Of all the facts of history it may be honestly questioned if one of them has been so well authenticated as the resurrection of the Christ has been. That the witnesses were neither plotters nor schemers, but men of the strictest integrity, their writings, their lives, and their sufferings for the truth of what they had seen and heard, convincingly demonstrate. Their evidence is given without sign of stammering or stuttering, without confliction or contradiction, without rant or reserve. There is no attempt to occupy people with the marvellous. If we take into account the amazing subject of their testimony, their sobriety is miraculous. They are not carried away by their unearthly topic into the realm of unreality, in which a fertile imagination may disport itself.
Nor were they men who had been accustomed to esoteric influences, upon whose imagination it was easy to work, add who had little else to do than to dream away an idle and barren existence. Their Lord had told them during His sojourn with them that He would be put to shame by the leaders of the people, and that they would kill Him, and after that He would rise again from the dead. But it seemed never to have taken hold of their minds. That He was dead and buried they knew, and their sorrow was that of despair. But when told that He was risen they believed it not; and even when Her came into their midst when they were gathered together they still doubted, until He showed them His hands, feet, and side, appealed to them to handle Him, and ate food given to Him by their hands.
And Stephen in the very hour of his martyrdom declared that he saw Him at the right hand of God, and to Him he committed the keeping of his immortal spirit. Did he see Him? or did he not? Did he with the prospect of having to meet God before his soul invent, as his last contribution to the upkeep of the devil’s kingdom, a lie that for downright audacity and consummate wickedness might well have staggered the father of lies himself?
And Saul of Tarsus, a man of prodigious intellect, of extensive scholarship, and of unbounded religious zeal and hatred against all that called on that Name, was privileged to hear, see, and receive his ministry from, the glorified Nazarene; and in his subsequent life on earth to bear reproach, poverty, hunger, nakedness, for His name’s sake, and at last to seal his testimony with his heart’s blood.
These men were not liars, they were not easily deceived, nor were they afflicted with a credulousness that readily gives assent to everything that approaches the miraculous. Neither the Athenian ear nor the Cretian tongue was part of the endowment of any one of them. They were plain simple men, most of them apparently possessed of ordinary intelligence, a few of gigantic intellect and learning. And to refuse their testimony concerning that which they saw and heard is to manifest a determination of self-will and hatred against everything of God that is simply appalling. On the truth of that which they have testified every true Christian stakes his immortal soul for all eternity, and in this there is no mere venture; it has been well authenticated, and itself is the authentication of the whole revelation of God from the first of Genesis till the last of Revelation. Destroy this witness, and you have demolished all that is found in Old Testament and New, and you have proven prophet, priest, and apostle liars and of their father the devil, and wilful deceivers of the human race.
But what about the resurrection of them that are Christ’s? What does the Word of God say regarding this most important subject? A resurrection of both just and unjust is most clearly taught. There are those who would make the resurrection of Christ the exception, and would any it of all others. We will therefore, with God’s help, examine the statements of Scripture on this point, that we may know with certainty what it says.
But it might be better to inquire in the first place what takes place at death. Paul tells us that death would be gain to him (Phil. 1:22), for it would mean being absent from the body, and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5). The body would go to corruption, and the spirit to Christ. Our Lord when giving up His life on the cross commended His spirit to the Father, and Stephen when he was being stoned to death commended his Spirit to Jesus (Luke 23:46; Acts 7:59). When Stephen expired he was present with the Lord, that is, as identified with his spirit; but we are also told in the next chapter that devout men buried him, and made great lamentation over him, that is as identified with his body. As I have said, the body goes to the grave, the spirit to Christ, so that it is perfectly right to speak of a departed saint as with Christ, and it is just as right to speak of him as in his grave.
Now resurrection refers to the man viewed as in the grave, “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shalt come forth” (John 5:28-29). Also, we have in the gospel, “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). We do not read that He went into Paradise and was raised. Resurrection is not associated with that which goes into Paradise, but with that which is laid in the grave. Our Lord went to the grave of Lazarus, had the stone removed, and called the dead man out of the tomb. It is so in every other instance of resurrection in Scripture, the subject of resurrection is the individual identified with his body.
But I may be asked if I believe that the body which is laid in the grave is the one that is raised again. That is exactly what I mean, for it is just what Scripture teaches on the subject. But to this it may be replied that our glorified body is said to be out of heaven (2 Cor. 5:2). The point in that verse is the change that the living undergo, and not the resurrection of the dead; but I would ask if it is meant that myriads of new bodies come down out of heaven, and that with these we are clothed? And if this is what is meant I would ask again, What about these bodies in which we tabernacle at the present moment? what becomes of them? Some have gone so far as to affirm that the world will have them to bury, but I doubt if the madness of this has ever before been equalled. “From heaven” simply means of heavenly origin, and the way in which this is brought about is very plainly brought before us in 1 Corinthians 15. The dead shall be raised in incorruption, power, and glory—a spiritual body; and we, the living, shall be changed; for this corruptible must put on in. corruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. Our body is changed surely, but it is our body that is changed (Phil. 3:21). It is not an exchange of bodies, one body left in the grave and another raised.
But I may be told again that the very chapter from which I am quoting says that it will not be the body that is buried that is raised. But the chapter says nothing of the sort. In speaking of that which is a figure of resurrection it says, “That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God gives it a body as it has pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.” But like every other figure taken from nature to set forth divine verities it is not to be taken as presenting the truth in every detail, it is a very striking figure of death and resurrection, so is day and night, summer and winter, or better, spring and autumn, but none of these can be taken to set forth the truth in every single detail of it. Therefore when the Spirit of God comes to the reality of the thing itself, we find that the thing that is sown is that which is raised, only in another character. It is sown in corruption, dishonour, weakness; it is raised in incorruptibility, glory, power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. But it is the thing sown that is raised. At the marriage in Cana of Galilee (John 2) the Lord turned the water into wine: it was water one moment, but wine the next. And in the resurrection of saints the natural will be made spiritual.
Nothing was left in the sepulchre in which the Lord was laid once resurrection took place, except the grave clothes, and nothing will be left in the graves of God’s people when the dead come forth at His command, except the garments in which they were laid to rest.
It is a marvellous truth, easy to be believed, but impossible to be understood. But it is little that we do understand at best, and the best way to arrive at the understanding of the Word of God is first to believe what it says.