He Is Risen

IN THIS season of the year, many Christians find their thoughts reflecting upon the sufferings of Jesus and his death on the cross. What were the thoughts and reactions of his disciples who were eyewitnesses of these events? We know that it was a painful experience for them to see Jesus taken prisoner and maltreated. The Scriptures tell us that he was mocked, spat upon, abused, and then forced to carry a cross to Calvary. But their most crushing experience was viewing their Master’s crucifixion and death.

Had Jesus merely been placed in prison, his disciples could have nourished a hope of his being released. He could then lead them on to that kingdom of righteousness which he preached. They were expecting that ere long he would make his kingdom a reality for them, for Israel, and for all the world. But now he was dead, and so were their hopes. Perhaps we will never know the extent of despair and gloom that enveloped the disciples on the day of his death; though we may have some understanding of their feelings when in our personal experience a loved one dies. To the disciples, Jesus was as near and dear as a beloved brother. Never had the people seen such a righteous man. Never had the poor people of Israel been given so much hope that they would be blessed. But now, all was lost because he was dead. For the disciples it was not only the loss of hope but also the loss of a loved one. Now, all the good that they had expected might never come.

As we review these events it is interesting to note what was not said by the disciples. They did not believe that death was a gateway to a fuller and more abundant life; nor did they believe that Jesus had an immortal soul and that he was not really dead. If they had believed this, we would wonder at their despair. They knew very well that death was a condition of nonexistence in which the body would return to the earth from whence it came.

Among the Jews at that time two scholarly groups existed, the sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees believed that those who died would never be resurrected, whereas the Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees also did not believe in the existence of spirit beings, whereas the Pharisees did. The Apostle Paul used this difference in the two beliefs when he presented his case before the Sanhedrin (a high religious council composed of both sects). This is recorded in Acts 23:6-8: “When Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.” Neither sect, however, believed that man had an immortal soul, nor does the Bible teach this concept, but rather that when a man dies he goes out of existence and returns to the dust of the earth. See Genesis 2:17 and Genesis 3:19.

Knowing this we can understand why the disciples were crushed when Jesus was crucified. We note that they did not voice threats of reprisals by saying to those who crucified Jesus, You think you have killed him, but he is more alive than ever before. He is a powerful spirit and he will avenge himself.” Rather, they believed that death brought life to an end, and they were confused, saddened, and bewildered by the events. We receive an insight into the true feelings of the disciples on this occasion from the account of the two disciples journeying to Emmaus. From the record it is apparent that they already knew that the women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, mother of Jesus, and other women too) had gone to the tomb that morning and had discovered that the body of Jesus was gone, and later had encountered Jesus and reported that he was alive! This was all very perplexing and difficult to comprehend. Thus when a stranger met them and walked with them, they were so immersed in their sadness and intent on trying to comprehend the significance of the events of the last few days that the stranger was moved to ask, “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel; and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre. And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”—Luke 24:13-27

When the two disciples arrived at their destination, they asked the stranger to abide with them, and he consented. Then as he sat at meat with them, they recognized that it was Jesus by the way that he took bread and blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. The Scriptures tell us, “Their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:31,32) As a consequence, they were so excited they returned to Jerusalem in that same hour to tell the others Jesus was alive and had been with them.

The resurrection of Jesus had a tremendous impact upon the feelings and emotions of the disciples. Their sadness, despair, and bewilderment turned to joy, hope, and exultation as they told one another the words spoken by the angelic messenger to the women at the tomb, “He is risen.” (Matt. 28:6) So also, the fact that Jesus is alive forevermore should have a similar effect on our lives. His resurrection is a guarantee of great blessings to come to all. The words of the Apostle Paul are replete with wonderful promises concerning the resurrection. These promises are assured because the apostle states, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.”—I Cor. 15:12-22

The Apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection to the Corinthian church because some of them believed as the Sadducees, that God had not planned a resurrection of the dead. As in the past, so also today people find it difficult to believe in this important teaching of the Bible. This is because mankind has experienced death for approximately 6,000 years. Death appears to be so final, and the concept of people coming back from the grave seems incredible. But it is not incredible when we think of the great power of God. That power brought forth all things that are in the earth which man is privileged to enjoy. These are small indeed when compared with the great works in the vast universe. Exactly how God will use his power for the resurrection of man cannot be completely understood by us because his ways are not our ways. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”—Isa. 55:8,9

Our ways are limited, and our reasonings on the matter are restricted, even though some information has been given to us on the subject by the Apostle Paul. It is apparent that God has been able to preserve in his memory the exact identity and personality of every individual that has lived upon earth. To some this seems impossible, and yet man is now able to store huge quantities of information in the memory of a computer, or in tape recordings, and even on motion picture films. This has become most common today because of the increase of knowledge. Why then, when God’s wisdom and power are involved, should anyone think of the resurrection as impossible? This was the thought of the Apostle Paul when, in speaking to King Agrippa, he said, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”—Acts 26:8

In his lesson on the resurrection, the Apostle Paul suggests that men are likely to be concerned about two questions: “Some man will say, How are the dead raised up and with what body do they come?” (I Cor. 15:35) In the subsequent verses he uses as an illustration the planting of seeds to answer one of the questions. Planting seed is a common experience; and because it is, very few people look upon the result as being miraculous. The Apostle Paul says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.” (I Cor. 15:36-38) The seed when planted dies. But in its stead arises a new plant. If it is a wheat seed, a new wheat plant will grow. When a human being dies (as the seed), in the resurrection a new human body will be provided by God’s power (as the new plant that grows from the seed) with recognizable characteristics. The re-creation of a person’s identity will be an important aspect of the resurrection, probably necessitating the restoration of personality traits as well as physical features.

The importance of the personality in comparison to the body can be seen in the case of our Lord’s resurrection. His disciples had seen Jesus cruelly put to death and their last remembrance of him was his bruised body on the cross. Yet after his resurrection, for purposes of recognition, Jesus only assumed his mutilated body on one occasion. That was when his purpose was to convince Thomas, who had doubted his resurrection. On all other occasions he was not recognized by the body he had assumed. Instead, the disciples recognized some mannerism that was typical of our Lord’s personality. Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener, but recognized him when he said, “Mary,” in a familiar tone. (John 20:16) The two disciples en route to Emmaus thought he was a stranger until he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. The disciples on another occasion, after having returned to their fishing, did not recognize Jesus until he told them to cast their net on the other side of the ship. When they had done so, the net was so filled with fish they could not draw it in (just as had happened three-and-a-half years before) and they knew it was Jesus.—John 21:1-7

Earlier in his treatise on the resurrection, in l Corinthians the fifteenth chapter, the Apostle Paul makes the point that Jesus became the firstfruits of those that slept (in death) when he was raised from the dead: “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.” (I Cor. 15:20-23) This reference to Jesus as the firstfruits implies afterfruits. The Apostle Paul continues to show that others besides Jesus and the church are to be resurrected and that the kingdom of God has as its objective the complete destruction of death through the resurrection and righteous judgment of all mankind: “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”—I Cor. 15:24-26

The all-inclusiveness of the resurrection was mentioned by Jesus when he said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the grave 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 [judgment].” (John 5:28,29) Those who have done evil are those whom God has not enlightened during the present and past ages, which include the great majority of mankind. The word ‘damnation’ (King James Version) is translated from the Greek word krisis and should be rendered ‘judgment.’ This is consistent with the context because Jesus is speaking of the authority and judgment given to him by God: “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” (John 5:27) Furthermore, our English word ‘crisis’ is derived from the Greek word krisis and means ‘turning point.’ Hence, in the millennial kingdom of Christ, all mankind will be given an opportunity to seek eternal life by turning toward obedience to God’s laws. The meaning, therefore, of the resurrection unto judgment is that there is to be a time of trial and testing for all those coming back from the grave. They will have had experience with evil but then, under the favorable conditions of righteousness in the kingdom, they will be forced to choose between good and evil. The apostles, the disciples of Jesus, and all who have followed in his footsteps down through the Gospel Age, are those who have been trying to do good. This was true also of the prophets and heroes of faith of Old Testament times. These have already had their time of trial and will receive a resurrection to life. Today if anyone wants to do good in the scriptural sense he must follow after Jesus, and be willing to share in the experiences of Jesus. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” (II Tim. 2:12) Those who endure faithfully will have a part in the first resurrection, even as promised. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”—Rev. 20:6

Jesus performed many miracles during his ministry on earth. Included were illustrations of the future work of raising the afterfruits from the sleep of death. One of these involved the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue. The incident is found in three of the Gospels: Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:22-43; and Luke 8:41-56. Jairus asked Jesus to come to his home and heal his daughter because she was dying. But due to the crowds and other demands upon him, Jesus was delayed in going, and the little girl died. When Jesus arrived at the home of Jairus, the household was in mourning. Jesus told them, “Why make ye this ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.” (Mark 5:39) But “they laughed him to scorn” because the damsel was dead. Here, as in so many other places in the Scriptures, sleep is used to describe the condition of death. I Corinthians 15:6,18,20,51; Acts 8:60; John 11:11-14, are a few examples. Then Jesus proceeded to raise the girl from her sleep in death. This same power will likewise be exercised on behalf of mankind to restore them to life from the power of the grave in the kingdom.

In Luke 7:11-15 another incident is recorded, telling of Jesus’ going to the city of Nain and encountering a funeral procession at the gate of the city. A widow’s only son had died and was to be buried. The procession stopped as Jesus came up to it and touched the bier. He then said to the dead man, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak, and he delivered him to his mother.”

The greatest miracle of Jesus’ ministry is recorded in John 11:1-26, and involved a very dear friend, Lazarus. Jesus was often a guest at the home in Bethany of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Of all the places that Jesus visited during his ministry, he seemed to enjoy his visits at this home most of all. While Jesus was beyond Jordan, word was sent to him to come to Bethany because Lazarus was sick. Jesus purposely delayed his coming. Later when Jesus decided to go to Bethany, he said, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” (John 11:11-14) When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. Jesus asked that the stone covering the entrance to the cave where Lazarus was entombed be removed, but Martha protested that he had been dead too long. Nevertheless, Jesus had the stone removed, and he prayed to the Father, thanking him that he heard him always. Then he cried in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” And the Scriptures say, “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:44) The resurrection of Lazarus was another wonderful illustration of how the billions that have been asleep in death will come forth from the grave. These all will have an opportunity for everlasting life in the kingdom. None will have been forgotten by God. They are as dear to him as was Lazarus to Jesus.

The Apostle Paul has assured us that Jesus must reign “till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (I Cor. 15:25,26) This great enemy will never threaten mankind again. The purpose of Christ’s kingdom is to remove all obstacles to the attainment of eternal life. Hence, the great work of the Christ in that kingdom will not only restore all men to life, but it will restore families, friends, and loved ones to make this earth a wonderful place of dwelling for a very large and very happy family. Reunions are emotional, wonderful, happy events. We cannot even begin to imagine the joy awaiting all people in the reuniting of families and friends in that kingdom! In view of this, how appropriate are the words of the Apostle Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”—I Cor. 15:54,55

Dawn Bible Students Association
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