By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
The humiliation of Christ being completed in his death and burial. His exaltation began in his resurrection from the dead. This is a great cardinal truth in the Christian system. It has often been shown to be so. It is so by the confession of all Christians, and of the apostles themselves. Paul says, "If Christ is not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. . . . If Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." 1 Cor. 15:14, 17-19. Clearly this doctrine is fundamental. It should be often preached and never yielded. "It is the cardinal fact of Christianity, without which all her other facts lose their importance." [Mason.]
It is agreed by Jews, Christians, and Infidels, that Christ was dead and buried. For a time his body was lifeless. Any decent regard to truth must admit this. Of his death there is no doubt. He himself admitted it more than fifty years afterwards: "I am He who lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore."
It is also clear that prophecy required that Christ should rise from the dead. "You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay." Psalm 16:10. That this does not apply to angels is certain, for angels are pure spirits and have no "flesh." They never die. That it does not refer to any mere man is certain, for the person here spoken of is called God's Holy One, and all mere men are sinful. That it does not apply to David, who wrote the Psalm where it is found, Peter proved on the day of Pentecost: "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day." We know that he has seen corruption, for he has been lying in the grave for centuries. But, continues Peter, "But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact." Acts 2:29-32. Jesus foretold his own resurrection: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John 2:19. "He spoke of the temple of his body."
In the resurrection of Christ there was a concurrence of all the divine persons. Peter says, "God raised him up." Acts 10:40. Paul also says, "God the Father raised him from the dead." Gal. 1:1. But this work is not ascribed to the Father alone. The divine nature of Christ was employed in quickening his own dead body. He himself said of his own body, "I will raise it up." "I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again." The Son of God participated in the resurrection of his own body. And in Romans 8:11 the same work is said to have been effected by the Spirit of God. As in creation and providence, so in the raising of Christ's body—each person of the Godhead concurred.
Peter says that Christ was raised up the third day. Acts 10:40. In reckoning time, both Hebrews and Greeks frequently counted the part of a day on which a thing began as one day, and the part of a day on which it ceased as another day, and, adding these to the intermediate days, gave the total. Thus, among the Hebrews, the day on which a child was born was set down as one day, and the day on which it was brought to be circumcised was put down as another day, and only six entire days intervened between its birth and circumcision, and so it frequently happened that a child was not seven times twenty-four hours old when it was circumcised, and yet the law required that sign and seal to be put on the child on the eighth day. Greek antiquities show that the same mode of reckoning was often used in Eastern Europe. At other times the Hebrews counted only the entire days. Compare Luke 9:28 and Mark 9:2. So that either mode might be used. The gospels state that Christ was buried the afternoon of the day before the Jewish Sabbath, and that he rose very early on the day after the Jewish Sabbath. So that he continued under the power of death one whole day and a part of two others. This method of computing time explains the phrases three days and the third day. Jesus arose the third day; this was the time fixed by his own prophecies; had he risen sooner, some might have doubted the reality of his death; had he remained longer in the grave, the season of terrible fear and darkness to his people would have been needlessly prolonged; had he remained much longer under the power of death, his body must have "seen corruption," which prophecy had said would not be.
Christ's raised body was a real body, and not merely the appearance of a body. In the minds of his followers there were doubts on this point. Once when he stood in the midst of them they were "affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit." To settle this point he said, "Touch me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have." Their sight and their touch alike informed them that there was no illusion.
Jesus Christ had the same body after his resurrection that he had before. The sepulcher was opened and the sacred body it contained arose. After his resurrection our Lord said to his disciples, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself." To unbelieving Thomas he said, "Reach hither your finger and behold my hands; and reach hither your hand and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing." Christ's risen body was the same as his dead and buried body.
Do any ask, Why did not Christ's followers recognize him immediately? In at least one instance "their eyes were blinded" that they should not know him, until by reasoning with them out of the Scriptures, he had satisfied them that he "ought" to have suffered these things, and then enter into his glory. And although Christ had plainly foretold his own death, burial, and resurrection, yet through the strange power of unbelief, his disciples did not understand or receive those truths. This error was not wholly removed from their minds until near the time of his ascension. When he was dead, the best thing they could bring their feelings to say was, "We hoped that it had been he, who would have redeemed Israel." Moreover, in a mind greatly afflicted there is a strange unwillingness, amounting almost to incapacity, to believe good tidings. It looks upon any very good news as too good to be credited. Luke tells us that this was the state of mind in the followers of Christ: "They believed not for joy, and wondered." Such a state of mind is not unusual, as might easily be shown.
Let us now examine the evidence by which the fact of Christ's resurrection is established. Peter says: "God . . . showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead." Acts 10:40, 41. It is worthy of notice that to the disciples there were two heavenly witnesses of Christ's resurrection. Luke indeed speaks of them as "two men . . . in shining garments;" but John expressly says they were "two angels in white." Luke 24:4-6; John 20:12, 13. These elder sons of God were the first, and they were fit witnesses of the wonderful event.
Respecting the witnesses of Christ's resurrection, several things may be stated:
1. Their number was large, between five and six hundred. From the days of Moses to this time, the most enlightened nations have admitted the testimony of two or three men. Here we have two or three hundred times the number of witnesses required to prove even that a mother killed her own child. Five or six hundred witnesses are as good as five or six thousand. The number is sufficient.
2. The witnesses were competent. They had the use of all their senses, and they had the best opportunities of obtaining correct information. Peter says the witnesses "did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead." In Acts 1:3, Luke says that "he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them [the apostles] forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." So that the witnesses fearlessly say, "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of the Word of life, . . . declare we unto you." 1 John 1:1, 3. In Scripture are mentioned eleven particular instances in which our Lord was seen by some or all of these witnesses.
His first appearance was to Mary Magdalene, who at first mistook him for the gardener, and to whom he announced his early ascension into heaven, Mark 16:9; John 20:14-17. Christ's second appearance was to Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women, who had prepared spices to embalm his sacred body. Matt. 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12. His third appearance was to the two disciples, as they went into the country on their way to Emmaus. Mark 16:12, 13; Luke 24:13-35. He was afterwards seen by Peter, 1 Cor. 15:5. He was afterwards seen by James, 1 Cor. 15:7. He was then seen by the ten apostles, Thomas being absent, John 20:19-24. Eight days afterwards he was seen by all the eleven apostles, John 20:26-29. He was next seen by his disciples at the sea of Tiberias. There were seven apostles present on that occasion, John 21:1-14. He was also seen at one time by more than five hundred brethren, 1 Cor. 15:6. Perhaps it was on this occasion that he ascended to heaven in the sight of the men of Galilee.
Paul also, on his way to Damascus, perhaps about two years later, saw him in his resurrection body, and conversed with him. In these interviews with his disciples, they had every opportunity to be certified of his being truly the risen Savior. There is no reason to believe that the evangelists have told us all the instances in which Christ was with his friends. Both John and Luke would lead us to this conclusion, John 20:30; Acts 1:3. Christ conversed with them. The pious women held his feet and worshiped him. These witnesses saw him walk; they heard his arguments and his reproofs; they saw his wounds; they received both his command to spread his gospel, and his blessing. Infidelity itself has never impugned the competency of the witnesses. Their testimony was not built on rumor, on the report of others, but on what was submitted to their own senses and observation.
3. The testimony of these witnesses agrees. Some mention things that others did not see or hear; but all agree that he rose from the dead, and that they saw him in his resurrection body. There is no contradiction between the witnesses. They agree in all things of which they speak. The early infidels labored to find out some contrariety in their testimony, but their labors were a singular compound of ignorance and malice.
4. The witnesses, by lives of humility, benevolence, uprightness, and self-denial, proved that they were honest men, and their word to be relied on. There is an almost universal belief that the apostles were pious men, and afraid of offending God, which they would have done by fabricating falsehood. It is not even pretended that any of them ever amassed fortunes by maintaining that Jesus had risen. They lived and died poor men. The sublimest of the apostles was willingly a tent-maker. Jesus forewarned all his followers that adherence to him was the highway to poverty. These witnesses too were banished, stoned, slain with the sword, and crucified. They were hated of all men; ignominy was heaped upon them. They foresaw it would be so, and they were not disappointed. They were not in quest of fame, or ease, or pleasure. They counted it joy to suffer reproach for Christ. They hailed with composure the fire and sword of persecution. "There were no motives to corrupt them. . . . It is evident that nothing desirable in this world had the least influence on the apostles. Nay, on the contrary, whatever was terrible to nature discouraged them. They suffered all temporal evils, even death itself, for this testimony." The enemies of the Christian religion do commonly admit all this. The way of weakening this testimony is, by such insinuations as these:
1. The witnesses were unlettered and unphilosophical men. Suppose this were true, it would not prove that they were not good witnesses. Science and literature do not qualify men to tell the truth respecting a matter of fact occurring before their faces. But men who could speak all the languages of their times ought not to be held up to the world as liable to contempt for their ignorance. And men who have revolutionized the moral sentiments of mankind must have had something better than mere science. Such men were capable of being witnesses.
2. Some have said the apostles were credulous, and so are not worthy of confidence. But the whole history shows that they were not credulous. Mark says they "believed not." Mark 16:11. Again, on the next declaration of the fact, he says: "Neither believed they them." Mark 16:13. Again: "He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at table, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen." Indeed, Christ often reproved their slowness to believe on this point. The whole history shows that they were not credulous. Notice here the unfairness of these infidels. When we state how slow Christ's followers were to believe his resurrection, some say, Why did they doubt, if the evidence was good and sufficient? Then when we give the reasons of their hesitancy, and show that finally the evidence was complete and to everyone satisfactory, we are told that they believed only because they were easy of belief. Each of these statements destroys the other. Neither is true.
3. But some have said that the witnesses in this case, and especially the apostles, were fanatics, and therefore not to be believed. It is freely admitted that a well-established charge of fanaticism must impair confidence in any testimony; but who has adduced the slightest evidence of the truth of such a charge in this case? It is no evidence of wild enthusiasm to believe an extraordinary yet possible thing, when it is proven to us. It is no evidence of fanaticism to say that we are witnesses of what we thus believe. Fanaticism relies on impulses and unaccountable impressions. It pays no just regard to evidence. But the apostles appealed to well-known facts. They said, "You know" so and so. "These things were not done in a corner." "We testify that which we have seen." This is not the language of madmen. Fanatics are proud, and boastful, and arrogant. All history shows that the apostles were humble, meek, and modest men. They avoid all needless allusion to themselves. They record their own imperfections. They praise not themselves. The chief of them says he was "not worthy to be called an apostle;" that he was "the least of all saints;" yes, that he was "the chief of sinners." Fanatics could never have sent forth a system claiming to be divine, and accompanied with such evidences as to deceive such men as Milton, Locke, Boyle, Bacon, and Newton, and a large portion of the most enlightened nations of the earth, for the last eighteen hundred years.
But it is worthy of notice that the Jews at first generally denied Christ's resurrection. They said that while the soldiers were asleep, his disciples stole away his body. This story cannot be believed for the following reasons:
1. The guard at the sepulcher was unusually large—as large as Christ's enemies desired it should be. Matt. 27:65, 66.
2. It is wholly incredible that a guard, a large guard of Roman soldiers, should be asleep on their posts. The season of the year, at least during the night, was cool. The penalty for falling asleep on guard was death.
3. The dead body of our Savior could have done nothing in producing the belief that he was alive.
4. During the hours that Christ lay in the sepulcher, his disciples spent their time very much in mourning and weeping. Mark 16:10. It is incredible that this company of unarmed, dispirited, heart-broken followers of Jesus Christ should have laid and executed a plan to rescue the precious body of their Lord from a trained and armed soldiery.
5. The testimony of these soldiers, as eventually given, was wholly incompetent; for it related to a fact which they said occurred when they were asleep.
6. Their testimony, as first given, was full and satisfactory in favor of our Lord's resurrection. Of the two stories they gave out, we are at full liberty, yes, we are bound, to believe the one that they told without "large money."
If Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, and did not rise from the dead, then he was a gross deceiver. Nevertheless, his followers, in that case so cruelly misled, were willing to lay down their lives for him. Is not that very strange?
If Jesus Christ did not rise, then a few men, who never had nor claimed any political power, any fortune, any favor with civil rulers, were able to convince hundreds of thousands of Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews, that one who suffered as a malefactor, was the Savior of men, and yet all in the teeth of evidence to the contrary.
If Jesus Christ did not rise, then we must believe that millions have "madly suffered imprisonments, tortures, and crucifixions, to spread an illusion."
If Jesus Christ did not rise, then it is true that "ten thousand miracles were wrought in favor of falsehood."
All admit that Christ died. Yet "his death is incomparably a greater wonder than his resurrection." Surely it is less to be expected that "the Son of God, who originally possessed immortality, should die, than that the human body united to him should be raised to a glorious life." "It was not possible" that he should have been held by death. Acts 2:24. His eternal power and godhead forbade it. Divine justice required his resurrection that his innocence might be vindicated.
Many important truths, essential to the comfort of a Christian life, are suggested and confirmed by this discussion:
1. The resurrection of Jesus Christ incontestably proves that in nothing was Jesus an impostor.
2. Christ's resurrection clearly manifests his divinity and his Sonship with God. If he raised himself from the dead, he must have been divine. If he claimed to be equal with God, and the Father and the Spirit cooperated in his resurrection, then he was equal with God, for God would not work a miracle to establish a lie. Paul says expressly that he was "declared to be the Son of God with power," that is, in a powerful manner, "by the resurrection from the dead." Romans 1:4.
3. Christ's resurrection gave ample proof of the completeness of his satisfaction to the law and justice of God. So Paul argues: "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Romans 4:25. "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us." Romans 8:34. Paul says "the God of peace . . . brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus." Heb. 13:20. He was the God of peace because his justice had been fully satisfied. "His death appeased God, his resurrection assures men. . . Justice incensed, exposed him to death; and justice appeased, freed him from the dead."
4. If Christ rose from the dead, so shall his people. "Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of those who slept." 1 Cor. 15:20. He is "the first-born from the dead." "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 1 Thess. 4:14. "Our Savior's victory over death was obtained by dying; his triumph by rising again. He foiled our common enemy in his own territories, the grave." We shall be raised "in the likeness of his resurrection." Romans 6:5. Our vile bodies shall be fashioned like unto his glorious body. Phil. 3.21.
5. If we would know the fullness of the blessings of eternal life hereafter, we must know the power of Christ's resurrection here. Phil. 3:10. One of Whitefield's best sermons is on this subject.
6. On the fact and doctrine of Christ's resurrection depend all our hopes for eternity. So the apostles taught. 1 Pet. 1:3, 4. There is no room for doubt here. We cannot yield this point without surrendering all that is worth contending for.
7. How wonderful is that providence of God, which permitted death to come by man—and which arranged that by man also should come the resurrection of the dead. 1 Cor. 15:21.
8. The Bible is true. Christianity is divine. Its author was the Son of God. Obedience to him is required, and is most reasonable. Will you believe and obey the Son of God?