Christianity is the religion of the Empty Tomb. The central person in Christianity is one who died a sacrificial death, was buried, and after three days experienced a glorious resurrection to immortality. He who became man's Substitute and died for the sins of the world has risen from the dead. He is living today at God's right hand in glory and immortality. He said, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev. 1:18).
I. Importance of His Resurrection
1. Fundamental Theme of the Gospel. Our Lord's resurrection is a fundamental theme of the gospel. Paul indicated that Christianity rises or falls on the truthfulness of the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. (1 Cor. 15:12-20.) It is a vital part of the gospel message. "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
2. Essential to Salvation. Belief in Christ's resurrection is essential to salvation. Paul said, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:9).
3. Application of Salvation Made Possible. The resurrection of Christ is of major importance in regard to the application of salvation. The sacrifice of Christ provided the basis of salvation; the resurrection of Christ makes possible the application of salvation. God has raised His sacrificial Lamb from the dead and has exalted Him at His own right hand so that Christ might be Head of the Church and Lord of believers. The power of the risen Christ indwells believers and applies the benefits and results of salvation to their hearts. As the living High Priest at God's throne, He makes intercession and acts as advocate for the believer.
4. Message of the New Testament Church. Our Saviour's resurrection was the outstanding message of the New Testament Church. Faith in His resurrection transformed the lives of the apostles and made the Church a tremendous influence in winning thousands to Christ. The resurrection of Christ was an important message of the Apostle Peter. (Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 1 Pet. 1:21.) In his sermons and letters, Paul gave special emphasis to the truth that Christ has risen from the dead. (Acts 13:30, 34; 17:3, 31; Rom. 1:4; 4:24, 25; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:14; 2 Tim. 2:8.)
II. Old Testament Prophecies
The Old Testament contains five major prophecies concerning Christ's resurrection: Psalm 16:9, 10; 22:22-31; 118:22-24; Isa. 53:10; Job 19:25. Psalm 16:9, 10 is referred to by Peter (Acts 2:25- 31) and by Paul (Acts 13:33-37) in proclaiming Christ's resurrection. Psalm 22:22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12, and Psalm 118:22 is quoted in Acts 4:10, 11 as proof of the resurrection of Christ.
III. Old Testament Types
1. Jonah in the Great Fish. Our Saviour taught that Jonah's being in the great fish three days and three nights was a picture of His own death, burial, and resurrection. He said, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40).
2. Feast of the Firstfruits. The second religious feast of Israel was the Feast of the Firstfruits. (Lev. 23:9-14.) It was preceded by the Feast of Passover. At the Feast of the Firstfruits, Israelites brought the first fruits of the spring harvest unto the Lord and offered them before Him. The Israelites recognized that everything they possessed came from God. They offered the first of the harvest in recognition of His complete ownership. The Feast of Passover typified Christ's death; the Feast of the Firstfruits pictured His resurrection. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (I Cor. 15:20). Christ is the first to be raised from the dead to immortality.
3. Sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham believed in God's power to raise the dead. God had promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations, and Abraham had faith in God's faithfulness to fulfill His covenant. When Abraham, in obedience to God's instructions, offered his only son, Isaac, as an offering, he knew that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham indicated this belief in his words to the two young men, "I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you" (Gen. 22:5). Isaac, of course, did not die as a burnt offering; a ram was offered in his place. The offering of Isaac pictured Christ's sacrifice; Isaac's return with Abraham typified Christ's resurrection. "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Heb. 11:17-19).
4. Aaron's Rod That Budded. To prove that Aaron was authorized to be Israel's high priest, God performed a miracle in which Aaron's rod budded. (Num. 16:1-17:13.) "And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds" (Num. 17:8). The fact that life came forth from Aaron's rod pictures Christ's resurrection from death. The budding of Aaron's rod vindicated his high priesthood; our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has risen from the dead and serves as our Lord, Advocate, and Intercessor.
IV. Our Lord's Predictions
Jesus told His followers that He would rise from the dead. The disciples, however, did not comprehend the meaning of His words until after His resurrection. "When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:22).
Christ's predictions concerning His resurrection follow: "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (Matt. 16:21; also, Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22). "And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry" (Matt. 17:23; also, Mark 9:31; Luke 9:43). "And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again" (Matt. 20:19; also, Mark 10:34; Luke 18:33). "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead" (Matt. 17:9; also, Mark 9:9). "Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three davs? But he spake of the temple of his body" (John 2:19-21). "Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again" (Matt. 27:63).
V. Proof of Christ's Resurrection
The resurrection of Christ is one of the best established facts of history. There is more evidence to prove the certainty of His resurrection than there is any other event. The historical account of His resurrection is recorded by all four biographers of His earthly ministry: Matt. 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 24:1-48; John 20:1-29; 21:1-25.
The two major proofs of Christ's resurrection are: (1) the empty tomb and (2) the appearances of Christ to His disciples after His resurrection. The changed lives of the apostles, the formation and continued existence of the Church, and the writing of the New Testament are additional evidences of His resurrection and heavenly ministry.
1. The Empty Tomb. One major proof of our Lord's resurrection is that the tomb in which He was buried became empty. This fact was discovered by the women who came to the tomb on Easter morning. The disciples, Peter and John, verified this truth when they entered the empty tomb and saw the clothes in which Jesus was buried. The angel proclaimed the fact that the tomb was empty: "He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matt. 28:5, 6). The soldier guards reported to the Sanhedrin that the tomb was empty. (Matt. 28:11-15.) The chief priests did not investigate the guards' report; they apparently had no doubt that the tomb was empty.
An interesting account of the location of the tomb of Jesus has been written by Henry H. Halley in his Pocket Bible Handbook, pp. 491-493.
2. Christ's Appearances After Resurrection. Our Lord's resurrection is proved by the fact that He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. Jesus remained on earth forty days after His resurrection. During, this time, He appeared to His disciples on at least eleven different occasions. At one time He was seen by more than five hundred witnesses. Forty is a Bible number which denotes testing and proving. During the forty days between Christ's resurrection and ascension, He proved that He had risen from the dead.
The risen Christ appeared to: (1) the women who came to the tomb and were returning after they saw the angel who announced Christ's resurrection (Matt. 28:9, 10) ; (2) Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-17) ; (3) Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); (4) two disciples who were walking to Emmaus on Easter afternoon (Luke 24:13-31) ; (5) the ten apostles at the time of the evening meal on Easter (John 20:19-23; 1 Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:36-48); (6) the eleven, including Thomas, one week later (John 20:26- 29); (7) seven disciples who were fishing at the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14) ; (8) the eleven disciples on an appointed mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20) ; (9) more than five hundred brethren (1 Cor.15:6) ; (10) James, probably the half-brother of Jesus (I Cor. 15:7) ; and (11) all the apostles on the Mount of Olives immediately before His ascension (Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:3-9; 1 Cor. 15:7).
After His ascension, Jesus appeared to Stephen (Acts 7:55, 56), to Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-8; 26:16-18; 1 Cor. 15:8; 1 Cor. 9:1), to Paul in Arabia, to Paul in the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 22:17, 18), to Paul in prison (Acts 23:11), and to John at Patmos (Rev. 1:10-18).
VI. False Theories Concerning His Resurrection
1. The Swoon Theory. Some men teach that Jesus did not really die; He only swooned. They declare that He became unconscious and was mistakenly considered dead. They say the cool air of the tomb and the aroma of spices revived Him after a short time. Men who advocate this theory forget that Jesus was officially pronounced dead at the cross. His death was so certain that the soldiers did not bother to break His legs. "When they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs; but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:33, 34).
2. The Stolen Body Theory. Other men who deny our Saviour's resurrection teach that His body was stolen. Some say that His enemies stole His body; others, that His friends stole His body. Why should Christ's enemies have wanted to steal His body? If they had done so, they certainly would have produced Him to disprove the apostles' teaching of His resurrection. If His disciples had attempted to steal His body, the Roman guards would have killed them.
3. The Wrong Tomb Theory. One of the most absurd false theories concerning Christ's resurrection is that the women went to the wrong tomb. Men who hold this theory explain that the women were so filled with sorrow that they mistakenly went to the wrong tomb. The women who were present when Jesus was buried, however, would not easily have forgotten that tomb. (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:46, 47; Luke 23:55, 56.) Moreover, Peter and John later visited the same empty tomb. They expressed no doubt about the place of burial. The presence of the angels and linens was proof that they visited the correct tomb.
4. The Vision Theory. Another false theory advocated by skeptics is that what people thought was the risen Christ was only a vision. They say the disciples wanted Jesus to rise again so intensely that they imagined they saw Him. Our Lord's appearance to the disciples was not the product of their imaginations. Although Jesus foretold His resurrection, the disciples through unbelief were not expecting Him to rise from the dead. His many appearances to them after His resurrection proved that He had literally risen from the dead and changed their unbelief into implicit faith.
5. The Disembodied Person Theory. Men who believe Plato's teachings concerning the sinfulness of matter assert that Christ's body remained dead, only His "spirit" arose. This view, held by many modern cults, rejects the bodily resurrection of Christ. Our Lord, however, experienced a bodily resurrection. He proved to His disciples that He had a real body of flesh and bones. (Luke 24:37- 43.) The Bible's teachings concerning the resurrection disprove false theories concerning the sinfulness of matter and the soul's immortality.
VII. Nature of Christ's Resurrection
1. An Actual Resurrection. Jesus experienced a real death and a real resurrection. He actually died. Like other men, He was unconscious in death; His brain ceased to function. There was no part of Him that continued to have conscious existence while He was dead. He remained buried in the grave until His resurrection. The theory that Jesus went to preach to dead people during the time He was in the grave is based upon a completely false interpretation of Scripture. As was His death, so was His resurrection. Jesus actually rose from the dead. He experienced a literal resurrection. The Lamb who died was raised to life through the power of God. His resurrection was not merely the survival of some immaterial essence; it was a real, literal return to life.
2. A Bodily Resurrection. The risen Christ has a real, literal, material, physical body. The Bible knows of no resurrection unless it is a bodily resurrection. Resurrection miracles of the Old Testament and New Testament were phvsical resurrections. When raised at Christ's return, Christians will have real, material bodies. When raised in the final resurrection, the wicked will have real bodies. In their mortal physical bodies, the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire to be destroyed in the second death. Scripture knows of no resurrection unless it is bodily in nature.
Jesus had a material body after His resurrection. He could be seen by men's eyes. (Luke 24:40.) He could be touched with their hands. (Luke 24:39; John 20:27; Matt. 28:9.) He declared that He had a real body of flesh and bones. (Luke 24:39.) As proof, He ate honey and fish in their presence. (Luke 24:41-43; Acts 10:41.) He had the same body He had at death. The nail prints were in His hands and feet, and the wound was in His side. (John 20:25-27.) They who saw Him recognized Him as the same Jesus who had been crucified and buried in the tomb.
3. Raised to Immortality. Our Saviour rose from death to immortality. He is no longer subject to death. "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). He said, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen" (Rev. 1:18). Jesus is the first person to be raised from the dead with an immortal body. He is described as "the firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1:18) and "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). "He should be the first that should rise from the dead" (Acts 26:23). Jesus was the first to rise from the dead never to die again. In the Bible resurrection miracles, men were restored to the mortal nature they had before death; they all died again. Jesus, on the other hand, was raised immortal and can never die again. Believers will be raised to immortality when Christ returns.
VIII. Results of Christ's Resurrection
1. Proved His Divine Sonship. Christ's resurrection proved that He is the Son of God. "Concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3, 4). Jesus became the Son of God at His birth. His resurrection proved the fact which was already a reality.
2. His Sacrifice Accepted. God showed that He accepted Christ's sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). As Erich Sauer wrote: "The cross is the victory, the resurrection the triumph; but the victory is more important than the triumph, although the latter necessarily follows from it. The resurrection is the public display of the victory, the triumph of the Crucified One" (The Triumph of the Crucified, p. 32).
Spiritual blessings based upon the merits of Christ's sacrificial death can be bestowed upon believers because He has risen from the dead. Having been raised from the dead, He has become Head of the Church, Lord of believers, and the source of newness of life for Christians. He can work through His transforming power and give them the riches of salvation.
3. Resurrection for Believers Guaranteed. Christ's resurrection guarantees the Christian's future resurrection. He said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." Believers can declare with confidence, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Because Christ, the Head of the Church, was raised to immortality on that first Easter, one can be assured that the Church, the Body of Christ, will be raised to immortality when He returns. He stands alone as an illustration and a preview of what God will do to all believers when Jesus comes again. No scoffer can deny God's ability to raise the dead nor object to the reality of the believer's future immortal nature. God demonstrated the working of His mighty power when He raised Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19, 20) and revealed the nature of immortality in the resurrection body of our exalted Lord.
4. A Day of Judgment Made Certain. The fact that God raised His Son from the dead makes certain a future day of judgment. The Lamb of God, whom God raised from the dead, some day will perform His work as King and Judge. "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; where of he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30, 31).
5. Assures Christ's Find Triumph Over Death. The resurrection of Christ assures His final triumph over all enemies, including death. After the wicked have been destroyed and all sin has been removed from earth, death itself will be destroyed. "For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:25, 26).
(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)
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