Resurrection the Sign of Complete Atonement.
For the great mass of Christians, the resurrection of Christ has dropped out of the place in reference to atonement which it finds in Scripture. The resurrection side of the gospel has dropped out. Yet God has been graciously reviving the truth of it in many hearts. Let us seek to get hold of what is wrapped up for us in the joyful tidings of Christ risen from the dead.
"If Christ be not risen," says the apostle to the Corinthians, "ye are yet in your sins." The resurrection was the full, open acceptance of the work which alone could put them away. It was God manifesting Himself on the side of those for whom the work was now accomplished. Hence faith rests in "Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;" and it is added, in explanation of this, "who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:24, 25).
"Resurrection from the dead" has always this character of acceptance of the one raised up, and must not be confounded with the simple fact of resurrection in itself. When the Lord, at the Mount of Transfiguration, "charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen until the Son of Man were risen from the dead," the disciples "kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean" (Mark 9:9, 10). Familiar as they were with the general truth that the dead should rise, this rising from the dead — not from the state of the dead, but from among the dead themselves, a special resurrection which would leave the rest unchanged, — was to them a new and unknown thing. "I know that he shall rise in the resurrection at the last day," Martha's words as to her brother, was the expression of the faith of every orthodox Jew of that day. Alas! even yet, the general faith of Christendom goes no further. But the Lord, in arguing with the Sadducees, speaks of a special class, "those who should be accounted worthy to attain that world and the resurrection from the dead," as "the children of God, being the children of the resurrection" (Luke 20:35, 36). The resurrection from the dead approves as accepted of God all that participate in it. Thus is it pre-eminently, then, with the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is the triumphant demonstration, in the face of His enemies, of God for Him whom they had crucified and slain. "What sign showest Thou," said the Jews once to Him, "seeing that Thou doest these things?" and the Lord answers, "'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' . . . . He spake of the temple of His body" (John 2:19, 21).
All through His ministry among men indeed the signs of the Father's approval and delight were openly given. The works which He did in His Father's name bore witness to Him. The Father's voice and the descending Spirit had borne witness also. But these were personal to Himself alone. Now, having completed His work on behalf of others, His resurrection becomes the seal of the acceptance of what was done in their behalf. It is the testimony still of the approval of His own personal perfection, but as standing in a place altogether apart from what was His due personally, and where the holiness of God tested Him as the fire of the altar the sacrifice upon it. In result, all the sweet savor of the sacrifice was brought out by it.
So of the Lord, as had long ago been declared by another prophetically personating Him, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [or "hades"], neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption." It was as the Holy One He could not see it. "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him out of death," — not, as in the common version, "from death," — "and was heard in that He feared," or as in the margin, "for His piety" (Heb. 5:7). It was this upon which all depended, what under the most perfect, most bitter trial, was found in Him. The white linen garments of the high-priest, the type of spotless righteousness wrought out, were the only ones, as we have elsewhere seen, in which he could enter the most holy place. Nothing else but such righteousness could bring Him in there, the representative of a people accepted in Him.
The declaration of this acceptance waited not, indeed, for resurrection. His testimony before He dies is that the atoning work is "finished" (John 19:30). He had no sooner died than the rent vail declared it. And the threefold witness of the Spirit, water, and blood answered at once the thrust of the soldier's spear (John 19:34, 35; 1 John 5:8). Already the record is, that "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" (1 John 5:11). It is only in continuance of these testimonies that by the glory of the Father He is raised from among the dead, and then in due season "by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12).
Blessed it is to see the promptitude of this utterance of the heart of God as to that which is in His sight of such infinite value. At once the rent vail attests that the "merciful and faithful High-Priest" has made "propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). The typical blood must wait until the high-priest himself has entered the sanctuary; but not so the antitypical. The vail could not have been rent had not the mercy-seat been already sprinkled. The typical blood was but the blood of bulls and goats, and required human hands to carry it in; the antitypical needed none such to present it to the omniscient eye of Him to whom it was offered. The difference is one of those suited necessary contrasts between figure and reality, of which there are so many, and which constitute one of the gravest admonitions to caution in the application of the figures.
That it is the high-priest who makes "atonement in the holy place" (Lev. 16:17), and of whom the apostle speaks in the interpretation, Heb. 2:10, is indeed a difficulty with those who having learned from Scripture that "if He were on earth, He should not be a priest" (Heb. 8:4) suppose therefore that at the cross He was not. The mistake is natural, but the Word of God meets the difficulty for us in the words of the Saviour as to this, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth." At the cross He was no more "on earth," and this is no strain of an expression: He had in fact done with earth, was passing from it, His place among men gone. And here, of necessity, His priesthood began; else was there no priestly offering up at all, for assuredly it was not in resurrection that the altar-fire consumed the victim; and the ministry of the altar was exclusively the priest's work. Thus, surely, it is clear how it was our High-Priest who as such made atonement, as it is also clear by the rent vail and the resurrection itself that before resurrection the blood was sprinkled on the heavenly mercy-seat.
Resurrection followed on the third day to set the Second Man in His Last-Adam place. It is plain how 1 Corinthians 15 connects this place with the "spiritual body" of the resurrection. "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." The first Adam is plainly himself a living soul with a natural body, the word "natural" being here the adjective of the word "soul" itself, a body fitted for the soul, as we may say. The last Adam is the pattern of those of His heavenly race, as the first was of his earthy race. Only they are not yet in the image of the heavenly, (as they shall be,) though they are heavenly; and the Lord too is not merely a living spirit, but, according to His own necessary pre-eminence, a life-giving spirit. This is so beautifully pictured in the scene in the twentieth of John, where as God breathed into Adam at the first, He breathes now upon His disciples, that I do not doubt it to be the meaning there. He has taken and is representing to us His last-Adam place. But this I do not dwell on further here.
He rises, then, with a spiritual body, does not assume it afterward, as some have thought. The wounds in His hands and side, which some have brought forward to prove the opposite, do as little prove it as Zechariah 12:10 or 13:6 would prove it of a day yet future. Return to His former condition before the cross we have seen He could not. His death means the acceptance of the solemn sentence by which man as first created had been set aside out of his place. Restore this He does not; while He can and does bring in for His people what is infinitely better.
He rises, then, the Representative of His people in their new place of unchanging blessing, in the likeness to which they are to be conformed. He is raised again for the justification of all believers. For these His death has absolutely atoned, for these acceptance is complete and unconditional; while individually every one comes into it by faith, — is justified by faith. Here is the one condition upon which Scripture uniformly insists, in regard to propitiation no less than substitution: for, be it that He is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, this is not unconditionally; He is a "propitiation by faith in His blood," as the common version, or "a propitiation through faith by His blood," as the Revised Version better renders it. The door is indeed open to all the world, but those who enter enter by faith; and only thus is the propitiation really theirs.
The resurrection of Christ is therefore God coming out openly for His people, and Christ risen is the measure of their acceptance. His is theirs. He is accepted for them; they are accepted in Him. Substitution ends with the cross, for our place in which He stood ends there; but representation does not end with the cross, but the place He takes in resurrection He brings us into. We are dead with Him is the language of Scripture; we are risen also with Him: we are "accepted" — "taken into favor;" "graced," if we may use the literal word, — "in the Beloved."
His place is ours; only we must remember that when we say this, we limit it strictly to that of which we are speaking — His place in resurrection. There are glories, it need hardly be said, that are entirely His own, — not only divine glories, but as man also. We speak simply now of a place of acceptance as manifested in resurrection from the dead; not even as yet of the opened heavens: for when we go so far, we have to remember that not all accepted ones go even to heaven. There will be by and by a new earth also, in which dwelleth righteousness. But so far as we have reached, we speak of what is the common portion of saints of all ages, heavenly and earthly alike. In this sense, then, we say His death is ours, His resurrection is ours, His acceptance is ours: we are accepted and find our place in Him; we are identified with Him.