© C. O. Bishop 2010
We are here to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We come with a sense of reverence, and joy. That is as it should be. But let us also consider why we feel that way.
Why is the resurrection so important? Do we just want to feel good, believing that somewhere, somehow, Jesus is still alive today, and that he will come back? Or is there more at stake? And when we talk about resurrection, are we talking about a physical resurrection, or just the “going to heaven when you die” type of idea?
Did Jesus’ wrecked, mortal shell that was taken down from the cross, carefully wrapped in cloth and spices, for embalming, and laid in a solid rock tomb really come back to life, fully healthy, and leave the tomb, without disturbing the stone at the door? Was the tomb really already empty, before the angelic messenger rolled the stone back to reveal the empty tomb to the women who came to complete the embalming process? Or was it all a hoax? A nicely-told, religious myth? And, finally, does it really matter? Let’s see what God says about the resurrection.
The theme of the resurrection begins in Genesis 22, where it is hinted at, in Abraham’s obedience, attempting to sacrifice Isaac. We find, later in the scripture (Hebrews 11), that he assumed God would bring him back from the dead. The subject is broached over and over, throughout the Old and New Testaments, and runs all the way through to the Revelation. It is stated clearly, as in Job 19:25, where Job states that “I know that my redeemer liveth, and shall stand upon the earth at the last day, and, though, after my skin, worms shall devour my flesh, yet will I see him, with my eye, and not another.” How did Job know? The books of Moses were not even written yet…so either the revelation was given to him as a prophet, or it had been given to others and handed down as an oral tradition, to be confirmed in the book of Job.
Later prophets, including King David, were used to pen the scriptures telling us specifically that the Messiah would not be left to rot…that his body would be resurrected. “Thou wilt not suffer thy Holy one to see corruption…thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (sheol/hades)” (Psalm 16:10) It would be good to remember that the Hebrew word “sheol”, translated “hell” only meant the place of the dead, and included the place then called paradise. Either way, the fact is, he was not going to stay dead, and his physical body would not be allowed to rot.
Isaiah 53:8-12 states that after his death and burial, he would live to see his “offspring”, and that after his death he would be rewarded richly. Both would be patently impossible, without a literal, physical resurrection. Jonah 1:17-2:10 tells us of Jonah’s experience with the great fish (or whale, as some translations say). This was intended as a Messianic Prophecy—the prophet did not die: but Jesus did. Jonah spoke from the belly of the fish—not from Sheol. The prophet was not raised from the dead, any more than David was, who said similar things. David was not pierced (Psalm 22); But Jesus was. And, in Mathew 12:39,40, Jesus laid hold of that particular prophecy of Jonah as the sign for unbelieving Israel—saying that just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (not in Sheol), so he himself would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth: not in the tomb, but in Sheol/Hades…specifically, in Paradise, as he promised the thief on the cross. The companion idea was that it was ONLY three days and three nights. The resurrection was not only guaranteed to happen, but it was guaranteed to happen in a specific way and at a very specific time.
In Zechariah 12:10, the Lord Jehovah—the Creator God—states that the day would come when he would return, and Israel would see him. He specified that “they shall see me whom they have pierced, and mourn for him as one mourns for his only begotten son…” In that passage we see that Jesus is
- the almighty God,
- in the flesh;
- eternal by nature, but who
- became flesh for the purpose of His work at the Cross (seen in the fact that he was pierced by them).
We see Jesus, in fact: the resurrected Messiah, confronting those He came to save—unbelieving Israel—after they crucified him. What an uncomfortable situation that will be! And yet, in that moment, he will be confronting a finally repentant nation. This still necessitates the resurrection: the future of Israel depends entirely upon the truth of the resurrection.
The Personal Teachings of Jesus…also Prophetic
All the above prophecies (except the reference in Matthew) were put in place long before Jesus walked the earth; but Jesus didn’t leave it at that. He reminded them, and underscored the resurrection truth. He told the Jewish rulers who demanded a sign, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days!” (John 2:19-21) The Jews thought he meant the temple of Herod, but, as the scripture explains, he was referring to his physical body.
When Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), he comforted him, saying “…today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” (Incidentally, notice that he did not say “in the tomb”, but “in Paradise”.) That doesn’t specifically promise the resurrection, but it does promise a blessed life after death. But the physical resurrection of Jesus and the physical, bodily resurrection of his followers is as necessary to the Gospel as the truth of the crucifixion. The point is this:
- If Jesus was not resurrected, then he was not the Messiah, since the Messiah, it was promised, was to be resurrected.
- If he was not the Messiah, then he was not the Son of God.
- If he was not the Son of God, literally God in the Flesh, then he was not the Savior, sent into the world by God,
- And his blood could not wash away sin,
- And his death was a simple miscarriage of justice, and one more tragedy to add to an already overburdened world.
Jesus told his disciples (John 10:17,18) that he had the authority to lay down his life, and to take it up again…that no one would take it from him, but He would lay it down, and take it up again. Now, either that was true, or it was not true! If it is true, then the resurrection happened, as He said it would. If it was not true, then he was either a liar, or a poor deluded fool who was about to get himself killed. Jesus demonstrated his power over death several times, raising the dead—some who were only minutes or hours dead, some on their way to their grave, and one who had been in the grave four days. There may have been more…but he gave ample evidence that he was not exaggerating.
He further states (John 10:28) that he gives his followers eternal life, and that they shall never perish. Again: either it is so, or it is not so…that is a very powerful promise. If Jesus has the authority he claims to have…and keeps his promises, then the resurrection of his followers is sure to come, as well. Job’s faith would find fulfillment in the person of Christ. Abraham would find the promise complete in his risen master. And we have something to hope for as well.
Apostolic Confirmation…and That of God the Father
Romans 1:1-4 states, concerning Gods Son, Jesus Christ, that he was “Declared to be the Son of God, with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” That means that the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval… God’s signature on the contract… God’s seal; saying “YES! This is my Son!”
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1:8-12) states that He is the creator God, that he remains the same throughout the ages, and that his years shall not fail. He later points out (Hebrews 10:21) that Jesus has entered into the Holy of Holies through the veil, which is his flesh. And that he has made the way for us to follow.
In 1st John 5:11-13, the writer states that God wants us to know that we have eternal life. He says that that life is in the Son of God. He says whoever “has the Son, has the life”…and that those who do not have Him do not have the eternal life he offers.
Can you see why the resurrection is vital to the message of the Gospel? The simple fact is that: if Jesus was NOT resurrected, we are in deeper trouble than anyone has ever thought we were in. It would mean that the person we thought was the savior was NOT the savior, but either a liar, or a self-deluded fool. That is why, in 1st Corinthians 15:14-19, Paul points out that if Christ has not been raised:
- Our preaching amounts to nothing
- Your faith is futile
- We are found to be false witnesses of God, because we have testified that God did raise Jesus from the dead,
- You are still in your sins (no saving sacrifice—no forgiveness)
- Those who have died, believing in Christ, are forever lost.
He concludes that “If we have hope in Christ for this life only (no resurrection, in other words), then we are of all men most miserable…most to be pitied. Some of the world sees us that way. Most either mock us for fools, or hate us because they first hated Christ.
But the truth still stands: the resurrection either did happen, or did not happen. There is really no middle ground. We believe it did happen, just as God says. If it did not, then all the rest of our beliefs fade into insignificance, because upon the resurrection rests the entirety of the Christian faith.
What shall we do with these things, then? If I already believe in the resurrection, does it make me believe more? Or make me more emphatic in arguing with others? That is not my purpose in offering these thoughts. We frequently wonder whether it is really necessary to believe all the accounts of miracles in the Bible. We wonder, perhaps, whether at least some of them might be pious-sounding forgeries, added after the fact.
The problem with that, in this particular case, is that the forgers would have had to be able to go back and change all the prophetic writings of thousands of years of history. If that has been the reality, then the fact is, we simply do not have God’s Word. There is no evidence that this has happened; indeed quite the opposite. There is more evidence to the truth of the Bible than any other document in history.
An even larger issue, provided we are satisfied with the pedigree of God’s Word, is that this particular miracle was predicted thousands of years in advance, affirmed many times throughout history, and restated in further prophetic writings. If this one isn’t for real, we do not have a Savior. This is a miracle to stand fast upon, with no doubts.
So What Really Happened?
In accordance with prophecy, and according to the written record, Jesus arose from the dead, physically, hours before daylight, by the simple expedience of passing through the winding cloths they had wrapped him in; he folded the napkin from his face, and set it aside, and then transported himself away, by passing through the solid rock. He then waited for the women who would be the first to discover the empty tomb.
There were still sixteen Roman soldiers guarding the sealed but now-empty tomb. An angel appeared, bright, and fiercely shining, and they all fell— apparently unconscious—then, after they awakened, fled. The angel rolled the stone back from the door, and sat on it.
The women arrived, wondering how they would get in to complete the embalming process, knowing that the massive doorway stone was beyond their best efforts. They found the empty tomb with a new guard—the angel—who said “why do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here!”
Then Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and comforted her: He sent her, as the first resurrection witness, to tell his disciples to meet Him in Galilee.
Sometime during that day, he met with Peter, who had some special issues to deal with. Later that evening, he met two of the apostles on the road to Emmaus, and they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others. Jesus showed up as they were telling about the meeting on the road, and greeted the eleven remaining apostles as a group, especially dealing with the doubts that Thomas had suffered. After that, during the next forty days, he revealed himself to a large number of disciples—once to over five hundred at a time. He later met with James, then again the whole group of apostles, just before he ascended back to Heaven. Later, still, he met with Paul, whom he had chosen to be an apostle as well.
We have the historical witness of these changed lives, the witness of the epistles they wrote, and the voice of two thousand years of martyrs to persuade us. Those of us who have placed our faith in the shed blood of Jesus as full payment for our sins have another witness—the indwelling Holy Spirit. We encourage one another, as well as all who will listen, saying “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Of course, if He is actually dead, and his corpse is simply gone, then, as Paul said, we are of all men most miserable… most to be pitied.
But, He’s Alive! We can see His Glory in the lives around us. We look to His coming with unspeakable Hope and Joy.
And we confirm: “He is risen, indeed!”
Scripture reference list:
Genesis 22 Isaac
(compare to Hebrews 11:17-19)
Job 19:25 My Redeemer lives
Psalms 16:10 Not left to rot
Isaiah 53:8-12 After death, shall see his offspring, and be rewarded
Zechariah 12:10 Look upon me whom they have pierced
John 2:19-21 “Destroy this temple…”
Matthew 12:40 3 days, 3 nights
(Referring to Jonah’s prophecy)
Luke 23:43 Thief on the cross…Paradise
Romans 1:4 God raised him from the dead, declared, by that fact, to be his son.
John 10:17, 18 I have the authority to lay down my life and take it up again
Revelation 1:18 he that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive forevermore
Hebrews 1:8-12 “Thou art the same and thy years shall not fail
Hebrews 10:21 entered in through the veil
John 10:29 they shall never perish
1st John 5:11-13 Know you have eternal life
1st Corinthians 15:19 we are of all men most miserable…