The Person of Christ - 25 - His Resurrection

 

Chapter 25 - The Resurrection of Christ

Norman Crawford

 

Death and life are vital issues from which none can escape. The man who denies the realities of death and eternity foolishly postpones the inevitable. In fact, modern man is much more interested in what lies beyond death than he is willing to admit. The proof of this is found in the tremendous resurgence of spiritist religious cults. Many who would not join their ranks are nevertheless interested in their claims of contact with the spirits of the dead. Also the pagan idea of reincarnation is again popular. These people have found some very poor substitutes for the great hope of the believer in a risen Christ.

It has been said; ?The resurrection begins where manmade religion leaves off.? In this article four basic questions will be examined.

 

WHAT IS RESURRECTION?

 

Resurrection is used by the Lord Jesus to describe the raising of both the just and the unjust (John 5:29). The scripture is silent on the nature of the bodies of those who are raised at the ?resurrection of damnation?. They will have bodies capable of enduring eternal fire (ge~na) and we cannot be sure if this is because of a change in the bodies or because the fire itself is in some way preservative. It is not with the bodies of the wicked dead that we are occupied now but with the resurrection bodies of believers.

 

The idea of a so-called ?spiritual resurrection? is an error of the first magnitude, that strikes at the very foundation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.? Those who use this term are seldom using it as Paul does in I Corinthians l5 - ?there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body.? Many modern cults deny a bodily resurrection, but teach that Christ is alive in some spiritual form. This led one cult leader to say that ?the body of Christ dissolved into gases.?

The liberal view that Christ live& in the sense that ?He is alive in the hearts of those Who love Him,? is not better but worse, for it is more deceptive. Adherents of this teaching proclaim at Easter the resurrection of Christ, but their words have double meanings. While many in the pews think the clergyman is preaching the historic Christian faith, he is actually denying that the Lord Jesus is alive in a real body of flesh.

 

The resurrection of Christ is a body raised; yet it is more than this. The raising of Jairus? daughter; the widow?s son, or Lazarus do not truly conform to the meaning of Christ?~ resurrection. They were raised in the same body in which they died. Paul says the resurrection of believers is not the same (I Cor. 15:37). So far as our limited knowledge goes, Lazarus and the others must have died again. We do not see this as a denial of the general truth that ?It is appointed unto man once to die? for they were supernatural exceptions to the rule. Because Christ is the firstfruit (I Cor. 15:20 & 23. both times a singular) meaning first in rank and in time, they could not truly have been raised according to the pattern of His resurrection. In other words they did not have a deathless body like that of the resurrected Christ.

 

The Lord Jesus is the true ?wave sheaf? and all the ?harvest? will be like Him, that is, raised in a glorified. deathless body. The ?resurrection of life? is then the raising of a body, but in a new glorified form. ?The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies? (Rom. 8:11). For the believer the death of Christ was the death of death; ?death is swallowed up in victory? (I Cor. 15:54).

 

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESURRECTION?

 

The most powerful demonstration of the significance of the resurrection is seen in the transformation that took place in the disciples, when they were convinced that the Lord Jesus had truly risen from the dead.

 

It is impossible to picture a more discouraged band of men than these same disciples, after the arrest and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Their attitude was expressed by the two that travelled that same day to Emmaus, ?We hoped that it was He which should redeem Israel? (Luke 24:21). Their hopes were shattered; Peter himself had gone into the High Priest?s palace and sat with the officers ?to see the end? (Matt. 26:58). It was the tragic end of all their hopes. There is much significance in the words of Mary Magdalene, ?They have taken away my Lord? (John 20:13). This would also be the language of any true believer today if the truth of a risen Christ could be taken away.

 

Paul has eloquently expressed the importance of the resurrection in the epic chapter on the subject. If Christ be not raised: (1) our preaching is vain; (2) your faith is also vain; (3) we are found false witnesses; (4) ye are yet in your sins; (5) they which have fallen asleep in Christ are perished, and (6) we are of all men most miserable. We thank God that none of this is true for he follows with the triumphant statement ?but now is Christ risen? (I Cor. 15:12-20). The resurrection of Christ is the foundation on which all our hopes rest.

 

WHAT IS THE SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR THE RESURRECTION?

New Testament writers claim that the Old Testament prophets foretold the resurrection. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost that David spoke of the ?resurrection of Christ? and appealed to Psalm 16:8-11 to prove it (Acts 2:25-32). In his message to the syna~ogue at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul showed from Psalm 2:7 ?thou art My Son, this day have 1 begotten Thee? and from Psalm 16:10 ?Thou shalt not suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption? that David foresaw the resurrection of Christ.

 

Various other Old Testament passages could be mentioned. The interested reader should compare Leviticus 23:9-14 with I Corinthians 15:1-4. See also Psalm 22:21; Psalm 40:2 and Isaiah 53:8-11.

 

Prior to the cross the Lord Jesus plainly foretold His resurrection on the third day. One single example from each of the four evangelists will be more than enough to prove this. Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 18:33 and John 2:19 are clear statements by the Lord Jesus that He would be rejected and slain and would rise again on the third day. How then could the disciples be so blind and unbelieving about His resurrection? The answer lies in our own hearts; ?Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain.? Our own hearts unenlightened by the Holy Spirit would still be just as dark and ignorant.

 

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION?

 

Seeing Luke tells us the proofs are ?many? and ?infallible? this question requires careful thought. It has been said, ?By every law of evidence and logic, the resurrection of Christ is the most completely and irrefutably established historic fact in the annals of the human race.

The Empty Tomb: All the Gospels agree that the tomb was empty. Luke tells us that the women ?entered into the tomb, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus? (Luke 24:3). Matthew records that the angel said to them, ?Come, see the place where the Lord lay? (Matt. 28:6). This verb is an imperfect of the verb ?to lie? (used to lie) and suggests that the body had been laid on a stone shelf in the tomb, according to custom and now it was empty.

 

All the attempts to explain away the empty tomb can be summed up in three ways. Some have said (I) it was the wrong tomb. How long would such a mistake go unnoticed? It was a very special tomb, it belonged to Joseph of Arimathaea, one of the disciples. It was in a garden and it was new. Unbelievers persist in their wrong tomb theory but it is not a challenge to the fact of a risen Christ. Others say (2) the enemies of Christ stole away the body.

 

This widely propagated theory leaves us puzzled. The question that first arises is, ?Why?? Some say it was to keep his followers from making a shrine of His tomb Then surely when these same followers began to preach with such powerful effect that He was risen from the dead, the enemies would have produced the body and there would have been no Gospel and no Christian faith. ?With great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus? (Acts 4. 33); multitudes believed their message, all Jerusalem was deeply stirred, even many of the priests were obedient to the faith. If the enemies of the Gospel could have produced the body, all this would have been reversed. It has been said, ?The silence of the Jews was as eloquent as the preaching of the Apostles.?

 

Still others say, (3) the followers stole away His body. It will be remembered that this particular theory was invented by the leaders of Israel in a special council, and was commonly reported among the Jews (Matt. 28:11-15). The best way to answer this lie is to take a close look at the witnesses.

 

The Eyewitnesses: After the arrest of the Lord Jesus in the garden, fear took hold of the disciples. They were discouraged and beaten men, hiding in fear behind closed doors. Their own arrest and execution might take place at any moment.

 

After the day of Pentecost, these same men filled Jerusalem with their preaching of the resurrection through Jesus (Acts 4:2). What a mighty change! With martyr?s courage, these men who had been filled with fear but are now filled with the Spirit of God, endured lashings, stonings, dungeons and death. For what? For an invented lie about a stolen body? Or for a risen Lord they saw and heard and handled and with whom they ate?

 

We are not thankful for the unbelief of Thomas or the skepticism of the eleven, but we are thankful that such evidence was presented to them that, though at first unbelieving, they became powerful witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. They not only did not invent the story of a resurrected Christ; their initial unbelief proves that they never even thought of it.

The judicial system of every enlightened nation on earth is based upon eyewitness testimony. When a court judges an eyewitness to be knowledgeable and trustworthy, the court judges the case as if it saw the event happen. Never were eyewitnesses more trustworthy than these witnesses whose lives were transformed by a risen Christ. Peter, who denied Him; Thomas, full of unbelief; James, the son of Mary, who with his brethren scoffed at His claims; Mary of Magdala; the eleven apostles; the five hundred men, and last of all Saul of Tarsus, the proud Pharisee whose life was completely turned around by the sight of the resurrected Christ, all unite in their testimony to a living Lord.

 

The Living Lord: the evidence goes far beyond an empty tomb. A crucified Man on a cross with head bowed in death was the last sight the world had of Him. ?He showed Himself alive after His passion, by many infallible proofs? (Acts 1:3).

 

The Apostle John in describing the scene at the tomb uses three words for ?see? (John 20:1-8). John first saw the linen clothes lying in the tomb (v.5) Peter then beheld the linen clothes (v.6) and then John saw and believed. John?s first look only convinced him that the linen clothes were there but his second close view convinced him that the body of the Lord Jesus was no longer in the clothes. They were not unwound, they lay collapsed in the very place where the body had been. John was soon to learn the meaning of that which was revealed to him by that closer look at the empty tomb.

 

It was the evening of the same day, the first day of the week, in an upper room with locked doors, that a company was gathered. Into the midst of those fearful disciples stepped a Man with the marks of a terrible death upon Him.

 

It was necessary for Him first to calm them, so He spoke peace to their souls and then showed them nail-printed hands and spear-torn side. No wonder that Thomas who was absent was quickly told of the amazing sight, but like many a man since he answered, ?I will not believe.? The scene is now set for that next first day of the week when the disciples were gathered and Thomas with them. ?Then came Jesus, the doors being shut and stood in the midst and said, Peace be unto you? (John 20:26). It is unlikely that Thomas ever extended his finger to feel the hole where the nail had been driven, or thrust his hand into the side of the Saviour. The risen Christ did appear many times to His own, He did walk and talk with them, and invited them to handle Him and see that His was a real body of flesh and bones but for Thomas that day all doubt was past. Before the resurrected Christ there is only one appropriate attitude and Thomas expressed the language of every believing heart when he exclaimed ?My Lord and My God.?