20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 4 - The Resurrection
Thinking about the subject of resurrection we call into view belief in immortality. Our use of the word "immortality" suggests a belief in the survival of the soul after physical death. Indeed the Scriptural concept of immortality exceeds the mere existence of the soul, it involves the self-conscious existence of the whole person, in a state of felicity, resulting from the redemptive work of Christ.
Survival beyond the grave has been a matter which has been almost universally accepted, to a greater or lesser degree. As Dr. Herbert Lockyer puts it: "The hope of immortality, resident within the breast of both savages and saints, was planted there by Him who has no beginning or end."
Death is not a full-stop to life, for, if there is nothing beyond this life, there is nothing in life. In this area alone, philosophers and rationalists have drawn a blank, while Christian eschatology affirms that the true evaluation of this world must be seen against the background of its impermanence.
The Bible assumes man's immortality as an undisputed postulate, as it does the existence of God. The Old Testament teaches immortality, but not with the lucidity of the New Testament. Indeed the latter is an inspired commentary of the former.
The one concise message of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the hope and expectation of the Old Testament.
The Physical Resurrection Of Christ
The New Testament emphasis on the resurrection of Jesus Christ highlights His emergence from the tomb in body, as well as in spirit;"... in the totality of His personality", as one writer puts it. This is surely the supreme fact of history, the crucial fact of Christology, and the very heart of the Christian faith.
The most potent argument for a belief in the doctrine of future resurrection is the fact of Christ's physical resurrection. The God of the New Testament was the God of the resurrection, and because of this, the Church of the New Testament is the Church of the Resurrection. If we could prove beyond peradventure that Jesus never vacated the tomb, then that tomb becomes more than the burial place of a Galilean peasant, it becomes the tomb of a religion. Therefore, there must be no whittling away of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Think first of the documented evidence for Christ's resurrection, referred to by Matthew Arnold as "the best attested fact in history". The distant writers of the Old Testament saw not only the sufferings of Christ but the triumph of His exit from the grave and subsequent Ascension. (Job 19:25-27; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53:10). When we turn to the New Testament we find that Jesus never dissociated His resurrection from His crucifixion (Matt. 16:21, 20:18, 19; Mark 8:31; John 10:17, 18).
There are a number of lines of evidence for the fact of the resurrection. For example there is the disappearance of the body. There are but two alternatives as to the removal of the body of Christ from the tomb. It was removed either by human hands, (the Jews suggested the disciples), or by supernatural power. If human agencies had been responsible, as Chrysostom said, "they could not have stolen it naked".
Indeed we cannot overlook the evidence of the vacated tomb with its undisturbed grave clothes. Would friend or foe have been at pains to fold the grave clothes so carefully ? Surely the order within the tomb betokens a miraculous intervention.
Nor can one overlook the remarkable transformation wrought within the followers of Christ.
Calvary left them defeated and in the throes of despair, but after the resurrection they emerge triumphant and totally committed.
Perhaps the most conclusive proof of all is the fact that the Lord was seen following His resurrection. The New Testament records ten such appearances,
i. To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18).
ii. To certain women returning from the tomb (Matt. 28:9).
iii. To Peter (Luke 24:34).
iv. To two disciples walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13; Mark 16:12).
v. To ten of His disciples in the upper room when Thomas was an absentee (Luke 24:36; John 20:19).
vi. To the eleven, including Thomas one week later (Mark 16:14; John 20:24-29).
vii. To certain disciples including Peter by the Galilean lakeside (John 21:1-23).
viii. To a company of some five hundred (1 Cor. 15:6).
ix. To James the brother of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7).
x. To His own on the occasion of His Ascension (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9).
Paul adds himself to the list of those who saw and believed after the Ascension, (1 Cor. 15:8).
I am sure that Dr. Tatford is correct to state in his Manual on the Resurrection : "If the resurrection of Christ was not a fact, the whole doctrine may be dismissed as a fantasy".
The Resurrection Of The Believer
The resurrection of Christ is theologically implicational, and this is of even more importance than all apologetic problems. This highlights Christ's resurrection as it touches upon our present and our future.
As it relates to us now, belief in the resurrection led to the birth of the Church. The growth of the Church is due to the proclamation of a risen Redeemer, and this involves such truths as justification (Rom. 4:25), and sanctification (Col. 3:1).
But the fact of Christ's resurrection points forward to the future glorification of the believer. The emergence of Christ from the place of death sets God's imprimatur upon His own deity, the value of His atoning death, the veracity of the gospel, and the faith of the believer and his future hope.
Jesus Christ was the first-born from among the dead (Col. 1:18), and this vouches for His pre-eminence in resurrection. Indeed the Matthew story of the crucifixion, without any collateral witness in any other part of the New Testament, shows that His resurrection had an immediate effect (Matt. 27:52, 53).
There can be no doubt that whoever these resurrected saints were, or the number involved, it was a literal resurgence. It was a genuine resurrection, and those early disciples would regard it not as an "isolated phenomenon, but as the 'first fruits' of the victory over death in which they themselves, and those whom they had loved and lost were to be sharers" (Ellicott).
Paul argues in (1 Cor. 15) that if Christ did not rise, the dead in Christ have perished eternally. Christ was the first fruits, and "afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming" (v.23).
The Greek word PAROUSIA, translated "coming" here indicates a literal arrival or presence.
In (1 Thess. 4:16, 17) Paul deals with the very problem that was haunting the Thessalonians, the dead Christians will rise first. Death did not rob Jesus of anything, and it will not rob the believer of anything: the dead shall be raised and the living believer will be changed.
It is imperative that we can see this truth as it is taught in the New Testament. We read in (Rev. 20:6), "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection .."
Dr. Tatford is succinct here and I will include a paragraph from his Manual. He writes: "The first resurrection has, therefore, a number of stages:
(i) the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:23),
(ii) believers of the church age (1 Thess. 4:16),
(iii) the two witnesses (Rev. 11:11, 12),
(iv) the tribulation martyrs (Rev. 20:4, 5), and
(v) the Old Testament saints (Dan. 12:2).
It is significant that in each case the resurrection is a selective one: it is a raising 'out from among the dead'. This is one of the principal characteristics of the first resurrection".
The Resurrection Of The Unbeliever
Despite those involved in the resurrections alluded to, there will still be a resurrection to damnation (Dan. 12:2 and John 5:29). John clearly states that "the rest of the dead" would not be resurrected until the end of the Millennium (Rev. 20:5). This will include "God's resurrection and judgment programme" (Dr. Pentecost). This will introduce us to the final great Assize, or the first recorded event in eternity.
This judgment will take place somewhere in the heavens, and the Judge, though ambiguously referred to as ". . . Him that sat on the throne . . ." (Rev. 20:11), is referred to as God in the next verse.
There can be no question, according to (John 5:22) that it is Christ. The judged are the wicked dead not included in the first resurrection (Dan. 12:2 and John 5:29), and they will come from every walk of life, and every strata of society. The judgment will be tragic and fearful, for those judged will be banished from God for all eternity.
The first inhabitants of this dreadful abyss will be the Beast and the False Prophet (Rev. 19:20), followed some 1,000 years afterwards by Satan himself (Rev. 20:10); then all those whose names are missing from the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). Thus the resurrection sequence beginning with Christ, ends with the Christ-less.
The Resurrection Body
We are thinking now of the "spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). What kind of a body will that be? Two questions are supposed in (1 Cor. 15:35), the first having to do with the possibility of resurrection, and the second with which kind of body that will rise.
To understand the nature of the heavenly body it is imperative to see that Christ's resurrection is not only the "first fruits", but His resurrection body is the pledge and pattern of ours. Indeed our Lord's resurrection body is the best illustration we possess. The most we can say is that it will be a "body and yet spiritual; spiritual and yet a body" (Westcott).
Then the new spiritual body will be a necessity to dwell forever with the Lord in a body like unto His. Paul was waiting for this (Rom. 8:23), desiring to be clothed upon with the house of heaven (2 Cor. 5:2).
As it happened Paul died and went to be with his Lord in an "unclothed" state, yet, together with all the righteous dead he waits for the trumpet sound, when "corruption" will put on "incorruption", and the living believer will be changed, and "mortality" will put on "immortality" (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
In conclusion, we can form no perfect conception of the heavenly content of our future hope. The heavenly is related to the earthly, as the sparkling diamond to the dark carbon out of which it is formed.
"It is enough that God knows all, and I shall be with Him."
The Christian hope is the advent of the Lord, and should the enemy of death visit us before that event, we can face it all with the certainty that "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thess. 4:16). As Dr. Skevington Wood puts it: "Christ comes again in order to apply the benefits of His rising to those who rest in Him."