THE resurrection of jesus christ
The New Testament portion of our Readings today brings us to consider the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we meet together each Sunday to memorialise Messiah’s sacrifice, we also consider his resurrection, and his future return when by the grace of Yahweh, we shall be made like him: glorious in joyful immortality. It is appropriate therefore for us to consider the importance of our Lord’s resurrection for us – and remind ourselves of some of the principles that lie behind that momentous event.
Romans chapter 5 describes the importance of the resurrected life of Messiah:
“if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:10).
There are those who claim that the “life” that we are “saved by” is the mortal life of the Son of God, when he is alleged to have condemned sin, and overcame the impulses to transgress that he experienced during that life. But this overlooks the importance of the resurrected life of Messiah: it is because of his resurrected life that we can receive the atonement and be saved. So, Paul expressed the situation in the preceding chapter which describes the righteousness that comes by faith “if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). And again, speaking of the certainty of resurrection for the believers, he writes:
“… if the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept …” (1 Cor. 15:17-20).
The Scriptures are clear and consistent in teaching that we are saved by the transformed, immortal, resurrected life of the Son of God, whilst also being reconciled to God by means of his death. The hope that we have, is the hope of being raised like Messiah, to be partakers of his immortal nature, no longer subject to sin and death. In fact, this is not exclusively a New Testament idea as some have thought. The hope of resurrection was the hope of the faithful in Old Testament times. For instance, Job expressed his hope:
“and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:26-27).
Even in the depths of suffering, Job was resolute in his belief that he would ultimately be saved. He would “see God” “for himself”, and do so in his “flesh” – which requires him to be raised from the dead, and be restored to life.
Again, the Psalmist writes in a similar vein:
“As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psa. 17:15).
Here, the expectation was to “awake,” see the “face” of God, and be given the divine “likeness”. And bringing these two passages together, John exclaimed:
“Beloved, now are we the Sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1Jno. 3:2-3).
Notice that in this passage, there is a consequence in believing in the resurrection: those who have this hope will purify themselves, even as their Redeemer is pure. Seeking the resurrection, the believer seeks things that are above, where the resurrected Christ is:
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-3).
The situation could hardly be made any plainer: if we wish to appear with Christ in the resurrection to glory, honour, and immortality, we must seek those things that pertain to our risen Lord – heavenly things – where Christ sits. We seek to purify ourselves, even as he is pure. We use the present time of mortal weakness as a training ground for better things to come, preparing ourselves for the coming of the kingdom of God.
BEING MADE PERFECT
The Scriptures are also clear as to when Messiah was perfected. Hebrews 5:9 reads, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all they that obey him”. Jesus then, was “made perfect”. But when? Messiah himself answers this question: “… the third day I shall be perfected” (Lu. 13:32). The Lord then, was not “made perfect” until the third day—the day of his resurrection.
It is also written of Christ that “death hath no more dominion over him.” But when was that so? The whole verse reads:
“… knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9).
Again, we see that the point at which it could be said that death had no more dominion over Christ, was when he was raised from the dead. It is clear then, that it was the Resurrection when the Master obtained the victory over the law of sin and death.
Also, we read of Christ: “… when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8). The Scriptures are clear then, that Christs victory—when he led captivity captive—was when he ascended up on high. And this was clearly not until the resurrection following his death.
Returning to our theme of the importance of Christ’s resurrection for our lives, we find that just as Christ was raised up, even so we, who symbolically partaker of the death of Christ in our Baptism, should rise up to a new life of devotion to the doing of the Divine Will. So in Galatians 2:20 Paul describes his own experience:
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
And again, in Romans chapter 6, we read:
“know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection …” (Rom. 6:3-5).
Notice the point that is being made here: whilst it is true that we shall be physically in the likeness of his resurrection when we are raised personally, it is also true that “we also should walk in newness of life” now. We are to live now, as if we were already raised from the dead. As Paul expresses it later in the same Epistle: “let us walk honestly as in the day … but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:13). To walk “as in the day” is to live the standards of that day – i.e. the day of the coming kingdom – now. Sometimes folk suggest that we are behind the times in the standards of morality that we seek to adhere to, and that we are being old fashioned, needing to move forward with the times. But the truth of the matter, is that we live for the future: we live by the standards of morality that will be in force in the coming kingdom. That is, we are not old fashioned by any means – we are ahead of the times!
In fact, this idea of living a new life in anticipation of a physical change comes out repeatedly in Scripture. Romans chapter 12 describes this: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). Notice this: the Lord requires a living, not a dead sacrifice. We live unto him, rendering the service which is only reasonable considering the greatness of what he has done for us. We died in the sense of crucifying the old man of the flesh, which began in Baptism, yet we live to God in being raised out of the waters into a new life of devotion to the Divine Will.
The Name of Jesus Christ is therefore a living name, able to impart life. So John describes in his Gospel record: “these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing ye might have life through his name” (Jno. 20:31). But it is quite possible to have an outward display of righteousness, apparently bearing the Living Name whilst being dead within. The Pharisees were like this: “ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness” (Mat. 23:27). And again, the Master describes a similar category of men: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead …” (Rev. 3:1). Men who are dead do no works. And vice versa where there is life, there is movement and activity. We, being “a living sacrifice” therefore, must demonstrate that life in activity and works of devotion to our Lord.
Paradoxically, whilst the hope for the faithful has always been a resurrection (as distinct from the fabled immortal soul), the disciples didn’t understand how that Messiah had to die in order to be resurrected himself. So he taught them:
“… all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Lu. 18:31-34).
Again, when the Master taught his disciples that he “must suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day, Then Peter rebuked him, saying, Be it far from thee Lord” (Mat. 16:21-22).
There were, however others who did understand, albeit only a few. The woman who anointed his feet with oil did so in preparation for his death. And the repentant thief who was crucified with him understood that although he would die, he would come again to establish his kingdom – which required a resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ response to Peter is most instructive for our present considerations:
“… he turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan … Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Mat. 16:24).
These are words that the disciples would only understand after Messiah’s raising up again. Whereas Peter sought to correct his Lord, the proper place of the disciple is “behind” his master, following him. That is, we must do as he did: take up the cross and follow his example. As we have seen, the fact of the coming resurrection was the reason for the disciples to be a living sacrifice, bearing the cross for their Lord.
The certainty of a future resurrection was the fact that enabled Messiah to endure all that he did. He was well aware of the prophecy of David concerning him: “… thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance” (see Acts 2:26-28). He had presented before his mind the fulness of “joy” that would come when he would once again be in the land of the living. As the Apostle expressed it elsewhere, we should be “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
When we come to consider the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ therefore, we are not simply looking back at a historical event. We are considering the very basis of our own salvation: the hope that we have of a restoration of life, being made like unto our glorified Lord and Saviour. We must therefore give heed to the instruction of Scripture: if we desire to live in the coming kingdom that Christ will establish, we must learn to live the moral standards of that kingdom in our lives today. We must be ahead of our times, in following Christ, bearing his cross, and enduring all things for his sake. For we too have that vision of joy set before us in the Scriptures of Truth, and it is that vision that can help us to overcome in the present dispensation. Let us therefore look to Messiah from that aspect: as one who overcame from his vision of the future. For then we will dwell with our Lord in glorious and joyful immortality throughout the ages to come.