Once every year all Christendom commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. The day has been called “Easter,” a word that occurs only one time in the Bible, and there it is translated from the Greek word “pascha” which means “passover.” There’s not a single record in the Bible that the early disciples of Jesus ever celebrated what they called an Easter day, but instead, the first day of every week was Resurrection day to them.
The word “Easter” is derived from the Old English word “Eoster,” the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. The practice of an Easter celebration is really a religious tradition without any Scriptural foundation at all. Many children in our day are more familiar with the words “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” than they are with the words “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Easter parades, Easter bonnets, Easter eggs, Easter baskets, and Easter hats have stolen the show—and are distracting from the glorious truth that Christ arose from the grave.
There is not only an abuse of Easter, but there is untold confusion and misunderstanding about the whole subject of the resurrection. The word “resurrection” in the Greek language means literally “to stand again.” When a man dies, his body becomes cold and still, and a few days later it’s placed into a grave—but some day it will stand again. The “resurrection” always refers to the body, never to the soul, because the soul never dies. Even the Greek philosophers of Paul’s day believed that the soul lives on and on, but what they emphatically denied, was the resurrection of the body. And so when we speak about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we simply mean that the very body which was drained of its blood on Calvary, and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, was on the third day raised from the dead. We want to think about several aspects of Christ’s resurrection:
1. The Prediction of His Resurrection
On a number of occasions, Jesus had told His disciples that He would be killed, and that on the third day He would rise again. Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples 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.” Notice how clearly Jesus says that He must not only be killed, but that He must also be raised again the third day. Surely it is significant that Jesus was so definite about this prediction. He didn’t say that some day He would rise again, but He said He would rise on the third day. Now that was some claim for Jesus to make. Not just any person can make a claim like that! It wasn’t so much for Him to say that He would be killed. The rising tide of antagonism against Him during the months that preceded His crucifixion made this seem possible. But for Jesus to say that He would rise again (and that on the third day), this was a tremendous claim to make. Can any man ever dare to say that Jesus Christ was not God? Jesus was raised from the tomb on the very day He said He would arise. Jesus was not declared to be the Son of God because He worked miracles, but He was declared to be God’s Son, “by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). God passed by every other grave in all the world on that first Resurrection morning, and centered upon the tomb of Jesus Christ, and raised Him out from among the dead—and by so doing, pointed Him out as being the unique Son of God. And since Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead in His own body on the third day, as He so many times predicted, we have every reason to accept all that Jesus Christ said as being valid and true.
2. The Proof of His Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best established facts in all history. There is more actual proof that Jesus Christ arose from the grave, than there is for the fact that Columbus discovered America, or that George Washington was the first President of the United States. The Bible says in Acts 1:3 that “He showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
After Jesus had died, they wound His body (as the Jewish custom was) in the grave-clothes and laid it in the tomb. A great stone was rolled over the door of the sepulchre and it was sealed with a wax seal. And then (as if this were not enough), they put an armed Roman guard in front of the sepulchre to guard it. Jesus was dead; He was bound in grave-clothes; there was a great stone over the door; there was a wax seal over the entrance; and there was an armed guard watching the tomb. The forces of the enemy were all set. But after men and devils had done everything they could possibly do to keep Him in the tomb, still He came forth. And once again the devil was defeated! If the Lord’s enemies had not sealed the tomb and set Roman soldiers on guard, they may well have claimed that Jesus was stolen out of the tomb. But now because the seculphre had been sealed and so carefully guarded, this explanation became impossible, and so they spread the ridiculous lie that His disciples came by night and stole away the body of Jesus while the guards slept. But how did those Roman soldiers know what happened while they slept? How far do you think that kind of a testimony would go in the civil courts of our land? The judge doesn’t want to know what happened while the “witness” was sleeping; he wants to know what the witness actually saw.
We are faced with the fact of His empty tomb. Either His disciples came and stole the body, or His enemies took it away, or a wild beast devoured it, or He supernaturally arose from the grave. As for the first charge, it is certain that His disciples did not steal the body, for John 20:19 says that they were locked behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. The second explanation is simply ridiculous. Our Lord’s enemies didn’t want His body. They wanted Him dead and buried; that’s why they appointed a guard of Roman soldiers—they wanted Him in the tomb, and they wanted to be sure He would stay there. And the likelihood that a wild beast devoured Him has no foundation at all. There was the Roman guard, the heavy stone, the wax seal, and the grave-clothes left in an orderly position. And so there is only one conclusion: (and this is the answer of the Bible), Jesus Christ was supernaturally raised from the dead by the power of God.
3. The Preeminence of the Resurrection
The theme of the resurrection of the body, is given more space in the New Testament than any other basic Christian doctrine except for the crucifixion of our Lord. The message of the resurrection had filled the hearts of the disciples of the early Church. It was the theme of all their preaching. They didn’t wait until Easter to preach a sermon on the resurrection. Every sermon they preached made mention of the resurrection. Wherever they went, they preached that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He rose again—and they did this because the resurrection gives meaning to the whole story of redemption. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ birth is meaningless, His life is meaningless, His death is meaningless, and His second coming is meaningless. The resurrection gives meaning to the whole account of redemption. Jesus could never come back for His own if He were still in a Palestinian grave. In fact, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that “If Christ be not risen … our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain.” In other words, if the body of Jesus still lies in a Syrian tomb, we may as well tear up our Bibles and forget the whole hope of redemption. But thank God today, Jesus is alive!
4. The Power of His Resurrection
When Paul spoke of the great power of God, he referred not to God’s power in creation (as awesome and great as that was), but to the power of Christ’s resurrection. Ephesians 1:19, 20 says, “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” I believe that the greatest power God ever demonstrated, was the power that He used to raise Jesus from the dead. The forces of Hell were marshalled at that moment as never before in history, to prevent the resurrection of Jesus—but God put forth His mighty hand, and loosed the pains of death, and Jesus Christ arose! The greatest demonstration of God’s power in all the world was manifested in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
But do you know that the same power which God used to raise Christ from the dead, is now the power that works in us to live a holy life? I used to think that God is that all-powerful Being who lives way off there in the heavens somewhere. But notice, Paul speaks of “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” This same power is available to us! Listen—if Almighty God had enough power to bring life into a dead body, and to bring His Son out of the cold tomb—He has enough power to put fire into our cold hearts, and to transform our lives, and to give us victory over our sins! God’s power is made available to us, if we want it. The trouble is, we too often say, “But I inherited this bad temper from my father; he couldn’t get along with people; when everything went wrong, he got red in the face, and scolded people; I inherited that from him.” Others say, “Well, it runs in our family,” and this and that, and the other thing. We justify ourselves by saying, “We’ve all got our weaknesses; I have mine and you have yours; we’re all human you know; we all make mistakes.” To use that kind of deception to cover up so that we can keep on sinning, is a dangerous thing. We must lay aside our own selfish interests, and as we study the Word, like Paul, we must seek to know Him and the power of His resurrection. We must be willing to submit our wills to God’s will, and let Him use that power in us.
5. The Purpose of the Resurrection
Some years ago, after a missionary in India had finished preaching in the market-place, a Mohammedan stepped up and said to the missionary: “You Christians must admit that we Mohammedans have one thing that you don’t have, and it’s better than anything you have.”
“And what is it you have?” asked the missionary.
The Mohammedan said, “When we go to Mecca, we can at least find a coffin, but when you Christians go to Jerusalem, you find nothing but an empty grave.”
“That’s just the difference,” said the missionary, “Mohammed is dead and in his coffin, but Christ is risen from the dead, and all power in Heaven and on earth is given unto Him—He’s alive forevermore. “
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis of our assurance that we shall live again after these bodies die. Jesus said, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is only the first in a series of resurrections that are still to come. Jesus said in John 5:28, “Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Notice several things that are taught here:
(1) There will be a resurrection. “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ never views life as complete here in this world. Physical death does not end it all; if a man dies, he will live again; there will be a resurrection.
(2) It will be a bodily resurrection. “All that are in the graves shall come forth.” It is the body that goes to the grave. Man’s body has not completed its function when it is laid aside in death. That body will some day be resurrected, and be reinvested with the spirit, and stand before God.
(3) It will be a universal resurrection. “Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves.” Even if your body is destroyed by fire, devoured by wild beasts, drowned in the sea, blown to bits by an atomic explosion—still that body will some day come forth. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 (speaking of the resurrection of the body), “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
(4) It will be a selective resurrection. It will be selective in the sense that there will be two distinct companies raised from the dead, on two separate occasions. The one group will be raised to life eternal, and the other group will be raised to everlasting damnation. “They that have done good (will be raised) unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Paul (in 1 Corinthians 15) describes the order of the resurrection. Beginning at verse 22, he says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own order:
- a. Christ the firstfruits;
- b. afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming;
- c. then cometh the end (the end ones), when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God.”
Paul says that all men will be resurrected, but not all at the same time. There will be three companies. One is already resurrected (referring to Jesus Christ), and is now in Heaven. The second company will be resurrected at the coming of Jesus Christ for the Church (referring to the dead in Christ). And the third company will be resurrected at the close of the kingdom-reign of Christ (referring to the unsaved dead).
“But,” somebody asks, “If there’s going to be a resurrection of the body, what is it going to be like?” The Scriptures are silent concerning the body with which the wicked dead will be raised. The unsaved dead will likely have the same body in the eternal world that they had here in this life. Their bodies will still be subject to pain and to suffering and to thirst. If you die unsaved—your body (which was a partner with your soul in sin here in this life), is going to share with your soul in that place of everlasting punishment. God is able to cast both body and soul into Hell. But for those who are dead “in Christ” and who will arise at the first resurrection—there’s going to be a new, changed body, fitted for the resurrection life. Our present body is corruptible; our future bodies will be incorruptible. Here in this life our hair gets grey and our eyes become dim, but in the life to come, there will be a permanence in which lovely things will never cease to be lovely. Our present body is sown in dishonor; our future bodies will be raised in glory. Our present body is sown in weakness; our future bodies will be raised in power. Our present bodies become weary and exhausted, but in the life to come, these limitations will be gone. Our new bodies will not be subject to weakness, and they’ll never grow weary. Withered arms will be made whole; blind eyes will see; and the lame will walk again!
Here in this life, our bodies are subject to the laws of nature, but in the life to come, they will be subject to the laws of the spirit-world. After our Lord’s resurrection, Jesus appeared and vanished at will. He entered rooms through closed doors. He traveled distances in short periods of time. Our bodies in the eternal world will be perfect, painless, sinless—not limited by space, not barred by locks, not hampered by distance—they’ll be like the resurrection body of Jesus Christ. We will have a new kind of body fitted for a new kind of life. Paul concludes his inspired explanation of the resurrection-body in 1 Corinthians 15 by saying, “And as we have born the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” We have bodies like Adam, but we shall have bodies like Christ. The Bible says, He “shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” Philippians 3:21. Surely we can repeat with joy the words of the Psalmist, when he said, “I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
The Epicureans of Paul’s day taught that one should make the best of life by getting all the pleasure out of it he can, for they said, you’re going to be a long time dead. They never thought of a resurrection. Herodotus, the Greek historian, says that it was a custom among the Egyptians (at the close of a banquet), to have a servant carry around a coffin (in which there was a wooden image of a corpse)—and as he showed it to each guest in turn, the servant would say, “Look carefully here—eat, drink, and be merry, for when you die, this is the way you’ll be.” We can see the echo of this same philosophy in our own day. There are those who say, “We had nothing to say about coming into the world, and there’s no telling what will happen when we leave it; so grit your teeth, and make up your mind that what can’t be cured must be endured, and have a good time!” But friends, the grave is not our goal. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a guarantee that all men shall stand before God. Living daily for Jesus Christ does have meaning. It has its disappointments and hard places, but if we live for Him, we can fall asleep in Christ, assured that when the trumpet shall sound, it will be our living Lord Himself, coming to lead us through the gates of glory into an eternal world of great and glorious things.
When that man of God (F. B. Meyer) was about to die, he wrote this letter to a Christian friend: “I have just heard (to my surprise) that I have only a few days to live. Perhaps before this letter reaches you, I will have entered my palace. Don’t trouble to write; we shall meet in the resurrection morning.” It is our prayer that each reader will have fallen at the foot of the cross, and cried out for mercy, and yielded his life to Jesus Christ—so that some day we may dwell in that land where there will be plenty without want, health without sickness, day without night, and life without death.