesus' is exalted over all priests!  

Fourthly, the ascension shows that Jesus is exalted over all spirits!  One of Jesus' first tasks after His enthronement was to send the Holy Spirit to help His followers establish and expand the church.  Moreover, all other spirits and demons are subject to Him: “God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand far above all principality and power and might and dominion ... and put all things under His feet ...” (Ephesians 1:20-23)!  All the forces of evil are under His dominion.  The ascension shows that Jesus is exalted over all spirits!  “We walked not with the chosen few, who saw Thee from the earth ascend; who raised to heav’n their wondering view, then low to earth all prostrate bend, but we believe that human eyes beheld that journey to the skies, but we believe that human eyes beheld that journey to the skies!”   

One day a prisoner in one of Stalin's concentration camps around 1950 became very weary of the hard labor which he had to endure unjustly.  He laid down his shovel and walked slowly to a crude work-site bench, knowing all along that a guard could take his shovel and beat him to death at any moment.  While he sat with his head down, he suddenly felt the presence of another person.  He lifted up his head and found an older man sitting next to him.  The old man took a stick and drew two intersection lines, a cross, at his feet.  As the weary prisoner looked at that simple cross, he drew strength, and his entire perspective shifted.  Through that cross, he realized that anything was possible, so he picked up his shovel and went back to work—not knowing that one day his writings about Stalin’s massacres of 40,000 people per month in concentration camps, about truth, and about freedom would one day inflame the whole world and earn him a Nobel peace prize (Colson).  

The cross, the resurrection, and the ascension have given strength to multitudes since Jesus’ return to rule at God's right hand.  Is He the king of your life?  Will you crown Him at this moment if He is not?  Or will you confess your loyalty to Him and get back in the battle?  Whatever your need, won't your respond?