Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:12-14)
The immediate reaction of the Apostles to Christ’s death was to go into hiding behind locked doors in fear for their own lives (John 20:19-31). As the startling news of Christ’s resurrection began to sink in, the Apostles grapple with the meaning of the resurrection and only then did they become willing to share that message with others beyond their inner circle. At first they were meeting together privately to support each other and to pray (as in the Acts 1 passage above). Their first 50 days after the resurrection was spent shoring up each other’s faith and beginning to wrestle with the meaning of what had happened, what was happening, and what it all meant. Only as they realized the paradigm shift that Christ’s resurrection meant for the world did they begin to regain some confidence in their Lord and come to realize the Crucified One was also the Lord of the Universe. They would still need the Holy Spirit to come upon them before they became bold enough to go into the world to proclaim the Gospel. The ‘fear of the Jews’ which kept them in hiding for a number of days, would give way to a courage to proclaim the Gospel to the world, which would increase their own personal risks and the threats against them – not only from the Jews but also from the Roman Empire and others. The threats which they so feared at first, would result in the martyrdom of most of the Apostles who originally tried to escape death by hiding behind locked doors in the upper room.
Besides the hostilities of the governing powers, the Apostles had to face the fact that much of paganism felt the physical world was evil or worthless and to be escaped, but certainly not resurrected or given some ‘eternal’ status. Preaching the resurrection of the dead and implying a bodily resurrection was not good news for many pagans. The Apostles had to try to prove that the Christian vision was in fact philosophically superior to paganism, especially neo-Platonism which was a major part of the belief system of pagans in the Roman Empire.
“What civilized person in pagan antiquity would want to be tied to their material body for all eternity? Yet Christian belief in the resurrection means that the body—our own material substance—is not some kind of tomb or prison for the spirit, the ‘real me.’ The body is an integral part of our being, and our ultimate hope is to be liberated not from it, but with it. When we affirm that eternal life involves resurrection, we are saying that matter has an eternal significance.
This emphasis is very clear in the early Fathers who wrote in defense of Christianity against the pagans. A work attributed to St Justin, who was martyred in Rome in A.D. 165, insist on this point. The human being who was formed in the image and likeness of God is a creature of flesh: the flesh is precious in the sight of the Lord, and he will not allow it to be lost. It is unthinkable for one part of man to be saved without the rest of him. Later tradition says the same. As St John Chrysostom clarifies, it is not the body as such that we have to ‘put off’ as something alien to us; it is the corruption and death which are characteristic of the body as we know it. . . . Methodius insists on the full reality of our bodily resurrection: like a good craftsman, God does not throw his work away when it is damaged, but repairs it. The same goes for the whole of creation. God has not established the world just in order to see it destroyed—he has created it to continue in existence. Heaven and earth ‘will pass away,’ as the Lord says (Mt 24:35)—but in the sense that they will pass into a more glorious state. And Methodius finds an affirmation of this – as do many later Fathers—in St Paul’s words about the creation waiting to be set free from slavery to corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom 8:21).” (Elizabeth Theokritoff, LIVING IN GOD’S CREATION, pp 35-37)
And though the Apostles believed Christ destroyed death and cancelled the enmity between humans and God, there still were many people who rejected Christ and the Gospel or had not come to faith in Him. What was to happen to all of them (which at that time would have been almost the entire population of the world!)? Christians were sure the resurrection was guaranteed for all humans, it was what happened to them after the general resurrection that was most discussed. Jesus taught: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). All humans will experience the resurrection, but only some will rise to eternal life in God’s kingdom. St Irenaeus of Lyons, speaking about those who have rejected the Church holds to Christ’s teaching: “Even though they do not wish to, they will surely rise again in the flesh in order to acknowledge the power of Him who raises them from the dead; they will, however, not be numbered with the righteous, because of their unbelief.” (AGAINST THE HERESIES Book 3, p 81)
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one [emphases added]. (1 Corinthians 15:18-28; emphasis added)