Though the present day observance of the resurrection has passed, the message and worship of the early church did not limit celebrating the victory of Christ over the grave to a single day. The preached message focused not only on his death on the cross, but him being raised to life again.
The religious leaders of that day, particularly, the Sadducees, did not believe in resurrection and sought to squelch the preaching of the apostles. “Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening” (Acts 4:1-3 NKJV).
The Apostle Paul clearly defined the gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians … “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4 NIV).
Why then such skepticism and rejection of the inclusion of resurrection in the gospel? Perhaps it is best explained in the victory proclamation of Christ on the Cross just before He dismissed His spirit. The Apostle John records that … “they [Roman soldiers] put a sponge full of the sour wine [GI issue] upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit” (John 19:29b-30 NASB).
These final words were not the utterances of One gasping for breath and near death, for Jesus had taught on the subject of his death and resurrection that … “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father" (John 10:17-18 NIV). Rather, his shout of “tetelestai” was a victory cry.
To the Heavenly Father, with that one word, He announced that the work of bearing the sins of mankind was accomplished. In doing so, He quoted from the Hebrew scriptures as recorded by David … “They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it [aasaah]” (Ps 22:31 NASB).
The Hebrew word “aasaah” and Greek word “tetelestai both mean completed or finished. “Tetelestai” was a familiar term to the soldiers around the Cross, for they used it to declare that their mission was accomplished. To those who were servants, which comprised a large portion of the Roman population, that word was used to indicate that a prescribed task had been finished. Accountants in that day would stamp that word on records to indicate that a debt had been paid in full.
Note how practical and understandable the message from the Cross was. Christ had fulfilled God’s redemptive purpose in going to the Cross. Salvation had been accomplished; man could be reconciled to God through faith in completed Work of Christ on the Cross. With one word, “tetelestai,” Jesus proclaimed the simple message to all – man’s debt of sin has been paid in full; the work of salvation has been finished; mission accomplished. Hallelujah! What a Savior.