Chapter 2: Christ's Resurrection in the Epistles
by Tom Wilson, Scotland
As we embark on this study, it must be appreciated by the reader that the subject is so vast that it would be impossible to deal with every reference in the New Testament epistles to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, even superficially. Volumes could be, and have been, written seeking to elucidate this glorious truth. Due to constraints of space the subject matter is dealt with selectively rather than exhaustively.
Before the women of Galilee returned to the new tomb in which the body of their Lord had been laid, that tomb had been emptied, not because the Lord’s disciples had stolen away the body under the eyes of the guard Pilate had authorised, but due to Divine intervention. Clearly, those women would also have been surprised that the soldiers were no longer present. Equally, they would not have been expecting to see the stone rolled away, thus enabling them to enter the place where the Lord’s body had been laid. Their testimony is set out simply and unambiguously by Luke in his Gospel, "They found the stone rolled away … and found not the body of the Lord Jesus" Lk.24.2,3. One guard had fled, but they also saw the guard that heaven had placed on this sacred scene; two men in shining garments, whose testimony confirmed the resurrection of their Lord. Heaven had chosen those women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ.
The New Testament evidence for the resurrection of Christ is considerable; it comprises sight and sound, when individuals and groups saw Him eat and heard Him speak; they saw Him touch and be touched, Jn.20.17, 27. Included among the witnesses were both men and women. There were individuals to whom He appeared; among them were Mary Magdalene, Cephas [Simon Peter], James and Saul of Tarsus. There were also groups, including the two on the way to Emmaus, one of whom was named Cleopas; the seven who went fishing, Jn.21.2,3; the Twelve, and above 500 brethren at once, 1Cor.15.5,6. With the exception of Saul of Tarsus, all to whom the Lord appeared had known Him for around three years, so there were no cases of mistaken identity; they knew they had seen the Lord. They heard Him interview Thomas, making reference to doubts that Thomas had voiced before the Lord appeared to him, Jn.20.24-29.
Further evidence can be found in each of the four Gospels, particularly the three Synoptic Gospels, which record in sufficient detail the circumstances in which the Lord Jesus raised the dead. John’s Gospel deals only with the raising of Lazarus, but does so in considerable detail. Not surprisingly, after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, there are many references to resurrection in the New Testament, among which is the raising of the godly Dorcas, whom Peter raised from the dead in Joppa, Acts 9.36-42. There are also challenges to those who thought it incredible that God should raise the dead, Acts 26.8. 1Corinthians chapter 15 is the lengthiest defence of those challenges and provides an unanswerable case to opponents of resurrection.
The documentation of these and other events in the New Testament was important since it was penned by those who had seen the risen Lord. Those epistles included both those sent to individuals and to the churches of the saints, as well as the anonymous letter to the Hebrews.
The Old Testament evidence substantiates Paul’s assertion that "by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin" Rom.5.12. Its early pages record the first man’s sin and thereafter the sad history of the havoc sin introduced and the many deaths that followed. Not all of those who died had "sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression" Rom.5.14; indeed the Hebrew writer lists five individuals: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, "all [of whom] died in faith" Heb.11.13. In the context of Hebrews chapter 11, the Holy Spirit reveals what had remained unspoken in Genesis, that Abraham offered up Isaac, "accounting that God was able to raise [Isaac] up, even from the dead" Heb.11.17-19. Clearly, Abraham had never known of anyone being raised from the dead, but he did believe that God could raise the dead. Nonetheless, the Old Testament contains evidence of some being raised from the dead, and prophecies that point to Christ’s resurrection. The Old Testament includes passages that could only find meaning in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Such would be Ps.16.10, "Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption"; "I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" Ps.22.22; "Behold, My servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high" Isa.52.13; "He was cut off out of the land of the living … [He was] with the rich in His death … He shall prolong His days" Isa.53.8-10.
Not surprisingly, the Old Testament does not contain explicit doctrinal assertions or doctrines dealing with resurrection, but does provide illustrations. The law of leprosy in Leviticus chapter 14 is a case in point. The law required two birds to be taken, one to be killed over running water, into the blood of which the live bird was dipped, before being released. Carrying the evidence of a death, the live bird soared upward, picturing resurrection. Although few men would see the live bird with its unusual blood stains, that live bird would not fall to the ground "without your Father" knowing it, Matt.10.29.
There were a few occasions, before the Lord’s incarnation, when individuals died and were raised from the dead. Those histories weakened the case of the sceptical Sadducees and scribes, who rejected resurrection. The mighty prophet Elijah had raised the son of the widow of Zarephath, 1Kgs.17.17-24. Elisha, his successor in the prophetic ministry, also raised another woman’s son, that of the great woman of Shunem, 2Kgs.4.17-37. Both miracles are recorded in sufficient detail to arrest the attention of even a cursory reader.
In light of the influence wielded by the Sadducees, it should be noted that they rejected all of the Old Testament except the five Books of Moses, and so much of what the Pharisees taught. They rejected all doctrines that were not firmly grounded in Moses’ writings including resurrection, angels and demons. They also taught that the soul dies with the body.1 However, Paul does not associate the doubts among the Corinthians with the Sadducees’ pernicious doctrine.
- 1 Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews” 18.1.4.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION IN THE APOSTLE PAUL’S PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
Towards the conclusion of the first epistle he wrote to the assembly at Corinth, Paul seems to have suddenly changed topic. He had been dealing with matters, drawn to his attention by the house of Chloe, matters concerning party allegiances that were arising among them; some were using slogans: "‘I am of Paul;’ and ‘I of Apollos;’ and ‘I of Cephas;’ and ‘I of Christ’" 1.12. The Corinthians had also raised a number of questions with Paul that he answers in this letter. He introduces the answers to those questions with the words "Now concerning." The first of these is in 7.1, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me …" The topics they had raised were: celibacy and marriage, 7.1, 25; meats offered to idols, 8.1; "spiritual gifts", 12.1; the collection, 16.1; the movements of Apollos, 16.12. Now after fourteen chapters, the apostle abruptly begins to rehearse the gospel they had heard him preach about four years beforehand 15.11ff; He also makes reference to false teaching which some of their number had accepted.
To us, it may seem unlikely that on occasions "when the whole church [had] come together into one place" 14.23, it had been taught "that there [is] no resurrection of the dead" 15.12. How and where such a fundamental challenge to the apostle’s doctrine was initially aired, we do not know, but among the Corinthian believers some were advancing such fundamental error. However, we do recall that traditionally the idolatrous Greeks did not believe in resurrection. We also remember the poor reception Paul had encountered at Mars Hill, Acts 17.19-34. There is no hint that the doubters in Corinth all denied Christ’s resurrection, but there were certainly some denying that there would be a subsequent resurrection of the dead. The second question, with which Paul deals, is "with what body do they come" 1Cor.15.35, so the doubters were not focused only on Christ’s resurrection.
At 11.19, Paul had made a remarkable statement: "There must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be manifest among you." The apostle now challenges the Corinthians with a question that they must face in the light of that statement: "Now if Christ be preached that He rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" v.12. Their answer to that question determined whether they were saints or heretics! Carefully, the apostle answers the question he had posed by restating the gospel he had preached at Corinth, 15.1-8:
- • "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures"
- • "He was buried"
- • "He rose again the third day according to the scriptures"
- • "He was seen of Cephas"
- • "He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present …"
- • "He was seen of James, then of all the apostles"
- • "… last of all he was seen of me also."
The glorious resurrection of Christ was the corroboration of the finished work of Christ in respect of the sin question. His resurrection proved that God was satisfied with Christ’s Calvary work. The multiple appearances of the risen Christ were glorious proofs of His resurrection.
The two resurrections described in 1Corinthians chapter 15 are the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection of the saints of this dispensation, variously described as:
- • "the first resurrection" Rev.20.6
- • "the resurrection of the just" Lk.14.14
- • "resurrection from the dead" Lk.20.35
- • "the resurrection of life" Jn.5.29
- • "a better resurrection" Heb.11.35.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we also read of "the resurrection of damnation" ("the resurrection of judgment," J.N.D., R.V.), Jn.5.29. Rev.20.5 reveals, in the vision John saw, that "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." John also saw a great white throne and those who will stand there; those will have no part in the first resurrection, the resurrection of the just. They will be cast into the lake of fire, Rev.20.15.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION IN THE APOSTLE PAUL’S DEFENCE OF THE GOSPEL
Although the Acts of the Apostles records passages from the preaching of Peter, Stephen, Philip and Paul, the epistles from the pens of Peter and Paul contain stout defences of the message they preached. Attacks on the validity of the gospel they preached moved the apostles, under the Spirit’s guidance, to commit to writing their rejection of "any other gospel" than that preached by them, Gal.1.6,7,11. Thus we have the record of the Divinely inspired, apostolic defence which gives us fundamental truth that enables us to defend the truth of resurrection in general, and the glory of Christ’s resurrection in particular.
In 1Corinthians chapter 15, Paul’s stout defence of Christ’s resurrection, and later that of His people, answers two important questions, dealing with two important issues. These were the questions that summarised the teaching of those who did not believe there would be a resurrection of the dead:
• "How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" vv.1-34;
• "How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" vv.35-50.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy reveals a subtle form of attack at the time of his writing, 2Tim.2.18. Men like Hymenaeus and Philetus, v.17, had been teaching that the resurrection was already past, probably by limiting their definition of "resurrection" to the resurrection of Christ and the opening of tombs containing bodies of dead saints, who then appeared unto many in "the holy city" Matt.27.52. The limiting of the effects of the resurrection of Christ to a brief period for a relatively few saints is to deny glory to God and Christ, and to deprive believers of a very precious truth and prospect.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION IN THE APOSTLE PETER’S DEFENCE OF THE GOSPEL
We know from the record of 1Cor.15.5 that Peter was one to whom the Lord appeared after His resurrection from the dead. We also know from the Acts of the Apostles that, on the day of Pentecost immediately following Christ’s crucifixion, Peter, accompanied by the eleven, was the first to proclaim publicly the resurrection of Christ in a gospel that was firmly based on the resurrection of Christ, Acts 2.14-36. Peter was only a few sentences into that address when he introduced "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs", His crucifixion and His resurrection Acts2.22-24. On that memorable occasion the hearts of his hearers were pricked, so much so that the question was asked of Peter and the other apostles: "Men and brethren, what shall we do" Acts 2.37? Peter appealed to his audience to "Repent and be baptised ... in the Name of Jesus Christ"; three thousand of whom responded positively, Acts 2.38-40!
Peter also taught the resurrection of Christ in his epistles. Three times over we read of Peter referring to the resurrection of "our Lord Jesus Christ", 1Pet.1.3, 21; 3.18-21. In the scope of these verses, Peter firstly notes that God, having raised up Christ from the dead, has opened the floodgates for blessing for those who have been begotten by God. Those blessings include "abundant mercy", "a living hope", an "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled ... reserved in heaven" for those who bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, those who have been sanctified by the Spirit, the evidence of which is seen in their obedience and their being kept by the power of God, 1Pet.1.3-5. No wonder those who are so blessed, greatly rejoice even in trying times.
Secondly, God has raised Christ up from the dead and given Him glory, 1Pet.1.21. We learn that the glory was given after the precious blood of Christ had been shed at Calvary, 1Pet.1.19. The blood of a lamb without blemish and without spot was shed each Passover, but the literal lamb has given way to the Lamb of God, Who has secured blessings never secured by the countless Passover sacrifices from Moses to Christ. Peter revealed that Christ was foreordained to suffer "before the foundation of the world", but adds, who "… was manifest in these last times for you" 1Pet.1.20.
Again, Peter refers to the sufferings of Christ, when he states "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" 1Pet.3.18. Having reminded his readers again of the death of Christ, Peter alludes to the time when "the Spirit of Christ which was in them [the prophets]" 1Pet.1.11, testified through Noah to men who resisted the Holy Spirit. Then "He went and preached" v.19; in New Testament days we read that He "came and preached" Eph.2.17. Our Lord did neither by His bodily presence. He came and preached by His Spirit in the apostles; He went and preached by His Spirit in Noah. Now once more, the Spirit of Christ is testifying through the apostles and others, and being resisted. What should Peter’s readers do? They should "Sanctify" [set apart] Christ as Lord in their hearts, 3.15, and glory in the resurrection of Christ that has separated His people from a defiling world, as once the ark and waters of Noah cut off his family from the judgment of an evil world, 1Pet.3.21. They should also glory in the fact that having been "quickened by the Spirit" v.18, the Lord "is gone into heaven … angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him" 1Pet.3.22. That kind of person would suffer, if that be the will of God, 1Pet.3.17, but the suffering would be for well doing and not for evil doing. After all the great historical fact is unassailable: "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" 1Pet.3.18.
As Peter uses the illustration from Noah’s time he employs the adverb "now" in 1Pet.3.21, not as a logical connective, but as announcing the new era that has dawned. The waters of Noah cut him off from past sins in a very literal way and introduced him to a new era. Those deep flood waters had a profound effect on Noah’s living thereafter. The ark "was by these very waves of death borne to a new world, and all that were in it. It was brought to rest on Mount Ararat with its living freight, in a new world over which the bow without the arrow was spanned."2 The antitype ["figure", A.V.] of the ark is of course Christ. He entered the cold waters of judgment as typified by the waters that fell on Noah’s ark. In the same way the death of Christ has cut us off from past sins and should have a profound effect on our living. That is what we profess in our baptism. To enjoy a good conscience in the practical sense, as opposed to the judicial (that was received at the moment of salvation), the believer must obey and bow to the experiential demands of the Lord’s death. This is seen in how we live, displaying that we are finished with the old life and committed to the new. God announces in the death and resurrection of Christ the end of the old and arrival of the new, and so we were baptised.
- 2 Lincoln, W. “Lectures on the First and Second Epistles of Peter.” John Ritchie, Kilmarnock, Scotland.
It is evident in Peter’s first epistle that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead which he proclaimed on the day of Pentecost has enabled the blessed God to beget us again "to a lively [living] hope … to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" 1Pet.1.3-5. What glory to God! What glory for us, a glory that will not fade away. In particular, what consolation to those Jewish strangers who had been scattered abroad throughout the northern and western areas of Asia Minor, in what we now call Turkey. As a nation, Israel’s rebellion against God cost them their occupancy of the land promised to Abraham. For 70 years from 596 BC, they did not occupy it. However, Peter refers to a much more recent scattering that had made his first readers temporary sojourners and exiles in foreign lands. Temporarily, they were where he and others did not want to be, simply because they were Christians, but their permanent residence was to be in the heavenly land of unfading beauty, an inheritance that will never be wrested from them. That the resurrection of Christ is constantly under attack is evident in the New Testament epistles.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
Among the epistles testifying to the glories of Christ’s resurrection was the anonymous letter to the Hebrews. It is an Epistle that makes much of Christ’s glories. It deals with His eternal glory, introducing us initially to the Son, by Whom God created the worlds, Heb.1.2; the Son Whose ministry confirmed the Old Testament prophets, the Son Whose sacrifice ended the Levitical sacrifices of tabernacle and temple; and the Son Whose heirship fulfilled the promise given to David, "Thy seed will I establish for ever", Ps.89.4; "The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David … of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne" Ps.132.12. Rev.22.16 records the words John heard from the lips of his Lord, "I am the root and the offspring of David". The pages of Hebrews unfold One Whom God has crowned with glory and honour and has set Him over the work of God’s hands, Heb.2.7. The writer is careful to insist that "Christ glorified not Himself," whether in respect of His office as high priest over the house of God, Heb.5.5; 10.21; or in respect of His present session "at the right hand of the throne of God", or of His kingship.
Such is the writer’s emphasis on both the death of the Lord Jesus and His glory now, as He sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high, that His resurrection from the dead is not introduced until 13.20: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant." There are, however, earlier references which show that the writer is orthodox in respect of resurrection. In 6.1,2, he includes the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment among "the principles of the doctrine of Christ." In 11.19, he emphasises Abraham’s inward conviction that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, although Abraham could not point to any precedent. The writer also commends the women who received their dead raised to life again, Heb.11.35.
The Epistle to the Hebrews only mentions our Father twice. We first read of the Lord Jesus being addressed in terms we love, "Thou art My Son" 1.5. Then, in the same verse, we read an equally-delightful statement, a quotation from Ps.2.7, "I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son." In 12.9, the second mention of the word "Father" reads, "… we have had fathers of our flesh, which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live?" That relationship of Father and Son sets the Son apart from the angels, for we do not read of the angels addressing the Father by that name. We love to use "our Father", a right granted us by the Lord Jesus Himself, Jn.20.17. The apostle Paul blessed the One he addressed as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" Eph.1.3. At Heb.12.9, the Hebrew writer identifies Him as "the Father of spirits" in order to distinguish Him from those "fathers of our flesh, which corrected us."
Although the name Father occurs only twice in Hebrews, the name God is used 27 times. Both uses of that name Father are esteemed highly by His children. The last of the references to God in the epistle is in 13.20, where it refers unambiguously to the resurrection of Christ. That reference occurs in the final section of the epistle and fittingly is in a doxology. The first occurrence relating to God in the epistle refers to His speaking from the creation of the world until now. The last reference, at 13.20, links the great Shepherd with the will of God and His people. Rightly, the writer ascribes "glory for ever and ever" to the great Shepherd, v.21. Here God is described as "the God of peace". The first reference to God in the Hebrews presents God speaking; here God is working and it is in His capacity as the "God of peace" that He works. Gideon knew Jehovah Shalom, the Lord of peace. The term here is a Hebraism based on Gideon’s experience. He had just seen an angel, then he heard the Lord, i.e. Jehovah speaking. The words were about peace: "Peace be unto thee; fear not; thou shalt not die" Judg.6.23. However, the Hebrew word for "peace" is much more comprehensive than its English equivalent. Wilson summarises its width of meaning as "whole[ness], health, welfare, peace, concord, friendship".3 This is the God Who has our best interests at heart, and Who is interested in our spiritual welfare. He has brought up from death the great Shepherd we need, so that we might never feel overwhelmed in adversity, Heb.13.20. In this connection we ought to note:
- He has made known His will, Heb.13.21
- He works that everything lacking might be provided, so that we might never underachieve, Heb.13.21
- He will assess service for Him: the things done in the body, 2Cor.5.10, by the One to Whom He has committed all judgment
- He will honour all that has been well-pleasing in His sight, Heb.13.21
- He will receive glory for ever and ever, when His purpose is realised in Jesus Christ, Heb.13.21.
- 3 Wilson, W. “Old Testament Word Studies”. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1978.
Although the resurrection is specifically mentioned only at Heb.13.20, it is inferred in a few passages:
- "... Him that was able to save Him from death" Heb.5.7;
- "... endless life ... continueth ever" Heb.7.16,24.
Resurrection is also emphatically asserted in the expression "brought again [or up] from among [ek] the dead ones" 13.20. However, the verb probably includes His exaltation, as God leads Him in triumph to His own right hand. It is often said of our Lord Jesus that:
- in His death He was the good Shepherd, Who laid down His life for the sheep, Jn.10.11
- in His resurrection and exaltation He was the great Shepherd, Heb.13.20
- in His return He will be greeted as the chief Shepherd, 1Pet.5.4.
Why in the Hebrews, a book of so many vivid pictures, do we meet the figure of the Shepherd? Much has been written of the Priest in chapters 1-10 and of the File-leader (A.V. the "author") in chapters 2 and 12. The readers knew that a Shepherd led and fed His sheep. It is true that the File-leader has gone before the saints as the Shepherd goes before His sheep. It is true that the Priest shows compassion on those who are "ignorant and on them that are out of the way" 5.2, as the Shepherd would weep over those, who are as sheep without a shepherd and would go after that which was lost until he find it, Matt.9.36; Mk.6.34; Lk.15.4. On that ground some might claim that the description of Christ in chapters 1-12, would be true to their experience of His Shepherd character. Surely the term Shepherd is more than a summary term for the several glories Christ bears. However, we recall that, when our Lord spoke of the Shepherd, He traced a context of devotion amid danger. The Shepherd stands out in contradistinction to thieves and robbers, the wolf and threats of plucking from the Shepherd’s hand, Jn.10.8,10,12,28,29. The more likely reason why the figure of the Shepherd occurs here is that the Hebrew Christians were in dangerous circumstances. Physical dangers were not unusual; even martyrdom could yet be their portion. They had "not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin" 12.4, but they were intelligent enough to know that the phrase "not yet" was hardly a promise that every one of them would ‘die in his nest’ Job 29.18, surrounded by his children’s children. They looked out on a world which, without compunction, would plunder their substance and imprison their brethren, 10.32-34. They could not be assured of anything on earth. Nor was the rest guaranteed that the churches had known from time to time. However, the great Shepherd would assure them of pasture and protection: they would have a table in the presence of their enemies, Ps.23.5.
How then will they recognise the great Shepherd to Whom they might flee when the wolf comes? The good Shepherd was recognised because He laid down His life for the sheep, Jn.10.11. Elsewhere in John chapter 10 the Shepherd is known by His voice, Jn.10.4,16,27, but in the hour of danger we are told that they know Him and the Father knows Him, vv.14,15. Both know Him as the One Who laid down His life. Now that He has conquered death, how is He known when His sheep are in danger? He is known as the One raised from among the dead, 13.20. He is where the worst that can befall man cannot touch Him, and His being there is proof that even the greatest of adverse forces cannot resist Him. The marks of His passion may not be mentioned; nevertheless the great Shepherd is identified as the One Who was among the dead. He died for them and lives to defend His own.
Like those Hebrew Christians, our spiritual prosperity is intimately connected with the great Shepherd of the sheep. Whether we live in days of physical danger or not, we live where spiritual and moral danger abound and so, like the Hebrew Christians, we need to abide near that Shepherd, Who in death has proved His deep love for us. This One is literally "the Shepherd ... the great One". "Great" and "greatness" are important words in Hebrews, occurring some eight times. What glories belong to the Shepherd Who was brought up from among the dead ones!
- There is a Shepherd living there,
- The Firstborn from the dead,
- Who tends with sweet, unwearied care
- The flock for which He bled
- (John East)
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION SECURED THE FATHER’S GLORY
The diligent reader of the four Gospels will have noticed that a number of events in the Lord Jesus’ sojourn in this world involved the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Among those events is our Lord’s entrance into this world. "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" 1Jn.4.14. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" Lk.1.35. "And she [Mary] brought forth her firstborn son …" Lk.2.7.
A second example of the working of the Trinity is when our Saviour was baptised of John in the Jordan: "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, ‘Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased’" Lk.3.21, 22.
A third example is evident in the many miracles that the Lord performed, for He did the works that the Father gave Him to do: "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" Jn.5.19; "I must work the works of Him that sent Me" Jn.9.4; "I cast out demons by the Spirit of God" Matt.12.28.
The Lord Jesus’ death at Calvary also involved the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. On the eve of His crucifixion, after Peter, in well-intended defence of his Lord, had struck off an ear of the high priest’s servant, the Lord said, "Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup that My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it" Jn.18.11? When the soldiers nailed Him to the tree, the Lord addressed the Father in prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" Lk.23.34. At the end of that awful darkness that covered the scene, He prayed again, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost" Lk.23.46. We also recall that it was "through the eternal Spirit that He offered Himself without spot to God" Heb.9.14. The Lord described His own sufferings in few words. Before Calvary, His prayers revealed His understanding of its demands: "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death … O, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt" Matt.26.36,39. At the end of that period of unnatural darkness, He cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Mk.15.34, which reveals the price He paid, when "it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him … [to] put Him to grief … [to] make His soul an offering for sin" Isa.53.10.
Christ’s resurrection from the dead also involved the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Lord’s shepherd discourse recorded in John chapter 10, He speaks of laying down His life for the sheep, 10.11. He emphasises that no man could take His life from Him, and adds, "I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father" Jn.10.18. It was accomplished by the power of the Spirit, 1Pet.3.18, "being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." Some see the same truth in Rom.1.4, "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead".4 Rom.6.4 states emphatically, "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father." How glorious those statements! How glorious Christ’s resurrection!
- 4 Editor’s note: this reference may refer to resurrections that He performed.
Christ, having been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, is a remarkable statement in Rom.6.4. We do read several times in the New Testament that God raised Christ from the dead, for example, Acts 2.24,32; 3.15,26; 4.10. Gal.1.1 speaks of God the Father having raised Him from the dead. Clearly, there are no contradictions in the various wordings, but it is equally clear that the phrase "the glory of the Father" may have different emphases from those passages where the writer reveals only the identity of the One Who raised Christ from the dead. When the apostle Paul uses the phrase "the glory of the Father", he is not referring only to His almighty power. The Father needed to raise Christ from the dead to answer the call of His own flawless justice; to respond to His Son’s love for the Father that had remained true under the attacks of man and demon. The Father intervened to demonstrate to the universe that sin will not prove victorious, that righteousness will prevail. The One, Who went into death in obedience to His God, was charged with bringing to pass the eternal purpose of the Father that, in the new heavens and the new earth, God could dwell eternally in undisturbed harmony with His creatures. Commenting on the importance of the statement, "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father", J.N. Darby observes that, "there was not a single thing that was connected with the glory of the Father that was not made good by the death and sealed by the resurrection of Christ."5 The human mind cannot attempt to evaluate the glory of Christ’s resurrection.
- 5 Darby, J.N. “Notes on Romans”. G Morrish, undated.
In Romans chapters 6, 7 and 8, we learn that the death of Christ severed the link between the believer and the dominance of sin, and the responsibilities the law of Moses placed upon Jews in particular. The apostle describes the walk of the Christian as "newness of life" Rom.6.4, now that they have yielded their "members as instruments of righteousness unto God" Rom.6.13. The apostle employs an interesting illustration based on marriage, Rom.7.2-5, to show how the link of the law with the believer has been severed, and so Another, Christ Himself, can take the place the Mosaic law may have held in the saint’s experience. The believer’s life is now lived to please Christ Himself. As a result, the believer can bring forth "fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life" Rom.6.22. What glorious outcomes! A person who partakes of the life of the risen Christ, produces fruit that brings pleasure to God in a life of sanctification! The end before the Christian living a righteous life, is the enjoyment of eternal life, Rom.6.22. As a result of the death and resurrection of Christ, the Christian is emancipated from sin’s domination and is empowered by the Spirit of Him Who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead, Rom.8.11, R.V. How glorious that His resurrection is still producing fruit for God’s pleasure! 2Cor.4.11 and 5.15 strike a similar note that, "we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh"; "and He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again" R.V. Even apostles like Paul confessed the effects of Christ’s resurrection: "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. How glorious the outcomes of Christ’s death and resurrection!
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND FUTURE GLORY
1Cor.15.20-28 forms a parenthesis within the developing argument of this important chapter. Its focus is Christ and there are sixteen statements about Him. In summary these teach us:
- • About the firstfruits of them that slept, v.20
- • That in Christ shall all be made alive, v.22
- • About Christ delivering up the kingdom to the Father, v.24
- • About all enemies being put down, including the last enemy death, vv.24b-26
- • That God will be all in all, v.28.
In this parenthesis Paul looks back to the entrance of sin and its consequences before presenting a résumé of God’s future prophetic dealings. The nine verses span several millennia, from the entrance of sin into God’s creation to events beyond the Rapture of the Church and then beyond the 1,000 year reign of Christ to the winding up of the heaven and the earth we know. We are enabled to see resurrection within the context of the interventions of God in the past and as they affect the future of our world.
Paul begins his parenthesis with "But now"6 v.20. The conjunction "now" here means not simply at this point in time, but at this point in the argument. At this logical juncture, says Paul, let us realise that there need never be the emptiness (kenos, v.14 twice), the futility (matios, v.17) and the misery (eleeinos, v.19), that thoughtful men and women fear. Those unwelcome features would have continued unchallenged, if there had been no resurrection. "But now" Christ has been raised from the dead ones, and has become the "firstfruits"7 of a coming harvest. This underlines the truth , just as He rose, we will rise also. What a glory His resurrection has wrought and will bring to pass in the future!
- 6 Greek nuni, the more emphatic word for “now,” whether with respect to time or logic.
- 7 Note that “firstfruits” is anarthrous in the original.
As he writes this section, the three main issues occupying Paul’s thoughts relate to the living One … "[Who] became dead and behold … [is] alive for evermore" Rev.1.18. He is now the risen Christ, and therefore is the guarantee, that:
- • since there has been a sowing, so there will be a harvest, vv.20-23
- • all hostility will be subdued, for He must reign, vv.5-26
- • harmony will be established and "God may be all in all" vv.27,28.
"God all in all" describes the place that God will have in the affections of His creatures. That God is all, announces that He will be the supreme Object, the source and spring of eternal joy, filling the heart with endless delight. The words "in all" tell of that response subjectively and responsibly in His creatures.
Harvest Will Succeed Sowing
Like most agriculturists, the nation to which Paul belonged rejoiced at harvest time. They spoke about the joy of harvest in a passage like Isa.9.3; where Isaiah says that the joy of harvest is like the joy of dividing the spoil after a battle. It is the joy of harvest that makes worthwhile all the hard labour of ploughing and sowing. For centuries, men and women have celebrated harvest, as Ruth chapter 3 illustrates. Indeed, to mark the beginning of that celebration, their religious ritual required that the Jews offer the firstfruits of harvest to God at a festival or feast, called the Feast of Firstfruits: "the sheaf ... to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath …"8 Lev.23.11. Was it a coincidence that our Lord died at the time the Jews slew their Passover lamb? Paul taught in 1Corinthians that it was no coincidence, "Christ our passover is [was] sacrificed for us" 1Cor.5.7. Was it a coincidence that on the very day the sheaf of firstfruits was being offered according to the Jewish calendar, the Lord rose from the dead? Here Paul states emphatically that it was no more a coincidence than that the Lord died at Passover. He acclaims Christ as the firstfruits of a harvest yet to be fully reaped by His God. Perhaps you ask, "Why then does Paul not identify more emphatically the connection with the Jewish calendar as prescribed by God in Leviticus chapter 23 and Deuteronomy chapter 16?" There were Jews in the Corinthian assembly and we note that he refers to the Passover in the context of Christ’s death; "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" 1Cor.5.7, and traces events in Israel’s journey through the wilderness, 10.1-11. Between these two chapters, 5 and 10, he refers to the dietary issues that had been proving problematic in an assembly comprising converted Jews and converted idol-worshippers. I judge that the apostle does not mention the Feast of Firstfruits, firstly because it would not be as well-known to his Gentile readers, but secondly, lest the foundation carefully laid, with due attention to historical order in vv.1-11, would now seem to be displaced by consideration of another annual ritual observed by the Jews.
- 8 Lev.23.11. Among the Gentiles, Preisigke notes its use in the papyri as a birth certificate or a certificate of authorisation. Rienecker, F. and Rogers, C. "Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament". Zondervan, Grand Rapids, p.441
The two expressions that demand attention in these verses are, "firstfruits" v.20, and "God all in all" v.28. The noun translated "firstfruits" is singular, (Newberry) and it is uniquely:
- • a pledge of more fruit
- • a foreshadowing of what further fruit is expected
- • in itself, is a demand for precedence.
It normally relates only to what came first in time. In respect of Christ, it is not only that He was the first man raised from the dead, never to die again, but that He has precedence not only in time but also in dignity. In this respect it is unlike Joseph’s sheaf. However, like Joseph’s sheaf, this sheaf of firstfruits that is Christ, stands upright: it demands precedence. It stands upright while others bow down and do obeisance. We may not be Jews, but we do give precedence to Christ and prostrate ourselves before Him. God will reap a great harvest of souls all bearing the likeness of Christ, but clearly He will be recognised as the Firstfruits.
When a grain offering (or meal offering) was offered in the Levitical system, it was normally accompanying a blood offering, the principal offering, the grain offering being the subsidiary offering. When the new meal offering was offered at the end of the harvest, much blood was spilt, but the first sheaf of barley harvest did not need to find acceptance on the ground of another’s death, as we do. Christ our firstfruits was acceptable in the worth of His own person, although for our blessing He entered heaven by His own blood.
The firstfruits are of them that sleep,9 so the language excludes the unregenerate of whom such language is not used. In the New Testament, the metaphor of sleep is only used of the dead in Christ. Paul is writing here about the resurrection of the dead in Christ. We know all the graves will be opened eventually, but first there will be the resurrection of those saints who sleep. When unsaved men and women are raised to face their Judge, they will not have bodies of glory nor will they be like Christ, Rev.20.11-15.
- 9 Note kekoimēnōn is a perfect participle. The verb occurs at vv.6,18,29,51.
Paul states, "... by [dia] man came also the resurrection of the dead" 1Cor.15.21, and v.22 reads, "For as in [en] Adam all die, even so in [en] Christ shall all be made alive". The expression "in Adam" literally reads "in the Adam" i.e. "in the man Adam of whom we now speak". Firstly, "through man" tells how man was responsible for unleashing a principle that he could not control, "the death", Paul calls it; the death principle that has broken hearts and homes; that has caused women to weep over their dead and, because of which, even strong men are no strangers to tears. The death principle came "through man", but the principle of resurrection has been established by Christ, v.21, for He became the Firstfruits of them that slept.
V.22 shows the proof of the death principle in operation, viz. that in Adam all die. Similarly the proof will be given one day that in Christ all shall be made alive. Meanwhile Christ the firstfruits is the guarantee that there will be a succeeding harvest.
Nevertheless, God has ordained that there be an order in resurrection. The word "order" (tagma) v.23, does not indicate chronological sequence but order in the sense of rank, comments Horsley.10 Clearly, no one but Christ can claim to be first in rank. Perhaps for that reason there is little detail given about order. We read of five events:
- death’s incoming by man, v.21
- the resurrection’s incoming by man, v.21
- every man being made alive, that is every man that is Christ’s at His coming, vv.22, 23
- "the end"11 when the kingdom of God is delivered up to the Father, vv.24,25
- the destruction of the last enemy, v.26.
- 10 Horsely, R A. Abingdon NT Commentary – 1 Corinthians. Abingdon: p.205.
- 11 Greek to telos, “the consummation” (Bruce, F.F, Paraphrase, p. 115). Cremer observes that the word does not denote the end with respect to time, but the goal reached, the consummation.
Hostility Will Be Subdued
Robertson and Plummer suggest the adverb eita (A.V. "then", "after this") may suggest a gap between Christ’s parousia and "the end". Davies (cited Rienecker and Rogers) indicates that it is a technical term for the final consummation.12
The "last enemy" is one of four last things in 1Corinthians chapter 1513
- The last witness, "Last of all He was seen of me" v.8
- "The last Adam … a quickening spirit" v.45
- "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" v.26
- "The last trumpet" v.52.
- 12 Rienecker and Rogers, ibid: p.442.
- 13 TB, cited Naismith, A. 1200 Scripture Outlines. Glasgow/London: P&I, 1967: p.153.
In the chapter, there are two occurrences of "must," one in respect of Christ’s rights and the other in respect of our requirements:
- • "He must reign until … all enemies under His feet" v.25;
- • "This corruptible must put on incorruption, this mortal … immortality" v.53.
Harmony Will Be Eternal
The great end point before Paul as he writes, is "that God may be all in all" 1Cor.15.28, which will be reached when Christ will deliver the kingdom "to Him who is God and Father" 1Cor.15.24 (J.N.D.). What a day that will be! Darby was so enthralled with this coming glory that he wrote the well-known hymn "And is it so! we shall be like Thy Son...":
- • When "the heart is satisfied, can ask no more;
- • [when] all thought of self is now for ever o’er,
- • [when] Christ the unmingled object fills the heart"
Then in 1Cor.15.25:
- • when Christ "hath put all enemies under His feet"
- • when "all things … [have been] subdued unto Him".
We notice the apostle’s care, as he differentiates between all rule, authority and power, which He will abolish [annul]14 v.24, "all enemies" which He will put under His feet; and He will keep ruling for 1,000 years to show that all enmity has been subdued fully and finally. The Spirit of God widens the terminology again at v.27 to ensure that the reader understands that there remains in the universe no challenge to the mighty Conqueror. Robertson and Plummer note that "all things" is given a place of emphasis in the Greek text of v.27. The apostle is insisting that he does mean "all things." Clearly the reference is to Ps.8.6b; that it is a quotation is established by the following phrase in v.27, which some render: "for when it says," meaning "when the Scripture says." The degree of emphasis cannot be ignored in vv.27,28. In each of two verses, the same Greek verb hupotassō is used three times, although the A.V. translates "put under" three times in v.2715 and "subdued, be subject unto", and "put under" at v.28.16 The last whisper of rebellion will have been silenced.
- 14 Greek katargeō, A.V. “put down,” “bring to naught” (Bruce F.F.). The same verb is used of the destroying of death at v.26.
- 15 At v.27 the first occurrence is aorist; the second is a perfect indicative passive’ the third is an aorist active participle.
- 16 At v.28 the first occurrence is aorist passive subjunctive; the second is a future passive indicative; the third is an aorist active participle.
CHRIST’S EXALTATION SECURED THE FATHER’S GLORY
To many Christians there are few passages so moving as Phil.2.5-11. In the compass of seven verses, the reader sees Christ stooping low to take the lowest servant’s place. In seven downward steps He took His place to become obedient unto the death of the cross, a shameful death in the eyes of every citizen across the Roman empire. (He went lower than Roman law would have permitted Paul to go!) However, God intervened after three days to exalt Him highly, i.e. above all, save God Himself. The degree of exaltation is unfolded in several ways:
- God also honoured the voluntary humbling that the Servant accepted and the principle that the Servant had taught "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted" Lk.14.11; 18.14
- God gave Him a name above every name
- At that name, all will bow in heaven, in earth and under the earth
- Every tongue will confess Him as Lord.
The additional words that close v.11 should not be ignored: "to the glory of God the Father". That glory was secured in Christ’s resurrection and ascension, when He was greeted with the words, "Sit Thou at My right hand until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool" Ps.110.1.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE WORLD TO COME
Although they were young in the faith, Paul revealed to the Thessalonian believers that they were to await God’s Son from heaven, Whom God had raised from the dead. Paul added yet another title to those that they already had learned belonged to Christ. That new title was "Deliverer from the wrath to come" 1Thess.1.10. Clearly, Paul had taught them that after the Rapture of the Church, the world would face the wrath of God on earth. What glories belong to the One Who will take us safely home to heaven before "the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable world" Rev.3.10 (paraphrased). Only the great Deliverer could keep the saints of the Church out of that period.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians of Christ’s resurrection, he blessed the God and Father, "Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ" Eph.1.3. In the introductory chapter to that Epistle, he makes mention of "the dispensation of the fullness of the times" 1.10, when He will gather together in Christ "all things … which are in heaven and … on earth". He also reminds them of "the redemption of the purchased possession" 1.14. Those aspects of what has been revealed have not yet come to pass. From Eph.1.20-22, we discover what has happened, preparatory for those coming events, and requiring the exercise of God’s mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when:
- • "He raised Him from the dead"
- • "He set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places"
- • "He hath put all things under His feet"
- • "He gave Him to be the head over all things to the church".
We learn in v.21 how high is Christ’s present exaltation, "far above" every administrative tier and every name that is named, not only now but also in the world to come. We also learn that the Church will be assigned significant responsibilities in the world to come.
GRAVE, WHERE IS THY VICTORY?
Well might Paul ask in 1Cor.15.55: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" The hymn writer is accurate in his wording:
- Death cannot keep its prey -
- Jesus my Saviour!
- He tore the bars away -
- Jesus, my Lord!
- Up from the grave He arose
- With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
- He arose a Victor from the dark domain.
- And He lives for ever with His saints to reign.
- He arose! He arose!
- Hallelujah! Christ arose!
- (Robert Lowry)
The testimony of so many individuals and groups of witnesses declares emphatically the resurrection of Christ; His resurrection involved none of His disciples nor any other men or women. There can be no doubt that the executioners assigned to the crucifixion of three men were experienced and committed to their tasks, to such an extent that no onlooker would have been able to interfere with the deaths of the three sentenced to be crucified that day. Any group of unbiased witnesses would conclude that the three men executed that day were dead on the removal of their bodies and their burial. The unchallengeable conclusion is that Christ was victorious over death and the grave, as the Scripture foretold. Nor have the centuries unsettled the Christian’s conviction that Christ rose from the dead, never to die again. The Christian can still cry loudly: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" 1Cor.15.55.
In his three epistles, John, who had been a witness of Christ’s resurrection, does not deal with the resurrection, as for example Peter does. John did pen a Gospel, as did Matthew, Mark and Luke. John’s Gospel presents infallible proofs of Christ’s resurrection. John also bears testimony in Revelation to the One Who "liveth and was dead; and, behold, [is] alive for evermore, Amen" Rev.1.18.