The Resurrection of Christ
The resurrection of the dead was ridiculed by the Greek philosophers to whom Paul preached at Athens (Acts 17:32). The Sadducees denied its possibility (Acts 23:8). King Agrippa thought it incredible (Acts 26:8). It was disbelieved by some Corinthian believers, the work of false teachers amongst them (1 Cor. 15:12). But, generally speaking, a belief in bodily resurrection was accepted by the Jewish people. It was one of the fundamentals of their faith (Heb. 6:2). David had sung about it (Ps. 16:10). Daniel had written plainly of a future resurrection, distinguishing two different outcomes (Dan. 12:2). There had been cases of the dead being brought to life again in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:22, 2 Kings 4:34, 13:21), but these were examples of resuscitation rather than resurrection, for they all subsequently died again.
The Lord Jesus Christ set the seal of His approval on this doctrine, both in His teaching and by His miracles. He raised from the dead three persons in different stages of corruption. He taught a two-fold resurrection, issuing in eternal life for some, and eternal judgment for others (John 5:28-29); He promised to raise from the dead all who believed in Him (John 6:40); He refuted the teaching of the Sadducees who denied resurrection by referring them to the Pentateuch, which pointed to God as the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — a covenant to be made good not to dead, but to living ones. It included the promise of the city whose ‘builder and maker was God (Heb. 11:9-10, 16).
The Lord in His teaching mentioned so often specifically His own personal resurrection from the dead. He saw in Jonah’s experience in the belly of the whale a picture of His sojourn in the heart of the earth, to be raised again on the third day. In three days He would raise up the temple of His body, destroyed by men on Calvary (John 2:19). Many times the Lord, referring to His passion, joined together the related themes of His betrayal, His suffering, His death and His resurrection. On the way to Gethsemane Jesus confidently promised to meet His disciples in Galilee after being raised from the dead (Matt. 26:32). He taught openly of His death and resurrection (Mark 8:32), to such effect that the Pharisees feared pits accomplishment (Matt. 27:63).
The proofs of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are irrefutable. This is the acknowledged verdict of all who have carefully examined the evidence. There was no doubt that He really died. The Roman soldier attested it. To be absolutely sure he thrust a spear into the Saviour’s side on the Cross. The centurion in charge of the crucifixion duly certified His death (Mark 15:45). His body had been carefully taken down from the Cross, bound with linen cloths and spices, in full conformation to Jewish burial customs (John 19:40), and laid in the sepulchre. Then His enemies, fearing lest the disciples should steal His body, made the sepulchre doubly secure by sealing the stone, and setting a guard of soldiers all the while He lay there (Matt. 27:66, 28:11).
The finding of the open empty tomb was the first intimation of the resurrection, and that by frail women, who could not have removed the stone themselves. Immediately Mary Magdalene went to inform His disciples, two of whom ran to corroborate the facts. Not only did they find the tomb empty, but the more observant one noticed particularly the arrangement of the body wrappings — the napkin that had been about His head not lying with the other clothes, but still shaped as it had been when enfolding the head. John realized what had happened. The Lord had risen from the dead, as He had foretold.
Jesus then appeared in person to Mary, who recognized the voice of her beloved Lord. As a definite proof of His resurrection the Lord appeared to His disciples, first to those gathered in the upper room. There He established His identity by showing the marks of the nails in His hands and His feet. Then for forty days He came and went amongst them. He manifested Himself, not in spirit form, but in a body of flesh and bones: a body that could be handled; a body capable of eating food. Apparently in His resurrection body He was able to pass through closed doors. It was the same body as before death, but now possessed with new power.
Many objections have been levelled against the resurrection of Christ by those who would belittle His work of redemption. Some suggest that He was never really dead, but that He had merely swooned, and revived when His body touched the cool earth. The evidence of the centurion, and the binding of the body with the linen cloths and a hundred pound weight of spices, are sufficient to disprove this idea. Some think the disciples were self-deceived, that because they would have liked the Lord to be with them again, they stole His body, and then foisted this strange story on the world. But against this supposition we must note that the disciples did not understand the resurrection, nor were they quick to believe it at the first. They themselves needed to be convinced of it. To them the Lord appeared many times, and at different times of the day. So they were not deceived. Christ sat with them, talked with them, and performed a miracle to show that He had really risen from the dead. There were many witnesses of the resurrection, not just a few simple, easily deceived ones.
Some would describe the resurrection of Christ as legend and myth. But legend and myth take time to develop, yet in three days the disciples believed it, confidently affirmed it, and in fifty days were preaching it fearlessly. No objection to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is found to be valid.
The resurrection of the Lord had a profound effect on His disciples. Mary, the first to see Him, would have clung to Him in worship had He not given her a task to perform. When two of them realized that He had indeed risen from the dead they were so keen to inform the others that, late at night, they walked again the seven miles to Jerusalem. The disciples, gathered in the upper room in fear and trembling because of their previous association with Him, were glad to see Him amongst them again. They were terrified and frightened by His presence; they wondered if He were but a spirit; they disbelieved for very joy. The Lord, however, quietened their fears, and assured them of the reality of His physical resurrection (Luke 24:36-43).
The resurrection formed a vital part in the preaching of the early church. Peter expounded it in great detail in his Pentecostal sermon, showing its relevance to Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:24-36). Constantly he insisted that they, the apostles, were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22, 2:32, 3:15, 4:33).
The fact that Christ was raised from the dead was the keystone of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 against those who denied resurrection. In that chapter Paul regarded the resurrection of Christ as an essential of the Gospel message (vv. 1-4). He adduces as proof of this event six post-resurrection appearances of Christ to men (vv. 5-11). The Apostle next shows the fallacy of not believing in resurrection (vv. 12-19). Then, starting from the confident assertion that Christ had risen from the dead, Paul goes on to present the certainty of the resurrection of believers, and its implications (vv. 20-34).
Thus the resurrection of Christ meant much to the early disciples. It gave meaning to His death; it indicated the nature and purpose of that death; it showed its value. The resurrection vindicated the claims of Christ. He promised He would rise. His word could be trusted. It gave courage to the disciples. Men who cringed for fear of the Jews became bold open witnesses of this new faith. It gave a hope of His return to those who, passing through trials, remembered His promise to them. It gave promise of a coming righteous judgment for all men (Acts 17:31).
For believers today the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ has many encouraging lessons. It teaches
1. That the sin question has been settled for us for ever. Christ has been raised to show that our justification is complete (Rom. 4:25). He has satisfied God.
2. That we have a living, not a dead, Saviour. In this respect Christianity is different from all other religious systems. Their heads are dead. Ours lives to guarantee our present salvation. Alive, He is our Great High Priest, now interceding for us in Heaven. His resurrection confirms the hope of His second advent.
3. That the saints who have fallen asleep will also rise from the dead, to be clothed with new, spiritual bodies, like Christ’s body of glory; to be rewarded for service done here for their Lord; to reign with Him. What an encouragement to endure suffering for His sake in this life (2 Tim. 2:12)!
4. That the Lord has triumphed gloriously. He has conquered Satan, sin, death, hell, the grave. He stands now the mighty Victor, who has overcome all His enemies. This triumph will be shared by His redeemed when they, too, will rise from their graves, for then will the Ward of God be fulfilled, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” a victory accredited to us through Christ (1 Cor. 15:57).
5. That our faith may be firmly placed in Christ whose resurrection claim was substantiated. He confidently asserted that He would rise from the dead, and He rose. He was the first to do so, never more to experience death. It proclaims Him Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Such an One is worthy of our implicit trust. The death of Christ was not a humiliating defeat. It was a glorious triumph. “He was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4). Let us rejoice afresh today in the resurrection of Christ! Let us glory in its far-reaching implications! Let us praise the Lord for His great accomplishment!
“Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives for ever with His saints to reign;
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!”