"Who . . . was raised again for our justification." Romans 4:25.
All Christians are agreed that the death of Christ is the basis of all our blessings. Of this there can be no doubt, for "without shedding of blood is no remission." Without the death of Christ we could never be with Him: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." He could not then, but in virtue of the death of the cross, have us in glory with Him. But, while all our present and eternal blessings are founded on the death and blood-shedding of Jesus the Son of God, Scripture points us again and again to Christ risen and ascended, as the One in whom we stand, and are fully blessed and accepted.
The use so often made of the apostle's resolve "not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified," as if he meant that he confined his preaching to the fact that Christ died for sinners, is very far wide of the truth. As a matter of certainty we know that he preached much more than this. The truth is that in Corinth, where human wisdom was so much extolled, and human righteousness so ardently contended for by the Jews, the apostle determined, that instead of regarding either, he would continually have a crucified Saviour before him and minister Him. For he saw in the rejected and crucified Son of God the worthlessness both of human wisdom and human righteousness. He beheld in the cross the divine estimate of man in the flesh. Whether it be a question of man's righteousness or wisdom, he saw both alike laid low there by the righteous judgment of God. In the crucified Saviour he knew that God had entirely and judicially set aside man in the flesh; as Scripture says, "Our old man is crucified with Him." The crucified Son of God must therefore be the abiding witness that the "wisdom" of the one, and the "righteousness" of the other, had equally rejected Him, who is "the wisdom of God and the power of God"; and must also constantly set forth that man had there been judged by God, as utterly unfit for Him, so that "no flesh should glory in His presence." The apostle then was taught by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ to have no confidence in the pretended good qualities of the natural man. So that when he entered Corinth he determined neither to recognize the boasted wisdom of the Gentile, nor the pretended righteousness of the Jew; for he had a crucified Saviour before him, the Holy One of God, hated and rejected by both. He would be occupied with the cross, not only as manifesting God's love to man, but as setting forth God's verdict on the thorough depravity and incurableness of man in the flesh. To imagine that the apostle only preached the death of Christ, foundation as it is of all our blessings, would be contrary to the fact; for we know how largely his ministry entered into the resurrection, ascension, glorification, and coming of Christ, and many details also concerning each of these glorious truths.
It is a brief consideration of what Scripture teaches about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, which, as the Lord may help, is now to engage our attention. It is the all-important truth of the gospel. We read of the disciples being enveloped in mist and perplexity, because "as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." (John 20:9.)
Notwithstanding the present extensive amount of Bible knowledge, and acquaintance with the facts and literal details of Scripture, it may, however, be truly said that the children of God are suffering much through "lack of knowledge." As in the last days of Israel's history the prophet had dolefully to exclaim, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6), it may now be truly said that God's people are immense losers through lack of knowledge of Christ. For who now delights to tell of the comfort, victory, and blessings they enjoy, from having to do with Christ risen, ascended, and coming? The highest blessing many appear to think that they can know here is present forgiveness of sins, and the consequence is, they become associated and entangled with much that is contrary to the Lord's mind, and injurious to their own souls; which those who have a better acquaintance with Christ avoid, because they perceive another path laid open by the Scriptures to the true followers of the Lord Jesus.
As we have seen, the error of the disciples was from ignorance of the Scriptures, as to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Their hearts were true and fervent, but they were sad, and looking in the wrong direction for comfort, because they knew not the Scripture "that He must rise again from the dead." They knew not that "it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from [among] the dead the third day." The consequence was that they were looking into the sepulchre, and were sadly disappointed because they found not the body of the Lord Jesus, instead of rejoicing in the reality of His mighty victory. They knew not that it was absolutely necessary that He must rise again from the dead. Had His body remained in the sepulchre, what assurance could we have had of His having redeemed us? Nay, more, had He been holden of death, we should have had no .Saviour, and no salvation. The resurrection of Christ is, therefore, the fundamental truth of the gospel. To take away the truth of the Lord's resurrection is to remove all hope — to leave the soul without hope. Hence we find Peter, after his disappointment at the sepulchre, blessing God for having "begotten us again unto a lively [or living] hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from [among] the dead." (1 Peter 1:3.)
When some sought to persuade the saints of Corinth that there was no resurrection of the dead, the apostle at once refers to the resurrection of Christ, and asserts that, if He be not raised from the dead, then we have no gospel, no comfort, no salvation. He says, if Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain, your faith is vain, we are false witnesses, ye are yet in your sins, all who have believed are perished, and we are of all men most miserable. Thus the fundamental truth of the gospel is asserted in connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and our resurrection, too, is affirmed, because there is one Man who has passed through death, and become the First-fruits of them that slept.
In looking through the Acts, when the Lord's servants were so much under the guidance and power of the Holy Ghost, we cannot fail to be struck with the prominence the apostles gave to the truth of the Lord's resurrection. In the first chapter of that book, before the Holy Ghost came, when they were exercised about the choice of an apostle, Peter insists that one must be a witness with us of His resurrection. And the sermon on the day of Pentecost not only exposes the guilt of the Jews in slaying Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God, but it also sets forth His resurrection from the dead, and declares that He is now in glory made Lord and Christ, the true object of faith, and the Giver of the Holy Ghost. In chapter 3, Peter again addressing the guilty Jews, says, Ye "denied the holy One and the Just . . . and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from [among] the dead; whereof we are witnesses." In chapter 4 we find that the people were grieved, and persecuted the apostles, because they "preached through Jesus the resurrection from [among] the dead;" and when Peter addressed them about the miracle he had wrought on the lame man, he said, "By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from [among] the dead, even by Him doth this man stand before you whole." In the same chapter, after waiting upon God in united prayer, we are told, among other manifestations of divine mercy, "With great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." In chapter 5 Peter witnesses again to the people that "the God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour." In chapter 7 Stephen says, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." In chapter 10, when Peter preaches to the household of Cornelius, speaking of the Jews, he says, "Whom they slew and hanged on a tree Him God raised up the third day, and 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 [among] the dead." In the account of Paul's famous sermon at Antioch, he again and again insists upon the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. After alluding to the rulers of Jerusalem, who desired Pilate that He should be slain, he said, "They took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre. But God raised Him from [among] the dead, and He was seen many days." Again, he tells his hearers that "He raised Him up from [among] the dead, no more to return to corruption." He further adds, that "He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption." After this, when preaching at Thessalonica (chap. 17.) Paul "reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from [among] the dead;" and his great offence to the Thessalonians seems to have been in saying "that there is another king, one Jesus." At Athens, also, we are told that some thought Paul was a setter forth of strange gods, because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection, and others mocked when they heard of the resurrection of the dead. In Paul's speech of defence at Jerusalem, he says, "Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question" (chap. 23:6); and before Felix, he not only asserts that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust, but repeats what he had said on a former occasion, "Touching the resurrection of the dead, I am called in question by you this day." So prominently was the doctrine of the resurrection set forth by Paul, that when Festus takes upon himself to explain Paul's case, he says, his accusers "had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive." (Chap. 25:19.) Before King Agrippa also he says that he witnessed "none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead," etc. (Chap. 26:23.)
All these quotations plainly show, that, when the Holy Ghost was acting in mighty power with the apostles, they not only preached the death of Christ, but that the precious truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was largely set forth in their ministry; and the more we consider the subject by the testimony of Scripture, the more convinced we shall be, not only that the resurrection is the fundamental truth of the gospel, but that those souls must be in a defective state who are always, as they say, at the foot of the cross. That ministry too of the word falls far short of the Lord's mind, which does not enter upon the resurrection of Christ, and the glorious doctrines of divine teaching associated with it, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost, and hope of our Lord's coming.
The truth is that, if Christ be not raised from the dead, then death has gained the victory over Him, the grave has closed upon Him, Satan has triumphed, and we have no living Saviour, and no salvation. The subject therefore is of vital importance. But, blessed be God, Christ is risen from among the dead He is alive again, and that for evermore, and has the keys of hell [hades] and of death; He has obtained the victory for us, and is become the First-fruits of them that slept.
The apostle Paul tells us that the gospel which he preached was that which he also received, "how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) Every sacrifice which was offered set forth figuratively the death of Jesus. From Abel's offering downward, the Lamb of God was typically portrayed. In those types and shadows, God declared what He would do, when the time fully came for it, in the death and blood-shedding of His beloved Son. The very kind of death He would undergo in being hanged on a tree was also pointed out in Scripture. In the twenty-second Psalm we hear Him saying, "They pierced my hands and my feet;" and the prophet Zechariah declares that the Jews will yet look on Him whom they pierced, and shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, etc. Moses also refers to it, by informing us that being hanged on a tree was connected with being made a curse, "for he that is hanged is accursed of God." When an inspired apostle comments on this he tells us, first, that "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Thus he proves all under the law to be justly exposed to the curse of God. Then he insists on the precious truth that "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law." How? By "being made a curse for us;" and refers to Scripture for authority, saying, "For it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." And more; for those who thus came under the curse were to be buried. It was ordered that the body was to be taken down and buried that day. "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day (for he that is hanged is accursed of God.)" (Deut. 21:23.) Thus we see that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried." But it may be inquired, Where, in the Old Testament scriptures, to which we presume the apostle here referred, are we taught that Christ would rise again from the dead on the third day?
The resurrection of Christ was plainly foretold by David in Psalm 16, which was quoted both by Peter on the day of Pentecost, and by Paul at Antioch, to prove the fulfilment of Scripture in His rising again from the dead. They argued that David did not then speak of himself , for, though a prophet, he was buried and saw corruption; but that He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. In death His soul was not left in hades, the place of departed spirits, neither did His body see corruption; but He entered upon resurrection, the path of life, and ascended to the right hand of God. The words are, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (Ps. 16:10, 11.) Thus the resurrection of the Lord Jesus was plainly foretold, and the instruction is clear that Messiah would not only rise again from among the dead, but be exalted to the "right hand of the Majesty on high."
But with regard to the third day in Scripture, which would seem often significant of resurrection, we are not so plainly instructed; and yet, to the spiritual mind, little doubt can remain that the third day would be the day of Christ's rising from the dead. Abraham seeing the place afar off for the sacrifice of Isaac on the third day, (Gen. 22:4,) makes it more than probable that Isaac was loosed from the altar on the third day. But this is not clear enough to be relied on as positive evidence on the point. Our Lord Himself referred to Jonah as a type, when He said, "As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matt. 12:40.) Here we have the clearest instruction that the Old Testament record of Jonah did typically set forth the resurrection of Christ, forasmuch as Jonah, after this, was vomited out by the fish on dry land. The third day is also stamped with the divine mark of resurrection by the prophet Hosea — "After two days He will revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight." (Hosea 6:2.) Again, we find in reference to the peace-offering, that "the remainder of the flesh of the sacrifice on the third day shall be burnt with fire," that is, that it shall be entirely for God on the third day. (Lev. 7:17.)
But the third day was also most remarkably and divinely stamped at creation. Before that day the waters of death covered everything; but on that day the waters receded, and out of the dry land sprang forth living, fruitful things. "The earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind." And we are twice told on this day, and on this day only, that "God saw that it was good." And what could this be for, but to teach us that the third day, the day of life springing out of death, was good not only as to creation, but also as to resurrection? Thus, without question, the Old Testament Scriptures did mark the third day as specially connected with resurrection. We refer only to another ancient type, to show that the resurrection of our blessed Lord, "the First-fruits of them that slept," would be on the first day of the week; for the sheaf of first-fruits to be accepted for the people was to be waved before Jehovah on the morrow after the Sabbath. "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of your harvest unto the priest; and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord to be accepted for you, on the morrow after the Sabbath [the day after the seventh day] the priest shall wave it." (Lev. 23:10, 11.)
From all these Scriptures, we cannot fail to enter somewhat into the apostle's meaning, when he said that Christ "rose again the third day according to the Scriptures;" and we can also perceive the serious mistake, and consequent perturbation of the minds of the disciples, because "as yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead." But how great their joy was when they saw their risen Lord, and could understand something of the mighty victory which He had accomplished for them!
The apostle, however, asserts the fact, that "now is Christ risen from [among] the dead, and become the First-fruits 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 first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then the end." (1 Cor. 15:20-24.)
And here we do well to notice,
1st. That the resurrection of Christ is the divine demonstration of the person of the Son of God, the foundation truth of Christianity; for He was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection from the dead." (Rom. 1:4.) It also confirmed the truth of His own testimony to His personal glory, when He said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." "But He spake of the temple of His body. When therefore He was risen from [among] the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this unto them." (John 2:19-22.)
2nd. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus overcame death, and showed that though He died for the ungodly as an offering for sin, yet having laid down His life and lain in the sepulchre till the third day, (thus showing the reality of His death), it could detain Him no longer. It was not possible that He should be holden of death, for He was "the life," "the Prince of life," and "He saw no corruption." That great and terrible foe, which we have because we are sinners, Christ triumphed over in His resurrection from the dead. It is because of this that it is not now absolutely necessary that we should die. Instead of this, we are told that "we shall not all sleep," but some of us will be "alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord," and then, instead of dying, we shall be changed in a moment, our mortal bodies will put on immortality, and we shall be for ever like the Lord, and with the Lord. Thus the Lord vanquished death in His resurrection from among the dead.
3rd. He triumphed over the grave. Covered as the mouth of the sepulchre was with a great stone, and a seal set upon it, guarded too with soldiers, all could not prevent the Son of God rising out of it. And be it observed that this, the greatest victory ever obtained, was wrought noiselessly. No flourish of trumpets announced this wondrous triumph. The sepulchre was left in perfect order, the linen clothes carefully put by, and the napkin that was about His head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. The whole scene tells us of the most perfect order and quiet. Had He still been in the sepulchre, the grave would have obtained a victory over Him. But, blessed be God, it was not so and now looking at the triumphant risen One, we can truthfully say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" and know that all His victory is ours, by God's free gift in the depth of His abounding mercy; so that we can also say, "But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
4th. Satan no doubt thought, when Christ was nailed to the cross, and the power of death let loose upon Him, so that He bowed His sacred head in death, and gave up the ghost, that the Lord was then made an end of, and got rid of. And to the eyes of those who had said, "Not this man, but Barabbas," it so appeared. Such, however, was not the fact. Instead of Satan, who had the power of death, triumphing over Jesus, Jesus triumphed over him. He rose victoriously out of death, and not only destroyed death, but "him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." The blessed Son of God thus raised from the dead spoiled principalities and authorities, made a show of them publicly, leading them in triumph by it He led captivity captive, ascended into glory, received gifts for men, and is henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool.
5th. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is also God's public attestation to His finished work upon the tree. If in the cry, "It is finished," it is implied that every thing had been then accomplished according to the purpose and grace of God, every type fulfilled, every scripture obeyed, all the stern demands of justice satisfied, righteousness established, and all the claims of holiness met, so that nothing more remained to be done, all was fully responded to, by God, in raising Him from among the dead. If it had been possible that one sin which He bore had been unjudged, He could not have been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. But now we do see Him crowned with glory and honour, who had been numbered with the transgressors and forsaken by God. We now behold Him righteously welcomed to the place of highest exaltation, instead of being abandoned in unsparing wrath because our sins were upon Him. Thus His being raised from the dead by the glory of the Father is the best possible proof, that, in bearing our sins, He had perfectly satisfied God. He was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross wherefore God hath highly exalted Him." The resurrection of Christ, therefore, is the undeniable proof of His finished work, that sin has been fully judged, and God glorified; for He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. How clear and decided is the testimony of the Holy Ghost on this point. Oh the marvellous blessedness of God being now the Justifier, and the Assurer to us that we "are justified from all things!"
6th. Christ having triumphed over death, and gone up the path of life, He has made a new and living way for us. When He poured out His soul unto death upon the cross, we are told that "the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom." Thus a new and living way was consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh. But after this He rose from the dead and entered into heaven itself by His own blood. He rose from the dead as the "First-fruits" because others are to rise from among the dead; and He went into heaven as the Forerunner, because other runners are to follow. What never-ending blessedness God has given us in a risen, victorious Saviour! Well may we sing:
"His be the Victor's name,
Who fought the fight alone;
Triumphant saints no honour claim:
His conquest was their own.
"Bless, bless the Conqueror slain!
Slain in His victory;
Who lived, who died, who lives again,
For thee, His church, for thee!"
7th. In Christ risen we see Him, who was dead, alive again, and that for evermore, and know that God has, in the riches of His grace, given us life in Him. "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son" — a new life surely, risen life, the Spirit of life in Christ, life in One who is beyond death, the mighty Conqueror of Satan, death, and the grave. He, who is now in the very glory of God, is then our life. Hence we are spoken of as "risen with Christ," having been quickened together, raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. What a marvellous blessing to be quickened and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, and to be thus associated in life with One who has risen triumphantly out of death, and sat down on the right hand of God! What liberty as well as gladness it gives us! How natural therefore it is because of this, that we should be enjoined to seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the fight hand of God, to set our mind on things above, and not on things on the earth. And these surely must be the exercises of risen-life in us, for its associations are above, its proper element is where Christ sitteth. Were this more practically the case with us, how familiar should we be with the things which are above; and how careful we should be not to be occupied with earthly things beyond our necessary duties! We should enjoy "the holiest of all" as our proper dwelling-place. "The throne of grace" would assure us of continual access with confidence; while we read our unchanging title to glory in "the blood of sprinkling." The risen and ascended Man in the glory would be the constant object that attracts, commands, and satisfies our hearts. We should be joyfully contemplating Him as our life, righteousness, peace, and hope. His various offices too on our behalf in the glory, as our "High Priest," "Advocate," Washer of our feet, "Shepherd and Bishop of our souls," are enough to fill us with overflowing consolation and refreshment. While holding the Head, from whom all blessings flow to every member of the body, we should be in communion with Him in His present work on earth. Contemplating Him also as "Head of all principality and power," we are reminded by the Spirit that, if He is above every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, we are complete in Him. These and many more lines of precious instruction must occupy our souls, if we are seeking the things which are above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Many saints are already with Him there — "absent from the body, and present with the Lord." Like us, they are looking forward to His coming, when He, who rose so victoriously over death, will apply His resurrection power to our bodies, and then all who are in Christ, whether dead in Christ or alive on the earth, will be brought together in resurrection-life and glory to be "for ever with the Lord." "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from [among] the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from [among] the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Rom. 8:11.)
"And when I in thy likeness shine,
The glory and the praise be Thine,
That everlasting joy is mine,
O Lamb of God, in Thee!"