“I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.” (Rev. 1:18)
There is no more important lesson in the Gospel than that of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. The death of Jesus shows us His love, and the love of the Father on our behalf. But in the Divine Plan, in order for the proper benefit to come to man from the death of Jesus, He must rise from the dead; He must become the Captain of our salvation, as well as our Ransomer. A dead Christ could not be our Savior; as it is declared, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” (John 14:19)
We must have the Truth on this subject: our Lord really died. There was no sham about it; He was not, as some erroneously suppose, more alive than ever while apparently dead. In our Lord’s own words, “I am he that liveth, and was dead.” He was dead in the same sense exactly that Adam was dead, for He died as Adam’s substitute, to take his place under the Divine sentence or curse of original sin, thus to make possible the release of Adam and all of his posterity from that sentence. As Jesus did not in death go to a place of eternal torment, neither did Adam go to a place of torment, nor was anything of the kind implied in the sentence upon him, contrary to the teachings of most denominations of Christendom.
The Scriptures are plain enough in their declaration that the Lord was dead, not alive. To prevent any misunderstanding they make very plain that not merely was our Lord’s body dead, but Hissoul was dead; as we read, “He hath poured out his soul unto death;” He made “his soul an offering for sin;” and again, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” (Isa. 53:10-12) And the Prophet David states prophetically, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” (in sheol, in hades, the tomb, the state of death). (Psa. 16:10) The Apostle Peter tells us these words refer not to David, but to our Lord; that His soul, being, was not left in the tomb; that He was raised from the dead on the third day. (Acts 2:24-27)
To suppose anything else than that our Lord was actually dead would be to suppose that Calvary was all a mockery, a farce, and that our Lord as a spirit being stepped out of the mortal body and deceived Hisexecutioners, allowing them to suppose that they killed Him, while He was more alive than ever. Scriptural declarations are quite to the contrary of this, and we must stand fast by the Word of God to avoid confusion. During the Dark Ages the theory was foisted upon the Church that a man appearing to die did not really die, but became more alive than ever. Upon this false premise various delusive errors have been built – spiritism, mysticism, eternal torment, purgatory, prayers for the dead, etc.
It is our contention that all Bible scholars are aware of the truth of what we set forth here, but few of them are willing to undertake to combat the error which has become so firmly lodged in the human mind, fearing the loss of influence, honor among men, and salary.
CEMETERIES ARE SLEEPING PLACES
The word cemetery signifies a sleeping place, a thought fully consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures. Because of our faith in God’s promise of a resurrection of the dead we, like the writers of the Bible, speak of death as a sleep. Thus, in the Old Testament it is said of all the prophets and kings that they “slept with” their fathers. Likewise, in the New Testament, Luke says of Stephen, “He fell asleep” to await the awakening time in the resurrection morning. Similarly, the Apostle Paul speaks of the dead in Christ being awakened in that glorious morning, and he even calls our attention to the fact that the whole world may be properly said to “sleep in Jesus,” because our Lord by His death redeemed the whole world of mankind and broke their death sentence and will in due time awaken them all in the resurrection morning. Thus the Apostle, in writing to the Church respecting their dead and dying friends, both in and out of Christ, says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died [as the Ransom price for original sin, on behalf of the whole human race] and rose again [to be the deliverer of the race from the bonds of sin and death], even so them also [let us believe also] which sleep in Jesus [whose death through His merit has been changed to a sleep] will God bring with [by] him [from the dead].” (1 Thess. 4:13,14) This is in harmony with the Father’s arrangement for a resurrection “both of the just and unjust” to be accomplished by the Lord Jesus, His honored representative. (Acts 24:15)
In this connection let us remember our Lord’s words, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth.” (John 5:28,29) We call attention to the word “graves” in this text. The word here rendered “graves” is not the Greek hades, which is the equivalent of sheol in the Hebrew; both these words signify the death state. The word translated graves in this text is a different one, namely, the Greek word mnemeion, which signifies remembrance. The proper thought then is that our friends and neighbors of the world of mankind are not blotted out of existence, but are still in Divine “remembrance.” They are subjects of Divine power and will eventually be released from the great prison-house of death by Him who bought us all with His own precious blood.
RESURRECTION HOPES AND JOYS
Joy fills our hearts when we consider the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and think of the resurrection morning of the Millennial Day, with its promise that the Lord God shall wipe away all tears from off all faces, and there shall be no more sighing, no more crying, no more dying, because all the former things shall have passed away! (Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4) But despite this promise, the resurrection does not hold its proper place in the minds of the majority of Christian people for the same reason that the second coming of Christ has lost its proper relationship to their faith.
The fault lies in the fact that the Scriptural promises have been replaced by another unscriptural hope – a hope that men do not die but pass immediately into glory or immediately into eternal anguish. To those who thus misread their Bibles, the word resurrection has little real significance. To them it is not only a needless and useless proposition but a very inconvenient one. They ask, “Why have a resurrection for those who have gone to eternal joy in heaven? Why have a resurrection for those who have passed into eternal torment? What is to be gained?”
Very true, we answer! Under such conditions a resurrection would be of no value and would have no place, but those are not the conditions. The dead are dead; they have neither joy nor suffering while they sleep. They know nothing of the lapse of time; the awakening moment to each will be the next in consciousness to the one when they died. From this standpoint the resurrection is all important; without it there could be no future life or bliss.
Our dear Redeemer indicated that the blessing of the world depended upon their hearing His voice and coming forth from the prison-house of death, the tomb, to hear the good tidings, to be judged or tested as to their willingness to obey. All who will obey the commands of the great King shall by His judgments then abroad in the earth be brought to perfection and life eternal, while the disobedient at heart shall ultimately be destroyed in the Second Death. (John 5:25; Acts 3:23)
The Apostle Paul wrote a wonderful chapter (1 Cor. 15) fully setting forth this doctrine. Without a resurrection, he says, all our hopes and preaching are vain, and all those who have already died are perished. (1 Cor. 15:14-18) The Apostle was writing to those who believed in the resurrection of Jesus, but who disbelieved in the necessity for their own resurrection. His argument is very plain: If the dead do not rise, then Christ did not rise. If Christ did not rise, the basis of all our hope and faith is gone; and if Christ did rise from the dead we must logically believe that the resurrection of His followers will be like His.
Indeed, as the Apostle again says, the resurrection of the Church is spoken of as being Christ’s resurrection, having a share in Christ’s resurrection; in coming forth the Church will share the same kind of resurrection as our Lord, be like Him – put to death in the flesh they will be quickened in spirit, sown in corruption they will be raised in incorruption, sown in weakness they will be raised in power, sown natural (animal) bodies they will be raised spiritual bodies. (1 Cor. 15:42-44) All who are transferred from Adam to Christ and accepted of God as members of the Body of Christ, members of the Bride of Christ, have His new nature, are begotten of the Spirit and will in the resurrection be spirit beings like their Lord and Head.
If our Lord became the first-fruits of them that slept, did He not sleep? And do not the others sleep? And if He was awakened, raised from the dead by the Father’s power, must not all be awakened and lifted up? A first-fruits implies after-fruits. The Scriptures point out that the Church is included with the Lord as a part of the first-fruits, “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (Jas. 1:18) Thus the resurrection of the Christ began with the resurrection of our Lord and will be consummated with the change of the last member of the Church, which is His Body. The first-fruits will then be complete.
But this will not consummate the Divine Plan: “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming [presence].” (1 Cor. 15:23) It is God’s intention to have a great harvest of after-fruits, which will be gathered during the Millennial Age. The resurrection of the remainder of mankind will be to earthly conditions, a gradual uplifting to the full perfection of human nature, all that Adam originally had but lost, plus experience. Our Lord’s presence (parousia) will continue for a thousand years for the purpose of judging the world under favorable conditions of knowledge and opportunity, assisting those who will be glad to go up on the Highway of Holiness to perfection, to full recovery out of sin and death. (Isa. 35:8-10) That noble company will be the after-fruits of the Divine Plan.
Earth as well as heaven will be filled with the glory of God when all evil doers have been cut off; and every voice in heaven and earth shall be heard praising Him who sits upon the throne and the Lamb for the grand consummation of the Divine Plan! (Rev. 5:13)
When we properly grasp the importance of the resurrection of Jesus, we understand why the very detailed description of it is given us in the Gospels. Without faith in the resurrection of Jesus we cannot have faith in the merit of His death, in the sufficiency of His sin-offering on our behalf. Consequently we cannot be certain of our own resurrection, the salvation which shall be brought unto us at the revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:13)
Since the Apostles and the five hundred converts to our Lord’s teaching at the time were natural men, they needed such proofs as would appeal to the natural mind. Likewise, the message of our Lord’s death and resurrection has gone to natural men all through the Gospel Age. The message must be plain and distinct so as to be understood by all. After the Apostles received the Holy Spirit they understood matters connected with our Lord’s death and resurrection which they did not understand before. It is similar with us; when we receive the Holy Spirit through the Word, we come to a deeper appreciation of the features of Divine Truth.
PUT TO DEATH IN THE FLESH, QUICKENED IN SPIRIT
Our Lord took the human nature not with the object of keeping it to all eternity; He took it that He might be able to present the ransom-sacrifice on our behalf; that He might die as the man Christ Jesus for the man Adam and his posterity who inherited his death penalty. The death of Jesus finished the work which He came to do, as His dying words show: “It is finished.” (John 19:30) There was no reason for Him to be raised a human being, but every reason for Him not to be. As a human being He would have been limited in His power, talents, dignities, and honors and would thus have been forever humiliated as the result of the great work which He accomplished in obedience to the Father’s program.
This would be quite the opposite of what the Apostle points out when he declares that God raised Jesus from the dead and highly exalted Him far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named. (Phil. 2:9; Eph. 1:21) It is evident then that He does not now have a human nature but, as the Scriptures declare, a Divine nature, for the human nature, instead of being far above that of angels, is “a little lower than the angels.” (Psa. 8:5)
Our Lord was “put to death in the flesh” but not quickened or made alive or resurrected in the flesh. As the Apostle declared, He was quickened (made alive) in spirit, a spirit being of the highest order, changed from mortal to immortal, because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Cor. 15:45,50)
THE LESSONS TAUGHT
Our Lord’s followers learned two great lessons: (1) Their Master was no longer dead but alive, risen from the dead; (2) He was no longer the man Christ Jesus, but Jesus changed, glorified. “Now the Lord is that Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
How could His followers learn these lessons, given they were, as our Lord says, “slow of heart to believe,” because they were natural men with natural minds, naturally disposed to think of things only upon the earthly, fleshly plane? (Luke 24:25) Our Lord made very clear to their natural senses the fact of His resurrection by removing His body from the tomb, by the vision of angels speaking of our Lord as risen, by the clothes and napkins lying in their places as though they had been laid aside by one awakening from sleep.
To emphasize this lesson our Lord, although a spirit being, appeared to the disciples in bodies of flesh which He permitted to be touched on one or two occasions. But to guard against the idea that He was still man, lest they should lose sight of the fact that He was a spirit being appearing as a man (as the angels had frequently done in the past), our Lord appeared in various forms, once as a gardener, once as a stranger traveling to Emmaus, once as a stranger on the shore of Galilee calling to the fishermen and directing them where to cast their nets, and twice in the upper room. There He demonstrated that He was not a man by coming and going while the doors were shut. In these various ways the Lord demonstrated the double lesson, and remained with His disciples forty days that these lessons might be well learned – first, that He was risen; secondly, that He was changed and was no longer the man Christ Jesus.
It is no wonder that the early Church gradually changed the day specially set apart for Divine worship from the seventh day to the first day of the week. This was done in appreciation of the value of our Lord’s resurrection on that day and the fact that they were no longer Jews under the Jewish Law. It was not done with any law or command, but simply of good will and of choice, since to the Christian every day is a Sabbath, a holy day in which he is not to do anything which would be wrong or displeasing to the Lord. The custom is a beautiful one and all who love the Lord and appreciate the value of His resurrection must esteem the first day of the week on that account. It was made sacred by our Lord’s resurrection; it became, therefore, to His followers the day of hope.
The Gospels give various accounts of the resurrection morning. Mary Magdalene was one of the first at the sepulcher while it was yet dark. With her were Mary (mother of James), Salome, and Joanna. (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10) On their way they had been wondering who would roll away the stone from the mouth of the sepulcher that they might enter with their spices to complete the embalming work which was stopped two evenings before due to the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.
They were surprised to find the stone already rolled away. When they saw that the Lord’s body was not there, Mary Magdalene hastened to the home of John, with whom Peter was lodging, and told them. The other women left to communicate the news to the other disciples. The two Apostles ran to the sepulcher. John, the younger, outrunning Peter, arrived there first. Awestricken, John stooped down and looked in. When Peter arrived, he entered followed by John. They found things as Mary had described them: the body gone and the linen cloths lying there. Troubled and perplexed they went their way. Although they then believed that Mary’s story was true, that His body had been removed, they did not yet believe that the Lord had risen, “For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.” (John 20:9)
Mary returned to the tomb filled with sorrow; she was weeping and saying in her heart: They might at least have left us the body of our Lord. She looked again into the sepulcher and saw two angels who said, “Why weepest thou?” intimating that there was no cause for weeping and thus helping to prepare Mary for the next step in our Lord’s revealing. Something called her attention backward and she saw a man. Supposing Him to be the gardener, she appealed to Him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” Then Jesus, who had hidden His identity by appearing as a gardener, revealed Himself through the tone of His voice which she so well knew, uttering her name only. In a moment the truth flashed upon her mind and she cried, “Rabboni; which is to say, Master.” (John 20:11-16)
Sometimes it is with us as it was with Mary. Sorrow fills our hearts and we cannot see the streams of joy and everlasting blessing which the Lord has for us; not until we hear His voice, His word, do we appreciate the Truth. But all who know the Master truly know His voice, know His message, know His spirit, His disposition. As He Himself expressed it, His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him; they do not recognize the voice of strangers. (John 10:3-5)
In her joy, Mary was apparently about to grasp the Lord by the feet, but He told her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” Our Lord charged Mary to take the message to the Apostles: “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17) Delivering this message was a service she could render to the Lord and to the Apostles.
The lesson for us is obvious. We, too, have heard of the death and resurrection of Jesus and additionally have learned of God’s grace through Him, and it is our privilege to carry the message to all of the brethren wherever they may be, to all who have the hearing ear.
Our Lord’s declaration that He had not yet ascended to the Father emphasizes the fact that He did not go to heaven when He died, but into the tomb, into the state of death. It emphasizes also the fact that He is our Elder Brother, the forerunner into the Father’s presence and into the glories which God hath in reservation for all those that love Him.
IT IS SOWN, IT IS RAISED
We call attention to the words of the Apostle describing the resurrection change of the Church. He says, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural [animal] body; it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44)
Since the Church’s resurrection is really a share or part of Christ’s resurrection, the First Resurrection, these words must also describe our Lord’s resurrection. We ask: What was sown and what was raised? We answer: It was our Lord’s soul or being. When He was thirty years of age He was simply the perfect one, a man separate from sinners. But when He consecrated Himself at baptism and was begotten of the Holy Spirit, He was then a New Creature in embryo. It was our Lord the New Creature who was the heir of all things, the High Priest whose privilege it was to sacrifice. He sacrificed His flesh, His earthly nature, which He covenanted to the Lord at His baptism. He finished the work of sacrificing at Calvary; for parts of three days He was dead, but when the resurrection moment came and the Father raised Him up by His own power, He did not raise up the sacrificed flesh but the New Creature, the “it” to which the Apostle refers, the “it” which was sown, buried in the flesh, in dishonor, with the wicked and the rich. “It” was raised the third day to glory, honor and immortality, the Divine nature. In other words the New Creature was perfected by being given a new body.
All members of the Church while in the flesh have been, like their Lord was, dual beings. They have been reckoned as New Creatures while their mortal bodies have been reckoned dead. With the death of the mortal flesh, the New Creature will be perfected by being granted a new body, a resurrection body. Let us remember the Apostle’s words: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things…That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (Phil. 3:8-10)
The above is based on Reprint 4174. The language has been updated and it has been condensed to fit the space. While the primary application of these thoughts would be to the Church, it has a secondary application to the Youthful Worthies, who have the “faith of Abraham.” Having this faith quality, they heed the Lord’s invitation to consecrate and give Him their hearts.