Old but Glorious News

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” —I Corinthians 15:20

SUNDAY, March 29, will be observed this year by Christendom as Easter, in commemoration of the day on which the resurrection of our Lord is thought to have occurred. The English word “Easter” is derived from the name of the pagan goddess of spring, Eastra, to whom homage is given at about the time of the Jewish celebration of the Passover. This word is found in the New Testament but once, in Acts 12:4, and is translated from the word “pascha,” meaning Passover. King Herod had killed the Apostle James, the brother of John, with the sword. Seeing that this pleased the Jews, he also laid hold on Peter. “And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [that is, after the Passover] to bring him forth to the people.”

As has been noted in the past concerning Christmas, there is no suggestion in the Bible that Christians should especially celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the grave, the observance of his death being the only such commandment given by the Lord to those who consider themselves to be his followers. Nonetheless there is no event which rejoices the hearts of the Lord’s people more than does his triumphant resurrection from the grave; for the fact of his resurrection assures his receiving glory and power and honor in the presence of his loving Heavenly Father, and it betokens the acceptance by the Heavenly Father of the sacrifice of Jesus’ life on behalf of the world of mankind as the basis of their own hope of a future resurrection.

The hope of some form of life beyond the short span of earthly existence is entertained by most of mankind, no matter where located, no matter what their culture. For the thought of death is abhorrent to man, and alien to his very being. This is so because death is not a natural consequence of man’s existence. Man was not born to die, but to live! Adam and all his children, had they been obedient to the loving guidance of the Heavenly Father, could have lived forever on this glorious planet, Earth.

This desire and hope of an existence beyond death takes various forms. In much of Christendom it is related to the belief that man possesses within himself an undying entity called a soul which, at death, passes into the presence of God, there to be united with a suitable body, in the case of those who have lived acceptably good lives; while in the case of those whose lives have been evil as measured by certain criteria the soul passes into a hell, or purgatory, as the case may be, for punishment, or purification.

Man Is a Soul

But the Scriptures do not support such an understanding. The Bible makes it clear that the soul, rather than being a mysterious something contained within the body, is composed of the union of the body and the breath of life: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became [note, became] a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7) In other words, man IS a soul; he does not possess a soul. And far from being undying, this man, this soul, is indeed mortal. “The soul [the man] that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezek. 18:20) And how self-evident is this simple truth!

The American Indian believed in his own form of immortality. He had his happy hunting ground, to which his soul supposedly passed at death, there to enjoy forever a bountiful supply of the necessities of a happy life. With others, this thought of immortality is embraced in the concept of transmigration, wherein the soul, in a never-ending succession of deaths, passes from one form of living creature to another—hopefully upward. These, and other forms of belief in the inherent immortality of man, arise from the unacceptability in the minds of human beings of the finality of death. They are implicit in many of the religions of the world; and they are possibly born of the faintly hinted, but imperfectly understood, promises that God made in olden times to his faithful servants and prophets.

Man, we have just noted, had been formed from the dust of the earth, and invested with the breath of life, thus becoming a soul, or sentient being. When he sinned the sin of disobedience, he was condemned to return to the dust. (Gen. 3:19) It was at this time that the Creator gave the first faint suggestion that man could, at some future time, look for some escape from that sorry condition. The Lord said that he would put enmity between the seed of the serpent, who had induced the disobedience, and the seed of the woman who had yielded to Satan’s temptation to question the Creator’s wisdom and commandments.

The hope of a resurrection, again related to a future seed, and again but dimly indicated, was to be seen, in retrospect, in the promise that God later made to Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Since by Abraham’s day untold numbers of humankind had already gone down into the dust, the promise to bless all mankind would necessitate their being brought forth from their graves to receive the promised blessing.

A Mystery

For some four thousand years of man’s history the identity of this seed was a mystery; but following the death on Calvary of our Lord, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost, the mystery began to be understood by the Early Church. That seed which was to bless all the families of the earth was Christ. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”—Gal. 3:16

This Jesus, then, was the One in whom centered all the hopes of the world, although ever so vaguely understood, for escape from death—for a future life. And he provided that hope for all mankind by laying down his own life in sacrifice. Man had sinned, and incurred the just penalty of death. Jesus, by laying down his own perfect life as man’s Redeemer, secured man’s release from the death penalty. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for … all have sinned…. By one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”—Rom. 5:12,19

A Ransom for All

Throughout the New Testament God’s boundless grace toward sinful, dying man is amplified. In I Timothy 2:3-6, the Apostle Paul says: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” The “all men” of whom Paul here speaks are, of course, fallen humanity, who must first be brought forth from the tomb, if they are to be brought to a knowledge of the truth that Christ died for their sins in order that they might have an opportunity to gain a happy everlasting life on earth.

Yes, Jesus gave his perfect, human life on behalf of sinful man. The Apostle Paul, in his sermon on Mars’ hill, tells us that God “hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31) The “day” that the apostle calls to our attention is that thousand-year judgment day which is also mentioned by the Apostle Peter (II Peter 3:7,8), when the world of mankind, brought forth from their graves, will be on trial for life here on earth. Peter speaks of this same period of time as “the times of restitution,” when that greater Prophet, the antitypical Moses, Christ and the glorified church, will be mediating the New Covenant for the blessing with everlasting life of all the obedient of mankind.—Acts 3:19-21

Paul makes it clear that these wonderful promises of an opportunity for life are sure. It is God, he says, who has set aside this future thousand-year judgment day for the blessing of mankind; it is God who has sent the One who will be the great Judge, and who bought this gracious opportunity for sinful man by sacrificing his own perfect human life; and it is this same God who manifested the certainty of this entire blessed arrangement, in that he raised our Lord and Savior from the dead to put the Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation into operation “in due time.”

Jesus, the Redeemer

Yes, it is Jesus who gave his life as man’s Redeemer, Judge, Restorer, and Everlasting Father. Jesus is the “seed” of promise, the seed of blessing. But Paul reveals a further facet of that “seed” mystery. He points out that those who have given themselves wholly to Christ as his followers are also a part of the promised seed of blessing: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye [also] Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27,29) These are they who have humbly but joyfully accepted the Lord’s gracious invitation to deny themselves, following him in his sacrificial footsteps in this life, and into glory and honor and immortality in the heavens beyond the veil. They shall live and reign with Christ for a thousand years for the purpose of resurrecting mankind from death to glorious, happy everlasting life right here on man’s original beautiful home, the planet Earth.

This is the simple, but lovely, story of God’s grace toward mankind through Christ Jesus. This is the glorious hope that is guaranteed to the world of mankind through the sacrificial death and the resurrection from the grave of our loving Lord and Savior. It is this grand plan of salvation for man concerning which so few have more than the vaguest conception. Although the Bible clearly promises a heavenly reward for that faithful “little flock” of consecrated, sacrificing followers of the Lord Jesus, and as clearly teaches that the hope for the rest of the world of mankind is an opportunity “in righteousness” to gain everlasting life here on earth through a resurrection, this scriptural truth of the resurrection is generally viewed with much skepticism.

Resurrection Questioned

Even in the days of the apostles the teaching of the resurrection of the dead was questioned. When pleading his case before King Agrippa, Paul, almost in amazement, asked him, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8) It was a point of contention between the leading Jewish sects of the day. “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.”—Acts 23:8

The resurrection of the dead through Christ, the Savior, was the heart and soul of the message of the Early Church, and it was their preaching of this wonderful hope that constantly brought persecution upon them. Immediately after Pentecost, when Peter spoke to the Jews of “the times of restitution,” which God had promised beforetime through his prophets, he was talking about the resurrection of the dead. And his hearers so understood his message, for we read: “And as they [Peter and John] spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Peter and John were then seized, taken before the high priest, threatened and released.

In the church there were those who even questioned the resurrection of the Lord. Paul vigorously combated this false notion. He told them 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.” This, Paul says, had all been prophesied long before, and recorded in the Scriptures!

And not only so, Paul argues, but after Jesus’ resurrection “he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” Now, in view of all this, Paul asks, “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?”—I Cor. 15:1-12

Paul then shows how important a matter this is. “If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen; and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” Then Paul gives voice to that stirring affirmation of his faith: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming [presence].”—I Cor. 15:14-23

Is There Room?

To many who do not know God’s wise and loving plans and purposes, as they view the conditions abroad in the world, the prospect of a resurrection to life on earth holds little appeal; indeed, it might even be rather frightening. Take the single problem of space, for instance. Already, the earth seems overcrowded, especially in certain countries and in the large cities of the world. How would all the resurrected millions and billions be accommodated? And the problem becomes more serious each passing year as the population expands by leaps and bounds.

Indeed, the population explosion is now recognized as being the most urgent problem of the world by those who concern themselves with such matters. And as the number of the living increases, so also does the number of those who die. In the United States today, almost two million acres of land are devoted to the use of cemeteries. It has been calculated that in less than five hundred years, if the world were to continue that long, there would be no more room in the United States for the living, for all the land surface would be covered with graves for the dead, unless some other means of burying the dead were devised.

Mexico now has a population of just under fifty million people; it is estimated that in about fifty years this figure will be doubled. The population of the world today is about three and a-half billion. This is equal to about sixty-one persons per square mile. In less than seventy-five years there will be about six billion people on earth, and the question is being asked, could the earth support six billions? No wonder some are turning thoughts toward the moon as a possible amelioration of the problem!

Man has been on this planet for about six thousand years, and in that period of time some twenty billions of mankind have gone down into their graves. Already in many areas of the world—India, China, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere—the problem of food is appalling. If these additional billions are brought forth from the tomb to join the living, how will they be housed, clothed, and fed?

A Polluted World

And who could wish to be resurrected to life in a polluted world? In the mental climate of thoughtlessness and selfishness that generally prevails today, population and pollution go hand in hand. As the one increases, so does the other. Our beautiful skies, the lovely earth, our glorious lakes and rivers—all are being increasingly poisoned, threatening man’s very existence. It has come to the point where some authorities have given up hope of ever eliminating the problem, and seemingly would be content if it could merely be restrained within tolerable limits. In Europe, where the beautiful Rhine River and the storied Blue Danube are already seriously fouled, a tired attempt is being made to hold pollution to an “acceptable level.”

In his recent State of the Nation address to the public, the President of the United States accorded high priority to this problem, and indicated that the Administration would address itself vigorously to its abatement. In the view of some, the matter has already reached the point where its solution is being spoken of as a “now or never” proposition. In other words, if progress toward a solution is not very soon discovered, the fate of civilization is in jeopardy. Indeed, the relationship between population growth and increasing pollution is at last becoming recognized, and is prompting authorities to action. Along this line, we quote one paragraph from the editorial page of a large eastern city newspaper: “In the United Nations and many of its member countries there was … frank discussion of the population problem and a growing determination to prevent the human family from fouling its own nest with [unchecked] multiplication.”

Continuing Strife

And need we mention such things as never-ending strife and wars between nations; increasing crime and disregard for law and order bordering on anarchy, accelerating use of drugs by young and old, corruption in high places, growing indifference and insensitiveness to dishonesty, dissoluteness, and immorality—what right-thinking person, it might be asked, could wish to be resurrected to such an environment?

Such, however, fail to appreciate the character of the Heavenly Father. They do not know of his wonderful plans and purposes on behalf of man. Surely, One who could create and set in order the entire universe; who by his own power created man, and placed him on this beautiful planet; who sent his only begotten Son to be man’s Redeemer—surely, at the very culmination of his ages-long plan for the blessing of mankind, such a One would not blunder in his calculations; would not at the very last be lacking in his power and wisdom to bring his promises to fruition!

No Failures in God’s Plan

The Heavenly Father makes no mistakes. His loving plans and purposes flow grandly on. He who created man, and man’s home, will indeed bring him forth from the dust of the earth in the times of restitution, as he has promised. He will know how to cleanse the skies, the earth, the rivers and lakes, and restore them to their original purity and beauty, even as he will do with fallen man himself.

And there will not be too many people! For “the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. … Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. … And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”—Isa., ch. 35

It is now almost two thousand years since our Lord Jesus gave his life for mankind; but the promise is sure. It is awaiting the completion of the seed class, the footstep followers of Jesus, who are even now filling up “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.”—Col. 1:24

“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” (I Cor. 15:20) What glorious words! We believe the little flock is almost complete, and that the time of blessing is close at hand. What a privilege is ours, to join with the great Apostle Paul in sounding forth the present call of the church and the message of the coming resurrection and blessing of the afterfruits—those who shall be his during his presence!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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