Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
“He is risen!,” exclaims one. “He is risen, indeed!, responds another.
This is a traditional Christian greeting. One exclaims the glorious statement of fact, a truth that has gripped and transformed them, “He is risen!” This is followed by a response from another that reflects the same glorious transformation, “He is risen, indeed!”
This greeting is grounded in the historical truth of Jesus’ resurrection. The hope that this expression exudes is grounded in Jesus’ first words to the gathered disciples, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:19). Before explaining the significance of this expression, which is both theologically rich, and experientially life-transforming, it will be helpful to recount the events of this “first day of the week” (the day after the Jewish Sabbath, and a statement which reflects this is an early account of the resurrection, since after the resurrection, this day was referred to as “the Lord’s Day,” cf. Rev. 1:10), this day on which Christ was raised, the day we know as Sunday.
In recounting what occurred on this day of Jesus’ resurrection, John describes these events. It began “early” with the discovery of the empty tomb (Jn. 20:1-10) and Jesus’ appearance to Mary (Jn. 20:11-18). And then “on the evening of that day” Jesus appeared to the disciples (Jn. 20:19-23). Because Thomas was not with the disciples at this time, and when informed of this appearance of Jesus by the other disciples, he would not believe. John records that “eight days later” when the disciples were gathered, this time with Thomas, Jesus appeared to them again (Jn. 20:24-29). This led to Thomas’ confession, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28)!
With this larger context of John’s recounting of the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection in mind, I return to the evening of the day in which Jesus was raised. John writes, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (Jn. 20:19). This word is key in this first encounter with Jesus. Jesus reiterates this statement, saying “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21). And then, “eight days later,” when Thomas is now with the other disciples, not having been with them in their first meeting with Jesus, he, once again, meets them in a similar manner and says, “Peace be with you” (Jn. 20:26). In light of the disciples’ fears on the evening of this resurrection day, Jesus’ words of peace refer immediately to their present situation. He reassures them in the midst of certain and real fear of the Jews, they ought to be at “peace.” This is not the first time Jesus mentions peace.
Earlier in the Gospel, John records Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Jesus gives peace unlike any peace offered by and experienced in the world. Based on the peace Jesus offers, our hearts are not to be troubled or afraid. Jesus reiterates this teaching post-resurrection. Later, Jesus declares, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Once again, Jesus promises to them peace – peace in the midst of tribulation. The reason is because he has overcome the world. Now when Jesus meets with the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week, the day in which Jesus resurrected, his first words are “Peace be with you.” Not only are they uttered as a culmination of Jesus’ previous teaching. They are also filled with meaning because of his death-burial-resurrection.
Jesus last words from the cross and the first words to his disciples are connected. It only makes sense that the last words of Jesus, “It is finished,” which reflect the completion of the earthly work Christ came to accomplish, are followed immediately after the resurrection with “Peace be with you.” The death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ground by which sin, our defiance and rebellion against God, is addressed (Gen. 2:16-17) and his wrath is propitiated (Rom. 3:21-26). Faith is the means by which this completed, finished work of Christ is received in our lives. That is, if we truly understand Jesus’ final words from the cross, we then ought to expect that Jesus’ first words to the disciples would be “Peace be with you.”
G. R. Beasley-Murray, a New Testament scholar, captures the essence of this truth in the following statement:
It is well known that that was (and still is) the everyday greeting of Jews in Palestine – ‘Shalom to you!’ But this was no ordinary day. . . . Never had that ‘common word’ been so filled with meaning as when Jesus uttered it on Easter evening. All that the prophets had poured into shalom as the epitome of the blessings of the kingdom of God had essentially been realized in the redemptive deeds of the incarnate Son of God, ‘lifted up” for the salvation of the world. “His ‘Shalom!’ on Easter evening is the completion of ‘It is finished’ on the cross, for the peace of reconciliation and life from God is now imparted. ‘Shalom!’ accordingly is supremely the Easter greeting. Not surprisingly it is included, along with ‘grace,’ in the greeting of every epistle of Paul in the NT.
It is finished . . . Peace be with you. These two historical statements are rich with theological truth, and essential for our new life in Christ. The peace pronounced and accomplished by Jesus in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the shalom promised in the Old Testament.
Shalom, according to one, is “one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound. In the New Testament, shalom is revealed as the reconciliation of all things to God through the work of Christ. . . . Shalom experienced is multidimensional, complete well-being – physical, psychological, social, and spiritual; it flows form all of one’s relationships being put right – with God, with(in) oneself, and with others.” Although there is some overlap with how this term is understood outside of Christianity, there is a unique use of the term due to the death-burial-resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In essence, what makes this unique, concludes one, is “the offended party (God) initiates the process of reconciliation with his enemy. It is not humans who approach God to make peace, but God who reaches out to humanity. . . . it is by means of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ that peaceful relations between God ad humanity can be effected.” It is emphasized in the Aaronic blessing/doxology in the Old Testament, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Num. 26:24-26), and the person and work of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).
On this day in which we remember and celebrate this peace we have received, we ultimately worship the One who brought this peace, Jesus Christ, who is the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and is himself our peace (Eph. 2:14ff). Here are a few implications of Jesus’ completion of his earthly work ("it is finished") and the peace he brings ("peace be with you").
First, we have peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).
Second, we have peace with one another. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:14-17).
Third, we live lives marked by the peace of God and the God of peace. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . . What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:5b-7, 9).
Finally, we live with the certainty of future, ultimate peace (shalom). “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).
Dear friends, on this day we remember and worship Christ, confessing he is “My Lord and my God!”
Peace be with you!
James Gronvall: "Having the peace that you describe is a reassuring hope, because I find that in the body with its sin nature that the peace that Christ announces, is in tension with our own failings and struggles. Not a reflection on the adequacy of Christ’s sacrifice but a reality of being yet in this body of sin. Redeemed yes, but struggling daily with the old man. Paul says it well, Rom. 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? We have this split nature to deal with, and wears me out. We believe yet as Paul says in the next verse. 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Never disappointed by Jesus my Lord, often disappointed by the weakness of the flesh."
Greg Strand: "Thank you for your comment, James, and your honesty regarding the ongoing struggle of progressive sanctification. In light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our lives by faith in light of resurrection, I think of three texts of Scripture. Jesus’ death-burial-resurrection are the basis of our justification. Romans 4:24-25: It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, gives life to our bodies and he dwells in us (union with Christ). Romans 8:11: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by faith we are born again to a living hope, and with that same resurrection power and certainty, we are “being guarded through faith.” 1 Peter 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The tension/struggle between the now and the not-yet leads us to give thanks and praise to the Lord for his sure and certain work in our lives. It also causes us to not grow weary and lose heart and to long for the day when faith will be made sight, when there will be no more sin, sickness, mourning, crying or dying. With this in mind, we cry and pray, Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus!"