The apostle John begins his account of our Lord’s resurrection by telling us that it occurred on “the first day of the week” (20:1). In fact, all four Evangelists introduce their respective narratives of the resurrection by telling us this. I find this to be very interesting. Rather than emphasizing the fact that it was the third day after the crucifixion, they emphasize that it was the first day of the week. Of course both are true, but it’s the latter they emphasize.
I find this interesting because Jesus had said on several occasions that he would be crucified “and after three days rise again” (Mk. 8:31). We might have expected that at least one of the Gospels would have begun the narrative of the resurrection by saying, “Now on the third day after he was crucified…” This would have tied in very nicely with all that Jesus had said beforehand and would have emphasized the fulfillment of his word. But none of them mentions the fact directly, only that it was the first day of the week. Why is this? I believe it’s because the first day of the week corresponds to the first day of creation.
The resurrection of Christ is portrayed in Scripture as the beginning of a new creation, in which old things are in the process of passing away, and new things are coming in to take their place.
The Resurrection and Personal Redemption
This language of a “new creation” is one that the apostle Paul uses to describe our individual redemption and transformation that comes as a result of knowing Christ.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17)
He uses the same language in Galatians 6:15 when he says, “Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” And we find the same idea stated in similar terms elsewhere. In Ephesians, we are admonished to “put off” our “old self” and to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God” (Eph. 4:23-24). Note the echoes of Genesis, where we are first informed that God created man in his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). We hear similar echoes in Colossians, where we are said to have already “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10).
Resurrection of Christ and the Redemption of Culture
It is important to note, however, that what Christ did through his death and resurrection has a bearing not just on us as individual human beings in terms of our personal redemption, but on the whole history of the human race. It introduces an entirely new epoch of human history. In the same way that the gospel transforms individual human beings, so it also transforms cultures. The world looks entirely different today than it would have looked if Christ had never come. Even with all of the imperfections and inconsistencies, which are all too evident even within historically Christian cultures, the world is an immeasurably better place—a more humane and civilized place—because of the impact of the gospel.
It’s true that there has been a general decline of Christian influence throughout the West in recent decades—as witnessed by the acceptance of child-murder via abortion, the norming of sexually deviant behavior, and other social ills—but we expect a revival of Christian thought and ethics in our culture as a consequence of an even greater impact of the gospel still to come.
The Resurrection of Christ and the Redemption of the Cosmos
Even beyond the personal and cultural impact of Christ’s redemptive work, we understand that what he did through his death and resurrection has a bearing upon the entire creation.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom. 8:19-22)
Paul speaks here of the redemption of nature, the lifting of the curse that presently burdens all creation (Gen. 3:14-19). The prophet Isaiah speaks of the time when the curse will be lifted, when he says,
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and a weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
The shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:6-9)
All of this lies behind what Paul says in Colossians, where he writes that God has been pleased through Christ to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Col 1:20).
Yes, our Lord was raised on the third day after his crucifixion, but it was also the first day of a new creation.
 Cf. Mk. 9:31; 10:34; Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 26:61; 27:40, 63; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7; John 2:19; see also Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4