Part IV: Triumph Over Death
Thou wilt not suffer
thy holy one
to see corruption.
For as much as ye know
that ye were not redeemed
with corruptible things
like gold and silver. . . . .
but with the precious blood of Christ,
as of a lamb
without blemish and without spot.
(1 Peter 1:18,19)
God raised up saw no corruption" (Acts 13:37). Upon this
fact hinges our salvation. For Scripture says, "Be it known
unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this
man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins and by Him all
that believe are justified from all things from which you could
not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38,39).
That there is an indispensable connection here
is established by the use of the word therefore: and the
things connected are (1) that his body did not see corruption,
and (2) that we may accordingly be justified by faith alone without
the works of the law. But in what way does our salvation hinge
so specifically upon the physiological fact
that the Lord's body
did not see corruption?
whole life there is a corrupting agent permeating every part
of our body which is prevented from destroying us only by something
in the force of life itself. But it is not held altogether in
check, and it slowly subjects us to physical deterioration as
the years roll by. When our allotted time has run out and life
departs, this corrupting agent proves itself to be the victor.
But it has still not finished its work. The restraining effect
of life processes being no longer present to hold its baneful
influence in check, the corrupting action suddenly accelerates
and within a few hours changes take place which mark the beginning
of the total breakdown of all organization of the body as such.
2 of 21
But it apparently marks something
more than this. The breakdown of body tissues occurs in all animals
which are subject to death or which, though not subject to death
by nature (amoeba for instance), may have been killed by accident.
The total breakdown of the organization of such bodies is clearly
not due to sin; for although some of the higher animals might
conceivably be accused of wickedness of a sort, this can hardly
be said of unicellular creatures. Indeed, I do not think that
Scripture supports the view that animals are morally accountable
in the sense that man is, certainly not the very simplest of
living forms anyway. Their death cannot therefore be attributed
to the same cause that brings death to man. If this is so, one
has to assume that the corruption which overtakes man's body
in death (but which did not overtake the Lord's body while it
was in the grave) results from some agency which is not at work
in animals below man. Although the course of events after death
is such that the bodies of both man and beast are returned to
the dust, there is some fundamental difference involved in the
process, a difference which has hitherto escaped our notice because
we have not taken the trouble to look for it.
To make my point quite clear, consider
the matter this way. No matter how much an ape or a monkey may
look as though its body is essentially operating on the same
basic principles as man's, there must in fact be some fundamental
difference. There are two reasons for saying this.
The first is that we know the First
Adam need never have died and we know that the Second Adam need
never have died: yet both were truly human with respect to the
constitution of their bodies. However, we know also that man
has become a mortal creature due to an act of disobedience
at the very beginning, a transformation in physiological terms
which cannot be applied to the other primates. Man's death is
now inevitable and results from a form of fatal disease which
he inherits by natural
generation. Thus although both man and the other primates experience
death, the cause of death is not the same in each case.
The second reason is that while
man, as he now is, inhabits a body which after death appears
to suffer the same fate as the bodies of other primates by returning
to the dust, we know from the circumstances of the Lord's three
days in the tomb that a truly human body need not disintegrate
in this way.
We have probably been mistaken,
therefore, in assuming that the real difference between man and
the other higher animal forms rests entirely in his spiritual
make-up. I think we must re-consider this question and make allowance
for the fact that a truly human body is not merely an animal
body similar in constitution to other like creatures. It must
have been in some fundamental way different in its unfallen
state (as witnessed in the body of the Lord Jesus). And it must
still be in some fundamental way different since its mortal condition
has been imposed upon it in the form of a disease, a fact which
surely cannot be applied to the animal body.
Now when the second Adam died,
no protoplasmic poison existed in his body to initiate the process
of corruption and decay. This we know from Scripture ‹ at
least for the period during which it lay in the tomb. There can
be no doubt that the conditions favoured such decay. The body
of Lazarus had already begun putrefaction under very similar
conditions, being in the tomb for approximately the same length
of time and at the same season of the year.
If for some reason Adam had been
killed in his unfallen state, one must then suppose his body
would not have putrefied but dehydrated, or dried out
‹ as many animal bodies do. Under certain conditions man's
body may still do this, due to some as yet unidentified quality
in the local environment. There is a city in Mexico in which
the bodies of the dead having been allowed to dry first were
then in a macabre fashion leaned against the wall of a long passageway
where for some reason they have been preserved for centuries,
immune from the normal processes of decay and from bacterial
action.* The subject is not a pleasant
one, but there is every reason to believe that the natural course
of events which now sees man's body putrefying
* This is the famous silver mining city in
Mexico of Santa Fe of Guanajuato, capital of the Mexican State
of the same name, founded by the Spaniards in 1554. Beneath the
old public cemetery there are extensive catacombs and the mummified
bodies of long departed Spaniards here stand leaning against
the walls in a remarkable state of preservation. The faces are
weirdly animated and I think it would be difficult to walk between
the rows of figures without half expecting them to speak at any
moment. [For photograph, see The World's Greatest Wonders,
London, Odham's Press, (no author or date), p.233].
before turning to dust
may be suspended in certain circumstances, even for a body corrupted
by sin. The suspension is not total but it certainly is partial,
and there is no reason to suppose that it might not be total
if the human body was as God originally made it.*
In the case of
the body of the Lord Jesus the situation is unique and we really
have no parallels to guide us. All that we know for certain is
that in that beautiful human body there was none of the poison
which brings us to the grave and returns our bodies to the dust
by a process which usually involves putrefaction. Scripture simply
tells us, regarding the Second Adam's body, that He died in a
state of sinlessness and that his body did not see corruption
It might be argued that even such
a perfect body would have been consumed in time by the action
of micro-organisms, but this is not what Scripture means by corruption
when referring to the effect of the poison in the forbidden fruit.
It surely means the complete taking over of the body by a special
kind of chemical upset which is inherited by all men naturally
born and is only slowed up in its action by the force of vital
processes which hold it in check for a season but have no power
wholly to neutralize it. Remove these vital processes with their
restraining effects, and total decay follows which is shocking
and distressing to behold. It is not a natural process whereby
an unwanted body is returned usefully to the good earth to enrich
it as is the case with plants and animals. It is something that
for man is unnatural because it was never intended to be. And
being unnatural, it is distressing in a way we are not
by nature equipped to accept.
Now this single physiological fact
‹ that the Lord's body did not corrupt in the tomb ‹
has tremendous significance because it is clear we are intended
to learn from it that his death, unlike ours, was in no sense
caused by anything inherent in his body. He did not die as we
die. Dying, for us, is the inevitable terminus to our kind of
life now corrupted by sin. In Him was no sin and no corruption.
We are told specifically that we were redeemed by that which
was not corrupt (1 Peter 1:18,19). The termination of his physical
life as a Man was a unique event in human history and it left
a unique body in the tomb and that uniqueness was witnessed to
by the extraordinary fact that it did not see any corruption.
It was not that it did not noticeably corrupt. It did
not corrupt at all.
Scripture not merely affirms this
fact as of the greatest importance to us, it goes further and
supplies us with clues about certain subsequent events in order
to tell us why that perfect body had to remain
* It is conceivable that some such special
dispensation was granted to Moses' body, a circumstance which
could lie behind the cryptic statement made in Jude 9.
so wholly uncorrupted.
Now the Lord
foretold that his body would be three days and three nights in
the grave (Matthew 12:40). But why leave the body in the tomb
at all? Indeed, why should resurrection not have occurred at
once after his death on the cross? After all, his work on earth
was done. "It is paid in full" was his last triumphant
cry to the world before He commended Himself into his Father's
care and dismissed his spirit. Once the certainty of his death
had been officially established by the Roman centurion, could
He not have been at once raised to life again and come down in
triumph from the cross to the great comfort of his disciples
and the utter confusion of his enemies?
There is an important reason for
the delay. It was necessary that his body lie in the tomb for
a certain length of time, and this length of time had to be spelled
out as "three days and three nights." The fact is that
it was essential for the Lord's death to be legally certified
according to Jewish law, and no death was certified until the
deceased had been 'dead' for a period of three days and three
nights by their system of reckoning. Until this interval of time
had passed and putrefaction had begun (cf. John 11:39), they
would not certify death or release a dead man's estate.
The Lord's mission was first of
all to the Jewish people and these Jewish people had certain
traditional beliefs regarding the dead which God was concerned
to respect lest the reality of the Lord's death on the cross
should later be challenged. Had any other course been adopted
subsequent to his death, the Jews would, according to their understanding
of the nature of life and the nature of death, have had every
reason to doubt whether Jesus had ever actually died at all ‹
in spite of all the circumstances so dramatically and so convincingly
depicted by the four Evangelists. The Lord's death had to be
unequivocally established, above all in the eyes of those who
had been chosen to play so vital a role in the whole plan of
The fact is that death was not
established, according to their understanding, merely by the
apparent expiration of the individual. To demonstrate death without
doubt, the body must be laid aside for a certain length of time,
in order to ensure that there really was no evidence of life
remaining. The Jewish authorities would not supply a death certificate
until after the third day,* except in battle and in certain types
of fatal accident.
* Ryle, John C., Commentary on John,
New York, Robert Carter, no date, vol.II, p.284. The significance
of Revelation 11:9 is at once apparent in this light. The two
witnesses who are to prophesy for 42 months are to be slain and
their bodies are to lie exposed ("not to be put in graves")
for three days and a half. That is to say, their death is to
be certified before the world. There are many who believe that
these two witnesses will be Enoch and Elijah, the only two men
who have been translated so that they have not "seen death."
But it is appointed unto all men to die (Hebrews 9:27)
and perhaps Enoch and Elijah are not to be excepted. For this
reason their death is to be most clearly certified. There is
one exceptional circumstance under which this appointment to
death is to be laid aside, and that is when the Lord returns.
For at that time those who are his children and remain alive
will not die (1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51).
But this is a mystery which was not revealed to the Old Testament
saints, and is a unique situation in any case.
was some justification for taking these precautions since there
is considerable evidence that many people have probably been
buried alive as a result of faulty certification of death. It
has happened upon occasion that, due to some circumstance necessitating
the removal of a graveyard, bodies have been found in unnatural
positions as though they had revived in the grave; and not a
few individuals have revived just in time to save themselves
from being buried alive by those who honestly believed them to
be dead. Gould and Pyle have recorded some remarkable instances,
particularly in cases of catalepsy or trance and during epidemics
of malignant fevers or plagues in which there is an absolute
necessity of hasty burial for the prevention of contagion. One
such plague victim was burned alive, crying out only after it
was too late to quench the fire. (243)
The view that a person should not
be considered irretrievably dead until after the lapse of three
days is very widespread. It is found among primitive and highly
civilized people, ancient and modern. In his History (Bk.
V, chap. 8), Herodotus reported that the Thracians laid out the
bodies of their dead for three days and during this time offered
many sacrifices while bewailing the departed, presumably in the
hopes of inducing the spirit to re-enter the body. Failing this,
at the end of the three days they either burned the body or buried
it in the ground. In a certain initiation ceremony among the
Egyptians, the candidate was laid in a stone coffin for three
days, probably under the influence of some drug, during which
time he experienced a state of transcendence. (244) At the end of the three days he was returned to a
normal state of consciousness and told that he had died and been
restored to a new life. The same period of three days is found
reflected in the burial customs of one of the most primitive
tribes in India, the Badaga, and among the Bhouyas of Bengal
who appear to have been much more sophisticated. (245) Many of the Northwest
Coast Indians of North America pay special respect to the third
or fourth day after apparent death as marking the final break
between the living and the dead. (246) Professor George P. Murdock observes that the Aztecs
of Mexico believed the spirit of the dead remained near the body
for four days before departing irrevocably for an underworld.
243. Gould, G. M. and W. L. Pyle, Anomalies
and Curiosities of Medicine, New York, Julian Press, 1966,
6th printing, p.519f.
244. Tompkins, Peter, Secrets of the Great Pyramid, New
York, Harper and Row, 1971, p.257.
245. Reclus, Eli, Primitive Folk: Studies in Comparative Ethnology,
London, Scott, no date, p.204, 308.
246. Macllraith, T., in lectures in the Dept. of Anthropology,
University of Toronto, 1954.
fourth day after death
the body was placed on a funeral pile and burned with incense.
But was Jesus
Christ three days and three nights, a period of 72 hours, in
the tomb? The answer depends much on whether the crucifixion
took place on Friday, as traditionally held, or on some previous
day. If tradition is right, then Jesus was buried late on Friday,
lay in the tomb over Friday night and all day Saturday, and part
of Saturday night, rising so early that no one arrived on Sunday
morning early enough to find his body still in the tomb. I think
that Scripture has gone out of its way to emphasize this fact,
as though God were impatient and would not delay the raising
of the Lord Jesus one minute beyond the appropriate time that
must be spent in the grave to satisfy the Jewish law. Matthew
says that "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary" were
there at dawn (Matthew 28:1) ‹ and they were too late
(verse 6). Mark, speaking of the same two women, tells us that
"It was very early in the morning" (Mark 16:2),
and Luke uses the same terminology (Luke 24:1). John tells us
that when they arrived "it was yet dark" (John
20:1), just light enough for them to see that the stone had been
Now this only tends to emphasize
that the Jewish reckoning of such a period as three days and
three nights did not constitute the full period of 72 hours which
we with our more precise measurement of time would demand. When
the Lord said He would be in the grave three days and three nights
(Matthew 12:40), He was speaking within the context of Jewish
thinking. Had He not done so, He would obviously have had to
elaborate what He meant. But clearly He meant three days and
three nights as they reckoned them. It is important again to
bear in mind that with them the day began at six o'clock in the
evening. Since the Lord was laid in the grave before 6
p.m. on Friday and arose from the tomb after 6 p.m. on
Saturday, He actually spent some part of Friday, the whole of
Saturday, and some part of Sunday in the grave.
For the Jews, as for many other
peoples (including ourselves under certain circumstances), any
part of a day or any part of a year counted as a whole day or
a whole year.* Thus a king who came
to the throne on the last day of one year, then ruled for the
following year but survived only through part of the first day
of the third year, was actually credited with a three year reign!
In the Babylonian Talmud, the Eighth Tractate of the Mishnah
has this statement: "Our rabbis have taught that if
a king begins his reign on the 29th of Adar [our
247. See Notes at the end of this chapter
* B. Rosh Hasshanah, p.2 a and
March, and the last month
of their calendar year], as soon as it is the first of Nisan
[our April], a year is reckoned to him . . . and one day in a
year is counted as a year." This is repeated in the Third
Tractate of the Mishnah where it is written, "The
portion of the day is as the whole of it."*
In the Jerusalem
or Palestinian Talmud and the First Tractate of the
Mishna, there is a statement, "We have a teaching
[from Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah who flourished from 80‹100
AD. and was 10th in descent from Ezra] which says, 'A day and
a night are an 'onah and the portion of an 'onah is
as the whole of it'."
Edwin R. Thiele wrestled with what
he called "the mysterious numbers of the Hebrew Kings"
and found that this principle resolved all the apparent contradictions
between the chronologies of the kings of Israel and the kings
of Judah and brought into complete harmony all the cross references
between the two accounts wherever they are interconnected.†
The harmony is
literally complete so long as this principle of allowing any
part to stand for the whole is adhered to. It usually happened,
therefore, that the sum total of a succession of reigns exceeded
the available time span allowable only because, when one king
succeeded another, both kings were credited with having reigned
for that year in which the succession occurred. By our reckoning,
there are too many years to fit into the interval.
It is not altogether strange. We
claim for ourselves a whole year's tax credit when we are married
or have a child even if these events occur on the very last day
of the year. And not a few routine "contracts" are
considered fulfilled by the contractor if the slightest use is
made of the contracted service for only a few minutes of any
one day. Russian literature sees any portion of time, even a
few minutes before midnight, as a complete sutkee, i.e.,
a complete period of twenty-four hours, and railway tickets which
are made out for sutkees are considered as used completely
if they are employed for only a minute on the specified day.
It is a little analogous to our own system which demands that
we surrender a whole bus ticket whether we travel one block which
occupies two minutes or across the city which occupies one hour.
It was on this basis that the employer in the Lord's parable
of the labourers in the vineyard considered it perfectly just
to have paid a day's wage of one penny equally to those who had
laboured all day and to those who only laboured for an hour at
the end of the day (Matthew 20:1‹15).
* B. Pesachim, p.
† Thiele, Edwin R., The Mysterious Numbers of the
Hebrew Kings, University of Chicago Press, 1951, xxii &
the bearing of such beliefs upon the events of those dramatic
days in Jerusalem is obvious. The Lord's body must be laid in
a tomb for the specified three days in order to demonstrate that
He had really died. As far as the officials were concerned, if
the body was still there after three days, death was legally
established. If, on the other hand, the body was not there at
the end of those three days, they could argue that death had
never actually taken place. The possibility of the Lord's bodily
resurrection does not seem to have seriously concerned them.
But as a precaution against his body being deliberately stolen,
they had the tomb sealed and guarded. It was not surprising,
therefore, that they were greatly disturbed when news began to
leak out that in spite of the presence of the guards and the
official sealing of the stone at the mouth of the tomb, the body
had indeed disappeared. They must have had some terrible second
thoughts. Their demand that the tomb be sealed lest the body
should be removed and his disciples should then pretend that
Jesus had been raised from the dead shows that the Jews were
fearful of making any further mistakes in their treatment of
Jesus (Matthew 27:64).
It seems likely that the customary
preparation of Jesus' body when He was hurriedly laid in the
tomb had only been partially completed. Those who were concerned
with his burial had had to move quickly, the day being nearly
over (since it ended at 6 p.m. that same evening) and the next
day was a special holy day. Presumably when the customary three
nights and three days required by Jewish law to certify death
were over, the final preparation of the body would have been
completed and the tomb then closed by the family themselves.
It is likely that it was the hope of seeing his body once again
before the final closure of the tomb that took Mary Magdalene
to the grave so early that first Lord's day morning.
It will be noted that the Jews had demanded
only that the tomb be officially sealed under Pilate's orders
till the third day (Matthew 27:63, 64). Edersheim tells us that
relatives and friends of the deceased were in the habit of going
frequently to the grave until the third day so as to make sure
that those laid there were really dead.* He also notes that the
third day formed a kind of final day of special mourning because
it was thought the soul hovered round the body until then, before
finally departing from its earthly tabernacle. It is probable
that the Jewish authorities were a little fearful lest the body
should be removed by some of those who might well be expected
to visit the tomb during those three days following this custom.
* Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times
of Jesus the Messiah, New York, Herrick, 1886, vol.II, 3rd
However, in spite of their precautions, their worst
fears were realized ‹ the body had indeed disappeared. As
Shakespeare has wisely observed, "Things bad begun make
good themselves by ill," and the Jewish authorities now
found it necessary to compound their error by bribing the guards
to support them in their contention that the disciples had stolen
the body in spite of these precautions (Matthew 28:11‹15).
It was at least a public confession that He was no longer in
It is important to underscore the
significance of the disappearance of the Lord's body after the
lapse of the traditional three days. Had his body disappeared
earlier, the Jewish authorities would really have had no difficulty
in persuading the nation that the Lord Jesus had simply revived.
His spirit had returned to his body because in point of fact
it had never really left it permanently. He had "died"
on the cross but recovery of life was, in their view, still quite
possible without involving anything particularly miraculous.
It was by no means exceptional for people to be to all intents
and purposes dead, and yet revive again within the three days.
It was a kind of period of grace in which recovery was quite
possible. At the end of three days they believed that the features
of the deceased were suddenly changed dramatically and that only
then had the spirit truly forsaken its earthly home.
This circumstance is very significantly
reflected by the Lord's actions in dealing with four individuals
who were terminally ill. There is evident design here. The first
instance is recorded in John 4:46-53 in which we are told that
a nobleman's sick child was healed by the Lord, even though he
was "at the point of death." This event was wonderful
enough, but did not apparently cause any particular stir.
The second instance is found in Mark
5:21‹24 and 35‹43. In this case, the child actually died
while the Lord was on his way. Perhaps the child would not have
died at all had it not been for the incident recorded between
verses 24 and 35, where a woman was healed by touching the hem
of his garment in faith. When He reached the home of the sick
child, He was in a manner of speaking too late. Nevertheless,
He exhibited his power over death and at once restored the child
to her parents. And although it was to the amazement of all,
yet the incident still did not altogether convince the people
since the child had, after all, so recently died.
The third incident must have created
a greater stir among the people. In Luke 7:11‹17 we have
the account of the raising of the widow of Nain's son. This young
man must have been dead for some hours, for he was being carried
out to burial. It is quite possible that under normal circumstances
these preparations ‹ washing the body, anointing the skin
with oil, composing the figure, wrapping the body
with linen and dusting
with certain aromatic powders to preserve it against the attacks
of insects ‹ would occupy several hours. Indeed, such preparatory
measures may very well have reflected the concern of the bereaved
that if the deceased should recover, his body would be in a fit
state to receive his spirit again. At any rate, this young man
was certainly dead considerably longer than Jairus' daughter.
When the Lord, stopping the funeral cortege, approached the bier
and commanded the young man to arise, those who witnessed his
immediate revival were even more amazed than those who had witnessed
the two previous recoveries. News of the event went quickly throughout
all Judea and all the region round about (verse 17), and even
the disciples of John ran to him to report the matter. The reaction
was far more dramatic among the people than had been the case
in the raising of Jairus' daughter.
Near the end of his ministry we
have the case of the raising of Lazarus. And here, in the light
of these three preceding events, we can see the significance
of the Lord's seeming indifference when He first learned of the
sickness of his friend Lazarus (John 11:6). In spite of the emergency,
the Lord deliberately stayed "yet two more days in the same
place where He was." His action could not have been more
deliberate: and to many people it must have seemed only callous.
The details of the story beyond this point hardly need retelling.
He arrived at the tomb only after the appointed period of three
days was already passed and the stone had been rolled back to
close the tomb because the body was already beginning to decay.
This fact alone seems to me almost sufficient to demonstrate
that the customary anointing for burial was not a process of
embalming such as was common in Egypt but was merely a temporary
measure intended to preserve the body through the three days
during which revival might be hoped for. But Lazarus had clearly
passed the point of no return, for Martha said to Him, "Lord,
by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days."
It is impossible to improve upon
the simple account which follows. The stone was rolled away and
the Lord of Life called to Himself one of his children who instantly
obeyed, corrupted though his body was and starved and dehydrated.
Lazarus walked from the tomb into the sunlight and, being loosed
of his grave clothes, rejoined his two beloved sisters while
the rest of the mourners stood in amazement. Never was there
such a miracle as this performed in the history of man.
The really important thing is that
Lazarus was unequivocally dead. (
249) This was no mere revival by the return
of a spirit which had not yet wandered away. The circumstance
of decay was sufficient to prove that Lazarus' spirit had fled,
and the return of Lazarus created an unprecedented stir in Israel.
The news of this event spread from
249. See Notes at the end of this chapter
one end of the land
to the other, and the Pharisees were forced to admit among themselves
that they were impotent to do anything about it. "Perceive
ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world has gone after him"!
(John 12:19). Here, then, was an absolute demonstration, publicly
performed under circumstances which allowed no possible deception
whatever, of the bodily resurrection of one who had been legally
and unequivocally dead.
It is as though
the Lord had clearly foreseen the circumstances of his own resurrection
and was determined that the Jewish authorities should, when that
time came, be left without excuse. When the time did come, therefore,
the Jews really had little alternative but to accept the fact
either that the Lord was alive again or to announce that
his body had been stolen.
It does not appear that they ever
adopted a third alternative which is thus an entirely modern
invention: namely, that Jesus merely revived in the tomb and
was then nursed back to health. Some scholars now argue that
the Lord did re-appear to his disciples, for how otherwise could
the Church have ever been born ‹ while yet denying that it
involved a resurrection. They argue that the Lord was never really
dead. He had merely swooned and been taken for dead by the centurion
who, as a precautionary measure, did indeed wound the Lord severely
enough with his spear but not fatally. Subsequently, in the cool
of the tomb the Lord revived, they say, and somehow managed to
get out and rejoin his disciples who then nursed Him back to
health and succeeded in completely fooling the public and
themselves into believing that He had really triumphed over
death. But consider what such a deception would involve.
It is difficult indeed to suppose,
for example, that One who had suffered the appalling strains
and stresses of the previous hours, both physical and emotional,
could be nailed to the cross, receive a severe wound in the chest,
be laid in a cold tomb, and there revive and find energy enough
with such wounds in hands and feet and chest to brace Himself
from inside the tomb against a stone which almost certainly could
only be rolled back from the outside and which was far too heavy
for the women themselves to move ‹ and roll it right back
out of the way so far clear of the opening that later on, while
John stood looking in, Peter could run right on past him into
the tomb (John 20:4-6). And Jesus did this, apparently, without
the soldiers on guard being awakened. Moreover, Pilate had given
explicit instructions that the tomb was to be sealed against
being broken open (Matthew 27:62, 66), a measure which would
almost certainly make it impossible to open it from the inside,
no matter how much strength the supposedly dead man might have.
Only a few hours later this figure, so mutilated that
He was scarcely recognizable as human (Isaiah 52:14), now presented
Himself before Mary who was overwhelmed with the joy of recognition
when He made Himself known to her. Shortly thereafter He walked
for miles without manifest tiredness or evidence of mental anguish
with two disciples whose attention would surely at least have
been attracted to Him by the marks of utter exhaustion and physical
injury but who apparently treated Him as simply a fellow traveller,
inviting Him in at the end of the journey and only recognizing
Him when He performed a simple familiar act, the breaking of
bread (Luke 24:30f.). There is no evidence of any desperate need
for rest or food or drink. There is every evidence that when
their clouded vision suddenly cleared they recognized Him because
He had re-appeared to them in the same vital form they had known
of Him before the events of those last terrible days,
and not as He must have appeared when taken down from the cross.
There is nothing in the resurrection
scenes to give the slightest hint that He was the one who needed
ministering to, which must certainly have been the case were
He a mutilated invalid verging on the border of total collapse.
As a matter of fact, precisely the opposite is the impression
one has. He was ministering rather to them, assuring them of
his well-being and encouraging them in every way in the belief
that what He had just passed through was not a near disaster
but a mighty triumph. That they were convinced of this is the
only way of explaining how a loosely knit group of men with little
or no courage and, at the moment of crisis even less cohesion
as a group, were suddenly turned into a band of courageous men
who were fearless of death or imprisonment or ridicule or the
threatenings of the authorities, and ended up by turning the
Roman world upside down. Such a transformation requires a sufficient
cause. Those who, like Sir Robert Anderson, have set themselves
with an open mind to examine the evidence from the Gospels
and Acts have been thoroughly convinced that the bodily resurrection
of Jesus was cause enough. Years ago, C. A. Row wrote:*
A Messiah who crept out of his
grave, took refuge in retirement, and afterwards died from exhaustion,
was not one who could satisfy the requirements of a community
which had been crushed by his crucifixion. His followers had
fully expected that He was going speedily to reign . . . .
Yet it is the most certain of historical
facts, that the Christian
* Row, C. A., "The Historical Evidence
of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead," Present
Day Tracts, Religous Tract Society, London, 1883, vol.1,
Tract II, p.31.
a new life immediately after its basic conviction that Jesus
was the Messiah of popular Jewish expectation, had been totally
destroyed by his crucifixion. Nothing but a resurrection could
have served the purpose.
As one reads the record in Acts
one is amazed at the transformation which has taken place in
the disciples, especially Peter, as a result of the resurrection
of the Lord Jesus. The same Peter who trembled before a little
girl whose question may very well have been prompted only by
idle curiosity (Luke 22:56, 57) now stood before the Sanhedrin
(that most august body of Jewish authorities) and boldly rebuked
their unbelief. And the other disciples stood with him, equally
unafraid. It is necessary to find an adequate cause for such
a transformation and it will surely not be found in some self-deception
regarding the fate of the One whom they now claimed to be the
Their confidence was manifest to
everyone. In Acts 4:13 we are told, "Now when they saw the
boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were unlearned
and ignorant men, they marveled. . ." Later on, the same
religious authorities, exasperated by what can only be described
as the remarkable results of their courageous testimony, rebuked
them saying, "Did we not straitly command you that ye should
not teach in this name? And behold, ye have filled Jerusalem
with your doctrine"! (Acts 5:28).
What we read in the Gospel accounts
of the resurrection is so simple, so artless, and so unlikely,
as to be impossible of invention. Consider just a few of the
scenes which Luke portrays, for example. In Luke 24 we have that
wonderful story of the two, perhaps Cleopas and his wife Mary
(not sister to Jesus' mother: John 19:25), who made a memorable
journey to Emmaus. As they walked on their way and talked in
a subdued voice of all their shattered hopes because of the crucifixion,
Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But they didn't recognize
Him ‹ their vision perhaps clouded by loss of hope. He asked
them why they were so sad and why they were talking so earnestly
with one another. Cleopas asked the Lord if He was a stranger
in Jerusalem that He should be so unaware of what everyone was
talking about; and he recounted to Jesus the events of the past
few days. Then he explained the most surprising element of all,
namely, that certain women of their company had visited the tomb
and there had been told by angels that Jesus was alive!
The Lord proceeded to explain to
them that nothing had happened which had not already been foretold
or implied in all that the prophets had said: that the great
problem which the Jews had had in the past of reconciling the
fact that the Messiah was to be both Suffering
Servant and King, found
its resolution in the fact that the Suffering Servant had been
raised again from the dead in order to assume his position as
We are not told in any great detail
what He said to them as they walked along, only that beginning
at Moses and all the prophets He expounded to them in all the
Scriptures the things concerning Himself. What extraordinary
restraint on the part of the disciples that they did not leave
a record of what He said! As Wright put it:*
With what singular indifference
to apparent effect did these men throw away the brush the moment
His form was sufficiently outlined for those in distant ages
to see! The utmost effect seems to have been produced with the
smallest amount of material.
is the effect achieved! In the passage we are reading in Luke,
we are told that by the time He had finished his expounding,
they were nearing home. And the text continues (verses 28‹31):
He made as though He would have
gone further. But they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with
us. for it is towards evening and the day is far spent."
And He went in to tarry with them.
And it came to pass as He sat at meat with them, He took bread
and blessed it. and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were
opened, and they recognized Him! And He vanished out of their
sight. . . .
even though it must have been dark by now, they went back to
Jerusalem where they found the eleven disciples and others who
were with them, and they told them of their wonderful experience
and how He had revealed Himself to them in the breaking of bread.
In spite of the fact that their
testimony fully corroborated what others had been telling the
disciples (verse 34), and the fact that the Lord had appeared
also to Simon, they were all very frightened indeed when, after
Cleopas and his wife (?) had just told of their experience, the
Lord Himself suddenly stood in their midst (verse 37). Knowing
that many of them would suppose He had not really risen from
the dead but was only a ghost of his former self, He quietly
invited them to examine Him, to see the wounds in his hands and
feet, to handle Him and discover for themselves that He
had a real corporeal existence (verse 39). Apparently they were
so amazed and overcome, half with joy yet mingled with doubt,
that He sought to give to them the final
* Wright, G. Frederick, The Logic of Christian
Evidences, Draper, Andover, 1890, p.281.
proof of the reality
of his presence by eating food. He said, "Have you any food?"
And when they gave Him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb,
He took it and ate it then and there before their very eyes.
Thus in this one chapter, in some
thirty short verses, we are given a series of kaleidoscopic cameos
of the drama of those hours which surely could not be improved
upon. And together these provide absolute proof that it was the
Lord Himself, identified by the wounds on his body, by his overall
"presence," by his voice when calling Mary Magdalene
by name, and by his behaviour at the table. What possible additional
means would contribute to such a demonstration? At the same time,
unequivocal evidence is provided that He possessed a real body
and yet a new kind of a body, a body perfectly capable of transcending
time and space and matter. These accounts have none of the qualities
of visions or hallucinations. The resurrection appearances do
indeed break every known law of visions.
Even if we did not have the testimony
of the other Gospels, in this one chapter of Luke alone we have
long conversations, protracted appearances over what must have
been a considerable period of time ‹ an appearing to two
people on the journey to Emmaus, then unexpectedly to perhaps
twenty people (the disciples and others), along with a clear
demonstration of materialization in a familiar form which invited
not only handling but also observing the eating of real food
before them all. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 it is recorded that the
Lord appeared before over 500 people at one time; and it should
constantly be borne in mind that these people were for the most
part unprepared and still unconvinced at the time. Even 'doubting'
Thomas was only completely convinced when he was invited to examine
the proofs of the reality of the Lord's body for himself (John
20:27,28). And Matthew 28:9 tells us that they actually held
Him by the feet. Nothing like this ever happens in visions.
The fact is that we do not have
the slightest change in the personal identity of this same Lord
who has already walked through the Gospels during his earthly
ministry. Any changes associated with his power to materialize
at will, do not in any way mask his identity as the same real
living Person that they had known before. The identity is total,
resurrection has only increased his potential in certain directions.
Ghosts created by literary artists of later generations were
very insubstantial and unimpressive creatures. They are failures
really ‹ ghosts of ghosts only, as William Alexander put
But such was the effect of those
forty days upon the disciples that when the time came to say
"good-bye" in terms of visual contact, there were no
tears, no expressions of disappointment, no lingering at the
point of departure, but rather an immediate return to Jerusalem
great joy" (Luke
24:52). What an extraordinary thing this is! Only once in the
long history of separations which are expected to be permanent
(at least visually), has there resulted such an effect as Luke
here describes. Something very wonderful and very unusual had
been transpiring during those forty days of constantly recurring,
yet quite unpredictable, personal appearances in their company.
It seems to me that there is a
beautiful propriety in the Lord's successive appearances to his
disciples during these forty days. The first thing He accomplished
was to make absolutely sure that not the slightest doubt remained
in the minds of his disciples that He had risen from the dead.
Yet while easily convincing them that it was truly Himself and
not merely a ghost, He undertook to show them also that He was
now living within a world that transcends our own. He therefore
came and went without regard to any physical barriers, and appeared
and disappeared without leaving any visible trace of his presence.
The consequence of this very unexpectedness was that it soon
ceased to be frightening and came to be accepted by the disciples
as normal behaviour for the Lord. Perhaps as the days went by
He continued to appear unexpectedly but with less and less frequency.
Yet because the disciples had absolutely
no way of anticipating when He would re-appear in their midst,
they would inevitably come to suppose that He was in fact always
present with them, but just out of sight. By the time this truth
had become firmly implanted in their minds, He could now clearly
afford to show them that while He would indeed be with them always,
his presence would not be a visual one but one mediated to their
consciousness through the Holy Spirit. This truth was demonstrated
by his visible ascension into heaven from the Mount of Olives.
His ascension was accompanied by
the assurance (given by angels) that this same Lord, unchanged
and as beloved to them as ever, would in due time return to earth
in visible form. In the meantime they had his promise that wherever
they might be, even unto the ends of the world, He would actually
be present with them always. It was very important for the disciples
to recognize that the environs of Jerusalem were not to remain
for ever the only scene of his presence. But it would have been
confusing if, throughout history, the Lord had been suddenly
appearing in this very concrete way in Egypt, in Rome, in England,
in China, in North America. How many shrines would then have
been erected! And how strong would have been the tendency to
single out those places of his appearing. So He ascended ‹
never to be seen as hitherto until He would return to remain
visibly with men once for all. Propriety marks every stage. It
is a beautiful display of gentle instruction graciously imparted
and learned almost unawares by those who had known Him in the
flesh. A bodily ascension was as
important as a bodily
Such a period of gradual conditioning
seems essential to account for their "joyful parting,"
and seems clearly to have been one of the purposes of the forty
days spent with them before a cloud received Him out of their
sight (Acts 1:9).
Thus by the time of the Ascension
they seem to have come to realize that the days of surprise engagement
were over, that the Lord's presence would continue to be with
them but not visually as before. Yet this knowledge brought no
sadness with it! Was there ever such a parting from One who was
Meanwhile, if we were to ask, What
would be the best way of refuting the accusation of forgery or
fraud? we might set forth such requirements as follows:
(a) The Lord's death must be public.
(b) It must be witnessed by people who were used to seeing
that kind of death.
(c) It must be certified by experts that death had really
(d) Some specific steps must be taken by someone in authority
to make death doubly sure.
(e) The responsibility for securing the body must be left,
ultimately, with enemies ‹ not with friends.
(f) The tomb should be sealed after burial and guards placed
near it who were in no way involved.
(g) If resurrection has occurred in spite of all these precautions,
it must be testified by many witnesses, and they must be witnesses
who honestly did not believe such a thing would occur.
(h) These witnesses must give clear evidence by their actions
that they had no such expectations.
(i) Some of the witnesses to his resurrection must be intimate
friends who could never have mistaken somebody else for Him,
and would only have been convinced of his identity by rather
subtle and characteristic personal forms of behaviour.
(j) The proofs which He Himself would supply must be such
as to completely convince the most skeptic amongst his followers.
All these requirements
were met by what appear to be almost incidental observations
made by the writers. There is nowhere the
that they had formulated such a list of requirements and then
deliberately undertook to satisfy them.
In considering these requirements
rather briefly, nothing need be said of (a) ‹ except that
even Roman records support the reality of the event. (250) In connection with (b),
it need only be said that crucifixion was well known to the Romans,
and even Pilate was quite familiar with the fact that it was
a slow death: hence his surprise that Jesus was so soon dead
(Mark 15:44). The fulfillment of (c) and (d) is certified by
the action of the centurion (John 19:34) and the eye witness
account of what happened (John 19:35). In connection with (e)
and (f), we note only that the Jewish people themselves received
permission to have the grave secured and guards placed nearby.
In regard to (g), we are told that there were many witnesses
to his resurrection and the great majority of them were surprised.
It seems that not a single soul among the disciples really anticipated
it, not even Mary Magdalene who thought somebody had taken the
Lord's body away (John 20:2), nor Cleopas and his wife(?) who
"had hoped but . . ." (Luke 24:21). All his disciples,
especially his inner circle, had to be convinced.
With respect to (h), we note that
the leader of the small band of disciples said, "I'm going
fishing," clearly declaring his intention to try to forget
all his disappointments. And his decision was shared by those
who said, "We go, too" (John 21:3). In connection with
(i), we find that Mary Magdalene was the first to be absolutely
persuaded, and she of all those who were not actually relatives
was perhaps the one who was most completely devoted to the Lord's
Person as witnessed by her willingness to anoint his feet with
oil at such a cost to herself (Luke 7:37). She undoubtedly recognized
Him first by the way in which He pronounced her name. How subtle
this is: but how completely convincing! Cleopas and his wife
had their eyes opened by his simple act of breaking bread. So
run all the accounts ‹ without artifice. Here, then, is no
studied attempt to win by force of argument.
Finally, as though in the providence
of God, the intimate circle of disciples included among its number
one who was inherently skeptical about anything which he did
not have adequate firsthand experience. And so the Lord was provided
with an occasion for satisfying this requirement also that a
man, still quite unconvinced, should be converted to an unhesitating
faith not only in the identity of the resurrected One as the
same Lord whom he had known previously, but to the claims which
the Lord made for Himself as God (John 20:27).
What more could be asked of a written
record: by what better standard of evidence could one assess
whether these events are romance
250. Tacitus says of the Christians, whom
Nero blamed for the burning of Rome, that their orginator, Christ,
had been executed in Tiberias' reign by the Governor of Judea,
Pontius Pilate [Annals of Imperial Rome, XV. 43, translated
by M. Grant, Penguin edition, 1961, p.354]
He was, then,
physiologically dead and bodily resurrected. With what kind of
body? There is evidence that it was at first the same body which
had been laid in the tomb, but that this was subsequently changed
in some way. And the timing of the change is significant, as
we shall see in the final chapter. Moreover, it is clear from
the accounts of the resurrection scenes that the change re-constituted
Him in a way which was quite remarkable. For He passed through
closed doors or vanished at will ‹ which suggests some kind
of spiritual rather than physical bodily existence.
And yet He clearly ate the food of his friends which certainly
had physical reality (Luke 24:41‹43), and He invited them
to handle Him and see that He was not simply a spiritual being.
He enjoyed a real corporeality. And one cannot help but wonder
of course, what became of the food which He had eaten before
them all, when a few minutes later He vanished from their sight!
Here indeed is a whole new order of being. Nevertheless, his
body was still recognizably his. This was truly the same
Lord whose company the disciples had shared continuously for
the three previous event-filled years. We can say unhesitatingly
I believe, that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified,
died, and was buried: and that He rose again the third day.
He did indeed rise on the third
day: and without seeing corruption, for He had yet one
duty to perform in order to consummate the sacrifice which He
had made of Himself. And this duty was the presentation of his
blood before that altar in heaven (Revelation 9:13) which the
"altar" in Jerusalem symbolized, thus fulfilling the
office of the High Priest on the great Day of Atonement.
At what point did He enter into
the most Holy Place not made with hands (Hebrews 9:11), there
to present the final proof of his sacrifice once offered for
sins (Hebrews l0:12)?
We must bear in mind that the High
Priest in the Tabernacle (and later in the Temple) showed himself
alive to the people as proof of the divine acceptance of the
sacrifice he had offered on their behalf. If our High Priest
entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven to present his blood,
when did He do so? Before He showed Himself alive to Mary Magdalene?
Or immediately afterwards? Or only after He had ascended into
heaven from the Mount of Olives? We have not, I think, been left
altogether in the dark on this matter.
We turn therefore to an examination
of the post-resurrection scenes in order to establish, if possible,
what really happened in those first few hours after He left the
247. (See page 7) The Pharisees believed in resurrection but
it was a general resurrection which was to occur only at the
very end. This much they were willing to admit, a circumstance
which put them in opposition to the Sadducees who did not believe
such things. What the Pharisees were afraid of, in the case of
the Lord's body was not so much that He would actually be raised
from the dead, but rather that the disciples would steal his
body by night and then claim that He had been raised from the
dead. For in spite of many things which He had said that they
professed not to understand, they do seem to have realized that
He was claiming that if He were put to death He would actually
raise Himself again the third day (John 2:19). In point of fact,
the Jews seem to have had more fear of his body being removed
than his disciples had faith that it might be resurrected!
249. (See page 11) There is an interesting parallel series
of resurrections in the Old Testament which seem to be conveying
the same message. The first is found in 1 Kings 17:17‹22
which relates the death of the widow of Zarephath's little son.
One gathers from the account that this child died while Elijah
was present in the house. Elijah restored the child to his mother
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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The second account is found in
2 Kings 4:18‹35. This involved the death of a "grown
child," probably due to heat stroke. The Shunammite woman,
his mother, had been hostess to Elisha under particularly dramatic
circumstances in a time of general famine. When the child died,
Elisha was away on Mount Carmel some sixteen miles distant. The
Shunammite woman laid the child on Elisha's bed and immediately
set out for Carmel. Even under the best of circumstances, it
must have taken her five or six hours to make the journey, and
presumably the return journey would occupy another six hours
or so. This means that before Elisha arrived back at the scene
of the child's death, some twelve hours had elapsed. In verses
34 and 35 we learn that by a process perhaps akin to artificial
respiration, he restored the child alive to his mother.
The third instance, in 2 Kings
13:20 and 21, is a rather odd case of resurrection, and the circumstances
are not exactly clear except that the young man involved was
actually about to be interred in the ground. It seems that Elisha
had died and while he was being buried, a band of Moabite brigands
were seen in the neighbourhood, causing those who were burying
him to run for their lives. They had, however, completed the
digging of the grave and had laid Elisha's remains in it. Another
party happened at the same time to be on their way to bury the
young man. When they, too, observed the Moabites in the neighbourhood,
they fled (as the others had done) but only after rather unceremoniously
dropping the young man's body into Elisha's grave. To their amazement,
as soon as the corpse touched the body of Elisha, the young man
was instantly restored to life, stood up on his feet, and presumably
scrambled out of the grave and joined them in their flight.
It is difficult to know exactly
why the Lord has seen fit to give us this parallel sequence of
revivals of the dead after what appears to be an increasing interval
of time had passed since death. But it does seem to be a remarkably
similar series of events: revivals being witnessed in one just
dead, dead some hours, and dead and effectively buried.