For some in first-century Israel, Easter was anything but good news. It was a terrifying surprise.
For the rulers and powers that put Jesus to death, the idea that He had been raised by some power beyond their control was chilling. Early in Luke’s gospel, we’re told that Herod thought John the Baptist had been raised, that Jesus was the resurrected John. That left Herod, shall we say, perplexed. He had put John to death, he had seen the severed head on the platter, and if John is now raised and still walking around, then Herod must have made a very big mistake. If John were raised, Herod had put a prophet to death, and God had honored that prophet by raising him.
The resurrection of Jesus causes the same perplexity in the rulers of this age. Three courts had participated in Jesus’ trial. Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, then before Pilate, and also before Herod. He was tried by the Jewish priests and scribes, by the Romans, and in the Idumean court of Herod. He was tried in the garden, in the land, and in the world.
If Jesus were raised, then God had passed His own verdict on Jesus, a verdict that overturned the verdicts of the human courts. The resurrection posed a searching challenge to the justice doled out in these courts, exposing these courts as corrupt and unjust, out of sync with the justice of heaven.
For Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish leaders, the frightening possibility was that it might be true and that in killing Jesus, they may have set themselves against the purposes of God.
The Father’s verdict in the resurrection had already been declared by the human courts that tried him. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial, He is repeatedly declared innocent, most often by the Roman governor Pilate. Seven times, someone declares or treats Him as not guilty (Luke 23:4, 14, 15, 22, 41, 47, 51):
i) Pilate say “I found no guilt in this man.”
ii) When Jesus is brought back to Pilate, he repeats his assessment: “I have found no guilt in this man.”
iii) Pilate reports that Herod found no guilt in Jesus.
iv) Pilate again repeats it: “I have found no guilt demanding death.”
v) The criminal on the cross says “this man has done nothing wrong.”
vi) As Jesus dies, the Roman centurion says “truly this was a righteous man.”
vii) Finally, at least one member of the Jewish council, Joseph of Arimethea did not consent to the Sanhedrin’s decision and instead honored Jesus by giving Him a decent burial.
Like the seven fiats of creation, seven words vindicate Jesus. But those seven words do not deliver Him from death. Despite recognizing Jesus’ innocent, Pilate sends Him to the cross. Within the sevenfold of the old creation, there is no justice. A new word must be spoken.
And then, on the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week, the “eighth day,” Jesus receives an eighth verdict, the most important of all: God the Father declares Jesus “righteous” by raising Him from the dead. In doing that, the Father undoes all the verdicts of man. By raising His Son, the Father vindicates His Son against all attacks and all attackers. By raising the Son in the Spirit, the Father speaks a word of new creation, a verdict of righteousness that leads to life.