But with Christ this is not the case. Death is not forever. There is a reunion waiting on the other side of the veil. This is the hope we have which anchors our soul.
But it is something that has always bothered me. Why would physical suffering on the cross be sufficient atonement for sin? Why three days in the tomb? What is holy about the cross as a method of execution? And most important: why would Jesus declare his work finished (totalesti) before his death? The whole thing smacks of mysticism; good for mythology, bad for theology. It is a question with which I wrestle every Easter.
The answer, I am convinced, lies in the nature of the Trinity, the foreground of scriptural prophecy, and the necessity for an evidence trail. The nature of the Trinity is essential to the effective propitiation for sin. The foreground of scriptural prophecy and the need for an evidence trail is necessary for the confirmation of the Messiahship of Christ and the ability of the apostles to spread the Gospel.
The most important part is the accomplishment of the work. Scripture uses death to refer literally to the expiration of the body and metaphorically to spiritual separation from God. The first is emblematic of the latter, but not contributory to it, while the existence of the latter is the cause of the former (Romans 5:12). The corollary of this is that physical death may be undone by the reuniting of the spiritual separation from God, and that this need only be done once (Hebrews 10:5-18).
The logical construction of the propitiation principle relies on a quantifiable occurrence for which reparation may be effectively made. I have always enjoyed the Egyptian symbology for this, wherein one’s sins are represented by gold coins, and weighed against the purity of the soul in the form of a feather. Ouch. It is a useful metaphor.
To put this is mathematic terminology, the sins of the world are energetically finite, expressed as S = ((D – B) x P^n)sigma^n. The deity of Christ is infinite (Isaiah 43:10), or infinitely energetic represented mathematically by the Mobius strip. Mathematically, any number processed against infinity becomes infinite itself and loses individual distinction – except when that formula is a transfinite formulation resulting in a subset of numbers that is itself infinite while being distinct from infinity as a whole. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may all be accurately expressed as transfinite equations, where those equations have identical formulation but distinct expression. The weight of sin may be expressed as a limited equation formed of a subset separate from the previous expressions that becomes transfinite, having a distinct formulation and expression. The “sin” expression may then equate to a subset of the “Christ” expression in value without sharing argument elements, and that value may be extracted from the latter expression without diminishing the expression itself. The feather of Christ’s soul is thus able to encompass the sins of all humanity in quantity without itself being sinful.
Enough of that. The reasoning is tangential to the acceptance of the possibility. I am even willing to admit that the reasoning behind this entire post is tangential to the acceptance of the premise: that Christ died as propitiation for sin and rose from the dead to ultimately receive us into eternal life. On to the real subject of my thoughts.
For the Messiahship of Christ to be confirmed, he must raise himself from the dead (John 10:17-18, John 2:18-22) referring in this passage specifically to bodily resurrection. We know that the propitiatory sacrifice was accepted because God raised Christ from the dead (Romans 10:9) referring specifically to undoing the spiritual separation from God caused by the presence of sin. For Trinitarian doctrine to be confirmed, the bodily and spiritual resurrection of Christ must necessarily be separate events, in keeping with the distinctions Christ drew between his work of scriptural fulfillment and his repeated affirmations that this authority comes from the Father (John 5:16-30). If these two events are to be one and the same, why then does Jesus declare his work of propitiation finished (totalesti) before his bodily death (John 19:30)? Why does God wait three days to accept the sacrifice when the transfinite nature of divine existence and the merciful nature of God means the work could be accomplished in an eyeblink? Why does Jesus both lament his forsaken existence (Psalm 22) and praise God for redeeming him (Psalm 31) before the work is accomplished?
If we postulate that the work of propitiation was marked by the moment that Christ lamented “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then it coincides with other dramatic events – three hours of darkness and the rending of the temple veil. Christ’s second quote “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” may then be viewed as a prayer of thankfulness for God’s role as redeemer from sin. This is in keeping with inductive Bible study where scripture is always taken within the whole of its context. Psalm 22 is an affirmation of sinfulness and God’s authority to deal with sinfulness. Psalm 31 is an affirmation that sin is in the past and God has been identified as the redeemer. This, then, becomes the resurrection to which Paul refers in Romans 10:9, leaving Christ free to lay down his own life in bodily form and resurrect himself under his own power in accordance with scripture and his own prophecy.
Every other action then serves the purpose of either fulfilling scriptural prophecy or of laying down an evidence trail to be used by the apostles in spreading the gospel. Three days in the tomb would be more than enough time for the Roman authorities to confirm death and even for decay to set in. All of these events were dramatic enough to be recorded in the secular histories of the day, whose records we still have.
The why of it all still remains a mystery. If any normal person were doing this, he would have come with thunder and lightning from the get-go. The Jews certainly expected the Messiah to appear in that manner. All scripture ever says about it is that all things are orchestrated for the glory of God and in keeping with his nature. As with everything else, the best answer come from Jesus himself, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:29)